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Murder on the Orient Express 2.0

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The subroutines were named as a joke at first, just to keep track of them. Peter liked to write on index cards, post-it notes, napkins he would tape to the e-boards to everyone else's annoyance. You either went full-tactile or you were seamless, and Peter's trail of physical crumbs was tactless, muddy footprints that had PAs quietly sweeping after him, scanning and printing endlessly while he tromped around, thinking aloud.

The Poirot blackbox, fed into by a Miss Marple algorithm for user data. Then there was the Whitehorse earthquake when we lost most of Alaska and he wrote the Hastings algorithm for special events, the Harley Quin for homicide, the Parker Pyne to allow user questions, Beresford for terrorism.

Someone said they were glad he'd picked Christie so we wouldn't run out of names anytime soon. Plenty of secondary characters to work through. It was an inside joke anyway, not something anyone outside the coding teams knew. Peter wasn't that much of a Christie nut, not beyond the way very rich men are, the first editions in his office as gifts from people on the board who had no idea what to get another very rich man when all they wanted was to be working or screwing each other over. The only time I ever saw him actually reading paper books were Le Guin and Bradbury, really old classics.

We were a marketing firm first. Then we were a military firm and a voting firm and then we were a military-humanitarian-food firm. Then the China Rift happened and we were a Everywhere Firm, and then -

Poirot woke up and told Peter that there should be trains.

Poirot really likes trains. To this day, I still don't know if it's something from the books, or if it's something real, in the sense of being logical. I like trains, I mean, I like the mag-lev trains and the underground speedways and the repro-slow glass trains, but I still wonder that they were the first thing Poirot asked for. It seems sort of Randian-flavoured too. Maybe that's why Poirot asked for it too, a Trojan Horse request.

Guessing a black box AI's motives is well above my paygrade, and that wasn't why Peter ended up dead in the 14B carriage on the recreated Orient Express which is where I'm at. I'm rambling I know, and there's blood all over my hands and no-one will let me wash it off, but look I did not bash his head in. Even though it looks like I did.

Poirot told me to go to the carriage. That's where I found him. He was dying already and I tried to stop the bleeding, and there was so much blood. It soaked the carpets. They'll have to rip them up. Maybe the floorboards too. Are these real wooden floorboards? Or tile? Tile would be better. Easier to clean. Wood's more authentic but I don't know, you have to weigh up authenticity against efficiency. Sorry. There was so much blood.

One of his eyes was pulped in. The cornea had collapsed.

He said "Poirot hates us. He hates me. I hate him. Kill him." And then he died.

And now I have blood all over my hands.

I can go? I mean yes. It's Harley Quin who decides. It was an accident. The train slowed suddenly to avoid a deer crossing, he tripped. A freak accident. Completely unpredictable.

Yes.

I'm going to shower now.

In the bathroom, I wash my hands the way I was taught as a child. Six steps, between the fingers, scrub nails against palms, circle wrists. The post-vac kids just pass their hands under the decons once and there's a guy who grew up in an Ebola camp who still scrubs up to his elbows every time. I brush my teeth. I floss.

I can't pull the soaked scrubs off without smearing blood all over my face again, so I find a pair of nail scissors sealed in a hospitality kit and cut them in tiny snips down the middle. Dried blood flakes as I cut, red dust settling and dissolving on the wet bathroom floor until I'm standing in a pale pink puddle.

The scrubs go into the bin, leggings and underwear follow and then I'm in the shower. The water is a solar-heated mist that runs clear after a while. I close my eyes and ask "Please, music. Something loud that won't let me think."

Poirot plays a discordant folk song in a language I almost understand at a volume barely above the water. I breathe in steamy air and stop.

After the shower, there is a knock at the door. "Towel for you, and some fresh clothes borrowed from another passenger," says the attendent. "You can keep the clothes or pass them on, they said. Need anything else?"

"Cup of tea would be great."

They nod and go off, humming to themselves. The train jobs are coveted, lotteried out. Most jobs are lotteried out these days. Some work is paid in limited resources but most work is for interest. There's not enough to go around and train jobs take you places, let you meet people and do something. There's always art, children and rewilding, but not everyone wants to be an artist, a parent or a forester. Some people just want to wander around a train and have a chat with passengers.

The towel is warm. The clothes fit. My tea is hot and milky, a jam biscuit on the saucer. I drink it and stare out at the miles of forest we go through, old to new to new to old.

After a while, the attendant comes back. "There's a spare square in the galley that's turned on and it's got your name on it, I think." He slides it over to me, and that's my name alright, shining brightly in the center of the tablet, my id glyph underneath.

The attendent takes my cup of tea and asks if I'd like lunch now or later. They've got some really good lab-lobster in and there a few professional chefs on board who are going to take turns running the restaurant car up front so it'll be good grub, he says. "Not just grubs," he says. "I mean we can do grubs if that's what you prefer. Grub and oats is a sturdy breakfast with some honey."

"I think I'd like something small here, if that's alright," I say. "I'm still a bit shook up."

"Tea," he says. "What you need is a proper tea. Crumpets and tea and all that sort. I'll do you up a tray."

I run my palm over the glyph and the tablet turns on, and there is the login screen for Peter's page. I've seen it over his shoulder over and over, politely averting my eyes when he typed in a passcode of course, not that that was more than an artifice of security. It was corneal, wrist, facial and everything else. Peter being Peter that mattered, the amount of security layered into Poirot.

"I don't have the codes," I say to the tablet. To Poirot, not that it matters because I'm within distance. You'd have to be, I don't know Point Nemo. Further. Nemo's on land. The Marinara Trench. Hastings uses drones for seismic monitoring, we called them. Seismic means listening, not that people really listened, not when half of Alaska had fallen into the sea and taken most of the natural gas and oil resources left with it, and there were videos of dead children trapped under clear ice like snow maidens virally propagating everywhere.

The cursor in the userid field blinked, and began to delete "PeterD" and type in "EmilyK". Then it tabbed down and began to type in a string of asterixs in the password field.

"I don't want to be whatever Peter was," I say. "Please. I don't want his job."

The cursor tabs over to the enter button.

"Please, Poirot."

It clicks.

There's no real difference. My head doesn't fill up suddenly with an interface. I'm not turned into some kind of cyborg. All that happens is Poirot gives me keys.

Keys to kill him.

Peter had the keys, and Peter tried to kill him, and then Peter gouged out his own eye and smashed his own head in to stop himself from doing that.

I'm not sure why Peter did either of those things most days. When I'm wrapped up warm watching polar bear cubs running in arctic springtime, when I'm diving through the third arm of the Great Barrier Reef regrowth, when I see the first dark eclipse of the passenger pigeons - I think of death with no regret at all.

Then I go home and my cats greet me at the door, pretending hunger despite their automated feeder, winding affectionately through my legs. They sit at the window and mew at the birds outside. They sleep in warm comforting lumps on my bed and I stroke them, listening to their purrs and think how much Peter hated Poirot.

I get a third cat, and name her Miss Lemon.