‘The Grand Canyon Super Train takes you through some of the most amazing scenery in the country in comfort and in style. State of the art technology gives you an experience like none other melding the natural one with an ultra-modern....’
The brochure waffled on but John wasn’t really reading it, he had of course gathered all the information he needed before he even stepped on the train (Which didn’t actually go anywhere near the protected Grand Canyon, instead looping through and around several nearby canyons. That were grand.) Most of patrons would be focused on the little luxuries – the comfortable seats, custom drink service and the two truly unique viewing cars – perspex only so that there was as little as possible between you and the great out doors. The four other couches were more of a standard train carriage but with leather seats, inlaid wood panels and calming piped music: a tourist’s dream.
That wasn’t what interested John though – he was here to keep an eye on the train’s AI driver. It ran multiple layers of algorithm to not only make the ride as smooth as possible but to navigate the complex sequences of track to make the most of the scenery and give the passengers the best views. That was something much more complex than most AI’s were capable of due to the subjective nature of ‘the best views’, so they had turned to someone who knew more than most about AI’s. OK, so they didn’t know that John Tracy was the programmer and partner of the most sophisticated AI on the planet, who ran International Rescue’s monitoring and communications satellite saving hundreds of lives. But they did know that John Tracy had written some of the most respected academic papers on the subject of AI integration and he had been flattered that the Grand Canyon Super Train Company wanted him to give his professional opinion on it’s performance.
He had leaped at the chance to get out the office – as much as he loved his job there wasn’t much of an opportunity to see the world with his own eyes, hidden as he was behind scanners and cameras and readouts. He didn’t regret the choices that led him to life in a bubble, but he did regret some of the consequences.
“I could do better you know” chirped a light yet disapproving voice in his ear.
“I know EOS” John muttered, leaning so it didn’t look too strange that he was talking to himself. “You could do better at most things, but isn’t it nice to see how they are doing?”
“I suppose.” She said a little sulkily. “But don’t go getting any thoughts about replacing me.”
“As if I ever would.”
“Do you have anything you need?” Interrupted another chirpy young voice, this one attached to the young chirpy face of one of the train attendants who must still be in his teens. Just because there was an AI at the helm didn’t mean the train wasn’t staffed – in fact there was a very high ratio of staff to passengers to add to the luxury and add a much needed personal touch.
“Yes thank you.”
“Well if you are hungry we have a full lunch menu. Today’s special is a delightful mushroom stew or we have a range of bar snacks if you would prefer.”
“I’m fine for the moment.” John turned back to the window, hoping the boy would leave him to his thoughts.
“It’s wonderful isn’t it – seeing all of this so close up! I grew up in a city and that’s great and all but in this job I get to look at something so much better all day and -” realising he might have been gushing a much he stopped. “Well, my name’s Robert, yell for me if you need anything.” He said with a smile before moving to approach the next guest. The young man was bright and enthusiastic and charming in a cheeky sort of way that was very reminiscent of Alan and Gordon.
John settled back and wondered how on earth he was actually going to assess this AI. He might get a chance to look at the code later.
“Everything ok up there EOS?” John knew that he would have been informed if there was anything going on that needed his input, but the habit of knowing what was going on everywhere at all times was a hard one to break.
The hairs on the back of John’s neck stood on end when all he got back was static. He was using one of the most advanced personal communicators outside of the military, linked to the most advanced communications satellite. Sure they were passing through some rugged geology but it took more than a couple of rocks to lose connection.
“EOS?” He took out his ear piece, reassured that the small red light on it’s tip showed it was still working. So the problem was something else.
“Alright then fine folks” yelled a rough voice from one end of the carriage, and a shot boomed out into the small space. Ah. Maybe that then.
“I want everyone to stay exactly where they are, no sudden movements.” The man who was speaking was heavy set, suit wearing and held a serious looking pistol in one hand. Behind him several more serious looking and armed men were ushering in staff and passengers from the other carriages, who were all looking stunned and scared.
Sure this was a kind of expensive trip, but surely not exclusive enough to be worth robbing – gathered together there were probably only about twenty five passengers and as a casual day trip no-one was dressed for a ball.
The weapons were an interesting choice as well – old fashioned gun powder powered bullet filled guns. Like most tech weapons had evolved drastically in the last fifty years – these days you were much more likely to see a pulse weapon or a taser than an actual gun. They didn’t need any ammunition for a start, and it was much harder to kill someone accidently. Tastes of both the legal and illegal users of weapons had changed and John thought that guns had become a relic of the past: he had only ever seen an actual gun in the flesh once before.
“Everyone here? Good.” the man strode to the other end of the carriage. “Now, this is what’s going to happen. My associates here are going to keep everyone company while I go and have a chat with your ‘driver’. We’ve got a dampener up so no-one is making any calls until I decide to, but the sooner I get what I want the sooner this is over. You, “ the man gestured to the nearest staff member, “open this door.” He banged on an access panel behind him.
“Wh... What? I mean... I don’t.... I don’t know-” stuttered Robert, the one who had the misfortune of being in the hijackers eye line.
With a snarl the man grabbed onto Robert’s collar, drawing him close. “I know the AI interface is in there and I know you all know the code to get in. So. Open. It.” He raised his hand adjusting his grip on the gun. Perhaps he was going to use it as a cudgel instead of a projectile but either way it could do some serious damage.
If it was a choice between opening a door and risking your life, John knew the smart choice for Robert to make was to open the door. It was also a smart choice for him to keep out the way, not draw attention, wait for EOS to raise the alarm (as his over protective companion certainly would).
Sitting back was a choice he could make. He did usually watch from afar after all. But he wasn’t afar, he was right here, watching a young man being threatened.
John stood. “Stop that, leave him alone.” All eyes fell on him, in a way that wasn’t exactly comfortable.
“Excuse me?” The hijacker turned.
“You heard.” John swallowed at the glint in the man’s eye, the hardness there.
“You think you are some sort of big man?”
“No, but if I were I wouldn’t be threatening a kid.” Shutupshutupshutup .
John didn’t see the back hand coming but he sure as hell felt it. His head snapped round and he staggered, caught by two of the lesser hijackers. Head lolling and jaw numb he only knew that he was bleeding from the stain he was leaving on the carpet. His ear piece fell and rolled away somewhere.
“You going to sit back down?” The man hissed, getting right in his face.
“You going to get off this train?” John mumbled and instantly regretted the words when he was doubled over by a punch to the stomach. The two others had to actively hold him up now as the man punched again and again and again. John had no time to take a breath between one strike and the next.
“Drop him” he heard and the polished wooden floor rose up and smacked him in the face. John squirmed, gasping for air as best he could, curling in over his bruised ribs. Red hot, burning circles radiated through his chest that flared with every movement. He was exposed and helpless as vicious kicks landed on his head, his back, his legs, each drawing a harsh grunt. A sickening crack reverberated through John’s whole body and thin lines of fire spread out from his now broken rib.
They must have been satisfied by whatever noise he made from that as the blows and kicks stopped. John lay shuddering on the carpet, trying not to breathe too deeply and uncurling slightly to ease his chest. His vision swam and head pounded. Blood was trickling down his face. He would get up in a minute. He wouldn’t let these yobs win. He would stand up and stare them down but he just needed a second. To get his breathe back. To get his balance back.
“Now, will someone open the door, or do we have to give this gent another lesson.” John heard, and to prove his point the man stomped down hard on his wrist: John let out a horse scream as the bones ground together.
From somewhere far away there was laughter. The last thing that John saw was someone fiddling with a keypad by the control room door, and then the world whited out.