🛤️ A boy with a parrot on his shoulder was walking along the railway tracks. Before he found himself in this strange place he had begun his day as any other waking up to the sound of his parrot squawking in his ear. After completing the usual getting out of bed formalities he set off with the singular objective of reaching the Grand Central Aerostation before 7 a.m.

He stepped outside to see the overhead Skydome appear clear and bright. A few minutes of brisk walking brought him to the station just in time to hear the pleasant female voice announce that the next Skyship to Chennaiki was about to depart. Several hundred people were milling about in the cavernous main hall of the station. He went to the familiar North – East corner where his food shop was located.

a skyship at a steampunk station

🦜 Several thousand years after the cavemen had arrived the one constant that defined humanity was its insatiable appetite. He looked into the security panel that scanned his iris to disable the physical barrier that secured his tiny shop. He thought to himself that when he could afford it he would upgrade his security to the DNA enhanced one. He activated the automated cleaner and sat down to do business. Ruski his parrot flapped her wings and flew out of his shop as she was want to on a slow day.

The day dragged on until it was time for lunch. Even though he sold food he always ate home cooked food as a custom. It was also time for Ruski to feed on her corn. It had been an unusually long while since she had flown away. He flicked on his electronic display to ascertain where Ruski was with the help of her radio tracker. It indicated that she was just outside the entrance to the station. He would have to go fetch her. He set the shop to Away mode. It faded from view with the message "WILL BE RIGHT BACK" projected into the air in front of it.

He made his way through densely populated station towards its entrance. He could see Ruski perched on a branch of the ancient oak that he always imagined to be a solemn & somber guardian of the station. He called out her name hoping to avoid stepping through the giant security frame which he had never grown comfortable with. However she seemed oblivious to any sound whatsoever and remained focused on pecking at something too small for him to perceive from where he stood. He took out his World Identity card which he would have to swipe at the entrance on reentering the station. He walked out of the station, hunger signals plaguing his brain at every step.

He heard a sparking sound followed by a distant boom. He looked up towards Ruski again and the Skydome began fading to black extinguishing all light with it. The world around him was plunged into darkness. All worldly sounds stopped. He could only hear himself breathe. He closed his eyes unable to process this abrupt change. Was it real? It would surely go away when he opened his eyes. He heard someone calling out his name. He opened his eyes to brilliant sunlight filtering through the oak tree. It took a few moments to adjust to the light and to subsequently realize that it was Ruski who had been calling out his name.

For the better part of a decade he had been trying to make her talk and yet only at this inexplicable moment of his life she chose to speak. He called out her name. She responded by saying "How are you doing, ‘Omar’?" and proceeding to settle on his shoulder. He looked around him. He saw two horses tied to a strange contraption with wheels arriving towards him. He had seen one of these animals as a child in the animatronic center several years ago. They seemed like noble and majestic creatures then. Now they just seemed aggressive and unruly and he moved away from their path. He turned around to see the entrance to the station. At first glance it appeared as it usually did with the exception of the giant security frame that usually adorned its entrance.

He stepped into the station unhindered by human being or machine. People in strange attire strolled about leisurely. It was strange to see so few people at this hour at Grand Central and moving at such a slow pace too. Didn’t they realize how much they would have to struggle to avoid standing in the Skyships. He headed towards the North East corner of the main hall hoping that getting back to his shop would put every thing back in perspective. When he reached there however, he saw that where his shop should have been there was nothing but a stranger sitting with a sizable quantity of footwear spread on a piece of cloth. He appeared to be beckoning prospective customers as they passed by bellowing loudly the price of a pair. To Omar it seemed he was insulting them and yet almost none took any heed of him. He went up to him and asked "Where did my food shop go?" .The man looked at him with a quizzical expression before simply saying "Where in the world do they dress like you do? I would love to sell that stuff here".

Omar looked at himself. He was wearing a regular all weather one piece suit. It was the most popular attire among the commoners. Omar shrugged and walked away comforted by the fact that the people here spoke the same language. He heard a female voice announce "The train to Chenna will arrive on platform No 8 in 15 minutes”. Fifteen Minutes he thought. Skyships arriving at the station were only announced a few seconds before their arrival. The people here seemed to have a lot of time on their hands. He tried to spot this machine that was called a train by walking further into the station. He noticed that there were several sets of strange metallic lines that ran along the ground. They stretched on endlessly as far as the eye could see. He made up his mind to follow these lines hoping that they would lead to some familiar place. He set off at a steady pace trying to remain oblivious to all the out of the ordinary objects that were spread throughout this world.

He didn’t realize that Ruski had flown off his shoulder. His train of thought was suddenly interrupted by a loud continuous whistling sound. It seemed to get closer to him with every step he took. Unmindful of it however he pressed on. A few moments later he could no longer ignore it and started to turn around. Before he could he found himself bodily pushed sideways with considerable force. He lost his footing and fell face first onto the adjacent set of metallic lines just as a gigantic metal machine rolled by with considerable speed on the same set of lines he had been walking along. The wind generated by the machine as it passed by caused his neatly coiffed hair to lose structure instantly. He lay on the ground paralyzed as he just watched the worm like machine for the few seconds it took to completely pass him by.

It took him a few moments to regain his bearings and sit up. It was only then that he noticed a girl his age standing next to him. Unlike the other people at the station she looked at him with a sense of familiarity. Ruski hovered into view and perched on her shoulder saying "Careless Omar! Careless Omar!" Ruski failing to learn talking until now was probably a good thing he thought. She offered him a hand but he stood himself up with some effort. She moved sideways off the lines and onto some regular ground. He found himself following her on his still unsteady legs. He decided that he had to talk to her. The metallic lines were getting him nowhere & she seemed familiar though he couldn’t quite place her. Before he could ask her anything she said "So were you going to take the Skybus to Chennaiki before you came here?" He was taken aback. A normal question in an unfamiliar place. The answer was simple yet he replied after considerable pause. "No I own the fast food stall at the corner of Grand Central". "Oh that shop which always seems to be on Away mode".

He felt indignation welling up inside. But he stymied his words. She was the only one who would probably be able to explain his current predicament. How did you end up here she asked. To this he had no answer. He explained vaguely the events of the morning. She nodded her head when he spoke and at the conclusion of his tale let out a sigh. This reaction disappointed him immensely. He finally burst out. "Tell me, tell me everything you know and tell me how I can get back. Lunch hour is the best time for business”. She looked at him with a bleak expression. "Why are you so eager to get back? Aren’t you curious about this place?"

He said "Sure I am. My first few minutes here and I almost get run over by a metallic worm. I’d love to come back some other time. But right now my livelihood is at stake". "OK, Follow me" she said. "Wait, what’s your name?" he asked. "It’s Romana, and I know a little something about you too. Your parrot told me." He followed her as she led him across a nearby field until she stopped in front of a little door. Romana had abundant hair that bounced of her shoulders as she ran. When she stopped he noticed that a part of her hair was moving by itself. He stood staring at the back of her head with a vacant expression until he saw a little chameleon pop it’s tiny head out.

He was about to warn Romana when her hand reached out behind her head and the chameleon jumped onto it. "Don’t be alarmed. That’s my pet Hector". He heard a tiny squeaking voice say "where’d you find this one?" It wasn’t Ruski, it wasn’t the girl. "Your chameleon can talk?" "Sure here every animal can talk" she said. "Oh, so Ruski is still a failure". "Hey I heard that!!" Ruski squawked. The door before them seemed to lead into a room that was below the ground. She opened the door. "It’s dark in here. I don’t wanna take another tumble here again" he said. "The darkness is important. Hold my hand if you are afraid" she said as she closed the door behind them. She led him down deeper until the darkness was absolute.

"Now close your eyes, tell your parrot where you want to go and count to three”. He heard her also say "Grand Central Aerostation". He opened his eyes to familiar sight of the oak tree and the sound of Ruski’s squawking. He was still holding Romana’s hand. He let go and raced forward into the station. It was still lunch time. The station seemed more chaotic than usual. He heard someone say "They are saying electrical problems caused the Skydome to go down for an entire minute". Romana had caught up with him. He turned to her and asked "Now tell me where we just came from. Did we go into the past or something?" Romana smiled and said "I don’t know for sure if it’s the past or another world that runs parallel to ours. The only thing I do know is that it only reveals itself when our world is in darkness and only an animal you are connected to can lead you there".

To be continued...

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