I have something for you all. If you read the title of this post, you probably know what it is, so I won't tell you.
Here, you can read it.
As long as people jumped off trains, there would be hope for the world.
They called the Trans-Pest Express “The Blindworm.” It was really an enormous system of trains synced together in a network that spanned the entire province. They were fast, clean, and regular to the second in almost any weather conditions. No one operated them. They were completely automated. Daily routes stopped at all the right places at all the right times to fit the schedules of all the right people. But not everyone could be right, and ever since she first got her chance, Halcyon Slavic did everything wrong.
For example, she jumped off trains.
“The train will be stopping at station seventeen in approximately three minutes,” said no one, a disembodied male voice from a speaker’s grille in the ceiling. The passengers were already standing in the aisle, fluorescent blueish light burning down on the napes of their necks. At the back of the car, a young woman with dark hair and a thin, weaselish face sat with her back against the window and her legs crossed over the other two seats on her bench. She pulled back the torn sleeve of her sweater and checked the GPS on her wristband.
This was the best time. Not only were they approaching the prime location to jump— uphill, as the train began to slow—but everyone else had gathered away from the emergency hatch. She got up, flipping her hair over her shoulders. At this point in her life, she was more than familiar with the little idiosyncrasies of alternative exits. Dull light glowed in the socket of a switch at the top of the hatch. She stood on her toes and jammed the sensor so her exit wouldn’t trigger the emergency breaking system. The electronics were too easily fooled. Surely, if society hadn’t accepted this behavior, they would have upgraded by now. Why should she get off at the station and be tangled in the matted crowd when she could walk from here to her apartment in minutes? Especially after today.
A high tone sounded. Her eyes anchored on a lever beside the doors. She pulled it and the hatch slid open, dragging in a warm foggy wind.
She looked over her shoulder and down the smooth quiet aisle at the huddled commuters. They stood, heads hanging over their smartbands and Tarot phones, flickers of light changing in their eyes. Halcyon had seen some of them before. The woman with the scar on her chin was familiar. The thin, unshaved man with the prominent eyes was almost always on the same trains she rode, it seemed. Maybe she would see them again after tonight, maybe not.
The wind whipped through her hair in cloudy gasps as she edged out onto the running board on the train’s chromed exterior. Dew condensed on her hands, making them slippery on the bar beside the hatch. She squinted through the engine’s white breath at the dark ditches alongside the rails. Twilight lay heavy over the city. In a minute or two they would coast into the light-soaked residential area. There would be people everywhere, not watching out for train-jumpers.
She kicked off the running board, propelling herself far from the slithering train. The wind thundered in her ears and she landed on her side on uneven ground, rolling down into the ditch. Flinging out her hands, she caught herself and crouched on the gritty ground. That had hurt this time. Her disheveled hair tangled around her neck and lashed over half her vision. Sandy mud darkened the over-long sleeves of her sweater. The express glided by, steam roiling and snarling. In a few seconds, it disappeared in the fog, leaving its hissing wail to hang in its contrail until the whisper of rain washed it away.
Halcyon got up and scowled at the glow of the city down the glimmering tracks, pulling her sandy hand through her hair. On some nights she would lie awake and listen to the city. She didn’t know what the noise was, but it was always there, resonating into the sky, as if the world still hadn’t quite given up on the hope of being heard someday. Tonight it was loud. It was louder in the direction of the frozen fireflies that were the warning-lights for station seventeen in the middle of the residential area. Wiping her hands on her thighs, Halcyon climbed up the outside of the ditch and headed into the quieter part of the neighborhood.
As soon as she was on level ground, her gaze swept skyward. If only there was some way she could alter her pattern—take a different train or something. But then again, a change like that could set something off. Anyone else might have gone on with their life from day to day and never noticed, but Halcyon saw drones differently than the others on the street. She could recognize individual drones better than she could recognize individual people. But chances were the drone that had shadowed her for the past five days was better with faces than she was.
A cold raindrop grazed her cheek. Her eyes focused beyond the pacing lights in the layer of relatively clear air fifteen to twenty meters over the street. A canopy of twisting fog always gathered this time of night, above what was commonly called “the buzz level.” It wasn’t possible to see what the real sky-conditions were high above. Somewhere up there, it was raining.
Halcyon cut across the human current streaming inward toward the shifting neon and floodlights of the residential area. She dodged the blind commuters and looked up again. The buzz level was a river of LED lights. Half by accident, Halcyon had taught herself the configurations. Even in the uncertain lighting she recognized them flashing through the smog around the ornate ancient architecture of Buda.
Police and emergency UAVs were heavily lighted and outfitted with glaring strobes. They barreled across the ceiling of the buzz level—an altitude reserved for them in the city. She could pick out the regular square shape of a delivery drone moving swiftly and steadily through the more maneuverable traffic. Then there was a press drone on its way to tomorrow morning’s story. Photographer drones were stable, complex, and often “headless,” meaning at any time they could change their orientation and any side could become the front. For that reason, they didn’t typically have red and green lights indicating port and starboard.
Then there were the numerous cheaper models available to the public: Bi-Props with their two white-hot visibility lights, Owlets with their reflection-tape-lined foam wings and flashlight faces, clunky little quad-copters with blue and red LEDs on their arms. This was the usual crowd.
Her eyes roved through the buzz level once more as she approached the entryway of her apartment-complex. A triangular configuration ducked into a slower-moving stream of drones. She saw it turn end-over-end as it advanced down the channel between the buildings. An electrical tingle crawled up the side of her neck. She turned and the glass doors swept open in front of her.
She ground her molars together, striding into the low-lit lobby. Her eyes stayed on the floor as she approached the desk. The woman behind it stood with her back turned, facing the blank wall, talking to the tiny implant in her ear. Halcyon came up and leaned on the glass desk. “Bekka.” The woman turned and tapped a green dot under the surface of the desk. Halcyon pulled a microchip card out of her wristband and placed it on the screen that appeared. Numbers flashed on the surface for a moment. Bekka adjusted the tiny screen of light over her right eye, and turned away again, pupils contracted by the luminous images projected centimeters from her retina.
For a second Halcyon stood fingering her card and squinting at the woman’s back. She slipped the card into its slot in her wristband and walked to the stairway. When she got to the steps, she paused one more time to look over her shoulder. Bekka never did see her, she remained engaged with the blankness and the silence. Halcyon pressed her lips together and spun around, flying up the stairs.
She drew in a breath and strode down the hall, scanning the familiar numbers on the locked doors. Numbers had such personality when nothing else did. Thirty-eight B—that was home. She had always noticed something about the openness of the three, and the closedness of the eight, and the way the B was just a three with a bar through its teeth—but it hadn’t really meant anything to her until now. She closed the door behind her. She crossed the room in the dark and stood at the window for a second. Something cold caught in her chest. Beyond the glass, that triangle of lights rolled over again. It boomeranged around toward the building. She watched it pace past the window and down the street a ways. Just as she stepped back from the window, it flipped over its axis and returned. She whirled around and tripped over the leg of an inn table, charging across the room.
The door slammed behind her and she dived onto her knees. She dragged a plastic box out from under her bed, knocked the lid off, pulled out a long garment of heavy fabric and held it against her chest for a second, looking back toward the door. She jumped up and flung open the door to the bathroom. There she found a small tub of something black in the cabinet. She took one more sweeping glance around her apartment before evacuating.
At the end of the hall outside there was a fire-escape. Not that way, it would trigger the alarm. How many times had she done this before in her mind? Downstairs—a sharp turn to the left. The unmarked door was unlocked. She darted out into the darkness onto a gritty floor and crossed the small room in three long strides. The distant hum and throb of the city leaked through the thin walls. A single bar of light burned sickly white over the door. Halcyon stepped back between two cast-iron shelves and caught her breath. She pulled the heavy cape over her shoulders and slipped her arms through the slits. It was semi-fitted and double-breasted from the front, but loose and asymmetrical from behind. The profile was more practical than it seemed. It was hard to read for certain eyes in the sky. She pulled back the sleeve of her sweater and tapped her wristband. A line of bright-blue lights awakened in it. She pinched the side of it and pulled out a tiny earpiece, clipping it into her ear. As soon as I’m done with this, I’ve got to get rid of it. I’ve got to get rid of everything that they could use to get me back here.
“Hello?” A slightly digitized female voice with a brazen American accent came through.
“Hey Rev. It’s Hal.”
“I’ve gotta get out of here.”
“Okay. Gotcha. Hang on.” There was a slight pause. Halcyon opened the tub of black pigment and leaned toward a fractured mirror on the wall. In the dusty light, she started to paint dark blocks on her face. “Okay, so where are you?”
“I haven’t moved yet.”
“I don’t think I can get to you from where I’m at. I want you to go to the turn-around at Kiscelli Crossing. There’s a place down the hill to your left—looks like it’s been through the end of the world. You’ve probably seen it before. I’ll have a friend meet you there.”
“His name is Zolt. I can’t give you a physical description, but you can trust him. I’ll tell him you’re coming.”
“That’s no problem. Anything else?”
“No. I can’t say more.” She closed the tub and slipped it into her pocket.
“Good. Remember, keep under stuff, stay away from vents of any kind, and if you’ve got nowhere to go, drop and don’t move.”
“Okay.” She paused at the door to the outside.
“And Halcyon, welcome to the underworld.”
That's all. You're welcome.