In Case Of Emergency: an action-packed short storyJack Heath / Young Adult / Actions & Adventure / Thrillers & Crime
In Case Of Emergency:
an action-packed short story
by Jack Heath
Copyright 2016 Jack Heath
Cover art by James at GoOnWrite.com (modified by Jack Heath)
This ebook is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. You can print or share it, but you cannot modify it or sell it.
This short story was written live before an online audience. You can watch a video of the writing process at jackheath.com.au. It features characters from The Cut Out and The Fail Safe, published by Allen & Unwin, but it can be read as a standalone and should not be considered canon.
In Case Of Emergency
‘Something from the menu?’ Aravinya asked the pre-teen boy in seat 9A.
‘No, thank you.’ The boy held up a newspaper. He had scrawled a message on the front page in thick black marker pen: the passenger behind me has a gun.
Aravinya read the message twice. Surely she had misunderstood. But the frightened look on the boy’s face assured her that she hadn’t.
He wore a puffy jacket over a black cotton shirt. He was of Eurasian descent, with large, serious eyes and a tight-lipped mouth. A mess of black hair was escaping from his grey beanie. He looked sporty or at least fit. His hand was wrapped around the armrest in a death grip, as though he expected the train to crash at any moment. No-one was seated next to him.
Aravinya’s heart rate accelerated, but she kept her expression neutral. She resisted the urge to glance at the woman seated behind the boy.
The stations had surveillance cameras but no metal detectors. When the train crossed the border from Belarus into Kamau, customs officials had checked passports, but they hadn’t actually searched anyone. The sniffer dogs were trained to look for drugs, not weapons. It was possible that a gun was on board.
A hundred people rode this train, eight of them in this cabin. Their lives were in Aravinya’s hands.
The train rocked gently as the track sliced a curve around Mount Kharsum. On the other side of the rails was a deep valley, barely visible through the snowflakes scraping across the dirty plexiglass. Inside, the heating vents kept the cabin almost uncomfortably warm. The hot air kept ruffling Aravinya’s blonde pixie cut. Her feet sweated inside her high heels.
This was the first class carriage. The seats were leather, not vinyl, and the passengers had meals delivered to their seats rather than having to walk to the dining car. It was also closest to the driver, which was what concerned Aravinya most right now. The woman with the gun could be a Besmari terrorist, planning to seize the train.
‘Something small, perhaps?’ Aravinya pressed. She hoped the boy realised she was asking about the gun, not the food.
‘No.’ The boy’s voice wavered.
Aravinya had hoped for more information. He had given her nothing. That might mean that the woman behind him knew he was aware of the gun. He didn’t want to give her any indication that he had warned Aravinya.
Of course, this could be a prank. But Aravinya had to take it seriously.
Like all Kamauans, Aravinya had served two years in the military after she turned eighteen. She had learned to use a gun and to stitch a wound, but she had never seen actual combat. After her daughter was born, she had trained for this job as a train attendant. One of the classes was entitled In Case Of Emergency. But it hadn’t covered this scenario.
Aravinya nodded politely to the boy and pushed the food cart further up the aisle.
The woman in seat 10A, directly behind the boy, was in her mid-twenties. She had tan skin and curly hair. She wore jeans and a polar fleece vest over a dark blue sweater. She had a flat nose and equally flat eyes. She looked at Aravinya like a Siberian tiger examining potential prey and deciding it was too small to chase.
One of her hands, clad in a fingerless glove, was empty. The other was hidden beneath her tray table. Possibly it was simply resting in her lap.
‘Something from the menu?’ Aravinya asked.
The woman shook her head slightly.
‘Sorry?’ Aravinya leant forward, as though she needed to hear better. But even from this angle, she couldn’t see the hand under the table.
‘No,’ the woman said.
Aravinya nodded and pushed the food cart further up the aisle.
There were two people in the next row – a man and a woman, both dressed in fine wool suits. The woman had a scarf made of bone-white silk. Aravinya recognised her – she was a politician of some sort. A senator? A deputy something? Aravinya wasn’t sure. The man was probably her husband, although he looked a bit younger than her. Thirty-ish, compared to forty-something.
Aravinya had to get to the back of the cabin, where she could call the driver and warn him. But the flat-eyed woman in 10A might notice if she stopped offering food.
The senator, or whoever she was, spoke first. ‘I’ll have the smoked trout.’
Aravinya rummaged in her trolley. ‘I’ve just run out of that,’ she lied, ‘but there’s more in the kitchen. I’ll be right back.’
She pushed the trolley up the aisle as fast as she dared.
A cold ante-chamber connected this carriage to the next. The clattering of the wheels beneath the steel floor was painfully loud. The walls were merely a rubber curtain which concertinaed in and out as the tracks curled left and right.
It was only now that Aravinya’s hands started to tremble. In the first class cabin, acting calm had made her feel calm. Now she felt short of breath as she snatched the phone off the wall and pushed zero.
‘Zoltov,’ the driver grunted.
‘It’s Aravinya,’ she said. ‘I have an unconfirmed report that one of the passengers has a gun.’
‘Have you confronted him?’
‘The passenger is female,’ Aravinya said. ‘Seat 10A. And no, I wanted to warn you first. Can you stop the train?’
‘Not here. There’s nowhere to disembark.’
This was true. There was a wall of rock and ice on one side and a sheer drop on the other. They couldn’t get the passengers out safely.
‘I’ll speed up,’ Zoltov continued. ‘We can be at Stolkalny in thirty minutes.’
Thirty minutes was too long. ‘Who’s in charge of the other carriages today?’ Aravinya asked.
‘We have Byatiya in the kitchen, and Eldiev on standby.’
Byatiya was five feet tall and had only held the job for six weeks. Eldiev was fifty-six and wasn’t in great shape. He was likely to have a heart attack just jogging to first class.
Aravinya could go into the second class carriage and stay there. She would probably be safe. But she couldn’t leave the first class passengers at the mercy of a possible terrorist.
‘Get Eldiev to secure the connecting doors from the other side,’ Aravinya said. ‘Tell him not to let anybody through. I’ll get the passenger out of the first class carriage.’ She swallowed. ‘By force, if necessary.’
‘Keep me posted,’ Zoltov said. He hesitated, as though he had more to say. Good luck, maybe. Or goodbye. But then he just hung up.
Leaving the food cart in the antechamber, Aravinya opened the door to the first class cabin. Warm air spilled out. She strode up the aisle towards seat 10A.
The woman sat in the same position as before, staring at the chair in front as though she could see through it to the anxious boy on the other side.
Aravinya cleared her throat. Trying not to wonder if she was about to die. Trying not to think about when she kissed her daughter goodbye that morning. She couldn’t remember anything she had said to her. She hadn’t even woken her husband.
‘Excuse me,’ she said. ‘I need you to come with me.’
The woman stared up at her. ‘I’m sorry?’
‘I need you to come with me,’ Aravinya repeated.
The senator and her much-younger husband turned to look.
The woman in 10A sat still for a long time. Weighing up her options.
Aravinya’s hand-to-hand combat skills had deteriorated since her military service. But she was standing very close. If the woman threatened her with the gun, Aravinya thought she could probably step forward and snatch it from her grip, despite the high heels.
But the woman might not threaten her. She might just open fire.
The woman looked back at the seat in front.
‘All right,’ she said.
She folded up her tray table. Her hands were empty. If she had a gun, it was concealed beneath her vest. This gave Aravinya a chance.
‘This way,’ Aravinya said, gesturing to the antechamber which connected the first and second carriages.
The woman stood up. Aravinya followed her to the back of the cabin, staying a safe distance behind.
The woman opened the door and walked through into the noisy cold of the antechamber. Aravinya closed it behind her.
‘Are you armed?’ Aravinya asked.
‘No,’ the woman said. She didn’t seem surprised by the question.
‘I need to search you. Stand with your arms wide, and your feet shoulder-width apart.’
The woman stood like a scarecrow. ‘My name is Dessa Cormanenko,’ she said, as Aravinya patted her down. ‘I work for Kamauan intelligence. I’m not armed.’
Aravinya checked the woman’s armpits, the small of her back, her thighs, the ankles of her boots. There was no gun. ‘Do you have some identification?’
Very slowly, the woman reached into her jacket and removed a thin wallet. She opened it up. There appeared to be nothing inside except a card with a holographic seal. It said, Dessa Cormanenko. Junior Librarian.
Not everyone knew that Kamauan Intelligence Operations was referred to as “the library”, but Aravinya did.
‘I’m here tracking a Besmari spy,’ Cormanenko continued. ‘His name is Troy Maschenov. He’s a twelve-year old boy in a black jacket. He was seated right in front of me.’
Aravinya gasped. ‘Is he after the senator?’
Cormanenko’s eyes narrowed. ‘What senator?’
Aravinya heard the first class door lock behind her.