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  • MP36PH3S
    replied
    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.

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  • MP36PH3S
    replied
    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.

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  • MP36PH3S
    replied
    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.

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  • MP36PH3S
    replied
    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.

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  • MP36PH3S
    replied
    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.

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  • MP36PH3S
    replied
    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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  • MP36PH3S
    replied
    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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  • MP36PH3S
    replied
    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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  • MP36PH3S
    replied
    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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  • MP36PH3S
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    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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  • MP36PH3S
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    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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    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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  • MP36PH3S
    replied
    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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  • MP36PH3S
    replied
    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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  • MP36PH3S
    replied
    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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