Chapter 42:

A passenger in your own mind

The Sequence of Kai

Train stations have always been odd to me. If you live in a place with enough track laid, you’re likely to pass through more stations than you care to remember. What’s odd about them is their lack of uniformity.Bookmark here

I guess it’s not odd exactly, it makes sense. Trains aren’t like busses, which follow roads that followed trails. Nor are they like planes, which require much more space than the centre of a city can require. They came about at just the right time, that the tracks they run on have both cut through their cities and been swallowed up by them.Bookmark here

This is why, more often than not, a train station will feel distinct. You’ll find them shoved into repurposed spaces, the finishing touches always put on by a different artist. The trains are identical copies, their houses anything but. Bookmark here

I like that about train stations in England. Bookmark here

I do not like Yaroslavsky station. It’s like an airport with trains, shiny and sterile.Bookmark here

I’m leaning against a wall, minding the suitcases, waiting for Bastien to finish up his business in the station liquor store. He said it was important to stock up now, not knowing when we’d next get the chance.Bookmark here

A couple of older women pass by, gossiping not so discreetly about me. I probably look a bit strange with my hood up inside, but I think the white hair would stand out more.Bookmark here

“There you are, I told you to stay put.”Bookmark here

Bastien approaches me from a blind spot, impressive considering my back is up against a wall.Bookmark here

“What made you think I would?”Bookmark here

“I didn’t say I thought you’d listen.”Bookmark here

He’s come back to me holding two plastic bags that sound like clinking glass.Bookmark here

“How much did that set you back?”Bookmark here

“All I know is they didn’t decline my card, so not enough.”Bookmark here

Bastien chuckles to himself as if he thinks he’s funny.Bookmark here

Getting down onto one knee, he ties the two loads of liquor to his suitcase before glaring up at me.Bookmark here

“I gotta go find our liaison, stay put this time.”Bookmark here

“Yeah, yeah.”Bookmark here

He hops back onto his feet and walks away briskly, looking back over his shoulder frequently to make sure I haven’t moved. Bookmark here

As soon as he disappears around a corner, I untie the bags and hand them off to a passerby who doesn’t need to be convinced to take them.Bookmark here

I’m not on this trip by choice, I remember that. I was coerced into taking this job, it was either me or Trish. Realistically, with Aaron gone, Trish can’t go anywhere. She needs to stay behind to protect Paul because I’m the last person who should be charged with preventing someone’s death.Bookmark here

Besides, Bastien asked for me.Bookmark here

It’s not a normal occurrence that our little group would work with Kohsan’s men, but neither side is against working towards a mutual goal.Bookmark here

This time, I’m told, we’re being tasked with maintenance of sorts on one of the far side of the world’s ‘necessary evils’. That’s how Paul put it anyway. We’re being sent to deal with some unspecified problem on the underground Trans-Siberian railway.Bookmark here

There’s two of us because the last time they only sent one guy and got sent back half of him. They reckon that half of me and Bastien should be enough to get the job done.Bookmark here

Paul didn’t mention exactly what differentiated this Trans-Siberian train from its normal world counterpart, and I don’t like asking Bastien questions of real note. Makes him feel like I’m in his debt.Bookmark here

“What the fuck did you do with the booze?”Bookmark here

He’s back, and this time he has a friend, some lanky prick in a white suit. Feels weird to call him lanky given he’s a good 3 inches shorter than Bastien, but he’s built like a toothpick.Bookmark here

“I stayed put, didn’t I?”Bookmark here

Oooh, he looks mad, he’d kill me if he could.Bookmark here

“We need to go, now.”Bookmark here

The suit is trying his best to sound authoritative as he ushers us towards the north end of the station. Bookmark here

Surprisingly Bastien toes the line, though he nearly cracks the handle of his suitcase as he grabs it.Bookmark here

Toothpick leads us through the station to an empty platform. None of the lights are on and it’s still early enough that I can barely see the black train. But it’s there. My eyes adjust as we walk alongside it, it’s like no train I’ve ever seen before. The sides are perfectly smooth, there are tinted windows but no doors.Bookmark here

We’re led all the way to the end of the platform where the only unique carriage sat. Unique is a gross overstatement actually, it has a door, which none of the others do.Bookmark here

“Here’s where you get on, do you have your tickets?”Bookmark here

“Sure do.”Bookmark here

Bastien reaches for the tickets in his pocket and hands them to Toothpick.Bookmark here

“Good enough.”Bookmark here

Without either of us having noticed, the train door has opened. The second I’ve followed Bastien on board, it’s been snapped shut behind me without a sound. Bookmark here

Inside, things get stranger. There’s about a half dozen people dotted around the first carriage, almost all of them covering their face in some way. We stand out, a lot. Even through the sunglasses and face masks, I can feel that all eyes are on us.Bookmark here

“Don’t mind us fellas, we’re the type of special you’ve never heard of.”Bookmark here

I sit down beside a blonde girl wearing a grey tracksuit and some silver cuffs. She seems to be the only one with her face visible, maybe that’s why she’s hanging her head so low. Bookmark here

Across from us, Bastien finds his seat. He takes out the book he likes pretending to read to not arouse suspicion and opens it to the first page.Bookmark here

The other four people are sat a bit further down the carriage, looking all too plain and unimportant in their own unique way. The only unifying feature they have is the amount of luggage they’re carrying; too much for a trip away, not enough to make such a trip permanent. Bookmark here

One of the few things I know about this train is that it serves as somewhat of an international black market for the far side. Makes it more likely that those cases seek to be emptied long before Vladivostok.Bookmark here

Suddenly, the train starts moving without so much as a whistle. Even pulling out of the station normally is too much for the Trans-Siberian. The direction we’re moving suggests that we are at the front of the train. I thought I’d missed the driver's carriage at the other end but, unless it’s being driven from the back, it would seem there isn’t one.Bookmark here

Looking across at Bastien to gauge his reaction, I find the spine of his book pointed at me, but his gaze fixated to my right. Seems he’s having fun checking out the shackled girl.Bookmark here

I elbow her lightly in the ribs. Bookmark here

“Guy in the suit over there likes what he sees. Probably a bit too much.”Bookmark here

The girl doesn’t respond, it’s obvious why. An equally suited man at her side is glaring at her through the side of his glasses.Bookmark here

“Maybe you like that kind of attention, huh?”Bookmark here

Dead eyes are the only response I get. It’s not that she likes the look of the carriage floor, those are irises stunted by resignation. I’ve seen them through cracked glass too many times.Bookmark here

“So, who’s with who?”Bookmark here

The man to her right does not appreciate being questioned so directly, tensing up so hard that he pulls on the girl’s restraints.

I lean across the girl and poke her owner in the face to annoy him.

“I asked you a question, stop being rude.”Bookmark here

“If you don’t stop, I’ll be forced to take action.”Bookmark here

The brush of his hand, not so subtlety, reveals a concealed weapon. Clearly, he’s new to these things if he thinks the sight of a gun even approaches threatening.

“Sounds fun, I’d love to see you try.”Bookmark here

Just as I’m getting close enough to steam up his glasses, I feel a forceful tug on my jacket that rips me right from my seat. Bastien has stepped between us, trying his best to seem apologetic.Bookmark here

“I’m sorry about that, it won’t happen again.”Bookmark here

The man’s eyes flick from Bastien to me before his demeanour relaxes.Bookmark here

Bastien drags me over to his side of the carriage and begins his attempt at a dressing down.Bookmark here

“Stop fucking with people for the hell of it, you’re going to get me into trouble.”Bookmark here

“Last time I checked, you’re not my boss, my boyfriend or anything of the sort.”Bookmark here

“Every woman I’ve ever met seems to think that means something.”Bookmark here

“I’m going back over there.”

No sooner than I’m on my feet has Bastien dragged me back down by the waist of my jeans. Bookmark here

“Do you want me to fucking kill you?”Bookmark here

“I want you to stop trying to make things so difficult… Who uses a gun as a threat in a place like this, Kai?”Bookmark here

“Someone who doesn’t know any better.”Bookmark here

“Exactly.”Bookmark here

“Yeah, exactly. Sounds like someone worth messing with.”Bookmark here

“Come on, think a little bit for once. You can’t get on this train by mistake. Take a better look at them.”Bookmark here

I tend not to like closing my eyes ever since that incident with the French girl. It’s not that I can see exactly what she saw, but just knowing what’s hidden behind the illusion of reality scratches away at its surface.

The suited man proves to be rather unexceptional. I can feel the coil of his soul trapped in its casing, not even attempting to reach out to another sequence. He’s just a normal person. The girl beside him though, she’s something else entirely. I’ve never seen a soul like that before.

Just while I’m considering quite what she is, I’m struck by the memory of her cuffs.Bookmark here

“So, he’s law enforcement?”

“Of a sort. My bet is he’s with Social Control.”Bookmark here

Great. ‘Social Control’. Another thing from this side I’m way behind on.Bookmark here

“You say that as if it’s something I should know.”Bookmark here

“Paul didn’t tell you about Social Control?”Bookmark here

He smiles wryly in my periphery. It’s been my suspicion for a while that he plans to propose a switching of sides at some stage down the line. Every failing of Paul’s is just another bullet for him.Bookmark here

“I don’t know, he says a lot of things I don’t care to listen to.”Bookmark here

“Well listen to me then. You do not want to mess with Social Control.”Bookmark here

“Sure I do. What’s the worst that could happen?”Bookmark here

Bastien sighs and massages his temples with one hand.Bookmark here

“I get it, the whole world is your toybox, Kai. But what happens when the toys stop wanting to play with you?”Bookmark here

“What are you trying to say?”Bookmark here

“I’m saying don’t mess with Social Control.”Bookmark here

Just then, a man enters from the next carriage in silence. He’s dressed very plainly, suit trousers and a white shirt sans tie. You can tell he’s different though, just by the way he holds himself. That and by the fact he’s wearing a blindfold.Bookmark here

He surveys the carriage quickly before landing his ‘gaze’ on the man from Social Control and his prisoner. A quick flick of his head backwards indicates that they’re to go through.Bookmark here

As the two of them pass us by, I can’t help but feel the girl looks a bit disappointed in me. Wouldn’t be the first time.Bookmark here

After that, the blindfolded man ‘looks’ everyone else up and down before waving them through to the next. It’s clear he’s leaving us for last. Bookmark here

When it’s only the three of us left, the blindfolded man sits down across from us and removes his blindfold. It becomes immediately clear why he wears it, I’d do it too. His pupils are a single solid red colour, with no iris separating them from the rest of the eye.Bookmark here

“Bastien. It hasn’t been long enough.”Bookmark here

The only thing hollower than his eyes is his voice, which sounds like it was stripped of any enthusiasm long ago.Bookmark here

“Oh, come on Maxim, you missed me.”Bookmark here

“I didn’t.”Bookmark here

Maxim takes out a cigarette and without missing a beat, Bastien tosses him his lighter.Bookmark here

“He’s a social smoker.” Bastien whispers to me. I must’ve let it show.Bookmark here

Before the lighter has even reached the apex of its return throw, Maxim gets down to business. Bookmark here

“Why’d you bring that?” he says, pointing at me while looking at Bastien.Bookmark here

“I’m making a bit of a habit of bringing her along on jobs I don’t like the sound of.”Bookmark here

“No one’s even told you what this job is yet.”Bookmark here

“Exactly.”Bookmark here

I decide to keep my mouth shut for now. Maxim seems like the kind of guy you should never let see you, let alone hear you.Bookmark here

“Fine, I don’t care. As long as she can help.”Bookmark here

Keeping up his end of the social smoker’s bargain, Bastien lights one of his own before continuing.Bookmark here

“So, what’s gotten you into the habit of sending us back limbs in the mail? Good employees don’t grow on trees.Bookmark here

“The killer we have on board, he’s a special kind of problem.”Bookmark here

“In what way?”Bookmark here

“He keeps killing people Bastien, don’t be so fucking dense.”Bookmark here

“That’s not a problem.”Bookmark here

“It’s bad for business.”Bookmark here

Bastien accidentally snaps his smoke between his fingers before lighting another. He mustn’t like talking to this guy.Bookmark here

“I got a question for you Maxim, why can’t you deal with this yourself?”Bookmark here

“Whoever it is, they’re hiding out in the back of the train. I can’t even venture further than the third carriage anymore, my eyes go completely dark. I suspect that’s got something to do with you, indirectly.”Bookmark here

He’s implying that whoever’s responsible for this is related to the game, I think.
Bookmark here

“How many dead?” Bastien asks.Bookmark here

“I’ve lost track. Even if I hadn’t, I only know about the bodies that get carried up this way. Everything past the third carriage has been a mystery to me for months.”Bookmark here

“And you still keep running the train?” I blurt out.Bookmark here

I really had intended to stay silent, but I can’t stay quiet knowing that they continue to sell tickets under these circumstances. Trish is rubbing off on me a bit too much.Bookmark here

Maxim turns his eyes on me, staring unbroken into my own.Bookmark here

“We can’t stop it. If the train stops, everything stops, everything goes dark.”Bookmark here

Neither of us blinks while the silence holds. It’s only broken when Bastien decides he’s had enough of it.Bookmark here

“I'm sure this is fascinating for both of you freaks, but I’d like to spend as little time as possible on your death train, Maxim. If you have anything else to tell me, then do it. If not, let me get started.”Bookmark here

It takes him a second or two after Bastien finishes talking for him to break eye contact with me.Bookmark here

“Of course… follow me, I’ll show you to your room.”Bookmark here

He gets up, and holds open the door to the next carriage. Bastien goes through first and I follow behind.Bookmark here

As I pass through, just low enough so Bastien doesn’t hear him, Maxim whispers to me.Bookmark here

“You can’t blink either, can you?”Bookmark here

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