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Mare Imbrium Express

Dead End Track

By Robin Andrew BlairPublished 2 years ago 26 min read
Mare Imbrium Express
Photo by Emile Guillemot on Unsplash

I start my day surrounded by dead bodies.

The corpses form an untidy pile beside me in the small utility closet. I want to arrange them neatly in a row on the floor, shortest to tallest, but unfortunately I lack the space. Blood forms a dark red pool on the floor. Such a mess.

There’s blood on my hands and torso. I use the small sink to clean myself up.

I feel no sadness as I step over the dead Trak-Sec personnel and walk out the door. Why should I?

Soon afterwards I spent several hours in silence and darkness. I felt no sense of pressure, of weight, or of acceleration.

It had been calm and peaceful. It would have been nice to stay like that for a while, but now I began to notice sounds around me.

Someone is screaming. No, that’s an error.

Several people are screaming. No, that’s also an error.

Two people are screaming and three people are yelling. I make this distinction based on the complete lack of intelligible words made by the screamers.

It would seem that all five people are in a state of panic. One of the people yelling is urgently requesting divine intervention. My historical data is limited, but I estimate the likelihood of a response is statistically insignificant.

Behind the screaming and yelling I register a steady hum of servos and a rhythmic thud thud noise. I begin picking up a steady thump thump impact through my feet that matches the thuds. There is also a fairly steady vibration in what I assume is the floor below me.

Next I begin to see light. Images start to form. Glowstrips overhead illuminate a narrow room.

Thud thump, thud thump.

Two rows of seats fill most of the room. They run in pairs along each side, with a passageway down the middle. All but two of the seats are empty. Five people stand in the aisle, either screaming or yelling. A sixth person sits hunched over in a seat near the front of the room.

I occupy the other seat, located near the back of the room. I say ‘front’ and ‘back’ based on the way all the seats are facing, although now that I’ve had a few more moments to analyze the situation it’s obvious that this is a train car, and not a room at all.

I look to the sides. Yes, there are windows there, the kind you would expect to find on a passenger train. Outside all I can see is light gray streaked with white and darker gray.

It made sense I was on a train, of course, but typically it wouldn’t be moving.

Thud thump, thud thump.

Ahh … that sound must be the mag-coils passing over the monorail interconnects.

The turning of my head seems to draw the attention of one of the yelling people. He appears to be a male in his mid-thirties, short black hair, brown skin, crooked nose and heavy brow. He’s wearing a gray jumpsuit with a small silver badge over the left chest pocket. The name on the tag reads ‘Mungala.’ The man gestures to his companions. The yelling and screaming subsides. The man moves towards me. Two others follow, crowding the narrow aisle. A man and a woman remain back, talking more quietly to each other now, looking around nervously.

“You,” Mungala yells, standing over me. “Stop the train!”

“Sorry, sir, I’m not authorized initiate emergency stops,” I reply.

Mungala swears. “Then use your radio, conehead! Contact someone who can! Call the driver. Call Copernicus Station.”

I switch on my radio, but immediately discover it’s been damaged.

“Sorry, boss. Seems my radio is busted.”

He swears again. For some reason he glares at the woman behind him, receiving a guilty look in response.

“There a problem?” I ask.

There seems to be a problem of some kind, but with many people it can be hard to tell. In my experience the behavior folks exhibit when extremely happy can appear quite similar to the behavior they display when extremely upset.

“Yeah, there’s a goddamn problem!” the man yells. “This train won’t stop and the track isn’t complete! We’re about to be splattered all over the floor of Mare Imbrium!”

The man standing behind Mungala pushes a pair of spectacles up and frowns. “Well, actually, I think currently the track construction ends pretty high up at the rim wall. We may actually go into orbit, or out into space, depending on our velocity…”

He breaks off as Mungala turns to direct a glare his way.

“We’re dead either way,” he snarls, before turning back to me. “You must be able to do something. You’re a train engineer, right?”

As it turns out, Mungala is correct. I do possess a train engineer designation. “Right you are,” I reply. “I’m a train engineer. I can do all kinds of stuff … Care to make a specific request?”

“Maybe it can open the port to the next carriage?” the woman suggests. Glo-tatts shimmer and dance on her face. They appear to be fairly old; the images are patchy and sagging in places. She has a badge as well, the name reads ‘Barker.’ “Maybe we could get to the control car?”

Mungala considers this for a moment then nods. “Yeah, worth a try. Go open the port,” he demands, pointing towards the front of the carriage.

Thud thump, thud thump.

“You got it boss,” I reply, rising to my feet. I don’t bother to mention that the control car is located at the rear of the train.

I make my way up the aisle, the other occupants scrambling aside. A couple give me hopeful looks as I pass. The hunched over figure near the front seems to be a young woman. She’s slowly rocking to and fro while muttering to herself. She has limp brown hair and pale skin, with blue veins showing on the back of her slim hands.

I reach the door and press the ‘open’ pad to the right.

Boop boop.

The control panel flashes red and emits an error sound. The door remains closed.

I turn to see that Mungala and his two companions have followed me. They’re standing just a few feet back down the aisle.

“Port’s locked,” I helpfully point out.

“Yeah, we know that, dipstick!” Mungala yells. “Unlock it or something. Force it open, for Harlan’s sake.”

“I don’t have the security code,” I calmly inform him. “I’m also not authorized to damage the train without specific clearance.”

It’s apparently my turn to receive the glare. Mungala looks like he’s ready to explode. The man with the glasses pats his damp forehead with a cloth. Barker looks pale.

“How long do we have, Leroy?” she asks the sweaty one.

The sweaty man with the glasses, Leroy apparently, puts away his sweat-rag and pulls out a compad. He taps away at it with slim well manicured fingers. He seems to have a map open in one window, and is doing some vector and acceleration calculations in another. Based on the map scale, the movement of the small green dot that I assume marks our location, and the edge of Mare Ibrium, I estimate we have ten minutes and fifteen seconds left before we reach the end of the track.

Assuming our current rate of acceleration remains constant.

Thud thump, thud thump.

Leroy continues tapping on his screen, brow furrowed. Barker and Mungala watch him impatiently. Further back down the carriage I see one of the passengers, a short round-faced man with small dark eyes, trying to remove one of the seats. I watch with interest, wondering how he’s going to deal with the nexa-nut bolts. They tend to be tricky, unless you apply a nexa-nut debonder field™ first.

Another passenger with bright orange hair begins slamming a briefcase against one of the windows. The OrangutanGlass50™ panels are designed to withstand up to 500 MPa, so I’m curious what his intention might be.

Just beyond the window basher the other passenger has given up on the seat bolts and is coming our way. He’s carrying a small metal cylinder

Leroy finally stops tapping on his compad and looks up. “Uh … we have about ten minutes before we hit the end of the line,” he announces.

Holding up his compad he shows the group a countdown timer. It’s off by around thirty seconds.

I feel no imperative to correct him.

“What do you know about this?” The round-faced man demands, walking up and shoving the canister in my face.

“Looks like a gas canister,” I reply. “The label indicates it contained CHCL4H2. The release lever has been pulled, so it’s probably empty now. Manufactured by Mitsu-Novo-Boeing Industrial Co. Your hand is over the manufacture date, so I don’t know more than that.”

“I mean why is it here conehead? What does CHC4 or whatever do? Isn’t that an explosive?” round-face barks at me.

It takes a moment for me to make the connection to what is sometimes referred to as “C4”. I ignore how insulting the man is being. I attempt to provide a helpful response.

“No sir. C4 is a solid, CHCL4H2 is a non-explosive gas under normal conditions. It’s typically used as an anesthetic. I’m not sure why it’s here though.”

“An anesthetic. You mean it puts people to sleep?” the woman asks.

“If by ‘puts them to sleep’ you mean ‘renders them unconcious’, then you got it,” I reply.

“Where did you find that canister, Jacobs?” Mungala asks him.

“Under my seat,” Jacobs replies.

“So maybe you brought it on the train? Maybe you released it?” Mungala says, looking at Jacobs. His expression shifts from angry glare to accusing glare.

Jacobs steps back, his face looking as pale as moondust. “Now look here, Mungala, I don’t care for your insinuations. This could have easily rolled along the floor from anywhere. Why would I call attention to it in the first place if I was the culprit?”

Mungala rubs his crooked nose, brows furrowed.

Leroy waves his compad with the countdown timer. “People, we’re running out of time. We need to figure something out rapido. Okay, so someone knocked us out, maybe someone on the train, maybe someone in this carriage. I guess they wanted us asleep till it was too late. But why? Who wants to kill us? Why us?”

“Mumble mumble them.” The muffled voice comes from the front of the carriage, barely more than a whisper.

Thud thump, thud thump.

The group turns toward the woman hunched over in the front row.

“What was that?” Mungala calls out as he moves towards the front. “If you have information, girl, speak up for God’s sake. We’re all about to die!”

“That’s Su Lin from accounting,” Barker says. “I see her in the cafeteria all the time.”

“She’s a Moonrocker as well?” Leroy asks. “Do we all work for MMC?”

Mungala pauses on his way up the aisle, stopping beside the two other passengers. “Hey, do both of you work for Moonrock Mining Co.?”

The orange-haired man has stopped pounding on the window. Sweat coats his face. He seems to have lost weight recently. His skin hangs loose and flabby and his blue jumpsuit is baggy. His badge reads “McTavish.”

“Yeah, I’m in legal. Sam here is in accounting.” He points at the rather plain looking woman beside him. “Why?”

“I dunno. Looks like we all work for MMC though,” Mungala replies, moving forward.

Su Lin is rocking back and forth again. “We killed them,” she mutters, barely louder than before. “We killed them. We killed them. Now they want to kill us. We deserve to die.”

Mungala reaches the woman. Putting his hand on her thin shoulder he jerks her around roughly. “We killed who? Snap out of it, girl. What are you babbling about?”

Su Lin looks up, her face drawn and pale, cheeks wet with tears. “The miners, their families. We didn’t let them have water,” she sobs. Pulling away she buries her face in her hands and resumes rocking.

"What's she talking about?" Mungala asks the two beside him.

Jacobs has a red flush on his face now, contrasting with his overall pale and clammy look. "There were those news reports," he replies. "Rumors MMC was cutting off water supplies to the miner domes to force an end to the strike."

"It's probably true," Sam says. "Management was freaking out over the lost profits. I'm not supposed to talk about it, but if we're all going to die who cares. The company was on the verge of bankruptcy."

"Oh come on," Leroy scoffs. "That's just gossip." He pulls his sweat rag out again, dabbing at his damp forehead to little effect.

"No, I saw the numbers myself," Sam admits. She bites her lower lip. "When I heard about the water I should have said something. When I got the invite for the meeting today I was hoping maybe they were going to announce an end to the strike."

Mungala grimaces. "I thought I was going to a downsizing meeting. Thought MMC was gonna fire a bunch of us to cut costs."

"So those rumors of miners dying of dehydration…?" Jacobs trails off.

Su Lin's hand shoots out and grabs Jacobs' arm, nails digging in like talons. "I saw the invoice for the clean up crew," she rasps. "Five children and twelve adults to be disposed of. We're all complicit. We're all murderers."

Sobbing, she lets go of Jacobs and falls back. Jacobs rubs his arm and frowns.

Thud thump, thud thump.

Mungala scrubs his hands through his hair and scowls before looking around the carriage.

"Okay, so we all work for Moonrock, and I assume we all got an invite that led to us being on this train… "

He pauses and meets the eyes of each passenger, other than Su Lin, who was crying and rocking back and forth. In turn they each nod in confirmation. He ignores me of course.

" maybe some nutcase blames us for those dead miners and their kids,” he went on. “But does that really help us? Unless we stop this runaway train we’re still going to go off the tracks, right?”

Sam points at her orange-haired companion. “Sean thought maybe if we break the window it will make the train stop.”

“Isn’t it a vacuum out there?” Leroy asks. “I heard they pump out all the air to reduce friction. Won’t we suffocate?”

Several of the passengers turn to look at me. “Is that right?” Mungala says.

“You betcha,” I confirm. Sean turns pale as he hears this, as do a few of the others.

“Although if the safety systems are working the tunnel section should quickly pressurize if a car undergoes decompression,” I add helpfully.

I pause while the passengers take this in.

“But this assumes no changes have been made to the hardware or software controls. Given this train is currently running on an out of service rail, and is continuing to accelerate beyond regulation maximum velocity, I wouldn’t bet your life on it.”

The passengers look at each other as they process this information. Leroy suddenly looks down at his compad then back at me, a startled expression on his face. “How do you know we’re accelerating?”

“Well boss, we’ve been passing monorail interconnect points faster and faster.”

Leroy slumps down in one of the seats, staring at the small green dot moving on his compad, then at the timer counting down in the upper corner of the screen. Tapping an icon on the screen he opens a window showing current velocity. The display reads 293 kph, then flips to 294, then 295.

He gives a groan of despair. “We were going about two thirty when I did my calculation.”

Thud thump, thud thump.

“It doesn’t matter,” Mungala announces. “Eight minutes, five minutes, whatever! We have to figure something out fast. Other than breaking a window and hoping the emergency brakes kick in, what options do we have?”

Sam looks around nervously, unsure if she should speak up. “Umm … if we got to the back of the train maybe that would help us survive a crash?”

Mungala looks like he’s ready to slap her in the face, causing Sam to shrink back. Taking a breath he gets hold of himself and nods. “Well, we can’t get through the zucking ports so far, but sure, if we could maybe that would help. It might also help if we could get into the control car.” He looks around the small group.

“Any ideas at all, speak up! We don’t have time to worry about feeling stupid or shy. Any ideas on how to get through the windows or the doors? Any ideas on how to contact Copernicus Station?”

“Why can’t we use our compads to call Copernicus?” Barker asks.

Leroy dabs his sweaty head and face. “The comms relays are installed by a third party once a line is complete. Line Seven is still under construction. Due to solar radiation our compad range is terrible. His radio might work.” He jerks his thumb in my direction. “But, well…”

Barker looks flustered and goes red in the face again. “Sorry, I just panicked…”

Mungala waves his hand dismissively. “We don’t have time for ‘should have, would have’,” he snaps. “Maybe that radio can’t be fixed, but maybe the radio in the control car would work, assuming we can’t just hit the brakes if we get there.”

“What would make the ports lock?” Sam asks, looking at me.

“There are various conditions normally required to toggle the locked state,” I reply. “If the sensors register a lack of atmosphere in an adjoining car. To prevent fire—”

Thud thump, thud thump.

Barker cuts me off. “What’s the most likely cause in this case?”

“Well, let me see,” I cock my head to the side and pause a moment, to give the appearance of careful consideration. “I don’t hear any alarms,” I note. ”I also don’t see any vid screen messages warning of fire, toxins, or other emergencies.” I point helpfully to the info screen mounted over the doors.

“And I don’t detect any abnormal surface temperatures on the connector ports. So, along with the apparent override of the speed regulator and brake systems, I’d guess the ports have been locked by a software edit.”

Based on available data, all other known options are far less likely, but I don’t bother providing the odds. Generally that just annoys people.

“Can you edit the software?” Jacobs asks.

“Sorry, sir. I’m not authorized to do that.”

“But you could if you were authorized?” Mungala interjects.


“So you know how to open the ports, but you just refuse to do it?” Barker accuses me. She looks ready to hit me with something. Instead she jabs her finger towards the back of the car.

“I authorize you! I order you to open that zucking port!” she screams.

I look at her calmly. “Sorry boss, but you don’t have admin privileges,” I reply.

Barker suddenly grabs a dented briefcase from the seat beside her and swings it at my head with a yell. His eyes going wide, Leroy half rises from his seat. Mungala moves forward to intervene, but he’s too slow. It doesn’t matter. I put my hand up to prevent the blow, halting the trajectory of the case. I close my fingers firmly on the smooth metallic surface and hold the case immobile. I look at her impassively.

Grunting and snarling, she tugs and jerks on the handle, trying to pull the briefcase free. I maintain my grip.

“For Harlan’s sake, let it go,” Leroy tells her. “We need the engineer in one piece.”

“Wasn’t breaking the radio enough?” Mungala snarls. “Are you trying to get us killed?”

“Maybe she is,” McTavish suddenly interjects. “Maybe she destroyed the radio on purpose? Maybe she’s the one who set off the sleeping gas!”

Several pairs of eyes turn to stare at Barker. She lets go of the briefcase and shrinks back, a look of terror on her face. “No, no. I just panicked,” she cries. “He’s just trying to turn us against each other!” She points at McTavish. “Maybe he’s trying to blame me because he’s the one responsible!”

Thud thump, thud thump.

“We don’t have time to point fingers,” Mungala yells. “If we hit an airlock door, or go through the last airlock, we’re all going to die. Very very soon.”

Seeing he has the group’s attention he continues at a lower volume. “We need to get to the control car, or find a way to trigger the brakes, maybe by smashing a window. Sean, I suggest you and Karen try finding a way to smash a window, since she seems to like breaking things. The rest of us will try to get a connecting door open and get to the control car. Yeah?”

A couple of people nod. Nobody offers any alternative. “Right,” Mungala says, turning to me again. “Which way is the control car?”

I drop the briefcase to the floor and point towards the back of the carriage. “That way, sir.”

“Alright, let’s go, you as well,” Mungala commands, gesturing to me as he turns and makes his way along the aisle.

I follow, Sam close behind me. Leroy clambers awkwardly from his seat, looking at his compad and shaking his head. “I don’t know if we have time,” he mutters.

“Do you have a screwdriver?” Mungala asks as we reach the rear port.

“Sure do, boss,” I reply.

He glares at me, jaw muscles twitching, fists clenching. “Then give it to me,” he growls, “and toss any other tools you have on the floor so we can see them.”

“You betcha. Although I’m obliged to inform you my tools may not be removed from the train.”

Mungala grimaces, then grabs the screwdriver I hold out towards him. “I’ll keep that in mind,” he spits out angrily.

Good thing for him I’m willing to share my tools with others, no matter how rude they may be. Mungala begins trying to remove the cover from the port control pad. Sam and Jacobs begin looking through the tools I pull from my kit and drop on the floor.

Sam picks up my nexa-spanner™ and looks at it quizzically. “This looks like some kind of weird sex toy,” she mutters.

Back down the car Barker and McTavish begin taking turns slamming briefcases against a window. Mungala gets the cover off the port control panel and starts poking at the wires within.

Thud thump, thud thump.

We hit three minutes to the tunnel exit.

The info screen over the main exit doors flickers and comes to life. A message appears on the screen. A voice comes from the speaker grille, reading the message aloud.

You may wonder why you’re here. Perhaps you’ve figured it out already. In case you haven’t, I’ll tell you, although perhaps it matters little to you now.

We the miners, and the families of the miners employed by Moonrock Mining Co., have found the owners, executives, and management of MMC guilty and complicit in the deaths of seventeen miners or their family members. These deaths are directly attributable to a lack of potable water, and subsequent dehydration leading to organ failure.

As a result, this train has been commandeered, and it will be used to destroy the landing shuttle currently due to land at the Hadley ore processing station, with several MMC executives onboard, including CEO Marvin Stonecarver.

Unlike the friends and family we have lost, your deaths, and those of the MMC executives, will be mercifully swift.

The message flickers and the screen goes black. A few moments later images of faces begin to fade in and out, one after the other, each with a name and date printed below.

The passengers begin yelling and screaming again. Mungala suddenly stabs my screwdriver into the innards of the door control panel. Sparks fly, and smoke begins leaking out in a thin line. The smell of burning plastic fills the air. With power to the mag-clamps cut off, the door slides aside.

“Yes!” Mungala yells. He steps towards the portal opening.

“Sorry sir, I need everyone to remain in this car,” I announce. Reaching forward I grab the back of his tan jumpsuit. With a heave I toss him behind me and move to block the door.

“Zuck you silicon for brains!” Mungala yells, scrambling to his feet. “Get out of my way!”

He charges at me. I can see other passengers preparing to join in. Barker is hefting her briefcase and moving into the aisle, McTavish is right behind her. Just behind Mungala I see Leroy picking up a spanner, his knuckles white as he grips the shaft.

As Mungala reaches me I slap him aside. I feel absolutely zero need to avoid harming anyone at this point. Clearly my code has been modified recently. My blow sends Mungala crashing into the seats to my left, blood spraying from a nasty head wound. Sam screams in shock, cowering back into a gap between the seats. Leroy looks terrified, but swings the spanner at me viciously. I catch the heavy tool mid swing. Snatching the spanner from his feeble grasp I slap him to the right. More blood, more screams and shouts.

Thud thump, thud thump.

Barker screams something at McTavish as she throws a briefcase at my head. I catch it and toss it back, hitting her full in the face and taking out several teeth. She stumbles and curses, but keeps moving forward, spitting blood and making a terrible mess everywhere. Her face is a mask of fear and rage, bloody mouth open as she shrieks and launches herself at me.

Despite knowing the entire train will almost certainly be destroyed or damaged beyond repair in the very near future, I can’t help but disapprove of the mess the passengers are making. When I throw Barker against the wall she stops screaming immediately, but she does start leaking all over the seats and floor. Lots of blood of course, but also other organic fluids I don’t recognize. I’m an engineer, not a doctor.

McTavish’s freckled face is flushed red. He runs at me, holding a large briefcase before him like a shield. I punch the briefcase hard, putting a good sized dent in the side and cracking the carbo-fibal casing. His inertia drives him forward, his face impacting the backside of the case with a crunch of cartilage. Another spray of blood from a broken nose and split lips. McTavish yelps and stumbles backwards, falling to the floor.

The info screen switches from showing images of people, to what appears to be a live feed from the external cameras. Su Lin ignores this. She’s slumped down in her seat, apparently catatonic. Barker remains pleasantly quiet and still. The other passengers are making a variety of noises, little of which is intelligible. A couple of them glance up at the info screen.

Thud thump, thud thump.

At first there is little to see. The walls of the monorail tunnel are dull and mostly uniform, fused moonrock lit by regularly placed glo-strips and the internal lights of the passing train. Within seconds however an airlock door appears. It approaches rapidly. Almost immediately the port irises open. Beyond is revealed the blackness of space, a few bright stars visible here and there. In the distance lies the smooth expanse of Palas Putredinis.

The passengers are largely silent now. Perhaps due to shock or blood loss, perhaps they’ve finally accepted their fate. A couple stare at the vid screen image, the others close their eyes, mouths making small movements I don’t understand.

A bright object appears ahead. Blue flame stabs down beneath it, plumes of gas jetting from retro rockets in brief bursts. It’s clearly a landing craft of some type, slowly descending. Presumably this is the shuttle delivering the MMC CEO and his retinue to the OPC.

The sound of vibrations cease as we leave the rail. In near silence the train glides forward.

The tunnel for Track Seven A exits the outer rim of the Mare Imbrium basin 4.72 km above the basin floor and 3.16 km from the OPC spaceport. site. The train is traveling at 502 kph. It appears we will intersect the path of the shuttle in approximately twenty-two seconds.

It takes a few moments before someone on the shuttle notices the oncoming danger. As I watch they fire their main thrusters at full power. Years of living with Earth gravity probably made them assume the train will reach ground level rather rapidly. On the moon however, the train’s downward arc is gracefully slow.

The shuttle begins moving erratically as the pilot panics and tries to take evasive action. Clearly landing craft are not designed for responsive handling. It’s a near thing, but with the masses and inertia involved, the slightest contact is all it takes.

I register a harsh jolt. A couple of the passengers scream in terror, the physical shock pulling them from their emotional paralysis. The walls of the train car twist and buckle. Most of the windows crack or shatter. Atmosphere begins blowing outwards from a dozen breaches. Yells and screams become gasps and wheezing. I grip the back of the closest seat as g-forces threaten to toss me around the carriage.

The image on the view screen shows the lunar surface spinning and approaching rapidly. I briefly catch sight of the landing craft crashing into a tall lattice of monorail supports. This is followed by a flash of light, which I assume is the fuel tank exploding. It’s all rather exciting.

The train car hits the ground. Despite my bracing I’m thrown forward, as are the other passengers. I hear a screeching of metal, faint in the thin atmosphere that remains. The car bumps and jolts along for a while, then finally comes to rest.

I clamber slowly to my feet among the wreckage and survey the damage. This carriage at least appears to be a complete write-off, not worth repairing at all. I’m covered in blood, but have no effective way to clean it off. Those miners were right, not having water when you need it really is rather annoying. Rather than worry about it I put myself in standby mode. I'll just wait for an admin to arrive.

I end my day surrounded by dead bodies.


About the Creator

Robin Andrew Blair

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