Ironwood (I)

The conductor pulled back the brakes and let the train come to a stop at the station, the station that he hadn’t stopped at in thirty years. He ran a line that went between the East Baton and San Alanis, running straight through the heart of the Fault, the last great desert this side of the ocean. His line was typically nothing but freight: box cars loaded with supplies and equipment for the military base outside of Alanis. He must have past this dingy little platform at least a hundred times or near about and had never given it second thought. That is, until the manager at the East Baton station told him to.

“Sir?”

“You heard me.” His manager was an old military man, and still sat stiff in his chair as though he still wore a uniform. He had been honorably discharged and placed as manager of the East Baton station under Appropriate Discharge Bill. Appropriate nothing, because the conductor always new what the bill was about, ever since he was a boy. It was about control, and how everywhere you looked there were another set of eyes staring at you under a military haircut. Not that it bothered him, too badly, unless they asked him to stop in the middle of the damn desert.

He locked the brakes, and felt the train shake and rumble until it came to a halt. Sometimes he had the strange feeling that the train was alive, and that it resented him for everything he did. He just chalked up that kind of thinking to sixteen hours in a cab by yourself. One person was all you needed to drive these cabs nowadays, most of it was automated. Well, here at least. Other places weren’t as civilized. Still, though, no matter how automated, someone had to press the buttons and pull the levers.

He stared at the window at the bleak landscape. Evening was just coming to this part of the world, the sun was just resting on the lip of the horizon. The desert landscape was awash in a fiery orange and deep tan.

“Why the hell am I stopping all the way in the middle of nowhere, sir?”

“Because I’m telling you to.”

“But what on earth is out there? I mean, I hear tell they’re used to be some sort of mining town someways east of-”

“That’s enough,” the other man said. He had been behind the manager with his back to the conductor, smoking a cigarette and watching the Baton flow lazily out the window. He had been dressed all fancy, three piece suit and everything, neatly pressed. The conductor hadn’t been able to pin him down. Military? Government? Train company person?

“You’re being told what to do. This has been setup by higher powers, that is all you need to know. You unload your cargo, you leave. And there’s three times your yearly paycheck at the end of the line for you, if you do it quietly and quickly.”

Three times the yearly pay? Definitely military; no one else had that kind of money.

“Well, yessir, if you put it like that, I’m glad to serve my country.”

“I’m sure you do,” the three-piece suit said dryly.

“So we’re agreed,” the manager said. He addressed the conductor. “You’ll do everything the same. This is no different, in application, from any of your other runs. Only in importance. Make sure the cargo arrives at Station 12-B, deposit it safely, and go on to San Alanis. Then, on your way back, pick it up again. It’s that simple.”

“Aye-aye, sir,” he said, half to the manager and half to the suit, who only nodded in response and dismissed him with a alight tilt of the head.

The train was at a stop. The conductor turned to the cargo. “You ready, mister?”

The man, who had been asleep for the whole ride, yawned loudly and swung to his feet so suddenly it gave the conductor a fright. His eyes were red with fatigue or illness or both, and his disheveled face and gray stubble only increased the appearance of dereliction. He put on his wide-brimmed hat and tuck his cross under his cassock.

“I’m ready,” said the priest.

Ironwood (I)

William H

Joined December 2007

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