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Networking on the Rails

No Tok, no story.

By Dan GeePublished 2 years ago Updated 2 years ago 11 min read
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James wakes up on a train and doesn't know how he got there. His phone is on the table, with a sticky note attached to it. The words 'ha gd luck' is scribbled on it in childish writing.

He has been pranked.

“Ah, that bastard!” half-laughs James. He needs to find out where he is travelling to.

But first, he grabs his phone, goes to the camera and puts it in selfie mode to make a video.

“Hey, guys! This is your man Jame-o coming to you from…a train! My guy Dillan has cooked up a prank and stuck me on this train. I have no idea what train I am on, or where it’s going but I’ll keep you all updated as I work out how the HELL I am gonna get home!”

James thinks it is less than perfect and the ending was maybe a bit cheesy, so he only posts it to his stories for now.

He moves up the train which smells new and untainted.

First carriage; no one. Second carriage; repeat. He makes his way to the front carriage and it’s empty. He can see passing blinking lights through a large front window. This is a three-car train, it’s moving, and he’s the only one on it.

He reaches for his phone.

---

Ryan taps the screen of his phone and a satisfying animated sequence on the game he’s playing begins. But he’s seen it before, so he looks up from his mobile and moves his focus to the three in front of him.

One of the trains he is employed to monitor seems to be moving.

But it shouldn’t be, and it’s probably just the computer, so he reboots the system and heads to the toilet, phone in hand.

---

“So guys! I don’t even know how to tell you this, but I am on a runaway train! I think it’s one of those brand new AI-operated ones which means the good news is, I’m not far from home. The bad news is I don’t know how I am supposed to stop it, or how to get off, or even if I am meant to stop it,” splurts James into his phone screen. He is streaming live on TikTok and as well as looking at his complexion, he has half an eye on the view count which is steadily going up.

This motivates him.

“I won’t lie. I am scared. But this is date-dump which means I have to see it through. You all know the rules so I’ll keep you all in the loop and I’ll try and work out what to do in the meantime. Wish me luck!”

---

“What the fuck is a date-dump?” Ryan asks himself out loud. Then finishes his business as quickly as he can, opts not to wash his hands and runs back to his screens.

The system has been rebooted and the little light that symbolises a train being online is moving.

“Fuck. Idiot.”

---

Linda doesn’t like the new line of driverless trains.

Her father was obsessed with trains, and he loved her husband because he was obsessed with trains too. When he was a boy, her father thought the Mallard was the greatest thing in the world. When she was a girl, she liked going to see the Intercity 125s, with a simple packed lunch and a flask of tea.

As she got older she enjoyed the introduction of the British Rail Class 390 Pendolino, but they never really shaped up to their predecessors. Now the new computer trains. They have no soul. They’re all too neat.

She looks at her phone and sees a young man on a social media platform she doesn’t quite understand. It’s all quite confusing these days.

Linda writes ‘Stay safe xx’ in the comments and thinks about what she should do next with her evening.

---

“So if you were born under a rock and don’t know what a date-dump is, it’s when one of your mates cheekily spikes your drinks and puts you somewhere you shouldn't be. Now how the hell Dillan managed to get me here I do not know! But here I am and as I said before, I just think it’s important I share this with you. I didn’t the week after I met Dillan and he locked me in that toilet. And I didn’t when he pranked me with his dog and my cat. SO bad!.”

“They were both hilarious so I don’t want anyone to miss it this time.”

“Plus, you all know the rules. No Tok, no story.”

James looks at the screen and the view count is steadily increasing. He’s beaten his personal record and breaks character for a second to raise a smile. A WhatsApp message pops up and he swipes it away.

“So, any suggestions on how I stop this thing then?”

---

Hey James, it’s your mum. How are you? I have seen you are on one of the new driverless trains. How is it? I saw that you said on one of your videos that it’s moving and you can’t remember how you got on it. That sounds odd. Hope you are ok? Remember you can call dad about it. Sure he will know what to do. Maybe ring the emergency number? Love you.

Linda looks at the message for the fourth and final time and presses send.

She stands up and looks for the cat.

---

Cow, the cat, named because of his black and white fur, is not a happy feline. He had to wait for his food because Nice Smelling Human was late with his dinner and now she’s put out his least favourite. Cow eats it all anyway, but does so with a scowl.

Sad Human may be sad and he is always late as well, but at least he knows to put down the lamb.

Cow does not like Sad Human’s friend.

Cow eats his food and then goes out to look for Old Human.

---

“Hello? Can you hear me? How are you on that train?” asks Ryan into a headset. He likes speaking into a microphone on a flexible stick much more.

“We need you to help us stop the train. I have no idea how or why, but most of the remote access to the controls seems to have been shut off. Can you hear me?”

Ryan looks at the screen and sees the young man holding his phone up to the tannoy speaker.

“I think that’s proof the tannoy is working,” says Ryan to no one.

---

“Can you hear that? Some boomer is trying to talk to me! Just join the stream mate,” says James into his phone.

The view count goes up and the comments come in faster and faster. James’ phone feels hot in his hand. It begins to vibrate.

“Right guys, I’ll be back super quick. I suppose I’d best work out what to do with this train or my phone battery is just gonna die. Stay tuned!”

James ends the live stream and the train rolls on.

---

Cow, the cat, looks into the house where Nice Smelling Human sits. She’s on the phone, she’s animated, she looks worried. Cow thinks she might be looking for Old Human too.

He licks his paw and uses it to wash his mouth, then jumps up on the back wall of the garden and looks through the window of the house across the road.

Sad Human’s friend is sitting alone at his desk, looking at a Flashy Rectangle. He is laughing.

---

“The news?! Really? Okay, okay I’ll get it sorted,” replies Ryan into his phone. He hangs up, presses the tannoy button again, and sees his phone vibrate in front of him but doesn’t look at who is calling.

“Hello? Ryan at Remote Train Control Operations.”

“It’s me,” replies the voice.

“Thank christ!” exhales Ryan. “How did you get on that train and why is it moving?”

“No idea. Ask Dillan.”

“Yeah, you know what? I will!”

“Go on then.”

This is not how the conversation is meant to go. This is how it always goes.

“Look son, I just want you safe. Think you can listen to me and stop this train before you or anyone else gets hurt? We can deal with that idiot later.”

There’s silence that cuts through the juddering monotony of the magnetically driven train. A silence that floods the line.

James breaks it.

“Okay then. What do I need to do?”

---

James thinks about what he’s going to say. Then presses the record button.

“Hey, so I’m back. I’ve spoken to the guy at HQ and he’s had to explain to me everything I need to do to stop this train. If I don’t, it’s going to go full circle on the line and…”

He presses stop on the phone’s camera and collects himself. This has to be perfect. He can’t use terms like ‘HQ’ and he certainly shouldn’t mention the guy at HQ, it’s just easier that way.

“Hey everyone. So I am back. I had a chat with the people at the control centre and I think this should be OK. But first I feel there’s a few things I need to get off my chest. First, to Dillan, I forgive you. We’ve been through so much since we met and it feels way longer than just six months. Secondly I…”

James’ phone starts to vibrate.

“Secondly. I mean you know, next…”

The only person who can stop the driverless train then loses his train of thought.

James answers his phone.

---

“Honey? Are you okay? I know you don’t like me ringing when you’re influencing people but…”

Linda is cut off.

“I’m not influencing people, Mum. I am trying to be an influencer. Please, I have told you so many times.”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. But have you spoken to Dad? I really think you need to do whatever he says. You know he knows what he’s talking about. Even with those trains.”

“Okay, okay! Jesus. Let me just record this and then I’ll stop it. Have you heard from Dillan?”

“Dillan? No. But his light is on. Shall I go over?”

“No way. Leave it. Okay, bye.”

The line goes dead. Linda looks out of the window and spots Cow sitting on the wall, unsettled and looking for something. The light in the room across the road is on and that boy sits in the window.

---

“Could I kill him?” wonders Cow. “I swear he tried to kill me with that dog. It’s only a matter of time until he kills Old Human or Nice Smelling Human. I bet he’d even kill Sad Human.”

“Where is he anyway? I don’t want to be left with just Nice Smelling Human. She smells great but she thinks I like fish. Have I not made that clear with how I look at her?”

“Maybe I should check on her.”

---

James has to make do. Time is of the essence and if he waits any longer, then the gap between the live stream and the next post will be too big and he will lose out on views. So he posts a video that he’s not 100% happy with and crosses his fingers.

The train is marketed as the smoothest ride ever, but there is still a bump big enough that requires James to steady himself. The problem for James is that it wasn’t big enough to look dramatic. So now in his video, there is a very small section where he looks unsure of himself. He nearly tripped on his own feet and that made him nearly trip up on his words. Or maybe he did trip up? James is trying not to dwell on it.

Because soon, he has a train to stop.

---

“What is that idiot doing for fuck’s sake?” asks Ryan, looking at the live CCTV feed from the train.

He slams his hand down on the tannoy button and shouts into the headset.

---

“Hey guys, so this is it. I have to stop this train soon or…and oh my god this is mad…if I don’t, I could die.”

The view count is skyrocketing.

“There’s no guarantee this will work. I’ve been told the odds are 50/50 so please, just cross those fingers for me.”

A flood of comments.

The buzz of the tannoy kicks in and over it, James hears his dad, “I need you to stop that train right now, James. If you don’t, you risk crashing into one of the parked trains and causing a lot of damage…”

James carries on and hopes that no one on the live stream can hear his father’s voice.

“First off, I have to unlock the control desk with some kind of keyphrase…”

“...I can’t slow you down for some fucking reason but I have literally unlocked everything…”

The view count begins to flatline.

“...so, um, yeah. Then, next I have to do, um…”

“...and all you have to do is put your foot down on the safety release and press the button in the middle of the console…”

“...well, T B H, I need to focus so…”

The view count is plummeting.

“...it’s just like I used to show you on Granddad’s old model railway. One button but with a safety release as well. Do it now or you will get hurt. James? James?”

James ends the stream, does as his father says, and sits in the chair next to the controls. The train stops as he rejects an incoming call.

---

Linda watches the live stream go dead and begins to cry in silent terror. Her hands shake as she picks up the phone to call her son, but she gets no answer.

“Cow?” she shouts into the darkness from an open window.

But Cow is not out there.

---

Ryan raises both arms into the air and shouts, “yes!” to a room of empty desks and busy screensavers.

He looks at the CCTV feed and returns his arms to earth.

He picks up his phone, makes a call and doesn’t have to wait for an answer.

“You okay, son?”

---

James sits there for a few moments, waiting for notifications. But there are none.

After a few more moments, he sends a message that simply says ‘dick’, releases a sigh then repeats the word quietly to himself.

His phone vibrates, and this time he answers.

--

Cow wonders why Nice Smelling Human is shouting when he’s standing right by her. Perhaps she has lost her mind?

He brushes up against her and releases a loud purr, and he is immediately picked up. He nuzzles into her neck, which she cranes so her cheek is resting on his back.

They share each other's warmth.

Cow sees the Flashy Rectangle make a noise and light up. She looks at it, then mutters ‘thank god’ to herself and smiles.

Cow purrs again.

---

Later that evening a car’s headlights lit up the road and extinguished shortly after. More lights went on in the house and James came skulking in. He hugged his mother, his father joined the embrace and Cow sided up to the newly formed six-legged connection to make it ten.

A family together.

Dillan watched from his open window, alone.

And this is how the train stopped.

Short Story
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About the Creator

Dan Gee

Writing from Brecon, Wales. Father of two, lover of music and spicy food. Artist Relations/Marketing by day.

Much love.

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