Still holding the smart phone in her left hand, Jane rose the right up to her forehead, then closed her eyes and pinched her face, several times. Wings stepped towards her, placed a hand on Jane’s shoulder. The younger woman was confused but motivated; what Jane was saying was bizarre, her story sounding like an elaborate prank, or the ravings of a delirious or intoxicated person, yet Wings still sensed that this was the Jane Summers she had known for years. No less sure of herself, as intelligent as always. Still strong, too strong, displaying her one weakness — being vulnerable, asking for help. Which, given the odd story she was telling this afternoon, was something Jane really needed about now.
“Hey.” Wings squeezed Jane’s shoulder, reached for the smart phone, took it from Jane cautiously. “Why don’t you tell me about this — Unirail thing you keep talking about.”
Jane nodded, sighed, stared up at the ceiling of her apartment a moment as if trying to recall an anecdote from a summer camp many decades past. “I really don’t know much about it, other than it works off this — grid, they call it, under the streets.”
“Electric?” It was the first thought that came to Wings upon hearing the word grid. “You mean, like the El?” A long thin finger pointed out the window of Jane’s apartment.
Jane snorted. “The El? Haven’t heard that in five years.” She brushed shoulder-length hair back off her brow. “No, you can’t have people walking on live circuits. The electricity’s all under ground, in shielded cables, but it makes this, I don’t know, some kind of magnetic field that only the pods can pick up.” Jane glanced up at Wings, saw her confusion. “Pods are like these little cars, can seat up to six people — there’s thousands of them, all over Chicago now. To call one, you press this button on a summoning station, they’re about the size of those parking meters we used to have.”
“Still do.” As Jane shot a look up at her, Wings blinked.
Jane waved a hand in front of her. “You pay your fare by swiping a pass, either at the summoning station or on the cube. You get in, enter your destination in this little typewriter — few minutes later, you’re on your way.”
“Get out.” Wings laughed. “That’s totally science fiction!”
Jane slapped her palms on the low coffee table in front of her. “But I’m telling you, Unirail’s reality, it’s a fact. Pilot project was launched in the Loop, early eighties. We’ve got 95% of the city covered, about 70% of the major roads in the ‘burbs. Five years we’ll have the whole county, would have had it by now if that tax bill had passed. I don’t think anyone, except the scientists who developed it, really understands how it works, but it’s totally safe, and it works. Been working for — ”
Eine Kleine Nachtmusik began playing from a nearby chair. No longer startled by the sound, Jane reached over — “Now this is science fiction –” picked up the small device she had seen for the first time this morning, even though Wings insisted she had sold it to Jane almost a year ago. Jane saw Gary’s name and Christmas family picture on the device’s surface; her questioning eyes then searched for Wings, who patiently demonstrated how to answer the incoming call.
“Hello?” Jane was relieved that phone etiquette remained the same in this strange new world. “Yeah, it’s me. Yeah, I’m home. No, my friend’s here.” Jane nodded at Wings, who smiled in response. “Yeah, I’m still — those things I told you this morning, I still think they’re true.” Jane’s face hardened as she stood up suddenly. “They are true. I don’t know what’s happened, but this world, it suddenly got all fucked up.” Steel remaining in her face, Jane listened intently to the sound of Gary’s voice a moment, before her eyes widened. “Oh God no. Gary, I’ll do anything, but not that.”