The First Mag Train Out of Cleveland

I highly doubt that there is a single person alive who can stand train stations. They’re grimy, crowded, disgusting places that always seem to attract the least likable people on the planet. You’d think that they’d get better as train technology improved. If anything, they’ve gotten worse. For crying out loud, it’s 2068! Is it too much to ask to be able to get across the country without having to sit in a urine-stained seat?

I know what you’re going to say, why don’t you just take a plane? The answer to that question is simple: airplanes suck. Now, my hatred for train stations wouldn’t be that bad if I was an accountant or garbage woman or something like that. But, being the dumbass that I am, I chose a career path that forces me to take the train every goddamn week.

I can’t say a lot about my job, other than the fact that it pays well and that the things I do aren’t exactly legal. Said illegal activities range from petty theft, to surveillance, to the occasional cold-blooded murder. Before you try and say some moralizing bullcrap about how murder is wrong, let me remind you of one very important detail: it pays really well.

A lot of people have told me that I’m too abrasive. I don’t disagree. In my defense, I have one hell of an excuse. My childhood was a bit rough. I didn’t have a lot of friends as a kid, and the ones I did have weren’t exactly model citizens. I spent most of my youth in and out of various correctional facilities because of my poor choice in friends.

Keep in mind, I’m not saying this out of some misguided attempt to arouse sympathy. I know that I’m a piece of shit. The difference between me and truly unbearable people is the fact that I admit it.

Back in February, an unmarked package arrived in my mailbox. I opened it and revealed a small box in the shape of a heart, with a note attached reading From Your Secret Admirer. Most people, I imagine, would be thrilled to have a secret admirer send them a box of chocolate. Not me. I’m smart enough to know that I’m not the type of person people send chocolates to.

I dumped the chocolates on my table and started unwrapping them, searching for anything that seemed out of place. I opened a chocolate labeled Raspberry Cream and found a quarter sized Memory Drive. I sighed before plugging the Drive into a port located in the nape of my neck.

I’ve never been very fond of Memory Drives. Don’t get me wrong, I get the appeal. Being able to download memories straight into your brain is cool. I just don’t like having other people’s thoughts in my head. Add in the risk of corrupted data and the fact that the memories disappear if you don’t leave the Drive in for long enough and you have a piece of technology that I’d rather not mess with. Unfortunately, my employers don’t share my sentiment and refuse to send me instructions through any method other than Memory Drives.

The second the Drive connected, a flood of memories overwhelmed my senses. A flashback bubbled to the forefront of my mind, one belonging to the man who created the Memory Drive. In the flashback, I was sitting in a dark room, staring at a mirror and smoking a cigar.

“Fatima, I need you to get something for me,” I remembered saying in a voice that was not my own. “A few days ago, I sent Tammy to get a Memory Drive from a guy in Boston. She didn’t make it back in one piece. Some guys jumped her, tried to take the Drive. Ended up stabbing her a few times.”

“Fortunately, they didn’t end up getting their hands on the Drive. Turns out, Tammy got off the train while it was stopped in Cleveland and hid it somewhere in the train station by the harbor. Your job is simple: find the Drive and bring it to LA. You’ll be paid the usual amount. We don’t know where the Drive is hidden. Tammy died before she could tell us where. The only clue she left was a note with your name written on it.”

The flashback me reached into my pocket and pulled out a green scrap of paper with F4TEMA written in blood. “If you find the Drive, don’t use it,” the flashback man said. “The memories stored on it are confidential.”

The flashback ended and I found myself back in my apartment, standing over the pile of unwrapped chocolate. I groaned. Having to face off with remorseless killers is bad enough, but having to do it while searching a train station? Absolutely horrible.

I knew the knowledge I gained from the Drive would disappear from my mind the second I removed the Drive, so I pulled out my notebook and wrote detailed notes on the flashback. After removing the Drive, smashing it with a hammer, and studying my notes, I made my way to the train station.

As I stepped out of the cab, a frigid wind came in from the river. I shivered and cursed myself for forgetting my gloves. I walked into a convenience store located near the platform to get warm. “Do you sell gloves?” I asked the store clerk, a pimply teenager with a glazed look in his eyes.

“We sell hats,” he replied.

“I need gloves.”

“We don’t sell gloves. Do you want a hat?”

I sighed. “Fine,” I said before placing a bill on the counter.

“We don’t keep the hats here,” the clerk said. “You need to check by the snack foods.”

I rolled my eyes and grabbed a black stocking cap and a bag of chips. “We have a special on Joyful Memory Drives if you want to purchase one,” the clerk said as I pulled the hat over my head. “Perfect for falling into a happier world over the course of a long ride.”

“Not my cup of tea,” I said as I shoved my way out of the store. I’ve seen people fall deep into the pit of madness as they fill their minds with the memories of others and have no desire to follow them down that path.

I shoved my way out of the store. A shady young guy wearing a trench coat stood by the door with his hands in his pockets. “Overhead that guy trying to sell you some Drives,” he said. “Probably hiked the prices on them up to make a quick buck.”

He opened up his coat, revealing a variety of Drives. “I’ve got all kinds of Drives, way cheaper than the ones that guy was selling,” he said.

I grabbed one of the Drives from his coat and looked at it. “Looking to buy?” he asked.

I kicked him in the stomach and he fell to his knees. “What the hell?” he shouted.

I held the Drive in front of his eyes. “See this crack?” I said while pointing to a small crack in the middle of the Drive. “That means that the Drive is broken. If I were to plug this into my brain, it would give me a stroke. The question is, are you an attempted murderer or just a moron?”

He didn’t respond so I kicked him in the face, knocking him out. I pocketed the broken Drive and made my way into the station. Dozens of people stood in various lines, waiting to purchase tickets. I groaned and got into line. After ten minutes of waiting, I noticed a wall covered in lockers. I double-checked my notes. My employer thought that Tammy had written down my name with her dying breath. She hadn’t. My name is Fatima, but she wrote F4TEMA, with a 4 instead of an A. I realized that the note must have been some sort of code and walked over to the lockers.

There were six rows of lockers, each labeled with a letter. The lock on the fourth locker in row F was broken open. Inside, the locker was empty. I muttered a few curse words. Then I stopped myself. I’d worked with Tammy before and knew for a fact that she was smarter than this.

I looked over my notes again. Tammy had written F4TEMA, not Fatima or F4TIMA. She’d included an E in my name. Tammy was the most anal person I’d ever met. She wouldn’t misspell something unless she had a reason.

In my mind, I separated her writing into two distinct words, F4TE and MA. Fate & Ma. That’s when it clicked. The last time I saw Tammy, we were sent to kidnap the mother of Fate Chambers, an important politician that our employer disliked. Mrs. Chambers tried to get away from us by hiding in a bathroom stall. We shot her in the legs and threw her in the trunk of Tammy’s car.

I rushed to the women’s restroom and kicked open the door of the fourth stall from the door. Fortunately, it wasn’t occupied. I gagged as I lifted the porcelain lid off the toilet’s tank. A plastic bag containing the Memory Drive was tapped to the bottom of it. I grabbed the Drive and plugged it in.

I know what you’re going to say, didn’t your employer tell you that the Drive contained confidential information? You’re right, of course, but here’s the thing: I don’t care. The people after the Drive were willing to kill Tammy to get their hands on its contents. I needed all the info I could get.

After removing the Drive, I checked my notebook. The notes I’d written were a sloppy mess covering the page, barely legible. METEORITE DUST = CANDY. DANGEROUS. LOCATION ON DRIVE.

These notes weren’t my style. Normally, when I write notes on flashbacks, they’re incredibly detailed and in depth. But these notes were rushed. I wondered for a moment why I’d written the notes so quickly. My question was answered by an announcement blaring over the train station’s speakers. “The Mag-Train for Los Angeles from Platform Nine will be leaving shortly,” a computer-generated voice said.

I shoved the Memory Drive inside my hat and ran back to the ticket line. “What are you doing?” a woman asked as I returned to my place in the line.

“Getting in line to buy a ticket,” I replied.

“This is the middle of the line.”

“I left for a minute to go to the bathroom, but I’m back now.”

“I don’t care. Go to the back of the line.”

I grumbled some curse words under my breath as I walked back to the end of the line. Best to avoid making a scene, at least until I deliver the Drive to my employer in Los Angeles. I waited in the cold, at the end of the line, to get my ticket. After grabbing the ticket, I walked to the line to board the train. Once again, I ended up at the very end of a very long line.

The second to last person in line was a middle-aged woman carrying far more boxes than she could handle, wrapped packages sticking out from her arms like quills on a porcupine. “The bag I was carrying these presents in snapped while I was waiting for the train. Just awful luck, absolutely awful luck,” she said.

“Neat,” I said.

“Not to be a bother, could you give me a hand?” the package woman asked.

“I could,” I said.

“Oh, thank you so much, I don’t know how I could carry all of these without your help.”

“Nor do I.”

We both stood there for a moment. I made no effort to move closer to her or take any of her packages. The package women chuckled shyly, one of those chuckles people do when they don’t know what to say. “So, about helping me carry these packages…” she said, trailing off at the end.

I didn’t say anything. After twenty seconds of this, a whistle rang out and people began boarding the train. “Oh, that’s the boarding whistle,” package lady said.

“Yep,” I said as I walked around her and boarded the train. She tried to follow but tripped, spreading out her pile of packages over the ground.

“Oh dear, aren’t I a klutz?” package lady said as she tried to gather up her boxes.

I sighed and grabbed a few boxes, shoving them into her arms, before running to catch the train. I made my way to my seat, a window seat in the mid-cost section of the train, which featured three seats on either side of the aisle. Five minutes after boarding, neither the person in the middle seat nor the person in the aisle had arrived, leading me to believe that I would have a calm, comfortable train ride.

Then the woman with the packages plopped down next to me and my hopes were crushed.

“Oh jeez, I barely made it on before the train pulled out of the station,” she said as she sat her boxes down on the middle seat. “That was a close one, wasn’t it?”

“Uh-huh,” I said, looking out the window at the dull grey train station.

“I don’t hold you leaving me back there against you or anything. I get it, you have places to be, no reason to make yourself late for my sake,” she said cheerfully. “I’m Harriet, by the way.”

I paused for a moment before saying anything. “Fatima,” I finally said.

“What a pretty name. What is that, Italian?”

“Arabic.”

I felt a low rumbling as the electromagnets below the train turned on. From the window I watched as the heavy train lifted several feet of the ground, floating over the metal tracks. “I guess we’re pulling out,” Harriet said. “I’m taking the train all the way to LA, when do you get off?”

I sighed. “LA,” I said.

“Oh goodie, we’ll get plenty of time to properly get to know one another,” Harriet said, leaning past the packages to get a look at my face. “My brother and his family live out there and I’m visiting them. They have seven kids. Seven! Can you believe that?”

“No, it’s unbelievable,” I said while searching through my pockets for my headphones.

“They already had three kids and had the bright idea to try for another, because apparently four kids are just a walk in the park. And what do they get? Quadruplets! It’s crazy, isn’t it?” Harriet continued, apparently oblivious of the fact that I didn’t care. “Anyway, I don’t get out to see them as much as I should. I’m bringing four years of missed birthday and Christmas presents. That’s why I have so many boxes with me.”

“Neat,” I said as I put my headphones in my ears.

“Wow, are those digital headphones? Retro! When are those from, the 2010s?” I ignored Harriet and turned my music on. Harriet finally got the picture and left me alone. She reached into her purse and pulled out a blue Memory Drive. She plugged it into the back of her head and her eyes turned white.

The turbines on the front car spun to life and the train pulled out of the station, flying down the tracks away from Cleveland. I closed my eyes and focused on my music. The Mag-Train slowly but surely moved towards Los Angeles. It made stop after stop as it cut across North America. Never staying in one place for more than a few minutes, but cumulatively enough to make the trip painfully slow.

+++

Halfway through the eighteen-hour journey, I stopped my music and opened my eyes. It was midday and the train was somewhere in Colorado. It was dark and stormy outside. Harriet, my unchosen traveling companion, still had her eyes whited out by the Memory Drive.

I pulled out my notes and looked them over again. METEORITE DUST = CANDY. DANGEROUS. LOCATION ON DRIVE. Gibberish. Absolute gibberish. I pulled the Memory Drive I found in Cleveland out from under my hat and looked it over. It was a small shell of blue plastic covering up technology far outside my understanding, with a rectangular plug on the back to connect to my brain.

I decided to plug it back in and get a better understanding of what information had been so important for someone to kill Tammy for it. I pulled back my short hair, which covered the port on the back of my head.

“Ooh, is that a Memory Drive?” Harriet said. “I just got done going through a Joyful Memory Drive about a beach vacation. What’s that one about?”

“It isn’t a Joyful Memory Drive,” I said quickly.

“Oh, it’s one of those Information Drives. What’s it on?”

“13th-century Polish architecture.”

“Sounds interesting.”

“It isn’t.”

“That’s a shame,” she reached into her purse and pulled out a small metal case. She popped it open, revealing slots to hold Memory Drives. Two of the slots contained blue Memory Drives. Harriet pulled the beach vacation Drive from the back of her head and returned it to the case. “Wanna try one of my Drives instead?”

“Not my cup of tea,” I said.

I pulled myself to my feet and slid past Harriet’s boxes. “Where are you going?” she asked.

“Dining car,” I replied, climbing over Hariet to the central aisle of the train car.

“Good idea, I’m famished.”

“I eat alone.”

I gathered my things and ditched Hariet, making my way to the dining car. I wasn’t hungry, not really, but I needed to stretch my legs. I travelled between several cars to the dining area, a long car filled with booths and tables. The car was deserted, something that, in hindsight, was a bad sign. I sat down, picked up a laminated menu sitting in front of me, and began reading.

“Oh. My. God,” a shrill voice shouted, piercing the relative quiet of the train car. “Fatty? Fatty McFail?”

“No. God, please, no,” I mumbled to myself. The voice was familiar, far too familiar.

I put my menu down in time to see a blonde woman with long legs approaching my table, a wide smile on her face. Without asking, she pulled out the chair across from me and sat down. “What. Are. The odds?” she said, each word grating. “How long has it been, Fatty?”

“Fatima. Fatima Mikhail,” I corrected.

“Oh, don’t tell me you’ve forgotten your nickname, silly,” she said with a laugh. “How long has it been?”

I did some quick math in my head. “Eight years, give or take,” I said.

“God, time flies. How are you doing? I’m doing great. I have this absolutely amazing job. It’s incredible. And the pay. Oh my god, you would not believe how good it pays!”

“Good for you,” I said flatly.

“There I go again, talking about myself. How are you doing? Leg still giving you trouble?”

I sighed. “What do you want, Giselle?” I asked.

The woman with the long legs, Giselle, pouted. “What, can’t I just talk to an old friend who I happened to run into?” she said.

“We aren’t friends. Not anymore.”

“Oh, ever so overdramatic,” Giselle said. “All I want is to make a little small talk to pass the time. So, where are you headed?”

“Salt Lake City,” I lied.

“Business, or pleasure?”

“Business.”

“Funny, me too. What kind of work are you in these days, Fatty?”

“I work as an accountant for a shipping company.”

“Yeah, that sounds more reasonable.”

“More reasonable than what?” I said, narrowing my eyes.

Giselle laughed. “Okay, you’re going to think I’m crazy, but I heard the wildest rumor about you. You remember Kim?” I shook my head. “We went to high school with her. Glasses, messy hair? Whatever. Anyway, I was talking to Kim and she told me the wildest thing. She told me that she’d heard that you’d gotten a job working as a special agent for some black ops agency.”

I froze up for a moment. Giselle started laughing and I joined in. “I know, crazy. Kim’s always been a nutjob,” she said.

“Yeah, that sounds ridiculous,” I said, forcing a smile.

“I mean, let’s be real. What are the odds that both of us would grow up to work for clandestine secret agencies?” Giselle said with a smirk.

The laughter stopped as Giselle stared at me with her icy eyes. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a metal container of peppermints. “Mint?” she asked.

“No,” I said quietly.

“Suit yourself,” she said.

She popped a mint out of the container and crunched down on it before returning the container to her pocket. “You know, it’s funny, I saw the train schedule earlier,” she said in an upbeat voice. “This train isn’t stopping in Salt Lake City.”

I grabbed the butter knife sitting on the table and jabbed it at her throat. Her arm moved like lightning, grabbing me by the wrist and stopping by stab before it could reach her neck. She squeezed, hard, and I dropped the knife. It plunked down onto the table.

“Really, Fatty, trying to kill me with a plastic knife? That’s stupid for a variety of reasons,” she said. “Now, before you try any more stupid ideas, let’s get something clear. I only want to talk.”

She released her grip and I ripped my wrist back. “Let’s get a few things out of the way. A woman named Tammy stole something that was meant for my employers. A Memory Drive. I cornered her at a train station in Cleveland and snapped her neck. But, much to my dismay, she didn’t have the damn thing in her pockets. But she did have something useful: a train ticket with your name written on it,” Giselle said. “I didn’t feel like searching a grungy train station so I let your employers find it, knowing you’d fetch it for me. Now, if you’d like to arrive in Los Angeles with your life, I’d suggest you hand the Drive over. Okay?”

“God, you always were a bitch, weren’t you?” I said.

Giselle’s fake smile disappeared. She sighed. “Okay, fine,” she said. “Let’s do this the hard-“

I kicked the table, sending it forward. Giselle gasped as it struck her in the stomach. I kicked the bottom of the table and it flew up, smacking Giselle squarely in the face. I leapt backwards over the booth and dashed for the door to another car.

“Now, that was a bit rude,” Giselle said.

She was in front of me, twenty feet away, leaning against the door. I glanced back at the booth. The table was overturned, but Giselle was gone. I snapped my head back just in time to see Giselle, now right in front of me, punch me in the throat.

I clutched my throat and fell to my knees. Giselle kicked me in the face, knocking me onto my back. She put her heel down on my throat and glared down at me. “Now then, now that you have that out of your system, where’s the Drive?” she said in a deadly serious voice.

“I don’t have it,” I wheezed. Giselle twisted her heel deeper into my throat. “I checked the locker, locker F4, it was empty!”

“Oh come on, Fatty, I’m not an idiot. I know an obvious clue like that was a red herring,” she said. “You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t have the Drive. You have it, and you’re going to give it to me. Okay?”

“Okay,” I wheezed. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a Memory Drive.

Giselle snatched it from my hand and looked it over. She stepped off my throat and I took a much needed deep breath. I began to crawl away. After getting approximately three feet away, Giselle stomped down on my hand. “This isn’t the drive,” she said, crushing the Drive I took from the Drive peddler between her fingers. “There’s a crack on it, it’s faulty. And, because I know you aren’t as dumb as you look, I know you wouldn’t give your employers a faulty Drive.”

“That’s the one I found in Cleveland.”

Giselle grabbed my hat and ripped it off of my head. A small blue Drive fell out and dropped onto the floor of the dining car. “I thought that hat looked like the ones at the Cleveland train station,” Giselle said.

I pulled myself to my feet and sat down on a booth. I took a deep breath as Giselle looked the Drive over. She tossed it back to me. I caught it and stared at her. “What are you doing?” I asked.

“You tried to fry my brain with a busted Drive. This one looks real, but I wouldn’t put it past you to have tampered with it,” Giselle said. “Plug it in.”

“Plug it in?”

“Plug it into the back of your head. Prove to me that the Drive isn’t faulty.”

I took a deep breath and plugged the Drive into the back of my skull. Memories that weren’t mine flooded into my mind. “So, what do you see?” Giselle asked.

“I see…people finding a meteorite that crashed into a field. Except, it isn’t a normal meteor,” I said. “It’s glowing, it’s covered in these strange crystals.”

Giselle’s eyes lit up. “And, what else do you see?”

“They’re taking the meteorite and they’re grinding it up. They’re mixing it with…baking supplies? What?” I said. “The meteorite, they turned it into candy?”

“What kind of candy?”

I paused for a moment. “Peppermints,” I said.

Giselle ripped the Drive from the back of my head. “Okay, that’s enough Memory Drive time for you,” she said as I clutched my skull.

She placed the Drive in her pocket and walked away. “See you around, Fatty,” she said.

+++

It was the middle of May and we were seventeen. Giselle and I had snuck out of third period English because we were shithead children and that’s what shithead children do. We walked out the backdoor the custodians always forgot to lock and felt the midday sun pound down on us.

“So, where to?” Giselle asked as she walked through the parking lot, me following her like a scared puppy.

“There showing that new movie down at the movie theater. You know the one, it has that one guy from that one sitcom. Could be fun to see it,” I said.

Giselle rolled her eyes. “Really, Fatty, that’s the best you can come up with?” she said. “Yeah, let’s go watch a PG-13 movie in the middle of the day. Aren’t we baddasses?”

“It was just a suggestion,” I muttered.

“Yeah? Well, it was a dumb suggestion. Don’t worry, I know how we can have fun.”

Giselle stopped in front of a nice black sports car sitting in a section of the parking lot marked off by blue paint. A nearby sign denoted the area as Faculty Parking. I recognized the car as one belonging to the principal.

“Do me a favor and unlock the doors,” Giselle said, tossing me a hairpin.

I walked over to the front door and began carefully picking the lock. I’d always had nimble fingers. In hindsight, that’s probably why Giselle kept me around for so long. The lock clicked and I pulled the door open. I reached beneath the steering wheel and started messing with wires, disabling the self driving mode and the retina scan for ignition. I sat up and placed my hands on the steering wheel. I flipped a switch and the engine roared to life.

“Took you long enough,” Giselle said, shoving me to the passenger seat. She switched the car into reverse and slammed her foot on the gas pedal, ripping the car out of the parking lot.

Giselle swerved through the streets, zipping in and out of traffic. She passed cars, she drove through red lights, she went thirty miles over the speed limit. And she laughed, and I laughed with her.

+++

I crawled to my feet, clutching my throat. Giselle did a number on me, but I’ve survived worse. She let me live. Maybe because of our history together, maybe because she wanted to keep the possibility of fighting me again alive. I don’t know which.

I pressed a button and the doors between cars slid open. I left the dining car, running back to my seat as fast as my injuries and the doors in the way allowed. I knew I didn’t have long before Giselle saw through my ruse.

Harriet was where I’d left her, sitting in her seat next to a tower of boxes. She was eating a bag of chocolate covered pretzels and checking her email. She waved at me as soon as I entered the train car. “Fatima, how was your meal?” she asked.

“Harriet, I don’t have long and I need you to listen-”

“Oh, of course,” she said, standing up and stepping out of her seat. “Silly me, blocking you from getting back to your seat. You probably want to have a nap after your meal-”

“Harriet! The case, where is the case!” I shouted. I froze for a moment and glanced around the train car. Fortunately, nearly all the passengers had eyes glazed over by Memory Drives and the remaining conscious passengers didn’t care.

“The case?” Harriet asked.

“The case with the Memory Drives, I need it,” I said quietly.

“Okay, I can get that for you,” Hariet said, digging into her purse for the case. “Not sure why it’s such a big deal, you didn’t want any of my Memory Drives earlier-”

I heard the sound of a door opening and slammed my hand on Harriet’s mouth. “Get back,” I said as the door to the car opened, revealing a very angry Giselle.

Giselle reached into her pocket and pulled out a mint. She popped it in her mouth and swallowed it without chewing. “Oh, you must think you’re so smart,” Giselle said, walking up to me and Harriet.

“I’m not really sure what you mean,” I said, stepping in front of Harriet. “I gave you the drive-

“No. Cut the bullshit,” Giselle snapped. “You gave me a Drive called Pleasant Beach Memories 14.”

“What can I tell you, that’s what I found in Cleveland-”

Giselle moved like lightning. In an instant, she closed the gap between us and struck me in the stomach. Before I could process what was happening, the force of the blow sent me flying backward.

“Why do you have to make everything so difficult,” Giselle said.

Harriet stepped in front of Giselle. “Now, I don’t know what exactly is going on between you two,” she said, “But what you just did was very rude-”

Harriet went silent as Giselle grabbed her by the throat. Giselle threw her to the side without an ounce of effort, sending her crashing into her boxes. The packages tumbled down over Harriet as Giselle walked away.

The automated door slammed behind me as I moved to the corridor separating train cars. I grabbed the handle of a cabinet located on the wall and placed my foot on its door. I pulled with all my might and ripped the metal handle from the cabinet door. The cheap screws that held the handle fell to the ground. I stabbed the handle in the switch panel for the sliding door, short circuiting it.

Giselle slammed headfirst into the doors as she charged after me. Furious, Giselle pounded on the open button. The door stayed shut. I smiled, turned around, and pressed the open button on the opposite door.

Nothing happened. The door stayed shut. I was trapped in a tiny room between two cars with Giselle breathing down my neck. I cursed and frantically searched for a way out. Two walls of the cramped connection area contained broken sliding doors. The other two contained cabinets. The ceiling was covered only by a single light and the floor was covered by a metal panel screwed to the ground.

The automatic doors began to push open and I saw Giselle’s thin fingers begin to slip through. I kicked them and she pulled them back. “That hurt a lot, Fatty,” Giselle said, barely keeping up her facade of civility. “Open the door, now.”

“Yeah, I’d rather not,” I said.

Giselle slammed into the door, trying to force it open. I tore through the cabinets, trying to find something I could use. I spotted a fire extinguisher and an idea began to form in my head. I kneeled down, picked up one of the screws on the ground, and began unscrewing the panel on the floor, using the flat head of the cabinet screw as a screwdriver.

I pried off the floor panel and sat it to the side. Underneath the panel sat the metal coupler holding the cars together. Beneath that, nothing but three feet of air and the long strip of magnets holding the train aloft.

I pulled out the pin holding the two halves of the coupler together. As I ripped it out, it slipped from my fingers and fell down towards the magnets. It immediately shot back up, bounced back by the magnets with all the force of a bullet. Thankfully, it only grazed my cheek.

I grabbed the fire extinguisher and slammed it down on the coupler as hard as I could, desperately trying to break the cars apart. I slammed it down three more times and it still refused to break.

“That isn’t going to work,” Giselle said as she pried the doors open. She stared at me with devilish eyes. I sprayed her with the fire extinguisher.

She pushed through the foam, kicking me in the stomach and pinning me against the wall. As she entered the connection corridor, the broken doors closed behind her, trapping us with one another. I slammed the fire extinguisher down on her knee and she pulled it back in pain.

I swung the fire extinguisher at her head. She intercepted my swing, knocking the fire hydrant from my hands. It fell down between the two cars. Both of us jumped back in time to avoid the fire extinguisher rocketing back up. It crashed into the ceiling of the small room and exploded, dousing both of us in foam.

I used this momentary blindspot to my advantage, lunging forward to grab Giselle. But, like always, she was faster. She grabbed my arms before they could touch her. Giselle swung me up, banging me on the ceiling. I fell down onto her and she threw me over her shoulders, slamming me into the door we entered from.

Giselle leaped forward, stepping over the coupler and turning to face me. “You can’t beat me,” she said with a smirk.

“Don’t have to,” I said, panting.

I jumped, landing on the coupler. The coupler snapped under my weight as the magnets launched my leg upward. I kneed Giselle in the face as the train cars split apart.

In a moment, the front cars, with me in tow, pulled ahead, leaving Giselle behind on the cut cars. I grabbed the cabinets to keep from falling onto the tracks and watched as Giselle turned smaller and smaller.

She shouted something, I’m not sure what. She was far away and I was barely conscious.

+++

The principal’s car slammed to a stop in front of a run down house on the edge of town. The windows were cracked and the lawn was overgrown. A couple of men in their twenties sat on the front porch, staring off into space. “Where are we,” I asked.

Giselle rolled her eyes. “You worry too much,” she said.

A knuckle rapped on my window and I flinched, sliding back in my seat. A thin man with a long beard and bags under his eyes stared at me.

“Relax, Fatty, these guys are cool,” Giselle said as she climbed out of the car. “Dave, go get Mickey.”

The bearded man grunted and walked away. Giselle followed him and I reluctantly followed her. She walked past the dazed men and stepped through a screen door into the dilapidated house.

We sat down on a dirty couch in a dark room, waiting for Giselle’s friend Mickey. After what felt like an eternity, he walked in. He had a shaved head, thick glasses, and a smile that sent a shiver down my spine.

“Giselle, baby, so nice to see you,” Mickey said, planting a kiss on Giselle’s cheek. He glanced at me. “Who’s this…person?”

“This is Fatty McFail, she’s a classmate of mine. She helped me with that lock on Old Lady Glennson’s house, remember?” Giselle said. “Enough about her. Do you have the good stuff?”

Mickey laughed. “Do I have the good stuff?” he asked sarcastically. He pulled a plastic box from his pocket and threw it down on the coffee table. “Yeah, I got the good stuff.”

Giselle opened the case to reveal several shiny new Memory Drives. “What are they?” I asked.

“They’re Memory Drives, dumbass,” Giselle said.

“Specifically, rejected Drives that a buddy of mine nabbed from the factory,” Mickey said.

“Defective?”

“Don’t worry, you’ll be fine. These ones were rejected for being too strong, for giving way too powerful visions,” Mickey said with a crooked smile.

“Come on, Fatty, don’t be a coward,” Giselle said. She grabbed a random Drive and stuck it into the back of her head. The second it connected, her limbs went limp and her eyes rolled back in her head.

Timidly, I picked up a Drive and plugged it into the back of my head. What I saw was…intense. Visceral. Violent. Memories of war and slaughter and combat. Memories that were burned into my mind as if the Drive was a red hot branding iron.

I vomited and ripped the Drive out. “Ew, what the fuck, Fatty?” Giselle said, removing her own Drive. “Jesus, now this place smells even more awful!”

I just sat there, shaking in terror. “Probably should have warned you, that one can be a bit much the first time,” Mickey said. He picked up another Drive and offered it to me. “Here, try this one.”

“No, I’m not doing that again,” I said.

“Come on, try it,” Mickey said. He gently placed the Drive down in the palm of my hand.

“For fucks sake, Fatty stop being a little bitch and try out the Drive,” Giselle said.

“Okay,” I whispered. Slowly, I plugged the Drive into the back of my skull.

And I saw light. I felt joy. Memories of another life, a happy life with loving parents and kind friends and a cute dog named Fido flooded my mind. It wasn’t real, it was someone else’s memories, but it felt real. It felt better than real.

+++

I woke up with a splitting headache and a dozen bruises. My hands were zip-tied together and I was lying on the top bunk of a bunk bed. From the looks of it, I was in a sleeping car.

I put my tied wrists around my knee and pulled, snapping the zip-ties. I jumped down, landing on my feet. Only, I didn’t land on my feet. The second I landed my right knee buckled and I fell onto my face.

I rolled over, rubbed my temples and sighed. I attempted to bend my legs. One of them, my left leg, followed my command. The other leg, my right leg, refused to move.

I pulled up my pant leg, revealing a panel on the side of my calf. I flipped it open and held down a button, rebooting my leg’s power system. The reboot worked and my robotic leg, knocked out by the magnets, came back online.

I sat on the bottom bunk and looked around the sleeping car. It was a small but nice room, with two bunks and a small table attached to a wall. One wall held a large window covered by some blinds; I pulled the blinds and looked out.

The train was moving fast through the black night, cutting westward to Los Angeles. I pressed my cheek against the glass, staring down the length of the train. Despite the darkness, it was clear to see. The train was shorter than it had been when it left the station. At that point, the back cars, Giselle in tow, were gone.

I grabbed the sleeping car door and tried to open it. It was locked. I sighed and looked through the peephole into the hallway between rooms. A sole guard stood in front of the door, keeping watch.

I went to the bed, pulled off the bed sheets, and ripped open the mattress. I ripped out a pair of springs and unwound them into straight wires. Using the wires, I picked the door lock. I peered through the peephole and confirmed that the guard hadn’t noticed.

I kicked the door as hard as I could, sending it flying open, knocking the guard over and knocking him out. Quickly, I stepped through the door, bent down, and grabbed the guard by the shoulders. I glanced over to see Hariet standing in the middle of the hallway, dumbstruck.

“Do me a favor and pretend you didn’t see anything,” I said as I dragged the guard into the small room.

Hariet ran after me, ripping the door open as it closed behind me. “What on earth is going on?” Hariet shouted.

“Keep your voice down,” I said, searching through the guard’s pockets. I found a stun gun attached to his belt and pocketed it.

“I just want to know what all this madness is,” Hariet said. “You seemed like an ordinary person, one I admittedly hoped to befriend. But then that mean woman with the long legs showed up, and she beat me up, and she beat you up, and the train cars got cut, and the train security locked you in here because apparently you were responsible-”

“This doesn’t concern you, Hariet,” I said flatly.

“I disagree,” Hariet said forcefully, rubbing her throat. “That woman attacked me too. Plus, she destroyed half of my packages.”

“She attacked you because you were near me,” I said.

“And why did she attack you?”

I sighed. “I have something she wants,” I said.

“You mean this?” Hariet said as she pulled the Memory Drive case from her pocket and popped it open.

I snatched one of the drives from the case and put it in my pocket. “I noticed, while you were asleep, my Beach Memories Drive didn’t have any Beach Memories on it,” Hariet said.

“What did you see?” I asked.

“I don’t know, I pulled it out as soon as I realized it wasn’t the right Drive. When did you do the switch?”

“When I was going to the dining car. You held the case open for me, I shoved past you. That’s when I swapped my Drive for one of yours.”

“Why?”

“I knew that there were people hunting me, people who I couldn’t allow to take that Drive.”

“People like the woman who attacked me?”

“Yeah, people like her.”

Harriet sat down on the bed. “When she confronted you, there was real hate in her eyes. You two knew each other before you got on this train, didn’t you?” Hariet asked.

I sighed and sat next to her. “Yeah, I know her. Her name’s Giselle, I went to high school with her,” I said.

“Were you friends?”

“No. Yes. I don’t know. I thought we were friends, at the time. Looking back, I know she was just using me. But it was nice, you know? Having a friend, even a fake one,” I said, rubbing my forehead. “Whatever. She was on the back half of the train, so she isn’t a problem right now.”

“What about when the train reconnects?” Hariet asked.

I blinked. “When the train does what?” I asked.

“Reconnects. It took them some time to get the back half going again, but it’s chasing after the front cars pretty fast. They said over the PA that they’re going to reconnect the train when we stop in Albuquerque,” Hariet said.

“No, no no no no no!” I said. “Giselle won’t stop until she gets the Drive. I need to get off this train. When’s the next stop?”

“Albuquerque.”

“Of course it is,” I said. I slammed my fists down on my thighs in anger. My right leg made a distinctive bong sound as my knuckles connected.

“Is your leg okay?” Hariet asked.

“It’s fine,” I said, pulling up my pant leg to reveal my metal calf.

“Oh my, what happened?” Hariet asked.

“An accident, when I was in high school,” I said. “I did some dumb things, hung out with the wrong people, hurt myself.”

An idea popped into my mind. I opened the panel on my calf and placed the Memory Drive next to the reset button. It was tight, but I managed to close the panel. I smiled. “Giselle won’t look there,” I said.

“What’s so special about this drive, anyway?” Hariet asked.

I shrugged. “Hell if I know,” I said.

“You me, you’re risking your life for that thing and you don’t even know what’s on it?” Hariet asked.

“I’m risking my life because I get paid,” I said. “Besides, learning the information on that Drive would take time, time I don’t have. Concentrating on a Memory Drive hard enough to write the information down would leave me open to attack.”

“I can protect you,” Hariet said.

I stared at her. “Are you sure?” I asked. Hariet nodded. “Why?”

“Because you helped me pick up my packages when I dropped them.”

+++

The lights in the jail cell were so bright it hurt. The bench was hard and cold and the toilet in the corner smelled like death. A few drunks and petty thieves sat in other cells, but I had that one all to myself. I could hear the conversation my grandfather was having with the patrolman who brought me in from the other side of the door to the cell block. Not clearly enough to quote exactly, but enough to get the gist of it. Stolen car…rejected drives…juvenile delinquent…no more chances…

Giselle wasn’t with me. She never was, when I got caught. She was smart, in that way. Always knew when things were going to turn to shit. I never ratted on her. I don’t know, looking back, if that was a conscious choice of loyalty or if I just never thought to tell anyone.

A policewoman unlocked the cell and brought me to the lobby, where my grandfather waited, rage in his eyes. He said nothing as the cops returned my belongings. He stayed silent as he walked me to the car and began to drive home.

“This can’t keep happening,” he finally said.

I didn’t say anything. After a few moments of silence, he slammed his foot on the brake pedal, bringing the car to a stop in the middle of the street. “This isn’t a game!” he shouted. “You keep doing this and you’re going to get hurt!”

“You’re not my dad, so stop acting like it,” I said. I opened the door and walked out onto the road. Cars behind my grandfather honked their horns at him as I disappeared into the night.

I pulled out my cell phone and called Giselle. “I need you to get that Drive for me,” I said.

+++

I lied down on the bed, a notebook in hand. Hariet stood by the locked door, holding the stun gun. “Are you ready?” she asked.

“I’m ready,” I said. I plugged the Drive from Cleveland into the back of my head. Memories flooded through my mind. Strange memories, memories of classified information. My hand worked quickly, writing down everything I saw as I remembered it.

I saw a small farm, late at night. In the memory, I was sitting on a porch, staring at the sky. It was hot; not a dry heat like the desert, the muggy heat of the tropics. The sound of cicadas filled the air.

And then, light. The sky turned bright as a meteor crashed down into the center of a field. In the flashback, I ran into the field of sugarcane. A small crater sat in the center of the field, but no meteorite sat in the crater. The heat of the atmosphere and the force of the impact had pulverized the extraterrestrial stone.

The flashback shifted to a few months later. I was in a kitchen, mixing together sugarcane and mint, creating homemade candy. When the mints were done, I popped one into my mouth. And I felt amazing. It was like lightning was shooting through my body. I felt stronger, faster, smarter. The mints, made with sugar exposed to the meteorite, held within them a strange power.

The flashback shifted once more, and I saw myself burying a large plastic bin filled with the mints in the middle of a field. The location of these mints, held on the Drive, was what Giselle had been after.

In the flashback, I saw myself using the mints to commit crimes. Using their strength for evil. I saw Giselle ambush me and take the mints, then use their power to beat me. I saw Tammy find me and take me to a machine that recorded memories, creating the Drive. And then the flashback ended, because the man whose memories were recorded on the Drive stopped breathing.

I sat up with a jolt. “Are you alright, dear?” Hariet asked, running over to me.

I pulled the Drive out and returned it to its hiding place in my leg. “I’m fine,” I said as the memories faded away. Fortunately, I had detailed notes right in front of me.

“So, what is so special about this Drive that this Giselle woman would kill for it?” Hariet asked.

“Power,” I said. “The power Giselle has been using to beat me within an inch of my life.”

Suddenly, the train came to a stop. The PA came on, announcing that we’d arrived in Albuquerque and that the back half would be arriving in a few minutes.

“Well, that’s my cue to get the hell out of here,” I said.

“Are you sure?” Hariet asked. “It’s just, this Giselle woman found you once. What will you do if she finds you again?”

“Die, I suppose,” I said. “I can’t beat Giselle in a fair fight.”

“What about when you cut the cars?”

“That was different, I was able to use the train to my advantage…”

A plan began to form in my head, a plan to beat Giselle. I shook my head and buried the thought. “No, it’s too risky,” I said. “It’s safer running.”

“Don’t make decisions with your brain, dear. What does your heart say?” Hariet asked, placing a hand on my shoulder.

“It says I want to break Giselle’s stupid face,” I admitted.

“Then, go break her stupif face. Is there anything I can do to help?”

“Give me the stun gun, hide yourself in here, and wait for me to come back,” I said. I pushed the door open and began walking to the back of the train, where my destiny waited.

+++

Every inch of my body burned. It was like my skin had been torn off, rolled in salt, and sewn back on with a rusty needle. I couldn’t move my limbs. No, it was more than that. I couldn’t even feel my limbs, it was like they’d ceased existence.

I felt a finger stroke my cheek. “I wonder, are you even alive?” a familiar voice mused. “I mean, you’re breathing, I can see that, but are you alive? Has the tiny amount of intelligence residing within your fat head finally poofed away?”

Slowly, using all of my remaining strength, I opened my left eye. My vision was dark and blurry, but I was still able to make out the important details. I was in a hospital room, draped in a thin gown, staring at my dead legs. Barely visible in my periphery vision was Giselle, sitting next to the bed.

Giselle leaned over, staring me straight in the face. “Was that just my imagination, or did I see an eye open?” she asked.

I blinked twice and Giselle smiled. “Oh good, you’re not a vegetable,” she said in a sing-songy voice. “It’s no fun talking to someone who can’t understand when you insult them.”

“So, Fatty, I bet you’re wondering what’s going on,” Giselle asked, knowing full well I couldn’t respond. “There was an accident. You know that Drive Mickey gave you, the one that you just wouldn’t shut up about? Turns out it was defective. Gave you a massive stroke. It’s a miracle you’re even alive.”

I tried blinking at Giselle, trying to communicate in some way. She put a finger to her mouth and shushed me. “Listen, Fatty, I don’t really care enough about you to go to the effort of learning morse code,” she said, rolling her eyes. “No hard feelings, but this is the end of our little arrangement. I don’t want to be seen hanging out with someone who shits in a bucket. Okay?”

I didn’t say anything. Giselle sighed. “God, look at you. So helpless, so weak. It’s pathetic, really,” she said without any hint of empathy. I watched as she slowly slid her hand up my throat. Her nails sunk into my skin as she gripped my throat. “It would be so easy, to squeeze out the miniscule spark of life you still have left.”

She removed her hand. “Have a nice life, Fatima,” she said.

I stared at her, helpless, as she walked away. “Oh, by the way,” Giselle said as she opened the door, “I saw your grandfather earlier. He’s not handling this whole stroke thing very well. It’s really shitty, that you’d put him through this.”

With that final insult, Giselle left my life. I didn’t see her again until our fight on the train. I don’t know what she did in between those two events, how she learned to fight, how she got wrapped up in the chaos surrounding the farmer and the mints. I don’t think I’ll ever know.

Slowly, I regained motor function. That image of Giselle’s hand on my throat, the anger over being so weak, it stuck with me, fueling my recovery. I regained full function in my hands and left leg. I learned to fight. I got a high paying job working for very bad people.

And then Giselle came back into my life.

+++

I walked to the connection room where I cut loose the back cars. Several workers stood in the destroyed area, repairing it. Through the open door I could see the tracks. In the distance, I saw the back cars catching up to the front half of the train.

“After the back cars get here, how long will it take for the train to get going again?” I asked.

“Only a few minutes, miss,” one of the workers said. “We pride ourselves on our speed and efficiency.”

“Good,” I said, shoving my way past them.

“Hey, what are you doing?” a worker shouted as I stood at the edge of the broken connection room.

I ignored him and stared out down the tracks. The back cars began to slow as they closed in on the front half of the train. Standing opposite me, at the very front of the back cars, was Giselle. I saw her scowl as she noticed me. I pulled down my eyelid and stuck out my tongue.

I didn’t see how Giselle reacted; presumably, she got mad and screamed something at me. I was already gone, running back into the train. I ran to me and Hariet’s row, jumping over Hariet’s packages, and opened the window.

I stepped out and carefully climbed onto the roof of the train. I didn’t close the window behind me as I reached the roof. I knew Giselle would see it and think I tried to escape her by climbing onto the train; my plan rested on that assumption.

I quickly made preparations for my fight with Giselle. Using bed sheets taken from the sleeping car, I made a rope connecting me to a ventilator located on the train’s roof, a makeshift harness to keep me from getting knocked off. I crouched down, stun gun in hand, and waited. The back cars came to a stop right behind the front cars. I heard shouting as Giselle shoved past the workers. A moment later, I saw her hand grip the roof of the train.

Giselle pulled herself onto the roof and looked down at me. “Did you really think you could escape me by hiding up here?” she asked, approaching me.

“No,” I said, lunging up from my crouched position. I jabbed Giselle in the chest with the stun gun.

She screamed as electricity flooded her body. She swiped at me, trying to knock the stun gun out of my hand. I ducked, dodging her swing. I rose up, uppercutting her with the stun gun and shocking her once more.

Giselle stumbled back, barely able to stand after two shots from the stun gun. Fingers twitching, she reached for her pocket. I kicked her in the stomach with my metal leg, knocking her to the ground. As she slammed onto the roof, she slowly pulled a mint from her pocket and placed it into her mouth.

I jumped forward, trying to land on Giselle. She rolled out of the way. Before I could blink, she was on her feet again, looking at me with her soulless eyes.

She backhanded me with the force of a dozen punches, sending me flying off the side of the train. The stun gun slipped from my fingers as I was knocked off balance. Giselle plucked it from the air and crushed it between her fingers.

As I flew through the air, I felt a tug around my waist. The bedsheet harness held. I swung down, smacking into the side of the train.

Giselle walked to the edge of the roof and grabbed the rope. With a single movement of her hand, she pulled me up. Giselle grabbed me by the throat and slammed me against the roof of the train.

I coughed up blood as Giselle put her foot down on my stomach. “Tell me where the Drive is,” she said.

“No.”

“Fatty, Fatty, Fatty…don’t you realize how pointless this is? I’m better than you. I’ve always been better than you. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, you can do to stop me. Either you tell me now, or you tell me after I break every bone in your body.”

“Eat a dick,” I coughed. Giselle scowled and dug her heels into my stomach.

“Why do you have to make everything so difficult?”

“Because fuck you, that’s why-”

Giselle stomped down on my chest, hard. Then she stomped again. And again. I felt my ribs crack beneath her foot. Stil, I refused to say anything. I knew that I only had to wait a few more seconds, and everything would be alright.

Giselle was so distracted by her anger that she didn’t hear the train’s whistle or the sound of the turbines on the front and back of the train begin to spin up. She didn’t notice as the train, now reconnected, lifted up from the magnetic rail. She did notice when the turbines hit full power, creating a sonic boom as the train shot out from the Albuquerque station, but by then it was too late. The force of hundreds of yards of air slamming into her hit Giselle like a truck, throwing her off of me as the train rocketed away.

Unlike Giselle, I was flat to the ground. I was thrown back, yes, but not to the same extent as Giselle. The harness, made of bedsheets and tied to the ventilator on the roof, kept me from being thrown off the train.

As I stared at the rope, a small tear appeared near the knot. Panicking, I looked back over my shoulder and saw Giselle, holding onto the ankle of my metal leg. She shouted something that was drowned out by the wind.

The tear spread. As the train pulled out of Albuquerque, the harness snapped, sending Giselle and I tumbling down the top of the train. We bounced again and again against the train’s roof as we were pushed to the back of the train.

As we tumbled, Giselle pulled me in closer, grabbing me by the shoulders. She punched me in the face as the world flew by. I ignored the blow and reached for her pockets, hoping to steal a mint.

Gisselle noticed what I was doing. She kicked me in the stomach, separating us. My fingers, hooked into the fabric, tore the pockets open. Dozens of mints flew from Giselle’s pockets, filling the air. She managed to grab a single one; the rest were lost to the New Mexican desert.

I slammed the sole mint I managed to grab into my mouth and swallowed it whole. Instantly, I felt the power. It danced through my body like electricity, making me stronger. Faster. Tougher. Strong enough to fight Giselle.

We fought, as we tumbled. We matched each other blow for blow, punch for punch, kick for kick. Giselle hit my harder than she’d ever hit me before and, for the first time in my life, I broke her stupid pretty face. It was exhilarating, it was therapeutic, it was amazing.

And then we ran out of train. We reached the end of the long line of cars. Giselle reacted first, grabbing the edge of the final car and stopping herself. Judging from the pained look on her face, the strain from such a sudden stop was almost lethal. I wasn’t so lucky. I flew off the end of the train, headed straight for the tracks.

To my surprise, I didn’t hit the tracks. I slowly came to a stop, three feet above the tracks, hanging upside down from my floating metal leg. I was safe.

The train carried on, leaving me behind. For a moment, I thought I had won. Then I saw Giselle running along the top of the final car. The moment she reached the edge, she leaped.

Giselle landed on me, knocking the two of us onto the rail. In the chaos, the two of us rolled off the magnetic rails and into the dark sand next to the tracks. Giselle shoved me off of her and crawled away, panting.

We were both hurt, bad, teetering on the edge of passing out. But the fight wasn’t over, not yet. Giselle crawled to her feet as I attempted to pull myself away from her, right leg dragging in the sand.

Giselle walked in front of me and kicked me in the back of the head, shoving my face into the sand. “You aren’t running away, you’re crawling,” she said, thinking. “You didn’t die when you fell off the train, you floated. And earlier, when you broke the coupler, your leg shot up like a rocket. You have a metal leg, don’t you? A metal leg that was fried by that little bath in electromagnetism.”

I grabbed her ankle, sinking my nails into her flesh. She shook my grasp off and laughed. “God, you just don’t give up,” she said. “I thought I got rid of you years ago, when I pulled my little prank, but here you are. Still in the way, still annoying.”

“What prank?” I mumbled, mouth full of sand.

Giselle laughed. “Oh, I forgot, you never did hear the punchline to that one, did you?” she said.

“What fucking prank?”

“So, you know your little accident? Mickey’s Drive frying your brain and giving you a stroke?”

“You evil bitch.”

“Yeah, I put the Drive in a microwave for 30 seconds before I gave it to you, to see what would happen.”

“Why?” I shouted.

Giselle shrugged. “Because I could. Because it was funny. Because I’d used you all that I could. I don’t know, it was eight years ago,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Besides, it’s not like it did any lasting damage. Excluding the injuries I’ve given to you in the past 24 hours, you’re all good.”

“Not all good,” I said.

“Oh right, the whole leg thing. Wait, hold on, you’re blaming me for that? I gave you a stroke, not an amputation,” Giselle said. “Unless…oh my god, you absolute maniac, you cut off your leg and replaced it with a metal one because your nerves were messed up. That’s insane!”

“Shut up.”

“You know, it’s funny. If it wasn’t for your metal leg, you’d be dead right now. If you think about it, I’m the reason you’re still alive right now,” Giselle said. She stepped onto my back and reached down, grabbing my right ankle. She pulled on my metal leg. “But, enough reminiscing about high school. The talk about your leg helped me figure out where you’ve been hiding the Drive.”

She pulled down my pant leg and opened up the hatch on my calf. The Memory Drive fell out, landing in her palm. “Bingo,” she said.

“That isn’t the Drive you’re looking for,” I said.

“Don’t try and trick me into letting you live. You’ve lost, and there’s nothing you can do to save yourself.”

“Trust me, you don’t want that Drive. You need me, I know-”

“Shut up!” Giselle said, kicking me in the side. “I’m not an idiot. I know that this is the Drive.”

“You don’t know what’s on that Drive-”

Giselle kicked me again. “I can test the Drive, dumbass,” she said. Giselle plugged the Drive into the back of her neck. At first, she smiled. Then her expression turned grim.

Giselle fell over, convulsing. Drool dripped from her mouth as her fingers twitched and her blank eyes stared at the sky. “Magnets fry electrical equipment,” I said, resetting my leg. “The data on that Drive was corrupted the moment I fell from the train.”

I looked down on Giselle. She was hurt, broken, and helpless. I considered killing her. But, after some thought, I decided leaving her for dead in the desert felt more cruel. “See you around, Giselle,” I said as I walked towards town.

+++

I spent a week in the hospital, recovering from my injuries. As soon as I was better, I got on a Mag-Train to Los Angeles. I knew I’d probably be killed by my employers for failing my mission, but I didn’t care. I was tired of running.

As I stepped off the Mag-Train, I was greeted to a familiar face. Harriet was sitting on a bench at the train station, reading a book. She glanced up from her book, saw me, and immediately ran over to me. She gave me a hug so big it almost knocked me over. “I thought you’d died!” she said.

“If you don’t let me go, I will die,” I said, struggling to breathe.

Hariet laughed and loosened her grip. “I was so worried when you didn’t come back. I guess you settled things with your friend?” she asked.

“Yeah, I think I did,” I said.

“That’s good. I’m actually done with my business, too. I’m waiting for a train now, heading home to Cleveland,” she said. “It’s a good thing I ran into you, I have something I need to give you.”

Hariet reached into her purse and pulled out her Memory Drive case. She popped it open and took out a small blue Drive. She offered it to me. “Is that-”

“Yep,” Hariet said, cutting me off. “Swapped the Drives when you were dazed from downloading the candy memories. You aren’t the only one with quick fingers, Fatima.”

“But, why are you giving this to me? This thing is incredibly valuable.”

“I don’t need it. Besides, if I kept it, people like Giselle would come after me.”

I took the Drive from her hand. “Thank you,” I said.

“I can’t fathom why you would do such dangerous work. Have you ever thought of quitting?”

I sighed. “I would, but it pays really well.”

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