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A Short Ride in a Fast Machine

By Firerose
Page 2 of 3

Almost empty. Dunno why I bothered -- not nearly enough cover. Still, no harm in looking. I might just hit lucky. Good preparation was the mark of a skilled professional.

The dark-haired bloke, the one on the right. Now his cred-chit was in his top left inner breast pocket. One advantage of covering the same route every day was that I'd got to know the exact locations of the inner pockets on the uniform they mostly wore, all six of 'em. Right sourface, that one. That look, it'd have frozen the balls off me if I'd been closer. I'd leave him alone. He'd probably been touched so little in his life that even my magic fingers would have a hard time of it.

Now, the blonde girl. With that skirt and those legs, she'd have no trouble finding people to cuddle up to! I'd offer my services, but I didn't think she'd be interested. Looked like the guy sitting next to her would as well. I could certainly find a use for that bracelet, not to mention her ear-rings. Tart like her, they were bound to be genuine. Bit heavy though, the bracelet. Hard to lift without her catching on, and anyway she could hardly keep her hands off it. Looked like she was scared of losing it.

The guy next to her, the one with the curly hair. His wallet, I could just make out its outline, snuggled into his lower inner pocket. The way he was wrapped up in the girl, I could've lifted it easy where he was sitting, but with this few people, there really was no excuse to wander right across the tram into the Alpha section.

And that was it, at least for the Alphas, and there was hardly anyone else on the tram, either. I might as well've gone home hours ago. Tara'd have liked that. She was always going on at me to chuck in the thieving and get a real job. I kept telling her it was a real job -- she had no idea of the years of training it took to learn to lift properly, the skill, the sheer talent.

But I didn't really believe it any more.

Tara wanted to settle down, have kids. She'd be quite a catch, really. Pretty -- no, not like that blonde tart, softer, bouncier. Friendlier. And she was a Gamma. She thought she could get me a job, the post clerk in the government office she worked in. It'd really just be lugging boxes, writing labels, but it sounded posh, 'I work for the government.' Sure, I could write. Well, it'd only be copying, anyway. And it had prospects, Tara said. Might even get re-graded. More money, shorter hours, no risk. No dodging patrols, no waiting for the hand on my shoulder to haul me off for what they inaccurately called 'questioning': I could still feel the bruises from the last time, and there'd been nothing on me! Nothing!

Some days it felt like a good idea.

Like today. Fourteen bloody hours back and forth on this bloody tram, and what had I got, one cred-chit -- only Gamma, hardly anything on it, a handful of browns from a factory worker who'd fallen asleep -- I almost felt ashamed to nick 'em, but ... you've gotta be professional about these things, and a wedding ring from some Beta office girl -- fake. What's the world coming to when people start wearing fake wedding rings?

If I got the post job, I could buy a real ring for Tara. Women like that.

So, I'd chuck the thieving? Go straight? Yes. I'd decided. Today. Now! Suddenly I couldn't wait for the next stop; I'd go home, give Tara a big squeeze, bury my head in that chest that smelled of forget-me-nots, then surprise her by saying, 'I've decided about that job, love.'

Something must've shown on my face, because an enormous guy on the other side of the tram caught my eye and beamed at me. He must be a tourist -- no real Earthie would ever smile at a stranger like that. Next thing you know, he'd walk across and say something! I caught myself thinking automatically, tourist equals easy game. Then firmly reminded myself of Tara's ample charms, not to mention the joys of working for the government, returned the smile, thrusting my hands in my pockets. I started to amble across the carriage towards the tram doors. Only a few minutes now.


To 'Danse de la Terre' from 'Le Sacre du Printemps' by Igor Stravinsky

I don't know much about monorails -- there isn't much call for them on Demeter, really -- but I don't like the sound of that noise. There, that whining noise. And surely there wasn't nearly this much vibration last time we came into a station?

And I have time for one thought -- thank God we're almost in the station -- and one action -- to shield Mirrie's fragile body with my solid one -- before we slam into the wall of sound.

And when we come out the other side, when the train stops its bucking and rolling, when the screeching stops and the screaming begins, Mirrie is dead, still in my arms. Pierced through the chest with a stray piece of metal railing.

I didn't mean it, Mirrie, I say. I love you, Mirrie. Let me explain. Forgive me, Mirrie.

But she doesn't answer.


To 'After the War' from 'Different Trains' by Steve Reich

Argh! That wasn't funny. I wonder if my arm's broken? I flexed it gingerly, seemed to move ok. There'd be terrible bruises though. And my ribs... Ouch! Perhaps I could get financial compensation for my injuries? But then, since I hadn't paid for the transport, I'd best keep my mouth shut to avoid any trouble.

The guy I'd landed on wasn't making any noise at all. Perhaps he was dead? I disentangled myself hastily, moved away. Perhaps just unconscious? I groaned and turned back. It was the curly-headed bloke, the one with the hots for the blonde girl. There wasn't any blood, not that you could tell on all that black, but he did look ever so pale. I stretched down for his wrist, avoiding looking at his face. Dare I touch? Dare I find out whether I'd just been lying on a corpse? Oh go on then.

Phew. Alive.

I looked around, we seemed to be trapped in one end of the uptilted tram. The Alpha end. Hang about -- how'd I got to the Alpha end? Must've fallen a long way. I massaged my ribs again.

The rescue people seemed to be ignoring us. Christ, just my luck to be trapped with an unconscious man in this carriage. It could blow up any moment. Or catch fire. I didn't know which was worse, to be blown to pieces or roasted alive. I didn't fancy either, not right now. What about Tara? What about my job? My children? Well, all right, my future children?

I prodded at the nearest plastiglass window, the one that wasn't pressed into the side of what looked like the platform. Solid. Picked up a seat that had been thrown loose. Typical! Shoddily put together, even in the Alpha section. Now...

The crash of splintered plastiglass was very satisfying. I just love breaking other people's property -- so long as there wasn't likely to be any comeback.

I was half-way through the window, when I happened to look back at the curly-headed bloke. He still wasn't moving. I sighed. No sign of it blowing up or catching fire, yet. Maybe I could just lift him out? Looked safe enough. Maybe there'd be some kind of bravery award? I could just see myself on all the newscasts saying something humorous but self-effacing, Tara in the background sporting a glazed look of admiration, accepting the gold medal hand-engraved 'For Service to the Federation' -- well I could always sell it -- not to mention the thousand credits that went with it...

God, but he was heavy. This'd be good practice for lugging boxes ... uh ... working for the government. I managed to get him half over my shoulder, then stumbled back to the window. Possible to clamber through it, though not entirely trivial. Still, they say heroism is never easy.

Yes! There we go, easy does it. Not entirely comfortable either. I could feel something hard digging into my shoulder. My instincts came together and I realised it must be that fat wallet I'd noticed earlier. It was almost begging me to lift it. Please, I could hear it saying, please... I lowered him down onto the platform, gently and slowly, didn't want to damage him any further. I bent over him -- just to check he was still breathing -- and somehow, as I was doing it, the wallet just slipped out of his inner pocket and into mine. Well, he wasn't going to be needing it for a while. Waste not, want not.

I stepped back, glanced around rapidly. Shit. That guy, the dark one with the murderous glance, he'd seen me, I was sure of it. Look down. Alphas never notice Deltas, anyway, we're invisible. Now, let's just walk out of here. Cool and calm. The wallet felt very heavy against my stomach. Breathe! I was nearly shitting myself. Stealing a whole wallet from an Alpha -- given my record, why, I could be transported for less. Transported! Cool and---'

'Now where do you think you are going?'

My guts dissolved.

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