Aten watched the images of the countryside streaming by in the compound video screens along the side of Tube Car #5. When you commuted enough times on these high speed trains, you recognized the artificial scenery. You had seen all of it before.
After all, this Tube train was twenty feet underground riding at three hundred miles an hour on a cushion of helium through miles and miles of aluminum tubing. What kind of scenery is there in aluminum tubes?
Aten’s eyes turned away from the video scenery along the outside curved wall of the aluminum car and focused on the TV screen on the back of the headrest in front of him. There was a pair of newscasters sitting at a desk; a young, buxom woman with fake blonde hair and brown eyes whose face seemed to be frozen in a perpetual smile, and a perfectly groomed young man with black hair and narrow thick eyebrows.
It was obvious to Aten that they were setting up some kind of report from someone, maybe a public official. He could tell that because the man’s eyes would often glance toward a monitor or a director to his left, beyond the blonde woman’s left shoulder somewhere out of sight. He was apparently waiting for a cue.
Now the handsome young male announcer faced the screen and his lips moved. The camera zoomed in. Chancellor Nefer Khufu’s face popped onto the screen.
Aten dug into his right jacket pocket and pulled out his ear buds. The Chancellor’s lips flapped and his serious brown eyes focused on the camera.
Aten stuffed the buds into his ears, then stabbed the silver colored jack into a small hole beneath the TV screen and he heard the sound of the Chancellor’s voice. “. . . to tell the citizens of Mars that our progress on the large spaceship is going well. As we have told you in the past, this ship will be used to explore our solar system. We intend to move inward, closer to the sun, and explore the surface of the third planet, Earth, as well a trip outward, passing through the asteroid belt, traveling as far as Jupiter – perhaps even farther to Saturn. These missions will. . .”
Aten yanked the jack out of the hole beneath the TV screen.
Chancellor Khufu’s lips continued to wiggle and flap. Now he gestured by pointing toward the TV camera.
What Aten did next always made him a little irritated with himself. He glanced around Tube Car #5 to see if there might just be a Secret Police agent nearby. You were supposed to listen to the Chancellor’s speeches, even if they were complete lies. Listening to the Chancellor’s speeches was your civic duty.
Aten knew what Chancellor Khufu had just said was a complete lie and that disgusted him. Of course, it was probably a necessary lie because if the people on this planet, living in these domes, knew what that spaceship was actually for, there would be riots in the streets.
At the front of Car #5, the narrow dark window of the marquee lit up. A bright red digital message streamed across the narrow window. “THIS WESTBOUND TUBE CAR WILL ARRIVE AT DOME #3 IN FIVE MINUTES. EXIT DOORS ARE LOCATED IN CARS #4 AND #5. HAVE A GOOD DAY.”
A young woman across the aisle unbuckled her shoulder belt.
“Would passenger #18 in car #5 please buckle her safety belt,” said a deep male voice over the public address speaker at the front of the car.
The young woman across the aisle yanked her shoulder belt down over her chest and snapped it into the buckle.
“Thank you, passenger #18. Have a good day.”
Aten could never understand why anybody would unbuckle their safety belt. There was always a message and if the person didn’t buckle up, the train would stop right where it was. It would be a slow stop so that nobody would be injured, but then the train would wait. Last year, Aten had sat in his seat almost ten minutes waiting for a man who was drunk to buckle his safety belt. Finally, a train attendant had to come into the car and buckled it for him. Then, the train had accelerated up to speed again.
These Tubes traveled at over three hundred miles an hour. Safety was important. At those speeds a passenger could be flung onto another passenger, injuring two people.
The Tube slowed suddenly.
Aten lurched forward against his shoulder belt. He could feel the gforce pulling him toward the TV screen and the handsome face of Chancellor Nefer Khufu.
Just as suddenly, the train stopped and Aten could feel the belt tug hard across his chest. Then it released.
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