Going to Australia

Tatyana Mishel


A woman awoke from an unexpected sleep. She was traveling on an under-ocean train to Australia with her 10-year-old daughter. They shared their compartment with a man in a black hat and loose suit. He looked like a clergyman form the old world. The daughter sat up and stared right at him, bouncing a doll on her lap and swinging her feet within inches from the man's knees. Even she knew that most of these men never left their homes, let alone their countries.

Outside the window, sea membrane flickered in the lights of the train, between catches of violent scenery: a school of fish shredding flesh; flashes of florescent heads, and mutant hammer heads with mangled eyes outside their bodies.

The young girl, Yosta, screamed. Her mother put a hand over her mouth. The cleric bent forward and picked something up from the ground.

"It's true what they said," he forced a smile. "They do survive." He wrapped the cockroach in a handkerchief held it in his hand.

The breaks on the train squealed.

"Thank you," Elena replied. "Rabbi—?"

"No," the man said, extending his hand. "Matthew."

Elena pulled her skirt over her knees and looked at Yosta. "It's a long stop," Elena sighed.

Matthew patted his suit down. Another squeal of the train.

"Is that a dress?" the girl pointed to Matthew.

"Tickets!" The door swung open and a conductor, white haired, from the old days, stood inside the frame. "Tickets." His voice broke. "Tick . . . tickets."

"We already gave them—"

"Tickets. Tickets ti—" A bloom of red was at his throat. Blood. The girl threw her doll at him. He wobbled. Matthew rose. Elena covered her daughter's ears.

"Oh no, not again, not again." She tried not to cry.

"It's okay," Matthew whispered. But it was too late. The conductor's hands were gripped to his throat, blood rushed through his fingers.

Yosta pushed the Emergency button. She'd been through this once before.

Nobody came for a while. With so many false alarms, train personnel had learned to dismiss them—it was either that, or an incident was already in progress. The conductor lay frothing from his nose and ears, some spittle running from his mouth.

"Mommy, make it stop." These incidents always happened around mealtime, everything always happened around mealtime. Or was she just always hungry? They hadn't eaten much since the war ended. Yosta's heart was heavy, so she unzipped her sweater to give it some space.

The officials finally came, men in black and yellow uniforms. They had bellies, brass belts and club sticks. Yosta's mother flipped her hair back and giggled as Matthew tried to explain the events.

"What's for lunch?"

A boy, smaller than Yosta, stood at her side. He held the doll in his arms.

"This has got to be the worst story I've heard yet," the tall officer said to Matthew. The boy ran into the aisle and started singing, loudly and off-key. No one acknowledged him.

"It's going to be a long and lonely night," Elena yawned, pulling the younger, broader-shouldered official closer to her.

"Mother, don't be such a—" the daughter caught herself. Something smelled.

"It's blood," someone whispered. The boy, who was on his knees, looked through a set of legs from outside the cabin. He held up a finger and showed the blood.

The ticket taker still lay in the aisle, under a beige sheet. The boy was climbing all over him, getting blood on his clothes, on the white of his neck.

"Where is this boy's mother?" the shorter, meaner official asked.

"Daddy!" the boy said, standing straight up.

"He's traveling with his father, sir." A new conductor had arrived on the scene—pale cheeks, drawn, head shaved.

"No," Elena cried. Men had been forbidden to travel with families since the end of the last war.

"He's a . . . " the conductor was sweating through his shirt ". . . private diplomat—the father is." He hated lying, but it was the only way. He prayed the boy would stay quiet having been properly bribed with wheels of licorice and tulip candy.

"Where is his father?" one of the officials asked again. At this point the boy, whose name was Pyotr, was pulling the doll away from Yosta.

"He's in a . . . a . . . meeting. Diplomats and governors," the conductor stammered.

"Your name," a cop studied his name tag. "Ivan Petrovich, yes?" This cop had the right accent, must have been from the eastern territories before the merging.

The conductor nodded.

"No one told us there was such a meeting here."

Two police and one clothed man stared at him. The woman tended to the quarreling children. If Ivan told them this was his son, he'd not only lose his job, he could lose his life.


In the caboose of the train, Pyotre's sister hid under the engine warble, as she was told. Her father had given her half a tranquilizer to keep her there. He hated doing it, especially when he saw her lids mast over and the whites of her eyes fill with red tributaries. But Lani was an energetic seven year old, a risk taker. Not good qualities for a mission.

Lani lay on her side, in the fetal position. She wanted to get up but something kept her there. Strange, comforting, seductive, like the dreams she had when she was too tired to run away from the faceless bodies chasing her.

There was a metallic sound and then the door crashed open and footsteps. She swallowed her breathing as she'd been told. A pair of black shoes walked into the car—shiny black shoes—probably one of the musicians who plays in Superior Class. The man started to kick and scuff one foot against the ground. He swore, she could tell by the tone of his voice, not the words, she guessed in English, and the voice was high-pitched. Many of the men had lost their bass vocal from the war's chemical leaks.

Lani watched from the floor as the shoe scraped itself against a metal strip in the floor. There was a tangled mound of pink there: gum. Lani patted her pant pocket—the pack was still there—three more pieces. She covered her mouth and smiled into her hand.

What she didn't know was that the man with the shiny shoes wasn't a man and wasn't a musician. It was Senator Jory Parkenson, the newly appointed wonderstar from the Third District. Parkenson wasn't supposed to be on this train—so she was in disguise, and after passing by a scene with a half-dead ticket taker, she'd headed for the caboose. These last cars were usually for outcasts, depressives and prisoners: not a safe place for a woman. But it was empty, almost, for this trip.

"Shit," she muttered. On the back of her shoe, gum stretched like liquid fingers over the dirty floor. "Shit," she sighed. The world had become a complicated place to navigate.


"It's not the same old world," a wavery soprano voice sang. The Superior car was set up for entertainment, with blue velvet carpeting and white silk head rests. The car was half full. Children were stretched out on empty rows, with coats and blankets over their heads. The window seat passengers pressed their heads against the panes. One man, thin and wearing triangular spectacles, watched the singer. The quartet huddled at one end of the train, where a half dozen seats had been removed to make room for the bands.

Ivan pushed past the violin player and entered Superior. He was in the gray uniform today, which meant he was restricted to serving only the 3rd class passengers. The upper class patrons were protective of their space and were known to throw glasses and pennies at the lower class travelers—staff included. A hand grabbed his arm but Ivan pulled it away. A jolt of voices stung the room: an argument. There was always too much drinking, too many fights.

"Hey!" A woman's voice came with strong fingers gripping his wrist. Ivan swallowed. He had to get to the caboose while Elena was watching Pyotr. The train was approaching the deep sea tunnels, known simply as the Deep. There was something about traveling that far into the sea that was said to cause unusual cases of anxiety. Passengers were warmed of panic attacks; uncontrollable sobbing or laughing, or a spike in libido. As the Deep approached, everyone pretended not to listen for the squeal of the engine, the whoosh of the metallic brakes descending, the descending into the wet belly of the earth.

"Mister!" The woman rose to block him. Her traveling companions—an effeminate man with a tidy mustache, and a red-headed couple—held beers and laughed. The second woman looked up at the ceiling, her hand on her chest.

"Mister, settle a bet for us." Her mascara'd eyes stared him down. In the end, he had to oblige all passengers even if threatened.

"Curtis here says we're at 3,0000 leagues under the sea," she slurred. Her lips were thin with opal sparkled lipstick.

They must be getting close, Ivan reckoned; people's eyes were dilated and their voices were getting higher and more staccato. The conductors were trained, rather barbarically, to deal with all kinds of conditions: ear bleeds, nervous breakdowns, violent outbursts. They largely resorted to tranquilizers, and in worst cases, locking degenerates in the caboose. But even the conductors hated going to the back of the train, and would do anything to avoid it.

"Three thousand? Let me ask for you," Ivan responded, tipping his chin up the aisle. He was four cars away from his daughter.

The musicians' tempo sped up.

"They say the Deep plunges are worse in the winter," the red-headed man said. "Is it true?" His voice almost didn't crack.

"It's the cold water," the delicate man answered, touching the end of a glazed mustache. His eyes stayed focused on the singer. She had yellow hair and wore a dress cut low enough to show a pink crescent of her nipple.

"The water's always cold here, you idiot," snapped the woman in the aisle.

Louder and louder, faster and faster, the music grew discordant and the players swayed with closed eyes and tight chins. A huddle of passengers, cracking their knuckles, formed a circle; another row of professionals in congressional suits started yelling at each other. A confluence of dialects mixed into the music. Ivan saw it as good a time as ever to make a break for it.


Elena tried to sleep as the kids played with Yosta's doll. One black eye lay on the floor like a pebble; threads of torn stitching hung from the arm pits.

The conductor had been removed by the two officials and pronounced dead; Matthew left with them to submit a witness report. Elena wondered who the boy's father was, and hoped the nervous conductor wouldn't use her as a babysitter for too long. Life had become this way: survival was learning to swim through the hold-ups and transports and sudden deaths. Then they were all expected to surface as though nothing had happened, or seek help in private.

Daily life had grown so chaotic that most cities had fast-access therapy fixes. Television shows were called Services, and they were making stars out of psychologists who peddled their coping mechanisms to the public. The latest Administration feared a global emotional shut down. Not good in an election year.

Elena used to call the psychologists. She had electronically contacted one after a short program on post-war survival games. The man's voice sounded like her husband's. It was well-known that civilians were trained by the advertising shrinks to cover the stations and help spread the Administration's philosophies and prescriptives.

The chance of Alexi being alive had turned into a mild obsession for Elena. She twitched throughout her night's sleeps and had grown easily startled. Except when she was in motion on some form of transportation. She and Yosta had embarked on a series of trips. This was the last of a series of six voyages in the past year. They saved the best for last.

Elena's fingernail plucked a run in her stockings. The orange wool stripes in her skirt had pilled. So, she thought through the train's squeal of baritones, he might not be dead after all. That bastard.

The last time she'd seen Alexi, it was eleven years ago, the month before the war. He had been summoned to go in for a physical before entering the service. The two of them had sat up all night writing drafts of letters, Alexi pacing their studio. Elena was eight months pregnant. At the time, pregnancy could relieve a father-to-be from service. A new Movement had evolved that motioned for men to be more a part of family life, The Family Renunciation. Those were the times of Manufactured Compassion—shorter working hours, forced holidays, job shares between spouses. Still, right on its heels came a ruling that forbade children from traveling without their mothers. There was something about female chromosomes that held the tracking liquids better than males. This way it was harder for the young generations to flee the cities. Citizens under 16 were growing increasingly scarce.

Alexi never returned from the first appointment with the Brigade Doctor. He had gone there with a letter signed by neighbors and doctors to verify Elena's pregnancy. Each time Elena called the appointed number she landed in the Call Center Hub for lost connections. She knew better than to go to the police. Two weeks later, a woman called crying and hysterical repeating Alexi's name. She never identified herself and called from an untraceable phone block.

Elena named her daughter a month after her birth. Yosta, after her baby sister who died during infant treatment. Yosta, after the founder of a popular woman's movement to raise families without men. From that day forward she threw away her husband's name, the memories.

After Alexi's disappearance, Elena received a government file once a month that read MISSING in stamped red letters. On the seventh month of the seventh year she was given a new title: DEAD.

Yosta was told she was a moon baby—an artificially inseminated offspring. It was common enough, but the lie seemed to infect Elena with a sharp loneliness. The only living family member she had was her brother, and he lived far away, in the Southern Emerits. He'd moved away in his teens when he witnessed a government enforcer taking a bribe from an escapee. Information of missing persons could ruin a career. People had been killed for simply catching secrets; becoming a witness was like getting a cold, when colds were still fashionable. But secrets, unlike most colds, could be lethal.

The train jerked and shuttered to the moans of the police dogs. They were entering the Deep. Yosta and Pyotre put down the doll and held each other. Elena wasn't scared—she welcomed the rush, the high pitch, a sense of community the fear brought; it made her feel part of something, even if it was panic. She took one of Yosta's sweaty hands and squeezed it. She made herself look out the window at the blue-blackness. Calm, she repeated to herself, calm calm calm calm.

"Mom, you're hurting my hand," Yosta said.

"Yosta, sweetheart, have I ever told you about your father?"

"Dadda Dadda Dadda!" Pyotre let go of Yosta's arms. His eyes were shiny and colorless.

"What's wrong with him?" Elena fidgeted.

The train had passed the high screech phase of the Deep and vibrated to the sounds of screaming, mad singing and waiting. It wasn't good to break down in public. Any sort of public display meant sedation, and nobody ever found out what happened to people after that.

"Shhh," Elena pulled Pyotre into her. "This is the quiet part."

Yosta pressed the doll into him, but he didn't take it. His lips were dark red with blue in the middle and he looked through Elena and Yosta as though there was someone far off whom he recognized. Then he started to scream.

Yosta put her head into her doll and held tight. Elena was proud of her daughter—she knew what to do. Hopefully, Pyotre's diplomat father would save them from too much trouble.

"Dada Dada Dada!" This went on until they passed through the back side of the Deep. When it was over, three guards showed up at their door, restrained Pyotre to the seat and forced a thick syrupy drink down his mouth—a blackberry juice sedative.

Elena held Yosta against her check, like she was sleeping.

"This boy is the son of a diplomat," Elena said to the lead guard.

"A diplomat?" he looked back at the second guard, a short man with no front teeth. "Not after this, he won't be," they laughed in snorts and left, the third guard barking for them to hurry. They had a lot of passengers to deal with.

Now that Elena and Yosta were left alone, there was the question of Yosta's father. Elena hoped Yosta had forgotten it—or that she at least had the courtesy to drop it. But Yosta didn't forget anything, and courtesy was something that belonged to another time.


Back in the caboose, Lani slept in the Senator's lap. The small body's quick little heartbeat strummed against her own, and the contact was strangely relaxing, even sedating. The girl had been discovered at the first screech of the Deep, when she rolled out from underneath the seat. It had startled the Senator to see a child—a girl—relegated to the caboose. Her first impression was that the girl was feral. She still wasn't sure.

The Senator was in the caboose for a couple reasons. One was to have some privacy to come undone; the second was to get rid of any incriminating items still on her.

Neither of the two said a word until they came through the Deep. Then, Lani reached in the Senator's open purse and pulled out a ticket stub from a night the Senator had almost succeeded in forgetting. She could have kissed the girl—it was one of the last remaining pieces of evidence she needed to get rid of before getting off the train. Any sign of having attended a circus might tip off the electorate of a connection to a child—too many senatorial prospects and re-elect candidates had lied about being parents or the partial guardian of children. With the war, extended family had to pitch in, and it was getting harder to find childless adults. For the last two years, politicians could have no offspring and if they were aunts or uncles they had to take a Softheart Test, to check how their emotional wiring was affected by children—and what hidden desires for parenthood lurked in their biology. The Ruling Archives would take no chances.

The Senator had joined Congress with the hopes of keeping politics human. During mid-war time she was one of the early joiners of the Compassion Faction. Six years later, people were mysteriously disappearing, even high officials whose memberships had been thought to be covert. The recent dictum was to disband and infiltrate. That way, at least, they had a chance to avoid dying off and recruiting members.

What's your na—" the Senator turned back on her question. "Would you like a piece of gum?" With all the orphans, you never knew who would follow you home.

The girl nodded her head. She had long uncombed hair, light brown, and she wore a blue-flowered dress with matching bloomers. She looked like the daughter of a dignitary of some sort: a diplomat or an athlete. But something was off—her hair, her unkempt manner. Her bare legs were dirty. She was like someone sleeping off a drunk.

The girl sat up and held her hand out for the gum. The Senator pulled out a piece of toffee instead.

"Oops, no gum—"

"Give it," the girl pleaded. She unwrapped the paper and put it into her mouth. Her teeth were shiny.

"No—" the senator reached for the girl just as she jumped up and stood in the aisle. The senator pulled more things from her purse, one being a news clipping of a former senator, now running for an Archive position. This gentleman was trying to overturn the traveling legislature—the one that said fathers weren't allowed to travel with their children. He was spawning a small but vigorous Free Men movement and had no chance in making the Archive appointment. But she admired him for it. Her mission was to talk him into joining the Compassion Faction infiltrators.

The girl was now on to chewing the toffee.

"Is it okay?" She was sure the toffee was at least a year old. The girl moved in again and slumped at the edge of the bench. The Senator took a brush from her purse and starting brushing the girl's hair.

"No!" the girl jerked away and glided over to the seat across the aisle. She lay down on her stomach and stared at the Senator. Her eyes were getting a little clearer, brighter. The whites were more defined against the light green of her irises. It must've been the Deep, even though she seemed to sleep right through it.

"How old are you?" she couldn't help herself, especially confined to the privacy of the caboose. The girl held up fingers and gave a tilted smile. Like the drunk coming to.

"Four? What a lovely age." The Senator smiled back and looked away.

A commotion kicked up in the car next to the Senator and Lani, and it must've been big because the last car had a buffering divider between it and the rest of the train. The girl thrust her shoulders back and didn't move. The senator thought she heard screams, yells—a protest of some sort. Protests: something that never happened on a train. The last one was five years ago, after the World Games in the Western Territories. The punishment was a bloodbath—and had yielded the unfolding of an increasingly strict governing eye—and it was merciless.

The senator tried to say something to the girl, but her tongue was stuck against her teeth. Her mouth was too dry to speak. She looked at her black pants, the shiny men's shoes and remembered her disguise. She touched the tough fibers of her wig. If an official came back here, she should be spared. The child might get taken away—that would be the worst of it. If they were caught as a pair, anything could happen—depending on the official.

"Get underneath my seat." A rise of screams came through again. "Now!"

The girl's eyes shot open; she did as she was told.


Out the train window, the water was flecked with silver and gold light—a nuclear phosphorescence. It meant they were out of the Deep, at least that's what the Voyager booklet had said. In the last ten years at least one train a year was reported to not have made it. The first time it happened remains a mystery. Even the scientists, government scientists, couldn't explain it. The passengers all died from heart attacks even though there were no oxygen or engine failures. One theory that spread through a Compassion Faction newsgroup came in a photograph of the passengers' faces: bulging eyes, opened mouths and hands held out in front of them, like they were reaching for someone.

A year later, an official indictment blamed a popular terrorist faction who had been the scapegoat of the year. They were attributed with discovering a virus that infected hydro-diesel fuels and strangulated humans into an immediate arrest, like a poison.

Elena knew it was a hoax. Her ex-husband had colleagues who worked for the Inside Archives and had, after a few drinks, let secrets spill. These days, high-security employees were injected with a serum called Pentictonide that could monitor when the body gave up confidential information. It was a variation of the lie detector tests. When a confessor was caught, bile would leak from the body. In five years 10 million people had died from giving up secrets. And triple that number had been terminated for catching secrets. If you were a drinker, and a social one, you didn't have a chance.

Elena pushed her daughter away. The question of Yosta's father was waiting for an answer.

"I don't feel like talking about it now," Elena said. "Anyway, there's nothing to say, I just wondered if you—"

Yosta threw the doll on the floor. Pyotre fell on top of it and started mumbling in a language that wasn't English.

"Pyotre, what are you saying?" Elena asked. Something about the boy was off, that was obvious, but this was still alarming.

"Yosta, what's wrong with him?" Elena's voice rose and with it, panic. "Find out what he knows."

Yosta had had it. The boy was perfectly fine—just scared. Why couldn't her mother see that? She'd become paranoid. Paranoid, forgetful and stupid.

Yosta pushed her mother—caught one of her nub breasts in her hand.

"They gave him too much of that juice," Yosta said, patting his head. "Too much!"

She turned to her mother for help and stopped herself.

"I'm not going to ask you about Papa," she said, returning her attentions to the boy. "There is no Papa." She didn't want to see her mother's smeared orange lips. How could a ten-year-old comfort a grown-up?

"How do you—" Elena stood up, held the handrail and drew circles into the condensation on the window. "Where's Matthew gone off to, I wonder . . . "

The question Yosta really wanted to ask was, Why they were on this trip in the first place? Underwater train travel was risky, and to buy a ticket—for most citizens—said something. Either you were running away from catastrophe, implication, financial ruin or in domestic exile.

The risks were in what happened to people on the trip over. The percentage of people that didn't make it was 20%. Half of those simply didn't survive the trip. The rest stepped onto the platform in some condition of mental deficiency: their minds corrupted by the sedatives or by punishments inflicted from the train guardsmen. At least that's what came out in the papers. However, it was hard to separate fact from fiction these days and the stories of making the journey came from demented transplants that haunted the asylums and kids who arrived in new schools, desperate for stories to tell.

Yosta once overheard a conversation among her mother and some friends. They were discussing the new regime's intention to weed out the "Estranged," a name for the sick, the weak, the incapables, and there were many. Anyone who chanced the train and couldn't make it, well, they didn't want them around anyway. It was a weeding out system; something was at stake for the government with these train trips. But no one ever said what it was, her mother just kept shushing them and saying Yosta's name.

"Is Pyotre going to the caboose now?" Yosta asked.

Elena didn't answer. She was pacing in three step beats and biting a nail, light pink and shiny under the cabin lights. She was always dressed for an elegant occasion no matter what.

"Pyotre!" Yosta shook the boy's head. Spittle ran down the sides of his mouth and a rivulet of blood trickled from a nostril.

"Stop it, " Elena snapped. She knelt down and dabbed Pyotre's face with a handkerchief. "Leave him alone. I promised the porter I'd look after him—now, oh God . . ." her chin quivered. "And his father's a diplomat. Shit."

Yosta never heard her mother swear. The girl's body tightened and a coiling in her stomach settled in like a fist. Helplessness. How could they be so helpless, all the time, never in control of anything, and all the while pretending they were? That was the worst part, the pretending. Yosta touched the wool of her sweater—porous wool, a worn-in softness, purple. And where did thy get the money, she wondered?

"Why are we going to Australia?" Yosta asked.

Elena clicked her nails together and left her breath on the window.


Ivan woke up on the aisle floor. A pool of yellow liquid—thick, viscous-y—was a foot from his head. He wiped his mouth, touched his lips—dry. His head rang and he felt like he was waking from a drugged sleep. There were loud voices. He rolled over to his side and pushed himself up. The couples he'd spoken with earlier were in the melee of people crushed together in tight circles. Out the train windows, a bronze glare. This meant they were probably about an hour from Sydney—or so he was told. Every attendant working this trip was a first-timer on the job, a fact the Meeting heads had relayed with a laugh.

At Ivan's feet, a sweater. He kicked it away and looked down the aisle. A young woman was sprawled to her side, dressed in pink, fluffy as angel food cake. He reached down and was pulled in another direction.

"Conductor! We need your help—"

"Watch out, Tully," it was the effeminate man with the mustache. "He's just coming to—convulsions are part of it."

"What happened?" Ivan pointed to the girl and struggled to his knees. The couple helped him sit down. The din of arguing voices continued to rise and rise while a vision of his grandmother's cakes floated in his mind like a patisserie can-can.

"Sit down!" Someone yelled, at the front where the ruckus was. Ivan's toes hurt. He remembered his kids. His breath accelerated.

"There, there," the woman patted his shoulder. "Harold, put your foot on her neck to hold her down," she yelled. "Crazy bitch," she said to the mustached man. She smelled of lipstick and gin.

There was no way Ivan was going to get to the caboose. Pyotre was with the woman and her daughter—the woman's stability was questionable but the daughter would do.

A dog, a miniature schnauzer, appeared in the aisle under his feet. Bared his teeth.

"Oh there he is," the woman picked up the dog, it bit her, she dropped it.

"Tell that crazy bitch we found her dog." Then she looked at Ivan. "It's up to you to sedate her," she snapped. "Where are the pills, give them to me."

He fumbled with his jacket pocket and remembered: he'd split one and divided it between his children. Pyotre hadn't reacted to his but Lani would be coming out of hers by now. He rubbed the back of his head and turned away from the woman. His head banged with pain. Reaching into his pocket he felt the cloth bag with the pills and pulled it out just enough to count—there were four left out of the distributed twenty.

"Where—" The word plopped from his lips in a dry whisper. Speaking was too much effort. The woman snatched the bag out of his hands and marched away, the mustached man in tow.

"I've got them!" she cried, holding the bag over her head. On her shoulder, a gold caterpillar broach. And a line of buttons down her back. The sweater was on backwards.


"What dwells in the minds of trouble?" Matthew asked Tobias, the younger officer. They were crushed into the officials' icy cabin, the two officers turning coffee cups in their hands. The older, sterner one sat at a desk writing notes. Matthew had learned to make friends with his inquisitors—years ago, before the war. It was necessary. Ever since his wife died, ever since he'd wormed his way through the Northern hemisphere, from one summer seminar to another, the world had taken on a new shimmer. One morning, in Madagascar, he woke to a storm—across the bay, an opening over the ocean and the sunrise. He was so struck by the struggle and plaintive charm of this simple daily act—staggering, hopeful. For one instant on a solitary morning he was reminded of the small glories in a hostile world: the way strangers risked lives and protected each other on a train ride; the wild calla lilies that grew beside the sewer of his last apartment. The deep green calmness of a treacherous sea, all his impossible travel.

Even now, keeping company with the guards—with their thick arms, folded across their chests, the brown lips, numbered neck tattoos—he saw how the younger one turned his wedding ring. The older one—eyes set deep in a pockmarked face—scrawled into a notepad.

"Your wife is lucky," Matthew said to Tobias. Tobias turned to his superior and shrugged.

"The way you turn your ring," Matthew explained, touching the tip of his finger to Tobias's. The casual human touch had gone out of fashion—even handshakes had been replaced with stiff nods. To put a hand on someone's shoulder, even a quick pat on the back, these were acts Matthew risked at opportune moments. It was also a test, a sort of hidden handshake among like minds. Tobias flinched but didn't move his hand. His eyes looked out the deep sea windows. Giant kelp hit the side of the train—it was a wonder they saw it going the speed they were.

"I haven't seen my wife in seven months," Tobias said. "I'm one of the luckier ones." His boss nodded.

"We're done here." The older guard said. "Go."

"How about you?" Matthew asked, standing his ground. There was a scorpion medal on the arm of the older guard's coat—agate tail, coral eyes.

"We'll bring you supper in your cabin," the guard said opening the door. "For the others too." His voice changed from robotic to sullen. "Take him back," he waved to Tobias.

Tobias led Matthew out the door and down the aisle. There were shoes and jackets strewn all over, leftovers from the Deep passage, along with odds and ends that fell out of bags and purses: sticks of gum, lipsticks, wallets, pens. Tobias knelt down and picked up a small spiral notebook.

"The commander lost his wife last year," Tobias said, crouching down. "She was one of the passengers that died in the Transfiterole. Afterwards, he signed up to be a Guard to see what could have happened."

Tobias flipped through the notebook pages like a deck of cards.

Matthew picked up a lipstick and a plastic wallet—orange, shiny—contents of a girl's change purse.

"This is too hard," Matthew said. He rolled out the lipstick. Black with glitters. "This underwater route. It shouldn't be allowed." He drew a line of lipstick on the back of his hand and nudged Tobias. "My color?"

Tobias laughed, showed his receding gums and small teeth, a glimmer in his eyes.

"Look," Tobias pointed to a line in the notebook, This is my last day here. I hope no one finds my art, the purpose. The handwriting was in small block lettering, neat like an architect's. Tobias placed the notebook back on the floor.

"You're not going to—"

"No. Why bother," and he gestured to Matthew to follow him. Away from his boss, Tobias' shoulders dropped, he was a regular guy, going through a job he didn't care for, punching out hours and days until he could return to another friendless place. It was too soon to ask if he was a Subversive. Normally, they dropped clues—Tobias had hinted at some subtle ones: reading the notebook was a normal code for a Uniform. Leaving it behind wasn't. Walking along the aisles this relaxed, ignoring any possibility to berate passengers—not normal.

This car looked like it had been turned upside down. Sweaters, scarves, pinks and greens and blues—dotted the backs of chairs, hand rests and the floor like confetti. A few people had attempted to return to normal conversations, or to sustaining the traveler's blank-eye stare. Strained whispers and shhhh's were also part of the music of people settling back down. A mother clucked at a teenage son who lay with his head on her lap. Out the windows, the water was losing its blackness. And the train lights had stopped blinking. They must be getting closer.


And in the end, ten carloads of passengers arrived and didn't arrive where they'd hoped.

Hope—to even consider such a word put you in a circle of Idiots—idiots, liars and teachers. Every single passenger who bought a ticket on the Underwater knew what they were in for—a passage into a different life, a hopeful ending that redefined Hope and Life in the mid-21st century. But no one ever talked about what that was, really.

Sometimes you can be too tired to bother. Elena had tried a re-incarnation program. She moved cross-hemispheres with her daughter, but they still lived without color, except for the afternoons they traded hand-holding minutes for zoo tickets. The world was growing tighter, smaller—even the Compassion Faction was an evaporating spiral of the worst kind of hope: contemptuous, organized, desperate. The Compassion Congress people who were part of this were given missions to disguise themselves and travel on trains to recruit. They were the Mid-Century Missionaries. But the miscellaneous sub-factions added up to little more than the waving of a blade of grass in the shadow of an erupting volcano. What the passengers would never know what that the Compassion Faction's leader ate a round of bullets for breakfast, just as the train was going into the Deep.

Matthew, a man of an Old World God, gave up his cloak years ago. When he, along with so many other fathers, were forbidden to move through the world with their children—and Matthew lost all of his—he bought his train ticket knowing, really knowing, where it was going. Still, he scoured the antique stores and bought travel books on Australia. Even though the country was rumored to be sinking. "Going to Australia" had come to serve as a double euphemism, a politely accepted form of giving up, a permanent vacation.

Ivan was one of the optimistic martyrs of the time—he took his children on their last trip and signed up to work the train for a large sum of money, even though he knew he'd never see it. After his wife, who had been caught seducing a Congresswoman for her secrets, was carved up and left to bleed to death in their bed, he and his kids started running. If this life was too much for one person, which it was, it was impossible for three.

As for our Senator—two days ago, she got drunk following a high-security session. After hearing what the Congress's next Schema was, she walked straight to a tavern where she downed three scotches and spilled her guts to a stranger. On her way home, she bought the next ticket to Australia. She knew there was no choice unless she wanted to voluntarily hand her life over. There was no more privacy for secrets. No more room to dream.

That stranger had been Tobias. Senator Jory Parkenson had infected him as well. He saw the silver Congressional broach, the scorpion, swinging on her chain, tapping her scotch glass. She had a third secret perched on her lips, but he grabbed her head and kissed her before she gave it up. The third was going to be about the train. But it was too late. And Tobias should have listened, since at this point he had nothing to lose.

That night Tobias talked to his wife through dinner and slept naked with his legs and arms coiled around her body. In the morning his bags were packed, along with a lie: he had an engineer's business trip for a month, in Australia. He left telling himself how beautiful it would be to make a call from the sun-stroked beaches of a giant island. He left telling his wife he would send for her, as she stood with straight arms on the far side of the kitchen, her stone face leaking tears. He left his family by telling himself the same thing Yosta told Pyotre at this very moment—Pyotre, whose eyes were filled with puss and whose mouth foamed with cries for his mother, father, sister—think of the beautiful beaches, the beautiful beaches.

Tatyana Mishel

Tatyana Mishel is a writer, swimmer, trail runner, and a writing coach. This story was written in the lively company of her Greenlake swim team. Tatyana is also the Managing Editor of In Posse Review.