Virhem held the head of the sleeping train conductor in his hand gently, with the same sort of attitude an orderly would hold their patient, practiced and dispassionate. The white noise of the train whispering on its tracks, hovering on the cushion of electromagnetic repulsion, softened the sound of the twitching and scuffling as the train conductor’s body struggled for a moment to wake up. The narcotic mixed in with the paralyzing agent was too strong. His eyes fluttered for a few, never quite opening before they closed for good. All he could do is kick weakly where he sat, strapped into the small folding chair built into the bulkhead, leaning his head into Virhem’s hand. The white noise muffled the choked cough as the middle-aged man’s lungs seized. They stopped after another minute.
The Terra Novan landscape rushed past as the MagLev train sped through the badlands. Rolling dunes of yellow silica sand was beginning to mix with the rust color of mineral oxides. Boulders and rock spires flashed past the windows.
Virhem looked away, pretending to himself that he was checking the hallway, rather than disgusted by his own hands. No one was there; no one heard a thing or stumbled out of their cabin. No one stepped outside to see the conductor, in his brass-buttoned, blue and white caricature of a uniform convulsing his last while Virhem held an hypodermic injector in one hand and the conductor’s head in the other.
The conductor’s expression was unnervingly placid, as though he was sleeping the best he had in years. Virhem saw it reflected on the glass pane of the door at the other end of the passenger car. He could barely recognize himself, expect for the corpse he was holding up. His stubble made his features harsher, seemingly emaciating him, though his frame has thickened over the past few years of hardship. He looked like a killer through and through. The respectable suit he wore did little to hide it.
Unbidden, his stare focused on the reflection of the dead man’s face. In Virhem’s mind, that face settled into place along with the rest, a new performer to a chorus that was getting ready to sing some somber tune.
“Not now”, Virhem muttered to himself. He was running out of time.
The head lolled to one side unnaturally when he let it go. The hallway was still empty when he reached around to the keycards tethered to the conductor’s belt, holding it to the reader next to the door labeled ‘FREIGHT CAR 4’. The card lit up, chirping as it demanded a passcode through a cheap holographic display. He got past that by holding the card face-down the personal communication device strapped to his wrist. The keycard and his device wrestled computationally for half a second before the door slid aside.
Virhem paused at the threshold. Lights came on in the freight car, one by one, at ten feet intervals. He thought about the conductor’s face one last time before he stepped through. He didn’t look back. The door shut behind him.