This is my entry for the November/December TCWG short story competition. It is about 1580 words long.
Wrong Kind of Speed on the Line
Today is the day that the London to Edinburgh Maglev service opens to the public. From city centre to city centre in forty-five minutes, it has been forecast to kill domestic flights between the two cities. The inventors are on board, a husband and wife team who travelled on Shanghai’s maglev and decided that they could do better. The Shanghai train does 268mph in service but can do 311mph. This new train can do 665mph and can probably do 666mph but no one wants to say that just in case religious nuts say it’s the Devil’s train.
Passengers are now boarding the train. I have a seat in First Class, along with other politicians, journalists and anyone prepared to bid for a seat in an online auction, which yielded an average price of £817 a seat for a service that will cost £225 each way. Standard Class passengers just paid the normal fare of £160 and from tomorrow, just like any other intercity train, Advance Saver fares will be available online.
In the seat opposite me is my opposite number in the Commons, Jason Freeman, pps to the shadow transport secretary. We’re the most junior MPs officially on board, though some others may have bought tickets as members of the public. Though we sit on opposite sides of the Commons, Jason and I are friends. It helps that we’re both fairly near the political centre within our respective parties but we share a passion for transport and I think we’d be friends even if we were politically further apart.
The doors have just closed and our 1400 departure time is just about upon us. “Ladies and Gentlemen”, a voice is coming over the tannoy, “we are about to depart. Please fasten your seatbelts until the sign goes off. Acceleration is more rapid than anything you’ll have experienced before.”
The seatbelts are a kind of harness and now the train is leaving the station, I understand why they’re needed. It’s 0-100 in 3 seconds, 100-200 in another 2 seconds and the top speed of 665mph is achieved in a fraction over thirteen seconds. It’s like being fired out of a gun. I understand that deceleration from maximum to zero can take as little as 30 seconds, though in that time the train covers between three and four miles!
Though there are windows, we don’t see anything. The train is in a tunnel for the whole journey. Where possible, it’s cut and cover but where not possible, conventional tunnelling has been made.
I’m reading the “in-flight” magazine. Yes, in effect it does fly. It is suspended by magnets, so it never gets closer than four inches from the tunnel walls. The magazine says this, “The train is a magnet and so is the tunnel. The magnets have the same orientation, so the train is always trying to get away from the tunnel. In fact, the motor is the interaction between the train and the tunnel.”
In fact there are six tunnels. A pair serves the express service to Edinburgh. Another pair serves express services that go directly to Leeds and Newcastle, alternating between the two cities, while a third pair is for the stopping service, with stops at Nottingham and Sheffield, as well as Leeds, Newcastle and Edinburgh. They are already building another set of tunnels to Birmingham, Manchester, where it will split with half going to Liverpool, Dublin and Belfast and the other half going to Glasgow.
We’ve been doing around 660mph for a few minutes now and the seatbelt sign has gone off. Two things are apparent, one that there’s no noise at all from the train and the other that the ride is as smooth as can be imagined.
“So, Jason, it looks like it’s 45 minutes to get plastered! Doesn’t seem to be much to see.” I look at the menu as the refreshments trolley approaches. There is a good selection of alcohol.
Jason replies, “I have brought along my hipflask of Welsh Penderyn Whisky. I think it’s my duty to introduce it to the Scots!” The Welshman grins.
We get our complementary refreshments and buy a bottle of wine to share. I say, “Is this wine strong or is something odd happening in the tunnel?”
Jason looks out of the window and says, “There’s something odd happening. It looks like flecks of light, something from a sci-fi film.”
Indeed, the carriage is getting lighter and lighter as the flecks of light get brighter and brighter. It’s all very strange and all the passengers notice. Then the guard comes on the tannoy and says, “Something strange is happening in the tunnel. The train monitoring equipment says that all systems are working within normal parameters. Whatever the light is, it does not seem to affect the train’s function.”
We’re now approaching the purpose built Edinburgh Maglev Station. The train is slowing quickly, though not anything like as fast as its maximum stopping speed. Instead, unlike the initial acceleration, deceleration is allowed to take some minutes.
Just about everybody on the train has simultaneously asked and exclaimed, “Where’s the official reception? There’s no one on the station!” The station is quite empty. There aren’t even station nameplates up.
The doors have opened and people are getting out. After all, most of the people on the train are in Standard Class and simply wish to travel from London to Edinburgh. We are in Edinburgh, aren’t we? I don’t think we can be anywhere else. Now the VIPs and journalists are also getting out, so I suppose I will too. Maybe the reception party is on ground level.
There is something odd about this place. I can’t say what but somehow it doesn’t feel as if it is Edinburgh, not even Scotland or the United Kingdom. It’s a very odd feeling. Did we crash? Is this the afterlife?
We’ve got to ground level and the lobby of the station is opulent and very attractive, though not decorated as I expected. However, there is a problem. No one’s around and the exits are locked.
Now everyone is out of the train and on ground level. Now there’s an announcement. Someone with a very foreign accent, though his English is good, “Ladies and Gentlemen, please do not panic. The doors are locked for a good reason. You are not on Earth. I would like to welcome you to Hukyu, a planet some 450 light years from Earth. We will shortly come to give you an induction into the ways of our planet and we will then let you out to visit the city of Gon, where this station is located. Please do not be alarmed by our appearance. We are friendly and you will be able to return to Earth.”
It seems that either someone is staging an elaborate practical joke or we really have arrived on another planet.
A door has just opened and the creatures walking in simply must be aliens. Otherwise, this is the most elaborate practical joke in history. I cannot begin to describe the creatures – there’s just nothing on Earth that looks remotely like these things.
The creature that appears to be the leader is now beginning to speak. “You may wonder how you got here. The answer is a fluke. Travelling in a maglev at 663.2mph for precisely 19.6 seconds and then either accelerating or decelerating will initiate entry to hyperspace. Depending on the degree of acceleration or deceleration after the 19.6 seconds at 663.2mph will determine which planet is your destination. Doing it in a maglev leads to your destination being another planet that has developed maglev. You can also do it in an aircraft with a self-generated magnetic bubble around the plane. Then you can visit any planet. We will teach you how to use hyperspace to explore the universe.”
Someone shouts, “Why is it 663.2mph for 19.6seconds?”
“It’s to do with the Universe’s natural frequency and harmonics. As time passes, the frequency changes but it will remain at its current level for at least 50 million years.
“We suggest that as this trip was unplanned, you should spend the afternoon in Gon and return to the station at 6pm for your return to Earth. That gives you three hours in our city and our technicians three hours to programme the right sequence into your maglev train to return it to Earth heading towards Edinburgh. We will also give you an instruction manual on how to explore the Universe by maglev, including the best and worst planets to visit. I just warn you that you’ve luckily come to a friendly civilization. Not all planets have friendly inhabitants. Agronatti is populated by carnivores who lust after exotic meats and, if you land there, you’ll be invited to dinner as the main course!
“Enjoy your visit to Gon and I hope that you’ll visit for holidays in the future. Today, all our traders and attractions will give you their goods and services free within reason.”
The doors are now being opened. It’s a nice sunny day. The sky is a hazy green and the first thing I’m going to do is to try alien food. I just hope that the Hukyuans don’t wish to eat me.
Well, I’m going to stop live blogging now but just one last word, I’ve just been told that the citizens of Gon are known as Gonads! It made me laugh…
© Charles Stuart 2017