I like trains.
It's natural, I suppose, given my somewhat peculiar relationship with my environment. I've always liked them, though, even when I was a kid. They seem like such magnificent beasts, aloof but not inimical to the ways of Man. When you stand by the tracks as a high-speed train goes through, especially at ground level, it really gives you an appreciation for the power you're dealing with. The kind of power I deal with on a regular basis, now.
The windows are streaked with raindrops. Past them, the scrub bushes and oiled shale of the roadbed cut flew by, houses with back fences turned resolutely to the trumpeting invader rushing past just above the embankment. I can feel the wheels turning on steel. New technology used for high speed passenger trains meant that the joins are much much harder to discern, but I'm past master at reading the rails with my ass; sitting here with my eyes closed I can make out the rail joins (fifteen meters apart) and the points of track connections, intermittently, in a pattern which tell me I'm somewhere between Mystic and New Haven, Connecticut.
I have work to do in Washington.
But first, the commute. I always commute by train. It makes the day so much easier. I suppose Amtrak would be angry with me, if they knew - but they don't, can't. I wonder if I show up, somewhere on the Northeast Corridor's operating efficiency graphs, buried in some operations manager's Powerpoint chart. An anomaly. Weather conditions? I try to avoid taking the same trains.
New Haven comes and goes, fifteen or twenty early-morning commuters yawning their way onto the Acela and finding seats, spots for coffee, computers, paperwork, newspapers. Humanity fitting itself into the belly of its creation. I lean back and watch the squat office buildings slide rearward as New Haven is left behind. Behind my temples, the buzzing gets louder; a slight sheen of sweat is visible on my forehead if anyone looks closely enough.
One day, the Department of Homeland Security idiots will actually employ someone who knows how to read hinky, and then I might end up in some trouble. Explaining myself, at least. Why are you nervous, sir? I'm not nervous, see- You look nervous. I know I look nervous, but I'm not, really...Would you mind coming with us for a bit, please, sir?
No. That won't be fun. Need to spend some time learning to not sweat.
Midway between New Haven and New York Penn, the tracks parallel a highway. I usually spend those few minutes in the cafe car, sitting facing the windows and watching the train race cars and buses and trucks, sometimes slipping ahead of them, sometimes losing ground slightly if there's no traffic. It's not a particularly fast stretch of track. That's a good time for a cold water and some energy bars (ha!) or perhaps a bagel, something to keep my stomach from knotting as the trip progresses.
Today is no different. I can see traffic moving out there, but it's definitely slowing down in the southbound lane; something's going on. Brake lights blooming in bloodstained indication of dysfunction, traffic starting to pile up. I swig water, reciting mantras of calm and digestion to cool my rebellious gut; it's angry as usual at what it's being asked to do.
The problem sweeps into view so fast I can't have reacted consciously. A bus has turned to avoid the accident clogging the southbound lane, and police have routed it across the median to where they've blocked one of the oncoming lanes to allow traffic around the obstruction. It's full, I note absently, windows packed with kids' heads, on their way to school, or a trip, or something. It's a classic school bus, a Blue Bird, and I have time to wonder why the hell they're called that when they're all that particular orange-yellow that means children if you're a U.S. driver -
Oncoming, there's a tractor trailer, just cresting the hill. It hasn't slowed. I can see the cab shuddering as the brakes are applied, but I can also see the tanker behind it starting to come around to the left, the beginning of the jackknife. The cab will probably make it past the bus, just starting to turn right again to move parallel to traffic after crossing the median; if the trailer jackknifes another fifteen degrees-
I'm up and standing, pressed against the window, all ten fingers outstretched against the tinted glass and the strain pulling my face into a rictus. There is a soundless explosion, past the glass; I see the tanker trailer leap violently into the air, separating neatly from the tractor cab. Relieved of the weight, the tractor cab immediately grabs hold of the pavement and begins to slow with alacrity. The tanker is airborne, passing over the school bus, it looks like it will miss it by feet-
It won't. I close my eyes, feel, grab, push on a now-empty stomach - there's a sickening groan all around me and I'm thrown to the floor as the Acela consist drops from perhaps one hundred and eighty kph to just over sixty in a couple of seconds. I hear screams as somebody goes tumbling near the cafe counter, coffee leaping for the air.
We're past the accident; I can't see what happened-
Running, now, past the counter and into the intercar join, pounding furiously on the emergency door open control which refuses to open until I smash a glass panel and pull the handle behind it. The train begins to slow further as the door slides open, and I stick my head out into the windstream, checking to make sure there are no oncoming trains, then look back-
The tanker has been booted upwards several dozen feet. It comes to rest roughly where I'd intended, in the median past the traffic diversion, well clear of any other vehicles. It wasn't empty, as I'd found out, but it doesn't look like it had anything dangerous in it either; as I watch from the swiftly slowing train, a rush of white escapes the middle seam and the endcaps.
Oh, thank God.
The train has almost stopped. A conductor, red-faced, arrives in the join and starts shouting at me, pointing at the handle. I wave numbly at him, and when the train stops, I slip down the six feet to the ground and start jogging back towards the accident. They'll sort it out on the train, they always do. The initial jolt will be put towards the emergency brakes kicking in when I triggered the door release; nobody except maybe the train crew will wonder what the hell happened to decelerate the train from a normal run to less than half speed. If they wonder, they'll assume the brakes did it and their instruments failed. Humans love explanations.
I just have to be relatively distant by the time they get sorted out and start wanting to ask questions.
This is why I love the train. So much energy; so much motion, so much potential.
Maybe Clark can just lift stuff using those muscles. Some of us have to work with what we can find.