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Sebastian normally loved trains. He loved everything about them. The way he felt connected, moving forwards and backwards between destinations, between worlds being now here then no where at once, where he was safe, where he had direction, where he had purpose, where he felt more full inside than when he was alone. He was one of the most experienced train enthusiasts in the United States’ northeastern corridor, based on a technical analysis of his Amtrak rewards history.


As Train 47 passed Princeton Junction en route to DC at 02:21 L (07:21Z), Sebastian teleported back to the first time he had ever ridden a train.


It was a few weeks after Avery and Sebastian had started hanging out and they decided to spoil themselves one Saturday by taking the train to visit New York from campus, just for the day.


At this point Sebastian and Avery weren’t quite dating, but they also weren’t just friends. Sebastian was unsure of their status and too terrified to broach the subject in case he was misinterpreting Avery’s perceived advances. All he knew was that Avery made him feel alive in a way he had never felt before.


The world had color that Sebastian hadn’t ever seen. The air smelled different. Every moment together was magical. He was unexpectedly falling in love for the first time.


-Sit next to me.


-Wait there’s plenty of room on the other side.


-No, sit next to me.


Avery grinned like a Cheshire cat. Sebastian did as Avery asked and smashed into the three-seater that was already occupied by another couple, who became visibly annoyed, to make four. It was Sebastian’s first time riding the Dinky, an adorably-sized two-car locomotive that shuttled students back-and-forth along the local rail spur that linked Princeton’s campus to Princeton Junction, where they would transfer to catch a mid-morning commuter to Manhattan. 


A chaotically packed vestibule of students adorned with garish black and orange garb being ferried from a fabled land to the real world- it was a scene straight from Harry Potter, Sebastian having just climbed aboard the Hogwarts Express for the inauguration of his first voyage along with Avery by his side.


Many recurring trips followed during both college and after, when the pair would make regular pilgrimages to Lincoln Center from DC to see plays and operas.


Sebastian smiled, his eyes glued to the window so that none of the other passengers could see him momentarily cry again. It was such a beautiful memory.  


When he had finally composed himself, Sebastian turned over to look at the seat next to his. It was empty. 


This wasn’t a train ride that Sebastian loved.


Sebastian couldn’t stand the sight. He returned to staring vacantly out the window. Droplets of water had started to splash the pane. It was beginning to lightly drizzle outside in the dark.


What could he have done differently? How could he have prevented this? Wake up. Wake up! He wanted none of this to be real, for the nightmare to finally end, for it all to be a bizarre joke with some morose punchline he could berate the comedian for inventing after they finished their set.


Sebastian felt an unforgiving sense of guilt, of absolute loss.


They had seen this coming, a fact that made the reality even more unbearable than it naturally was. It was as if he and Avery had stood directly on the tracks at Princeton Junction and watched the very train he now rode from a mile away heading right towards them, the two of them just standing there waiting to be run over.  


They should have gotten out when they first sensed danger.


Sebastian’s sadness spiraled. A thought pattern that he had exhaustedly cycled through many times in the recent past returned to torture him once more: how the war had started.


The Great Attack on election night 2024 changed everything. It was a false-flag operation. The Russian Government blew up the Red Square as a pretext for launching a full-fledged assault to take the rest of Ukraine, accusing Kyiv of responsibility for the destruction of the Kremlin’s jeweled inner sanctum. Back home, seemingly immune to the significance of what had just happened in Europe, domestic politics in the United States descended into complete incoherence, into a loose form of anarchy. As the results of the election were contested and the United States government fell apart, so too did the rest of the world.


In the immediate years following, the US regime that took power began dismantling the same institutions that the US itself had led the international community in creating after the second world war to prevent another world war from unfolding [Comment: The irony].


The World Trade Organization, a multilateral forum for establishing policies aimed at preventing countries from creating barriers to exchanging goods and services between one another, was the first to go. Then the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund collapsed simultaneously, as did the economies of two thirds of developing countries, which resulted in global widespread famine. Finally, NATO was abolished as disagreement between member states over spending levels on collective security led to the United States’ withdrawal. Without the US there was no NATO, and without NATO well...


we’ll get to that in a bit, later on at the end.


The vacuum that resulted from the absence of these international organizations and US leadership in promoting them led to the return of multipolarity, of great power competition between all of the same historical bad actors who, confident in their cause for jus ad bellum during the previous century, reverted to old habits of trying to expand their empires at the expense of others, their revision of borders and of history itself a virtuous and necessary pursuit for a greater good, so their leaders claimed.


China invaded Taiwan, then the Philippines and the rest of Southeast Asia. After Russia forcibly annexed Ukraine in its entirety, then fell Moldova, and finally Poland after Belarus had already let T-72 main battle tanks voluntarily fill its bases and streets. 


As global order fell into disarray, the United States and its people watched from afar, from the perceived safety of another continent, from a position of isolation deaf to the pleas of former allies for support overseas. 


It wasn’t such a distant cry for help for Sebastian who had continued his work undeterred, watching and reporting on the hundreds of thousands of lives who perished. He had a front row seat from the skies overhead to a spectacular theatrical release of death, mayhem, and destruction of epic proportions without historical precedent.


Can you imagine watching so many people die and not being able to do anything to stop it?  What effect might that have on you?


Sebastian’s mind snapped shut. A voice emerged from the darkness.


-Do not go there before it’s too late.


His nervous system started kicking into overdrive. He began involuntarily sweating and panting. He was encroaching upon a specific memory associated with the war that he knew was too dangerous to revisit. It was as if a switch instantaneously shut down his entire body and he had become a vegetable, unable to think or feel or process awareness of his surroundings or remember who he even was. 


Sebastian’s phone dinged. He looked down to see an image of a cat sipping tea. He hearted the post from the fake account that the Professor had created. There was no need for encryption to communicate that he was safe, that he was successful in catching his train. The Professor and him continued to correspond under the cloak of social media’s anonymity during the train’s entire journey. 


Sebastian’s friends outside of the Agency, before they had started disappearing, always wondered why he was such a prolific poster of photos and videos. The truth of it was that he hated social media, he hated exploiting himself and subjecting himself to the approval of others for the special moments he had captured with imagery outside of the office to simply remember for himself, to look back on with fondness and nostalgia when he would eventually become tired and old and gray and want to feel again what it had once been like to have his youth.


But creating content was a requisite part of the job. It was one of the primary ways that he and his people were able to be effective in carrying out their mission outside of the SCIF. They found secrecy in the open, dark in the light.


-’Trenton makes, the world takes’. 


Sebastian felt nauseous as he passed beyond the halfway point of this sojourn southward at 03:03L (08:03Z). He had noted this sign suspended upon a bridge across from the rail route many times before, an artifact of a bygone era from when this region of the United States had once been a manufacturing powerhouse, an industrial corridor making goods that were indeed sent all over the world. This was how the US had originally ascended to surpass all other nations in wealth and power, by engaging with the world and sharing with it, not by running away. The sight of the sign made him uneasy every time.


Just beyond the sign Sebastian began traversing through the dilapidated suburbs north of Philadelphia. The decay and deterioration he was now enveloped by told a completely different story from the sign. No one in the world was taking what this part of the country had to produce anymore.


Correction: this part of the country wasn’t producing anything anymore for the world to take at all and the imagery of boarded up windows, graffiti-covered abandoned properties, and tent cities was the direct result. This didn’t feel like the world's largest economy, rather an impoverished nation in need of aid.


Sebastian thought of standing in line in his high school cafeteria back in Beaver when he was just a teenager and of the classmate in front of him and the one behind him who couldn’t afford to pay $2.25 for lunch receiving a single piece of American cheese sandwiched between two stale slices of bread. It was a regular occurrence.


No wonder everyone had become so upset and had taken to the streets and the government had collapsed. The government had failed. The middle class was gone, Americans were falling into destitution, their current standard of living an embarrassment to the quality of life of their grandparents and the generation before them.


Where did they go wrong?


At 04:15 L (09:15Z) Sebastian passed through the innards of 30th Street Station under Philadelphia’s city center, beneath where the United States of America had been born. Sebastian wondered what the founders would think of the country’s present predicament, whether they would have still fought and spilled their blood for independence if they had known how tyranny would return to conquer the right’s of the people once again, proving that no form of democracy was eternal, that every safeguard and protection that they had devised had failed.


The emotional energy that Sebastian was investing on these weighty subjects was exhausting and he realized a complete waste of his mental capacity. There was nothing he could do. The only chance he had of making a difference in the world right now for the better was to get Avery home. 


Sebastian’s depression darkened. He wondered about Avery's current status. Sebastian whispered at the window.


-Just hold on babe, I’m coming.


Sebastian had no idea whether or not Avery was still alive. A lot could have happened in the three days between when the video that the Professor had shown him was published and now. But there was a chance.  


-Hold on.


Sebastian slurred the same refrain repeatedly until he lost consciousness, collapsing into the empty seat beside him.




We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.


That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.


That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. 


Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.


But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. 

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