Jerszak Senfell loved driving his bus through the bustling metropolis of Tenerek’s main city, Arturii. It was an easy route, and most of the people who caught his bus did so every day the whole year through. He’d made some good, solid friendships with the men and women who rode his route. He’d even met his future wife during a shift and against regulations, had asked her to marry him while stopped at the long red light. She’d said yes, of course, and the entire bus had cheered him on.
What a wonderful day that’d been. Just about the best day Jerszak could ever remember. The bus driver -a little long in the tooth, a little gray in the hair, a little round in the belly- was holding on to that day with feverish attention. He hoped it’d keep him sane.
Today was nothing like that day.
Today, against regulations, Jerszak wasn’t even driving his own bus.
Today, a blue-eyed black haired maniac in a long coat was driving his bus and with such reckless abandon. It was a miracle the vehicle was still working.
“Y’know, Jerry … I can call you Jerry, right? Y’know, Jerry, this whole thing is seriously fucked up.”
Jerry winced as the driver started angling the bus towards oncoming traffic. Instinct said the man was going to try and take the corner onto Lefz, but it was less than fifty feet away and they were traveling nearly a hundred miles an hour. For some reason that boggled Jerry’s mind, his kidnapper was insisting that he follow the route, even though it seemed to be making escape from the police force right behind them more than a little difficult.
Jerry swallowed nervously and redoubled his grip on the bars. He didn’t know what the word ‘fucked’ meant, but it was easy to guess. “I … yes … taking me hostage is … is fucked up.”
The driver did something complicated involving all the brakes, the gear shifter and the steering wheel and against all rational thought and odds, the lumbering hulk that was the bus made an amazingly graceful turn onto Lefz, whereupon they picked up speed once more. He howled with laughter as a slew of brilliant purple police cars slammed into one another. “This? The hostage thing? No, that’s not the fucked up thing, Jerry. That’s normal. No, the fucked up thing is this future. It’s all wrong. Like, completely and totally wrong.”
Jerszak –who actually found he was thinking of himself as Jerry- frowned. “The … the future? I … that doesn’t make sense.” He was a bus driver, which meant that on slow days, or on days when nobody felt like talking, he had ample time for thought. Jerry was by no means a philosopher, but he’d been known to have a deep thought or two.
The rearview mirror showed the cops had reoriented and were back on the hunt. Jerry continued. “How can our future be wrong? How can you even know what the future is? Who are you?”
The blue-eyed maniac blinked. “Where are my manners? I’ve taken you hostage, we’re about to get into some pretty heavy shit here and I haven’t even told you who I am. My name, Jerry Seinfeld, is Garth N’Chalez, formerly a Mercenary Captain for The Special Services Branch of Trinity’s Military Engine.”
Though he’d been terrified from the moment Garth had politely informed him he and his bus was being taken hostage, Jerry was now absolutely petrified. He knew about Special Services. Everyone did. Special Services was the worst best-kept secret in all of Trinityspace; home of criminals, the insane and people who lived only to kill or die on planets on the other side of the impenetrable Cordon, soldiers who worked in SpecSer were legends. They did things and went places they couldn’t talk about.
Jerry stared at the thick hand shoved in his direction, trying as he did so to forget that his captor was now driving the bus with his knees. “Garth N… Nc …?”
Garth sighed. No one anywhere could pronounce his name. “Nickels. Okay? Just … Nickels is fine. Jesus.”
Jerry took Garth’s hand in his own because it seemed like that was what the man wanted. He did it for another reason too: hopefully it’d get him to put his hands back on the wheel. The bus driver had the distinct feeling that his captor was doing his best not to squeeze too hard, for which he was grateful; Garth’s hand felt as hard as steel.
Garth smiled sunnily. “Awesome. Now. I didn’t say our future. I said this future. Viewed from the outside looking in, everything that is, um, everything –like right now- is totally one hundred percent incorrect.” He looked in the rearview mirror. Six cop cars trailed their bus and one was trying to make its way beside them, presumably to shoot out the tires or shoot through the door. Not very sporting.
Against better judgment, Jerry opened his mouth. “That would make it the present, then.”
“Ahah!” Garth pointed a finger at the roof and abruptly lost control of the bus. It swerved to the left. The driver of the cop car sneaking its way up overreacted to the sudden motion and veered off into the side of a building. “You’d think so, right?” Garth grabbed hold of the wheel with both hands and started angling to make another high-speed turn.
“The present isn’t the present?” Whoever Garth Nickels was, he seemed to have a very tenuous grasp on time. “What is it then?”
Then, because they were going to take the turn onto Bliru at roughly a hundred fifty miles per hour, Jerry shut his eyes.
There followed a solid thirty seconds of cursing, crashing and squealing of tires. Jerry had never heard the word ‘fuck’ before today, but in those thirty seconds of testicle-shrinking terror he heard something on the order of seven thousand different ways of using it in a sentence, some of them requiring no additional words at all. A few more car crash sounds reached his ears and Jerry hoped that the policemen in those vehicles were okay.
“You can open your eyes, Jerry.” Garth waved when the driver did so. He cocked his head to one side, thoughtfully. “Can I trust you?”
“Sorry?” Jerry ignored the fact that Garth was driving with his knees again. The man seemed capable of driving with any part of his body, and with far greater skill than someone who’d used the same vehicle every day for the last fifteen years.
“Can I trust you? I mean, people talk to you all day long, right? Do you blab all the stuff they say to your wife the moment you get home, or do you keep it to yourself?”
At that moment, Jerry saw in Garth’s brilliant blue eyes an absolute need to talk to someone. For the rest of his days, Jerszak Senfell would remember wondering how any one human being could seem to be so alone in the middle of a police chase, or how, while being so alone, he could be having so much fun. “Absolutely, Garth. You can trust me.”
“Cool.” Garth nodded, satisfied. Then more firmly, “Cool. Okay. So. I was born something like thirty thousand years ago on a small blue-green planet called ‘Earth’. For some reason I can’t remember or even fucking understand, I put myself into suspended animation. I got woken up ten years ago, and even though I remember shit-all about the past, I can tell you with absolute clarity that this whole future is broken. You ever hear of a show called The Jetsons? No? It was a cartoon for kids, but in it, they had spaceships that could fold up into suitcases! Where are those, Jerry? We’re thirty thousand years into the future, man. How come we don’t have warp drive, Jerry? TV shows from my time had guys in glittering onesies traveling all over everywhere at Warp 10 and damn me if there’s no reason we don’t have that! Explain to me why there haven’t been any significant advances in anything in ever, Jerry! Oh,” Garth grinned sheepishly, “and um, I should warn you. Knowledge of my interment for thirty thousand years and, uh, my rank and previous association with Special Services is bound under Trinity Law and anyone announcing anything I say to anyone is, um, punishable by an awful lot of things that are detrimental to breathing. I can recite the applicable statutes, if you like.”
Jerry automatically filed most of what Garth had just said away as the ramblings of a madman, choosing to focus on the one –to his mind- salient aspect of the man’s rant. “You …” he whispered quietly, “you have to know why. Everyone knows why.”
Garth looked again the rearview mirror. “These guys are effing persistent, man.” He shook his head. “Say it, Jerry. Say it out loud. Don’t be afraid. Trinity isn’t here and isn’t going to hurt you.”
“The …The Dark Ages.”
Garth slammed on the breaks, yanked hard on the wheel, howling with laughter as the massive bus spun in a perfect hundred-eighty degree arc. He frowned apologetically as, at the tail end of the spin, the rear of his commandeered bus whacked a series of parked cars into motion. “Exactly, Jerry. The Dark Ages. A ‘universal and unpredictable event’ that sweeps across all of fucking creation, slamming everyone and everything back to, well, the goddamn Dark Ages!”
Throwing the bus into motion, Garth drove back the way they’d just come, waving cheerily at the stunned police officers.
Jerry wanted to weep but adrenalin and terror were keeping him mercilessly focused. Not only was he being held captive by a bona fide SpecSer madman, he was dealing with … he couldn’t even think of the right words. The Dark Ages, and the dread you felt … it was just something you learned to deal with. Focusing on it as Garth Nickels seemed to have done was … unwise. He opened his mouth to say something, but Garth interrupted.
“It doesn’t make sense, Jerry! I’ve been on hundreds of planets in thousands of systems across both Trinityspace and The Cordon. I’ve seen things you can’t imagine and done things you would swear were impossible. We have Quantum Tunnels that connect solar systems hundreds of trillions of light years apart. We have artificially intelligent minds running everything everywhere –not counting Trinity - and we have spread ourselves to virtually every corner of existence. Did you know that, right now, the Trinity AI has more than eight hundred Offworld species of sentient being contained within It’s own domain? Eight hundred!”
Garth rammed a police car out of the way as he interrupted Jerry. “Does this have to do with anything? It’s The Trinity Fucking AI, Jerry! It’s been in control of humanity and your expansion for thirty thousand years. It has the power and ability to create something like The Cordon, a massive intergalactic wall that keeps ravening hordes of mutated humans and … and talking cockroaches from wandering around messing our shit up. It has Enforcers under It’s control, and those guys can conquer solar systems all on their own and they don’t even have to pack a lunch! It can keep aliens with alien technology from leaving their own solar systems without permission and it can’t stop these Dark Ages? It can do anything It wants!”
“The … The Trinity AI is affected by The Dark Ages too. It says so.” Jerry winced as Garth drove another three cop cars off the road.
“Jerry, don’t go wobbly on me here. Think about it. I can accept the fact that these Ages happen. The evidence is overwhelming. I can even accept that Trinity prevents entire realms of scientific exploration from occurring to help forestall a coming Age because even though I hate the machine mind with a passion, It is nevertheless instrumental in keeping everyone breathing. If It were affected by The Dark Ages as badly as individual solar systems and planets are, we wouldn’t have made it past that first one. Did you know that after a Dark Age, whole bunches of old tech that used to work don’t anymore? How does that make sense? It doesn’t! Know what else doesn’t make sense?”
“I … I …” Jerry pointed out the front window. Policemen were standing on either side of the road with guns drawn.
“Don’t mind them, Jerry. Tenerekian standard-issue revolvers lack punching power. Your bus is bullet-proof.” Garth flipped a couple cops the bird and kept on driving. “Microchips, Jerry. Microchips thirty thousand years into the future don’t make any sense. This whole future doesn’t make any sense. Hell, me driving a bus and talking to you is weird. After this long, everyone everywhere should be talking balls of light or, uh, well … not needing a goddamn bus to get to work.”
“I get it now.” Jerry announced suddenly. “You’re being chased because of your views on the Trinity AI and The Dark Ages! You’re an agitator aren’t you? The Trinity AI wants to silence you! Don’t you know that talking about Dark Ages like this incites riots and panic in the streets? I’ve read stories about whole planets being swept up in anti-Age riots and hysteria. You should … you should give up.”
“Haha, what? No, man, Trinity loves me. First rate soldier, me. Did all kinds of fucked up shit for that machine mind. Trinity wouldn’t do anything to me unless I, like, wandered talking about Gorensworld or Tannhauser’s Gate … shit … forget I said that. I didn’t say that. I was talking about the weather.”
Jerry whimpered. “Then what … why … why are the police chasing you?”
“Oh that.” Garth shrugged. “No clue. Some cop pulled a gun on me about an hour ago and told me I was under arrest. I punched him out and ran away. Cue antics with stolen bus. This is fun, isn’t it? We’re having fun, right? I mean, I bet you never knew you could drive your bus this fast, right? And you’re learning about how the future is broken, so that’s got to count as interesting, at the very least.”
Jerry pointed out the window with a trembling finger.
“Well shit. Your bus isn’t bulletproof against machine guns, Jerry.” Garth shrugged. “I wonder what I did wrong. You probably wanna get off.” To oblige his unwilling guest, he drove up and pulled to a complete halt at the closest available bus stop.
Jerry got off as quickly as he could, turning to watch as Garth Nickels, ex-Mercenary Captain formerly of Special Services, sped up and basically aimed the bus at the squadron of machinegun wielding police officers.
The explosion was quite impressive. Pale and trembling, Jerry sat on the bench and waited for the police to come to him. While he did this, the ex-bus driver thought on what he was going to say. He certainly had no intention of mentioning anything that Garth had actually said; Jerry had little doubt revealing word one of what’d come out of the man’s mouth would see him locked up forever.
Garth sat and waited politely for the arresting officers to finish putting out the fire, humming the theme song to ‘The Greatest American Hero’ under his breath. He was out of sorts. He knew it. Ever since winning free of Special Services, ever since deciding to … do what he was going to try and do … he wasn’t feeling right in the head. The urges pushing him forward were … overwhelming.
A cop in a bright purple suit warily approached him, handcuffs at the ready. Garth rose and waited for the cop to stop crying. When all the tears were done, the ex-SpecSer turned around and laced his hands behind his back. “Look, man, I can’t cuff myself. Let’s get this over with.”
Backed by fifty cops armed with machineguns and rocket launchers, the arresting officer stepped forward and put the cuffs on.
“You guys owe me a new jacket.” Garth groused as he let himself be put into a paddy wagon. “This one is burned because you blew that bus up around my ears.”