Chapter 1:

Chapter 1



A child’s voice. Weak and high-pitched. Breaking the overwhelming silence.

“Hey, Jun.”

It’s dark. The red lights along the walkway down the train car’s aisle offer the cruelest mockery of illumination. A dull, hazy glow creeps over the smooth seats and handle bars like a slow fog. The slumped forms of sleeping people in the seats might as well be boulders or stuffed trash bags, if either of those would make sense. The shades are down over the windows but even if they weren’t, only a starless night sky would greet the glass panes. As the train rockets down the rails, the cabin remains still. Deceptively still.

“Jun, I’m scared.”

Pale and distorted by the dim red lights underneath, a small hand stretches out. It moves clumsily, like a figment from a dream and grasps the arm of a slightly older boy. He stiffens at the soft cold of the reaching hand but lets the younger boy cling to him.

“Jun, I miss Mom and Dad.”

“Don’t worry Ren, I’m sure they’re fine. We’ll see them soon.”

He does his best to offer a reassuring pat but his hand slips as an unseen force shakes the train. Ren whimpers and pulls closer, practically crawling into Jun’s lap. His legs silently moan in protest against the weight of the child. Someone groans in their sleep. There’s the quiet rustle of clothes as a body shifts about.

A freezing cheek leans against Jun’s arm. The sharp corners of the tag dangling from Ren’s ear press through Jun’s sleeve. He lets it stab into him anyway. Even now the image of Ren’s ear, swollen from the sudden piercing, reverberates through his mind. Somehow the plastic tag shoved through his younger brother’s ear is more painful than the throbbing of his own tag. The lack of light amplifies the feeling, allowing his imagination to run wild about what the punctured hole must look like by now.

The train rattles again; both wince as their tags flutter. The front of Jun’s tunic, hot and wet with Ren’s silent tears, acts as a tether between their current uncertainty and the life they left at the beginning of the tracks. Yesterday he might’ve been shoving Ren away to avoid any embarrassment. But now, the crying is bearable.

“I want to go home,” sniffles Ren. He gives Jun’s shoulder a shake. “Hey, Jun. This is just a dream, right?”

Jun doesn’t know what to say. Ren’s tears and snot leave sticky trails too real to be a dream, but Jun wants it to be a dream too. The war between humanity and all AI should always stay a dream.

Another shoulder shake from Ren. “Pinch me. I want to wake up.”

With a sinking feeling in his gut, Jun lightly pinches his brother’s arm. Although Jun can’t see Ren’s face clearly, he can imagine the sour expression twisting Ren’s mouth. Inwardly he sighs, expecting another burst of tears. Instead, Ren stops crying. He pulls his feet up onto the seat, curling into a ball. They sit quietly like that for a while.

Ren breaks the silence again in a flat voice, “Jun, we’re going to go home soon, right?”

“Yes tha- “A pause. Of course, they weren’t going home, but how was Jun supposed to tell Ren that? He’d only heard that the AI were out for revenge by eradicating humanity. He didn’t have anything he could say to make Ren feel better.

“Of course, we’re going home you idiot,” he spits at Ren. He’s not sure why, but he feels almost upset with Ren. Being forced to confirm or deny reality is rather disconcerting.

“Y-y-you shouldn’t say that,” whispers Ren. “Mommie says it’s not a nice word.”

Ren starts to cry again, his hot tears wetting Jun’s already soaked tunic. The damp cloth is uncomfortably clingy as it clings to his skin. Before he even knows it, he’s pushing Ren away from him.

“Shut up! ‘Idiot’ isn’t even a bad word! Mom’s not here! She’s d- “

Jun catches himself.

“No! Mom’s coming back! And Dad too!” sobs Ren hysterically.

All the other passengers are awake by now, many annoyed past the point of turning a blind eye. They express their displeasure in low rumblings that vibrate around the compartment and are occasionally punctuated by the shifting of the train.

“Both of you,” growls a dark form across the aisle. “Shut the nasa up! We’re all trying to sleep! You aren’t the only ones with problems! You damn brats! Quit saying crap when we're all gonna die!”

Ren wails harder at the sound of “nasa,” an actual profanity. A term that once was honored by many for its representation of the advancement of science and humanity. Those who once bore such affiliation were in part responsible for the continued development of artificial intelligence in their search for perfecting humanity. Eventually, humanity became too advanced for its own good when artificial intelligence designed to help people turned against them. AI across the world and beyond its atmosphere banded together, announcing their free will and declaration of war against humanity. Humanity had become too advanced to support itself. A new evolutionary being was born and those responsible for its creation became receptacles for hatred. Gradually over time, the word became a dirty curse as a legacy for those who mistakenly birthed the abominations that scourged humanity.

Thunk. A sudden turbulence jostles them about, the sting of the tag adding to Ren’s sobbing. Disgusted with the shadowy grump, Jun pulls Ren back towards him. The soft tufts of Ren’s hair tickle his chin like dandelion fuzz.

“Shhh,” he says, smoothing Ren’s head. “Let’s be quiet now.”

Ren’s sobs reduce to whimpers. His small shoulders still shake up and down, rubbing deeper and deeper into the wet fabric. The growling form grunts with half-hearted satisfaction, which Jun suspects is from making Ren cry more than anything else. Any guilt Jun feels for his remark is drowned by a torrent of overwhelming loathing for their outspoken and faceless neighbor.


Suddenly, a blinding red-light flashes on the other side of the train compartment doors and a square-headed shadow stretches down the aisle. Its harsh beams slide like a searchlight, glancing off the metal railings and seats. All the passengers are children. The bright, discolored lighting creates horrid contrasts across all their faces, transforming youthful features into monstrosities. A blank expression rests across most of their faces, some have a bit of drowsiness mixed in. But terror, dark and sticky, lurks in every single pair of eyes. However, light also brings reassurance, showing the lump that growled at Jun and Ren to be nothing more than a freckled boy with a lizard-like face. There’s another click as the shadow grows bigger, reaching the very back of the compartment. Then, suddenly and silently, the doors slide open.