PART 1 OF 2
When Markus Soong boarded the 6:35 CandRail West-East Corridor service at Harschburg's Zentralebahnhof, he'd pictured a journey filled with colourful characters, enticing encounters, debauchery, revelry, and general excitement. This was going to be his introduction to the rest of the world, and he was going to have the time of his life.
What he didn't expect, however, was to find himself cowering in a freight car nestled between two boxes in the 35th hour of his epic voyage. The ticket he had bought at the Zentralebahnhof was the cheapest one available, and it gave him a seat in 2nd class to a village named Kleinhugel-on-Tref, 100 kilometres from Fischerfurt. Of course, that was never his intended destination, but it would only set him back a modest fifteen thalers. His plan had gotten off to a good start, until a burly Caskhomirian came aboard at Fischerfurt with a ticket for a seat that he thought was empty. Markus had told the man that he had read the carriage number on his ticket wrong, but the man wasn't convinced and asked to see his ticket. Markus bolted on to the platform and made a beeline for the train at the opposite end of the platform, which was just about to pull out of the station. Fortunately, the Caskhomirian nor the fare inspectors had caught up to him, but there was no doubt that he had been seen by the station's security cameras.
It was bound to be a long voyage. The minutes turned into hours, and the hours into days, and without the ability to peer outside of the cramped, dusty freight carriage, Markus had no idea where he was nor where he would end up. For all he knew, he could be in Trefjall, Belkhomir, Caskhomir, or in the wild lands beyond the reach of the Candanadian Crown, or any crown for that matter. He had precious little in terms of water and food, and it took all his might to stop himself from taking any more of a sip of water or a nibble of a cracker. Sometimes he heard the rumble and roar of another freight train, sometimes a high-speed train zoomed past, sometimes he could hear the chirping of larks and droning of cicadas, sometimes voices speaking softly in foreign tongues, sometimes the groan of machinery. Every minute felt like a lifetime, and soon his life in Harschburg became a distant memory. The Golden Dragon, the Kanadiaans Gymnasium, Little Akarea, they had all faded into obscurity. His new world was this carriage of crates and boxes, this dark little hell on a train bound for nowhere. His legs were cramping up, as he hadn't had the chance to move them since the chase at Fischerfurt Station. He had stopped peering through a slit in the door, as gazing at the light hurt his eyes. The sounds and smells of the outside world were foreign to him, and in silence, he sat, cramped, waiting.
It had felt like eons before the train rolled to another halt. The same voices talked in foreign tongues, the same machines stirred themselves to life, but this time, there was something else going on. The voices came closer and closer, until he could hear a clanking, then a creak. All of a sudden, the world he had known was gone. Brilliant, blinding light filled every corner of his freight carriage, and he cried out, in surprise and in pain. The voices grew even closer. He saw a face. Then another. Two shaggy men with beards. They babbled on, gazing at him with looks of concern. He worked hard to understand, then realized that they were speaking in a tongue unfamiliar to him. He searched for words.
"Wo... where..." He managed, shielding himself from the light with his hand and recoiling in fear. The faces continued to speak in the alien language. He tried again. "Where am I?"
"Ach, Kanadiaans?" One of the faces replied. He scrunched his face, as if trying to remember something, then replied. "Nein Kanadiaans. Oseanisch oder Caskaans?" Markus tried harder to remember Oseanian.
"What is this place? Where am I?" He managed.
"Hekkedorp, Northern District, Caskhomir. On the border with Oseania." The face replied in a heavily accented voice. "I need you to explain where you came from and why you were inside that train."