It was the first day of the week and Dale sat in the first carriage of the train. Even in peak hour, when other carriages resembled the 3:11 to New Delhi, there were always some free seats in the front carriage. Rumour had it that on rare occasion a preoccupied train driver would overshoot a platform by a carriage length and strand front carriage commuters for that stop. Dale had never had that happen to him, but he understood why others might be spooked. Personally, he believed that arriving to work late because your train driver was distracted was a lock for an instantly acceptable excuse. On trips home, however, the risk wasn't as appealing.
The train rounded a gentle corner and through the window he could see the trailing carriages stretching out behind him. Each held probably the same contents as the front carriage: business men and women listening to music on headphones, parents with prams listening to music on headphones, old people listening to music on headphones, high school students listening to music on shared headphones. Ahead of the train, looming high into the blue sky was the jagged row of teeth that was the city's central business district. The whole horizon was made of glass skyscrapers reflecting the cool, early morning light back and forth between them to give the city a glowing white halo.
The morning train service chugged on steadily as the buildings continued to slowly and ominously grow bigger. It was only when the train stopped at a station – the doors of the front carriage perfectly aligned with the platform – that Dale realised they were still becoming bigger even while the train was stationary. It was then the rumbling started, muffled at first but slowly echoing louder and deeper as the distant city began lifting from the ground like a launching mother-ship.
The rumbling started to alarm the other passengers and the lift-off of their destination caused a cascade of interested commuters to cram around the train's windows to stare up at the floating suburb that had broken free of the power lines, water pipes and bitumen that had meekly tethered it to the ground. When they realised it was steadily creeping towards their location the screams started. The still motionless train had its doors pried back open as passengers attempted to flee whatever natural disaster or apocalyptic event had possessed their city. Even the driver had flung open the locked door of the driver's compartment and shoved his way through the crowd to join the stampede.
The vacated driver's compartment offered the best view of the flying city block and Dale walked in and sat in the driver's seat to watch the spectacle. Through the radio the sound of panicked train drivers and confused network operators squawked. Most of the chatter was the same: profanity, prayers and confusion. Only one voice was steady and barking instructions:
"3 and 5 flank on the wing, 4 position centre and trap." They sounded like basketball plays. Then Dale heard a calm voice he had not expected to hear.
"This is 2, altering course for attack trajectory. Watch my back."
Dale picked up the radio transmitter cautiously and held down the button to speak, "Karl?"
"Dale!" said 2, or Karl, "what are you doing on this frequency?"
"I, uhh," Dale stared at the flying city above while he paused to compose a response. Streaking through the air above his head two full length passenger trains snaked through the sky in the direction of the worryingly close behemoth.
"Dale, are you in the driver's seat of a train?" Karl yelled.
"Then quit fucking around, reach down to the floor beneath your seat and press that red button."
Dale followed instructions, found the button and watched as the lights and steering wheel of the train lit up. Dale felt the next steps come to him instinctively: he should accelerate and then pull up. There was a flat pedal on the floor which he pressed and he felt the heavy train shudder as it stirred and began to follow the tracks. A chime sounded and he heard the doors on each carriage slide back shut. Once he had the train up to speed he prepared to take off, pausing only to use the intercom to warn the few passengers who had stayed behind out of fear or engrossing iPhone games that they should hold on to something. Dale pulled the steering wheel down and towards him and felt the wheels of the carriage leave the track and slowly lift into the air. The wheel was shaking violently in his hands but he did not relax his grip. He used all his strength to pull down and closed his eyes. When he opened them he could see the ground below him was shrinking and behind him the carriages of the train trailed like the tail of a kite.
"Dale, fall into formation," said Karl, and the screen on the dashboard indicated the communication had come from the train in front of him that was streaking towards the city. Dale tried to straighten to reduce the drag and pushed the accelerator to catch up with Karl. With the third train they formed a caret with Karl at the tip. Dale could see the shadow of the floating city sweeping over the suburbs below.
"What does it want?" asked Dale into the intercom.
"Cut the chatter," a terse voice, speaker unknown, replied.
The flying city was close now, Dale could see the brand names on the tops of the buildings clearly. The whole thing leaned slightly to one side and what he had thought was colourful dust emanating from the edge of the sheared city blocks was now defined as a salad of vehicles, café tables, garbage bins and humans falling from the tilted angle. The city spun slowly and beams of sunlight reflected from buildings, momentarily blinding Dale. He smelt burning.
"Stay steady, 4," said the terse voice.
"I'm going in," said Karl. His train circled the edge of the city until he picked his gap, then increased speed as it sliced between towers and headed for the heart of the city. At the centre of the buildings the gigantic Compucon Towers glowed bright and Karl seemed to be heading there. With deft skills he passed by the top floors of the building and then banked hard, causing his trailing carriages to swing like a whip and crash through the glass façade of the Towers. A loud groan came from the heart of the city, it sounded like a cry of pain underwater. Dale felt the noise's vibrations in his seat.
The stranger's train made the next pass at the building, flying above the streets and whipping it in the same way. It wasn't as effective as Karl's strike but the noise the city made was even more guttural and sad sounding.
Dale, who had watched the tumbling glass and shrapnel from a distance, shrugged, and darted his train towards the tower to perform the same manoeuvre. The blood rush had made it seem like the right thing to do, but when Dale saw the image of his flying train mirrored in windows of the landscape of skyscrapers, he started having doubts. Dale tried to angle himself in the same way Karl had, and it was only when the Compucon Towers were metres away that Dale realised how amateur a flying train pilot he was and he screamed in a strangely half-hearted manner as the front of his train crashed through the exposed floors and sheared through cubicles, a server room and a kitchenette. He emerged out the other side of the building as his tail of carriages cut through floors and girders with random thrusts comparable to Dwight Howard running with an erection. A piercing shrill started from the heart of the city and Dale clenched his jaw tight to try and stay focused on navigating back out into the clear.
When clear, Dale joined the other two trains and tailed them as they looped back around the city. Karl looked for a new opening, but the punishment had been apparently been enough. The Compucon Tower was collapsing and the flying island began to descend back to earth as gracefully as gigantic piece of earth can fall from the sky. Maps were made redundant.
The dust settled and Dale altered his course to stay with Karl and the stranger, who were now cruising away from the carnage and out over the ocean.
"That was a ballsy move, 4," said the stranger's voice on the intercomm. "What's your name?"
"What the fuck, what the fuck, what the fuck?" said Dale. "What the fuck."
"His name," Karl explained, "is Tuesdale."
"Roger," said the voice. "Stay with me now Tuesdale. This will all make sense soon."
The three trains flew towards the sunrise.