“Trans-Atlantic” by Hamish Spiers continues this week. We’ll be running a new installment each week through summer so be sure to pop back each week.
By Hamish Spiers
Part II. Bob
A few hours after setting off from Amsterdam, I went to the nearest dining car and had a steak sandwich for lunch. A luxury, I’ll admit. With land rates at a premium, the few remaining cattle farming conglomerates charge a hefty fee for meat. Then, as I was going back to my compartment, I was approached by three men who looked like trouble.
“Can I help you?” I asked them.
“Terry Ferguson?” one of the men asked, answering my question with one of his own.
“Um… it’s Jerry Ferguson,” I said. “But yes?”
“Terry Ferguson,” the man began.
“Jerry,” I corrected him.
“You don’t know us,” the man plowed on, knocking over all the barriers in his way. “But you know who we work for.”
“No, I don’t,” I said. “And my name’s Jerry.”
“Now, company loyalty is all well and good,” the man said, “but is it worth getting your legs broken?”
I thought of the job I’d just quit in Amsterdam. “Not really. No.”
The man smiled. “So we understand one another.”
“I think we’re talking at cross purposes.”
“Excellent,” the man said.
“You realize I have no idea what you’re talking about, right?”
The man gave me a conspiratorial wink. “I wouldn’t have it any other way. We’ll do this, as they say, off the record.”
The man’s grin remained fixed. “Exactly.”
He thought we were being conspiratorial. I thought he was being an idiot.
“So,” I said, trying a new tact, “you want the…”
“The designs for the new bio–fuel engine prototype your company is working on.”
I nodded. “Of course. Well, if you and your mute pals here want to wait a minute, I’ll go and get them.”
The man stepped forward. “Oh, we’ll come with you.”
I smiled and tapped my nose. “Ah, but we don’t want anyone to know about this, do we? After all, this is going to be strictly… ‘off the record’?”
“It’ll still be off the record,” the man said. “We’re just old friends going to join you in your compartment for a drink.”
“Right,” I said. “I get it.” I turned to lead them back to my compartment, then whirled around, shoved the nearest one out of the way, and ran for it.
When I was out of sight, I ducked into a little doorway to an unfamiliar part of the carriage where I found myself in a somewhat cramped but, at the same time, rather cozy room where a single occupant was eating his evening meal.
A glance at this grey man with somewhat flattened features and, if you’ll excuse the description, ‘otherworldly eyes’ was all I needed to tell he wasn’t human. Sitting down a respectful distance to the alien’s right, I decided to break the ice.
“Do you speak English?” I asked.
The alien sighed. “If I got a job with Trans–Atlantic, you could probably assume that. Wouldn’t you say?”
“Sorry, it’s just that you’re…”
“Not human? Well spotted.”
“I did say I’m sorry.” I then tried starting over. “I’m Jerry,” I told him, glancing at his name tag. “Um… Bob?”
“My actual name’s Xanafaeir,” he said. “But most people find Bob easier to remember.”
I nodded and looked around. “And what’s this place supposed to be?”
“Off limits to passengers,” Bob said. “It’s a staff lunch room.”
“Well, I’m sorry about barging in then,” I said. “I just had to find somewhere to hide. Some guys out there want to break my legs.”
Bob smiled. “And some guys who come in here might want to give you a fine. Still, why do these people want to break your legs?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Some rubbish about bio–fuel engines. They think I’m someone else.”
Bob shook his head. “I don’t understand human beings and their love of violence. Why do you want to maim? Why do you kill?”
“Well, I don’t make a habit of it,” I said, feeling a little taken aback.
“You don’t kill?”
“Of course not.”
“Didn’t I see you eating a steak sandwich in the dining car a few minutes ago?”
“Ah. I see what you mean,” I said. “But having a steak sandwich isn’t the same thing as killing a cow.”
“Are you kidding me?”
“All right. I see your point.”
Bob sighed. “That’s the problem with human beings. You’re all so… disconnected from everything. And you’re disconnected from your responsibilities. To yourselves, each other, future generations, and everything and everyone around you. It’s the reason for all your problems.”
“Because we’re disconnected?”
“Yes. You’re oblivious to how you affect the world around you. You chow down on steak sandwiches without a second thought for the cows. You melt your world’s ice caps and cause mass extinctions. You tear up the countryside and turn it into mines and roads. Do you want me to go on?”
“I wish you wouldn’t. But most people aren’t like that. Well, okay. I’ll give you the point about the steak sandwiches, but the other stuff… It’s the politicians. The CEOS. The industry lobbyists. They’re the ones tearing up the planet.”
“You’re the majority though,” Bob pointed out. “Why do you put up with it?”
“Look, I don’t know. I’m tired.”
“It’s because you’re all disconnected,” Bob said. “No one wants to speak out against the tiny little group that’s got you all under its sway because you think if you speak up, you’ll be alone. And you know why?”
I sighed. “Because we’re disconnected.”
“Now you’re getting it.”
I sighed. “Yeah. You want me to change the world and I don’t even know if I’m going to make it to New York with both my legs.”
Bob shrugged. “I was just making chit chat.”
“You’ve got a funny idea of chit chat. Anyway, it was nice meeting you but I think I might just go and stay somewhere nice and public instead.”
“Suit yourself,” Bob told me, “but you’ll miss out on all the fun when the chef drops by.”
“All things being equal, of course.”
“Yes, thank you for that.”
“By the way,” Bob said, “it’s not really my concern because I really don’t care one way or the other what humans do amongst themselves… But if these guys are really trying to break your legs, why don’t you just tell a guard?”
“I will when I find one,” I replied. And then I stopped. “Hang on a second. If you don’t care one way or the other what we do amongst ourselves, isn’t that a bit… I don’t know… species–ist?”
“I guess it is,” Bob replied. “Tell that to a cow.”
I didn’t realize this at the time of course but it was something of a privilege running into this man before he was well–known. Since I met him, Bob has become well–known for his numerous designs for interstellar space faring vessels, every one of them patented to prevent members of the human race from possibly developing them at a later date.
When I first met him however, he wasn’t even on the public radar, although his people had made something of a media splash when he and several thousand of his kind stopped on Earth to repair their interstellar cruiser.
Unfortunately though, they couldn’t find any trydium here, whatever that is, and that’s why they decided to fill in their immigration forms and stay. Oddly though, the only people who paid any genuine attention were immigration officials and employers. And wtih Bob’s qualifications as an engineer who designed space vessels capable of traveling billions of light years in a matter of days, he found employment with very little difficulty, landing a cleaning job on that train.
Anyway, to get back to the story, I left Bob to his lunch and went to find a guard. And I actually made it five paces before I got mugged again.