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.
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.
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.
I like that about train stations in England.
I do not like Yaroslavsky station. It’s like an airport with trains, shiny and sterile.
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.
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.
“There you are, I told you to stay put.”
Bastien approaches me from a blind spot, impressive considering my back is up against a wall.
“What made you think I would?”
“I didn’t say I thought you’d listen.”
He’s come back to me holding two plastic bags that sound like clinking glass.
“How much did that set you back?”
“All I know is they didn’t decline my card, so not enough.”
Bastien chuckles to himself as if he thinks he’s funny.
Getting down onto one knee, he ties the two loads of liquor to his suitcase before glaring up at me.
“I gotta go find our liaison, stay put this time.”
He hops back onto his feet and walks away briskly, looking back over his shoulder frequently to make sure I haven’t moved.
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.
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.
Besides, Bastien asked for me.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“What the fuck did you do with the booze?”
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.
“I stayed put, didn’t I?”
Oooh, he looks mad, he’d kill me if he could.
“We need to go, now.”
The suit is trying his best to sound authoritative as he ushers us towards the north end of the station.
Surprisingly Bastien toes the line, though he nearly cracks the handle of his suitcase as he grabs it.
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.
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.
“Here’s where you get on, do you have your tickets?”
Bastien reaches for the tickets in his pocket and hands them to Toothpick.
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.
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.
“Don’t mind us fellas, we’re the type of special you’ve never heard of.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I elbow her lightly in the ribs.
“Guy in the suit over there likes what he sees. Probably a bit too much.”
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.
“Maybe you like that kind of attention, huh?”
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.
“So, who’s with who?”
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.”
“If you don’t stop, I’ll be forced to take action.”
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.”
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.
“I’m sorry about that, it won’t happen again.”
The man’s eyes flick from Bastien to me before his demeanour relaxes.
Bastien drags me over to his side of the carriage and begins his attempt at a dressing down.
“Stop fucking with people for the hell of it, you’re going to get me into trouble.”
“Last time I checked, you’re not my boss, my boyfriend or anything of the sort.”
“Every woman I’ve ever met seems to think that means something.”
“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.
“Do you want me to fucking kill you?”
“I want you to stop trying to make things so difficult… Who uses a gun as a threat in a place like this, Kai?”
“Someone who doesn’t know any better.”
“Yeah, exactly. Sounds like someone worth messing with.”
“Come on, think a little bit for once. You can’t get on this train by mistake. Take a better look at them.”
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.
“So, he’s law enforcement?”
“Of a sort. My bet is he’s with Social Control.”
Great. ‘Social Control’. Another thing from this side I’m way behind on.
“You say that as if it’s something I should know.”
“Paul didn’t tell you about Social Control?”
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.
“I don’t know, he says a lot of things I don’t care to listen to.”
“Well listen to me then. You do not want to mess with Social Control.”
“Sure I do. What’s the worst that could happen?”
Bastien sighs and massages his temples with one hand.
“I get it, the whole world is your toybox, Kai. But what happens when the toys stop wanting to play with you?”
“What are you trying to say?”
“I’m saying don’t mess with Social Control.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“Bastien. It hasn’t been long enough.”
The only thing hollower than his eyes is his voice, which sounds like it was stripped of any enthusiasm long ago.
“Oh, come on Maxim, you missed me.”
Maxim takes out a cigarette and without missing a beat, Bastien tosses him his lighter.
“He’s a social smoker.” Bastien whispers to me. I must’ve let it show.
Before the lighter has even reached the apex of its return throw, Maxim gets down to business.
“Why’d you bring that?” he says, pointing at me while looking at Bastien.
“I’m making a bit of a habit of bringing her along on jobs I don’t like the sound of.”
“No one’s even told you what this job is yet.”
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.
“Fine, I don’t care. As long as she can help.”
Keeping up his end of the social smoker’s bargain, Bastien lights one of his own before continuing.
“So, what’s gotten you into the habit of sending us back limbs in the mail? Good employees don’t grow on trees.
“The killer we have on board, he’s a special kind of problem.”
“In what way?”
“He keeps killing people Bastien, don’t be so fucking dense.”
“That’s not a problem.”
“It’s bad for business.”
Bastien accidentally snaps his smoke between his fingers before lighting another. He mustn’t like talking to this guy.
“I got a question for you Maxim, why can’t you deal with this yourself?”
“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.”
He’s implying that whoever’s responsible for this is related to the game, I think.
“How many dead?” Bastien asks.
“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.”
“And you still keep running the train?” I blurt out.
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.
Maxim turns his eyes on me, staring unbroken into my own.
“We can’t stop it. If the train stops, everything stops, everything goes dark.”
Neither of us blinks while the silence holds. It’s only broken when Bastien decides he’s had enough of it.
“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.”
It takes him a second or two after Bastien finishes talking for him to break eye contact with me.
“Of course… follow me, I’ll show you to your room.”
He gets up, and holds open the door to the next carriage. Bastien goes through first and I follow behind.
As I pass through, just low enough so Bastien doesn’t hear him, Maxim whispers to me.
“You can’t blink either, can you?”