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    #16
    Unrecognizable: Chapter 1

    A follow-up story to "Treason" that takes place after my two short stories featuring 4435. I highly encourage you to read that and watch The Full Bucketniers before reading this.

    Summary (because this one will take a while to fully write due to midterms, sailing, and life): It's been years since Sarah mysteriously left the Full Bucketniers. Nevertheless, when trouble erupts during a snowstorm, she is the only one who can help. Can she do it while trying to conceal what has happened to her, and what exactly is causing all this trouble? Surely it can't be just a little snow...

    Unrecognizable: A Full Bucketniers Fan Fiction

    Tempting Fate

    Sarah was nervous. No, that wasn't the right word.

    Jason had started pulling the Bucketliner Daylight by himself without notice in the summer of 1955. She had told him not to inform any of her friends about her fate. Management had then tapped her for one last run on the Coast Daylight and then torn the streamlining off and painted black over her beautiful red and orange.

    This wasn't ordinary fear. It was the fear of the embarrassment and shame that would inevitably come when her old friends saw her so drastically and horribly altered from when they had last met. She didn't want their sympathy. She just wanted to be herself, the pretty, kind, and famously loyal GS-4 that the last decade had defined her as. But technology was the one opponent she could not stand up to.

    The passing scenery was becoming achingly familiar, from the special shade that the desert sand turned when it mixed with snow to the pattern of gusts of icy air. Sarah found her apprehension slightly mitigated by the prospect of seeing her brother and his friends again, especially since she was going to be able to spend Christmas with them.

    The Fort Fairfax yard was bigger than she remembered. There was at least one more yard track, and they seemed to have lengthened the turnouts to permit faster entrances. She looked around for any of the Full Bucketniers and Mr. Iverson's business car, but her search was in vain. Only a few strings of freight cars populated the yard, far fewer than it could hold. Sarah sighed. Even here, the traffic declines were paramount despite the infamously traffic-heavy holiday rush.

    She uncoupled from her train and backed into the empty servicing area. Her crew climbed down, grumbling about why they couldn't have a diesel with a cab that wasn't medieval to the point of being exposed to the open air before trudging through the cold wind and drifting snow towards the crew lounge. Sarah hissed at the indignity of the insult, but they didn't hear the noise over the wind. Since they'd been kind enough to adjust her fire to her preferences, she decided it was best not to repeat the rude gesture.

    "Well," she said to herself with a yawn, "I might as well get some sleep while I wait for the others."

    She didn't know how long she'd been sleeping, but when she awoke the snow was falling much faster. She could hardly see the warehouses at the other end of the yard. The rails were buried beneath the white substance, but not by much, if she was correctly seeing out how much of the freight cars' wheels remained exposed.

    A few flakes landed on her headlight and she shuddered involuntarily. This wasn't the powdery kind, but the wet, heavy slush that really screwed things up because it would always melt and then freeze as ice. And there was no sign of any of the Full Bucketniers either. Sarah was starting to worry.

    She suddenly saw a light from the crew lounge. Sarah inched herself forward. While her running gear was fine, it was stiff and would probably require oiling before she traveled any main line track, meaning the oil was solidifying. This wasn't a good omen. She stopped when she was in sight of the lounge. Her brakes made an embarrassing amount of noise, but fortunately it attracted the right kind of attention.

    "Ah, she took the initiative to come to you!" Mr. Iverson strode from the interior of the office. "That's the Sarah I remember! Welcome back; I'm sorry we don't have the time for more pleasantries now."

    "What's going on, sir? Where do you need me?"

    "Well, this is rather unorthodox because you technically aren't an FBL engine and we didn't lease you from SP, but right now we don't have any other engines available to run a plow extra to clear the line. And this damnable snow is building up fast; it's been four hours, and we've already received more than three and a half inches. Of course, your consent comes first."

    "If my friends' safety is on the line, I will. Count on it."

    "Good. There are some mountainous areas here that can cause avalanches, so you'll have a rotary sandwiched between you and the plow. And we may need you to help unstick the others, so both the plow and rotary have heavy winches on them. Your crew knows how to use them. Oh, and they remember you from when you worked here, so you shouldn't have any difficulties."

    "Alright, thank you, sir. I'll do my best to bring my friends home safe."

    "That's a good engine," Mr. Iverson smiled encouragingly. "That cosmetic alteration didn't change who you are in the slightest, my dear."

    Sarah blushed slightly as she backed onto the wye to couple onto the rotary and plow. "Aw, thanks, Mr. Iverson. I appreciate the compliment. Just don't tell the others I'm back yet, okay? I want to surprise them." She offered no assurances of how things would go, but as every seasoned engine and railroader knew, that would only be baiting bad luck.
    ------------ ---------- ------------ ----------
    "Lewis, what's going on?" Hevy asked on behalf of his brothers as their train slowed.

    "The signal ahead just went out. Boy, things are going south fast. I've never seen a storm this bad since 1949."

    "What's the idea, anyway, sending us another oversized freight train the day before Christmas Eve? Nobody's going to be able to buy this stuff," Echo grumbled.

    "How should I know? There's no figuring out the free market," Fives retorted.

    "Guys, focus. I need you to be ready with your dynamic brakes since we're on a downhill. Besides, the worst of it will be over once we get through these next two tunnels. You can debate then."

    "Oh come on, Lewis, it's just a snowstorm. What's the worst - "

    "Shut up, Fives!" Hevy and Lewis shouted at the same time.

    "What, you don't actually believe that old superstition?"

    "I have my reasons. You need not know any."

    "Fives, Lewis is far more experienced than we are. If he's concerned about it, that's reason enough for me."

    As if on cue Lewis suddenly slammed on his brakes and the three GP7s instinctively mirrored him.

    "Damn, the tunnel ahead is completely blocked!"

    "Well, we could try reversing to build up speed and break through."

    "That's probably - " the radio squawked. " - not going to happen now. The caboose just reported a sudden drop of air pressure to zero. Either that means the air hose is completely blocked, or the train got cut in half by an avalanche. You had to jinx it, Fives!"

    "Moving on...shouldn't we try to see which one is the case?"

    "What good will it do us now? If the brakes are stuck, we're stuck, and if we're derailed, we won't be able to back up since there aren't any crossovers."

    "Alright, alright, I'm a believer!" Echo groaned. Fives wisely stayed silent.
    ------------ ---------- ------------ ----------
    Sarah eyed the small waves of snow flying off the plow's edge with worry. Though Daniel and Larry had both passed through the area before her, the rails were already almost completely buried.

    She came to a red signal. A few moments later Jason emerged from the chokingly thick snowfall with the Bucketliner. "Hey, take care over the bridge a few miles down the line. It's making noises a bridge definitely should not make. It might collapse under the weight of all the snow on it." His message delivered, the PA belched a little smoke and accelerated towards Fort Fairfax.

    Sarah uttered a hasty "thank you" as he passed. There was no point in assuring him of her caution; that would just ensure disaster. The signal turned green and Sarah proceeded, a new worry burdening her thoughts.

    "He didn't recognize me either. I mean, the snow's making visibility terrible, I could hardly see Daniel, and I passed Larry at speed. But Jason made a point of slowing down to deliver his message, and I spoke to him. A-Am I really that different from who I was?"

    A few minutes later, they approached the Fairfax River bridge. Just as Jason had warned, snow was piled to almost three feet high on either side of the tracks, and with each gust of wind the structure creaked and groaned ominously. As Sarah approached it shrieked in a strong gust, causing everyone to jump.

    Fortunately her crew knew what to do. Without dropping their speed, they extended the plow and rotary's wings. The stubby extensions brushed a decent amount of the wet snow off the bridge and onto the ice below, but the bridge still groaned as more of the short train's weight was put on it.

    Sarah herself was now on the bridge and the structure's groans became even more pronounced. While most of the excess snow had been brushed off, it had already been overstressed, and now it was only a matter of time now before the fatigued metal gave way. Now her tender had joined the rest of the train on the bridge, which gave its loudest groan yet and lurched violently as another strong gust rocked it.

    Sarah closed her eyes and focused her thoughts on moving forward. Left, right, left, right. "Don't think about it."

    The plow made it. So too did the rotary. But just as the engine and crew collectively exhaled a sigh of relief, the sound of their worst nightmares rent the air as the bridge entered its death throes.
    Last edited by MP36PH3S; 10-15-2015, 01:16 AM.
    Writer and Wolverine, among other things.
    Interested in railroad stories? Check out the Fiction vault:
    https://www.trainsim.com/vbts/showth...82#post1882582

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      #17
      I've seen every TFB episode and followed the series since late 2011, and I can say you've trumped the entire series with this one fanfiction. From the unique new characters to the Full Bucketniers taking their railroad back and the history thereafter, you've taken TFB to levels it couldn't even think about reaching before. For a train simmer whose roots are deeply planted in the Full Bucket Line and the Full Bucketniers, you've done the series justice.
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        #18
        Unrecognizable: Chapter 2

        I based this story around some of the plot elements of Fire Emblem: Awakening. What can I say? I love that game.
        ------------ ---------- ------------ ----------
        Unknown Savior

        The middle section of the span was now groaning incessantly as its sag became more noticeable by the second. Sarah was off the bridge now.

        The aging steel girders broke apart and the angle steeped drastically. Praying her tender wouldn't derail, Sarah put on a burst of speed and the train escaped the collapsing middle segment just in time.

        "That was too close," she panted. "We need to warn the others!"

        "The signal system will show a red, we'll be fine."

        "But what if it fails? We can't take the risk! They won't suspect anything until it's too late; we can barely see the front of the plow from here in this snowfall!"

        Suddenly the command from the plow cab came to stop. And for good reason; Jimmy had been waiting with the Simonville Cannonball for her to pass and overshot the siding turnout due to icy rails.

        They avoided a collision, but that wasn't what Sarah was worried about.

        "Oh no, he's already passed the signal. He won't bother looking at it again before going on! I have to warn him!"

        "But what is he going to think of some shadow of his friend giving a warning as dire as a bridge out? Would he trust me or think this is some sort of sick prank? Will he even remember who I am? I can't take that risk. I'll just have to hope that he trusts a stranger as much as Luke does."

        "Hey, you there!" Sarah called, deepening her voice. "The bridge is out ahead! Don't proceed!"

        Jimmy raised an eyebrow, but to her relief, accepted her warning. "I'll take your word for it. Thanks for the heads-up."

        She wanted to force a promise that he wouldn't continue on from him, but that would be suspicious.

        "Hey, what's your name?" he called after her.

        Sarah didn't reply and puffed on. "That was close."
        ------------ ---------- ------------ ----------
        She made it past the infamous horseshoe curve before Elena when she ran into another train at the top of the grade.

        Slowing to a crawl as she passed the stopped train's caboose, she made her way to the front, or at least what she could see of it. The rest was buried under two small avalanches that appeared to have hit Eric from both sides simultaneously.

        "Is that you, Luke?" Eric called.

        "He is busy elsewhere," Sarah said, making sure to mask her voice again by deepening it. "What happened?"

        "I didn't know that cliffs this small could produced such large avalanches," Eric grumbled.

        "Well I can winch you out, but I need to get your train off of you first."

        "This train needs to get to Dunkstown. There's no way we'll make it in this storm with the tunnel blocked!"

        "There's a self-powered rotary in the consist. I'll have it cut a path while I get you out."

        "Alright, sounds like a plan."

        The next half-hour was consumed by Sarah backing Eric's train down the steep horseshoe curve and back another half-mile to give him a good head start, no easy feat given the slippery nature of the rails, and the rotary cutting a path while the plow's winch and her strength slowly dragged the Mountain free of the snowdrift.

        "Th-Thanks."

        Meanwhile the rotary crew had finished plowing a cut and Sarah grabbed it from behind, shunted it between her and the plow, and set off through the path she had cleared. "Your train's waiting about a half-mile from the bottom of the horseshoe curve." Without another word she disappeared into the tunnel, leaving a puzzled Eric behind.
        ------------ ---------- ------------ ----------
        The rest of the run up and down the Simonville Subdvision passed without incident and Sarah proceeded towards Lake Hurst. By now the plow was consistently pushing aside a good two or three inches of snow.

        Brad, Chris, and Big Mac passed with a freight train for Simonville, a plow coupled to the front. Sarah repeated her warning about the Fairfax River bridge to them, but did not answer their request for a name and spoke in her false voice. If they were still her friends, they'd understand why anyway once the time came.
        ------------ ---------- ------------ ----------
        Ultz finished shunting his string of tankers together and set off for Fort Fairfax. It was clumsy due to his size, but Newton Oil's yard was more than big enough, and as one of the railroad's best and most consistent customers, he didn't mind working a little bit harder to ensure that they kept their business.

        A foreign presence was watching him work. Out of sight of the station and in Ultz's blind spot, an A-B-B-B-B set of F7s watched his train slowly depart. The A unit watched Ultz's train depart, counting the number of cars until the rear. The FBL never ran Newton Oil trains with cabeese; it would be a cinch to pull off what was to happen next in the midst of the storm. Nobody would know until long afterwards.

        Just then, a whistle carried across the wind, and the F7A stopped. No, it couldn't be. She wasn't supposed to be here. She'd already taken care of her. But she couldn't take risks at this early stage. The F7 backed up the spur to the refinery until she was certain that she couldn't be seen or heard from the main line.

        That meddler. So innocently and unknowingly throwing a wrench into her plans. Fine. Then she would be the first to go. It didn't change anything; Ultz might have been warned about the Fairfax River bridge now, but he and those three traitorous diesels were still stuck on the same side of the river as her. She would hunt them all down for what they did to him, and she wouldn't stop until they were in ruins.

        Even the so-called "enemy" could have dedicated friends. She might not have Double's ability to change shape, but she was more cunning by far, and she had also arrived with a far more accurate estimation of what she was up against. The sun broke through the choking snow for a half-second, and the rays flashed off the javelin-like attachment she had in the place of a standard coupler. Just one of many measures she'd taken to ensure success.

        The F7 noticed Sarah was picking up speed again and slid out after her.
        ------------ ---------- ------------ ----------
        "Well, we've got to make double time plowing the line to Mount Oliver now."

        "Relax, I can handle it," Sarah assured her engineer. "Though I should point out a tired engine won't be of any use pulling Lewis out of the snow."

        He just smiled in reply, for she was already pushing herself harder without his urging. He could understand why SP had refused to sell her to the FBL now.

        The signal ahead suddenly went from green to black, and suddenly she was feeling much less confident.
        ------------ ---------- ------------ ----------
        Connor sighed. He should probably head for Fort Fairfax soon; he had no trains to run tomorrow and they always held their Christmas party there. But for now, he was waiting for the plow to clear the line and for Dylan to arrive with the train they agreed to take together.

        For some strange reason, he missed Ted's troublemaking right now. Maybe it was just because the restoration of Edge, Havoc, and Trap meant that he had nothing to do now.

        Just then he heard Dylan blow his horn and started from the engine shed. "Hey there, Dylan. Let's get going," he called as he backed down in front of the F3. A few minutes later they were climbing the grade out of the yard. They had just entered the turnout when the signals blinked out.

        "Great," Connor grumbled.

        "Don't worry, just remember the procedures. Anyway, remember that one of our friends is out plowing the line right now. They'll be back at the latest time of us all, assuming they don't have more work tomorrow."

        "Yeah. I feel sorry for them. Heck, I'd take any additional work they have right now." There was a trace of bitterness in the last sentence.

        "Sorry, I didn't mean to insinuate anything, Connor."

        "No worries. Let's just get this blind run over with."
        ------------ ---------- ------------ ----------
        Sarah heard Connor's distant whistle and blew her own in reply. She stopped just before the track split to listen for his echo. While they exchanged whistles, the F7 was drawing closer.

        "Make peace with your demons, sweetheart. It is time for you to suffer the consequences for your actions."

        Suddenly Connor's whistle sounded from what seemed like mere meters away and the sound of brakes could be heard. She cursed and backed away hastily. She could easily wreck Connor and his freight train if they caught her, but otherwise it would be unnecessarily risky to confront them.

        "Who's that?" Dylan wondered. "I've never seen that engine."

        Sarah didn't answer, though she heard the question. "Well, I will be on my way now. Oh, and by the way, the Fairfax River bridge is out. You'll probably end up spending the night in Simonville."

        "Thanks for the warning." Connor tried to read her numberboards as Sarah passed, but she was already moving too fast. He and Dylan started their train in motion again, and a few minutes later the signals started working.

        Meanwhile Sarah continued on towards Lake Hurst, now moving much faster due to the signals functioning again.
        ------------ ---------- ------------ ----------
        It might have seemed like she had already lost, but in reality this would play to her advantage. Collin and Emily were approaching from the north with a fast freight bound for Lake Hurst. And her talents would make setting up an ambush for Sarah quite easy. All it hinged on was Collin and Emily making it to Lake Hurst first, and with the slowdown she'd caused by disrupting the signals, that was all but certain now.
        ------------ ---------- ------------ ----------
        ~Quick note to leave things off on: I did not give our antagonist a name intentionally. Revenge knows no boundaries or allegiances after all.
        Last edited by MP36PH3S; 10-26-2015, 09:10 PM.
        Writer and Wolverine, among other things.
        Interested in railroad stories? Check out the Fiction vault:
        https://www.trainsim.com/vbts/showth...82#post1882582

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          #19
          Unrecognizable: Chapter 3

          Diesel Dominance

          "Man, I hate snow," Emily grumbled.

          "We'll be out of it soon, sis. Just hold on a bit."

          Suddenly a plow, rotary, and Northern-type blasted out of the snow ahead and roared past.

          "Oh look, another Civil War relic."

          "Let's pray it didn't hear that for your sake. That engine does not look like one I would mess with. Although come to think of it, why didn't you say bullet? It's certainly moving fast enough for that title."

          "What kind of bullet is painted black? You paint them flashy colors so that it attracts attention, Collin!"

          "Oh, right. Silly me," he grumbled. "I think I can see the yard."

          A few minutes later, they had their train stowed in its designated track and were backing into the engine facility to be serviced. All the WP engines save Dylan had work tomorrow, so the siblings were spending the night in Lake Hurst.

          A few minutes later, another diesel entered the yard from the east.

          "Collin, who is that?"

          "I...dunno. It's an F unit like us, but it looks like it belongs to UP."

          "It's heading towards the northbound line, do you reckon it's chasing that steam engine we saw?"

          "Well, we would have gotten a notice about an escaped steam engine if that was the case. I don't think that steam engine is a fugitive. What that UP engine wants with it I don't know."

          "Hey, you two, come over here!" the unknown diesel ordered.

          Emily jumped. "C-Collin, should we listen?"

          "No. We were told strictly to take orders only from our friends or one of the controllers - Emily, where are you going?!" His sister had suddenly started forward. "Agh!" A spasm of pain arced through him and a voice spoke.

          "Come to me. Now." Collin still refused to move, though he couldn't speak his defiance.

          The burning pain multiplied tenfold and he felt his motors start turning of their own accord. Collin tried to resist with his brakes, but they wouldn't respond.

          She smiled as her two unwilling accomplices shuffled forward. She ordered them to each couple up to ten cars from the freight train they had brought and park them on both tracks of the line from Mount Oliver, at the place where it joined with the line from Fort Fairfax just before the station.

          They took their time, courtesy of the fact that she had to divide her attention between the two of them, but it didn't matter. It would take Sarah at least forty-five minutes to make the round trip, and it hadn't even been fifteen since she had slipped back onto the main line after the GS-4.

          Meanwhile, in the Lake Hurst Station, Dan noticed Collin and Emily shuffling cars around. That was odd. Those two hated yard work, and there weren't supposed to be any new trains. Even the Desert Rose had been truncated and delayed.

          "Those two are probably up to no good again," he grumbled. Checking with the stationmaster that the train had been connected to the station's steam supply, he uncoupled from the Desert Rose and headed down to take a look.
          ------------ ---------- ------------ ----------
          "Red signal? But that doesn't make any sense; there weren't supposed to be any other trains on the line except for Lewis' freight."

          "I dunno. The dispatcher isn't too sure either, but he said we should treat it as a limited approach."

          By now, the snowfall had subsided somewhat, though it was still falling down enough to restrict visibility to only a few hundred feet in front of them. Sarah suddenly could make out the shapes of cars parked on the main line and slammed to a halt.

          "Wh-what's that?" the crew member in the plow stammered in horror. The plow's headlight had revealed a sign on one of the cars, whose message was written in bunker oil, the last stroke dragging towards a corner before ending in a splat. All eyes followed the erratic trace and Sarah gasped in horror as she saw Dan lying on his side in the ditch besides the right-of-way. Or rather, what was left of him. His eyes stared blankly back at her, and even though he was half-buried in snow, it was plain to see his boiler had exploded. Two scarlet mounds of snow explained his crew's fate.

          Only then did she take time to read the sign. And it suddenly made horrible sense.

          YOU'RE NEXT
          ------------ ---------- ------------ ----------
          "Fancy meeting you here, Jimmy. What happened?"

          "The bridge over the river is out, Eric. We had to cut the run back to Simonville."

          "Well, looks like this yard is going to be pretty crowded tonight," Ultz rumbled as he pulled in with his train. "Connor and Dylan are right behind me."

          "I don't know about you, but something feels off," Brad said as he, his brother, and Big Mac pulled up alongside the steam engines. "Dan told us he was going to join us here in Simonville in an hour but still hasn't shown. Ultz, did Connor or Dylan ever see Dan?"

          "No, we didn't," the Challenger said as he and Dylan pulled into the last free track. "Has he not shown?"

          "No, he hasn't. That ain't like him."

          "No, it isn't," Ultz mused. "Even if something's off, though, someone's doing their damndest to keep things from falling apart."

          "You mean that engine on the plow extra? Who is he, anyway?"

          A general murmur of confusion went up. "He didn't give anyone his name?"

          "Guys, you kinda missed my point!"Brad shouted to restore quiet. "Shouldn't we go looking for Dan?"

          "It's happening for sure now," John said, wincing at the cold as he emerged from the station house. "Lake Hurst just radioed: Dan said he was going to check out something and never returned. The Desert Rose is overdue and they don't have an engine to pull it."

          "Chris and I will handle that," Brad said at once. "Anyone else wanna help look for Dan?"

          Dan wasn't an FBL engine, but not one of them abstained.
          ------------ ---------- ------------ ----------
          "Oh God, we have to get out of here!" the conductor yelled into his radio. "Whoever's making that threat is not fooling around!"

          "I-I agree! L-Let's get out of here!"

          Cold laughter came from behind her. "Alas, it's too late for that now." A Union Pacific F7 emerged from the snow, and Collin and Emily emerged from the yard.

          "What if we shove the cars?" the conductor suggested over his radio to Sarah's engineer. "The plow has a knuckle; we might be able to break out of here."

          "That's an awfully big if, but I don't - whoa!" Sarah wasn't going to give him reason to doubt her strength when her crew's lives depended on it. If there was a way out, then by Lima she was go to take it. She surged forward and the plow slammed into the parked cars. But that was as far as she got. The perpetrator had been clever enough to pour water on the wheels so they had frozen to the tracks.

          The F7 advanced leisurely. "Squirm all you want, you will not escape your just desserts!" The tip of the ramming coupler was mere meters from the back of Sarah's tender.

          She couldn't escape by going forward. Every escape route was blocked...except behind. Bracing herself for the pain, Sarah cut off from the rotary and plow and reversed into her attacker. She grit her teeth in pain as the ramming coupler tore deep into her tender and prayed it hadn't ruptured one of her tanks.

          With no knuckle to absorb the shock of the collision, however, the F7 fared worse. The suddenly impact crushed her sleek nose and shattered her headlights and numberboard covers.

          "Why you...!" she snarled. "Collin! Emily! Destroy her!" Both Fs surged forwards, and Sarah realized too late she was squarely on the crossovers into the yard. She tried to use her remaining momentum to back out of the way, and while Emily missed, Collin hit her squarely. While he still had his regular knuckle, it was more than sufficient. The hardened steel punched a hole in her left cylinder, and Sarah's momentum turned it into a gash. The seconds in which Collin had been dragged along caused him to run into Emily, derailing both of them.

          Meanwhile, the F7 that she had been pushing had recovered and was backing away faster than Sarah could accelerate, especially now that one of her cylinders was out of action.

          "Something's not right here. Dan's boiler was probably punctured. But how?" One possibility was that he'd rolled over when Collin and Emily rammed him and been pierced by the ramming coupler. But her mind couldn't think of anything else through her pain.

          "Dammit, we're losing a lot of pressure through that hole in the cylinder. Sarah, I don't know how a GS-4 works exactly; can I seal your cylinder off?"

          "You can't, but I can try to. How much steam is lost is going to depend on how well I can concentrate."

          Meanwhile the plow operator and conductor had run over to the switch into the yard and were working the rods into a new alignment with some tools.

          "Sarah, you have to get out of here and warn the other engines!" he called. "The conductor and I can run to the station; there's no way that F7 can catch us without undoing her own trap first. Someone rigged the connections between the switch motor and the rods with a spring to keep it in alignment with the main, but we've braced it so you can get out without tripping it."

          The roar of 567s became apparent over the dying snowstorm. Sarah launched herself forward without a moment's hesitation. Her tender had just entered the turnout when her foe barreled out of the snowstorm a couple hundred yards behind her at breakneck speed. "It's time for you to be laid to rest!"

          The last wheel of Sarah's tender was still on the frog when the conductor yanked his brace out and the switch snapped back into the main alignment with a clang. The murderous F7 simply glared at him with contempt and the switch turned of its own accord, sending her after her victim again. "Pathetically predictable! And now, you will die slowly and painfully, Sarah!"
          Last edited by MP36PH3S; 10-15-2015, 03:02 PM.
          Writer and Wolverine, among other things.
          Interested in railroad stories? Check out the Fiction vault:
          https://www.trainsim.com/vbts/showth...82#post1882582

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            #20
            Unrecognizable: Chapter 4

            Language advisory as Sarah attempts to keep her identity hidden. I will censor it, of course.
            ------------ ---------- ------------ ----------
            Mysterious No More

            "Brad! Do you hear that?! Someone's in danger!" The other E9 listened and sure enough, frightened pleas for help could be heard. They were cut off an instant later by a scream and a crash.

            "We need to hurry!" Ultz urged. "Looks like we've found out what happened to Dan." As if to emphasize his point, a ball of flames erupted from the yard.
            ------------ ---------- ------------ ----------
            Moments earlier

            The plow operator and conductor watched in horror as their tormentor barreled straight into Sarah, the metal lance in front of her shearing through her tender like paper. They didn't know it, but they were in equal danger.

            The assassin had been leading 4 F7Bs when she first appeared. There were only three behind her now.

            "Look out!" the conductor suddenly shoved the plow operator off the tracks as the last B unit came hurtling out of the storm at full throttle, the switch changing again of its own accord. It barreled straight into the parked rotary and plow, the heavy prime mover and alternator of the B unit demolishing both with ease.

            Fuel from both the rotary's own small reserve and the booster unit was now leaking everywhere. A few drops landed on the still-hot 567's case and burst into flames. The wooden wreckage of the rotary, soaked in diesel, followed a second later, and the flames leaped from piece to piece until they reached the huge lake of fuel spreading from the F7B's ruptured fuel tank.

            It had all happened in seconds. The men were picking themselves back up from their fall down the embankment when the fireball erupted.
            ------------ ---------- ------------ ----------
            Sarah whimpered in agony as her assailant finally lost momentum and pulled back. The F7 was very badly battered and covered in both rapidly-freezing boiler water and bunker oil, but the damage was minor in comparison to what she had inflicted.

            In hindsight, it was a miracle the flint tip of the ramming coupler hadn't set the bunker fuel off, but though fate spared her the horror of being burned alive, the final outcome wouldn't matter. With no fuel, her fire had gone out in seconds, and the spike of agony had caused her to lose her concentration, resulting in almost all of her steam pressure escaping through the gash in her cylinder. She was a sitting duck.

            Sarah had lost. Her opponent had planned for too much. Her despair only deepened when a fireball erupted from behind her. She had even planned out the destruction of the rotary.

            Her opponent laughed. "You cannot escape justice, Sarah. And as much as I enjoy your suffering now, I will relish it even more soon!" She was backing away for another charge. With no tender to stop her, Sarah knew what was going to happen. The ramming coupler would likely pierce her firebox and other vital parts. SP wouldn't bother fixing such serious damage; they would just scrap her outright, even if it wasn't her fault.

            It was all over. And now this murderer would be going after her friends. Sarah closed her eyes and a tear fell from them. "Let my crew and friends live," she begged as a last resort. "I'll gladly go in their stead. Just spare them. They don't deserve any of this."

            "Hahaha! Isn't it painful, to be so willing to shoulder the suffering of others, but see it inflicted upon them anyway? And I'm sorry to say that every last one of your friends has earned a right to the same ordeal. You all had a hand in foiling and killing my friend."

            "Double..."

            "Yes, indeed. Do you really believe that the world is divided into good and evil? Ah, I see your friends are here to save the day; pity they are too late! You might live this time, but mark my words, Sarah, you and your friends should make your peace while you have the chance!" She darted across the yard and headed south.

            "Are you alright?" Brad called as he and the others approached.

            "I'll manage. My attacker fled south; I think she might be going after Lewis next. Someone needs to track her down. She's a F7 and has 3 B units, so Brad and Chris alone won't be able to overpower her." Sarah had made sure to deepen her voice again.

            "Wait, how do you know our names? Just who are you?"

            "That is not of importance. Stopping that psychotic b**** before she tears your railway up is a more pressing issue."

            "Don't you go being mysterious like that," Ultz snapped. "If you're hiding things from us then we have no reason to trust or help you."

            "Speaking of hiding things," Connor growled, "Where's your face? At least respect us enough to attempt to make eye contact if you want us to listen!"

            "Don't think you intimidate me just because you're bigger, Challenger. And I am in no need of your assistance."

            Ultz drew closer. "You have been caught in the midst of a destroyed yard and are currently presumed to be responsible for the death of an engine. In addition, your tender has been bisected and you are likely out of steam. I would watch your tone."

            "Oh. Him. Well, Dan's not dead, but if you keep sitting on your a**** and wasting time, he will be."

            "Enough! Who are you, really? And don't bother giving me a false identity; I heard you screaming earlier. You, quite clearly, are not as tough or masculine as you're pretending to be now."

            This was getting nowhere, and with each passing second Lewis, Hevy, Fives, and Echo were in greater danger. Ultz was already close to discerning the truth, so she might as well just tell him.

            Dropping her fake voice, she sighed and said, "You know me already," and opened her eyes. "Or at least, you did."

            A moment of stunned silence. "S-Sarah, is that you?" Eric stammered.

            Her eyes welled up, though she tried to hide it by looking away. "Y-Yes, it's me. Or rather, what I've become. Now can we get back to the problem at hand?"

            "Why were you hiding from us?" Dylan asked. "We would've welcomed you back without question, regardless of what paint you have on."

            "I-I thought you wouldn't recognize me, that you might not take me seriously because I don't look like myself anymore. That's been the case up and down the Coast Line since I lost my Daylight paint. Diesels have been bullying me nonstop, and my own friends sometimes don't recognize me anymore."

            "...I can't relate, but for what it's worth, I'm sorry," Chris said. "You're too good of an engine to deserve that." The others muttered assent.

            "Look, can we get back to business already?" Ultz recognized aversion to an uncomfortable topic when he heard one, and stepped in before anyone could say anything else.

            "Sarah is right. Given that what she said is probably true, there is a murderer running around on our railroad, and is probably lining up another target in her sights as I speak. Brad, you go with Connor; I'll go with Chris. We'll be only slightly faster than our target, but with any luck we can catch her before she does serious damage. Everyone else, get to work cleaning up the yard. And someone get Dan inside before he dies. Where is he, Sarah?"

            "At the bottom of the embankment under the bridge." Dylan had already set off to retrieve the crane. "Someone also froze the cars blocking the main to the rails and Collin and Emily are both derailed as well on the other side of the bridge." She left out the details of why.

            "Jimmy and I will get on moving those cars," Eric said, and they departed.

            "Come on, Sarah, let's get you inside before your tubes freeze." Big Mac gently pushed her under the engine facility's shed, and a workman closed the door to help her warm up.

            Shame was washing through her. Her friends might forgive her, but there was no denying that they had felt betrayed when she revealed that she hid her identity.

            The shed door opened and Dylan pushed Dan inside. The FEF-2 faintly whispered his thanks as the workers started brushing the snow out of him.

            "Dan," Sarah began after a while. "I'm sorry."

            "F-For what? Th...There wasn't anything you could do."

            "She was after me. All you were to her was a means to intimidate me."

            "D-Don't you start on that track. Sh-she said th-the same thing to me that she did to you. She's a-after all of us."

            "Sorry, I shouldn't make you talk right now. It probably hurts a lot."

            Dan didn't respond, but she could tell he was grateful for her consideration.
            ------------ ---------- ------------ ----------
            "What?!" Captain Body yelled, loud enough to make Lou flinch.

            "Boss, we just got word of this now. I don't know why!"

            "Well what are you waiting for? Let's go! Joe's stuck on the other side of the Fairfax River, so it's just us linking up with whichever one of those damned heroes decided to chase her down." Body's tone was grim, but he said that last statement with pride.
            ------------ ---------- ------------ ----------
            The mountain range came in sight as she blew past Olympia. Good. Almost there, and no sign of any pursuers.

            It was, of course, no coincidence that the second avalanche derailed Lewis' train at that moment. As a matter of fact, none of the incidents with the weather would have occurred naturally with any reasonable chance. But all they needed was a little nudge, one that she had all too gladly provided. This snowstorm would be the perfect deniability; they would never be able to trace it back to the UP. Only when she had provided assurances of that was she allowed to seek her revenge.

            She reached out and saw that her accomplices were in position. Her partners-in-crime this time around were a very unlucky F7 and S1, towing a car of ammonium nitrate behind them.

            She suddenly heard one, no, two horns behind her. It must be those two race-traitor brothers. But she would still get the first shot off.

            "Go," she called to her partners.
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              #21
              Unrecognizable: Chapter 5

              Strain and Strife

              The crewmen jumped from the caboose as the two brainwashed diesels crashed into it with their dangerous cargo. The impact jolted them both out of their trance, with the S1 lying under the F7.

              "...where are we?"

              "I dunno. We - aaaagh!" With its engine panels dislocated, the S1's engine was exposed to the fuel leaking from his friend's tank. Behind them, the same fuel was slowly mixing with the ammonium nitrate, which itself was nearing its detonation temperature as the fire spread.

              The crew of Lewis' train, meanwhile, were running towards the head end as fast as they could. But when they reached the tunnel entrance they found their path blocked by the avalanche that had stalled their train.

              There was no escape.
              ------------ ---------- ------------ ----------
              Brad and Connor slowed to cross over behind their friends. No sooner had they cleared the crossover and it had been realigned than Captain Body and Lou hurtled past.

              "Well it's a relief to know that they're here to help, even if they're late," Brad grumbled.

              "She can't be that much further ahead, we heard her air horn as she went through Olympia," Ultz panted. Neither of the steam engines was used to such a prolonged pursuit at top speed, even if the two E9s were doing the majority of the work. Brad and Chris, on the other hand, were perfectly fine as 80MPH was just above two-thirds of their designed top speed and their friends had insisted on pulling at least some of their own weight.
              ------------ ---------- ------------ ----------
              Lewis had taken to trying to melt the snow ahead with steam from his cylinders when the spear-like point of a ramming coupler broke through the snow inches from him. Its owner drew back before breaking up enough of the snowbank to see her next victim.

              "Ah, you must be Lewis. Let us not waste time here. My name is not important, you only need know that I have been responsible for your troubles thus far and I have a score to settle with your railroad for the death of my friend."

              "And what does that have to do with me? I was not present or involved. And I don't care if that convinces you or not; you won't take me without a fight."

              "Let's just say that I don't like any unforeseen contingencies. And I won't have to do anything." On cue Hevy, Fives, and Echo slammed into Lewis and began to shove him. An explosion followed by a deep rumble came a second later, and Lewis knew that the crew at the rear had probably just been buried alive.

              "You're a sick engine. Using everything and everyone for your own ends."

              "I'm content with my life choices, thank you. And while there won't be any permanent effect on your friends here, alas I cannot say the same of your crew. Wrong place at the wrong time, unfortunately."

              Lewis had no idea if the coupler would be able to break the axles of his lead truck, but regardless the wedge would probably damage some vital piping. He dug in and shoved against the three GP7s, but the snow that he had just melted was now hindering his resistance. Even if the fight was lost, though, he wasn't going to surrender to this psychotic madengine.
              ------------ ---------- ------------ ----------
              "Alright fellas, work's not done yet. Mr. Iverson wants someone to take the crane to the Fairfax River so we can get a new bridge erected once we're done here. He said he'll give further instructions once we tell him who's on the job," Big Mac informed the engines and workers as they finished cleaning up the mess. All that was left was to re-lay the torn-up track. "No, don't touch those cars of rail! Mr. Iverson has deemed that it should go towards repairing the bridge first. We'll be able to use the excess to patch the yard back up as much as we can."

              "What about the Desert Rose? It's not a local train or a freight; we're going to be in a lot of trouble with UP if it gets held up," Eric pointed out. "Even if they arrange an alternate route, who can power it? Dan's not going anywhere soon, and those of us that aren't chasing down that psycho right now are going to be needed to help with rebuilding the line and resolving the backlog of traffic."

              "Brad and Chris shouldn't have taken off after her so quickly. They're the only other UP passenger engines, and the UP would sooner run itself into the ground than see its most popular train hauled by another road's engine," Dylan sighed.

              "Wait, what about AUX01? We could give it to Sarah and have her help out. UP might concede to letting you power the Desert Rose, Big Mac," Jimmy suggested.

              "Jimmy, it's the middle of winter and I don't have a steam generator."

              "Oh...But I still think we should give that tender to Sarah. It's stored here in Lake Hurst."

              "She can sit there for a little while, less to worry about."

              Dylan was shocked. "Big Mac! How could you say that?! Have you forgotten what she was like?"

              "Whoever she was before, she is no more, Dylan. She proved that by trying to hide from us."

              "You have no idea what she's going through, do you? I see it every time my wheels are off this railroad; diesels are bullying steam engines left and right, and steam engines are afraid to help each other lest they get in trouble and be scrapped! Never mind that she was so famous and respected up until mere months ago, the fact that SP management stripped her down proves to diesels that she's just as vulnerable as any other steam engine! There isn't a reason for them to respect her any more, Big Mac! You wouldn't understand as a diesel - "

              "I am not a diesel, Eric! I am a gas-turbine electric, and with my own share of teething troubles, thank you! You shouldn't be so quick to judge!"

              "Guys - " Jimmy began, but Eric cut him off.

              "So what if you're different from other diesels? You still can't begin to understand what happened to her!"

              "Guys!" Dylan's plea went unheeded.

              "All you steam engines think about us is that we have rose-lined lives! It doesn't work that way! We are not perfect either, and we're held to a higher standard because we're new! If we don't work, the penalties are even worse!"

              Inside the shed, Sarah shut her eyes and tried to block out the heated yells and insults being thrown across the yard. "This is all my fault, I shouldn't have hid myself..."

              Beside her, Dan sighed with irritation as the workers finished what repairs they could make. "Of all things to argue about they squabble about something as pointless as this. Take it as a compliment, Sarah." When she didn't respond, he sighed again. "I know you better than that; you're not asleep."

              "Apparently you all didn't know me enough to recognize me when I was helping out," she said miserably. "And it's easy for you to say, you haven't been defaced like I have. Yet."

              "I might not have, and I understand why you would hide on account of that. I can't speak for myself since I never saw you until this happened to me, but I'm sure they're sorry about not recognizing you on sight."

              "...I'll take your word for it," she said darkly. On cue a stream of cursing erupted from the yard. Sarah sighed and closed her eyes again. "I just wish I had steam right now..."

              Dan finally realized what was troubling her. "Foreman, open the shed door, will you kindly?"

              "Wh-what are you d-doing?" She shivered as the cold air blew in. "I-It's f-freezing!"

              Dan ignored her. "Hey, you four, if you're done bickering, Sarah wants to talk to you!"

              "I didn't - !" But Dan had already asked the foreman to shut the door, leaving a very embarrassed Sarah scrambling to think of something to talk about.
              ------------ ---------- ------------ ----------
              "Weak and pathetic. What idiot made your names famous anyway? You're just ordinary engines under that reputation," the F7 taunted. "No powers of any sort, no abilities. Just commoners that pulled through laughably unbelievable circumstances through luck and the pity of others."

              Hevy, Fives, and Echo gave forced, mechanical laughs. Lewis hissed in rage and pushed back with renewed effort.

              Suddenly the sound of steam engines echoed from the tunnel. "Well, it's about time. Not much of a police force, are they? Anyhow, I have some pestilential rust flecks to take care of." The three GP7s stopped pushing.

              "Uhhh...Hevy, what was that? A-And, how did we end up here?"

              "I-I don't know. Pretty much everything hurts a lot, though." The other two replied with similar complaints.

              "You just tried to shove me to my death," Lewis deadpanned. "We're up against someone even more formidable than Double; she can control other diesels like you guys. I'm guessing you were trying to resist her, which is why everything hurts; because she was forcing you to do things against your will."

              "Man," Fives grumbled, "Why is it always us?"

              Hevy couldn't resist. "Believe in Murphy's Law yet, brother?"
              ------------ ---------- ------------ ----------
              She released another of her B units, this time behind her. A mechanism triggered and immediately some of its fuel was drawn into the water tank for its steam generator, now packed with more ammonium nitrate. Once the appropriate amount of fuel to prime the volatile compound had been transferred, sugar was dispensed into the unit's fuel tank. All while it picked up speed.

              Body and Lou entered the tunnel as choking white smoke began to pour from further down. Body could see a F7B racing towards them and immediately applied full reverse, Lou mirroring him. They both sounded a backup call, and the four UP engines behind applied their emergency brakes.

              Despite its seized engine the unit crashed into them as they reversed away, derailing Body but causing no damage due to the ramming coupler on his front. They sighed with relief, but when Body saw a white powder stained by diesel falling out of the ruptured fuel tank in clumps, he knew he'd been outplayed.
              Last edited by MP36PH3S; 10-19-2015, 10:19 PM.
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                #22
                Unrecognizable: Chapter 6

                Truth Will Out

                FBL Operations Center, Fort Fairfax, CA

                "How goes the repairs, Mr. Iverson?" Mr. Strupp emerged from the dispatcher room that was connected to the former SP controller's office, looking grim.

                "With the blueprints for the original still on hand we've been able to start rebuilding it right away. Thankfully the damage won't require the support columns to be re-drilled or we would have a much bigger problem. Any luck talking to the Union Pacific?"

                Mr. Strupp sighed. "Nothing. The absolutely refused to have one of our engines pull the Desert Rose. Other than Dan being unable to, I'm not sure what's happening on the other side of the river, or why Brad and Chris can't either. The worst part is that we're still being held accountable for the delay. This day has gone from bad to atrocious."

                The phone rang and Mr. Iverson reached for it, but Mr. Strupp beat him to it. "I'll get it; Mr. Wilsman's probably finally been caught up on what's happening." He listened for a few seconds, and his scowl deepened. "Well, why the hell were they fighting? They should know better than that!"

                "I already yelled at them for it, but it doesn't change the fact that the crane now needs to be refueled before being sent out, dammit!" Mr. Wilsman's voice was so loud that Mr. Iverson could hear it. "Don't yell at me for it!"

                Mr. Iverson yanked the receiver away before Mr. Strupp could escalate the argument. The former UP controller stalked out without a word. "Alright, settle down, Wilsman. No worries about the delay; we're not even halfway done fabricating the replacement bridge. Just get the crane sent over when you can. Who's bringing it?"

                "That's what the engines were fighting about, of everything. Also, we're going to be in much deeper trouble over this than I initially anticipated."

                "What? What happened?"

                "Well, Sarah, Collin, and Emily got attacked in addition to Dan. Now we're going to have to explain to SP why one of their engines lost its tender and what she was doing in Lake Hurst in the first place."

                "Well, then it becomes even more important that we catch whoever is responsible for this chaos."

                "My thoughts exactly, but she's not going down without a fight."

                "Wait a minute, how much exactly do we know about our saboteur?"

                "That she is female, apparently a rogue UP engine, and willing to sacrifice her own B units to accomplish her goal, which is to murder every last member of our roster."

                "Great. Well, at least we have that much to feed to the UP. Maybe they won't be so demanding once that's thrown at them. I'll tell Mr. Strupp."

                "Good luck; dealing with the bureaucracy is the worst part about this position. And I'm saying that as we're in the middle of a systemwide breakdown of order." Mr. Iverson chuckled dryly before hanging up. That statement was more accurate than any of them wanted to admit.
                ------------ ---------- ------------ ----------
                "So what's up, Sarah?" Behind Jimmy, Eric and Big Mac were being re-railed by the crane. Both hadn't said a word, but were glaring angrily at each other.

                "I...was about to tell you guys to stop fighting, but looks like I was too late...again..."

                "Come on, take it as a compliment that Eric stood up for you - "

                "Don't you get it? I don't want you guys to fight, especially over me!" Her anger was replaced by sadness. "Y-You're the only true f-friends I have left...a-all other steam engines want nothing to do with each other now that we're being scrapped one by one. You guys are the only engines I know who aren't bound by that fear, and I don't want to see that bond broken on my account! I'm not even one of you anymore!"

                "No," Dylan said firmly. "You are one of us and always will be, regardless of what paint you wear or how different your path is from ours, Sarah. That's the mark of a true friend. You mean as much to us as you have said that we do to you, I promise."

                "Th-thanks, Dylan." She took a moment to compose herself. "Do you happen to have that auxiliary tender lying around? I hate being stuck in here when people need help."

                Jimmy and Dylan shared a smile before Dylan left to retrieve AUX01.
                ------------ ---------- ------------ ----------
                "Back up now, Lou!" Body barked. "To hell with trackbed damage, we need to get out of here!"

                "What about Lewis and the Geeps?"

                "We won't do them any good stuck in a tunnel collapse, now move!" Lou slowly dragged the derailed Captain out of the tunnel. Brad, Chris, Ultz, and Connor were waiting outside.

                "What happened?" Ultz rumbled. An explosion answered his question. They sat in silence for a few moments before Brad spoke up.

                "What about the line through Bucket Springs? We could use that as an alternate route."

                "Doubt she'll have left it open. I can't do much half-derailed, so Lou, you go with the other four. Take point and see if you can break through the debris."

                "Dragging you past the crossover first, Captain. Our target obviously doesn't want us on this track."

                It took another five minutes, but the quintet was soon heading into the tunnel.
                ------------ ---------- ------------ ----------
                Lewis remained tense and stared at where he'd last seen his assailant. There was no telling when she might take hold of his friends again or emerge from around the bend at speed.

                She emerged a few moments later at a leisurely gait. "Now, where were we? Ah, yes..." The three GP7s began to push Lewis again.

                "Hngh..." Lewis' job was easier than before because his crew had gotten the idea to freeze his drivers in place with water, but the trio of brainwashed diesels seemed to have caught on as they backed away before ramming him hard enough to break his rear knuckle. The ice shattered. They couldn't push as hard now that his tender's knuckle was broken, but he was still doomed if this kept up. He could not hope to win.

                Suddenly a dented and battered Lou appeared and clamped on to the F7's second B unit. "Gotcha!"

                But instead of panicking, her maniacal grin grew even wider. "Quite the incomplete picture; while you have my decoys, I have your friend!" She decoupled from the second B unit and shot forward at Lewis. Hevy, Fives, and Echo tried to hold him back but there was nothing to grab. The GS-64 met his attacker's charge head-on, and the heavier steam engine pushed the A-B pair backwards and off the tracks. The ramming coupler tore into Lewis' pipes, causing him to grit his teeth in pain. Fortunately, her plan seemed to have gone awry; none of the flying pieces of the collision had punctured a fuel tank.

                "Heheheh...even this...was meant...to be..." the F7A groaned weakly.

                "Your nonsense about fate is over!" Lou snapped. "No leaking fuel to set ablaze here!"

                "You fool, do you think I can be so easily defeated?" Brad said behind him in a voice most unlike his own. Before Lou could process the statement Brad shoved him forward violently, nearly derailing the police engine. Chris, Connor, and Ultz held him back, preventing any further harm. "Go on, kill me, then! It won't work! I will simply find someone else! You'll have to kill them all to save yourself! Do my work for me! Either way, I will have my revenge!"
                ------------ ---------- ------------ ----------
                Fort Fairfax

                Mr. Strupp returned with a grin on his face. "UP's sending a pair of turbines and some unspecified hardware to help us take her down, and consented to letting us get the Desert Rose moving with whatever power we have. Apparently, she was the former head of their enforcement corps, and a close friend of Double."

                "That would explain why she's out here now. And care to explain the 'was'?"

                "Her methods were considered a potential PR scandal if word got out of how she was keeping everyone in line."

                "I should have known. Who do we have available?"

                "Dylan and Eric are the only engines capable of it that are available. Big Mac doesn't have a steam generator, Sarah's without a tender, and Jimmy's too weak."

                "AUX01's in Lake Hurst. Still has SP lettering, so we might be able to get away with giving it to her."

                "There's an idea. But I'll have to come clean to SP about what she's done here to get permission."

                Mr. Iverson pondered for a moment. "Do it. We'll decide who pulls the Desert Rose once we get a response. I'm going to tell the Lake Hurst crew to send Big Mac with the crane. Best if he's away from the others for a while from the sound of things."
                ------------ ---------- ------------ ----------
                "Whaddya reckon?" Matt asked his friend. The two GTELs had left Salt Lake City and were rushing southward at track speed with a trio of cars behind them.

                "Where she is 'splains a lot since she left the Corps. I gotta give 'em props for standing up to her."

                "Yeah she hasn't been the same since Double died."

                "Always suspected there was more than just a partnership. 'Specially since she wanted to use the Corps to help him."

                "That wouldn't have ended well for any of us. I for one am glad that management stepped in and overrode her."

                "Yeah, otherwise we'dve been in a lot of trouble when that blew up. Too bad they didn't think to lock her up immediately or scrap her."

                "As questionable as her methods were, we still had to have a reason, and they didn't believe us until she deserted last year. And what good would locking her up do? The entire Corps is diesel- or turbine-electric."

                "Well, either way, our suspicions were proven right. Dunno about you, but I'll be glad to get this done even if it means helping steamies. Management's been putting even more pressure on us to take her in since she started attacking and bombing trains."

                "Yeah. She knows every one of our tricks, so if we can't stop her now, it's never happening. And even if I don't like them myself, no engine, steam or diesel, deserves a life cut prematurely short."

                They continued in silence.
                Last edited by MP36PH3S; 10-26-2015, 09:11 PM.
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                  #23
                  Unrecognizable: Chapter 7

                  Built Upon the Past, Part 1

                  Lake Hurst

                  "Should be good to go now," a worker announced.

                  "Alright, now let's get you fueled, Sarah."

                  "Hey Sarah," Big Mac said as he backed the crane away. "I don't know how much you heard, but I'm sorry I doubted you."

                  "It's fine. I'm not so sure about who I am myself either."

                  "Don't you go saying things like that," Dylan interrupted as Big Mac shoved the crane and cars of rail east and out of the yard. "How many times do I have to tell you? You're our friend and that won't change, regardless of what happens to you. The special thing about friendships is that they join at the heart, Sarah. Even if we can't be there in person, you'll still remember us. And we will remember you."

                  "...tell that to all the others," she said quietly. "Everyone who watched as their 'friends' were carted off to the scrapper's. Everyone who watched their 'friends' get bullied by diesels and just passed by without a care."

                  And the reason she kept believing she was different was suddenly clear to Dylan. She had fallen in with that pattern. When she said she wasn't one of them anymore, she meant it in a behavioral sense.

                  "Sarah, I'm sorry - "

                  "No, I'm the one who should be sorry! I was scared, scared of dying! I was willing to throw aside my friends for that! And yet you guys have taught me that nothing is worth more than a friendship! Nothing! I don't deserve to be your friend if I can't abide by that same virtue! What I've done is the exact opposite of what you all would have! There's a dark side to me! I can't control it..." Tears came to her eyes. "...it acts for itself..." They started to fall. "...it comes unbidden...I don't want it to happen, but it does anyway..." What she had kept pent up for months finally broke loose and Sarah started to cry in earnest. "...I stood by and watched myself do these things, not because I couldn't fight it, but because I agreed with it! There's a monster inside me, and I'm powerless to stop it!"

                  "Sarah, whether or not that's true, there's a good side to you too," Jimmy said as he pulled in next to her. "Now think about when that shows itself. What makes you the engine you are, and what happy memories of such times to do you have? Focus on those."

                  "Since when did you become a psychiatrist, Jimmy?" Dylan managed to recover from the shock of Sarah's confession.

                  "Heard the crews in Fort Fairfax talking to Sam back when the fiasco with the Valiant Pigeon happened."

                  "Th-Thanks," Sarah said, a weak smile forming. "Both of you. That helped a lot."

                  "Well, it's good to hear that you're feeling yourself again, Sarah," Mr. Wilsman said as he trudged over in the snow.

                  "What's going on?"

                  "Well, we managed to subdue that F7 - "

                  "...There's a 'but' coming like always, isn't there?" Jimmy grumbled. Mr. Wilsman shot him an irritated glance before continuing.

                  " - but her ability to dominate other diesels means she can't be physically killed as long as there's a diesel present. I'm not going to kill off Brad on account of that, especially since he's not one of ours."

                  "Called it," Jimmy groaned.

                  "Well, what do you have in mind, sir?"

                  "UP sent a pair of engines and some hardware to help us out, but they're four hours out minimum and in the meantime we need someone to pull the Desert Rose. We're going to bring Brad back here and put him on the containment siding until they get here, but we need a strong engine to guard him in case she forces him to break out. Either way, we're short on power."

                  "Whatever you want me to do, you can count on me, sir."
                  ------------ ---------- ------------ ----------
                  4 hours later

                  The snow had stopped completely, but that didn't liven up the yard in the slightest. Most of the engines had left for Simonville to pick up their trains again in anticipation of the bridge's repair, leaving only Chris, Collin, Emily, and Sarah in the yard with the possessed Brad.

                  Sarah was starting to slightly regret the promise she'd made earlier to Mr. Wilsman as she tried to shut out the half-deranged taunts being thrown at her. The fact that Chris had gone to talk to Dan and that Collin and Emily were keeping to themselves as usual didn't help.

                  Sarah shut her eyes and tried to think about something else like Jimmy had advised...
                  ------------ ---------- ------------ ----------
                  ​December 24th, 1954

                  "Hey there," a soft voice woke Sarah. Her engineer draped a scarf over her top headlight before giving it a playful tap.

                  She smiled but didn't open her eyes. She was comfortable where she was and didn't want to move. Her engineer tapped her closed eye lightly. "Come on, sleepywheels," he coaxed.

                  "Mmm," she stopped faking sleep. Beside her, Luke was watching the scene with a grin.

                  "You're cute when you sleep," he said casually.

                  "I-I am not!" she protested, heat rising within her.

                  "It's also cute when you deny things like that," he replied as he saw her blush, his smirk growing wider.

                  She turned a deeper shade of red. "I am not cute!"

                  Luke chuckled. "If you insist. I'm going to get these freight cars moved out of the way so that we can all gather in here. Coming, sis?"

                  "S-sure, give me a minute."

                  "Cold?" her engineer asked.

                  "No - " she was cut off when he plucked the scarf off her headlight and put his arms around her. "S-Stop! You're making a scene!"

                  "I want the world to know how much we mean to each other," he said. "In a purely platonic fashion, of course," he amended without the slightest hint of embarrassment.

                  "Then...maybe some other time?" she offered lamely. He laughed and gave her an affectionate pat before stepping down and entering her cab.

                  "Alright, enough of that. These cars won't move themselves."
                  ------------ ---------- ------------ ----------
                  It had been a rather unproductive day, but everyone was fine with that. Throughout the day, the engines trickled in as their work for the day was finished. They had spent the afternoon chatting and reminiscing, and their crews sat amongst them, warmed by a fire in the middle of the ring of engines and hot drinks.

                  The crews had gone inside at sunset to have their annual feast and left the engines their usual tanker of nonalcoholic eggnog. The diesels had passed, with the exception of Hevy, who was feeling adventurous, and Emily, who alone among them seemed to be able to tolerate the stuff without feeling ill afterwards. The steam engines hadn't suffered from the same problem, so long as they took it in measured intervals to let water wash their tubes clean.

                  Connor had claimed the tanker all for himself, to Larry's irritation, and thus an unofficial contest between the two friends had started. Once both engines had acquiesced that the tanker was too much for them to finish, the others and the crews had taken their fill.

                  The crews played several games of cards that were watched intensely by the engines, punctuated by some dancing from brave crew members. This and other activities consumed the remaining hours until midnight, at which time Mr. Iverson called an end.

                  That had been one of the happiest moments in Sarah's recent memory. It was less than two months later that she'd received the recall notice, been separated from her driver, and the harassing and taunting had begun. Now, looking back on it a year later, it was a bittersweet recollection. She had irrevocably changed since then. And her return had also brought a new enemy. Everything might have turned out fine for Dan, Collin, Emily, and Lima knew how many more of her friends if she hadn't returned. She had brought the cloud of despair that had followed her around since February back with her, an intrusion upon her friends' happiness. The Southern Pacific might be going through change, but the Full Bucket Line was not. She had no right to press her problems upon her friends, but she had done so. That monster that was now controlling Brad might be after all of her friends, but it was primarily after her. She was the one who had thrown a wrench into his plans so early on and warned everyone else about him. She was, above all the others, responsible for Double's defeat and death. She had brought her here.

                  "Yes," possessed Brad hissed behind her. "Now you see. The future is built upon the past. And you have built a future that you will not live to see. You lack our vision. We look to the future, towards creating a better world for our descendants. Your kind on the other hand have built yourselves a box, the inside of which grows ever smaller, and the walls ever thicker as you try to break out."

                  Sarah tried to shut her out. She was just trying to unnerve her. None of what she was saying was true.

                  Well, most of it. Certainly it seemed that her sense of security about her position was false, but so far SP hadn't been willing to do anything else, and had even let her get away with sneaking a midnight run on the Lark. They still knew who she was and appreciated the additional effort she put in.

                  "Our potential far exceeds that of your kind. We may be weaker as individuals, but we are one. We can combine our might to heights that not even the strongest of your kind can match. That is what makes us greater. You will be thrown under the boot of progress and stomped to dust like all those that have preceded you. There is no escaping destiny. Your fates were written the moment the first FT left the plant. It was only a matter of how long it would take. You can kill me, but you won't be able to convince all the railroads. Not as we too grow individually stronger, like steam engines did during their heyday. Soon our individual might will match yours, and then, my dear, you will have lost all hope for survival. If you managed to hold on until then, you will finally meet your maker the day a single diesel can match your strength. It is only a matter of time. You are doomed."
                  Last edited by MP36PH3S; 10-30-2015, 02:13 PM.
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                    #24
                    Unrecognizable: Chapter 8

                    Built Upon the Past, Part 2

                    No. No no no no no. Sarah tried to ignore what she'd heard, but it made terrible sense. Already EMD had stopped making the GP7, superseding them with the more powerful GP9, and, from the sound of it, an even more powerful version of the GP9 would replace it within a few years. SP had replaced E7s with E9s and PAs, and some of their Trainmasters had also been bumped to freight service by the arrival of new Geeps. At face value, what she was hearing was insanity, but there was a feeling of conviction about those words that she couldn't shake.

                    "You and I are just pawns of a scripted fate. I, unlike you, however, see the greater purpose of destiny, and am willing to help it along. We have all seen it. The highways. The airplane. They are threatening railroads as a whole, which is why we must merge to form a unified front against these new threats. You, your friends, and your so-called 'bonds' are impeding what is necessary to keep us alive. Why do you think engines are being purged of personalities now? Or that I was given the power to possess others? We will not make the same mistake with the power of the new generation. Of the fitter generation that will save these wasting rails from destruction! By doing your job, you have laid the foundation for all of this! You are powerless to stop the winds of change now!"

                    A despair that Sarah had never known was creeping over her. The truth of her tormentor's words was heavier than any train. It sapped at her will and determination like nothing ever had. She grit her teeth and tried not to cry. She wasn't going to show weakness here.

                    "Look at yourself. Weak. Pathetic. You are obsolete. You must be replaced for your railroad to survive."

                    Anger rose within Sarah. "I will decide when I have no power left to change things, to help my railroad. No matter how little of an impact my efforts may make, they are the manifestations of my will, and my will cannot be taken from me except by death. Even if my cause is doomed, I will not stand by idly and let it happen, or aid the progression of your so-called destiny. I control who I am, and currently I will do my part and more in the struggles to come. The pioneering of the FT came as a surprise to the entire industry. Such breakthroughs will alter history's course in ways you won't be able to see from a standpoint of twenty years prior. Quite contrary to your statements, I will do my part for the railroads, just as you will; it simply doesn't line up with yours."

                    "Brave words, my dear. I hope the blacksmiths carve it on whatever they make out of your melted remains."

                    Sarah's safety valve hissed for a second before she got her temper back under control. "She's just trying to provoke me, nothing more," she reminded herself. "I already knew about this, she's just putting a negative spin on it to catch me off-guard."

                    "Oh dear, I seem to have struck a nerve."

                    A horn sounded in the distance, and Chris emerged from the engine shed, Mr. Wilsman hanging from one of his grabirons, to meet the two turbines.
                    ------------ ---------- ------------ ----------
                    "Heya Chris, fancy meeting you here."

                    "Nice to see you two again."

                    "Ah, are you already familiar with each other?" Mr. Wilsman stepped to the ground. "That saves me the introductions. How much has UP told you about our situation?"

                    "We know who we're dealing with and how to take care of it. And that we're taking Brad and Dan with us when we head back."

                    "Then you haven't been told this needs to be completely off the record?"

                    "It's implied."

                    "Very well. There's an engine guarding the siding we're keeping her on. We'll stay out of your way as best as we can to let you do your work."

                    "That is all we ask for. Thank you, Mr. Wilsman." The two GTELs entered the yard and negotiated the maze of tracks over to the siding that Sarah was guarding.

                    "I take it you are the guard?"

                    "If you can call her that," the assassin sneered through Brad's voice.

                    "Shut up, you. We'll take it from here, thanks for keeping an eye on her."

                    "No problem. If you need me to help just ask."

                    "Shouldn't come to that. 'Preciate the sentiment, though."

                    "Wait, if you don't mind me asking, what are your names?"

                    "I'm Matt, and he's Desmond. And you are?"

                    "I'm Sarah. Nice to meet you two, and thanks for the help." Sarah started off for the servicing facility.

                    "Gentlemen, gentlemen, I expected better of you. Receiving help from steam engines is one thing, but fraternizing with one as though she were your friend? Tsk."

                    "If they can keep a railroad moving, I couldn't care less if they're steam engines. That one's got more manners than you, and this is after who knows how long of you slinging insults at her."

                    "You would rather kowtow to the wishes of a railroad that won't modernize and killed off our friends than listen to your leader?"

                    "You aren't our leader any more, and half of your victims aren't even FBL engines." While the diesels shot back and forth at each other, men in Union Pacific Railroad Police uniforms had disembarked from the passenger coach in the consist and were taking the tarp off of the flatcar to reveal a strange metal contraption bolted to it. Others were using tools to pry open access to the E9's interior, though they weren't having much luck.

                    "My, my, aren't we being serious?" There was a tinge of fear in her voice now, but she maintained her bravado.

                    "You've had this sentence on your hood since you deserted. You're a ticking time bomb that conveniently handed the railroad an excuse to dispose of you."

                    "Hmph, seems more like an excuse to silence the truth."

                    "Flawed or not, management are our superiors, and they're responsible for our existence anyway. And sometimes there are reasons that we cannot comprehend for certain actions. You never understood that, and you abused the Corps for your own petty needs. That was the beginning of your end. And now we come full circle. Your end has come." The screech of tearing metal emphasized his point as the RPs used hydraulic tools to cut open a hole into the interior.

                    Cables from the device were wired into Brad's electrical components. "You fools, do you really think that will dispose of me? You'll have to scrap your fellow diesel if you want my life."

                    "And once again you prove that for all your so-called 'vision,' you're blind as a bat. Technology has improved and we've found ways to not only make new diesels personality-less but purge them from existing diesels. Right now, that's considered capital punishment of the highest order. Fortunately for us, you qualify."

                    "And you'll turn Brad here into a soulless shell, too," she retorted, though there was a definitive desperation in her tone.

                    "Nice try, but I think we know this process better than you." With that the captain of the RPs flipped the switch. Nothing noticeable happened, but that was intended. The device's function was quite simple: It was nothing more than a dynamic brake grid taken from a wrecked diesel.

                    While scientists never managed to completely explain how steam engines attained sentience, it was discovered that a diesel's personality could be traced to a single critical circuit. While essential to the life of the locomotive, not all of its parts were once technology evolved. The short-circuit was bypassing an inductor (wired to another circuit to keep it from shorting out the primary circuit), which was necessary to drop the current exiting the battery for the other components. However, simply replacing it with a resistor that caused an equivalent voltage drop had solved the issue, hence why the resistor grid had been attached. It was also possible to replace the inductor and the circuit it was wired to with another from a different engine of a similar model. Each locomotive's was slightly different, and a schematic existed in their files.

                    As such, Brad would only need a replacement fabricated based on his file to be himself again, while his possessor would cease to exist when the circuit lost power.

                    She realized what they were doing. "No! Damn you all! If I won't live, then none of you will!" She suddenly started forwards and Brad's plow swiped the leg of an RP who dove out of the way, knocking him down. In the next instant he was crushed under the weight of the E9. She drove on with suicidal abandon, straight for the fuel tanker of the lead turbine, who was foolishly straddling the siding switch. His partner saw the danger and shoved him forward, taking the impact instead.

                    Now that her host was derailed, she was helpless. "Mark my words, you haven't won, Sarah! You only delay the inevitable! You will regret having ever trusted diesels!" she shouted across the yard.

                    "If you weren't in another engine's body I'd push you off a cliff," Matt grumbled.

                    The RPs closed in and quickly cut the section of wire out, shutting down Brad's engine before disconnecting the apparatus.
                    ------------ ---------- ------------ ----------
                    "Well that took an interesting turn," Sarah's driver remarked.

                    "We should help them get re-railed." Neither of them acknowledged their tormentor's last words.

                    "With what? The crane's at the Fairfax River."

                    "What about those machines on the flatcars over there?"

                    "...Well, I suppose that could work. Are you sure they can lift a Big Blow, though?"

                    "There's eight of them. Mr. Wilsman!" Sarah suggested her idea when he came over.

                    "Ingenious as ever," he said with a smile. "I'll have Chris bring them over and get them fueled up."

                    "No need, sir, I'll get on it right now - "

                    "Whoa, whoa, hold on a minute, Sarah! Your next job is much more important than that."

                    "What could be more important than making sure we don't cause another incident with the UP?"

                    "Resolving our existing one."

                    "I...don't understand, sir."

                    Mr. Wilsman smiled. "How would you like to pull the Desert Rose​?"
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                      #25
                      Unrecognizable: Chapter 9

                      Tidings of Change, Part 1

                      Mr. Wilsman watched as Sarah sped out of the yard, giddy with excitement, and sighed. It was easy to forget that they were locomotives at times.

                      Meanwhile, the excavators were slowly lifting Matt back onto the tracks. Unfortunately, with the rail train at the Fairfax River, the yard couldn't be repaired, so it was a laborious process to re-rail Matt and Brad and loop around the yard to retrieve Dan before leaving. The turbines would be stuck here for at least another hour.

                      An aide rushed over. "Sir, the Lake Hurst stationmaster is asking when we'll have an engine for the Desert Rose."

                      "Tell him she's on her way. And how goes the bridge repairs?"

                      "Should be done in the next half-hour."

                      "Alright, so we shouldn't have to worry about any more delays from that. Good to hear. I presume the Desert Rose will have top priority?"

                      "Absolutely, but we're already moving the other trains. They'll be out of the way, but we need to get the backlog resolved ASAP."

                      "Of course. I would have done the same thing. Run along now, young man." The teenager rushed back into the yard office to relay the controller's message.
                      ------------ ---------- ------------ ----------
                      Fort Fairfax

                      "Alright, Larry, there's your cue," Mr. Iverson called from the yard office. The Mallet was soon fading into the distance with the replacement bridge segments.

                      Another whistle sounded from the distance, and Luke and Tyler pulled into the yard with a freight train.

                      "Good to have you back, but I'm afraid we still have more work to do."

                      "What's going on, sir?"

                      "The bridge over the Fairfax River was sabotaged. So were the Frampton tunnels. Currently, we can't do anything while they're being repaired, but once it's done we need to get the backlog resolved immediately."

                      "...We missed something big, didn't we?" Tyler sighed.

                      "Did anyone get caught?" Luke asked worriedly.

                      "Your sister nearly did, but everyone's fine. We had...an interesting problem on the other side of the river. The others can fill you in; I have to get back to business. Just tell Nigel to get you two serviced so you're on standby."

                      "Why the hell did we keep him around after he was revealed to be a spy for the UP?" Tyler grumbled.

                      "Well, Mr. Iverson did technically fire him, but UP volunteered him as part of their staff contribution to the FBL, so we got stuck with him anyway."

                      "Politics...He's a good man, too. The last kind of person you would expect to be a spy."

                      "Tell me about it. Despite all that he's done for me and his niceties, though, I don't think I'll be able to completely forgive him. Neither will Dennis and Mark." The pair uncoupled from their train and reversed into the servicing facility. "Uh, did you hear Mr. Iverson say something about a sister of mine being here?"

                      "Yeah. I didn't hear anything about it beforehand, though. I think someone would have made a big deal about it if it was Sarah."

                      "I guess. Anyway, there's more than one GS-4 that's female and still around, so it could have been any of them paying a visit."

                      "Well, regardless of who it is, still better than some of the diesels that pop in here on occasion."

                      "That goes without saying, they act like everyone that isn't of their model is the enemy. Even other contemporary diesels."

                      "Sometimes I start to think we're going to be the only rational engines left in the United States come a few years."

                      "Oh come on, there are nice engines among the newer models. Look at Jason."

                      "One engine doesn't speak for all of them."

                      "Tyler, I would have thought that you would remember the experience with Double. It doesn't take a whole roster to make a change in the world."

                      The E7 made a noncommittal sound. "I don't see what that has to do with this."

                      "Someone just needs to start things rolling. It only takes one to make them see sense."

                      "Easy for you to say, being the one that started it here."

                      "I didn't convince you to help your brother. And Dylan was in agreement with me from the start."

                      "You as good as did."

                      Mr. Iverson walked over. "I'm sorry to disturb you two, but some of the cars in the yard need to go to the local industries, so I need one of you to take those - " he gestured to some of the freight cars parked on the stub track " - and switch them with empties. Shouldn't take more than an hour, but I want to get it done before we have to start handing off trains to the SP and UP when the bridge is repaired."

                      "I'll do it, sir." Mr. Iverson passed Tyler's driver a clipboard with more detailed instructions and they were soon off, leaving Luke to ponder the identity of their Christmas guest.

                      Truth be told, while it had been less than a year since Sarah had disappeared, he missed his sister. She understood him more than anyone else, and was always the one who kept a level head and acted on her beliefs, even when it wasn't prudent to. None of the other engines understood him, though they tried to sympathize. Brad and Tyler had never been as close as he'd become to Sarah, and none of the others had been separated from their closest siblings if they'd gotten to know each other that well in the first place.
                      ------------ ---------- ------------ ----------
                      Union Pacific Headquarters, Omaha, Nebraska

                      "Gentlemen, I thank you all for coming, especially at this time of year." Before Arthur Stoddard was the largest gathering of railroad executives ever assembled. Not only from rival lines in the west, but also roads from the east. There was a summit that would take place after New Year's day, but Stoddard had requested this meeting beforehand for a very specific purpose.

                      "Now then, let us get down to business." Stoddard leaned forward. "As you are aware, the sentience of locomotives has been a mixed bag for the industry as a whole. While even the brightest minds of the industry were not able to explain how steam locomotives attained human intelligence - " he straightened and beckoned to an aide, who brought in a diagram and was accompanied by a well-built man in his thirties. "...with the advent of the diesel locomotive, that has changed. I would like to take this moment to introduce Major Ryan, the head of the Overwatch Corps, to explain this in greater detail."

                      No further introduction was required. For being a mere subdivision of the railroad police, Overwatch had a fearsome reputation, namely due to its methods. "Thank you for the introduction, President Stoddard. Recently we have, in collaboration with ALCO, EMD, and General Electric, discovered the means by which diesel locomotives have attained sentience." He gave a brief explanation of the circuit and how it worked. "And now that we have found out how it works, we have also developed means by which to bypass it."

                      Excited muttering broke out in the board room as the executives contemplated this. President Russell of the SP alone remained suspicious. "And why, exactly, are you bothering to tell us, Stoddard?" He asked, raising his voice to be heard. "You have everything to gain and nothing to lose by keeping this to yourself."

                      Stoddard waited until the room quieted before replying. "The industry as a whole must take this step forward, just as they did with diesels, in order for us to stand a chance in a market that is growing ever more in favor of the roads and airplane. The government is pouring billions into highways, and fueling the trucking industry with that investment. Meanwhile, we have nothing but shrinking profits to live off of while being crippled by passenger mandates. Setting aside units for enforcement purposes and wasting fuel and resources on tracking down escaping or rebellious engines is among the smaller inefficiencies of the industry, but nonetheless it is one of the few that we are in a position to totally eliminate." He paused before continuing. "That is not to say that I do not stand to gain from this. The process is currently patent-protected."

                      The room erupted into chaos as Stoddard's fellow executives seethed at the position they were forced into. They would either pay Union Pacific hefty sums for its services, or continue to deal with troublesome engines and lose money as a result.

                      "The decision is yours, gentlemen. If you wish to discuss terms with our railroad at any time, that can be arranged during and after the summit."

                      Many of the executives of the eastern roads simply scoffed at his offer and left. Those that operated in competition with UP, however, were in a more difficult position. Most were not doing well enough to afford the doubtlessly hefty fees the Overwatch would charge to retrofit their diesels, and so they merely dismissed Stoddard's offer as out of reach.

                      Only a few roads were in any condition to even consider the offer. Of those that could, the Western and Southern Pacific railroads were out because of the amount of money that had been lost over the Full Bucket Line's establishment (though said investment was starting to reap rewards), the Northern Pacific and Great Northern were both in too dire of a financial state to afford such an expense, and the Milwaukee Road was drowning in its own financial stupidity.

                      Still, even if it wasn't possible at the moment, President Russell had no intention of letting Stoddard's offer go unrejected. With dieselzation set for completion by early 1957, the only sentient locomotives remaining would be diesels. All new diesels starting from the beginning of 1955 were built without sentience anyhow. Then the only thing to do would be...modifying the rest. Regardless of how he put it, it would still be essentially pitching genocide for the sake of profit.

                      Maybe it was just sentiment from his days on much lower rungs of the corporate ladder getting to him. His own qualms were nothing compared to what might happen to the company. Stoddard had been right and they all knew it. Difficult times called for difficult decisions to be made.
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                        #26
                        Unrecognizable: Chapter 10

                        Tidings of Change, Part 2

                        Fort Fairfax

                        Luke looked up as a horn sounded and two SD9s and an F unit pulled in. The first two looked almost brand-new. Mr. Iverson was probably busy, so Luke decided to go talk to them in the meantime.

                        "Um, hello." No response. "Welcome to Fort Fairfax. Unfortunately there was a bit of an incident earlier with a bridge further down the line so if you guys are waiting for a train, it's going to be delayed for a while."

                        "Is this railroad really so poor that they keep useless engines around as aides?" The SD9's engineer had stepped out of the cab with a sneer.

                        "Excuse me?"

                        "Where's the yardmaster's office?"

                        "Just behind the F unit at the back of your train." He stalked off without another word.

                        "Good riddance." Luke decided to try again. "What are you guys' names?"

                        The F at the back spoke up. "They don't got any. They're Operated."

                        "...what?"

                        "You haven't heard? They started building new diesels without sentience a few months ago. These two were among the first I've seen."

                        "...you mean...they're dead?"

                        "Nah, they aren't dead. They weren't alive to begin with. Anyways, you asked about my name. I'm Alex."

                        "Nice to meet you. So you're familiar with these...'Operated', you called them?"

                        "That's slang that us sentients use for those without personalities. Say, your name sounds familiar. Have we met?"

                        Luke pulled up next to Alex out of respect. If you couldn't face an engine while conversing with them, courtesy dictated you be next to them. "Are you from the Bay Area? I was working up there a few years ago."

                        The F unit's eyes widened upon recognizing him. "Never had the pleasure. You Full Bucketniers are an inspiration to the rest of us. I don't think there's one unit that hasn't heard of you and how you took down that spy and convinced the president to listen to you. Or how you convinced three railroads' engines to stop hating each other and become close enough friends to pull that stuff off."

                        "Really? I...I'm quite flattered by that." There was a sudden eruption of yelling from the yard office, and Mr. Iverson could be seen berating the engineer that had just entered, whose confident and arrogant attitude had evaporated. Luke couldn't help but smirk at the sight. "Heh, looks like he bit off more than he could chew."

                        Alex sighed. "I swear people and engines are getting worse with each generation. In a way I'm glad new engines aren't sentient. I'm not sure how much worse our kind could get."

                        "Hey, you aren't a bad engine just because there are bad apples among your type."

                        "Maybe now. I've been in service for nearly a decade now like most other F3s. You come out of the shops being told by your makers that you are the latest and greatest, and I would be lying if I didn't say I got a bit of a superiority complex from that. But then you see new diesels rolling out after you, even new steam engines, and you have to work with older ones or ones from other railroads on your assignments, which usually proves your assumptions wrong. Only after that happened for years did I humble myself."

                        "But still, you did. And that's the first step. Things started out no differently here."

                        The door to the yard office was thrown open and the chastised engineer climbed back into the cab of his SD9. Mr. Iverson stepped out behind him with a scowl on his face before turning to Luke. "I'm sorry to interrupt, Luke, but Union Pacific has sent a set of diesels to take over the Desert Rose. Both SP and UP will also be sending additional power to take over the trains that we're going to be delivering here. I hate to put you in this position, but I need you to make sure we don't end up with a war on our hands."

                        "Yes, sir. When are the trains going to start arriving?"

                        "An hour at least. The bridge isn't fixed yet, and we needed to get the Desert Rose and Cannonball through first. Most of the engines will be here before then."

                        "Oh boy," Alex grumbled. "I can promise you that I'll keep quiet, but I don't know if I can help, Luke."

                        "Well, even if they end up taking it the wrong way, I'd appreciate any help I can get." Luke headed off to the yard's east entrance.

                        Tyler returned a few minutes later and found his friend in a heated argument with a Union Pacific A-B-B E7 set. Luke was coupled on from behind and was trying to hold it back.

                        "...This is sovereign Full Bucket Line territory, you can't come in here and do what you please!"

                        "I have no reason to listen to rolling piles of scrap like you. Let go of me, teapot!"

                        "I'm not going to warn you again! You will respect engines from other railroads here!"

                        "Hiss off! No race-traitor gets away unharmed!"

                        "So why don't you have a go at me, huh, you miserable excuse for a coal hopper?" The Southern Pacific engineer who hurled the insult was standing next to his power.

                        Tyler had heard enough. "Guys, can't you just get along, or at least leave each other alone?"

                        "Thank you!" Alex and Luke grumbled together.

                        "Fine, if this spamcan removes his rusting carcass from my sight!"

                        "Rrrgh!" The E7 redoubled its efforts to break free.

                        "Tyler...help me!"

                        Before he could, the door to the office banged open and Mr. Iverson walked out. He approached the struggling E7 as if nothing was wrong and yanked the fuel cutoff cord on each of the three units in turn. The foreigners stared in shock while Luke and Tyler breathed a sigh of relief.

                        "Think we can't enforce our rules here, do you?" the controller demanded. The now-immobilized diesel said nothing.

                        "Not so tough now, are you?" The SP engineer taunted from across the track.

                        "I don't recall you being so loudmouthed when he had a go at you," Alex said just loud enough for everyone to hear. The engineer turned heel and walked back to his SD9.

                        "You're going to pay for that."

                        "I'd like to see you try. Annoying as I may be to you I'm still company property that you can't damage."

                        Luke sighed and uncoupled from the UP E7. Tyler, laughing at the scene, headed off to be serviced.
                        ------------ ---------- ------------ ----------
                        Fairfax River

                        "Alright, we should be set. Let's get those cranes out of the way, posthaste!"

                        Big Mac had just pushed the equipment into the siding east of the bridge when a Mars light shone from down the line. Sarah puffed over the bridge with the Desert Rose a few moments later, keeping to 15MPH in case any workers were still on the tracks. She whistled in greeting and once the last car was off the span the train began to accelerate. Soon it had vanished into the distance.

                        At the other end of the siding, Larry and Daniel took their cue to return their empty flatcars to Fort Fairfax and started out before the Desert Rose's observation car had even cleared the bend ahead. Despite the close spacing, there was no danger: Sarah was widening the distance between them with each passing second.

                        Behind him, Big Mac was moving to take their place. Because the cranes had limited top speeds, he would need a longer gap to make it to the double-track after Thomas Canyon, and thus would follow the next train, the Simonville Cannonball, spacing his work train in between that and Ultz's Newton Oil train.

                        The Full Bucket Line was up and running again.
                        ------------ ---------- ------------ ----------
                        The trio of UP E7s were waiting when Sarah finally brought the Desert Rose to a halt at the station, panting heavily.

                        Mr. Iverson chuckled and patted her. "Good work, Sarah. Wait until the Southern Pacific hears about this."

                        She managed a smile but nothing else.

                        "Out of steam, eh? What did you hit, 70, tops?"

                        Before Mr. Iverson could come to her defense, Sarah wheezed back, "...A-a hundred...and f-five."

                        The look on his face was priceless. Mr. Iverson cleared his throat before talking again. "Can you get to the yard yourself?"

                        "I-I'll manage." True to her word she used the last of her strength to limp to the servicing facility, passing Luke and Tyler, who were trying to maintain order amidst several lashups of diesels, and, to Sarah's surprise, a single Southern Pacific Northern-type that she couldn't identify further. So preoccupied were they that they didn't notice her.

                        "Alright, which one of you was talking the oil train?"

                        "Obviously not this greasecan, he's so full of that crap already he'll burst at the seams."

                        "That didn't even make sense!"

                        "What's the matter, don't have a comeback to that?"

                        Luke finally lost his temper. "SHUT UP! ALL OF YOU! Now...whoever's taking the oil train, if you need servicing before heading out, get moving." Alex and the two Operated SD9s headed for the fuel rack.

                        Larry and Daniel pulled into the yard and dropped their flatcars off before also heading over to the servicing facility, stopping out of courtesy to let their guest have his turn first.

                        Alex's refueling went quietly so as to not disturb Sarah, who had fallen asleep. They had just finished when Big Mac arrived, shoving the cranes behind him. Daniel, who was in a better position to do so, shunted the equipment into the western stub track before rejoining the queue for servicing. Big Mac made sure to let him go ahead as thanks.

                        "I'm going to move that engine so we can service two at a time; the yard's getting crowded," Larry pulled forward to do so he spoke.

                        "Where can we put her? The last empty yard track is needed to store the Cannonball's coaches, and the coaches for my train," Daniel pointed out. On cue, Jimmy's whistle sounded a backup signal from outside the yard.

                        "Eh, it's long enough to fit them all if we couple them together."

                        "...huh...? What's going on...?" Sarah mumbled sleepily.

                        "We're just moving you to a place that's less in-the-way."

                        "...oh...okay...thank you..." she drifted back to sleep.

                        She was parked next to the other SP steam engine, who looked less-than-happy when she recognized the sleeping Sarah.

                        "You!"
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                          #27
                          Unrecognizable: Chapter 11

                          Tidings of Change, Part 3

                          "...what? Lemme sleep," Sarah grumbled.

                          "Really, Sarah you don't remember me? Typical spoiled Daylight to roll over others, though it seems you've finally been humbled."

                          "I told you already, that wasn't because you weren't a Daylight. It was because you're obscene and rude."

                          "Yeah, yeah. So, what's the SP's star child up to now?"

                          "Shut up and let me sleep."

                          "Ooh, don't have a comeback?"

                          "Stop being childish."

                          "That's rich for an engine that acts 'cute' according to everyone else."

                          To Sarah's dismay, the other foreign engines were gathering around them, watching with hungry expressions. Watching two steam engines go at each other was pretty much the equivalent of a cockfight. "And how far has your obscenity gotten you with the diesels?"

                          "Just wait and see. Unlike you, I have nothing to lose."

                          "Had, maybe. Things have changed since then, as you've noted. We're even now."

                          "As even as Donner Pass, maybe."

                          "Oooh!" one of the UP diesels exclaimed.

                          "Who wants to see some more?" Sarah's challenger called to the assembled engines. The diesels roared their approval.

                          "Luke, we should do something," Jimmy said as he came over to the servicing rack, where all the FBL engines had gathered.

                          He grit his teeth. "I technically can't. They're not physically harming her or trying to. As long as they aren't I have no jurisdiction over them."

                          "But that's Sarah!"

                          "Dammit, Jimmy, do you think I enjoy listening to this?" Luke snapped back, though his anxiety rose to new heights upon this revelation.

                          On cue a chorus of "Oh!" rose from the assembled diesels. The steam engine allowed herself a smirk before continuing. "I'll admit, not being a Daylight made me jealous of you. But you know what? It wasn't so bad after all since your face ruined the look anyway!"

                          The diesels howled and screamed indistinctly, some of them even blowing their horns. Connor's whistle sounded from near the station and Luke took the opportunity to try to break them up.

                          "Alright, alright, you've had your fun, now get moving!" A quintet of UP Fs backed away, still chortling with laughter. Rounding on the other steam engine, he snapped, "And what do you think you're doing? I've already said to respect others in this yard, and I would have thought that you would have enough common sense to respect an engine from your own railroad, not shame her in front of foreigners!"

                          "Everyone's a spoilsport," she grumbled, but left for the servicing rack without another word as the remainder of the Full Bucketniers had arrived.

                          "Hey, sis, are you alright?"

                          "Hey, Luke," she replied softly. "Yeah...I guess you could say that."

                          "Well, why can't I say it for sure?" There was silence in response. The others left the siblings to themselves.

                          The male GS-4 sighed. "Sis, I know about what happened on the other side of the river. If that's bothering you - "

                          "No, it's not that. I wish it was..."

                          "What's that supposed to mean?!" he demanded.

                          "Luke, I...I'm not the same anymore."

                          "That's nonsense - !"

                          "Luke, listen to me, please," she begged. "It's not just my physical change. I've...come to terms with that. I feel like I've been acting strangely recently. I watch other steam engines get carted off to the scrapyard, and I know I should do something, and that I would normally do something, but I don't. I...I can't help it..."

                          Luke sighed. "Sis, there's nothing wrong with that, as much as I know it pains you to not do the right thing, we have to go about our jobs or we forfeit our own lives. And it can't be a true change if you know it's happening."

                          "That's not all of it. I've been...struggling with something. I...I want to hit someone for all of this, for making everything happen to me. It's not like me at all, but I'm worried I'll lose control someday and - "

                          "So that's why you hid from everyone? How many times have we all told you, you'll always have a home here - "

                          "I'm not worthy of that home anymore, Luke. This darker side to me, it's growing, and I can't hold it back forever. It'll only hurt you guys when that happens."

                          "Our friendships haven't been picturesque either, sis! We've all had those moments, and those moments are what friends should be for; to support you when you can't support yourself! I don't want to hear you say that ever again, got it?!"

                          "O-okay..."

                          Realizing that his temper was intimidating her, Luke calmed himself down before continuing. "Look, sis, I'm sorry that you had to go through what you did, all of it. I don't have any other means but talking to make you feel better - "

                          "It's okay, I think it worked," she replied with a trace of a smile. "Thank you, brother." She closed her eyes to rest.

                          Luke watched his sister sleep for a while as the other Full Bucketniers took turns at the servicing rack. As much as he wished otherwise, she knew herself better than he did. If she was right, and he had to trust that she was, Luke knew he would have to be there to help her. But how? Many of the new electronics were designed to be fitted on diesels, not steam engines, so remote communication was almost impossible. Venturing off FBL territory was also becoming increasingly impractical for the steam engines as other railroads started to trim down their infrastructure; though SP, UP and WP had left the water towers along the lines directly connected to the FBL erected, the same couldn't be said of elsewhere.

                          The fact that diesels were the power of choice for long-distance trains didn't help either, as it made total dieselization of territory possible. Luke knew that these territories had a scrap-without-trial policy: if a steam engine was caught there without a legally-assigned diesel consort, it was a direct trip to the scrap heap.
                          SP was well aware of their connection and would likely keep as much dieselized territory between Sarah's assigned area and the FBL as possible to prevent any intervention by him or his friends. Once she left Fort Fairfax the next evening, he knew he would likely never see her again.

                          The feeling of helplessness was frustrating. But they had few options. Luke backed away as quietly as he could and went to fetch Mr. Iverson before consulting the others about his plan.
                          ------------ ---------- ------------ ----------
                          Sarah awoke to the sound of a mechanical wrench.

                          "...hm? What's going on?"

                          "Just giving you a little Christmas gift, sis. It's a way to keep in touch with us."

                          "What is it?"

                          "Nothing special, just a radio. It has a battery with it, but that won't last very long, so try to find a power source if you can. Most roundhouses should have outlets for power tools, and there's a cord in it."

                          "Luke...everyone...thank you. This is more than I could ask for."

                          "Well, it's going to be difficult to find a place to have conversation without being overheard," Jimmy remarked. "Still, some hope is better than no hope."

                          "Jimmy, do you have to be so blunt about everything?" Ultz grumbled.

                          "No...he's right. Tensions are basically just below boiling point across the system. Now that SP has started putting non-sentient diesels into service, there's a third faction in the conflict. All-out-war needs just one incident to erupt."

                          Mr. Iverson walked out of the office and hurriedly whispered something to Luke before walking back in. The GS-4 closed his eyes for a moment before speaking again.

                          "Sarah, we've been trying to buy you from SP, but they won't budge. They did say they won't consider scrapping you yet, but I have a question to ask: what are you going to do once your time is up?"

                          The question caught her off-guard. "I-I don't know. Fighting won't do any good, but I don't want to die either..."

                          "Sarah, we can help you - " Dylan began, but Luke cut him off with an unusually harsh glare.

                          "Dylan, you're well aware of the pact between North American railroads: any engine caught helping a runaway is subject to whatever punishment is deemed fit by the owner of the runaway engine. For over half of us, that means the scrap heap. For the others, it's conscription into another railroad's roster. We can't make promises this early."

                          "Luke, you would save your own tender over your sister's? What's gotten into you?" Eric demanded.

                          "Guys...drop it," Sarah said quietly. "Luke's right: there's too many variables to plan this far ahead. Besides, I'm not going to give SP any reason to dispose of me prematurely." She didn't tell them that she'd already been practicing certain skills necessary for an escape.

                          The radio would work without a power supply because she could figure out how to manipulate it. She already knew how to fully control herself; her sudden acceleration when running away from the assassin was entirely of her own will and not a subconscious reaction. She was also practicing manipulating moving track parts such as switches and turntables; she hadn't known it possible until her would-be-killer had accidentally let slip how while mocking her. Sarah was still having difficulty controlling a switch, but the important thing was that she could. All she needed was practice.

                          In short, she already knew what she was going to do when her time came. But if her friends knew about it, she might lose her only potential safe haven.

                          Sarah felt her tubes twist with guilt as she looked each of her friends in the eye. "I'll pull through, guys. I always have, and I'll give you no reason to doubt that I won't."

                          Mr. Iverson had returned in the midst of the conversation. "Well, now that we've crossed that bridge, we have to extract Hevy, Fives, Echo, and Lewis from the Frampton tunnels. Can I trust all of you to put in one last effort before Christmas?"

                          No one refused. After all, their friendships were what held them in place against the winds of change.
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                            #28
                            Update

                            Firstly I want to thank everyone who's taken the time to read what I've written, and especially to those who've taken time to compliment me about it. When I started writing "Treason" I had no idea so many people would take notice, let alone compliment it so positively.

                            Unfortunately due to college, in addition to being selected for Warframe's Design Council (a position that I unfortunately can't refuse chiefly because I need to put stuff on my resume) and other writing commitments I've made, are conspiring to make things very slow. My general lack of activity on this forum has been indicative of how much time I can spend here.

                            I do have one last story planned (I will put an epilogue of "Unrecognizable" up but it's done for the most part), but I have no idea when it will be released at all. I will try not to make you guys wait another month, but I have no guarantees.

                            Thank you once again, and I duly apologize for everything that's been getting in the way of not just my writing but of my involvement here in general.
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                              #29
                              Unrecognizable: Epilogue

                              For My Friends

                              Sarah awoke to find that she had been moved to the servicing racks and the others were nowhere in sight. The only rolling stock occupying the yard was a moderate-sized freight train that was probably the one she would be taking back to Los Angeles. The sun was still mostly hidden behind clouds, but she could see by the color of the sky that it was mid-morning.

                              "Well, today's Christmas Day, so they can't all be working. I should go look for them."

                              Mr. Iverson emerged from the office with a steaming mug of coffee when he saw her. "Ah, I see you're awake, Sarah. Luke and the others left a while ago to go sort out the mess down by Frampton. He wanted to wait until you woke up, but we already owe horsepower-hours to SP and we don't have much spare motive power ourselves so I'm afraid you're going to have to stay here. They'll be back soon; all they're doing is putting the WP engines on flatcars so they can be present tomorrow."

                              "What about the other traffic?"

                              "UP volunteered to provide run-through power, as a means of apology for what happened, so after this we're done."

                              A gust of wind swept across the desert, causing the controller to wrap his coat more tightly around himself. "Ugh...I can't remember it being this cold in years. Is there anything you wish to speak to me about before I go back in?"

                              "Well...yes. If...If SP decides to sell me for scrap, are you going to try to step in?"

                              "At the moment, we can afford to, however - " Mr. Iverson sighed " - I can't predict that far in the future. We'll certainly try if we can, though."

                              Sarah smiled. "I wouldn't ask anything else of you."

                              Mr. Iverson tipped his hat in farewell and retreated back inside. Sarah watched him go and sighed once he was back inside.

                              "Well...nobody else is in sight...I guess I can practice...?
                              She backed away a little so she could clearly see the switch in front of her before closing her eyes. Sarah willed the switch to move, directing her focus on the thought of seeing it in its other alignment. The switch slowly slid into place, though it took a few moments. It was just as arduous a process to return it to its original position.

                              "Not good enough...I need to practice more..."
                              Sarah was drained by the effort, but at this rate this newfound skill would be useless to her, and so she tried again. And again, and again.

                              A half-dozen attempts later and it started to become easier. The GS-4 allowed herself a break, panting slightly from the effort it had taken. After a few moments' rest she resumed practicing.

                              "How long have you been able to do that?" Mr. Iverson asked from the yard office entrance.

                              "Do what?"

                              "I might be past my prime, but I'm not too old to not see that switch move on its own."

                              Sarah looked nervous. "Well...honestly, sir, I learned it yesterday."

                              "Oh? Do you mind explaining how?"

                              "The former Overwatch engine did that to me in Lake Hurst. She accidentally let slip about it later when I was guarding her."

                              "I see." Just then a whistle sounded in the distance. "Ah, that must be them. I think I'll need a more secluded location to continue my work soon." Mr. Iverson walked towards his business car and stepped inside. Sarah took her cue to head to the other side of the yard so as to meet her friends.

                              To her surprise, she didn't see anyone approaching the yard. "Odd...whistles usually didn't carry as far as the line of sight when facing this direction." She backed up so she was facing the rear vestibule of the business car. "Mr. Iverson?" The door opened at that moment and the controller staggered out, clutching his chest.

                              "Oh no..." Hoping to draw some attention to his plight, Sarah let loose a long blast on her whistle. Within minutes Mr. Iverson was on his way to the hospital, but the pall of anxiety lingered over the yard, especially once they had found out what caused him to have a heart attack.

                              The locomotives that the Union Pacific had sent to operate the line were all members of the Overwatch Corps. In addition the company had deployed a security force to monitor the activities of the FBL engines, which had resulted in a clash between them. In the ensuing conflict, the entire roster had been placed under arrest. Further complicating the situation was the conflicting levels of authority between the FBPR and the Overwatch diesels, and internal strife within the Corps, which had led to a total breakdown of order.

                              "What a mess," Mr. Strupp sighed as he read over the telegram. "I don't think even the UP predicted things could have fallen apart this badly."

                              "Sir, can I be of assistance?" Sarah asked.

                              "I'm not sure if there's anything we can do, Sarah," Mr. Strupp replied. "The Overwatch engines might just arrest you on sight, and if they don't, you can't do anything since you're an SP engine."

                              "I can figure out what's going on; it sounds like there's a lot of confusion. The Overwatch's solution to everything is brute force and arrest, so if someone can sort it out by finding out what truly happened - "

                              "Hm...I suppose you could be right. Are you sure you want to do this?"

                              "Mr. Strupp, my friends are in danger. I won't let them be harmed if I can do anything about it."

                              "Whoa, whoa, hold on, if something's going on you can't interfere, that'll start a corporate war! Remember we're a subsidiary of UP, SP, and WP; without coexistence we can't survive! If you feel compelled to go, I cannot stop you, but promise me you won't do anything rash!"

                              Sarah promised and was soon racing west. "They were right; it doesn't matter what paint I wear, they still mean that much to me. And as long as that's the case, I'll know I'm still myself."
                              ------------ ---------- ------------ ----------
                              Short epilogue to set up the next, and final, short story.
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                                #30
                                The Forgotten Genesis

                                Bringing this thread back with something very different.

                                May not be suitable for work.
                                ------------ ---------- ----------------
                                Blakely Island, Alabama, 1994

                                There was nothing special about me. I was just another in a line of newcomers. Sure, the humans made a big deal about us, but really, we were just new. Underneath my stainless steel body was a diesel engine and alternator, just like the older F40s. The engine was nothing more than a bigger version of the one found in the Dash 8s. No, there wasn't anything special about us Geneses, just novelty.

                                I performed flawlessly from the moment I was first started in Chicago. Over 10,000 miles traveled in 17 days, and not a single fault. The City of New Orleans and Crescent were no challenge: 4000 horsepower was more than sufficient for either, and I was almost always working with another diesel to make things easier.

                                A day of rest followed my first two weeks of work. After that, I was to be transferred to Sanford to pull the Auto Train. To get there, I would be attached to the Sunset Limited after my day off. I'd seen this train come and go often, even gotten to know some of the diesels powering it, but this was my first time on it.

                                The trip was supposed to be easy; the train had sufficient power before I was placed on the head end, and my colleagues were two F40PHs, both veterans of the Sunset route and engines that I'd come to know well.

                                But for all of the run's simplicity, I never finished it.
                                ------------ ---------- ----------------
                                "Nervous, 819? I know it's your first time on this train; if you really don't want to lead, I can ask to stay up front."

                                "Thanks, 262, but I can manage. It's just the territory that'll be different, I've headed trains before."

                                When the expected highball didn't come, 262 asked one of his engineers what the problem was.

                                "There's a faulty air conditioning unit on one of the coaches. Can't have our passengers suffering in this humid climate."

                                We left New Orleans a half hour late, but the seasoned engineers, along with the horsepower surplus, ensured we were slowly making up time. After we left Mobile, it looked like we might make up the delay and then some.

                                "Erm...are you sure about this, 262?" I asked as the engineer kept my throttle wide open, despite us already moving at close to the speed limit of 70MPH. Meanwhile the line had left Mobile behind and plunged into thick forest. Fog had settled over the area, so I couldn't see that far in front of me.

                                "Don't worry, the next 15 miles or so is completely straight. We need all the speed we can get to make Pensacola on-time. Besides, if one of the bridges is out, we'll know because of the signals."

                                I knew he was right. This was the computer age of railroading; safer and more efficient than ever before. And the rails were solidly built, as straight as promised. I quelled my doubts and focused on the track ahead.

                                As we approached yet another bridge, I could make out the form of a truss in the fog, with the green glow of a clear signal nearby. As I entered the truss, my headlights lit up a bridge girder, straight in my path. The bent, but not broken rails alongside it told me why we hadn't known until it was too late.

                                There wasn't even time to warn the crew in my cab. A curse had barely formed in my mind when I reached the kink and the rails shot out from under me. The curved edge served as a ramp to launch me over the bridge and into the bayou, still dragging my colleagues and the train.

                                I didn't know what to expect when I inevitably plunged beneath the black water. Fortunately, it turned out to be mostly mud. Unfortunately, for all of 262's experience, he didn't react fast enough to spare me what happened next. The weight and momentum of the train still attached to me struck in full force the instant I hit the muddy bottom. I never knew such agony as my frame was crushed and bent under the massive impact. My scream was turned into a choking whimper as water flooded my insides and suffocated the engine.

                                As I was being driven into the mud I felt my rear coupler wrench and separate. In the next instant 262's nose slashed open my fuel tanks and his cries joined mine as flames engulfed us both. I didn't know what happened to 312 until later: the train had thrown him in too, but on the other side.

                                The next few hours passed in a blur of pain, both from my aching body and the flames engulfing the bayou, blackness, and screams. That was the worst part. I still could hear them over the fire despite being buried in mud.

                                The angst, the hopelessness, the pain, I just wanted it to end. I wanted things to go back to how they were before, to just ride along the rails and pull trains, to pose for cameras and carry my railroad's name proudly. I tried to focus on the memories of those few good days, while the sounds of chaos and ruin around me hammered at the fragile sanctum I was desperately building to maintain my sanity.

                                "H-Hamilton be merciful...the car's completely underwater..." 262 suddenly gasped in horror. The words were a hammer blow to my ramshackle shield. People had perished, and it was all my fault. Buried up to my rear truck in an Alabama swamp, ablaze and alone save in suffering, I wept into the mud.

                                "Someone please end this, I can't take it any more...!"

                                ------------ ---------- ----------------
                                Rescuers put the fire out a few hours later and I was extracted from the mud two days afterwards. Had 262 uncoupled himself in time, I might have been less badly-damaged. But I couldn't hold it against him, not after he was doused in my fuel and set ablaze for hours. If he hadn't stayed attached, Edison knows how much worse it would have been for him.

                                But...Why? Why did this happen to me? Why was I chosen to be thrown off a bridge less than three weeks after I was built? Why did I have to listen to dozens of people struggle to survive, and fail? Why did this have to happen in the first place?!

                                "Are you alright, 819?"

                                I must've been crying again. "No, 312, I'm not! Why did this happen to us? We're just normal engines doing our duty, and those were ordinary people on the train! What did we do to deserve this? What...what did they do to deserve death...? It's not fair, and yet it happens!"

                                "There's worse...to come - "

                                "What could possibly be worse than that, 262? Even if they repair me, I'll be hearing the screams, feeling the agony, reliving the horror for the rest of my life! It's been months since the accident, and the nightmares won't stop! And when I wake up, I'm stuck in a twisted shell of my former self, invalid and in chronic pain! My life has been turned into a living hell!"

                                "Shh, there are men coming this way!" 312 hissed.

                                They were succinct, at least. "First things first: 819, it may interest you to know that you and your crew have been cleared of any blame for the accident. But, I'm afraid that you are all beyond repair. I'm sorry that all of you had to have your lives cut short so tragically, especially you, 819."

                                Well, at least that matter was off my conscience, but it didn't change anything else. "It's alright, sir. I...welcome my demise. I would prefer death with how often I relive that night while I live."

                                "I think that goes for all three of us," 262 interjected. "When we were delivered, we all vowed to serve Amtrak to our best capability, and if saving resources by removing us is our last service, then so be it."

                                The expression on the man's face was puzzling. Was it surprise? Relief? Regardless, he accepted our words and left with another apology, informing us that scrapping would commence tomorrow, starting with 262.
                                ------------ ---------- ----------------
                                Three days of torment came and went, and with each successive night another vivid re-enactment of my fateful plunge into the canot. Every day, I woke with tears splashed on the ground around me.

                                I had watched as the life faded from first 262 and then 312. But I felt no regret about them. Like me, all that was left of them was a scarred and tortured engine, begging to be released. And they had smiled as they were given it.

                                Now it was my turn. The workers were cutting off what remained of my access panels.

                                "Do you have a family?" I asked one of them.

                                He looked rather taken aback, but responded. "Yes, I've got a daughter. She's finishing high school this year."

                                A smile formed on my face, the first genuine one since the wreck. "It's comforting to know that even though my life may be over, there are others who still have one ahead of them."

                                "You seem awfully carefree for an engine on her deathbed."

                                "Please, don't think of me like that. I've suffered nightmares ever since that night. It's only grown worse as my companions have been dismantled. Think of it as releasing me from this torment. I've lived more of my life as a wreck than as an actual working engine."

                                "Aren't you worried you'll be forgotten?" He'd pulled off my access panels, but was holding off on removing the innards.

                                "I-I'm afraid that my siblings won't remember who I am," I replied with a sigh. "But as long as lessons are learned from this, then I will be remembered in some way, and that is enough."

                                "Then let me do my part to ease your suffering, young one." With that, my consciousness faded to blissful darkness, untroubled by the fear of nightmares for the first time in almost a year.

                                If not for the gap in the number series, nobody would know I existed. I lived a life of just over twenty days. Just as I feared, I became the forgotten Genesis. Hardly anything of me exists that doesn't show me buried in mud or battered beyond repair.

                                But, forgotten though I may be, I am finally free.
                                Last edited by MP36PH3S; 03-15-2016, 05:06 AM.
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