Aridan Moireka hated traveling by train. The inter-city trains were so enclosed and built for nothing but speed. There was nothing special about them, just smooth grey walls, hard grey seats, grey plastic tables that would fold down if you happened to bring a lunch with you. There were no windows; if he didn't know better he would have thought they were traveling underground. Hell, if he didn't know better he would think they were standing still. The ride was smooth and quiet, nothing to suggest just how fast they were passing through the barren countryside. The high speed trains were mostly for commuters. Those few unlucky people who had to travel between cities often. Aridan figured they must get used to it after so many days of being shuttled back and forth by the rocketing trains. Most people tended to stay put in whichever sprawling city had become their home. Nobody traveled by train for the fun of it.
He sighed for the umpteenth time and looked over at Jael in the seat beside him. It never failed to amaze Aridan how his younger brother could sleep absolutely anywhere. He was blissfully unaware of the dullness permeating through the car. He would probably have a major crick in his neck when he woke though, he was sprawled in a way that looked decidedly uncomfortable.
Aridan looked from his brother to the rest of the passengers, hoping to find something interesting to rest his eyes on. A few were attempting sleep, but most were reading or otherwise politely minding their own business. Commuters, as he thought. To them it was probably no less boring, but at least routine. Aw hell, it was routine for him too by then.
Aridan gave up and leaned his head back to stare at the ceiling. Like the rest of the car it was a dull grey. Everything was grey. Even if there were windows there wouldn't be much to see. Just more lifelessness. In this part of the world, there was nothing but the cities. Nothing lived or grew in the spaces between the urban sprawls. There were places he'd seen only in pictures that still had life without crowded cities, but they were too far from him, and not only in terms of distance.
He and Jael were well and firmly stuck in the cities. They were well and firmly stuck in Mackram's employ. He almost snorted aloud at that thought. He couldn't really call it employ, as that term implied there was a choice involved. They were desperate when they joined and were hardly less so now. They worked for him and got in return what any city ring lord with a nasty reputation could give. They were protected. They had gone past the point of turning back long ago. Which was why they were stuck on a grey train speeding through wasted landscape.
Mackram made his business smuggling goods between the inner and outer cities. Now a new imports buyer was encroaching on Mackram's territory in Kenhelm. Aridan and Jael had been called into Mackram's office, tossed a couple train tickets and told to go scare off the competition. So now they were speeding off to that city.
Another ring member had been living in Kenhelm for some time to keep an eye on things and would meet them at the station. Supposedly he had a place for them to hang their hats for the duration of their intimidation. Aridan didn't expect it would be too long, usually just the sight of Mackram's people was enough to scare off most upstarts. Especially if they found out just which of Mackram's underlings had come to do the scaring. The fact that Mackram had magic users working for him was widely known in the underground, though the descriptions of them were confused and often contradictory. And that was precisely how Aridan wanted it to stay. Magic was officially outlawed in the cities. Besides, too many people hated and/or feared magic enough to want to kill any user on sight. He'd just as soon have nobody know what he and his brother were.
A soft jerk made Aridan look from his thoughts to the scrolling display above the door at the end of the car. The name Kenhelm flashed and was followed by the next city the train would speed off to. He stood as the train eased to a stop and reached into the over head compartment for his duffel bag. Jael sat up sleepily and stretched the kinks out of his back.
"Yeah." Aridan laughed at his brother's still sleep hazy expression. "I swear, one of these days I'll find some moving vehicle that you can't fall asleep in."
"Doesn't exist." Jael smiled back, his blue eyes shining.
Most of the city seemed to be as grey as the train car. Bright lines of fluorescent lights streaked along the streets, cutting the dim buildings into thin strips and were the only sources of color to be found. It was only afternoon, but the perpetual fog that hung low to the ground around urban centers kept the cities in eternal twilight. Just as the sun was never seen, the lights never went out. Outer city people were a pale and dingy lot.
The train platform was fairly deserted, just a few grey passengers getting on or off a grey train, on their way to or from some grey job. A couple of raggedy bums sat in a corner, trying not to be noticed. The Kenhelm police would no doubt shoo them off if they happened upon them, but where could they go? Sooner or later the bums would come back. Aridan never understood what good the police thought they were doing by shoving the bums out of one corner, they just went and holed up in another until they were pushed out of that one too. Nothing ever changed, the bums moved around but never left the city altogether, never got a real place to live. Kinda like the two of them, he thought with a mental sigh.
"So where's Mheer?" Jael asked, scanning the few city people left on the platform after the train had sped off to it's next destination.
"Don't see him." Aridan really wasn't in the mood to try to find the guy in the unfamiliar city, so he found a bench on the other side of the station from the bums and got ready to wait. Jael wandered about for a bit, looking out towards the streets occasionally, before he too sat down to wait.
"Well, whenever he gets here, he ought to notice us right away." Jael commented quietly as he sat. "Between the two of us I think we've got more color than this city has seen since the neon lights were brought in."
Aridan had to agree. What had seemed dull back in headquarters was like a beacon drawing attention to them here. Jael was too tall and too blond to blend in with the grayness and mediocrity of the cities. Aridan himself was almost as tall and noticeable. Though his brown hair was regular enough, people seemed to get unnerved when they caught sight of his red-brown eyes. Even more, they both still carried the shine of the inner city with them. Their clothes were simple, but colorful. Just a t-shirt and jeans, but without the pall of from the ever present smog that covered everyone else. And they were too tan. A few days in the summer sun of the inner city and they had lost their outer city pallor.
The outer cities all seemed the same to him. Every street kid in Kenhelm looked like every other one in any outer city. Nothing changed between the urban cesspools and that only made the brothers stand out more. To anyone with any kind of sense or observational powers they could only look like one thing: They were the pampered pet errand boys of some inner city big-shot. Or, he thought with a smile, the big-shot's progeny out slumming.
Aridan gave a mental shrug, they could think that about he and Jael as much as they pleased. They were so far off the mark that didn't matter who they told their impressions to. Anyone looking for the two of them there based on that analysis wasn't ever going to find them.