Rosalie stood in the middle of the passenger car, blinking and feeling as if she had just woken up. Hadn’t she been closer to the front of the car just a few moments ago? Why did she feel so heavy? She tried to look down and found she could not move her head. She seemed to be covered with some sort of cobwebs, which gave her the shivers, but didn’t explain the immobility. Winston was whimpering at her feet, and she could feel his weight against her left leg.
“You won’t be able to move until we remove the net, and we need to speak with you first.” A man stood up from behind the bar at the front of the car, directly in her sight line.
Rosalie was distracted by his bowler hat, having never actually seen someone wearing one in person. The hat was the same color blue as the seats in the train car, as was the rest of his uniform. He sported a well-maintained mustache and was checking a pocket watch. The man’s single breasted jacket hung open over a matching vest with seven brass buttons. His cravat was a golden yellow, and held in place by an eagle pin. He looked as out of place as the overly fancy coffee machine.
Rosalie noticed the net was large enough to cover both her and Winston, and that it was slightly vibrating. She could feel the rhythm of the train moving under her feet. Before she could sort out her thoughts of the currently moving train, strange man and the now highly polished coffee maker, an excited voice came from somewhere to the left behind her back.
“It a spun tungsten disabler, cobweb weight, gold finish. Non-portable version, adult size. We’ve never used it before, but it appears to be functioning quiet well.” A pudgy, shorter man came into Rosalie’s peripheral vision as he climbed over the velvet cover seats. He was wearing what looked to be laboratory goggles with magnifying lenses, as his eyes were largely distorted. Combined with his not-so-graceful clambering over seats, he resembled a toad.
“Deputy Simmons, that will do.” The uniformed man moved closer to Rosalie and executed a small head nod. “I’m Agent Charles Gray, ma’am, United States Fulfillment and Logistics for Individual Purpose Program. You are on board a Hazenbush Class A Parallel World Transport.”
“Rosalie Jane Trota. And Winston.” Rosalie could think of nothing else that seemed appropriate to say, as she was certain she had either had a psychotic break or had hit her head and was imagining the two men.
“We know. The timing on your case could not have been more perfect. The blizzard just knocked out your area’s surrounding power grid and we could manage your extraction quite simply. Even gave us the change to try some new tricks, like this net. I’ll be you think you’re losing your mind or hit your head. You haven’t, Ms. Trota, we just literally caught you at the right time at the right place. Well, the same time and the right new place, more accurately. This model Hazenbush transporter has the classic camouflage screens to reflect any programmed optical illusion. Those pictures of a decrepit train car have worked for almost 50 years!”
Deputy Simmons talked quickly, which was apparently because Agent Gray thought he spoke too much. As Rosalie looked around the car, she watched as the blue bench seats slid into the wall, to be replaced with four clear glass tables and shiny silver chairs. The floor flickered under her feet, replaced by what appeared to be white tiles, which flickered up the sides of the car itself and replaced the large windows with small portholes. Rosalie thought it felt very much like being caught in a trendy bathroom.
“Thank you, Deputy. “ Agent Gray was frowning across the compartment at the squat man. “Ms. Trota, we heard your request and were in a position to intervene. You are, as the Deputy said, in a parallel reality to your own, with some key deviations. We’ll be arriving in Boston shortly, and we have a small amount of time to complete our preliminary readings and for you to prepare. I am certain this feels very confusing, but please remember we are here at your request. I am going to remove the net now, know we have this passenger car secured.”
Rosalie had been half listening, as she tried to make reach a logical decision about a course of action. She arrived at two options. She could play along, as in a dream, and hope to wake up soon. Or she could try to make a break for it. Realistically, attempting to sprint through the snow while being followed by Agent Gray was not going to get her very far. She also could not see the door in redecorate cart. Agent gray did appear to be much better shape and had longer legs. Dream along, it was, then.
Deputy Simmons turned a hand crank with much effort, and the fine golden net around Rosalie and Winston was raised towards the ceiling of the railway car. She stretched her neck and reached down to scratch Winston behind the ears. For a dream dog, he felt very real and warm. Winston also looked completely at ease.
“Agent Gray.” Rosalie used what her friends called her boardroom voice. “Please explain what is going on here.” Direct and to the point, clear request, no nonsense, perfected over her 12 years working for a large financial firm downtown. The response she got sounded like only nonsense.
“Your signal came through most clearly, and as you were close to Fulfillment Station #4, we made an exception for rapid plan extraction.” Deputy Simmons answered instead, as this time he walked down the aisle between the seats towards Rosalie carrying what looked like a tuning fork attached to an accordion.
He waved the tuning fork towards a window, and looking out, Rosalie saw that O’Brien’s farm stand had been replaced with a squat, non-descript building with the words “Fulfillment Station #4” painted over the metal door.
“What are you fulfilling?” she could not keep the disdain out of her questioning. These two men were irritatingly confusing and she wanted to finish walking Winston before the snow got much deeper.
“The request you’ve been making for the past two years, as consistently communicated by your energy field readings.” Deputy Simmons was waving the tuning fork around Rosalie and watching as the accordion device printed on what looked like ticker tape. “You’ve had one of the most consistent requests in New England, and we’ve been working on your program for quite some time.”
Deputy Simmons looked at Agent Gray, who nodded. “The F.L.I.P. Program is run by the US Government. We’re in pilot stage, testing protocols to determine long term viability of extracting promising citizens who have misdirected their individual resonances.”
Agent Gray had been watching Rosalie, and interrupted. “The gist, Ms. Trota, is that we identify individuals who may not being using their talents, intelligence or intuition fully, and who may be aware of that truth. F.L.I.P. intervenes to create an opportunity for these individuals to have a new start. You have been identified as a prime candidate.”
“You’re telling me that your accordion thing can ‘read me’ and that I’ve been asking for something, and you picked it up like a radio signal or something, and have interpreted whatever you think you heard as a request to be kidnaped?” Rosalie snorted, and wondered if she had hit her head and lost her mind at the very same time. She also felt slightly afraid, wondering what it was she was asking for, other than a hot coffee and good book.
“Well, not kidnapped as much invited to participate in a new lifeline.” Agent Gray was nodding, though, so at least she had made some sense of whatever was happening around her.
“Fine. What does my reading say and what is my new opportunity?” Rosalie’s board room voice was back and very demanding.
“That’s why you’re such an interesting case! We can’t tell you what your reading says. But,” and at this he looked at the printed ticker tape, “your reading just doesn’t change. Very unusual.”
And, for your opportunity, again, you’re a singular case. We usually tell candidates some framework of what is going on, but the Experiential Designers have forbidden us to share any details. Actually, they haven’t given us any details either. You’re just to change into these and disembark at Boston.” Deputy Simmons pulled out a large bag and handed it towards Rosalie.
“You can change behind the bar, there’s a small office.” Agent Gray’s voice was gracious as he stepped aside.