Sybaritic subterfuge

by Tym Greene

Two strangers meet on the train, and our protagonist—Thomas Alsdorf, a thirty-something ram—ends up seducing a man twenty years his senior: prominent businessrhino Charles Cottington. What fate will be met on the rails for these two illicit lovers?

2 parts Added Aug 2022 1,150 views No votes yet 9,447 words

Part 1 Two strangers meet on the train, and our protagonist—Thomas Alsdorf, a thirty-something ram—ends up seducing a man twenty years his senior: prominent businessrhino Charles Cottington. What fate will be met on the rails for these two illicit lovers? (added: 20 Aug 2022)
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Author’s Note

In this story, we enter a slightly different 1890 than the one we know: a trans-Atlantic rail bridge threatens the future of ocean transport, the Civil War never happened, and there are animal-people instead of humans. All pretty straightforward, really. Add in industrial sabotage, assumed names, and gay sex, not to mention a ticking clock and some tough choices, and you’ve got my story.


Part 1

Lifting a spoonful of brown Windsor soup to my lips, I caught a glimpse of us in the dining car’s window. With no moon, and clouds obscuring the stars, the black mid-Atlantic night turned the broad expanse of plate glass into a mirror of highest quality. I watched as my reversed doppelgänger shifted position, unconsciously straightening his posture to match that of his dining companion. The two of them—ram and rhino—could have been mistaken for colleagues, or maybe a businessman and his secretary. That would better fit what seemed to be about twenty years’ difference in age.

I nodded to my reflection as though to an old acquaintance, and watched as the precise circles of his horns bobbed in concert with mine. Smiling, I swallowed my soup.

The rhino across the table smiled back at me, which only compounded the wrinkles that bracketed his eyes. After another forkful of endive salad, he spoke with the warm rumble one might expect from Father Christmas, or President Lincoln. “It’s a pity our paths will diverge at Brest. I have grown rather fond of sharing meals with you.” He blushed, conch shell ears swiveling back briefly: meals were not the full extent of what we had shared aboard that train.

The Pullman Palace Supreme cars running on the Boston-to-Brest railway had “borrowed” certain traits from the great ocean liners they had largely supplanted: the comfort of the furnishings, the luxury of the appointments, the sumptuousness of the meals, and the utter lack of space. In ocean-going fashion, travelers—excluding those with large families or entourages—were by necessity thrown together. Staterooms were shared, as were washrooms (one at either end of each car, fore for women, aft for men) and of course tables in the dining car.

This was not my first trip across the Atlantic—by boat or by train—so I had had had my fair share of noisy, obnoxious, odious, and downright noxious traveling companions. But never before had I shared a table and compartment with a man so...agreeable. I smiled back, relishing the way his face brightened up at even the slightest attention, more like a puppy than an old rhino.

Rhino and ram, I thought, what an odd couple. Of course, we were not a couple by any assessment—not even paramours—just simply two men who enjoyed one-another’s company. “I can’t help but agree, Charles. You have made rattling around inside this fancy pillbox all the more pleasant.”

“It’s a shame we—how many days do we have left together, Thomas...on this train,” he added hastily, lest some passing waiter overhear and suspect. I had been using a nom de guerre for the entirety of my trip, Thomas Alsdorf being a better fit than my real name, not to mention a needful protection, both for myself and my employers, who only knew the name which which I’d been christened.

Carefully placing my spoon on the saucer beneath my soup bowl, I ran through the numbers once more. Charles Cottington may have been an astute businessman, but I could tell that of the two of us I was the one who paid more attention to the details.

With what I planned to accomplish, I would need to be.

“Boston to Nova Atlantis is two days, then a day on the island—departing at 5 p.m. local time—and then another three days to Brest. At that point I’ll take the main line to Paris,” I said, intending all the while to hoof it to Switzerland while things calmed down after ...

“Such a pity,” Charles repeated, interrupting my train of thought. “I had hoped you might be convinced to accompany me, spend a few weeks relaxing in Switzerland.” Our eyes met and I could see the desperation therein. Much as I enjoyed his company, much as I loved the way he felt wrapped around me (I curtailed that thought as quickly as it reared its head, lest I become indecent), I did not want to hurt him. And it wasn’t to hard to imagine that the knowledge of what I was about to do, if he ever found out the truth, would be far more troubling than any feelings of abandonment he might be left with if I simply bowed out early.

I mustered a regretful half-smile, and was about to reply, when what he’d said actually filtered through: he was going to Switzerland too. Of course, it would be a big-enough country to hide in, but the coincidence made me re-think my plans. Perhaps I would go to Belgium instead, or Italy. My payment would be waiting for me in a Swiss bank account, so it didn’t really matter where I ran to, so long as it was out of the way and picturesque. I simply would not stand becoming a refugee in a place devoid of all color, banal and ugly. After all, why would I go through all of this, just to run back to the world from which I was trying to escape?

“That is a pity. If only I didn’t have pressing business once we arrive. Speaking of which,” I said, changing the subject, “we should be arriving at the island sometime tonight. Would you like to stay up and watch as we pull in? I can think of a few things we could do to pass the time.”

His eyes widened as he realized just what sort of pastimes I had in mind. His nostrils flared and he harrumphed like he was clearing his throat. “Well, then,” he said in a quiet voice, “perhaps we had best finish our supper quickly. I have heard that the island is a marvel, and I would not want to sleep through it.”

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Our dessert spoons finally clattered into our empty bowls of Waldorf pudding, leaving us. pleasantly sated: for all the number and variety of courses we’d been served on this trip, the portion sizes were as compact as everything else on the Boston-to-Brest line. We stood, thanked the waiter, and made our way to the sleeping cars.

The stateroom we shared was towards the back of the train, so we had a bit of a walk ahead of us, squeezed together in the narrow corridor running along the south-facing side. We pressed against one wall to allow an elegant ferret and her meek-looking husband to pass by on their way to the dining car. Taking the moment to catch his breath, Charles placed both hands on the strained front of his dinner jacket. “I’m afraid I can’t put away tucker like I used to.” He sighed with that particular blend of anguish and pleasure that normally follows a good meal. “Perhaps we shouldn’t be so vigorous tonight; my legs are still sore from yesterday’s, um, exercise.”

“Don’t worry,” I said, pressing one hand to his chest, “I’ll be plenty gentle.” My fingertips clicked against the mother-of-pearl buttons of his shirtfront, barely audible amid the incessant clack and rattle of a train in motion. I could feel the warmth of his body through the thin fine linen, the solid skin and solid pudge of a rhino who had never been one for physical exercise. One finger strayed between buttons, slipped beneath the shirt. I saw his body tense up as contact was made—as though he’d never been touched by another man before.

Guiding him as a tugboat noses a steamship into its berth, I backed him into the niche beside the door at the tail end of the car. From where we were, I could use the corridor’s windows as an ersatz mirror, giving me a good look down towards the other end; and if the door at our side were to open, we’d hear the latch with enough time to disengage. I had it all planned out, just like everything else.

I pulled him into a kiss and watched as his eyes drifted closed. In the few days we’d known one another (having initially met on the first leg of our trip, from New York to Boston), he’d not worn a wedding band, nor had he talked about any romantic entanglements—myself excluded, of course. Keeping watch on the windows along the corridor, I had to wonder just how experienced he was. He’d shown all the enthusiasm and awkwardness of a much younger man during our trysts so far. Perhaps romance simply had not been something he’d valued before.

His tongue probed between my lips, surprising me. I had expected simply the on-the-lips kiss one saw in Mr. Gibson’s illustrations, the kind of kiss with which he’d become more comfortable under my tutelage. This was a departure for him, an adventurous expansion, and I didn’t even mind that I could taste bits of his meal as I returned the kiss in full.

The hand on his chest could feel his heart triphammering, and I dug my fingers in, pressing against skin and fabric alike. His mobile lips squirmed as though trying to wedge my mouth open wider, his tongue pressing against my own. My eyes were just drifting closed, my body relaxing against his, my mind ushered off on a cloud of endive-scented pleasure, when I heard a click.

It was a louder, harder sound than the delicate tapping of hoof against button; it sounded more like a door latch being undone. In a flash, I remembered where we were, and what I was supposed to be doing. Springing back as far as I could, I spun around and grasped the handle on our side of the door. A brief tug-of-war ensued, allowing Charles enough time to come to his senses and wipe the drool from his lips. I also noticed as he canted a leg forward in an attempt to hide the rather obvious bulge distending the front of his trousers.

“Oh, I am terribly sorry!” I exclaimed, a moment before I released the handle. On the other side was a very disgruntled-looking badger, his top hat rammed down with one hand, while the other still grasped the brass latch.

He harrumphed into his waxed whiskers and spluttered something about being kept out in the cold by a “horn-headed fool”—his words, not mine. I chose to ignore the slur and graciously allowed him to pass. He stomped by without even a glance at the rhino looming in the niche behind me.

I turned to my companion once the surly badger had gone through the door at the other end of the car. He looked so cute, with his ears drooped and his shoulders slumped, like a little lamb caught peeking at his Christmas presents. I played a hand across his jaw, lifting his chin until our eyes met.

His pupils dilated at the touch, his nostrils flared, and his body seemed to go rigid. “Come on, let’s go back to our compartment. I want to try something.”

He followed docilely, silently, eagerly. In a few minutes more, and without further incident, I was closing the stateroom door behind me. The porter had already made up our beds—the big one made from our seats for Charles, and the upper one pulled down from the ceiling for me. I held up a finger, leering at the rhino as though I were a descendant of Pan, and told him to hold still for a moment. I took the opportunity to rumple up the bedding on my bunk, remove the pillow, and fold the whole contraption back up into its ceiling hatch. I’d been sharing Charles’ bunk for the past few nights, and we could use the extra head room.

I dropped my pillow onto his, then turned back to him. “Stay still, and close your eyes.” I wanted a bit of fun, and I know he did too. Of course, he didn’t have the knowledge of what I was planning. I tried not to think of it, tried to focus on the moment. Besides, it’s not like I was going to hurt anyone. In the interim, I wanted to make the remainder of our time together as sweet as possible.

Once more, I drew up close to him; unlike in the corridor, however, I could press my belly to his, my thighs against his thick limbs, my breath warming the skin at his collar. It wasn’t often that I was able to bed a man a full head taller than myself, and I planned on relishing every last minute of it. I placed a palm against the corner of his jaw, caressing the line of bone down to his chin, making him snort and shudder. But he was obedient, and neither opened his eyes nor shifted position, his hands hanging limp at his sides.

Again, I slid my fingers into the spaces between his shirt’s buttons, feeling his hide; this time, however, my other hand joined the first, and slowly popped the each pearly disk back through its buttonhole. Soon my whole hand was gliding under the linen. I felt his chest heaving, and gently cupped his pectoral. It was loose, heavy, and more like a woman’s breast than he’d have liked to admit, but it was a part of him, and I knew from experience just how much he liked it when my fingertips grazed the soft grey nipple.

A few slow circles of index around dug, and then I drew back. I’ll admit, the room felt a little colder, once there was air between us, but the look on his face—eyebrows lifted and knitted, eyelids fluttering, lips quivering as though trying to hold back demeaning pleas—was worth it. I reached down and began to undress him.

Swallow-tail coat. Low-cut waistcoat. White bow-tie. Collar.

One by one the pieces fell to the Turkish-patterned carpet beneath our feet. Then I unbuttoned and untucked his shirt all the way, revealing the plump smoothness of his belly, a jade Buddha re-made in rhino skin. A few deft twists and his pants fell away too, a black puddle engulfing his ankles. The thin white short-pants he wore beneath his trousers (instead of the neck-toankles covering of a normal union suit) did nothing to hide his arousal. There was even a damp spot at the bobbing tip of the bulge, darkening the cotton until it was almost sheer.

Gently, I slid a hand beneath that protuberance, gliding between his thighs until I hefted his balls in my palm. A soft squeezing tug elicited a low rumbling moan from the depths of his thick chest, and his hand moved despite my injunction, resting firmly between my horns.

As much as I normally like drawing things like this out to their furthest extent, until the tension vibrates like a runaway steam engine, that night neither of us would brook much delay. I drew down the flimsy undergarment and held my nose close to his tip, each hot breath making him whimper. It slid in easily, a respectable mouthful.

As I knelt there, his cock in my mouth, his hands on my horns, I couldn’t help but picture us as a somewhat reversed reenactment of Manet’s Déjeuner, which I had seen once when I was in Paris on business for the shipping lines: a young ram, fully clothed in evening wear, stooped low (not exactly kowtowing, but some would class my position as being even more servile) before a nude rhino almost twice his age. The salt I licked from the tip of his shaft only made the situation taste all the sweeter.

My nose pressed up against the mostly hairless pad of fat from which his member emerged, pushed in as I tried to engulf every last inch of the businessman. I had to stop myself from thinking of him as my businessman. I had no claim on him, nor he on me. It was a hard thought to dismiss when his fingers found my ears. On the train to Boston—before our current intimacy had sprung up—he’d mentioned once that he was a confirmed bachelor, that he’d never courted and was unlikely to find a woman at his age. I’d naturally averred that one never knew, especially these days. The desperation in the bucking of his hips had showed a reason other than simple shyness.

I pulled back, breaking his fingers’ loose hold on my skull, leaving his shaft gleaming like a polished porphyry statue. Panting, I licked my lips and broke the last trailing streamer of saliva. I could have sat there for ages, staring up along the heaving expanse of his belly, past the flared nostrils and slack jaw, gazing into half-lidded eyes that seemed to implore haste as much as they wanted me to linger.

My hands found his hips, thumbs pressing into his forgiving flesh as I used his mass to heft myself up. This time I was ready for the hunger of his kiss, and—apart from pulling my own hips back so his erection wouldn’t leak incriminating stains on the front of my trousers—I gave myself in to it whole-heartedly. His fingers, bereft of their ram horn handles, sought other employ. In a few minutes, I no longer had to keep my pelvis away from his: my own trousers were now around my hocks, thanks to his fingers’ deftness. We stood, pressed together, enjoying the warmth of two men in the throes of passion.

Eventually my own upper raiment joined his on the floor, and we made our way to the little fold-out bed.

“I told you, Thomas,” he painted, speech returning slowly, “I don’t think I’m up to another round tonight. My legs feel like India rubber.”

I silenced his protests with another kiss once we reached the berth. “Trust me,” I cooed as I caressed the softness of his cheek. “I have everything well in hand, Charles. You won’t have to do anything but kneel there and relax.”

He looked from my gesturing hand to the pulled-back sheets, licking his lips in thought. Then, with a blustery sigh, he nodded and climbed up on the flatfolded seat cushions, his rear end pointed in my direction. Even as I watched, the thin tail flipped up, its tasseled end brushing along the top of his rump. It was an alluring vista, those massive grey haunches, the soft dip in his back, the swell of belly pushing out beyond the sides of his legs, and in the center of it all his privatest parts.

I stepped forward to cup his balls. They were quite a handful, heavy, warm, and with a softer hide than on the rest of him. The thumb on my other hand followed that skin up, over the curve of his perineum, until it found the pinkrimmed hole nestled beneath his upturned tail. He grunted as I made contact, and I watched as it puckered tighter. “Relax, Charles, just let it happen. I think you’ll enjoy this as much as I do.” A moment later I could see his horn bobbing above his shoulders as he nodded his assent.

It took only a moment to step away and fetch the small bottle of lubricant from my luggage, as well as a rag. I uncorked the vial, and the familiar scent of olive oil and lavender filled the room. The rhino sniffed and sighed; I felt a bit more relaxed too, either from the scent, or the knowledge of what was about to ensure.

He had been on top the handful of times we had had sex, once confessing that I was only the second encounter he’d had in all of his half-century of life. While I normally had no preference as to position, and I had wanted very much to feel that thickness within me, I also felt it time we switch things up.

A dollop on my finger and a gentle squeeze on his hefty pouch, and I was able to slide in, the first knuckle popping through without much difficulty. I heard the breath whistling through his nostrils as he forced himself to relax into the act. Surprising myself, I leaned forward, resting my cheek against that massive flank; it was smooth and warm, as I’d expected, and only slightly musky. In the few days of our acquaintance, I’d found Charles to be as fastidious in his person as he was in his business dealings.

I nuzzled closer, grateful that I needn’t suffer the noisome barnyard earthiness of some lower class men I’d bedded. I also took the opportunity to slip another finger in beside the first.

“Oh, my,” he mumbled into his crossed arms. “That’s not half bad, now that I’m in the thick of it.”

“I told you,” I replied, wedging another finger in. At this point, he was stretched as wide as my shaft would need, so I eased my hand deeper, until my thumb was jammed up against the outside of his hole. Squirming my fingers, I spread the lubricating unguent within the rhino, making him sigh and moan. “If you think that feels good, you just wait.” His only reply was to ask if I’d locked the door.

“Much as I love this,” I replied, climbing atop the bed behind him and gliding my shaft between his buttocks until it nosed against his tail, “I’ve no mind to be made a pariah just because some nosy prude thought she heard something untoward. By which I mean, ‘Yes, I locked it.’” A few drops from the bottle slathered me sufficiently to ease inside him, inching along between clenches.

I placed a hand on his back, fingers pressing into thick hide. The warmth of him was pleasant, especially with nothing but a single pane of glass keeping out the Atlantic’s frigidity. The touch seemed to relax him, too, and I was able to begin the normal course of such things.

I’ve known some men to be talkers, swearing and cursing as though they required the utmost depravity to fully enjoy a romp with another male; others would moan and sigh like a Lancelot without his Guinevere. Charles Cottington was neither of these: apart from an occasional harrumph when I pressed in too deep, the only sound was the bellows-wind of his breath.

Wiping my hand clean on the rag, I was able to grip two handfuls of rump.

I could not have said how long we coupled like that, rocketing along at thirty miles per hour, drawing ever closer to the island and my duty, each thrust eating up the rails.

At some point, I stopped even thinking about who we were where we were. The tracks were straight and flat between Boston and the Island, so there wasn’t even the gentle rocking sway of a train skirting a river’s bend or the rolling shift of an ocean liner in even the calmest sea. Were it not for the syncopated clacking that acted as a stuttering metronome for our rutting, we might as well have been in a penthouse suite at the Palmer House. It was easy to get lost in the primal pleasure of it, feeling his hole around me like slick India rubber.

Several times, I had to stem the tide, stuttering to a momentary halt lest my lust overtop my resistance. Charles kept quiet, merely spreading his legs a little wider on that narrow bed to afford me easier entrance once I took up thrusting once more. At one point, my hand came away from his back damp with sweat: I could see the starlight glittering like spangles across his hide. Our compartment had become warm and moist, and I knew my stamina wouldn’t hold out much longer in that hothouse atmosphere. I gripped his flanks with both hands once more and began to speed up.

He moaned, a low rumble barely audible between the clatter of train wheels and the protest of bedsprings, and he clamped down hard around me. I didn’t know if I was imagining it or not, but I swear I heard a splatter from below him. The way his body suddenly slumped suggested that he had indeed reached his climax.

Not wanting to overstay my welcome, I allowed things to take their normal course. I dropped my head until my nose was practically touching his back, nostrils filled with the aroma of horny rhino, and pounded to my own climax. I think I was quiet, apart from possibly a few soft bleats. It’s hard to keep oneself under full control in that sort of situation.

Later, still hunched over his back, with his sonorous breathing a counterpoint to the train’s clacking, I drifted in and out of sleep. I made shift to roll into the little space between him and the train’s outer wall, and noticed a flash of gold in the distance. In a few minutes, I knew, that flickering gold would resolve into the several lights of Nova Atlantis—or Atlantis, or N.A., or simply “the Island,” depending on whom you talked to—and it would not do to be caught with our trousers down, as it were. The Island and its inhabitants seemed never to sleep, and there were always idlers around the tracks leading into and out of the man-made atoll, eager for a glimpse into unguarded windows.

I debated what to do next. It would be easiest to simply pull down the blind and roll over beside the rhino, letting the two of us sleep until disembarkation after breakfast. Or, given his interest in seeing Nova Atlantis for the first time, I could wake him. Then we could don our shirts and safely watch as the train pulled in—just two gentlemen sharing a room, rather than two men in the animalistic throes of an unnatural passion—before pulling the blind down and catching a few more hours of sleep.

Ultimately, though, there would be no sleep for me. It would be best to let rhino sleep, I decided; after all, I had a job to do. So I pulled the blind down, squirmed out onto the floor, wiped my front and his rear clean, pulled sheet and counterpane up over his bulk, and got dressed. I would sleep the next night, when we were well away from the island and my task was accomplished.

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I yawned again, following behind Charles as he explored the mid-Atlantic city. Despite being desperate for sleep, I had a few consolations. First, of course, was the knowledge that my valise was about sixteen pounds lighter—and infinitely safer—than it had been just a few hours before, which meant I was that much closer to my goal and reward. The second consolation was the way his pinstriped trousers hugged and accentuated his rump.

I forced my eyes back up to their normal level. It would not do to be thought improprietous by the locals—though of course there were rumors. Like San Francisco forty years ago, the constructed frontier of Nova Atlantis had few women; some writers estimated that they numbered less than ten percent of the permanent population. I imagined that few of the whalers and fishermen who made the Island their home could afford to visit the handful of bordellos that had been built (and were easily the most attractive structures, apart from the ornate Sioux quartzite station). It was a nice thought indeed, envisioning the old sea dogs and grizzled otters sharing embraces in a dinghycum-bed beneath a fishing net canopy.

That image was certainly enough to wake me up (and bring me closer to indecency), so I again focused on my companion, who was goggling at the storefronts clustered around the train station. We had most of the day—after breakfast at seven and before departure at five—to explore.

It was yet another theft from ocean liners, as the train delayed departure to allow its passengers time to sight-see, meet the “locals” and shop, citing some malarkey about paperwork and maintainance. I had heard that some travelers would have their baggage unloaded, and spend a few days at one of the Island’s inns, for the fishing or the air, which was supposed to be as healthful as at Bath or Vichy.

While most of our fellow travelers were content to do just as ordered, I kept sneaking surreptitious glances at my watch. I knew it wouldn’t be until eight, several hours after our train was due to depart, but every time Charles paused to examine a gaudy edifice or some hawker’s ratty wares, I felt the tug of that second hand, sweeping inexorably forward.

However, since he was neither fisherman nor architect nor fresh air enthusiast, Charles soon headed back to the station. The sight of the glittering pink gables and turrets peeking over the surrounding buildings made me sigh with relief. His ears swiveled and he turned his long head to face me, worry painted on his face: “Are you all right, Thomas?”

“Oh, I’m fine,” I waved him off with a false grin, “just a bit wearied with all this walking—it seems as though we’ve been sitting on that train for ages, and my legs are a bit stiff.” My hand reached up of its own accord and stroked the tip of my left horn. It was an unconscious tell, I knew, but I had no more power to stop it than those poor souls who were compelled to eat dirt or pluck out their fur. The best I could do was to work the motion into a yawning stretch better suited for a music hall comedian. “Plus, I didn’t get much sleep last night,” I added with a wink.

A rhino’s blush is truly something to behold: at my comment, his ears swiveled back, his eyes dropped down, and pink suffused his grey cheeks like the dawn after a thunderstorm. I was standing a bit behind him and couldn’t see the front of his trousers, but by the way he shifted position, tail slashing to and fro, I suspected that it was his turn to be indecent. To spare him embarrassment and to afford myself some rest before we re-entered the cramped quarters of the train, I waved a hand at the station’s cafe.

He sat down gratefully in one of the chairs set up outside while I stepped in to procure two French coffees. Trying to ignore the exorbitant prices, I contented myself with the knowledge that I’d soon be ... well, not rich, but definitely well-off. And in the mean time I had the fawning attentions of a man twenty years my senior to keep me occupied.

We were sipping our drinks, enjoying a few moments of quiet and rest, when a hubbub went up among the gathered passengers. I heard an officious tenor ring out above the crowd and canted my ears to a better angle. “Please, ladies and gentlemen, to not be concerned. Due to some unscheduled maintenance, our departure will be delayed—” I saw the Dalmatian conductor raise his hands in a futile attempt to quell the surge of noise. “Please, we will be delayed only a few hours. You are welcome to come back on board, and we will serve a light repast, but we strongly encourage you to take this opportunity to fully explore the wonders of New Atlantis. Just be sure to return by seven-thirty, as we will be departing promptly at eight.”

I excused myself, leapt over the short railing around the cafe’s tables, and pushed my way through to the conductor. “Are you certain, sir,” I blustered, putting on the act of a dissatisfied (not to mention dyspeptic) businessman. “Are you quite certain that we cannot leave now? I have a very important meeting once I arrive in Brest, and cannot afford to be even a minute tardy. It is imperative that we leave now.”

“I’m sorry sir,” the harried dog replied. “There is no way we will be able to depart as originally scheduled. Rest assured that we are doing this maintenance for your safety, and we will strive to make up these few hours’ delay in the three days we have between here and France. Thank you for your concern, and please be sure to be aboard at least half an hour before we depart.” With a scowl that wasn’t entirely acting, I turned on my hoof and strode back to Charles.

“Well?” He looked like a child who’d been told that there would be no Christmas this year.

“They are simply delayed,” I explained, reiterating what the Dalmatian had said while my mind furiously puzzled over this unexpected blow to my plans. Even a departure as late as seven might have been safe, but now that they’d announced a time and encouraged people to go back into the Island, there was no way they would leave earlier.

I even considered some little act of sabotage or other, to further delay the train’s departure, but if they were already repairing some faulty equipment, they would likely find what little damage I could do—or perhaps even catch me doing it. No, there were two options, only one of which would result in me staying alive.

For his part, Charles looked excited at the prospect of further Atlantean adventures. “I want to fetch a few things before we head back out,” I said, “did you need anything?”

“No, I think I’ll just sit here; this is excellent coffee.” He smiled and took another sip from the steaming cup, Lilliputian in his heavy hands.

“Yes it is,” I said as I downed the rest of mine. It took a few minutes to get back to our compartment: passengers and staff were milling about, as though uncertain whether to stay or go. Once in and behind the locked door, I looked around. My fine clothes, newly-bought for this endeavor, would have to remain. The beds had been converted back several hours ago, beds I had ensured were equally-mussed, lest the porter start wondering, and I sat on the plush velvet seat, pondering.

Finally coming to a decision, I upturned my valise (which, now that my mission was half-done, was very empty indeed) and began to re-fill it. First in was the billfold Charles had decided to leave in our compartment, then our passports—we both carried our own train tickets, so as to be allowed to reboard. On a whim, I tucked the menu and wine list down one side: one never knew what might become a valuable souvenir, especially if the timing were as ill-fated as I feared. Fresh socks, undergarments and shirts were folded in next, and on the top of the pile was my little bottle of lubricating unguent, wrapped in a clean rag.

I was about to head out when I spotted Charles’ reading glasses, sitting on the compartment’s small table. Beneath them was the magazine he had been reading: Lippincot’s, which featured Wilde’s new story Dorian Gray. As a kindness to the rhino, I placed both items in the valise as well. Sufficiently loaded down, I scanned the small space one last time, as though saying goodbye to the luxury I’d enjoyed. I had to remind myself that those same luxuries had been stolen by this trans-Atlantic usurper from the rightful rulers of the ocean, and that soon things would be put to rights.

Of course, it might be a while before I received the latter half of my payment, but that was the beauty of Swiss bank accounts: they would wait as long as needed.

I returned to the cafe. “All right, let’s get out of here.” Making a show of looking around the station, I added, “It’s a bit too busy in here for my tastes; everyone milling around, not sure what to do. I say we act decisively, don’t you?”

Finishing his own cup, he glanced down at my valise as though he wanted to ask what was inside. I winked at him and replied only: “A few things, just in case.”

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

It wasn’t long before we had exhausted most of Nova Atlantis’ sights, and Charles seemed unused to tramping all over a city—even one so selfcontained. He wanted to rest, so I put my secondary plan into action. Night fell quickly at sea, and it was already growing dark by the time we reached a French-run boarding house at the Island’s eastern edge.

Charles read the sign as a leer slowly stretched his muzzle: “Bord de l’eau. Do you think that’s where ‘bordello’ comes from?”

“Hard to say, but I for one am not in the mood for dancing girls and courtesans.” I leered right back at him. We strode up to the counter, requesting a room for only a single night—two beds. I couldn’t help but smile a little as Charles patted his pockets, questing for the billfold that wasn’t there. I plucked it from my valise and presented it to him with a flourish. “I suspected we might need this.”

He smiled wide enough to show his back teeth, and refused to let me pay for my half of the room.

We followed the innkeeper—a handsome-enough woman, for a tabby—to our room. Charles had naturally requested the finest, so we were led up several flights of close-set creaking stairs. At the top, we reached a landing with only two doors: the left one marked “401,” and the right proclaiming “Private.” The three of us couldn’t fit at the same time on that small platform, so the innkeeper unlocked the door, then stepped back to wave us through.

Room 401 turned out to be as much of a penthouse suite as could be expected in such a frontier town as Nova Atlantis. The walls were covered in French wallpaper, with alternating bands of pearlescent teal printed over a dove-grey background. The blue-and-grey palette was carried through to the upholstery and bedding; many of the objects also had a generous spangling of fleur-de-lis. In all, it felt a bit like a trans-Atlantic Versailles.

Charles nodded his approval and handed the cat a tip, then closed and locked the door behind her.

“We’ll only be spending a few hours here,” I explained as I strode up to him and placed a hand on his chest. “Just until the train is ready to depart. I figured a little rest and relaxation would be welcome to us both.” He bit his pointed lip, looking down at me, and I could feel his heartbeat fluttering in his chest. It nearly broke my own heart, knowing that a man such as this had never been courted, nor even told that he was attractive. I’ll admit, he was growing on me.

There were indeed two beds, both equally sumptuous, in the room. I stole a look out the windows: our space seemed to take up the whole south half of the boarding house’s fourth floor, so we had views to the east and the sea, the west and the rest of the Island, and the south. I could make out the span of tracks stretching away from the Island’s edge like a plumb line, and the pink tip of the station’s tallest tower, still catching the last few rays of sunlight. Planning ahead, I untucked and ruffled the bed closest to those south-facing windows, then indicated to Charles that we’d be using the other bed.

“I always forget to do that,” he said as he fiddled with his buttons. “If it’d been up to me we probably would have been found out that first night.” “It’s okay.” I stroked the bare skin exposed by his open shirtfront. “Friends look out for one another.” It was truer than he knew. Not meeting his gaze, I reflected on the sixteen pounds that I’d removed from my valise earlier that morning—a lifetime ago!—sixteen pounds that included a confection of brass housing, springs, crampons, and a pairing of Swiss clockworks and American dynamite that was an unintended trans-Atlantic venture to end another transAtlantic venture. A device that was now attached just below a specific keystone, and set with a timer.

I reached down and plucked the pocket watch from Charles’ vest front. It was just a few minutes after six. “We have plenty of time,” I said, sliding the watch back into its pocket and helping Charles to remove the rest of his clothes. I pulled him in close, his bare front warming my clothes. It was his turn to guide me into a kiss, and he did so with unusual directness, clearly a man who knew what he wanted.

My own clothes dropped to the floor, and Charles followed them. Settling on his knees, he brought his horn perilously close to my tender bits before opening his mouth and slurping up my cock like he was eating spaghetti. I grabbed onto that horn, its surface polished and well-oiled, and as dark as my own hooves. The skill (and to a greater extent, enthusiasm) with which he fellated me brought a bleat to my lips. I was unable to resist, only covering my mouth in an attempt to stifle the sound.

Charles looked up at me, concern painted across his wrinkled visage. “Am I doing it right?”

I took his ears in my hands, stroking the cartilaginous seashells between my fingers and making his eyes roll back in his head. “Oh, you are. You look good down there.” I took hold of his horn and directed him back to my groin. He took the length to the root, making me gasp at the simple pleasure of it. And then he started toying with my balls.

If there’s one thing a ram can’t bear for long, it’s having someone’s fingers teasing his balls. Hefting them, brushing through the short fur, tugging gently, even just playing over their surface; it was almost too much. My cock throbbed in his mouth, pressing up against his palate, caressed by his tongue. I pulled back, gasping. “By God, Charles, you nearly had me there.” “I would have liked that, I think.” He eyed my shaft hungrily.

“True, but for tonight, I have something else in mind, and we still have plenty of time.” I saw then, looking down at him on his knees, just how much he trusted me. I reminded myself of the reasons I was doing this—all of this—and nodded. “Yes, I think you will like this.”

I directed him to get up on the bed, lying perpendicular, with his tail drooping down over the edge and his knees tucked up to his chest. I took the bottle from my valise, and prepared him. His head pressed back into the counterpane as my fingers slid in, his eyes shut and mouth opened wide, a tendril of drool glittering as it stretched between his lips.

Taking a step back, I applied lubricant to my shaft, already slick with rhino spit. I stroked myself for a few languorous moments, looking over Charles lying on his back, so vulnerable, belly exposed and fairly glowing in moonlight that streamed in through the open windows. The station’s pinnacle also caught the light, and I couldn’t help looking at it as I positioned myself between those uplifted legs.

Charles’ brows knitted and his eyes screwed tighter as I slid into him, as gently as ever. A few experimental thrusts proved that the mattress did not squeak, and with our position perpendicular to the length of the bed, we needn’t worry about making the headboard pound against the wall our room shared with the innkeeper’s apartment. I began to plunge with more vigor, my hands roaming over his belly and thighs. Then, to my surprise, he lifted a hand to stifle his moans, and bit his knuckle! I could scarcely believe how adorably helpless it made him look, like some Gilbert and Sullivan heroine, moaning softly around that knuckle with each dive of my cock.

I don’t know how long we were like that, teetering on the edge, looping around like circling seagulls, neither of us wanting (nor indeed able) to finish. Twice I had to pull almost all the way out and drizzle the oil along the top of my shaft, as though I were basting a turkey, before delving back in. Eventually it simply became too much for the rhino to stand: still biting his knuckle, his other hand dropped to his lions so he could flog himself to a climax. Feeling his hole fluttering around me, I let myself top over as well, plunging in until my belly pressed up against his balls. A few gyrations later and I flopped onto the bed beside him: sweaty, spent, and satisfied.

We might have dozed there for a moment or two. Remembering my ulterior motive, however, I feigned sleep even when he prodded me clumsily. “What time is it, Thomas?”


“What—” he yawned, a silly grin stretching his muzzle. “What time is it?” He nudged me a bit more firmly with his elbow, and I was unable to play possum any longer.

“All-right, okay I’m upping.” I rolled over and fished amidst our puddled clothes until my fingertips clicked against a watch chain. Tugging my prize, I was too addled to think to lie. “Seven thirty-five,” I read.

It took a moment for what that meant to sink in, but when it did he leapt to his broad feet, throwing on his clothes. He was barely able to button his shirt straight, but he finally managed. I flipped the counterpane to hide the sweat of our passion—thankful that it had the same sea-blue brocade on both sides—and straightened it out, along with the other bed. In a twinkling, the room looked as though we hadn’t even been there.

All the while, he exhorted me to dress myself as well: “Thomas, hurry! We’ll miss the train!” I made a show of haste, but it’s only possible to delay such things for so long without being obvious. Even as he pushed through the door I scanned the tiny room, desperate to find some lost cuff link or spat to facilitate further dawdling, but had no luck and was forced to follow after him.

Making a show of a leisurely air, we approached the front desk and handed in our key. “We got a bit peckish,” I explained, as though just being chatty. “We’ll be back in a few hours.” The tabby nodded and hung our key on the board with the others. As we turned to leave, I could have sworn that I saw her nose wrinkle, as though she had smelled something je ne said quoi.

“Why did you tell her we would be coming back?” Charles asked as we headed south.

“I wouldn’t want her to suspect what we were actually using the room for, would you? After all, she didn’t exactly rent rooms by the hour,” I replied in a jaunty tone. This answer seemed to satisfy him, and we progressed in silence.

“They might have already left,” he said over his shoulder a few moments later as we scuffled through the moonlit streets. We reached a crossing and he paused beneath the corner lamp, glancing around like a trapped rodent.

“Which way is it; do you remember?”

I saw my chance. “No, but I’ve got a map ...” I made a show of patting my pockets. “Oh, dear, I must have left it in the hotel. We should go back and look for it.” Of course, it was still folded up in my vest’s inner pocket, from when I’d used it earlier that morning.

“There’s no time. We’re on the north half of the Island, right? Since the train runs through the middle, all we have to do is go south.” He paused, glancing around again. “Which way is that. I can’t tell a thing with it this dark.”

“I’m afraid I’m a bit muddled myself,” I lied, taking advantage of the street lamp to check my watch: five minutes left. We struck out at a run, but as luck would have it, I did get turned around, and instead of hitting the north end of Nova Atlantis, we ended up walking right into the open square around the train station. I should have been paying more attention: the plume of moonlit white smoke overhead was a dead giveaway. Already it was gliding eastward, and by the time we burst onto the platform, the caboose was a good three feet away from the end of it. We were safe.

I managed to mask my sigh of relief with breathless panting. Charles, on the other hand, just stood there, as though uncertain how to act, watching the train get further away with each breath.

Above us, the station’s clock began to strike the time. I pulled out my watch, identical to the one currently mounted in the same brass housing that was currently beneath the third arch of the great transatlantic bridge, skulking like a monster from Grimm’s Fairy Tales. The massive machine above our heads must have been fast, because the second hand on my pocket watch had yet to touch the thirty. I watched as it swept around, the station clock’s bonging softened by the sea’s churning against the great stone walls of Nova

Atlantis. “One, two, three,” I counted under my breath, “four, five, six—”

At that instant, everything seemed to freeze and, paradoxically, happen at once. The seventh bong tolled through the empty station, my pocket watch’ second hand gracefully swept past sixty, and the dynamite exploded.

I stood, watching as though in a dream. There was a lightning flash and a billow of grey stone dust, a boom like the roar of an angry god. I saw a ripple seem to go through the iron tracks as though they were trying to buck free of their spikes. The rest of the train was swiftly obscured by the expanding cloud of steam from the ruptured boiler—it must have been almost directly above the third arch when the bomb I had planted detonated. I heard the mournful, off-key clanging of the train’s bell, flying off to the south. Bits of metal and stone peppered the walls around us, but still I didn’t move.

The lights within the train—dining car, smoking car, sleeping cars, caboose—cast rectangular images on the cloud that enveloped it, like the reverse of shadows, or magic lantern slides. Those rectangles flowed gracefully forward, then canted down below the level of the tracks, down the thirty or forty feet to the ocean below. In all that clamor and chaos, I heard only a single scream.

It was beautiful, resonant, even operatic, and then it cut off, mid-tremolo.

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

I didn’t realize I had blacked out until I woke up in a vaguely-familiar bed, beneath an ocean-blue counterpane. I was back at the room we had engaged at the boarding house, with my arm trussed up and immobile.

It turns out that some jagged bit of shrapnel had cut an artery in arm, and I had nearly bled out while watching the disaster. Honestly, it would have only served me right. But because there is no justice in the world, Charles had seen me collapse and rescued me, bound my arm with his purple-and-gold striped necktie, and carried me back to the boarding house. The ersatz—if fashionable—tourniquet had then been replaced by clean bandages, and I’d been stripped of my blood-soaked clothes. I caught a glimpse of my crimsoned trousers crumpled up next to the room’s small fireplace. I glanced around and sighed with relief: Charles had had the presence of mind to carry the valise too, since that represented the entirety of our belongings.

He nursed me back to health while we waited for a train to be sent from Boston. He read to me from his magazine, and I’ll admit to feeling some sympathy for Wilde’s Mr. Grey. When my rhino—as I’d begun to think of him—left to procure provisions and additional clothes, I stared at the clapboard ceiling and mused.

I had been hired by one of the major steam navigation companies—whose name I will take to my grave, if only for my own protection—to simply damage the bridge. That was all they had wanted: to show how tenuous that thread from Boston to Brest actually was when compared with the hundreds of individual liners that plied the sea. No one was to have been killed, just a little friendly industrial sabotage.

Formal investigations turned up no evidence amid the broken stones and shredded rail that remained of the third arch, and ultimately the catastrophe was ascribed to the work of “person or persons unknown”—although the word terrorist was bandied about. The final result, however, was one of the crueler ironies I’ve known.

Just as the building of the trans-Atlantic bridge in 1845 united America, bringing the country together in a common endeavor—and quelling the growing tension between northern and southern states—not to mention boosting the country’s economy, the re-building of the bridge became a cause célèbre. France and America enjoyed better relations than even during the revolutionary era, and the bridge itself was strengthened and widened from two lines to six. There is even talk of a similar bridge from Natal, Brazil to Liberia.

I still have yet to collect that second half of my payment. At first, the only way across the Atlantic was once again by steamer, but I shunned that option lest I be called out by my quondam employers. I sincerely hoped that they assumed I’d been one of the victims of “the Tragedy,” and considered the matter closed.

Charles simply thought that I was afraid of crossing the ocean by any means, and I did nothing to disabuse him of that opinion. I was in quite a weakened state afterwards, and allowed the rhino to coddle and pamper me. He was always thankful—alternatively to me, to God, and to fate—for the delay caused by our tryst that night, and decided to hire me on as his personal assistant.

The steady pay, the desk in the same room as his, and the sinecure duties all made for an especially-gilded cage. The sex was definitely a boon as well. I could simply lurk in his shadow, let his physical and economical bulk protect me. There is nothing wrong with being a kept man. My old life, and my old name, were far behind me.

Every once in a while I wake up in sweaty, knotted sheets. There are always variations, but the nightmares always leave the taste of brown Windsor soup in my mouth. In those dreams, I am tormented with the knowledge that we were not late for the train, that we had boarded promptly at seven-thirty. For a few moments, I am unable to rid myself of the feeling of falling, on and on and on.

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