Nevertheless, she damned modesty to the winds and left the bridge, heading for the nearest support tower. It was basically a tall pole sunk into the ground at the edge of the gorge. It had metal rungs all the way up. Rue took a fortifying breath and began to climb.

The smooth metal was cold, but kinder to her feet than the rough road. It seemed not too long before she was at the top.

Making certain the scarf was secure about her body and the reticule about her neck, Rue swung herself up, legs wrapped about the cable, and began to shimmy along towards the train. It was challenging work. I should consider taking on labour as a deckling to improve my climbing skills, not to mention arm strength. Being not so very fit, Rue had to take it gradually, otherwise her muscles might give out. Even so, halfway along, her arms began to shake. But she made it – a fact that she noticed only when her head bashed into the trunk of the metal elephant.

The trunk disguised multiple guidance gears that fitted into tracks on the cable. It presented a bit of difficulty to Rue, who could no longer crawl dangling from the cable towards the head of the beast. And that was her objective since Quesnel had said it housed the navigation chamber.

She twisted this way and that, finally managing to flip herself over and on top of the trunk so that she could scoot up it, legs and arms desperately wrapped around the scales of metal, moving on her belly. Her poor tummy was entirely unused to the sensation of cold rough metal, or indeed any exposure. Imagine what Mother would say, thought Rue, of me brandishing my midriff to an elephant. She didn’t have to imagine. Mother would have called her all kinds of heathen and ordered her to get dressed immediately. Rue had the whole conversation in her head as she squirmed along.

“My daughter is a barbarian dressed in an orange peel!”

“But Mother, I am stranded in the middle of a tropical forest.”

“Pish tosh,” said imaginary Mother. “Trivial detail. Your reputation is a stake. What will they think of you?”

“Who? The local grubs?”

“How do you know grubs don’t have delicate sensibilities? Cover yourself this instant, infant,” was her mother’s illogical opinion.

“Oh, really!” imaginary Rue said in exasperation.


Funny that even in my fantasies I lose arguments with my mother.

Eventually, the trunk dipped below the cable and widened enough for Rue to crawl on all fours leaving the cable above her. She found herself face to face with one elephantine eye – an eye that was really a window through which the conductor might see.

Rue looked inside, shading out the moonlight with hands on either side of her face. The navigation chamber appeared to be empty. She supposed there was little fear of someone attempting to hijack an elephant train in the middle of an unpopulated jungle.

Rue wasn’t certain at what point her subconscious had decided to hijack the air train – probably while the rest of her argued with her mother. With language and nudity against her, her chances of convincing the crew of her point of view were slim. Plus she was too embarrassed to turn up in front of them making demands, like a barbarian in an orange peel.

So as she continued crawling, she began to plan a theft. She kept in mind Dama’s lessons in this regard, even though such lessons had mainly centred on objects a great deal smaller.

There must be crew somewhere, and the moment Rue started the engines that crew would come and stop her. She needed to uncouple the freight cars that made up the elephant’s body from the locomotive of the elephant’s head. The elephant was made to look as if it were basically dangling from the cable by its trunk but she knew that, in function, sky trains were much like a normal trains, hooked in at multiple points.

Rue crawled up and over the top part of the noggin, wiggling around the point where the head attached to the cable. From there, she manoeuvred down between the massive leather ears.

She lost purchase, swallowed a scream and slid down the back of the head, landing with a jarring thud at the coupling point.

The locomotive was chained and locked with a massive hitch to the freight cars. Rue wished once again for stronger arms or supernatural strength. Barring both, she managed eventually to brace herself between the two sections, and use her legs to lever the hitch up and off its hook. She then uncoiled the massive redundancy chains.

Rue could only hope she managed to get the elephant head moving quickly enough to break away before any crew awoke and reconnected the hitch, or jumped from the car to the locomotive.

Turning to face the head, Rue inched around the side, balancing on a little lip at the creature’s chin, no doubt a remnant from the original construction. It was precarious and remarkably lacking in handholds, but eventually she made it to the engine room.

No doubt the door was easy to open when one was at a station, or even on one of the pole-top platforms. It was not as easy mid-air. The door was directly below one of Ganesha’s ears. Rue leaned in and rattled the handle as quietly as she could while still clinging desperately with her free hand to the elephant’s side. The door swung open so abruptly that she lost her balance and grabbed the ear. Fortunately, the leather was riveted on and held. She dangled there like a Rue-shaped earring, breath caught in her throat. By sheer will, for it could not be ability, she managed to rock and grab the top of the door-jamb and swing inside, closing the door firmly behind her. It was unbelievably reassuring to be safe in the cabin. It took a very long time for her heart rate to subside.

The man who had been sleeping beneath the guidance console woke up and stared at her in astonishment.

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