“Okay, so it’s a pretty cool train,” Lyan said.
Jazzy sat across from him on a plush brown bench seat. She smiled, and her nose crinkled. “I’ve always thought so.”
“Although I think I just saw the same field of cows go by for the third time.” Lyan nodded at the window, where the outside streamed by in a nature-colored ribbon. “You know, just if I was getting nitpicky.”
Jazzy kicked his foot. “If you’re getting nitpicky, you can get off. I spent a lot of time on this train, sir.”
She’d done a really good job with the train. The inside was burnished wood and gleaming metal, and the muffled clacking of rails and snatches of conversation from other passengers filled the car. He was pretty sure that if he listened closely enough, he’d start hearing a lot of repeated conversations and looped phrases, but it was nice background noise.
A thought struck him. “Hey. Jazzy.”
“Does Weedly know about you coming here?”
Her smile went a little stiff. “Don’t think so. I’m really careful about hiding the door.” She looked out the window. “The Collection is kind of my secret place. I used to come here a lot.”
“But not so much anymore?”
“No, not so much.” Jazzy squinted at the glass. “You know, when I first found it, I was so excited. Because I could go there, and there were all these people, and I could sort of pretend that I really was living back then, in the Grid before Weedly and everything.” She shook her head. “But after a while… you just realize that those people aren’t alive. They’re not even people, they’re just sort of shadows, stuck in a loop. And then it just gets creepy.” She shrugged, and shot him a half-smile. “And anyway. I went there because I was lonely, and recently I haven’t been, quite so much.”
Lyan’s cheeks got a little warm and he looked quickly out the window, grasping for a clever response.
“Where’d you folks like to go?” a man’s baritone rumbled.
Lyan looked back. A conductor stood in the aisle by their bench seat, smiling at Jazzy.
She smiled back. “All the way to the end, James.”
He raised his eyebrows. “You sure like that place.”
“It has its charms.”
“Okay, miss Jazzy.” James tapped the brim of his cap. “All the way to the end it is.”
Then they weren’t in the train anymore.
Lyan recoiled against the back of his seat. It was cushier, and his hands brushed leather.
Jazzy still sat across from him, but in a dimly-lit small compartment, eerily absent of train noise. Sleek windows, tinted heavily to show large, indistinguishable shapes looming by on either side.
“So do you like submarines, too?” he asked.
“It’s a limo,” she said, and laughed. “Kind of old-school. But they came back for a while in the Grid, sort of a fad for the people who could afford them.”
The vehicle stopped. On the left, a door whirred and slid back, and light flooded the cab.
Lyan blinked. Outside, a steady stream of snub-nosed, black-windowed vehicles in assorted sizes and colors glided past. Jazzy’s limo appeared to have stopped in the middle of a street.
“Welcome to March 3rd, 2081 AD.” Jazzy got up and ducked her head, stepped out into the street. Right into traffic.
Lyan jolted forward to pull her back, but Jazzy was already out of the vehicle, standing in the street. Cars whizzed by her, and she turned to grin at Lyan.
“Self-driving cars,” she said. “It’s impossible to get hit.”
Lyan slid out, dangling his feet into the street, and shoved away from the limo to stand by Jazzy. Vehicles flashed by, with the exhale of silent motors. Jazzy started walking, and the flow of traffic adjusted around her.
Lyan took a deep breath and followed. Cars blurred around him, inches away from his skin. It was such a weird sensation.
Then they were on the other side of the street, and the surroundings came crashing in, breathtaking.
He’d seen these places before, the Grid cities with their soaring skyscrapers and arches and spires, impossible architecture carving out space in impossibly blue skies. He’d wandered through them.
But this city was alive. Not just the stream of traffic he’d just stepped out of, but shiny metal vehicles streaking the air, too fast for his eye to catch size or shape. People in strange, bright clothes, moving along the sidewalks, wading through the traffic, standing in clusters of conversation or talking to translucent displays that floated in front of their faces.
Voices, whirring machines, drifting music, all the sounds tumbling together and rising up in one giant whisper, the sound of a city alive and breathing.
Lyan could only stand still, for a moment, staring and listening, and then a laugh broke out of his mouth, pulling after it a dizzying feeling of happy intoxication. This was great. This was all so great.
“Hey, buddy.” Jazzy’s finger prodded his ribs, pulling him out of it. “Remember. None of this is real. These people? They’re all dead now.”
Her words dropped a sour note into the euphoria, and he blinked, dragged back to pavement. And then he remembered what day she had said it was, right before she got out of the limo. He knew that date.
He looked at Jazzy. “You told that conductor to take us all the way to the end.”
The sourness spread. “All the way to the end. March 3rd, 2081.”
She nodded again. “Today the world ended.”
Lyan looked out at all the movement, the people walking along so unsuspecting. He swallowed. “Well, crap.”
She poked him again, but softer. “I know. It stinks. You gonna be okay?”
“Yes.” He forced a smile. “Yeah. Let’s talk about how we’re going to kill a supervirus.”
Enjoyed this chapter? Have feedback? Leave a comment below, or critique this installment in Google Docs.