Note-To all my normal readers this is a story for a contest, enjoy.
Conductor Fridrick Zielheilm monitored the controls of the Zevon electromagnetic bullet train skipping along the formally French wasteland at a speed of 249 miles per hour, just above cruising speed, when the photooptic sensory radar picked up a large sweeping blob of what looked like, strangely enough, birds. He softly applied the air brakes so not to disturb the three hundred or so passengers they were carrying from Munich to Cape Town, two of the last eleven habitable cities left on the planet earth in the year 2102.
“What is it captain?”
Asks Paul.9, a replicant operator constructed on Mars. At first Zielheilm had despised the idea of sharing his cockpit with a cyborg, transhumanist, clone, it made him extremely uncomfortable. But they had been riding this rout for a few months together and Paul.9 had began to grow on Fridrick. His stock calm and ridged operating procedure reminded him of his grandfather.
Six cars back, sitting up, reading by florescent light, thirteen year old Emily Toonhorn feels the train slow down. This is a strange event because normally electromagnetic bullet trains never slow down until they are close to reaching their destination and being that they had only left Munich a little over an hour ago it was impossible that was the case. She looked over at her brothers bunk on the other side of the cabin to see if he was still awake. Elfred Toonhoorn, Emily’s older brother, is rolled up in the blankets softly snoring. She sits up an walks over to the wall unit that directly connects to cabins 1-9’s clone Paul.9.1 and activates the intercom.
“Yes … Emily Toonhorn, how may I assist you?”
“Why has the train slowed down.”
“Allow me to interface with Paul.9, one moment please… Birds.”
“But there are no more birds.”
Back in the cockpit Fredirick began to wish they hadn’t uninstalled the ion cannons from the bullet trains. The last war had ended nearly ten years ago and bullet trains had been stripped of their armor and tactical weaponry to make them faster and more economic. It was his fear that if they did have an impact with the flock of whatever the hell was out there, they would surly tear through the outer aluminum shell of the train and possibly fracture the carbon fiber cars resulting in noxious gasses and radiation being emitted into the cars and killing the passengers. They were now cruising at 149 miles per hour, the minimum speed of the train of this size, and the flock of birds seemed to be headed straight towards them.
“Sir, I do not understand. Why are there birds?”
“I don’t know Paul.”
They sat next to each other and awaited their fate. There was no way to send communications to a city from the bullet trains until they were within radio range. All satellites had been destroyed long ago. For the next few minutes Zielheilm and Paul.9 sat quietly next to each other and watched as the great flock of something crept towards the train on their forward display monitor.
Now both Elfrid and Emily were awake and they had Paul.9.1 in the cabin with them. Paul.9 is a service clone designed to assist human beings in any task, interface with computer systems, and brave the harsh radioactive landscape outside of the eleven free cities if ever the need arose. Even in areas of low pollution and radioactivity, where some small tribes of mutants fed off of strange new species of animals and plants that survived without sun, normal human beings could not survive for more than a few hours without becoming violently ill. The Transhumanist movement had resulted in various clones like the Paul.9 series as well as Gladiators, soldiers, and Brains, scientists and doctors. There was also said to be a renegade sect of cyborgs that lived beneath the earths crust and planed to start another war, wiping humans from the face of the Earth. But Emily and Elfrid weren’t thinking about that, they were wondering why the train had slowed so much and why there were birds.
“But Paul, birds have been extinct for almost forty years.”
“True Elfrid, but the scanner shows a flock of birds just the same.”
“I wonder what they look like.” Says Emily.
In that moment the hull sounds like it is being struck by hail. The relentless arrhythmic thud of hundreds of impacts scares the children. Paul.9.1 puts them back in their cabin and calmly walks to the exit pod in the front of the car. He opens the air lock and stands outside. The landscape is a desert of blackness. The sky is covered by a thick orange haze, the ground is a soft brown color and almost completely flat, flying by the train are giant blurry blue shapes. Birds.
Back in the cockpit Zielhielm is relieved. They had impacted the birds, gigantic things, over one hundred pounds a piece. The outer shell had been severely damaged but the inner structure had held. He opens a bottle of whiskey and pours himself and Paul.9 a drink.
“I don’t know if you can drink this stuff. But have at it.”
They drink together.
Paul.9 receives a message from Paul.9.1 that he had captured one of the birds and wanted to bring it up to the cockpit to see what the captain thought should be done with it.
Paul.9.1 brings the bird up in a plastic box he had poke holes in so the little thing could breath. He opens the airlock and leave the bird on the floor then returns back to his station. Paul.9 receives the bird from the airlock and brings it back to the captain.
“It appears to be a juvenile captain.”
When Fridrick looks inside the plastic box he seems transfixed by the animal. Then he begins to cry. Paul.9 has never seen the captain cry before.
“What is wrong sir?”
“It’s a blue bird. Blue like the sky. How it used to be.”