Comment on page
Dig up more details about Ash
Given Name: Ashlyn Nicklin Age: 29 Home Region: Centuryville Favorite Food: Janelle's beef stew
If you need something done, and you need it done fast, you can rely on Whiplash Ash.
Ashlyn Nicklin comes from a long line of Conductors, but is the first woman in her family to drive trains. Not one for nonsense, she's willing to do whatever it takes to get a job done right the first time—even if that sometimes means resorting to unorthodox methods.
She first encountered the Stranger at a Conductor Lounge in Trevithick Pines. After chatting briefly, he introduced her to Janelle Johnson, insisting he believed it was important for the two to meet. The women struck up a conversation which lead to them getting dinner together. Dinner lead to dessert. Dessert lead to stargazing in the park, which lead to two years of bliss.
All that was left of her was a finger. Her left pinky.
I’d gotten there in time to see the static, and to see it wrap around her like a giant, clawed hand from another world. I reached for her outstretched arm as I ran towards her, desperate to stop this—to hold her in my arms again, safe at last. But by then I knew I was too late.
The whole thing was so surreal. I don’t just mean the Repossession. That’s obviously not something most people have to bear witness to, in this world. I mean the silence. It was like the laws of physics had changed, and something was stopping the roar of the overpass from reaching my ears. But my other senses worked fine.
I’ll never forget the smell of the highway mingling with the scent of the stagnant water under the bridge. I’ll never forget the feeling in my feet as they pounded the sun-scorched asphalt. I’ll never forget the taste of the blood that filled my sinuses as I screamed her name. And I’ll never forget the last time I saw Janelle’s face. She wore an expression of pure, unadulterated love as she looked at me, also for the last time. She winced for half a second as the static swallowed her torso up to her neck. I read her lips as they, too slowly were consumed by the Repossession:
“I’ll always love you, Snowbird.”
And then the sound came back.
I don’t remember when that happened. They took the light of my life and I can’t even remember when it happened. The Stranger said that’s what they do, the JGRE. Standard orders for a Repossession, apparently.
He claimed he found me lying in the water below the bridge and brought me aboard his train. I don’t even remember waking up. I was just…suddenly there, with the Stranger. We’d met before, but only once. Actually, he's the one who introduced me to Janelle. What a cruel coincidence.
“It’s highly unusual you weren’t aware your lover wasn't born in this century,” he said after I’d taken in my surroundings. “Did you not see the signs?”
“What signs?” I asked with a rasp in my voice. I cleared my throat. My head felt like shit. The Stranger didn’t answer my question, but instead pointed to me. I followed the invisible line from his finger to my pocket, reached into it, and withdrew a pendant on a silver chain. I held it up to the light pouring into the cabin. It was made of clear resin, molded in the shape of a crystal, and suspended in it was Janelle’s left pinky finger. “Is this some sick joke?” I shouted to an empty cabin. I was back on my train.
The windows were coated in condensation, for some reason, and a word had been drawn in one of them:
S N O W B I R D
That was four months and three days ago. I can at least remember that. I have no idea what any of it means, but I won’t stop searching for answers.
Part of me knows Janelle is dead. Part of me knows she’s out there, somewhere. And when I listen to that part of me, it feels like the pendant is tugging at my pocket, pointing the way back to my love.
I knelt outside the patisserie where I’d just received a tip from the baker. Something “just plum-fudge awful” (her words, not mine) happened in the middle of the night a week ago, resulting in her neighbor disappearing.
“Well, I heard shouting and just figured Pam and Morris next door were at it again,” she’d said. “So, I grabbed a blanket and bundled up in one of the rockers on my porch to listen. I know I’m not supposed to eavesdrop, but life is slow in my neck of the Plains, so I try to take any entertainment that comes my way.”
“I’m not here to judge you,” I said, already getting impatient. I took a deep breath to calm myself. “Go on. What happened next?”
After twenty minutes of her meandering story, I finally learned the baker’s neighbors had been having a dinner party that was interrupted by the JGRE.
Of course, I didn’t tell her it was the JGRE—I didn’t want her to panic. But who else would crash a potluck in podunk nowhere and kidnap one of the guests using a giant cloud of static?
The baker had been given a stack of business cards belonging to the man who was taken and asked to spread the word. “If you know anything, Sweet Pea—”
“Don’t call me Sweet Pea,” I said.
The woman held her hands up, palms out in surrender. “Well, all the same...”
Outside, in the alley behind the bakery, I cleared a circle in the dirt and knelt down above it. I placed the business card in the center and started to draw runes around it with my finger.
I guess that’d be the word for it. Or fortune telling, if that makes more sense to you. I don’t actually think I would call it either of those things—the point is, after a while I figured out a system where I could use my girlfriend’s pinky pendant to hunt for clues pointing towards her whereabouts.
God, I sound crazy when I say it out loud…
Or, I guess, when I write it down.
Whatever. I’m doing what I have to do to find her.
I was desperate to find any information about Janelle’s whereabouts, and that lead to some questionable, wine-fueled late-night internet searching. I stumbled across pendant dowsing and figured I had the perfect pendant to use. Figured I might as well give it a try.
The runes I draw are ones that I came up with. They represent the five regions of the Centuryverse. When I finished drawing them, I take my pendant off my neck. It glistens in the midday sun, and I bring it to my lips for a quick good luck kiss.
I dig my nails into my palm, holding the pendant’s chain above the center of the circle. I steady my breath and clear my mind as I watch Janelle’s finger spin dizzily, slowly coming to a stop. When the pendant is completely still, I ask, “Where to next?”
I release the chain and watch as the finger falls, strikes the business card, and comes to a rest pointing towards the rune representing Trevithick Pines.
“All aboard for the Pines,” I said to the empty alley.
I never sleep well on trains that aren’t mine, and this one was no different. I tossed and turned, the only passenger in the sleeper car, until finally I gave up and decided to walk the length of the train. The views of the sweeping plains racing by outside were stunning, and I knew the rapidly approaching forest that encased the science district would appear on the horizon soon.
Might as well take in the views, I thought.
But I forgot all about the scenery the moment I entered the next rail car.
The air smelled electric, like crackling thunder had sterilized it, obliterating all other scents that may have once filled the car. I counted seven people in the car. Five of them were identical, with remarkably plain features. The remaining two people were a woman and a man.
The woman had blond hair pulled into a messy bun.
The man wore a white lab coat and sunglasses, and was pressing a gun into the woman’s lower back.
“STOP,” I screamed.
The man calmly turned his head toward the doorway as the woman whimpered, “Please…don’t do this. I have a family. I have children…” A chilling grin crept over the man’s face.
“I assure you, this isn’t about your children,” he said.
I held my breath as I watched him pull the trigger—but the bang never came. Instead, I watched as the woman’s hair unwound itself from its bun, shortened, and turned brown. Her face bore an expression I couldn’t make out. At first it looked like pain, then confusion, and then it looked like she was on the verge of falling asleep. It occurred to me it wasn’t that the woman was changing her expression; it was that her facial features were changing. In a few moments, her face had reorganized itself to match the identical quintet standing at the back of the car.
A high-pitched ding roused me from my horror. The noise had come from the man’s weapon, which seemed to have ejected some kind of cartridge.
The man pushed his latest victim away, and she joined the ranks at the back of the car. “I’m glad you were able to witness this, Ashlyn.”
I ignored his casual use of my name. “What the hell did you do to these people?” I clung to the doorway of the rail car, torn between tackling the man and fleeing.
“I’m just doing my job,” he said. “I hope you’ll understand. After all, your girlfriend—Janelle, was it?—can’t complete her work if I don’t complete mine.”
The words tore through my brain like a bullet.
Janelle is alive.
My feet moved on their own. “WHERE IS SHE,” I roared as I ran towards the man. I closed my eyes and ducked my head, ready to slam into him with all my might. This man was responsible, whether in full or in part, I didn’t care, for the events that divided my life into clear Before and After portions. I didn’t know what I was doing, but it didn’t matter. I ran as fast as I could and braced for impact.
Suddenly, I was tumbling across the floor, skin grating against carpeted metal. I tripped on something. When I came to a stop and looked towards the man, he was gone. All that was left of him was a crackle of static.
I cursed and stood slowly, searching for what I had tripped on, as if I could demand an explanation for its actions. After a few seconds, I found it under a nearby seat: the man’s strange, identity-stealing gun. I grimaced as I turned it over in my hand, wondering if it had a reverse mode that I could use to help the people at the back of the car. Or if I could use it to trace where the man had gone.
“Stop this!” a woman shouted behind me. I dropped the gun, put my hands in the air, my back facing her.
“You’ve got the wron—” I tried to protest.
“Don’t speak,” she insisted. Her voice was shaking. “My name is Paloma Haulita, and I’m here to stop you from hurting these people!”
I slowly turned to face my accuser. “Look, Paloma, I’m telling you this wasn’t me.”
And then Paloma Haulita swung a wrench at my face.