The heat didn’t bother him anymore, and he could deal with the cold. But it looked like rain, and he hated walking through the rain. It was time to go.
His eyes ran over the room again. The wires that had cluttered the corner by his desk were gone now, neatly packed away in a bag as long as he refused to open it to check. His mattress was bald, his drawers empty, and his walls stripped bare.
He’d finished his work a week ago, but he hadn’t wanted to hand it over yet. He’d sent Susan the code a few hours earlier, and then he’d finally unplugged his modem.
The lock sounded louder than normal. The scientist in the back of his head decided it was echoing on the other side of the door. But it just reminded him that he may not be coming back.
A small bag hung off his shoulder. Everything else was already on its way to storage. He’d be back for it eventually. The keys made a heavy thunk when he tossed them on the front desk. The receptionist would find them when she woke up. His rent was good for another few weeks; he could get them back if he need to.
He walked purposefully down the street. The train station was only a few blocks away, and nobody was going to bother him; most of the city was still asleep.
He’d made sure to pick the earliest train. The longer he stuck around, the more likely someone would stop by his place. He didn’t need that. He wanted to be gone before they had the chance to realize he was leaving.
The street lights were beginning to dim as the dawn crept up behind him, but his pace never slowed, and he never looked back.
The train station was huge. He knew that dozens of trains stopped by every hour; most of them never left the city, but the rest went out in every direction spreading across the country like a web of steel.
Knowing that didn’t change the feeling of walking under the massive domed roof that covered the atrium. Giants would feel too short walking under that golden dome. Ants would never realize they’d left the street outside.
It had been built a hundred years past, with hand tools no less. Somewhere in the back of his mind a history lesson forced its way to the surface. Dozens of people had died, and the rest didn’t get half the pay they deserved, but when they asked one of the workers if it had been worth it, he’d just told them to look up.
It was sad really; the few other people walking into the station didn’t even bother to. They were walking under a marvel, a structure built before walkers, before the mechers had figured out how to raise a skyscraper with half the men and at a third the time, and none of them even cared.
For a moment, he bathed in their apathy, the uncaring nature he wished he could emulate. Maybe then he’d be able to stay.
Maybe he wouldn’t have to run away.
His train screeched to a halt in front of him, and he took a deep breath. He made sure to focus on the windows as he made his way to his seat, and counted his blessing when he found himself in an empty row.
The train gave a lurch as it pulled away from the platform. In moments it was streaking across the city; it would be an hour before it reached its next stop.
He shifted his seat back and forced himself to relax. After a moment George Sadler fell into an uneasy sleep.
A light touch on his shoulder woke him up.
“Sir? Sir? I need to see your ticket now.”
He gave a light grumble and dug around in his pocket. After a moment, he pulled out the wrinkled ticket and held it up to the conductor.
“Ah, you’ll be with us for a while I see. The refreshments are sold two cars up, when you’re hungry.”
“Thanks,” he muttered. “About how far out are we?”
“We left Macropolis 45 minutes ago. Your stop is still about 5 hours out.”
“Have a nice day, sir.”
The conductor continued down the car, stopping every few rows along the way.
He checked his watch. He wanted to go back to sleep, but he knew he wouldn’t get any rest before the next stop. He could feel the train begin to slow down even now.
A tall man with red in the row across from him scooted to the aisle and gave a light cough.
“You pack light.”
George’s head tilted a bit to the side when he answered. “What?”
“You’re heading about as west as you can go on this train, and you don’t look like a day tripper. Most people would want more than that tiny bag.”
“I don’t need much,” he said. “And you aren’t exactly packing heavy yourself.”
The man shrugged. “When you get to be my age, you learn to do without. And I’m visiting family, I don’t need to worry about that stuff.”
“Because you’re much older than I am.”
“Ha!” the man barked. “Don’t let the hair fool you, boy. Most men would be long past grey when they were half my age. I have enough years under my belt to make your mother look like a tot.”
“So what? You’re going to visit your grandchildren?”
The man’s smile shrunk a little. “My brother actually. He’s been dead for a few years, and we have a lot of catching up to do.”
George’s teeth clenched and he felt a small pang in his heart. “Sorry. I didn’t know.”
The old man shook his head. “Exactly. It’s nothing for you to worry about. And the wound is long since closed anyway. There isn’t anything a kid like you could do to open that back up.”
“You’re fine,” the man shook his head ad sighed. “What are you heading out there for then? Visiting someone?”
“Searching,” George said, turning to look out the window. “I have unfinished business out there, and I don’t think I’ll be much use to anyone until it’s done with.”
“Unfinished business will do that, especially to a kid like you. But finishing it can turn out even worse.”
“Not for me. I can’t ignore this any longer. I need the answer.”
The old man shook his head. “Kids your age always think that. You think you need the answer because you think that knowing is always better than not. Well trust me kid, there are some things you don’t want to know.”
“Maybe, but it’s the only way to figure out who I am.”
“Oh, don’t get all sappy on me kid. That’s an old man question. You aren’t supposed to worry about that until after you’ve been fired a couple of times. You punks these days keep trying to grow up too fast. “
“No maybe about it. Now I’m not going to tell you you’re wrong for asking, and I sure as hell can’t tell you not to do what you think is right, but don’t pretend like this is some sort of special quest you need to do. This is you, making a choice, to run from whatever problems you have at home, just in case the answer is somewhere out west.”
George smiled at the man. “You’re probably right. But I already bought the ticket.”