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Author's Notes:

I wanted to share a little bit of my recent writing after reading some of the works here (I enjoyed them quite a bit!). So, I decided to post this instead of my most recent attempt at NaNoWriMo partly because I haven't a copy of it with me (it's on my PC several states away) and partly because I haven't gotten a chance to look over it yet.

A little background. This is a story that's been in my head since I was in technical school. I used to think about it as I delivered the action notice and eventually came to write it when I was in Texas. I offered a few of my wingmen a chance to read what I had written (I really hate letting people read my stuff--case of being my own worst critic and all).

It came to be I lost that copy of it because I'm a dork and accidentally murdered the laptop it was stored on. Being the kind of person I am, though, and as embedded as technology and data loss is in my life, it wasn't the end of the world. Some time passes and I eventually decide to rewrite it once again. It was going to be the subject of the most recent NaNoWriMo, but I couldn't bring myself to do it, haha. When I get back home, I'll toss up some of the poetry I wrote a few years ago if anyone is interested.

The 39 in the title comes from my bunk number in basic.

Please don't steal this from me, haha. It's not complete in the least and I have the power of copyright on my side. Constructive criticism, corrections, and questions welcome and encouraged. Ego stroking also welcome and encouraged, haha.

Taking some advice from Rune, I've broken it up into smaller chunks.

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Plate 39

The Aftermath: Part One

Clicking noises came from the train’s engine as it cooled down, the lights in its cars dimming as the last of the power began to fade away. Some of the windows were open, curtains billowing out. Despite the train being partially embedded in the face of a mountain, there was little damage done to the exterior—a testament to the quality of its build. Twisted branches dangled from the surviving trees; some were wrenched away entirely, littering the ground. Nearby birds cried out, almost mourning the destroyed swath of land beneath the metal disturbance. The sun was high up in the sky, a few clouds accompanying it as the wind gusted irregularly.

Uphill from the site, a blonde woman was making her way through the dense woods, her hair pulled back in a low ponytail. She paused for a moment to brush a few loose strands behind her ear, looking ahead at the wreck. Three of the train’s cars were on the mountain, seeming as though it were attempting to head up it. The last few cars were twisted onto their sides, exposing the bottoms—smooth, with two raised parallel lines running through the middle, forming a channel the track could run through. She turned her gaze upward and saw one of the plates in the distance—a large city encased in a dome, held up by a single metal support towering far above the surface. A distorted, crackling beam of light curved through the air, connecting the plate to another, too far to be seen from her position.

The woman continued downhill, careful to tread quietly. As she approached the train, she noticed a shoe at the base of one of the cars. Drawing near, she felt a wave of nausea begin to well up inside her. The shoe wasn’t simply leaning against the train—a foot was still inside of it, keeping it upright. She turned away momentarily, her eyes closed as she regained control of herself. Feeling steadier, she headed towards the first car, climbing up the mountain slowly to avoid scraping her bare knees against the jutting rocks. The slope of the rocky face was gentle enough for her to stop with confidence to check the back pocket of her shorts before moving ahead.

Upon reaching the door of the car, she first peered into the window, scanning the area within. Thus far, she heard nothing but the birds and leaves rustling in the wind, leading her to believe no one in the train had survived or, if nothing else, was rendered unconscious. She pushed the door open and stepped inside, a hand kept on the wall to steady herself against the angle of the car. It was empty, little more within beyond the computers and machinery that ran the train—and somehow let it crash to the surface. Carefully, so as not to lose her footing, she walked through the door to the second car.

A few people were sitting in seats, some with their face smashed against a window, blood dripping from their wounds. A few bodies were strewn about the aisle, apparently thrown from their seats by the unnatural angle their limbs took. None looked well enough to be alive—it was just as well, she thought, having not forgotten the shoe she saw earlier. As she walked through the cars, it was scene after similar scene of scattered bodies. At one point, she noticed someone with teeth embedded in the back of his head. Her gaze turning to the person behind him, she saw another man with his mouth agape, bloody and missing what seemed to be the same number of teeth.

She stopped by the bathrooms, checking the one reserved for females first. She found a woman slumped on the ground, her jaw completely destroyed. One of the sinks was bloody and chipped—upon further inspection, she saw broken teeth in the basin. Pushing the door open to the stall revealed a woman with her skirt hitched up to her waist and panties around her knees, her head hanging limply against her chest. She seemed to be hugging the toilet, clinging to something solid after a rough night. The blonde looked a little closer and saw one of the dead woman’s ears was torn, an earring undoubtedly missing. Wondering where it could have gone, she looked around the stall for it. She finally discovered it when she examined the door and saw the woman’s earring, a bit of flesh and blood still clinging to it, hanging from the hook.

Edited by Emotional Outlet

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o0o0o very nice! Well, Tristan sure got tore up, but was fortunate to survive in a bathroom stall. Wonderful in-depth descriptions, the beginning of your story reminded me of the plates of FFVII. I like how you eluded your main characters name until a later time.

PS: I don't think it's necessary to stroke your ego :P (you know you're a bad-ass writer). Subscribe!

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Author's Notes:

I was telling my husband about the plates and he said something about Star Wars. I've never seen the movies, but did play FFVII. And never finished it, but that's a separate issue completely. I forgot they had plate cities--I need to replay that game, haha.

I tend not to mention any names until the character themselves say it--I don't know where I picked up that habit, but naming characters from the start just feels... weird? It's fine if other people do it, but I can't bring myself to for some reason. Some of my short stories end up with character that are never named--which makes it difficult when there are multiple people of the same sex, haha.

So, I have four "sections" waiting so I have a teeny buffer between postings. One day I'll finish this thing and turn it into an ebook, haha. Hopefully before I end up posting the whole thing on here.

As a warning, everything I post is as close to "raw" as I'm willing to post--one pass-through to edit after writing--so I'm sorry if anything seems clumsy or silly, or if there are any errors. Just let me know.

I was having some issues placing this section, so it'll go here for now.

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Part Two

Without much faith, she crossed the hallway into the men's restroom. She checked the stall, pulling the door open and bracing herself against the discovery of another person caught with their drawers down. A young man was sitting on the toilet, but his pants were securely on. He leaned to the left, his face resting against the wall, and appeared uninjured. It seemed he had braced himself against the drop and passed out from shock. With a hand at her back pocket, she grabbed his shoulder and shook him.

"Are you okay?" She wondered if he was the only survivor. "Can you hear me?" When there was no response, she let her hand drop from her shorts and turned to leave, closing the stall door behind her. She had almost left the bathroom when she heard a groan come from the stall. Her heart beginning to race as she went back, she nearly tore the door off its hinges when she opened it again. The male had moved away from the wall, but was hunched forward, cradling his head in his hands.

Keeping her distance from him, she asked, "Are you hurt?"

He looked up, his expression groggy. She noticed one of his eyes was blue, the other green. Though she didn’t feel as though she had anything to fear from him, she remained at the door.

"Wha’ happen?" He tried to stand. Upon finding his legs too wobbly to support him, he sat back down, putting his hands out against the walls to steady himself. "Where are we?"

"The track is broken." She paused before continuing, looking at him carefully. "Something must have happened at one of the plates to knock it out. Do you remember anything?"

He frowned, looking down at the ground. A few moments passed before he looked back up at her, his brown hair matted with sweat. Slowly, he shook his head, licking his lips before replying, "Just the sirens. The alarm. Screaming. Tried not to hit my head."

Slightly more confident he wasn’t going to hurt her, she crouched in front of him, placing a hand on his arm. "So, you’re not in pain?" As she spoke, she looked over him closely, checking for even the possibility of a bruise. "Do you need me to help you?" She stood up again, having not seen anything out of the ordinary, and held her hand out to him. When he shook his head, rubbing his eyes, she dropped her hand.

"I just need a few moments." He sounded more aware and in control of his facilities. "Nothing feels broken. I just have a headache. Probably the least of my worries." He put his arms back up to support himself as he attempted to stand again. He almost made it before he felt his knees begin to buckle and tremble, making him struggle to stay on his feet. The woman stepped forward and steadied him, noticing she could smell his cologne, faint as it was and diluted by sweat. He tried to keep his weight off her, but couldn’t find the strength in his legs to do so for long. She grunted a little under the pressure, but otherwise showed no other discomfort.

"There’s a seat out there you can sit on. I’m sure it’ll be better than the toilet." She led him out of the stall, trying to gauge how fast she should walk. When they arrived at the chair and the man sat down, she took a glance at the open doorway leading into the hallway. Something dashed by quickly—it seemed to her an animal on four spider-like legs. Her heart pounded as she walked to the door, removing the knife from her back pocket.

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Author's Notes:

In case you didn't take a peek at the first set of notes, I'm currently in the process of reposting what I had originally into smaller chunks. Hopefully this will make it easier for everyone to consume, haha. Criticisms and corrections still welcome, as well as a heavy dose of ego stroking. Please and thank you. And feel free to ask any questions! Some may end up getting answered in the story, so obviously I won't be able to answer those. I'll let you know if that's the case.

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Part Three

Peering around the corner, the woman saw the creature’s bushy tail poking out from between two seats, snarling as it struggled to drag out one of the bodies. Silently, she stepped back, closing the bathroom door. She found some comfort in knowing the creature would busy itself with the dead outside, as long as it didn’t know they were alive. For the time being, she put the knife away, turning around to put her back against the door. The young man had been watching her, curious about what she had seen at the door.

"You look pale. What was that?" His voice was mild.

Shaking her head, she responded, "Just an animal taking its meal. Must have smelled the blood. We should be fine as long as neither of us are bleeding." Leaning against the door, she went on, "It likes its meals fresh. When you feel better, we can escape through the window." The car they were in stood upright, and the view out the window seemed recognisable enough to her that she would be able to navigate quickly if they were caught.

He nodded and turned his gaze to his legs, as though he meant to will them better. Through the door, the woman could hear the creature outside, pulling apart the corpses and growling from the exertion. Every muscle in her body seemed to tense up, only relaxing when the sounds of the animal began to fade away. She saw he was still looking at her, seeming a little more concerned.

"It’s nothing. I just heard it behind me." She adjusted her position slightly, shifting her weight from one leg to the other. "It’ll be here until it runs out of food or other creatures force it out." Massaging a small area, about an inch below where her clavicles met, through the sweater she wore, she looked absently at one of the walls. "Will you try standing again?"

"I can try. No guarantees I’ll be able to, though." He scooted forward in the chair and, with his hands on the arms of the chair, stood up. His legs felt a little weak, but not unbearably so. He hazarded a few steps and, when he didn’t immediately collapse, offered the woman a shrug. "I can walk, at least. I don’t feel like I’m going to fall down any time soon." Her response was apprehensive, unsure if it was enough to escape.

"But can you run? Walking is well enough, but if something happens—if we catch the attention of the…" She trailed off, the sound of the creature scuttling nearby putting her on edge.

The young man rubbed his right leg briefly before shaking his head. "It should be fine. Besides, what—" He saw the woman had tensed and stopped. "What is it?"

Something was pushing against the door, drawn by their voices. She motioned for him to keep quiet as she continued to lean against the door, keeping it shut. There was a snuffling sound and some scratching upon the metal door—she suspected it was nudging its head against the door, having caught their scents and wanting to investigate. He approached the woman and leaned in towards her, close to her ear, and whispered, "What is that out there?" He stepped back, looking confused.

"Rueka," she muttered back. "Injured. Two of its legs are missing. It was probably in a fight and got them ripped off." She took out her knife. "It’s not going away. It knows there’s something alive in here." As though it heard, the scratching ceased and there was a brief moment of silence before the animal screeched and hurled its body at the door with surprising strength. The woman braced herself against the strike, keeping the door shut. "Do you have a weapon on you?"

He looked apologetic. "Protocol. No one on the trains are allowed to be armed."

She scowled. "Of course." Sighing, she grabbed his arm, jolting forward when the rueka flung itself again. It seemed to become more violent when the door opened a little more each time. "Are you squeamish?" He shook his head. "Do you trust me?" They looked at each other briefly before he slowly nodded, wondering what she intended to do.

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Part Four

Before the rueka could regain its momentum, she made a quick, shallow cut across the man’s forearm. This threw the animal into a frenzy and it assaulted the door with more fervour. He looked at her with incredulity.

"What are you hoping to do?" he asked harshly, adding his weight against the door. "You just made it madder!"

"Stand by the chair."

"You can’t hold the door against this thing!" There was another thump against the door, moving the two of them forward.

"Go already." She gripped the knife tightly. "It wouldn’t be the first I had to kill."

Hesitantly, he left the door. He had barely taken a few steps away when the woman moved to the side and the door swung open, banging loudly against the wall. The creature launched itself at the man, moving with terrifying speed. The woman made an attempt to grab its tail, but missed.

Before the rueka locked his wounded arm in its mouth, he saw the segmented, hairy insect legs it used to move itself, bald patches throughout its fur, most notably between the two sets of legs. Its large ears were ragged and misshapen, eyes little more than thin, yellow slits. The moment its jaws clamped down on his arm, he screamed, falling to his knees as he tried to choke it with his free hand. His knee came in contact with the animal’s long spider legs and it started to thrash about wildly, still holding onto his arm. Immediately, he came to the conclusion the creature was poisonous and began to panic.

The woman stood nearby, ignored by the animal. Certain she would not be scratched by the creature as it flailed about, she stepped on its body and knelt upon it, immobilising it. The rueka’s eyes opened wide, appearing to engulf its entire face. Despite being unable to move, it did not release its grip on his arm. Blood dripped down its face, staining the floor.

She took the knife and buried it in the animal’s skull, putting her weight into the strike and onto its neck. As it began to buck beneath her, she pulled the knife out and stabbed it repeatedly in the head. The animal’s cries and howls of pain were muffled as it refused to open its jaws and release the man’s arm. His eyes were shut as he tried to tense his arm, to brace against the pain and keep himself from passing out.

Finally, the animal went limp. Even in death, it kept the young man’s arm in its crushing grip.

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Part Five

"Relax," she said, as he tried to pry the creature, whose muscles had locked into place as a final insult, from his arm. She took her knife and cut off the rueka's jaw, tossing aside the bloodied bit of bone and skin when she finished. With disgust, the man freed his arm of the teeth and looked at the wounds in disbelief. Through the swelling and blood, he could see there were two rows of wounds—he glanced at the disfigured animal and saw the twin set of teeth. He clenched his jaw and stood up, walking over to the sinks and keeping his injured arm from moving.

"Was that necessary?" he asked as he turned on one of the faucets. After a slight delay, a thin stream of water began to flow. He ran his arm through the water, watching the blood wash down the drain, the water tinged pink. As he rinsed his wound, the woman wiped her knife on the creature’s fur, careful to avoid getting any blood on herself. She picked up the creature and walked out into the hallway, throwing it as far as she could.

She smiled, heading back into the bathroom. "It was focussed on you and completely forgot about me. It was willing to put its life on the line to get at you." She put her knife away, the smile now gone from her lips. "Better it try to take your arm than your neck. Let me see how it looks."

Once she stepped up to him, he held out his arm for her to inspect. "It doesn't look like it's going to stop bleeding," he said, desperation creeping at the edge of his voice. "I can't go out like this—not if there's more of those... things out there."

"Relax." She took out the necklace she had tucked under her sweater, revealing a small vial and locket. They both hung on a thin, silver chain that looked well-worn. With interest, he watched her twist off the cap and empty the contents—a clear, thick liquid—into her free hand. The vial was pocketed and the woman began to rub her hands together, coating them with the liquid. As she did this, she looked at him and asked, "What's your name?"

"Tristan. What's—" Before he could finish, she took hold of his arm, placing her hands directly over the wounds.

All at once his vision gave way to a white, searing pain that seemed to consume him. He felt it in every inch of his body and could no longer distinguish one part from another. He could hear the woman speaking, as though she were thousands of miles away.

After a few moments, dark spots began to explode in his vision until the white had faded away and he could no longer hear her voice. The last thing he could remember was a slight pressure on his face.

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The Crash: Part One

The room was spartan, little more than four empty walls and nondescript pieces of furniture. Light poured into the room from the single slatted window, illuming the delicate features of a young woman. Rubbing her eyes, she stretched and manoeuvred her way from under the covers as intermittent shadows shifted across her naked torso. Her movement awoke her bedmate, who had been sleeping with his back to her.

“I heard there was an attack on one of the east plates last month,” he said, rolling over. His long hair fell over his face, obscuring his features.

Sleep had yet to leave her side completely, beckoning her to return as he spoke. Vaguely, she could recall him saying something to that effect last night, but she fell asleep, lacking interest in the conversation. She sat up, scratching her scalp behind her ear. A smirk came to her lips when he touched her hip. The pillows behind them were in disarray, several of them already on the floor, serving as a pleasant distraction from the lifeless beige carpet.

“Carried out by whom, exactly?”

He shrugged, pushing the blankets from his neck to his waist. A thin layer of sweat on his body glistened, the fabric sticking to his thighs. Sharing a bed with another person always seemed to raise the temperature under the sheets by a hundred degrees. “Apparently there’re people who made it outside, trying to bring the message back. Granted, could all be conspiracy theory nonsense. I don’t really see the interest in getting out of the plates. All that disease we’d just be reintroducing ourselves to.”

“I think all this talk about rebels and sabotage is pointless. It makes no sense to waste money and energy on it.” The woman stood up, fluffing her short dark hair. She was slight and angular, threatening to disappear at the first sign of a heavy wind, with an insignificant but ever present stomach pudge. A series of beeps came from a small tablet on the nightstand, the screen flickering in sync with the noise. “Your train will be leaving soon, Jules. Best be on your way if you’re to be there on time.”

“Just don’t miss yours.” He got out of bed, striding to the dresser across the room. He pulled out a pair of boxers and slipped them on. “You didn’t move my suitcase, did you?” When no response came, Jules turned around, leaving the drawer open. She had the tablet in hand, eyes darting quickly across the screen. “Faun. Did you move my suitcase?”

“No,” she answered brusquely, setting the tablet back down. He wasn’t sure if her attitude was the result of normal morning gruffness or if she had something on her mind. “It’s by the front door where you left it. You’ll have to grab your medicine from the bathroom, though.”

He stepped into a pair of faded pants as Faun slipped on her dress, a lacy, dusty rose bit of clothing she claimed she hated, despite assertions from Jules that he saw her in that dress more often than anything else. She smoothed out the fabric and pulled taut the tights she wore underneath.

“My shoes, Julian?”

“Check behind the nightstand, lovely,” he replied, examining the faint yellow stain on an undershirt. Having determined it had not yet lived past its usefulness, he pulled on the shirt, tucking it into his pants. “Your train leaves a few hours after mine, doesn’t it?”

“Yes, yes.” She put on her shoes, her eyes constantly flitting back to the tablet. Its screen was blank—in a few minutes, daily reports would be pushed to the device, some invariably requiring input from recipients. “Tristan will be on the same train, so you needn’t worry about running into him.”

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Part Two

Jules picked out a shirt and put it on, trying to align the buttonholes with their respective partners. “Perhaps I want to run into him.”

“You would like that, wouldn’t you?” she asked, stepping up to him. She straightened his shirt and started to fasten the buttons. “Nonetheless, your chances are slim unless you intend to wander into the University uninvited.” Faun patted his collar, smiling. “And I hear—from him, no less—it is not advised to go there without express permission.”

Returning the smile, he placed a hand on her cheek, cupping her face with his palm. “Sometimes you scare me. I wish you’d stop being so angry about him. I think you would like to see an altercation occur between me and him so you wouldn’t have to do it yourself.” He kissed her forehead, inhaling the sweet, musky scent of her hair before she pulled away.

“Most days I do.” She picked up a satchel lying at the foot of the bed, opening it to check its contents. “You’d best get going,” she said, pulling out a small container full of pills. “I’ll lock up the apartment after I leave.” After tapping out a few of the pills onto her tongue, she swallowed and picked up a glass of water left on the dresser to drink from. Faun let out a breath when she finished, setting down the empty glass where she found it. She returned to the tablet, tucking it into her satchel. “Yours is still packed away, is it not?”

“Of course. I’ll have plenty to read on the train—they’re supposed to be sending out material on the attacks today.”

“You are ridiculous, dearest,” Faun muttered, wrapping her arms around his neck. She stood on tiptoe to reach him, planting a light kiss on his cheek before letting go. “Hurry up, Jules. I don’t want you to miss your ride.”

He left, still moving as patiently and slowly as he had been all morning, after grabbing his bag and putting on his shoes. Faun watched him push a bottle of pills into a pocket of his pants, patting the small bulge to ensure it was secure in its spot before closing the door behind him. Shaking her head, she went into the kitchen, opening the refrigerator door.

There was precious little inside. Several stacks of packets—daily servings of prescribed food—lined the back of the box, a single row of water canisters taking residence on a lower shelf. She grabbed one of the containers, twisting it open then shut to ensure it was still functional. Jules would often leave unserviceable equipment unreported, to the point he’d be locked out of his apartment because he’d ignored battery warnings on the locks for too long. It was hardly her duty to pick up his slack, though it proved inconvenient on several occasions, necessitating action on her part.

She put the canister in her satchel and shut the refrigerator, her mind returning to their brief conversation about Tristan. She focussed on finishing a few tasks before it was time to head to the station—since the ones currently being used were reaching the end of their lifespan, a new set of batteries were in order for her tablet, as well as her own supply of food packets. The market was nearby, less than a five minute walk away.

Certain she had packed her satchel and removed all of her belongings from the apartment, she stepped outside, swiping her card after shutting the door. There was a faint beep followed by a click, signalling the door was secured. Faun adjusted the strap of the bag, hating the way it dug into her shoulder, and headed down the hallway towards the elevator.

The ride to the ground floor was silent and uninterrupted. It initially struck her as unusual, but when the chirps of her tablet came, she figured everyone else was propped up in bed, tablets held lazily in front of them as they read through the announcements. The elevator came to a stop and the doors slid open, allowing Faun to step off before closing silently behind her.

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Part Three

Footsteps echoing against the wooden floor, she crossed the lobby to sit down on one of the metal benches, removing the noisy device from her bag. The area, much like the apartment, was remarkably bare, although it did bear a few purely decorative features. Small potted plants were placed at regular intervals along the walls; she was convinced these were not living, as she had never seen anyone tending to them and they apparently had not changed over the course of several years. The large glass windows offered little beyond an unhindered view of other featureless buildings and a steady trickle of people on the pedestrian paths.

Faun turned on the machine’s screen, swiping her finger across the scanner on the edge. A security notice flashed momentarily, disappearing once her print was analysed, leaving only a list of updates. She clicked through, finding most to be standard issue notices that nothing has changed. Military service was still a compulsory and essential part of life on the plates—at least for males. The surface was still uninhabitable despite the plates’ combined efforts across the globe to find viable locations. Research regarding the creation of packaged food suitable for long storage were still undergoing, although a setback resulting in a plastic shortage did slow progress. Citizens were reminded of their duty to carry and maintain their issued tablets regularly. The petition for the placement of a third fountain was still under review.

Her eyes began to glaze over as she scrolled through the messages, most of them left unchanged for years but still pushed to their tablets as though they were newly written. It wasn’t until the update on the attack displayed on the screen that she started paying attention, if only because she wasn’t able to recite it verbatim.

There had indeed been an attack, disrupting train service for several hours, on an eastern plate. It was originally discounted as normal wear and tear due to severe weather conditions that had been continuous for several years. Further investigation redirected the blame towards people acting against the plate, though no mention was made of what evidence swayed the investigators to believe it indeed was a malicious attack or if it was likely to be repeated, nor was any indication given whether these people were acting from within or without.

Evasive and sparsely detailed, it read the same as every other notice pushed to her. That a malicious act was publicly confirmed disturbed her. Had it indeed been weather or employee neglect, she would have been more than willing to accept the reality of the situation. Despite the military presence and size across the plates, Faun never considered there would be reason to activate the forces. Peace had been in place for years; the notion someone found that state to be unsatisfactory made little sense to her.

Sighing, she turned off the tablet and tucked it away along with her thoughts. There was hardly reason for her to devote so much time worrying about the impossible; nothing permanent was going to happen to the plates. In her mind, the rebels, should they exist beyond the static of an alarmist’s fantasies, had no viable means of overpowering or outmanoeuvring the better equipped and better trained officials.

With her mind newly cleared, Faun stood up and headed out, finding her place in the flow of traffic. There was something comforting about blending into the crowd, being able to conduct her business without being bothered. She didn’t speak a single word until she picked up her food packets and batteries; the employee’s hand slipped and knocked the bag to the floor, spilling the items everywhere. He offered her several apologies she promptly dismissed, handing him her card. Bag in hand, she returned to the sidewalk, once again falling into step.

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Part Four

Faun looked up, searching for the central clock, an immense hologram that hovered over the centre of the plate, close to the dome. The sky was clear and bright, the perfect backdrop for the clock that reflected she had an hour left to spend freely. Rain wasn’t on the calendar until next week according to the hologram—not that it mattered to her, since she would be elsewhere by the time it happened, and though she imagined it would certainly be easier to synchronise the weather between plates than assign a different schedule to each, it rarely occurred.

When she arrived at the station, the platform was filled with people milling about, the benches all filled with people flicking through their tablets as though mesmerised by the text upon it, waiting for the next train. The tracks, bright and solid, ran along both sides of the platform, twisting away in the distance.

A warm, but distinctly robotic, female voice spoke over the announcement system, reminding citizens the train to 37 would be arriving in fifteen minutes and to ensure their tickets had been registered on their tablets prior to boarding. Having already confirmed her ticket, she simply found room to stand in the midst of the crowd, scanning the area for familiar faces.

Someone tapped her shoulder. “Faun?”

She looked behind her and saw Tristan, a polite smile on his face. What little control she managed to gain over her thoughts vanished when she gave him a friendly hug, the rush of conflicted emotion clawing through her defences. She pulled away, hoping it seemed natural.

“I haven’t seen you in a while,” he said, shoving his hands into the pockets of his pants. “How’ve you been? Forgot you were taking this train today.”

“Could be better, I guess. Getting into the writing team has proved itself to be more of an exercise in futility.”

“They just don’t like change. All the standard updates haven’t changed since they started issuing everyone those things.” He gestured towards someone nearby, gaze focussed intently on the tablet he held in his hand. “I want to toss mine out the window on a regular basis. Never tells me anything new.”

Faun smiled, keeping the questions waiting at the tip of her tongue at bay. “How have things been with you?”

He shrugged. “Same as you. Could be better. Making these trips regularly is starting to become a hassle, but…” He trailed off, listening to the announcement of the train’s arrival. “Well, I wouldn’t be a good friend if I didn’t visit.”

“I do wish you would tell me who your friend is.”

“You wouldn’t know him.”

She was still looking at him, unsure if he was being facetious, when the train stopped and opened its doors, a few employees stepping out of the cars. People began to board, leaving their luggage on the platform for the workers to store with the rest of the cargo. They stepped onto the train together, taking the nearest empty set of seats. Faun took the window seat, preferring to be able to watch the scenery roll by as they travelled. It was the only time she could see the sky and the land beyond the boundaries of the domes. The view generally struck her as somewhat eerie, though she never pulled the shade over her window as many other passengers tended to do.

“I’m still not entirely convinced it’s not a woman and that she’s just a friend.”

Tristan laughed, patting her knee a few times before leaning back in his seat. “You have nothing to be jealous of, Faun. Even if it was a woman, would it really make a difference to you? I thought you moved on.”

Feeling the heat rise in her cheeks, she turned to the window, making eye contact with her ghostly reflection before looking past it. “Of course I did,” she said evenly. “It doesn’t change the fact that I don’t like to be lied to.”

A faint bell sounded, marking the closure of the doors and the completion of pre-departure checklists. The platform began to fill once again with people for the arrival of the next train, its announced arrival twenty minutes away, when the train began to move, gliding along the track silently. A few people stood frustrated at the edge, watching their missed train travel without them, their tablets beeping to indicate the refunding of their tickets.

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Part Five

As the train picked up speed, the landscape below became increasingly blurry, individual trees running together, forming broad verdant strokes interspersed with rocky gashes. Feeling the onset of a headache, she looked away, bringing her attention back to Tristan, who was busy with his tablet.

“I talked to my father about the attacks before I left,” he said, setting the tablet down. “Seems like people are starting to get restless.”

“Unfortunate.” There was a brief pause as an announcement came over the speakers, declaring the preparation of brunch for passengers, which would be brought to them shortly by the attendants. “So are there rebels, then? Who have been outside the plates?”

He shook his head. “Even if I knew, I wouldn’t be at liberty to tell you anyway.”

“Of course,” Faun replied, smiling. “Military secrets. But from whom are you keeping the secrets if we haven’t any enemies to keep them from?”

“Faun, you know better. The war wasn’t that long ago.”

“And they’ve all left.” Another period of silence passed between the two of them, a growing feeling of unease at the back of Faun’s mind. “Have they not?” she asked, looking at him pointedly. They maintained eye contact for a few seconds before Tristan turned away.

“Of course,” came the reply, his voice sounding somewhat strained. He cleared his throat, continuing with a more confident tone. “Sorry, it’s not exactly a pleasant experience to remember my grandfather’s stories about what happened. If you’ll excuse me…” He stood up and walked away, leaving his tablet on the seat, an indication he intended to return, if only to retrieve it.

She sank into her seat, clutching her satchel for comfort. Few personal war stories were in circulation, leaving a large gap in many historical records, though it seemed to her even fewer people were interested in the reasons behind the move from the surface, content to leave it at the occurrence of a war that had since passed. Brief records on the war were on file, accessible through their tablets, but some time had gone by since the last time she read them. Uncertain whether what she remembered was from the records themselves or hearsay, she took out her tablet to verify for herself.

The rattle of the food cart came from the back of the car, prompting a growl from Faun’s stomach. She hoped the food would be of somewhat decent quality, but did not expect it to be—after enough trips between plates, she since learnt food was no better prepared on the trains than if she had done it herself in her apartment.

She was in the process of pulling up the records directory when the train shuddered. Screams erupted from cars in front, the panic quickly reaching Faun’s car when it began to turn and take on an unnatural downward angle.

Unsure of what else to do, she dropped to the floor and crawled beneath the seat, clutching the support to keep from getting tossed. The train gave several heavy jolts, shoving her violently against the pole she held onto. The sound of heavy objects crashing against the train’s cars echoed in her ears, the constant roar of panic from the others drowned out. She could hear no explosions, but the steady barrage indicated to her someone—or something—was attacking the train.

Before long, the train made contact with the surface. Her hands slipped and she slid, striking her head on the support beneath the next seat.

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Author's Notes:

Now that I'm all caught up, here's a new bit for you guys. Minor edits were made to the earlier sections, but nothing life-changing if you've already read them.

======

The Spring: Part One

When Tristan came to, he found himself lying on the ground with his head on the woman’s lap. She was looking out the window, her gaze unfocussed. The metal chain was still around her neck, the vial put back in its place by the locket. She was absently stroking his hair in an almost half-hearted attempt to comfort the man; her other hand was behind her, her elbow locked as she propped herself against her arm. He shifted slightly, bringing her attention to him. Her hand immediately stopped its movement and he found himself missing the rhythm of her fingers pulling through his hair.

“What did you—” He paused to cough and clear his throat, convulsing slightly. The woman looked back to the window and placed a cool hand against his forehead, steadying him. “What did you do to me? What did you do to my—” He stopped, having glanced at his injured arm, and saw nothing but smooth skin and hair. There wasn’t a scar or a hint of red, the slightest indication anything had ever happened to him. He wondered if he had made it up, pushing the thought out of his head when he saw the splatters of blood leading to the sinks. “How long was I out?” he asked, staring at his arm in amazement.

She shook her head, looking down at him. “Not long. Once I touched your arm, you seized and passed out. I was going to search the area, but you kept shaking. It looked like you were about to crack your head open, so I sat down with you. Was here for all of a few minutes, if that.” She frowned. “Most people stay under for much longer.”

He wasn’t sure what she meant to insinuate or have him say, so he sat up and shrugged, turning to face her. “I’m in good health.” When he saw she still didn’t seem convinced, he looked back down at his arm. “What was that stuff you used on me?”

A corner of the woman’s mouth lifted in what he presumed was meant to be a half-smile, though the sarcasm in her voice cut through any appearance of authenticity. “It was a gift.” She touched the vial and went on, “I don’t know entirely how it works, just that it works on most minor wounds.”

“And you used all you have on my arm? A thing like that in the city… Scientists would lose their minds over this stuff.”

“A flattering thought. It refills.” As though anticipating his confusion, she lifted her shoulders before he could react, returning the necklace to its place under her sweater. “In a few hours, it’ll be as full as it was earlier. I don’t know much more about it than that. As far as I know, this is the only bottle like it.” Her expression was wistful for several seconds before she looked at him, the emotion gone from her eyes.

There was a moment’s pause as he thought, dozens of questions crossing his mind, some more appropriate than others. He shook his head. “Your name would be a start, if you don’t mind.”

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Author's Notes:

No, it's not a rule of the subforum, and I delete my own posts as much as anyone else, so post count isn't a concern of mine, haha. The chapters as I have them set up in Scrivener are about 3000 words long, which is fairly lengthy for a medium that doesn't make it easy to keep your place. Some of these paragraphs can get kind of hefty.

Anyway, here's another section for you guys. I hadn't forgotten or given up, I just wanted to get a decent buffer for myself.

======

Part Two

With an eyebrow raised, she answered, “I go by Red.”

“Based on what? The blood you paint yourself with when you go hunting?” His eyes flicked towards her blonde hair, then back to her eyes.

“Funny,” she said dryly. “About what I expect from a plate dweller.” She stood up, brushing off her legs and shorts. Tristan followed suit, not wanting to remain seated as she stood over him—he felt threatened by the woman, though he wasn’t sure why. “It’s just a nickname.” She gestured towards the door. “You’re welcome to follow me to camp. I can’t promise they’ll trust you.”

He looked at her evenly, trying to restrain the chaos brewing in his mind. “I thought the surface was uninhabitable. I don’t…” He looked over his shoulder out the window. He’d never seen the earth up close and didn’t expect it to appear so lush and green—his mind immediately summoned an obscure fact he had learnt at some point in school about brightly coloured creatures being poisonous. “Is it safe to go outside?”

Red pursed her lips and stepped out of the bathroom, glancing to the right. The body of the rueka lay twisted on the ground between the twin rows of seats, its disfigured face and dead yellow eyes turned towards her. She turned on her heel and headed in the opposite direction. It wasn’t long before she heard his footsteps behind her, his pace matching hers.

“They’ve been lying for decades,” she said, holding open the door between the two cars for him. “The moment the fog cleared, it was safe.”

Tristan passed by her, ignoring the scene behind him. The last thing he wanted to see was the carcass of the creature that attempted to take his arm from him. She continued to talk, but her voice seemed muffled and distant, her words becoming increasingly unintelligible. Bodies were spread throughout the car much in the same way as the previous ones, no one appearing to be in any condition to be conscious, much less alive.

An older man, clad in drab, grey clothing, leaned against the window, his upper lip pulled into an open-mouth sneer. A thin line of spittle and froth had formed from the corner of his mouth to his chin. The window was smeared, the man’s collar and sleeve stained with blood. Tristan took a step and recoiled, bumping into Red, the sudden overwhelming and conflicting odours of flowers and rotting meat catching him off-guard.

She stepped around him, an ineffectual hand placed over her mouth and nose, and looked at the man. Barely visible in the relative darkness of the car, its tinted windows blocking out most of the sunlight outside, Red could see a small group of bubbles to the left side of the man’s mouth. Bracing herself against nausea and the irrational belief the man was going to bite her, she placed a finger inside, feeling around the man’s gums and teeth.

“What are you looking for? He either poisoned himself or was poisoned by someone else—how much more do you hope to find out by digging around in his mouth?”

Red said nothing, withdrawing her hand. She rubbed her thumb and forefinger together, feeling the gritty remains of a pill mixed with the thick viscosity of his saliva. “I needed to know if anyone was here before me.” Sighing, she wiped her hand on the man’s shirt, taking the chance to pat him down. “If there were, it’s not one of mine. We don’t use pills.” She found a plain handkerchief, which she tucked back into his pocket with mild disgust. “He must be of some importance if the only thing he could think of while the train was hurtling to the ground was killing himself before something on the surface killed him. Do you know who he is?”

Moments passed as he studied the dead man’s face, his eyes eventually drifting to the fresh stain Red had created. She was still searching his pockets when he responded. “He seems familiar,” he offered. Having found nothing of interest, Red stood up straight, crossing her arms. “I have no idea who he is.” She turned and looked at him, who wished he could look elsewhere, away from the delicate lines that formed around the corners of her mouth and beneath her blue eyes, away from the face that seemed trustworthy and the gaze that seemed prepared to take the knife to his throat, finishing the job the rueka started. “I don’t know him,” he repeated.

“We have to leave now if we want to get to camp before nightfall.” Red continued through the car, pushing past Tristan as she did so. “Rueka are the least of your worries.”

“Well, what else is there?”

She glanced over her shoulder at him, a smile crossing her lips. He wanted to see sinister motives behind that smile, to confirm his suspicion and paranoia, but all he saw was the genuinely amused curve of her mouth. “Things that go bump in the night. That’s what they say, isn’t it? Whatever darkness you’ve got in your mind—” She stopped and turned around suddenly, forcing him to nearly walk into her. He stood a few inches taller than her—had he walked into her, his shoulder would have struck her square in the jaw. “—you’ll find out here,” she finished, her voice a harsh whisper.

It seemed like ages before Tristan spoke. “You’re just trying to scare me, aren’t you?”

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Thank you, ma'am!

======

Part Three

“What difference does it make?” She turned and resumed her trip through the car, stepping around bags that had been thrown from the overhead shelves and the occasional pair of glasses. The ground, like the other cars, was littered with an assortment of personal items, a few more intimate in nature than others. “You’ve been taught your whole life the surface is poisoned, haven’t you? Every quarter, they issue a report on the status of their recovery efforts, correct?”

Red pushed open the door leading outside—it was the final passenger car of the train, the last over-sized communal coffin. The rest of the cars, likely filled with nothing but damaged luggage, were overturned. She would have taken the time to investigate, but she had spent more time in the train than anticipated. “Not a single fact on those reports except the date,” she told him, waiting by the door.

Tristan stepped out hesitantly, scolding himself for letting his nerves get the best of him. Some part of him feared that breathing in the air would hurt him somehow, causing coughing fits at best. His feet firmly on the ground, branches crunching beneath his shoes, he took a few steps out to get a better look at the train, at the destruction he managed to survive. Disbelief welled in his stomach as his eyes followed the line of cars to the mountain, then up to the broken track.

“I don’t believe it,” he murmured, feeling sick. His eyes were fixed on the plate in the horizon, the thick, opaque dome obscuring the activity within. From inside, the dome was their sky, reflecting the time appropriately, creating a seamless appearance—or so he had thought. The track gave a brilliant flash before disappearing completely. “This isn’t real.”

“Maybe for you.” Red closed the door to prevent other animals from entering, a pointless gesture when she had left the door to the first car open and so many other windows and doors remained unsecured. The computers may not interest them, but it wouldn’t be long before the scent of the decaying bodies became stronger, permeating the area. “We need to get going. They’ll be here to clean up the mess.” She headed back where she had come from, her pace quick but not hurried.

He took after her, following her uphill for a few moments before asking, “And who are ‘they’? More of those animals?”

“Teams from the plate. They’ll want to get their story straight.”

“Then why don’t we just wait for them?” It wasn’t until he finished asking his question he guessed what her answer would be.

“You survived. You met one of the ‘rebels’ and, once they realise you have no idea where they can find us, they’ll simply remove you from the equation. Killing you outright would be a blessing. Feel free to try your luck with them, of course.”

They crested the hill in silence, Tristan walking an arm’s length away from her. Before him spread an endless sea of thick foliage, seeming to him an artificial green colour, interrupted by the occasional hill and rock formation. A large river formed a blue vein in the land, one he had seen briefly many times on trains but never had the opportunity to see its breadth. He suspected the trees in the plates weren’t the most authentic, but he found himself trying to emphatically justify his perception of the trees on the surface to himself. Scoffing silently, Tristan shook the thoughts from his head, bringing his concentration back to the lay of the land. Further ahead, he could see the outline of several ruined buildings and crumbled columns peeking over the tops of trees.

Red suddenly grabbed him, pulling him backwards. He flailed, catching himself before he fell. Once he was steady, he turned to look at her, almost wishing he had never survived.

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