April 14th, 2012

I have been on this train for nine years. That’s nine years without seeing my family, without a vacation, without the touch of a woman other than the working girls who operate in the last car between Station 16 and Station 23. (In theory we don’t know they’re there, but how could we not? In practice they’re an alternate stream of income for the conductors and the stationmasters along the way — as well as an outlet for the likes of me.)

What did I expect when I got on? As far as the nature of the work, pretty much like it actually is. You keep things in working order, you keep the cars clean, you deal with the conductors and the engineers and the passengers. Like you’d imagine.

What’s different is the . . . life. I mean, these trains are way bigger than the old days, right? This isn’t the Wild West and the Transcontinental Railroad and Butch Cassidy. It’s not Strangers on a Train or the Orient Express with all the mystery and intrigue. But the technology is way past what any of them could have imagined. I mean, this kind of speed was just impossible, even twenty years ago.

They retrofitted a lot of the cars with the new drives. So I’m not sleeping in a twenty-year-old berth. It’s actually like forty years old, but it might as well be a thousand. Everything is mostly worn out, repaired a bunch of times. I’m talking about the staff cars, obviously — the passenger cars are sharp. The new dining car we got this year — it’s actually pretty amazing. And better food than before, even for us.

But of course I can’t leave, and that makes me think differently about everything. With the dining fabricators, I can have duck l’orange as easy as a cheeseburger, but so what? When you’re confined somewhere, no options, it can still feel like prison, even if it technically isn’t.

The upside is that I can send money home. I eat well. The gym car is good, and I stay pretty fit — although we transported a prisoner a couple of months ago, a guy who’d been in for like 15 years, and he was beyond built. Muscles on top of muscles. I can’t compete with that. Still, he has to call himself “prisoner.” I get to call myself “porter.”

They used to have a thing — I read about it in school — called “indentured servitude.” I looked it up on the computer a while back, because I couldn’t remember the word. (Would you believe I was a good student? I was, though I never paid enough attention. But I hadn’t heard that since I was like fifteen, so I had to look it up.) Anyway, I guess that’s what I am, an indentured servant. It beats being a prisoner. That guy they brought on here, the muscleman, they kept him in chains the whole time. They would have shot him dead if he tried to leave.

If I tried to leave — which I wouldn’t, because I’m not stupid and I don’t want to put my family at risk — they’d just track me down and bring me back. Though I guess at that point they could make me a prisoner, too. Nobody yet has figured out to de-implant the chip they put in your spine. So where are you gonna go?

Anyway, nine years. With however many left to go. It’s not so bad. We actually have some laughs on this train.

I guess I’ll die on here, someday.

Image source.

4 Responses to “Aboard”

  1. Chris Says:

    There are some severe problems with nearly all of video game story and character writing ever created. Part of it is a shocking obliviousness to the fact that game storytelling is deceptively different than traditional non-interactive narrative like movies or books. It should be deceptive to neophytes, but not experts. The other part is that almost all game writing — even the lauded stuff — is just banal, trite pieces of tripe. Put most any of them on paper next to something like this and they would be turn to ash like a vampire in the Sahara sun.

    I know writing for video games wouldn’t really be your bag, but reading something like this just makes me wish writers like you would/could get work writing for video games. Most serious writers would feel like “you should write for video games” is an insult, and that’s my point. Music for games has caught up with the movies, but the writing isn’t even jokingly close. If script writing for games was as good as music is, I think more serious writers would consider it. Alas, catch-22 territory.

    Bristling piece, Tim-bo.

  2. Tim Walker Says:

    Thanks for the kind words, Chris.

  3. Drew S. Says:

    Of course I shouldn’t be at all surprised, but this piece is polished and engaging, written in the style of a seasoned author. I hope you keep at it, Tim, for all of our benefit.

  4. Tim Walker Says:

    Thank you, Drew — I appreciate it.

Leave a Reply