Ah, back home at last, I thought when I stepped off the plane. I had been assigned abroad to take care of a project which had been lagging for a while, and the two-week assignment had slowly turned into a 18-month one. Personally it had been worth it, as the bonus I had received for saving the corporation from massive damages had been very generous.
But it was good to be home again. I had arranged to meet some old friends of mine in the central park. The directions I got in an email on my way had been rather short - 'Just take the tube from the airport. See you at four'.
I couldn't recall any subway connections from the airport when I had been here last, but many things can change in one and a half years. I picked up my one piece of luggage - most of my stuff were going to be shipped directly to my - and went through the customs with no problems.
Many things truly had changed, and I couldn't find the subway entrance anywhere. I finally asked directions to the 'tube', and found myself descending underground in a fully packed elevator. The elevator opened into a black corridor with some red stripes on the walls. People lined up automatically, to purchase tickets, I assumed. As I wasn't in any rush I visited the bathroom, and when I was finished the corridor was empty. Puzzled ever more I looked around scratching my head. In one end of the corridor was a circular map of the city area drawn into the floor, with 'red line tunneling corporation' stylishly written at the end of the corridor. There were no exits except for the toilet and the elevator.
"Just step on the pad and think of your destination", smiling female voice said next to me. The voice belonged to a smiling girl in her twenties, with her bright red hair set up in a complex interlocking loop pattern I'd seen couple times abroad. I shrugged, stepped on the map, and after a while found the park on the map.
As I was about to ask futher directions everything went dark, and I had a falling sensation.. upwards. This continued for what felt like a minute, and then I was falling downwards suddenly, and I felt ground under my feet again. I could hear the birds briefly before my sight returned. I was in the park. I scratched my head and looked around.
A man nearby paused his futile attempt to keep the park clear of the falling leaves, and asked me whether it was my first jump. I told him that yes, I had been abroad for a while, and I didn't know what was going on. He seemed happy for the chance of taking a break and explained that apparently a year ago or so someone had made a breakthrough in interparticle tunneling or some such and that had evolved into a personnel transportation service of some sort, with automated billing and everything, and everyone was doing it nowadays.
Eventually I found my friends and they filled me in with other bits that had changed lately, but the 'tubing' thing seemed to be the largest change. I felt a bit odd about not hearing about it in the news, but then again I had been neck deep in my own troubles for the past year, so I hadn't paid too much attention to the news.
Luckily for me I wasn't the only one to feel inconvenienced by this new form of travel, and thus the conventional forms still existed, and I mostly travelled by train in the following months. Eventually I arrived in a situation where I had missed my train, and if I wasn't able to find myself back in the city within couple of hours I would miss an important meeting. So I decided to give this tunneling thing another go.
I asked around and was directed to what appeared to be the blue line tunneling corporation's booth. It was a small kiosk like affair, with the ominous pad in one corner, and what at the time looked like one of those pick-your-own-candy-mix kinds of things with a teenage boy sampling this and that into a paper bag.
"Want some chizz with you on your trip?", said another one of these smiling female voices; I had learned that they were hologram projected virtual guides. The first one had fooled me completely.
The boy went to the pad and to my surprise emptied his bag on the pad before standing on it.
"I, uh, just want to get there", I stammered, watching the boy.
"You will see that we are just as good in getting people there as the.. other company."
The boy first seemed to stretch and then in one eyeblink he sank through the floor, all of his "candy" going with him.
"Some chizz would make your trip much more.. interesting"
"Thanks all the same, but I'll pass."
With that, the guide showed me the way to the pad, and told me to think of the town where I wanted to go, instead of the exact destination; I would arrive in some kind of central transportation node where I could take a shorter trip to my final destination.
Instantly upon my arrival I knew something was wrong. I had arrived in the park again, instead of the central node, whatever that was supposed to be. I also felt ill, like something was missing. Forgetting about the meeting I went to see my doctor, who to my dismay couldn't find anything physically wrong with me. "There are some things about this tunneling that we cannot understand", he told me, "but the greedy corporations just have to push it and they say it's completely safe".
Apparently the blue and red line companies were originally one and the same firm, headed by two guys who had stumbled upon the discovery, who soon split their company into two due to some disagreements.
I decided to take a few days off to rest. Quickly I found that I couldn't sleep, with that nagging feeling of.. something.. missing keeping me awake. I decided I'd try to use the red line pad again, if it would help. I'd use the exact same one this time. At least it had worked. I took a taxi to the airport at 4am in the morning, and found my way to the elevator.
It didn't go down. There wasn't even a button. Confused, thinking that maybe I had tried the wrong elevator I asked around, and nobody seemed to have heard of a subway connection built to the airport.
I felt increasingly ill.
This story came to my mind in a dream. Really.