He turned away slowly, dazzled, and began his own study of the windows. Large and rounded, they occupied much of the walls of the cabin and afforded the passengers a brilliant view of the landscape beyond. They were passing over a mountainside, and he noted with a start that it was dark; not the dark of night, but the dark of a midday covered over with deep gray, snow-laden clouds. Large flakes were beginning to drift lazily downward onto the mountaintops and through the blueish evergreen woods below.
The train was traversing the pass at about 25 kph, a pretty good clip for a such a massive train with so many cars in such terrain. The tracks curved slowly around the side of the mountain, and even the great width of the cars couldn’t completely prevent some slight rocking. Lights shifted a little as the gas lamps tilted ever so subtly.
Archerd watched the snow fall over the alpine forest contemplatively for several minutes, feeling the calmness of the scene sweep through him, then blinked, shook himself mentally for a moment, and returned his attention to the device still clasped in his hand. Double-checking the volume knob, he returned it to his ear and tapped at its counterpart once more.
TAP-TAP-TAP. He grinned slowly to himself. Success. So far, at least. He swapped the devices one for the other and repeated the experiment.
TAP-TAP-TAP. With relief, he set them both upon the table. It worked! Two-way transmission of sound from one to the other. Such things were well known of course; the Conclave had known ways to accomplish it for several decades at this point. Archerd had seen the devices and understood as well as any how they used the unusual properties of electrite to accomplish it. No, his personal innovation on the concept was condensing it to such a small handheld-unit. Every such device he had seen elsewhere was too large and bulky to move easily on its own.
He slipped them into his pockets, then drew out a simple polished brass pocket watch. Snapping it open, he frowned; 1:30. It was about point he realized he was absolutely famished, and he’d finished off the bread, beef and cheese without even noticing he was eating it. Closing the watch, he turned to rise just in time to see a swirl of cream-colored skirts pass his table. She made her way to the front of the car where the door lead farther up the train to the dining car. As she stopped to open the door, her eyes, an amazing electric green color, met his and she smiled. Before he could blink, she was gone.
The clunk of another door behind drew his attention; the disheveled young man, retreating to one of the cars further down.
He rose and headed toward the front of the car himself. The elderly couple were chatting quietly to themselves over drinks and plates of food as he passed. Reaching the door, he was certain he detected the lingering traces of jasmine in the air, distinct even over the rich smells of burning wood, roasting pork and the yeasty smell of baking bread.
Crossing between the cars, he was hit full on with the wonderful aromas upon entering the dining room. Roasting onion and vegetables joined the mix, and he cast his gaze around; half of the car was filled with the kitchen, cooks bustling busily preparing dishes to be ready for any passenger who felt the need. The other half was filled with tables laid out beautifully with white tablecloths and fine silverware. Though the ambiance called for candles, he thought, even the gentle swaying of the train’s cars around bends made that a risky proposition, and the car bore the same gaslight that graced the other cars. A set of stairs led upstairs to a second floor; all the passenger cars were two levels high.
The perfume traces were gone here, and he ascended to the second floor to sit in the relative quiet that came from separating himself from the kitchens. This room too was empty. He took a seat by one of the windows away from the mountainside so he could look out over the view once more.
The sky was darker, and the snow had picked up considerably; it was blowing fiercely and at times he found it hard to make out the trees beyond the train. The glass of the windows was chill to the touch, and he shivered a little as the cold reached out fine tendrils into the air of the car to grip at him.
He hadn’t been seated more than a minute before a steward appeared. “Good afternoon, sir. A spot of lunch today? The chef just finished a wonderful braised pork and vegetable stew. It’s just the thing on a …” His eyes flicked to the weather outside and his mouth quirked. The snow now effectively blocked the whole of the view, leaving the window a swirl of white. “… On a freezing day such as this.”
“That sounds wonderful, thank you.”
The steward disappeared and Archerd passed the time inspecting the casing of his communication device idly. A shadow fell over him abruptly, and the scent of jasmine filled his nostrils.
“May I join you?”