Part 3: eASing in
Some colors were missing, so it wasn't a rainbow. I was just staring blankly. My eyes followed the colored lines slowly. First the green... Then I followed the blue... the yellow...and finally, the orange one. That was the one I was on.
All I could see were those four colors. That was because my eyes were fixated upon the poster in the train. I didn't know why I was looking at it.
No, I couldn't remember already. It wasn't important, then. I tried to remember why I'd been looking at the map.
I was going to fetch her at the airport, and-
She and I had gone through school together up to college. We took the same course at the Artistic Institute of Vancouver, and then we went our own separate ways. While I came back home to study further by taking courses at the University of Montreal, she remained there. That meant she and I hadn't seen each other for years! As for Marco? He'd never met her, obviously. Not face to face, anyway. I mentioned her a few times, which always made him crack some horrible stupid joke. This was their first time talking together.
At least, it was their first time sharing space together, because nobody out of the three of us was saying anything. Naturally, this was the metro, so most people were quiet. If we'd said anything, we'd be drowned out by the noise coming from the metro moving. Some people didn't care, though, such as a group of five teens close by. If I strained my ear, I could almost make out what they were saying. Shooting a glance back at them, I saw one of them had long pink hair in two pigtails. I looked back at Jasmine who had the same hair color.
Colors, again. My thoughts were back on the subject of colors. Maybe I'd just turned into a zombie from waiting in the metro this long.
The announcer spoke the name of the station we were at but it wasn't our stop. I dismissed it, pulling myself to the side a little to avoid a woman leaving the train. Right afterwards, two men entered and took her place. Both were businessmen who probably had a lot of success, judging by their very stern allure.
Meanwhile, I was just a pizza deliveryman. I was also a student... but that wasn't quite true. While that had been the case before 3PM today, now I was entirely free from University. Assuming I passed my exams, anyway.
Tonight, we were going to party, because not only did I finish my exams, but so did Marco. That meant we potentially had a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in the same apartment. Granted, mine was in Fine Arts and his degree was in some science thing I never understood.
I picked up some party games we could play on Nimbus, the multi-platform game store. Hopefully that would be a hit. The real hit was not having any more stress from dealing with exams, tests, and homework. I was now my own man. That thought was reassuring me, because I wasn't the strongest guy at heart.
She had no idea of what I truly felt.
Once again, the train stopped. It did that every few minutes, depending on how far apart the stations were. Walking from one to the other would take ages, so this was great, but... This place was always so damn cramped. The woman leaving earlier had left some vacant space, but since she was replaced by two men, not much came from it. Normally, I was sitting and it was a lot more relaxing but now I was on my two feet.
I was also holding onto the pole in the middle to keep my balance. I hated that. This thing was covered in germs. I needed to wash my hands soon.
So many topics were flying through my head. Was I really no longer stressed out? I didn't know, to be honest. But luck had it that this stop had an elderly woman walking out of the train. It had been occupied before and now... Now it was vacant.
As usual, some kind of psychological warfare was instantly triggered. Everyone would be going for that seat. Of course, those who needed it had priority. Thankfully, I was the closest to the seat, so I took a quick glance to see if anybody who needed it was going to take it. The coast was seemingly clear. The businessmen were looking at their folders and exchanging hushed words. The group of teens from earlier were on the other side, so them coming here was just a pipe dream. They wouldn't go for it; its too far.
A bunch of people didn't even notice, so they were out of the match as well. I noticed all of that very quickly. It was stupid how my attention processed all of those details so well in moments like these, but not during my exams.
It was a hollow victory but a victory nonetheless. You had to take them where you could get them. I could tell I won something or another when Marco took a glance at me, as he apparently had been pining for the seat too. Better luck next time, buddy! Simon: one, Marco: zero. Still, we were a ways away from home, which meant the battle I won didn't win me the war yet. While we got to each station very quickly, we had a number of them between now and then. I looked at the clock to ascertain the time, sine I'd left as soon as my exams had been over.
It was 5PM. I still couldn't believe it took around two hours to head to the airport, pick up Jasmine and come back with public transport. It might have been faster had I possessed my own car but I wasn't that lucky. I could barely afford my studies. Still, since we were a decent way off, I figured it wouldn't be so bad if I took a small bit of rest. Nothing fancy, just closing my eyes.
Nothing fancy. Yet, when I closed my eyes, all movements ceased. The train stopped moving completely. I didn't feel the presence of anyone around me anymore. It was like...time stood still.
Or maybe I was asleep. That was the likeliest explanation. I must've been really tired, but as I was drifting off, something grabbed me back.
Who was it? I could barely hear it. She repeated herself, louder this time.
Asleep? I wasn't asleep. I could hear what she was saying. Couldn't she see that? My body felt like lead anyway, I couldn't stand up just yet.
She was so insistent too. Who was this girl? I'd never heard this voice before. As the seconds passed and my body became operational again, I felt stiff all over, as if I'd been deep in sleep. Perhaps she was right, maybe I dozed off really hard there.
BGM: Ambient Strain
I took a look around and noticed things were just as she said: the train had stopped. It never came to a standstill like this unless it offloaded a few of its passengers...or if it was no longer in service for the day.
Yeah, I don't know what happened and I'm pretty weirded out. I sat down for a moment and right after that, I was alone here with you.
It seemed like that fact was making her embarrassed too, because her cheeks took on a slightly rosy tint. I had to assume she wasn't lying about it, then.
I have no idea where Marco is. This is a bother. Did he leave us behind?
No, he's not the type. He's probably waiting outside to jump scare us.
Okay, okay, I get it! So you fell asleep too, and..
No, no, my eyes were open.
I teased her. For a moment I thought I got through to her but she shook her head with an exasperated sigh. My companion threw out her arm to expose the rest of the train.
And this place is very strange. Feel free to have a quick look around before we go. Don't worry, we have plenty of time: I woke up several minute ago and it still hasn't moved.
Oh, shut up!
Either way, I decided to conduct my own search around this place. The strange panel in the back of the train was especially interesting. When I'd be done, I'd just go for the exit.
Before we talk to Jasmine, we should see if there's anything useful in the train car, starting with where we were sitting.
These were the seats furnishing the train's compartments. They were pretty small and snugly squished together to maximize use of space. They also weren't comfortable. Probably done on purpose so people didn't sit down if they could avoid it, or maybe... so that they wouldn't fight over the seats. Clearly, that didn't work out in the metro's favor.
What about the poles?
First of all, this pole's covered in germs. People held onto it to keep themselves balanced when the train was moving, since most had to stand up. Sometimes, the train was so packed you were squeezed like sardines against one another and it was pretty damn hard to breathe well.
By shifting my weight accordingly, I could fight off the pull of gravity, and then I didn't have to hold onto those things. Immortal against those damn germs.
Simon is such a fucking weirdo, in true ZE protagonist fashion. As for the windows...
Normally, trains passed on both sides as well, but if what Jasmine said was true, the fact this one didn't move and the fact no other passed by was very strange. Still, my destination was right outside of the train. Perhaps I'd better understand what I was seeing out there. The walls were covered in metal plates too... This wasn't what the stations looked like normally.
Speaking of weird walls, we should probably look at the panel in the back of the car.
Had that always been there? Maybe. I was perhaps only noticing it now because I was looking around. Maybe it was just my imagination but I felt like I was caged in. Looking around, on the opposite side, I saw they blocked off this compartment from the rest of the train.
No... a wall with a large red X had been installed between each slice of two compartments. It was as if the only accessible ones would be these ones. Something strange was going on.
Why would they put up this wall...?
Time to find out what Jasmine has to say about this.
I know I said woke up but I really didn't. I sat down and everyone instantly vanished. It was... instantaneous like I keep telling you.
That's pretty whack.
I know, right?
I couldn't believe what she was saying. She definitely fell asleep but she's too proud to admit it. I looked outside of the train through one of the windows; there was no telling which station this was.
I don't know why it's stuck here. But I don't think we missed our stop. For some reason, I think this is it. On one hand, the fact it's not moving is weirding me out. On the other, it means we didn't miss our stop, so maybe it's a blessing in disguise?
Maybe something happened, they evacuated the area and we just missed it. If that's the case, we should hurry outside then.
But, and consider this, if it was an earthquake for example, maybe we're just between two tremors. We should hurry out of here.
Oh, there are no earthquakes here! Where do you think we live?
There's nothing else to look at, though, so we should leave the traincar.
Okay, I'm ready to go.
Yeah, good thinking. Now that we're done, let's go.
The door to the train closed behind me, which made me turn around quickly.
It's going away now?
My question fell on deaf ears as Jasmine and I watched it roll away. Soon, it was gone, just like that.
Should we have stayed inside?
Trains don't wait for people, Jasmine. It's the people who wait for trains.
At any rate, I also noticed something strange earlier...
She pointed at me. Before I could act indignant, I took a look behind myself and noticed a welcoming committee of two was coming towards us. Was she pointing at them?
No, she was definitely pointing at me. Directly at my neck, in fact. But that could wait. For now, I stared at the two who were coming up to us. They were strange enough that I would've considered her words were meant for the two of them.
BGM: Agoraphobic Sloth
His outfit was all sorts of strange. Hunched over, he wore several layers: a white shirt, a gray vest with golden stripes and two metallic shoulder pads. He also had a bag at his side.
However, there was a clear difference between us. Namely, she was adorned with very strange things. There was a headset on her, along with that facial plate mask. Was she playing some sort of game?
Stranger even was the rest of her outfit. It made me think of... Japanese shrine maidens? It wasn't exactly clear what the dress was supposed to be but it was a sharp contrast to the technology on her head.
I averted my eyes for a moment while Jasmine took the lead.
Um... hello. Sorry to bother you but we're kind of lost, and...
We had been discussing about investigating when you came out and now the train is gone.
Ah, right... so anyway, my name is-
While I'm glad you're willing to trust me that much, it doesn't matter if we call ourselves by something else, no?
I didn't understand what he was suggesting. Jasmine did not seem to share my confusion, instead considering his words carefully. Perhaps she figured this meeting was too strange, as she backpedaled on her decision.
You are right. I feel like this is a little... unorthodox, so, fine then. You can call me J, how about that?
Jay? Or do you mean the letter J?
The letter is fine. It's like a nickname. Not much of one but one nonetheless.
No, Simon, you had to stop thinking this way. There had to be some kind of explanation.
And then I'll be, um... S.
Very well, that seems sensible enough. The lady at my side will be E, in that case. As for me, I will be A, as in a knight of justice, at your service.
It was as if a part of what he said didn't seem... sincere?
I have several questions.
And I have several answers! Please, don't be afraid.
Well, first of all, you two are dressed a bit... weird, no? I hope that doesn't come off as rude of me...
Oh, it's quite alright.
Yeah, I wasn't saying anything but it's a little out there...
I squinted a little. That's right: around his neck was a strange black collar. It was also present around E's neck, and when I looked at Jasmine, it seemed she had one too.
When I said we, I meant all of us! You both have one just like ours too. I'm afraid that is not part of my usual fashion...
Yeah, I noticed it earlier.
That must've been what she was pointing at before the two of them came up to us. I wanted to examine it closer but I couldn't, obviously, see mine and I didn't think it was polite to ask either of the two others.
Oh, huh? Okay then.
Just as I thought, in the back was a strange circle. Like some kind of red scanner? Or more like a large button. Perhaps pressing it would release the collar, but if that was the case then why did we wear these? It was equally possible the button was dangerous. I left it alone for now, unwilling to take chances. Still, while examining it closely, a thought flashed by me. I remembered when I'd been in the train earlier...
Right, speaking of which, were was Marco anyway? He didn't try to scare us like I thought he would.
There's some sort of lock in the back, I think. There's a glowing red button but I don't think it would be a good idea to press it. I just don't know what will happen.
I see... oh, something's coming!
I pulled away, looking in the direction the something was coming from. It was another train and it arrived at our side of the station, just like ours had been stopped earlier.
Interesting. I can see two men in this one.
But all those thoughts were dispelled when I noticed one of the two men inside the train was Marco. The other was a large, buff man. He didn't look particularly young. I could tell because he was a redhead, even if his hair had several long streaks of gray hair scattered throughout. Neatly combed on one side, the other was a bit more of a mess.
So it was like that when we arrived, too...?
Think we need to open those doors? I don't see how we could do it, but...
Let's try, I guess.
BGM: Ambient Strain
As you can see here, although there's multiple characters now, we're considered one group so the talk option covers all three. First though, we have a new Map option...
...that is completely pointless as it only covers the immediate platform! Before we talk some more, let's check out the train cars.
I really wanted to go there so I could look at the train from up close but that was ridiculously dangerous for a few reasons. First of all, the rails were electrified, so if I touched them directly I'd definitely be incinerated. The voltage was no joke.
Second of all, if I went down there... I could get hit by the train if it took off again. That's just a risk I didn't want to take. Both of those were shitty deaths, and I at least had enough self-respect to want to die another way.
So much for that. Maybe it would've helped but... too dangerous for sure.
However, the fact that the middle of the compartments was otherwise made of a rubbery surface gave me an idea.
No, even I can tell that's not going to work. It might be rubbery but that's just so it allows the train to turn. If it's wide open inside... which it is...
She pointed at the opening between the compartments.
Then it has to be solid and hermetically closed. Even if it's softer, I doubt we can break through this part.
I crossed my arms as Jasmine continued examining this spot even if nothing came of it.
Together, if they combined, they'd form a giant robot. On a more serious note, I wandered to the back of the train to try and see if I could catch a glance of who was driving us around.
But as much as I tried to look inside, I couldn't see anything. The view through the windows was completely dark. If anyone was inside, I wouldn't know. It was the same for the other side too. I knocked on the frontal driver compartment door.
Hey, anybody home? Special pizza delivery straight to the train!
The slightly hollow sound resonated on its own without any answer from within.
Wait, they wouldn't be able to come out even if they wanted?
Precisely. There probably is no one in this cabin, then.
I thought that was strange. Trains didn't work that way.
Sometimes the best solution to a problem was a direct one. I went to the door and tried to see if there was any way for my fingers to fit underneath to pull them open.
Jasmine saw what I was trying to do and I had to admit, she was right. I reluctantly let go of it.
What now, then?
Let's regroup and think about it again.
Well, poking around the train didn't turn up anything. She's right, let's see if A or E have anything new.
I was about to talk to the others when something interrupted me. As soon as I moved, the train's doors finally opened. Almost immediately, the older man walked out. He looked at us with a frown. For a second, he looked as if he was going to speak, but he went off on his merry way alone instead.
I muttered the last part under my breath to avoid aggravating him. A man that size, you just didn't screw with. It seemed as though he and Marco had woken up during our search, as the latter followed behind, exiting the train similarly to the mountainous man.
BGM: Agoraphobic Sloth
He looked joyful to see me, but almost instantly, Jasmine frowned and put her hand over his mouth.
Shh! This place is all sorts of weird; we're not using our real names, just aliases. Right now, he's going by 'S', and I'm 'J'. Okay?
Marco looked at her with all the surprise in the world before he nodded, acknowledging her request. After making sure he understood, the girl let go of him. In a way, I was a little annoyed that my name was now known to old man A and eccentric girl E. However, neither seemed bothered in the least.
I wanted to make sure neither of them would spill the beans, just so I could stay on level with the rest of the field. But first, I needed a bit more information.
I've been wondering, do you two know each other? You introduced her, so...
Oh, unfortunately the companion at my side is unable to do so herself, because, as you may be able to see, she is unable to.
Unable to what? Unable to be unable?
He reached for her hand, which she took without hesitation. Their fingers then touched in strange ways. I tried to make sense of it- was it some kind of tactile alphabet? The whole process took about a minute, after which she lit up.
It was the first time she spoke since she came by us. Her voice was kind of... soft? It was even softer than soft, in fact; it was melodious? It...resonated within me. I looked at the others to see if they had the same effect but Marco was simply waiting for things to happen and Jasmine was otherwise unaffected. They didn't seem to get the same effect from it, then.
Something else struck me as odd: despite the fact she was blind and deaf, she could speak extremely well. If she had been disabled since birth, it would be much stranger. That probably meant she hadn't always been... but I didn't want to press into a complete stranger's past.
Acknowledging her words, I nodded at E. I immediately rectified my behavior when I remembered she couldn't see.
Embarrassment struck again, this time forcing me to bring a hand behind my head to awkwardly rub it in derision. Jasmine was finding my reactions funny. At least someone was having fun.
You do understand what I mean by making communication difficult, now.
He touched E's hands once again and the girl beamed, apparently understanding the predicament. This must've happened to her countless times. If anything, she didn't look annoyed by it.
So anyway, sorry to interrupt, but what's going on here?
He was alone, next to the big door in the wall, examining the little consoles next to it. The more I looked at him, the more he looked frustrated with them. He'd been trying to leave the station, but from what I saw...
BGM: Ambient Strain
The door was locked and we couldn't leave. And of course, I noticed the train had gone much like ours had left earlier once we'd stepped out. It seemed automated somehow.
Hey, um, it seems we can't leave.
I interrupted their topic to bring that to their attention. From what I gathered, Marco was now nicknamed M in the eyes of the others.
That's not cool. Who would do something like this?
That I do not know. However, we all share one element. Namely, we are all wearing one of these dangerous looking collars.
Marco checked his own, looking at Jasmine and me to confirm we had them too.
That's right! I didn't even notice.
BGM: Agoraphobic Sloth
How many of these trains are going to get here? We're six here already... but if we all arrived in pairs, then we'd be eight? I looked through the window, while feeling like I was part of the welcoming committee now. Inside were two girls who weren't asleep, unlike Marco and the man had been.
The doors opened almost instantly. It was perhaps presumptuous of me to assume such, but was the opening of the doors tied to our awakening somehow? No, that was a little strange. How would someone rig it in such a way? Perhaps... Perhaps they could see us. I looked around for cameras while the two girls left the train. I saw none. Instead, I focused back onto them. They looked...remarkably alike.
One of them was fiercer-looking and she stood in front. The other was a little nervous, halfway hiding behind who I assumed was her sister.
Don't worry, young ladies. We are in a strange predicament but we are not hostile, I can assure you.
Yeah, this is still weird, but don't worry! We're not tied to whatever this is. Welcome, by the way!
Yeah, it's okay, we're all in the same boat here!
They really didn't look reassured at all. The old man cleared his throat before extending a metaphorical hand to them.
Due to our circumstances we have chosen to call ourselves by nicknames. I am A, this lovely girl by my side is E, this boy is S, there is M, and the pink lady is J. What may we call you?
The twin in front spoke after a moment of hesitation.
Right afterwards, the man who'd previously ignored us approached us again. He either wasn't a fan of being excluded, despite the fact it was his own doing, or he noticed the group grew big enough for him to care about it.
We are currently attempting to make sense of this situation, so perhaps we should do it together, don't you think?
The man thought about it. His presence was frightening the twins, who clammed up again.
But first, we could use something to call you by. Surely you must have heard our nicknames, yes?
The train had long gone by this point. No other came by. I wondered if this meant we were a complete group now? We had... a joker, an old man, twins, a childhood friend, a disabled girl, and... a big idiot. Oh, and I was there too. The big idiot was Ray, of course. For some reason, I felt as though his head might've been a bit empty with the way he acted.
He even bellowed at us post-introductions, asking us to check around again for a way out. We did so begrudgingly but the fact of the matter was clear: there was no way out. Well, that wasn't quite right. There were two ways out.
The first was ridiculous: if somehow, the television screen allowed us to pass into another dimension... Nah, there was no Midnight Channel for us, that wouldn't happen. The only other way was to take the train- so, through the tunnel. However, that was dangerous.
One of the twins called to us. Deep inside a dark maintenance hallway right next to the tunnel, there was a locked gate. Its bars were thick.
What do you think this means?
It means it's locked. Use your eyes, you've got some unlike the e-girl over there.
Can't you just break through it?
The door remained firmly locked.
What the hell is this door? It's like the other in the metallic wall. They're so fuckin' solid.
Unless we're fine throwing ourselves onto the tracks, I guess we're stuck here for now. Let's deliberate on what to do among ourselves, okay?
It was then decided that we'd split up a little, talk about what to do and reconvene, Jasmine and Marco split up from the rest, and I was going to follow up on them but A stopped me.
Ah, well, I guess. You think it would help them make up their minds faster?
Yes. As much as I wish to give everyone their space... we need to be sure of what we're doing sooner and not later.
I understood what he meant: we couldn't stay here forever. With a nod, I left him to head over to my friends.
BGM: Algorithm Simile
Actually... I wasn't bound to that. Perhaps I could just speak to someone else instead. I figured I could go check up on the twins, Ray, or my friends. There was the option of talking to A again, but that was possibly just a waste, as I'd talked to him just now. I couldn't hide my curiosity over the duo he formed with E, though.
And here we have an actual choice, though not one that causes a branching path. I'll post the other scenes we're missing here in a supplemental post, but for now we should decide which group do we want to talk to and learn a little more about?