- Small Worlds
- Chapter Three
Vaniah almost screamed. The courtyard for the tavern was empty and with that, he knew his chances of finding the red-headed barmaid – and his revolver – just went down. After fruitlessly looking around to see if the barmaid was hiding in any crevices or alleyways, he was forced to admit he had no idea where she was.
But he knew where she was going to be. She was a thief – perhaps sent by the prophetess herself, although she had shot the lead shedim, so if the prophetess had hired her, it was obvious she wasn't working for her anymore. In any case, she had stolen property and would want to unload it off-world.
Which meant the Shifting Station. Vaniah looked at his watch and found he had less than ten minutes to get to the Station before it shifted again. He pulled the collar of his jacket up and ran all the way.
He reached it with five minutes to spare. It wasn't as crowded as the tavern, but it did have a variety of creatures waiting or begging to get on the train. Many had no money, no possession. They relied solely on the kindness of the Station Manager or strangers so they could get on the train. Vaniah never knew how they found the Station in the first place, but somehow they did.
Unfortunately, the barmaid was not
one of the people in the station. He checked everywhere, including both bathrooms, when he heard the announcement of the Station Manager: "One minute! The train will be leaving in one minute!"
Vaniah rushed to the door of one of the coaches, sidestepping an Avilian and a Ziz, who were begging to be let on the train. Vaniah pulled a bag of iron coins out of his pocket and walked towards the Station Manager.
"No need, son," the Manager said. He was an older man with a wire brush mustache. "All coaches are full. Can't let nobody in, even if you've got iron."
"I'm afraid you've got a thief on your train, then," Vaniah said.
"Got a murderer and two politicians, too," the Manager said. "But the train's the train and everyone who can pay can ride. 'Cept if it's full, of course."
Vaniah sagged. Then this was it. The barmaid could get off on any world she wanted – any world that the Station shifted to. And he would have no way to know where she was. The Station kept no records.
The Manager took a longer look at Vaniah. "That's a nice hat you got there," the Manager said. "Reminds me of a similar hat I saw once."
"You wanna buy it?" Vaniah asked.
"No," the Manager said. "But I seemed to recall the people who wore those type of hats. You an Asher, son?"
"What of it?" Vaniah asked.
"I'm not making anything of it," the Manager said. "I just appreciated what your people did during the war, that's all. One iron piece."
Vaniah blinked, then pulled an iron coin out of his bag and handed it to the Manager. Before he got on, however, the Manager asked, "I always wondered where the Ashers went after the war, you know."
"You and me both," Vaniah said and stepped on the train.
Seconds later, the Station wasn't there anymore.