Railcrazy
A short Torn World story about an Empire citizen who dreams of a better job...
2010-05-10
Every six months, Yeff applied for a position as the driver for one of the big self-powered railcars he saw pulling out of the main station to travel out into the Empire. He watched in envy from the driver's seat of the city cablecar. He knew their schedules by heart, and amused himself by imagining their reception at the distant city. Those cars got to go somewhere, while he drove around and around on the cablerails of Affamarg, stopping every few blocks to take passengers on and let them off.

Every six months, he was declined. At first, his school scores were not high enough. He took classes on the side, spending frustrated hours at the library he was licensed to use, trying to get his math and technology grades higher. But when he finally did, there were simply no openings for him; his fees were partially refunded at the end of the period with a neatly-written apology that there were limited positions and many qualified applicants, and an invitation to renew his application.

"You wouldn't like it anyway," his mother would tell him. He met her once a month for dinner. She would hug him, and maybe cry a little, then criticize his clothing and his hair, and he would remember why they only met once a month. "You'd miss your home," she insisted. "There are too many germs in other cities." She was constantly on about germs.

"Traveling is overrated," Egreth insisted. Egreth was the monitor assigned to his cablecar at random times twice a tenday, and was full of opinions on everything. "You might believe those places are better, bigger, brighter, but all the cities are the same. They've all got cablecars and licensing offices."

"It's not about the cities," Yeff argued. "It's about the places in between them. There are thousands and thousands of miles of rail - and I run the same 8.7 mile circuit every day." He had the city loop - the loop of cablecar that ran around the outskirts to the big museums at the south and the natural sciences schools in the east, returning to the main station just east of the city center. That was where the larger, self-powered railcars were, and sometimes he cut the station wait before a few ticks short so that he had a few extra moments to watch them, and wonder what it was like where they were going.

"Get a travel license," Egreth suggested. "I'll recommend you, if you need. Take a tenday off and go see one of those cities and the deaddull spaces between. You'll come back wondering why you wasted the time to go."

Yeff floundered, trying to explain why it would be so different to drive between the cities, and how the destination didn't matter.

The railcar couldn't choose its path any more than he could, stuck on its heavy metal track without deviation, but they could choose their speed, which he couldn't. All he could do was watch his doors, and signal the station when he was ready. A railcar could stop and start on its own, and the idea of that freedom was a breathtaking as the idea of exploring all that space between Affamarg and the next stop, and the wonders of that city.

"I guess," he told Egreth each time. But he never bothered to fill out the justification forms for the travel license. A few tendays later, they'd talk about it again when Egreth caught him staring longingly at the shining railcars.

"You're just railcrazy," the monitor would say with a shrug, and he'd shake his head and go back to check licenses of the people in the car.

And every six months, Yeff would apply again to drive the railcars out of the city to see the rest of the Empire.


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