Friday, March 27, 2020
"And you brought friends. That's not usual." (Part of Future Past TP.)
Long, gray, and very tubular, there is very little to distinguish one subway car from another in New York City, aside from their serial numbers (if you care to stare at them long enough to commit it to memory). Seats line the walls and poles divide up the spaces between, allowing passengers to hold on during their speedy journey through the tunnels under the earth. There are ads on the walls to break up the monotony of gray and glass, political and commercial pops of color to distract the eye, allowing people something other than people to study while they ride.
There's no movement in this traincar. Hasn't been a long-long while, to gauge by the state of it. Its outside is well covered in graffiti and rust and dirt, its seats chewed-up and falling apart. Surprisingly clean on the inside, though, considering the years' accumulation of ratshit and trash and slime molds growing on the tunnel walls outside.
Somewhere above, this part of the Bronx is war-torn, barely inhabitable and barely inhabited. Down here it shows, transit long since fallen into disrepair, many of the tunnels squatted by those who can defend what little turf they've carved out. This place was never a station, never a real platform. Kind of a stopgap repair tunnel in between stations, less-trafficked than some. The scraping on the walls shows where the car was lifted, /dragged/ bodily down to its new home.
The dim light in Flicker's arm leads the way from one tunnel to another. In places he has to pick up his companions and jump them -- over deep pits in the flooring, past water, up through high-high passes that would otherwise be kind of unreachable on foot. It's sort of a hike through the bowels of the city but eventually they land up -- here. In a darkened traincar, some of the chairs torn out, some moved aside; sheets hung up to make makeshift partitions. Like bedrooms.
<< Knock, knock, >> sounds, mentally, some ways away before they actually enter. And when he /does/ get into the car: << Hi, honey. I'm home. >>
The door to the subway car is mostly closed, the windows darkened -- blacked out with sheets behind which a dim glow is lit. An electric lantern, a small one, tucked into a corner of the car. Sitting cross-legged beside it, Maya -- dressed oddly brightly for this dismal environment, in purple and green salwar khameez and a darker green shawl wrapped over and around herself for warmth -- has hands resting on her knees, raccoon-shadowed eyes mostly closed. She looks up slowly when Flicker enters. "You're back." Her voice is warm. Her smile is warm, too. Her brows lift. "And you brought friends. That's not usual."
Tag follows Flicker very closely, clutching a small LED flashlight of his own. His hair is a swirl of rainbow colors and his jacket looks like a partly cloudy sky, a brilliant yellow sun mostly visible over his heart. His cargo pants, though, are black and streaked with blue-white lightning in slightly ominous contrast to the rest of his attire. His eyes linger on the graffiti on the outside of the car up until the very moment he actually enters it. As such, Maya's voice reaches him before he sees her and he jumps, clapping a hand over his mouth to muffle the yip of surprise. "Oh, hi." He blushes, fist circling the sun on his chest. "I'm Tag."
<< We know. >> The voice that whispers into the others' minds doesn't sound anything like Hive's. It doesn't sound anything like a /voice/, really, either, when you get down to it. More just a suggestion, a whisper, an impression that maybe someone had been speaking. << We knew. >>
Hive is here, though. Kind of unassumingly here, sitting cross-legged as well off in shadow out of the pool of light cast by Maya's lantern. He's in boots, jeans, a filthy oversized denim jacket that hangs badly on his emaciated frame. Lank-long hair tied back in a ponytail. Eyes closed, chin propped on fingertips, elbows propped on knees. << Don't belong here, though. >>
Tian-shin hangs back a moment to switch off her head lamp before following her companions in. Her short-cropped hair looks slightly unruly where visible beneath the red newsboy cap. Her jacket shows more patches than original black fabric, and her old, faded jeans look not long for this world. She pulls the door shut behind her and looks from Maya to Hive. "We're just visiting," this softly, toward the latter, though what's running through her head, and not very subtly, is << You look awful. >>
"They brought fruit." Flicker seems unconcerned with Hive's dismissal. He drops his backpack behind one of the sheet-partitions. Blips over to stoop, curl an arm around Maya for a hug. Shift over and lean down to do the same for Hive. "Not dead yet," he agrees with Maya. "Toasters were trying to chomp 'em though so I yoinked them home. /And/," since this bears repeating, "they brought fruit. -- Tag, Tian-shin, this is Maya. -- Hive, be nice."
Maya's dark eyes shoot open wide. "/Real/ fruit?" She returns the hug fiercely, but immediately after her eyes narrow on Flicker. /Suspiciously/. Maybe he is playing with her? Maybe maybe? "Not fruit /snacks/? I hope you know Gushers don't qualify -- not!" she is quick to assure the others, "that I wouldn't accept Gushers. I so would. So so would." /Her/ mind, to Hive's senses, is an odd dissonance. Strange echoes of Tag and Tian-shin and Flicker held inside it.
Tag looked about poised to pounce Hive, but stops himself short. << I might /break/ him, >> flits through his mind, vaguely, as he offers a much gentler hug. << Missed you, >> is thought much more deliberately, at him. "Hi," he says again, subdued, waving shyly at Maya. "No Gushers, though I still have a bag of Lunar New Year candies. They're not very good. Fruit, on the other hand..." He unslings his dirty tan knapsack and loosens the drawstring at the top. "Oranges and persimmons, late arrivals for spring festival I'd guess, and past their prime." He lifts out two mesh cloth bags. "Also have some other odds and ends. The only stuff that's fresh is things from our micro-gardens. Or other people's..."
<< Don't belong here, >> rustles back again. << You brought them. >> The 'you' comes with a mental impression of Maya, all dreamy-bright colours and the strains of classical cello music playing. << They aren't real. Why did you bring them? Can they help? >> The hug isn't returned. Perhaps it isn't even noticed; in Tag's arms Hive's bony form is just still. Eyes still closed. Breaths just slow and even.
"Nice to meet you, Maya." Tian-shin bows. "And I hope nobody minds if I take a seat." She does not actually wait for objections before slumping down against the wall. Her eyes study Hive for a few long moments, then dart to Flicker, and, at last, uncomprehendingly, to Maya. "She didn't bring us here, it was Flicker...and I feel pretty damned real." This punctuated by rubbing her shoulder, its recent encounter with the pavement evident in fresh scuffs of filth. "I've no idea if we can help." << Or if we should...>> "It depends on what help you need."
"Mmn. We all caught in /your/ web again? And here I thought I was just being the Big Damn Hero." Flicker's tone is amused. Smile crooked. "I brought them because Tag wanted to see you. But if they're meant to help all the better." His knuckles lift, to rub at his eyes. "You all can catch up. Wake me if there's trouble." His arm slings around Tag again. Briefly. Small squeeze. He flits off behind one of the sheets, pulling it closed for what modicum of privacy it grants in the small space.
Maya bounces, slightly, where she sits. She reaches out to nab Tag's bag, drag it close, reach inside to dig out a persimmon. "Oh, /oh/ you might be an actual angel. -- they belong here. As much as any of us do. And Flicker did bring you here, certainly. /Mmm/." Juice dribbles down her chin with the huge bite she takes. "Mmm-/mmm/. -- what I need is these per/simmons/. This is perfect this was perfect. Flicker should bring friends more often. -- /Can/ you help? What are you good at? We're changing the world, you know." Whether or not she's serious about this, she says it with a lilt in her voice and a curl of smile on her lips.
Tag leans into Flicker's hug. "Sleep good." He seems unwilling to leave Hive's side, and sinks down to sit cross-legged on the floor beside him, looking rather small and miserable despite bright colors and brighter smile he flashes Maya. "They're supposed to be auspicious," he explains quietly, just above a whisper. "The oranges, too. I'm an artist. I'm good at uh...well, art." He gestures at one of the sheets blacking out the windows, and bold silver lines arc across it, sketching a dragonfly within a few seconds and filling it in with glimmering jewel tones of green, blue, and purple. "As far as what's generally considered /useful/ in this day and age, I can blind anything with eyes or cameras or even most kinds of sensors. Like Sentinels."
<< We bring everyone here, >> Hive replies. << These worlds are never real. >> Only now does he actually move. Not /much/ -- a small shift of head, face half-turning, slightly towards Tian-shin. Lips half-curling, almost a smile. << Should. >> It echoes, after it's been said, more idea than word. << (should) (should) (should). >> << Who decides what we should do? >> << Sit in these tunnels. >> << Play god down here with the rats. >> << Should we? >>
"He's also good at running. Good combination." Tian-shin watches the dragonfly take shape, a faint and weary smile playing at her lips. "Short version, I make chemical reactions. It's kind of tricky, and I need to know the mechanism." She picks up an orange and peels it rapidly, eyes closed. "Also, I'm pretty decent with a Chinese long sword, when I have one. And cooking, I guess." She cracks her eyes again when Hive addresses her. "I don't really understand what you mean--these worlds? But /we/ decide what we should do, whether together or individually." The orange comes apart in her hands, its peel removed in a single, neat spiral strip. << Though in truth I don't know how ethics even works on this...whatever this is. >>
"I'm not from this world," Maya explains, around a mouthful of persimmon. "Not exactly. I came here by accident about a year ago and stayed because I thought I could help them -- change things. Change the world. I meddle, I have a meddling problem." Her dark cheeks colour a little darker. "But I don't know, either. What the ethics of it are. This goes a little beyond /meddling/, we're changing everything. Really," she says -- just a little wistfully, "if you want to help, remember me. When you wake up. I don't know if anyone back in my time will. Except my dog. She might not be getting enough petting."
Tag cocks his head sidewise at Hive, then, in the other direction, at Maya. "I'm...kind of lost here, honestly." He reaches over snags half of the orange from Tian-shin's hand. "So I get the part where you're from the past." He nods at Maya and offers her a slice of orange. "But /we're/ not. From the past." He frowns. "Well, except in the sense that /everyone/ is from the past. But we don't get to wake up from this." He sweeps his hand down the length of the subway car. "This is...it. This /is/ reality."
<< Maya Menon. >> This time the impression comes with a brightly glittering wash of stars, and a warm /happy/ feeling bubbling over from Hive. << Cheered the city once. Dusk will remember. >> The happy feeling has washed back out, at Dusk's name. Just a sharp pang of longing. Loss. Regret. << You'll remember. >>