Vanessa barely had time to grab hold of the seat in front, throwing herself into the brace position. The train was suspended in the air, weightless like a leaf in the wind until the carriage smashed into the ground. The carriage flew at speed, scraping at it hit the side of the rail, landing field, dirt flying over the window.
She opened her eyes, not remembering the exact moment she had passed out. Disorientated, she looked around. Fragmented memories made it difficult to remember what had happened, deceleration, flames, impact.
The unmistakable scent of smoke caught her attention, wisps emerging through the vents. Memories flooded like a dam whose walls had broken, the sound of an alarm blaring in her mind. Like a test, the timer had started, and she needed to get moving before it was too late.
Wincing in pain, she tried to block a high-pitched noise so loud it was blinding. She wiped her nose, blood smearing on her arm. Her heightened hearing was a burden when it came to conflict, a torture that could only be controlled by the will and strength of her mind. Unwilling to let it hinder the evacuation, she put it to the back of her mind, moving her attention to the others.
There was an ominous silence; many of the passengers still unconscious. Bags and bodies had been thrown in all directions. She tried to orientate, realising the train had fallen on the side; half the windows buried into the dirt, the other half facing the sky.
Bags had fallen from the overhead lockers, personal belongings scattered throughout. Causalities were inevitable; the impact severe, the train had been travelling with great speed. A distance from the nearest city and community, triaging would be difficult. Help would be hours away, and it wasn’t clear whether the threat had passed – for all she knew, this was just the beginning.
Resting her legs on the edge of the seat below, she checked herself for injuries. Everything still appeared to be attached, no signs worrying bleeding. Laura was unconscious, her body folded awkwardly between her seat and the window. Checking for a pulse, she ascertained Laura was still alive with no visible bleeding. The crash felt intense, the flames a sign they had been attacked, yet it appeared the train had slowed enough to reduce the impact.
She scrambled back to Eric, groaning as pain shot from her lower back. A sharp pain moved through her chest, and upon inspection she realised her stitches had broken, blood lightly soaking her shirt. With a forced breath, she continued.
Moving cautiously between the overturned seats, she reached Eric. A piece of luggage had hit him, his leg becoming trapped under the seat. He pulled hard as he grunted, trying to free himself. She reached down and pushed the bag out of the way. After assessing there was no significant injury, she helped him up.
Mindful of the smoke, she moved on, taking the opportunity to examine the carriage. There was no sign of flames, nor was the damage severe. The government’s paranoia has saved their lives – trains built to withstand an attack. She worried this was the work of the enemy. The tracks had been closed for weeks, and it appeared the military had prematurely assessed the change in risk. There was no way of knowing if the attack was over – time was of the essence.
Worried about what was coming next, Vanessa made her way to the exit as she scanned the bodies, looking for Winters. He groaned as he helped a student up, blood visible on his arm, bruising on the side of his head, a minor injuries in the scheme of things.
Vanessa returned to Laura, examining the awkward position her body had landed. No blood or broken bones; a miracle considering the speed they hit the ground. She attempted to pull Laura up but struggled to take her unconscious weight with the pounding in her head.
“Leave her,” Eric said, “we need to get the door open.” Eric climbed over the seats, making his way to the emergency exit. He groaned as he tried to open it, his neck tensing, face reddening as he increased his efforts. “It’s stuck. It should have opened automatically.”
Resting upon the earth, the exit door opposite was useless. With haste, Vanessa climbed to him, joining his effort to free them from the capsule. Together they pulled with all the strength they could muster.
He sighed, defeated. “It’s useless. It’s not damaged, but there’s another way.” Eric guided her back as he exchanged position. He opened a small, unmarked panel. As he tried to override the lock, she leaned over a chair, attempting to see what was happening outside. The angle of the train obstructed the view; only the sky was visible. “Is there something we can break the windows open with?” he asked as he punched the wall.
Vanessa looked at the panel. The train had not failed them, it had survived the blast, but now they were trapped. She shook her head. “Windows are too thick for that.”
“Out of the way,” Winters said as he climbed over the last chair, pushing Eric out of the way. “You don’t know what you’re doing.” Winters did something right, and it wasn’t long before air rushed inside, the smell of smoke dissipating.
Vanessa pulled herself up out of the carriage, surveilling the area. They had landed in a flat grassy field, piles of fresh dirt uplifted by the train. Nearby was a forest, tall eucalyptus trees towering. Ahead, the track was damaged, parts of the maglev track scattered over the field.
“Something is coming,” she said softly, not wanting the students to overhear. “I’m not sure what, but it sounds like it’s travelling at speed. Maybe an aircraft.” Taking her phone, she held it up, hoping to find a signal. “Phones are blocked,” she said, “must be a signal jammer. You need to get into the drivers’ carriage and turn on the beacon.”
Eric leaned over to the driver’s door, Winters moving to assist. Vanessa climbed out the door, jumping onto the train. She looked into the front compartment; two bodies were slumped against the control panel, a spatter of blood on the window. They had not fared as well, but it was difficult to tell whether or not they were alive.
Vanessa continued, shocked upon witnessing the full extent of the damage. It was a scene of war; the train had been torn in half; carriages that had taken the brunt of the explosion obliterated. The possibility that there were survivors in the last half of the train were slim.
She speculated the explosives had been planted on the track, but it was odd there was no sign of the enemy. The timing of the blast was also questionable; it had detonated after the train had passed over, yet the track ahead was gone; signs there had been two separate blasts. Examining the damage, it seemed the enemy had the fire power to obliterate the train, yet the front carriages remained intact.
Vanessa turned upon hearing faint talking. The students were helping each other out, dazed and confused as they jumped off the train, making their way across empty fields. There were no roads and no buildings nearby. Without a transmission to help, they would be stranded. She considered stopping them from evacuating; it was safer inside, but they had no means to fight an enemy attack. Their best chance was the forest, but there would be too many injured, and something was coming.
Her eyes widened as she sighted a trio of helicopters appearing over the horizon. “Eric!” she yelled, “hurry! We don’t have much time!”
Pushing a student out of the way, she hurried back to the driver’s door. The beacon was their only hope. Years of Agency training felt useless; this scenario offered no escape. The algorithm in her mind suggested defeat.
Inside the carriage, chaos erupted, students had awoken, the smell of smoke causing many to scramble for the exit. Eric strained as he tried to open the door. She joined the effort, but it was fruitless. There was no way in – it had been designed to protect the drivers from terrorists.
“The driver is not conscious. There are enemy helicopters inbound.”
He looked at her, his expression showing his vulnerability. “You should go, hide. I’ll stay here,” he said.
Typical, she thought. He was giving in, staying behind to prevent the enemy from finding her. She had no intention of leaving the students; they either escaped together or succumbed to their fate.
“We need to get changed,” she said.
“You need to go,” he pushed. “They can’t find you.”
“I doubt they have that information to know I’m on the train. Get changed. If there’s a chance to stop them, the only one we’ll have is here, with the students.” Ignoring his disapproving huff, she climbed back to their bags. Then, in a rush, they changed; the sound of the rotors growing. “I didn’t see the other agents. My phone doesn’t work, and there was no one else evacuating.”
Before they made their way out, Eric touched her arm and asked, “is there a way out of this?”
She touched his cheek softly, wishing she could kiss him softly. Instead, in his eyes was a hint of love and despair. It was a difficult prospect that their only option was surrender. “All we can do is try.”
As she pulled herself out of the train, the wind rushed, blowing loose hair across her face. The sound of rotor blades cutting through the air was loud; dust and smoke were whipping up. Shielding her eyes, she jumped into the dirt, Eric following.
Gunfire echoed in the distance; her heart dropped upon hearing the sound. The enemy’s objective was genocide; hiding as a student would not change that.
Blinded by the helicopter downwash, she turned her head, covering her eyes. Eric took hold of her free arm, pulling her away from the train. They were not equipped to defend themselves from a calculated enemy invasion. The military had been instructed to ensure the journey would be safe before their departure. How an attack on this scale had been carried out was puzzling.
A sharp, piercing noise rang in her ear, a bright flash blinding her. Eric gripped her tightly as she stumbled. As they stepped out of the wind – the air clearing, they sighted a rifle. They were surrounded. Like a game of chess, the enemy had put their key pieces into place. It would take a miracle to survive. here…