Lena laid in the cabin she rented on the train, but sleep never came. The gentle rocking of the hammock was comforting, but it was still not enough to bring her rest. A small panel next to her head featured a slide control for the cabin light. She reached over, brought the lights up to a cool dim, and felt for her celltab. It was nestled in one of the interior pockets of her jacket which hung on a hook behind her head. Looking at the screen, she searched for the file Zark had sent her earlier in the day.
The MRL Official Handbook was an intimidating read. Aside from the rules and regulations that any four-year veteran of the sport should know, it contained the full history of the sport. Zarmina’s Sector 3 had recognized MLR as a national sport since 2448. It had long been a professional sport on Earth, but National Magnacycle Racing still allowed combustion and electric engines when they had left twenty years ago. By Duskrider and Zarmina standards, the NMR was nothing more than an over-regulated, watered-down version of the sport.
Lena browsed the major sections: Tracks, Machines, Inter-League Events, Team Members, Sponsorships, and Operators. She skimmed the pages, waiting for something to catch her eye. A diagram showing an illustrated magnacycle was labeled with all height and length allowances. Another showed acceptable areas for sponsor decals, and acceptable areas to customize color. The book ultimately failed to amuse her, so she decided to step out of her cabin and find Zedd and Zark. She sent a message to Zedd.
What car are you guys in?
A moment later, he replied.
She collected her jacket and bag before bending over to tie her boots. She left the cabin and took a moment to stretch before heading toward car F.
The train was illuminated by dim overhead lights. They had been travelling underground for two and a half hours, so the windows along the outer walls were dark. In the F car, people sat lazily in well-carved corners of the car, sleeping, reading, working puzzles, or watching one of the holographic screens suspended from the walls. Lena saw Zedd and Zark. Zedd was sitting with one leg propped on the other looking at the screen on the other side of the car. Zark laid out on the bench next to him looking up at his celltab.
Zedd looked over as she approached.
“Hey. You get some sleep?”
She noticed his bruised lip,
“What the hell happened to you?” Some people looked up at her. She realized how loud she had spoken and sat down next to him without another word.
“We saw some guys beating someone up, so we stepped in,” Zark answered. He looked on edge.
“I stepped in,” Zedd corrected.
“Jesus. Now you’re a vigilante?” There was slight hostility in her voice.
“We stopped a guy from getting his ass beat. It’s all good,” Zedd said quietly.
Lena glanced around the cabin. A few people across from them were obviously eavesdropping so she dropped the subject. She rested her head against the wall of the car and took a deep breath to calm herself down. She was tired, stressed, and Zedd had already found trouble in the first six hours off the Duskrider.
“We got about an hour left,” he informed.
Lena had felt off since before Arrival Race. It was strange to think, it would be her first time in seven years sleeping in a new bed. Her first time since childhood sleeping on a planet. She was finding it difficult to adapt to her new environment. She closed her eyes to clear her head. The tv overhead broke her concentration. A gruesome story was unfolding.
“…From Sunday evening into the early hours of Monday morning, twelve unidentified cells were recovered roughly twenty miles northwest of Rhod…”
A map appeared on the television, with a red circle pinpointing the location. The broadcast continued,
“…cells were uncovered near the terminator in a shallow grave.” A partially blurred photograph appeared. It showed a line of discarded cells, all lying face down in the dirt. Lena could see deep red brandings covering their backs.
“…each one had this symbol carved into its back…” A new image appeared on screen. It was of a rough drawing of the symbol found on the cells. It resembled an inverted star, but the two topmost points were capped with sharp, outward serifs.
“…This symbol, attributed to the terrorist organization Verus, has been appearing in various forms throughout the cities of both Vogt and Rhod.”
Images of the symbol were shown graffitied on road signs and the sides of buildings. One such piece was shown with two words written below the symbol, the first of which was blurred and the second readings ‘SYNTHS.’
“Those guys earlier thought we were Verus!” Zedd exclaimed. If they hadn’t had the attention of everyone in the train car before, that statement solidified that they now did. Lena sunk in her seat in embarrassment.
Lena said quietly to Zedd,“Things to keep to yourself.”
Zark looked around at the peering eyes as shame washed over him. He looked to his father and motioned for him. He whispered,
“The guys that you beat up, they thought we were Ve…” he caught himself. “They thought we were part of that group.” He turned his attention to Lena. “You think the other guy we met was part of...Verus?” he asked quietly.
Lena glanced at him. “It doesn’t involve us.”