Find out what makes Shayan tick
Given Name: Shayan Kahree Age: 32 Home Region: Outside the Centuryverse Favorite Food: Palak paneer
Shayan Kahree's original goal in life was to become a music conductor. The irony of becoming a train Conductor is not lost on him.
His departure from his home reality and relocation to the Centuryverse was secretly arranged by the Researcher. Initially eager to trust the Researcher and the organization he represented, Shayan willingly committed a number of heinous acts against his fellow Conductors, believing he was doing the right thing.
After freeing himself from the Researcher's control, he dedicated himself to writing his many wrongs by assisting the Stranger in his plight.
I knew my dreams had died when I woke up and felt that something about my body had changed.
Did you know that you have more than just five senses? We learn about our senses of touch, taste, sight, smell, and hearing as children, but you also have senses like proprioception—your body’s general awareness of the location of its parts. When I woke up that morning, my proprioceptive senses couldn’t locate my right arm.
Surely, this is a nightmare, I thought as I attempted wiggling my missing fingers. I became dreadfully aware of the fact I was awake when I felt something slither past my right thigh. I sat bolt upright, flailing my legs, afraid of what had found its way into my bed, and as I recoiled, pulling my arms from under the covers, I found that my right arm had become a tentacle.
Naturally, I screamed.
I stumbled out of bed towards the bathroom, where the light would be better, and stared at myself in the mirror. There was no hiding the truth from the blindingly bluish-white florescent light. Where my perfectly normal human right arm had been, there now hung a tentacle made of tightly interwoven vines. I raised and lowered it a couple of times and watched the figure in the mirror do the same. When I brought the thing closer to my face, the smell reminded me of Bandhavgarh National Park. My mother and father had taken me there on a guided tour when I was young, years before I moved to America. Why the smell of the vines took me back to India and not to any of the other countless green outdoor spaces I’d been to, I couldn’t say.
My parents shared a profound love for music, and when they weren’t taking me on touristy safaris, they were forcing me to sit through yet another performance of the Symphony Orchestra of India. Something about the SOI must have stuck with me, though—after all, I came to the States to study classical music. Someday, I’m going to return to Mumbai and conduct the SOI.
Or so I’d planned, until I woke up and found my arm had become a tangle of vines.
The physician I met with was baffled and referred me to an oncologist. The oncologist couldn’t come up with a diagnosis, other than to say it was definitely not cancer, and then she referred me to an endocrinologist. The endocrinologist took one look at me and excused himself for a few moments. He returned smelling of vomit and body spray, then referred me to a botanist.
“I’ve never seen vines like these,” said the botanist, peering at a tissue sample under a microscope. “Have you seen a physician?”
By now I had begun to notice other changes in my body. The skin of my left arm had taken on a greenish hue, and when I stared at it, I saw my veins writhing beneath the skin. My hair had begun to fall out and my vision was worsening with each passing day. I wore a heavy overcoat to disguise my hideous body as I trudged into the physician’s office once again, desperate for answers. Before I entered the building, a man standing to the side of the sliding glass door spoke to me.
“Shayan Kahree?” he asked. He wore a white lab coat and dark sunglasses.
“Yes?” I responded. The man dropped a cigarette to the ground and stamped it out with his foot.
“That’s a mighty rare mutation you’ve got, there,” he said, gesturing towards my hidden arm. Smoke drifted listlessly out of his mouth as he spoke. “I can help you.”
“Who are you?” I asked, looking over my shoulder.
“I represent a research foundation called the JGRE,” he said with clinical authority. “My department specializes in the treatment of rare mutations and other-worldly evolutions like yours.”
“Other…worldly?” I asked, testing the shape of the words on my tongue. The man held out a hand. In it lay a small pink pill. Something came over me when I saw that it. Visions of my parents’ faces flooded my mind, glowing with pride as they watched their only son conducting their beloved SOI.
I snatched the pill from the man’s hand and dry swallowed it. It tasted sweet, with floral notes—not the flavor I’d expected from experimental medication—and within moments my vision had improved. I felt a burning sensation as the vines constituting my right appendage rearranged into the shape of an arm and became flesh and bone.
“This is incredible!” I practically shouted, giddy with excitement. I stepped forward to shake the man’s hand, and he stepped back, avoiding the gesture. “How can I thank you?” I asked. The man nodded gravely.
“Rest assured, Mr. Kahree, you are not cured,” he said. “You’ll need to take this medication twice a day to keep the mutation at bay.”
“How much do you want for it?” I asked. I reached for my wallet. “I’ll pay you whatever you ask.” The man held up a hand and shook his head.
“We’ll form a partnership,” he said. It was then I learned about the Railroaders and their affairs. The Researcher explained to me that a figure known as the Mysterious Stranger had committed acts of terrorism against the JGRE and was hiding with the assistance of the Railroaders.
“So as long as I work for the Railroaders and feed you information on the whereabouts of this Stranger, you’ll keep me supplied with the medication?” I asked. The Researcher nodded.
“Do we have a deal?” he asked, this time offering his hand of his own accord.
“We have a deal,” I said, shaking his hand.
Looking back on it, I never should have accepted. I should have just turned into a pile of vines and spared everyone all this trouble. All I can do now is pray someone comes along to right my many, many wrongs.
I loved her, but I don’t think she felt the same way about me. That was okay, though. Having her around was enough.
And then I trapped her in a pocket dimension…
Going on adventures with Missy—with Blue—was indescribable. It felt like every day was better than the previous one, and there was no end to it in sight. We may not have had a future together, but the present stretched on like the infinite train tracks ahead of us.
And I was happy.
I was really, truly, unimaginably happy—maybe for the first time, despite the fact I was living two lives.
I’d settled into the routine of conductor life quite easily, actually. The Researcher from the JGRE forged documents for me and put me in contact with Railroaders looking for a conductor. Most of them didn’t notice that my clumsiness didn’t match my supposed years of experience, which meant I was able to learn without garnering scrutiny. I hauled milk, or petrol, or textbooks, or whatever, wherever they wanted me to take it. They were completely unaware that I was a JGRE spy.
Information regarding the Mysterious Stranger was difficult to come by. Whoever the man is, he does a bang-up job of covering his tracks. But the deal with the Researcher was that I’d provide intel and he would provide the medication I needed to slow my mutation. Whenever I found that my med supplies were running low, I’d tap the communicator the Researcher had embedded behind my left ear and share some generic, fabricated information. And this way, I managed to cheat death.
But at what cost?
The deeper I became entrenched with the JGRE, the more sinister my assignments became. At first, I was merely an information mule, but with time my duties began to involve hunting other conductors the JGRE had targeted. I was granted access to otherworldly technology and given the missive to stop these men and women at all costs. I was told to get creative. The more fantastic the story, the less credible any witness reports, the better.
I took control of the weather and embedded a portal drop in a rain storm, sending kappas after a man hauling vegetables.
I sent a vampire to the past to attack a well-to-do foreign business man. Then, when I learned the vampire-man had made a living dealing in information regarding oddities and monsters, I sent a werewolf to attack a man in the swamps, hoping the vampire would tip off a man who ran a circus train.
That one was particularly convoluted.
There were the two boxers—not even conductors, but men at the end of their athletic careers—who I sent sirens and Plains after…
And there was Missy.
I acted out of panic. I know that I didn’t mean to hurt her. I know it. But she was going to figure it all out. She saw my veins; she saw what I’m becoming. What I am.
I had to do it.
I had to…
I had to.
I had to.
I had to…
But that was ridiculous, wasn’t it? I didn’t have to. I could’ve said “No” to the Researcher. I could’ve just turned into a tangle of vines and spared all of the pain I’d caused. I could’ve gone back to India, told my family I loved them, and died quietly.
I activated the communicator in my neck.
“What,” the Researcher said tonelessly.
“I need to speak with you in person,” I said. “Now.” The man in the white lab coat appeared before I could finish formulating my plan.
“This had better be important, Shayan,” he said. He lit a cigarette and took a long drag as the static which accompanied his appearance fizzled out.
“I’m done working for you,” I said, surprised by the shakiness in my voice. I said it again. “I’m done working for you.”
The researcher regarded me for several moments before speaking. “You’re not in a position to bargain with me.”
“I don’t care,” I practically spat. A sickening cocktail of feelings began to churn in my chest.
“I didn’t sign up to hurt innocent people,” I said. “This wasn’t the bargain.”
“As I recall, our ‘bargain,’” here he did air quotes, “was that you do everything I say, and I won’t slip you a drug that turns you into a ficus on the spot.” The Researcher hiked up his right sleeve to check his watch. “Are we done here? I don’t have time for whatever cute insurrection you’re thinking of attempting.”
I was too distracted by something he’d said to notice his taunt. “Slip me a drug that turns me into a plant on the spot? So—”
“My god, you’re really that stupid?” The researcher flicked his cig to the floor of the train car and snubbed it under his shoe. “People don’t develop freak mutations that slowly turn them into plants, Shayan. Not in this reality, anyway…”
I felt another emotion clouding the mix: Horror. I’d just been a pawn all along. “But…why?” I stammered. “Why me?”
The Researcher stifled a laugh. “Because you were nearby. And because you aren’t special, Shayan. You never will be. I checked in all of the target futures the JGRE is working to prevent. You aren’t in a single one of them. No matter how you look at it, Shayan Kahree is utterly inconsequential.”
“Incon—?” I was interrupted by my surging emotions spilling over, culminating in a blinding rage. Without thinking, I took a portal drop from my pocket and hurled it at the Researcher. He dodged it, and I threw another. And another. And another.
“Do you really think you can trap me using my own invention?” he scoffed when I stopped to catch my breath. My heart was pounding and my vision was blurred. I wasn’t acting on logic; I was acting on instinct. I didn’t care what happened to me anymore.
All I could think of was Missy.
“Fine,” the Researcher said. “I don’t have time for this. I release you from your duties, Shayan.” He pulled a device from his pocket and pressed a button. I felt a burning sensation behind my left ear, and when I touched the spot, I could no longer feel the communicator that had been there.
“Have fun dying slowly,” he said. “I hope it hurts.”
My field of vision was overcome by static, and when it cleared, I was in an empty field. I sat there and I cried.
I cried for myself.
I cried for all the people I’d hurt.
I cried for Missy.
I cried for all of the injustice in the world, and the part I had played in causing my portion of it.
When I had spent all of my emotion, I felt my pockets. I still had my portal drops and I still had my pills. I checked my medication supply. If I rationed it, I thought I might have enough to last a few weeks.
If I was going to do something, I’d have to do it fast.