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    #31
    Off Wire

    Another modern-day short story, much more modern than the last.

    Didn't happen in real life, but whatever.
    ------------ ---------- ----------------
    Wilmington, June 11, 2015

    "Alright, let's go, 915." The two GP38s, having marshaled me between themselves and several cars, were soon navigating the exit to the main line. Soon the familiar wires of the Northeast Corridor was racing overhead. The territory was all so familiar, it felt odd to be traversing it without any of the usual sensations I'd come to associate with the line: the constant, reassuring contact of the overhead wire, the feeling of raw power that its energy gave me, the thrill of racing down the welded rails at triple-digit speeds.

    Now all that remained of those days was the scenery.

    As we left the shops, I noticed 601 watching us, a smile of farewell gracing her lines. Despite initially loathing the new ACS-64s (as the others did too, who can be inclined to like your replacement on first sight?), I'd come in particular to appreciate her company. She was quiet, and an avid listener to any stories we had to tell. Mishaps, unruly passengers, whatever it was, she wanted to hear it all, and drank up each story with an innocent curiosity that made it impossible for anyone not to like her.

    And how could I harbor any ill will towards her after they took her into the shops less than a month ago, battered and distraught from her first derailment? Some of the other engines in the dead line had laughed at her when she told them why. Speeding on a curve? That was an amateur mistake; she deserved it!

    Unlike the others, I'd not only comforted her but spent every night since by her to ward off any molesters. Only I was privy to her secret fears that she would be punished, that nobody would believe her, that the shops wouldn't bother repairing her. I'd never been in her situation, but nevertheless I told her that she had nothing to worry about. I can only hope those words will hold true after I'm gone...

    An Acela suddenly rocketed past us, giving a friendly horn salute and a wink in greeting. I never figured out why those guys were always so cheerful, though admittedly being able to hit 150 multiple times every day sounded like a lot of fun. Despite their status as the only true high-speed trains on the line though, they were always quite amicable. The same couldn't be said of the HHP-8s, who were largely temperamental brutes in both attitude and performance. Whatever bragging about their paper stats soon gave way to grumbling and general surliness as their high failure rates became a pain for the rest of us.

    "Well, well, look who we have here!"

    "It's been a while, bro." Though 916 was as much like me as an HHP-8, an AEM-7AC was still an AEM-7. "Still living life on the high iron, I see."

    He gave an unusually melancholy sigh. "I hope, but I've only got a few runs left in me. Mechanics have said my transformer's on borrowed time, and once that's kicked out, I'm done. Here's hoping that when it does, I'll still be able to be preserved afterwards. Well, I'm sorry I can't stay and chat, I'm a little ahead of schedule and I should keep it that way. Goodbye!" With that his train began to accelerate past ours.

    I wish I had more time for what I knew was likely my last conversation with him, but such was the nature of talking on the job; if any words were exchanged, they were brief and succinct. It was also considered bad luck to wish anyone smooth running or a good trip, hence why only the most generic of farewells was used.
    ------------ ---------- ----------------
    The rest of the trip was uneventful. The SEPTA Silverliners just ambled past us without any acknowledgement of our presence or anything besides the track ahead. ASEA knows why they even have sentience if they're so dead-brained. A couple other Amtrak trains passed by, and I got a nod of recognition from all of them. Having been quite familiar with almost all of them, especially the Metroliner cab cars, it was a nice send-off. Whoever saw fit to assign all my friends to trains I'd meet on my way to Strasburg deserves a pay raise.

    I even got a horn salute from an ACS-64 I couldn't recall meeting. Guess being made a museum piece is a big deal, but personally I couldn't see why. I'll be stuck for all eternity in the same spot as people look at me. I don't know much about Strasburg, but, having passed the branch that leads to the museum multiple times while operating Keystones, I do know it's not electrified.

    My intimate knowledge of the line suddenly lights up. This is the place. On cue the two GP38s begin to slow.

    "Wait."

    "What?" The conductor grumbled as he continued fiddling with the air hoses, having uncoupled me already.

    "Let me do this myself."

    "Are you crazy, 915? You haven't run in more than a month - "

    "Watch me. The museum wanted a fully-functional AEM-7; let them see proof of that." I put both pantographs up. The familiar energizing sensation surged through me. Even if I didn't know already, I was so accustomed to the different overhead wires that I could tell this was 11kV, 25 Hz power.

    By now, the group over by the branch line realized what was going on and were scrambling to get a better view. I flicked on all of my lights: markers, flashers, ditch lights, the entire suite, one by one, and even activated my bell for good measure. Powering up my compressor, I waited until it was generating enough pressure to use my horn at full blast, then sounded the backup call: 3 long blasts.


    "This is it. Once I go any further, there's no coming back."
    I slowly fed power to my four motors, careful not to be too abrupt. I was tempted to immediately reverse away, to make a break for freedom.

    I forced it down. "No. I'll make my brothers and sisters proud by representing them to everyone who comes to see me. I'll show generations to come what it meant to be an AEM-7."

    By now, I noticed I was moving a little too fast and cut power to my motors. I also shut down my compressor; there was no more need for it since the Geeps could still provide braking.

    The first pantograph broke contact with the overhead wire in a burst of sparks, and I put it down, shutting off my flashers, ditch lights, and bell as I did so. The second followed a few moments later, and as I lowered it, the remainder of my lights winked out for good. I let the Geeps take over and push me the rest of the way.
    ------------ ---------- ----------------
    "That was quite a show," #8618, my tow to Strasburg, commented as we departed. "You're certainly making an impression already, not unlike some of the others that have come here."

    "Wait, there are other electrics here? Who?"

    "The museum's got 2 GG1s, 4935 and 4800 - "

    "Whoa, whoa, you've got the original GG1 here?" Excitement leapt up within me; I'd only heard stories of the legendary unit since Amtrak had never bought...him? Her? I didn't even know the gender.

    "Heh, if you're that excited to meet 4800, wait 'til you hear who else is here. There's an E60, #603, and a Silverliner II is due here...sometime."

    I laughed, more out of relief that I wouldn't be too lonely than anything else. "Well, I'm sure 603 and I will reminisce a bit. I can't imagine that Silverliner will be too much for conversation, though, they never were."

    The SW8 made a noncommittal noise as he blew his horn for a railroad crossing. "Well, I know not to try talking to him then."

    When I arrived, 603 was waiting at the entrance, along with 4800.

    The former spoke first. "It's nice to see you again, 915."

    "Heh, who would think that the next time we'd meet would be in a rural Pennsylvania museum, miles from any live wires?"

    603 made to reply, but 4800 spoke first. "So...you are one of the engines that retired my siblings." The deep voice was lined with cold suspicion.

    Well, at least I knew his gender now. "Y-yes...?"

    Unexpectedly, he chuckled and smiled. "Fate works in strange ways indeed. Welcome to your new home, 915." 603 burst into laughter at what must have been an absurd look of relief on my face.

    "Aw, come on, I just met one of the greatest legends of the Northeast Corridor and it sounded like he hated me!" I protested, but they just kept laughing. "Guys, come on!"

    603 called one of the people with a camera over, and once I saw my own expression I couldn't help but laugh too.

    "So, 915, perhaps you could inform us on how the outside world's changed since we left it?" 4800 asked.

    And so I did, with 603 helping me along at some points. But both of them listened raptly to my narrative of what happened after 603's retirement. By the end of that first day, one thing had become clear to me: my museum-mates might be different company than my siblings, but I certainly wouldn't be alone at Strasburg.

    "You miss your siblings too, don't you?" 603 asked from behind me.

    "Yeah..."

    "Remember that they likely were suffering in their last days. They are, or will be, in a better place, living a better life than that of an engine limping along until its demise. We're here to preserve the memory of their glory days, in addition to our own."

    I suddenly remembered 916 and his last words to me. "Right." I looked upwards at the stars and wondered if 916 and my other siblings were seeing them just as clearly. "All of you...if your time has come, rest in peace. If it hasn't, I pray that your last days will be happy ones. I'll make all of you proud. I'll make sure we aren't forgotten."
    Last edited by MP36PH3S; 04-03-2017, 02:37 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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      #32
      The Club, Part 1

      I know, it's a nearly year-old necro, but I think the thread's purpose is far from fulfilled.

      Heavily-fictionalized account of today's (2/28/2017) Amtrak 354, which I'm riding.
      ------------ ---------- ----------------
      Track 22, Chicago Union Station, February 28, 2017

      The soft splashing of rain was drowned out in magnitudes by the roar of diesel engines. A little water falling from the sky won't stop the busiest railroad terminal in the Midwest, and it won't stop me for sure.

      "This is the final boarding call for Amtrak Train No. 50, the Cardinal..."

      "You would think that three times would be enough to get the point across, even to these thick-headed humans," I grumbled, shutting out the rest of the P.A. announcement.

      A chuckle caused me to glare at its origin. "Something funny, screamer?"

      "If they actually had thick heads, they wouldn't splat when we hit them, would they?" The F59PH next to him laughed while us Geneses just looked at each other and rolled our eyes. Metra F40s weren't exactly the most...normal of locomotives, with their age and all the accumulated time they spent inhaling their own exhaust. The constant full-throttle running to provide HEP also tended to make them viciously temperamental. We'd learned pretty quickly to not offend them.

      "Doesn't even take that, 27's horn would do it too."

      "You're just jealous."

      The unit on the head of the Cardinal scoffed as she got underway. "In your dreams."

      "Have fun with the dead weight on the back," I called after her when sticking my tongue out got no response. Despite the implicit snub, the orange-and-brown GP40FH-2 continued staring around at the interior of the trainshed as he and the rest of the Iowa Pacific equipment pulled away. I don't blame him, it might very well be the last time he ever sees it in his life.

      I suddenly noticed a kid in a black coat running towards the front. Must be another one of those stupid foamers. I hissed vehemently at him to see what kind of reaction I'd get. Nothing at all; his phone was as steady as ever.

      Right, screamers' prime movers alone are still louder than any noise I can produce. Dammit. I sighed and let him take his stupid picture, though I looked away the entire time. He looked like he was going to run further up the platform, before changing his mind and just taking another picture of me. If he's on my train, I hope we leave before he gets back to his coach.

      "Aww, look, he likes you." The culprit pulled away with the Illinois Zephyr before I could respond or note his number.

      Simultaneously, the two units at the head of the now-empty Empire Builder left for the yard, snickering. "Let's go, these two need their quality time."

      "I hope someone puts sugar in your diesel fuel," I called after them. To be fair, I should probably have just taken what I dished out, but where's the fun in that?

      The rumble of thunder suddenly echoed through the trainshed. Wonderful.

      "Switch off standby mode, we're clear," my engineer suddenly commanded. I obliged him. The transition went without a hitch, and soon I was leading 354 out of the station and into the rainy evening, sliding over the maze of switches outside, under the St. Charles Air Line, past CP Lumber and over the bascule bridge, then onto the NS main beyond.

      Things were pretty much par-for-the-course throughout most of downtown. 55MPH maximum, but more time was spent crawling than running because of freight congestion and the maze of diamonds. As I led the train over the Dan Ryan Expressway, I briefly looked over at the road. Just as I thought: clogged in all lanes and in all directions. Should've taken public transportation, suckers.

      Just past the Englewood Flyover, we ran into some unusual slowdowns before stopping completely just past the east entrance to the NS intermodal yard. The National Weather Service had issued a tornado warning, and the entire line was shut down until it expired. Oh well, at least they were kind enough to put us out in front of all the stackers.

      "How long?"

      "30 minutes at least." Cesar-dammit. "Can you switch back to standby mode?"

      "Nope."

      "Fine, I'll do it."

      At the moment he touched the controls, I shut the HEP off entirely. "Nice job."

      "And you wonder why crews still prefer 28 despite her atrocious luck."

      "Beggars can't be choosers, can they?"

      Not much more was said as we idled away the minutes in the rain. I kept myself entertained by watching the forked streaks of lightning arc across the dark sky.

      Thirty minutes came and went. "Ugh, can we just go already? It doesn't look that bad, and you said we'd be done waiting by now."

      "You have a Doppler radar and weather gear hidden somewhere under that shell?"

      "When the hell has a tornado ever touched down in any urban area?"

      "Do you want to be a witness to and victim of the first recorded instance?"

      Suddenly I noticed both tracks on the bridge ahead held a pair of red lights. I could barely make out the shape of monocoque carbodies with my headlights. Lightning flashed overhead, illuminating the scene briefly, and revealed two Geneses with slightly-humped silhouettes, indicative of frame damage. One of them also had a heavily-compacted front end, the other had half of its rear carbody ripped open: both battered exteriors were adorned in Phase III paint. It didn't take a genius to realize they were the Bourbonnais sisters.

      "Look at this one," the unit on the left hissed.

      "He thinks he's invincible, how cute," the other purred.

      "Nice disguises, whoever's under there," I called.

      Their high-pitched, metallic laughter sounded eerily like the screech of a train in emergency. "Oh, you think we're pranking you, brother?" The lightning flashed again, throwing their terribly-distorted exteriors into sharper relief, although they inched forwards enough to be visible to my headlights. "We come to remind you."

      "Yeah, yeah, nice try. There's no such thing as ghosts, and besides, you've checked off just about every cliche on the list. Only in some sort of bad fanfiction would this be for real." To be honest, I wasn't entirely convinced of what I was saying, but if these were just a couple of off-duty engines pulling a bad joke, in no universe would I give them the satisfaction of knowing they'd gotten me.

      "Then ignore what we have to say...at your own peril." The pair backed away and the next flash of lightning revealed they were gone.
      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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        #33
        The Club, Part 2

        ​Continued from Part 1
        ------------ ---------- ----------------

        "Did you see any of that?"

        "All I see is somebody that's not moving for a green signal," the engineer snapped.

        Geez man, calm down, it literally turned green just before you said that. It's not like I have to switch off of standby or anything either, and those NS freights can kiss my coupler. I could start accelerating after them and I'd still keep my spot in queue. Just watch, I'll show you what real thoroughbreds do!

        Crap, broke the speed limit by a little. Focus, 27, focus. Slow back down; you can show off when conditions aren't so bad.

        "Good, good. Stay in control and be vigilant. Just like they told you in training." A series of metallic clunks and scrapings accompanied the words.

        Now that voice, I knew, even with the additional noise. The yard ahead was empty, but the outline of a P42 stuck atop some invisible barrier was plain to see, framed by the orange lights of the industrial complexes behind it. As I drew alongside I realized #8 was not just maintaining the position with no support but also keeping pace with me.

        "Hey...8...what's, uh, hanging? I thought you were stored down in Beech Grove." Probably not a good time to make the joke about her riding other trains again.

        "Remember, your engineer is only half of the equation. The train is as much your responsibility as his. I am not-so-living proof of what happens if you become complacent in your crew's abilities. Better to arrive late due to catching a mistake, then to not arrive at all." The half-detached, squashed nose moved of its own accord as she spoke, the huge tear in the metal down by the frame now acting as her mouth.

        "But still, how are you here? Last I heard, the shop crews barely even want to keep you around."

        "The Club sent a face you were more familiar with, since you dismissed the Bourbonnais sisters."

        "Club? What club?"

        "Remember what I told you, 27..." I blinked and that demented projection of my former friend was gone.

        "Welcome back to the world of the living, 27. Are you ready to do your job again, or do I have to keep doing it?"

        "Sorry." I jerked on the brakes a little too hard to slow for a red signal and cursed.

        "Alright, so the tornado warnings are over, but now we're looking at flash floods. Dispatch has enacted slow orders for the route to Michigan City, and we're limited to 40 maximum." I absorbed the list and went back about handling the 5 coaches.

        A few minutes later, we came upon the first spot. "It looks okay."

        "Don't chance it. The 40MPH zone also begins after here, so don't raise your speed after we're clear."

        I carried out the instructions to the letter. Well, almost to the letter. As soon as I saw the cafe car clear the restricted zone, I started to accelerate.

        "Dammit 27, what did I just tell you? Are you malfunctioning?"

        "Sorry, sorry! It's not like any harm came of it anyways, geez!" He just kicked the nearest surface in the cab and grumbled. Fine, be that way...

        "You were lucky." Unlike the others, this voice wasn't distorted. "Don't always presume you're right in thinking the track ahead is clear." In stark contrast, this new apparition was easily the most morbid of them all. I couldn't tell if it was fire scorching or mud, even with the aid of lightning flashes, but not a hint of paint remained on the crushed and battered unit's trucks, frame, or shell. Two sets of arms dangled out of the cab windows, and the locomotive seemed to dangle, as hanging victims do when the ground drops out from under them, despite giving the appearance of resting on the rails. With all the clues, I didn't need a number to know who this was.

        "You're...the Ghost of the Canot...but why? A - and how? Why can't anyone else seem to see you guys?"

        Somehow her smile managed to alleviate her horrid appearance a bit. "We're called the Club, but this is one club you don't want to be a part of. Have you guessed what the entry fee is?" Thankfully, 819 didn't force me to answer before continuing. "We appear to you because we're all sisters on some level. All of similar origins, all with the same aluminium, circuits, and oil. The rebuilding of some of my sisters to match you later P42DCs has only strengthened that connection."

        "But...why tonight of all times?"

        "Have you not figured it out? We are lingering reminders of what has happened when things go wrong, persevering after death in the collective consciousness of our brothers and sisters to prevent them from going astray as we did."

        "But none of any of these accidents were your fault!"

        "Official causes are as ulteriorly-motivated as they are truthful. Even so, you are right in that many of the things that have led to the demise of our siblings were not within our control. And it must remain that way, for as long as people place their lives in our care, we must do whatever it takes to make sure their trust is warranted."

        Michigan City was coming into view. "You're sure nobody can see you? It looks so...real."

        "Even if I were to attempt to appear at large in this state, I could not. Think of me being here as your 'little voice' given form by your imagination: you had it in you, it was programmed and drilled in from creation. Its incongruity with who you've become, along with the deep connection and bond you share with your siblings, alive or otherwise, that caused this to happen. Stay safe, brother." Lightning flashed once more, and 819 vanished.

        The storm almost immediately picked up. The rain intensified, the wind freshened, and sky lit up with increasing frequency, each boom of thunder following closer behind than the last. But it may as well have been a calm night for me. The earlier impatience and impulse were gone. Tonight, for once, 27 would run one hundred percent by the book.

        One hundred percent safe.
        Last edited by MP36PH3S; 04-03-2017, 02:42 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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          #34
          Stronger Than Any Coupler: Part 1

          Yep, I'm doing some more fan fiction because I'm too lazy to create a series of my own. This time, I'm doing it for Rails of the Highland Valley by CottonBeltSD40T.

          As with the The Full Bucketniers stories, I strongly recommend you give the series a watch before reading this (especially because the cast is huge and some of this involves heavy suspension of disbelief), although I should note I set this between Episodes 9 and 10 because this series is still ongoing.
          ------------ ---------- ------------ ---------- ------------ ---------- ------------ ---------- ------------ ---------- -------------
          Stronger Than Any Coupler: A Rails of the Highland Valley Fan Fiction

          "Sometimes, you don't truly appreciate how much something's worth
          ...until it's gone."

          March 28th, 2017, Highland Valley, Pennsylvania

          Everything was shaping up to be a normal day. With the work orders for the day distributed, everyone had set to work, except for the fortunate few that had a while to wait before heading out on their assignments. Cameron and Jordan were complaining as usual; Shawn and Kerry were exchanging bromantic banter; Benjamin and Bridget had already snuck off to be alone; the remainder of the crew was going about the business of piecing their trains together and departing for their various destinations.

          Nicholas went back into the roundhouse to find something to pass the time with. His first assignment depended on Top Hat's arrival, so in the meantime there was nothing for the venerable SD40-2 to do but wait.

          "It's hard to enjoy down time while everyone else is working..."

          "Hey there, Nicholas," a familiar voice greeted.

          His mood immediately brightened as a familiar P42DC in Amtrak livery backed into the stall next to him. "Well, that problem's solved."

          "What gives, Lily? I thought you were going to take the Harrison Limited."

          "I wasn't needed. The derailment yesterday in Chicago caused them to do some shuffling with the engines."

          "Well, time off is time off. Want to watch a movie?"

          "Did we get any new ones?"

          "Eh...I don't think so."

          "Then I'll pass."

          "What about making another 'grounded' video?"

          "Sure, we could. Got any ideas?"

          "Um...no, not really."

          "Yeah, me neither. I'm sure they'll give us inspiration soon enough though." They sat in silence for a bit. Nicholas could have volunteered video games, but to be honest, he couldn't recall a time when Lily had been around while anyone had been playing. He drew a complete blank on whether she would like it or not.

          He decided to take the chance. "Hey, I've got an idea!"
          ------------ ---------- ------------ ---------- ------------ ---------- ------------ ---------- ------------ ---------- -------------
          To his relief, Lily was neither as unaware of what video games were (outside of Eight Marbles) nor as much of a novice at playing them as he'd feared for someone who preferred to watch. They only had about an hour, however, before Top Hat arrived with a set of cars Nicholas had not seen in a long time.

          "Wow, RoadRailers? I wasn't even aware NS was still using these."

          "Well, not for much longer, I'm afraid. These are being sent to Schenectady for conversion into standard semi trailers." Top Hat forced the last words out of his mouth with a particularly haughty tone in his voice.

          "Shouldn't be too hard then, they're probably empty."

          "Well...about that. Someone decided they shouldn't be, which is why I was late," the C40-9 explained as he cut off from the head end. "A fair number of them are loaded."

          "Well it can't be that heavy, otherwise the system wouldn't have deemed just me sufficient," Nicholas surmised cheerfully as he made to take his friend's place. "You can't fool a computer."

          "Garbage in, garbage out," Top Hat countered. "You're also going over CSX tracks for the last bit."

          "Hey, if Mr. Edwards isn't out here to say anything about it, I'm going to presume everything is fine. Daliah and his cronies don't scare me anyways."

          "Nicholas?"

          "Yeah, Lily?"

          "Can I come with you?"

          "Uh...I don't see why not, but aren't you needed here?" On cue, Top Hat backed away to find Mr. Edwards.

          "Not until this evening when I have to take the Capitol Limited. There's nothing else to do, and it's not right to sit around while everyone else is working or has done work today."

          "But Lily, you're a passenger locomotive! How can you handle a freight train?"

          "I've handled RoadRailers before. Amtrak had some of these too, remember?"

          "Alright...well, if you're so set on coming along, who's leading?"

          She smiled sweetly at him. "You."

          Nicholas opened his mouth, then decided not to say anything. Part of it was because he didn't want to argue with her after she'd volunteered to help him, but mostly it was because he actually couldn't think of a counter.

          "Well, I have no objections myself," Mr. Edwards said as he strolled over. "Just don't be fawning over each other instead of watching the track, alright?"

          Lily smirked as she coupled up to her boyfriend. "That's why I had Nicholas lead, he's the one who always does that."

          "True story!" Top Hat called from the roundhouse.

          "Not needed, Top Hat!" The sides of Nicholas' nose were doing their best Canadian Pacific impression.

          To his credit, the Norfolk Southern controller had maintained a straight face throughout the exchange. "Alright, alright, get a move on, you two. You'll be returning from Schenectady on a manifest with Dakota and Carter, alright?"

          "Yes sir!" With that, they set off.
          ------------ ---------- ------------ ---------- ------------ ---------- ------------ ---------- ------------ ---------- -------------
          The trip went smoothly, with the couple exchanging snippets conversation every now and then, until they were held at a red signal about two hours in.

          "Well this is an interesting change of pace," Lily commented as they slowed to a stop.

          "Yeah, usually you're the one making others wait."

          The reason was soon revealed: Neville and the Maple Leaf from Toronto, with Lilie trailing him. The two were taking their sweet time, and it was obvious why.

          "Nice priority, losers!"

          "Shut up, Dumbville, at least I'm not a disgrace to Amtrak!" Lily fired back before her boyfriend could stop her.

          At this, they stopped alongside.

          "Well, well, what do we have here?" Lilie asked, a cruel grin lining her face. "Miss Hotshot herself, lashed to freight cars like a yard slug! You're one to talk about disgraces when you're hauling a freight extra with your pet. Letting him lead, too; what a ballast feeder!"

          "Maybe I'm leading because I have some common sense?" Nicholas snarled back.

          "Yeah, sure. Can't miss any moment to turn the tables on your girlfriend, can you? Hardly surprising, seeing as she pushes and pulls you like a hump yard switcher at every other moment," Neville taunted.

          Nicholas had had enough. "Why don't you get a move on? Unlike you, we're supposed to be stopped here, so you're wasting your own time! Or are you two in trouble so often a few days of freight duty isn't even punishment anymore?"

          "Hah, we can easily make up a few minutes of delay, and even if we don't, it's been worth it already!" Neville crowed, but nevertheless he did start moving again. As she passed, Lilie had pulled her phone from nowhere and snapped a photo of her Amtrak counterpart sandwiched between Nicholas and the RoadRailers.

          "See ya later, ballast feeders! Try not to get crosstie splinters in your tongues!" Neville rounded it off by making slurping noises.

          The SD40 was so incensed his exhaust turned black, which only made the two evil Geneses laugh harder as they sauntered off. The moment the signal turned green he immediately surged forwards.

          "Nicholas, don't. They're not worth it," Lily said quietly, subtly holding him back to avoid slack action in their train.

          "Lily, they just blasted us to our faces, you can't expect me to just sit here and take it!"

          "And who gave them the opportunity to laugh at us? I brought it upon us, both by saying something and by coming along. It was a mistake to come."

          "Aw, come on, don't say that! You know I appreciate your company and your help. You didn't have to do this for me at all."

          She didn't respond, although he felt her nudge him a little from behind to show her appreciation. They trundled on in silence.

          As they approached the summit, Nicholas applied the brakes to stop and perform the mandatory test. He barely got any response.

          "Um...Nicholas, did you notice that?" Lily asked anxiously.

          "Yeah. Those two greaseballs must have closed a brake valve when they were crawling past us. It's not a problem; just add your dynamic brakes to it. We'll use what air we have to complete the stop."

          The idea was sound, but Nicholas had underestimated how dire the situation was. He had no idea that Lilie's engineer had closed the brake valve on the third car out of a train of dozens. Nor did he know that the number of loaded RoadRailers was far greater than three. Even with maximal dynamic braking, the two weren't able to slow their train enough before cresting the hill. With the air brake already engaged, there was nothing more they could do.

          "Gah! No!" Nicholas began to panic as their speed started to rise again.

          "With so little braking power, our shoes will melt before we're even halfway down," Lily surmised grimly. "We have to release the air!"

          "What?! Are you crazy, Lily?!"

          "Better we retain a little bit of braking power for later than waste it all now!"

          It went against his every instinct, but he decided to trust that she was thinking straighter than he was. He steeled himself and tried to focus on everything but the sickening feeling of helpless acceleration that was every engine's worst nightmare.
          Last edited by MP36PH3S; 04-10-2017, 01:42 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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            #35
            Stronger Than Any Coupler: Part 2

            Lily's crew were already venturing back to check the air hose connections on whatever cars they could. It was tough to leap from her rear door to the first RoadRailer, but they managed. After finding nothing wrong, they were faced with the challenge of scaling and crossing the trailer to check the next set of connections.

            "Lily, can you tell how it's going?" he asked in a vain attempt to distract them both. Their speed was already well past the 30MPH limit and was only increasing more rapidly.

            She used her rearview mirrors to observe them. "I can barely see them; they're checking the second car now."

            "How are they going to get down there, let alone check everything? RoadRailers don't have grabirons. There's gotta be a better way."

            Inspiration struck her. "Why don't we apply the brakes? They'd be able to see the if they're working, right?"

            Nicholas didn't dare get his hopes up yet. "One shot is better than none."

            A brief restraint to their acceleration, however minor, was welcome, but when the crew reported that the brakes on that connector set were working, Nicholas swallowed his fear and released the brakes again. The speedometer's progress had been slowed, but never checked, since starting downhill, and it was now reading almost 70.

            "Well, we should be lucky that we passed the sharpest curves and steepest grades before our speed got into the 'double the limit' range."

            "Isn't there still a 35MPH curve at the bottom of the hill? We'll be lucky to get down to twice that speed unless the problem's on one of the next few connector sets."

            They tore past a stopped westbound headed by their archrivals. But for once, David, Larry, Arika, and Tannen weren't laughing or hurling insults.

            "Probably because they're worried they'll get clobbered if we jump the tracks here," Nicholas grumbled to himself. The thought of taking them down with him lifted his spirits for a brief instant, before he was brought back to the present by another request to test the brakes.

            This time, he was rewarded with a "Bingo!" over the radio. The next problem would be reaching the brake valve, to which he could only listen to their crews debate and pray they'd come up with a solution fast. Their speed was creeping up into the high 80s.

            "How are you two doing?" his engineer suddenly asked.

            "Running a bit hot, but I'll be okay. How about you, Lily?"

            "Okay so far." Nicholas could tell from her terse reply that she was suffering worse from the effects of being in full dynamic braking for so long.

            Suddenly, he heard a cry of "Got it!" over the radio, and immediately applied the brakes as hard as he dared. "None too soon. We're only about two miles from the curve, and almost in the triple digits."

            The sensation of the train's acceleration checking, then switching directions was one of the sweetest things he'd ever experienced. The Conrail veteran had to remind himself that he wasn't out of the woods yet: they were still going way too fast to safely negotiate the curve that was fast approaching.

            No words were exchanged between the two of them. All their effort was put into braking as hard as possible to bring their speed back down.

            70. The fateful curve came into sight, framed by a massive sheer rock wall.

            60. The distance had halved.

            50. It was looking dangerously close, but they might be able to make it.

            Then Nicholas let his guard down and braked a little too hard. Instantly, the wheels locked up and the train began to pick up speed again.

            "No, no, no no no!" As quick as his correction was, it took time to travel down the length of the train, and by the time they'd started slowing down again they were almost on top of the curve, entering it at 46MPH.

            All that he could do now was hope his mistake wouldn't make things too much more painful.

            No sooner had his front truck entered the turn than he felt his right wheels start to lighten. Halfway through, and the left front wheels started to slip from the rail.

            "Lily, uncouple us, now!"

            But instead of heeding him, she gave him a push. Miraculously, he cleared the curve just before the rear truck followed his front, and the free front truck somehow steered him away from the cliff face. Nicholas came to a stop, upright and facing back up the line, with a spectacular view of the unfolding destruction.

            Fortunately, barely half the train had even reached the curve by the time the entire consist shuddered to a halt. The RoadRailers had sprawled in a semi-connected mess across the right-of-way, narrowing until it almost looked like they were still railed at the very back of the train. But that wasn't what Nicholas was interested in, dreading the answer to his question as much as he was. The SD40's eyes followed the jagged string of trailers down to the rock face, where several of them had telescoped inside each other, their contents forcefully expelled across the ground and even onto the cliff. From there, only fragments and remains populated the ground down to his plow.

            He felt as though someone had suddenly frozen the oil in his engine block.

            "Lily..."
            ------------ ---------- ------------ ---------- ------------ ---------- ------------ ---------- ------------ ---------- -------------
            Will and Zach had abandoned their train and retrieved a crane the moment news of Nicholas' predicament had broken. While they had faith in their friends, it never hurt to be prepared for the worst.

            Their prudence was rewarded when they received word of the wreck. The twin C40-8s set off, tail-to-tail, hoping what they found wouldn't be too bad. Other engines standing by in the yard also went up, to provide sympathy if nothing else. There really was nothing else to do; derailment had clogged the northbound and eastbound arteries out of Highland Valley.
            ------------ ---------- ------------ ---------- ------------ ---------- ------------ ---------- ------------ ---------- -------------
            That night

            "What a mess," Mr. Edwards grumbled as he surveyed the scene. "Nicholas had better have a damned good explanation for this, and if I hear anything about Lily..."

            A series of orders were suddenly barked by the foreman, and several of the backhoes carefully pried another layer of telescoped trailers off the pile at the base of the rock face.

            "Next one should be the last one we need to move to get her out," he called to Mr. Edwards, who merely nodded.

            "The foreman says this next one is the last," Shawn muttered to the engines assembled downhill of the wreck. At the other end of the blockage, Momoka was relaying the message to those above it. "Remember: Whatever you do, don't let Nicholas see Lily until they get her out." Though they could see a large part of her undercarriage, its relatively-intact state was no indication of how the rest of her might be, especially the frame.

            Another tense twenty minutes passed by until finally enough wreckage had been shifted for everyone assembled to get a clear glimpse at their friend.

            True to their worse suspicions, the undercarriage was no indication of her true state. Though the first telescoped trailer had been removed, there was one under that lay compacted against the upper portions of her body, but it had still carved out a noticeable niche for itself in the steel shell. The left side of her nose was smashed inwards, the cab roof was caved in, and the right side was a myriad of dents and gashes where the poor engine had been struck by the derailing train. What the engines couldn't see was the even-worse deformation of her left side as a result of scraping against the rock wall, then being pounded into it by the derailing RoadRailers.

            "Josiah...how bad is it?" Nicholas asked from behind his friend. Despite appearing largely undamaged, he wasn't cleared to move, let alone under his own power, and was thus roped atop a flatcar at the back of the crowd.

            "Do you want the good news?"

            "...Anything is better than nothing."

            "She's not responding."

            The latter went silent at that, leaving the SD60M to worry in silence alongside everyone else. When the signal was given, Will and Zach dutifully pushed a flatcar forwards, and Lily was gingerly lowered onto it. The ranks of locomotives shuffled out of the way to let the brothers pass. Once both of them had been taken in tow, Shawn and Kerry, also running tail-to-tail, coupled onto the rear of the procession and began to escort it the rest of the way down. The engines downhill of the wreck took up station ahead and behind it, acting as an honor guard for their fallen friends.

            For his part, Mr. Edwards just let out a low chuckle at their behavior before getting into his car. He was always constantly reminded that while they might look like steel machines, their behavior was very much flesh-and-blood.
            ------------ ---------- ------------ ---------- ------------ ---------- ------------ ---------- ------------ ---------- -------------
            It would take until morning for the procession to reach Altoona. There was no better facility in the world to carry out the investigation and repairs.

            Nicholas had been stewing in his own guilt the entire way. While Will and Zach had meant well by making him and Lily face each other, he couldn't bear to look at what was left of her when the blame fell so heavily on his wheels. Especially not when it looked so hollow and empty.

            "How can I ever face her again after today?"

            Yet, for all his dread of her waking up, he refused to accept she was gone.

            The two Dash 8s dropped them off at the entrance to the shops, but didn't depart. While not all the diesels followed their example, many of the Highland Valley engines remained behind. Not a word was said for a while - nothing needed to be said. Their company was enough reminder to each other that they were united in their loss.
            Last edited by MP36PH3S; 04-10-2017, 01:44 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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