(Show/Hide Browsing Column ->)
Yeff didn't pay the man a lot of attention at first, but noticed that he didn't get off for an entire cycle of Affamarg. Then, he didn't get off after a second cycle.Author's Notes
It wasn't unlawful; his ticket covered unlimited travel in the city for the day on the cablecar system, and his license matched that right. Sometimes tourists or newcomers might take a few loops, just to get the lay of the land. But this man was studiously reading a rag, paying no attention to the sights of Affamarg. Every so often, he would look up, and meet Yeff's eyes in the big mirror that let him observe his passengers.
It was distinctly unsettling, and Yeff wondered if he imagined the man listening to his familiar conversations with the regular riders.
By the third loop of the city - his last of the day, Yeff was thoroughly unnerved.
"Can I help you with something?" he finally asked, as they pulled into the city central terminal. The last of the evening passengers trickled off, but the man remained seated, folding his rag with careful precision.
He didn't wear any rank markings - there was no robe to guess his science advancement, and no guild vest to get a title from. His eyes were dark and strangely inexpressive, his clothing solidly middle-class and his hands modestly callused. "I think you can," he said, in a silky voice. Theatre-trained? "But more, I think that I can help you." He tucked the neatly folded rag into his license pouch and stood.
Yeff turned to meet his eyes outside of the mirror. "You can help me?" he asked dumbly. "Do I know you?"
The man chuckled. "Clearly not. I specialize in making... arrangements."
Yeff felt his eyebrows knit. "A tour guide?" Tourism wasn't a major industry of Affamarg, but he supposed there were some things to see in the city.
"A little more specialized than that," the man said evasively. "I understand you want to drive railcars."
Yeff flushed, suspecting a prank. "Did Egreth put you up to this?" he asked, turning around in his seat again. "This is the last stop," he added with finality.
The man, without really moving, was somehow much closer to him, his voice low and clear near Yeff's ear. "I can make that happen," he said.
A shiver ran up Yeff's back, and he grabbed his record log and started noting down his end time and daily observations. It wasn't so much the promise, as the belief in the man's voice. He knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that he could make it happen. The thrill of that idea was heady. "I'm high on the list, now," he said, faltering. He'd been regularly applying for the job since he'd juniored in the Transportation Guild.
"I can make it not happen, too," the man said, and there was an undercurrent of ice that hadn't been there before. "Your mother would be relieved."
Yeff was startled into looking at him again. To the eye, there was nothing alarming about him. An inoffensive smile on a mild face. "You know my mother?"
A shrug was his only answer. "I make arrangements," he said again. "But my offers aren't unlimited."
"What do you want from me?" Yeff asked tightly.
The smile widened, revealing perfect teeth. "I only want to make your mother happy," he said slyly. "To make up for the fact that you'll be gone so much once you're a railcar driver."
Confusion frustrated Yeff. "I don't understand."
"You'll receive more direction," the man promised, moving towards the open door of the cablecar. "I promise it won't be too onerous."
Yeff thought he saw the man wink on his way out, but it might have been a flicker of the light from the cablestation.
By the following tenday, he had dismissed the encounter as his own imagination. No Assassins' Guild had appeared at his door to drag him away at night. No threatening letters or black border chicory had been left at his front step. And he was no closer to being a railcar driver than he had ever been.
His mother, when he met her that month for dinner, nagged and harassed no more and no less than she usually did, ranging through her typical topics of women, his shaggy haircut, his choice of career dreams, and his shameless disregard for her happiness. By the end of the meal, Yeff had decided the entire thing had been the result of a tired mind at the end of a long day.
"I'm so glad you aren't a railcar driver," she sighed, as they polished their plates clean of Lassati's fine food at the restaurant.
"I might be, someday," he said patiently. He wasn't willing to discount the idea. He was still young, and the victory he'd felt when he finally passed his technology class had not entirely faded yet.
"It's dangerous driving railcars," his mother wailed, which was a somewhat new direction for her complaint. Usually, she focused on how far away he would be, and how awful other cities were.
"There hasn't been a railcar wreck in seven years," Yeff said reassuringly. He tried to catch the eye of their pretty young server, to come and take their dessert order. "They're as safe as cablecars!"
"You haven't seen the rags?" Yeff's mother dug into her voluminous bag, upending an assortment of useless things before finding a rumpled copy of one of the gossip grayrags. She opened to an article, and plunked it down in front of Yeff just as the server removed his plate.
'RAILRAGE MURDERS' the headline declared, and Yeff's desire for dessert vanished.
While his mother continued to wax on about the dangers of the profession, Yeff read. There was little information, and no illustration to the article, but it told in lurid terms about the second murder of a railcar driver - an alleyway strangling that left the victim with their railcar bell-pull wrapped around their neck. The article was rife with speculation and slander, postulating corruption, a conspiracy, and an Empire-wide coverup. Yeff put it aside with an unsettled feeling in his gut, soothing his mother automatically, but wondering why the words felt so tasteless in his mouth.
Once he'd left her at her door with a kiss and empty promises to visit more, cut his hair, and look for a pretty girlfriend, he went directly home. It was always a little odd to be a passenger in a cablecar, instead of a driver, and he found himself searching the forward mirror for a glimpse of the man he'd spoken to the tenday before.
He'd almost convinced himself of the absurdity again by the time he arrived at his own apartment, and he absently gathered up the daily rag that had been left by his door.
The letter folded up inside didn't drop out until he put it down on his kitchen table, skittering halfway across and tottering at the edge.
It was an official letter, even if it hadn't been delivered by officials means - the thick, fine paper and embossed lettering were unmistakable before Yeff even picked it up.
He correctly guessed what it was before he cracked the seal: an invitation to an interview for the position of railcar driver.
Suddenly cold, despite the mild, late-summer day, Yeff put the letter down on the table and backed away until he hit the cabinet behind him. He wondered how his mother had gotten a copy of the grayrag - it wasn't her usual fare - and he wondered how an Empire letter had been delivered in his daily rag. But most of all, he wondered what this 'arrangement' was going to cost him.
The result of the August Muse Fusion, and an unexpected tie between the Tainted Wings storylines and the stand-alone 'Railcrazy.' The plot thickens!