Author's note: I'm trying something new, specifically writing a story in the style of an anime. Since Manga is the closest category available, I'm putting it here. By "in the style of an anime" I mean for it to read like you're watching it, hence the present tense narration and focus on description instead of traditional prose, along with the expectation that the reader goes with the flow until things eventually get explained in context. Please consider each "Part" to be an episode. Hopefully you can enjoy it. Opinions, be they positive, negative, ambivalent, or otherwise, are always welcome by way of reviews.
A train consisting of dozens of cars, passenger cars sporting twin decks of two windows each, flatcars strapped down with heavy machinery, and a few seemingly randomly inter-spaced boxcars (one immediately following a conspicuously vacant flatcar), flashes by at impressive speed through an otherwise vacant and relatively cramped alpine valley. Steep, snow coated slopes rise to either side of the curving tracks, marked only by occasional bare outcroppings of rock, always bearing long icicles defiantly reflecting the sun's impotent rays on their undersides, and somewhat more rare scrubby bushes and scrubby weeds clinging to life in the frigid climate. If one blinks at just the right time, they might catch a glimpse of a human figure striding atop one or two of the train cars. But only if they blink at just the right instant. Otherwise everything about the train is little more than a blur.
Unless one happens to be aboard.
Somewhere on that train is a car that, on the outside, looks like just another passenger car. Fifty meters long, six meters high, and two levels of windows each one meter long and wide, each one meter apart. But on the inside, it's something different. Instead of being filled with two decks of bunks or cramped kitchens or dining areas, like many others, this one is comprised of a single open air level with a relatively luxuriously high ceiling, the upper deck windows almost acting as skylights. On the sides of the central walkway, a full meter wide in this car, at least, are a small group of widely spaced booths. Only two are currently occupied.
In one booth there is a broad and burly chested man wearing an old fashioned suit (pants, jacket, vest, and even an top hat) sitting across from a pair of only slightly more modestly dressed men, meaning their suits don't include vests and their hats are notably shorter than that of their clear host. Both of them seem to be carrying a few extra pounds, which means that they're a bit cramped sharing the same side of the booth, but they seem to be deliberately suffering their situations.
A few booths down, there is a very different sight. Two men, both of young appearance and wrapped to the shoulders in simple brown cloaks. One has straight red hair hanging a bit down from the top his head, about halfway down his ears with the sides buzzed short and his face clean shaven. The other has a vibrant purple mane that smoothly flows beneath his cloak and matching hued hanging mustachios and pointed goatee that would have been, some centuries ago, referred to as Fu Manchu and Royale, respectively. Aside from their heads, only their hands are visible outside the enveloping folds of their cloaks. Those hands are holding cards, and a stack of more cards and several stacks of multicolored chips are on the table between them.
Businessmen are in a meeting with their boss and some other pair, who just happen to be entitled to be in the same luxurious accommodations despite their lack of finery, are playing poker.
Hey, Crash, I got something.
The redhead casually tosses down two of the cards from his hand, not giving any open notice to having heard anything.
What is it, Pan?
Check it out.
Crash, the redhead, gathers up the two cards dealt back to him by his companion. Ace of diamonds, three of hearts. With his existing cards that gives him two pair, albeit sevens and threes. He reaches out and pushes a small pile of chips forward as he looks at the image waiting in his brain.
It's a freeze frame image, clearly taken from his lookout's own vision from the rear of the train's caboose. Behind the train, just coming around one of the many bends in the tracks, is an all terrain bike. It has four wheels, but each are more similar to the ancient "dirtbike" tires than any previous four wheeled vehicle, and the bike has a very narrow front profile for a four wheeled vehicle. Those bikes are common on this planet, each wheel operating on an independent suspension to give them excellent mobility on rough terrain. The bike has two riders on it. The one clinging to the back of the driver clearly has an old fashioned projectile assault rifle slung over their shoulder, thought no other details can be made out because of the heavy clothing they're wearing. Except for the front wheels of another bike barely visible around the base of the hill behind the first.
Anything else? Crash asks silently.
Not unless you want me to go back and check it out directly, comes the response.
Of course, Crash thinks to himself. Pan of all people would notice anything else, that's why I have him back there! But bikers, against a train like this? Even assuming they don't know we are here, even Krauss's guards and their simple weapons could repel a full dozen double mounted bikes with minimal damage. That tactic hasn't worked for over a century! Unless they're hiding cyborgs amongst the bikers. No way you can double mount fully geared boosters on those things, but getting just one or two Strikers close, hidden among the pack so nobody notices the presence of a single large rider instead of two "normal" ones...that could be worth the risk of another ten bike raider teams. And in this terrain they could have ambushers damn near anywhere. Especially at the other side of that tunnel we'll be going into in about ten minutes.
A tapping sound brings Crash's attention back to his immediate physical surroundings. His opponent had raised his bet by double, but now narrowed his eyes. Crash just realizes that his own eyes had been narrowed, then widened again at his companion's quiet instance for attention.
I can't let Krauss think we're at a disadvantage, he thinks to himself. Casually flicking in enough chips to match the raise, he lets his companion into the silent conversation, including Pan's imagery.
Ah, a mellow voice sounds in his mind, so now what?
Show your cards and don't let Krauss have a clue we may have an issue until we know we actually do. Crash lays down his cards, and even as he does he triggers his squad alert signal.
Slip, Slide, on guard, possible threats from the rear but keep watch on both ends. Bounce, up and ready in the middle of the train. Mako!
Crash's "opponent" lays down his hand, showing three of a kind, fives. Crash casually gestures a sign of moderate disgust, in keeping with what the two of them have been doing back and forth for the past two hours. As his "adversary" rakes in his winnings, however, Crash repeats his last silent communication, this time with the emphasis of a shout.
MAKO! Get your ass awake and gear up!
What's so important? Came a moaning reply. I've barely gotten started on my beauty sleep.
You've been down for nearly three hours! Crash snaps back. We might be coming under attack and I need you up!
Crash casually gathers up the cards from the table and begins deftly shuffling them.
Okay, comes a still moaning reply. I'm up already! Just give me a minute to get my gear on. It isn't like I can sleep in this stuff.
When you go, Crash communicates with calm insistence, do it as quietly as possible. We'll be coming up on a right turn around a really steep peak in about five minutes. You should be able to use it for cover to pop up to altitude without any potential ambushers noticing you.
Yeah, this time the reply sounds like a grunt more than anything. I already got the waypoint you just sent me. I said I'm awake, just give me a minute to get geared up already!
Make it forty-five seconds..