Excerpt from Better Way

# Wreck

This was my fourth wreck. With the push to keep costs down the old lines had started to become unreliable. Back in the day, their propaganda machine had called our lines the B trains, saying we couldn’t compete and would never make a profit. Of course, now, the B Train had come to mean the Better Way, our little slogan about doing better and being better than the old way of doing things.

In any event we don’t make profits, not something that motivates us, we solve problems. But the A train folk don’t understand this. Their news says how poor we are, how things don’t work, how living like us means long queues and shortages. We’re dirty because we don’t have water, or the benefits of the long molecules that make their soap look shiny but add nothing to its efficacy and fills the sea with even more shit, as well as all the rest of their crap.

Our rebirthed train line came close to the scene of their new one that had been torn from the fields. Our people arrived to pick up the pieces, sort the living and the dead, and give what succour could be given to the injured and grieving. The two train systems didn’t even use the same tracks. We had built our own.

Only luck meant their train had left the track on a bend, landing upside down in a field, with a deep gouge either side where the heavy momentum of the juggernaut had ploughed a furrow along the side of the embankment before breaking through to the farmland beyond. A head on crash would have been much worse.

At first it looked like carnage, I feared lots of death and injury. We deployed the lights and I got one of the guys to fly a drone with an infrared camera over to see where people might be trapped. Fortunately, it was off peak so maybe there were only a hundred people or so affected instead of the five to six hundred it could have been.

A bitter February wind was knifing down all the way from Northern Europe, cutting a cold line into us and complicating what shock might do to the victims. I dispatched the med teams to round up the people wandering around in a daze and get them into shelter to be assessed and warmed up. Once people start getting cold even the simplest of conditions can start to become difficult.

There were about twenty of us standing there watching the screens as the nanometre radar was overlaid with the infrared. I could smell the oddly comforting scent of newly turned over soil mixed with the acrid ionisation from the power lines shorted out when the train went through the pylons to its resting place. There was no A train mobile signal out here, no profit in it, so it might be a while before the news spread. As usual, the _competition_ did nothing but wait for us to pick up their pieces. We were fine, our communication mesh worked in most places, bridging and helping those who needed it.

I split the team up into one carriage each, set the phones to mesh walkie-talkie mode. First assess who needs help first, get the help to them, and move on from there. We got ladders and smashed windows, lifted people out onto stretchers and then on to triage and treatment out of the wind.

There were no fatalities but quite a few broken bones, and people wandering confused in shock over the broken ground.

“Get away from me you dirty B. I don’t want your medicine. You’re going to make us ill – if you touch me I will sue you!”

“Ah, get the fuck on with you. We’re all that’s coming. Stop being an arse.”

Not all of our new found friends were grateful for our assistance and this hurt some of the youngsters in my group. It’s hard to explain how they could have this view of us; we do no harm but their media are full of the machinations of fear because our way doesn’t make _money_ for their _owners_. Of course, if you asked them they would say they aren’t owned, but they are, invisible chains of obligation and debt holding them under control, the boot stamping on the face forever, but it was a _friendly_ boot. The mental chains dooming them to shorter unhappy lives, like their parents before them.

There’s the irony, for me, you’re free to starve. If that doesn’t make you another slave, what does? The first thing that was done centuries ago was to drive people like us off the land. So we had to work, because we had to _buy_. That was the one thing my fellow B train people understood. We went back to the land, so we could eat, and we don’t have to _buy_ anything.

You can’t sue people who have no money, but this was so alien the slaves couldn’t understand us. On paper they enjoy the same freedoms we do, but in practice only the owners can exercise them. Unless you get chosen to join in the ownership game by being either lucky or born to it, or manage to play what part of the game you have access to reasonably well, you are powerless and may has well have had your voice box removed for anything other than _commercial_ or _consumer_ purposes. Unless they were selling your creativity in little bursts of plastic nothing.

We had been the underclass, the people of the B train, the small. They tried to make us dirty by stealing the water so we purified the sea, they tried to make us ill by polluting the air so we gave them cheaper technology that stopped it. We let them _own_ it and carry on with their old shit because it’s not worth fighting over. But with all the conditioning and fear we’re still evil and frightening, even when setting your bones and stopping your pain. We took that B and turned it into the Better Way. Then we owned it. Then we made B become _better_, and not inferior.

By this time we were moving people across to our train so we could evacuate them out of the wilderness. Between the crumpled bones of their shiny but shoddy cities they run their gleaming slapdash trains and don’t see us, or pretend they can’t anyway.

I was supervising the loading of casualties into the ATV shuttle when a sandy-haired guy, about 170 cm tall limped up to me, shouting:

“You can’t do this!”

“Other than the really obvious thing, that we _are_ taking the injured to a medical station for more treatment, and evacuating the rest of you somewhere warm, what’s your reasoning here?”

“You people aren’t qualified, you don’t have insurance, and you aren’t clean you could infect someone. You should keep away.”

“How would we get qualified?”

“I don’t know – go to a university or something.”

“This means paying?”

“Of course.”

“We don’t pay.”


“No money.”

“But you have all this stuff!”

“_Stuff_ is made and kept ready for when it’s needed.”

“You have no qualifications!”

“We know what to do. We have apprenticeships in skills and knowledge that last for many more years than your paid-for degrees. Does that count? In my day job I’m a genetics researcher, but I started out in trauma medicine and I was the most qualified person to co-ordinate here. So I got the team lead today. But practically everyone could do this, there is no hierarchy. We just make sure stuff that needs to get done gets done.”

“I will wait here.” He folded his arms and looked determined, if a bit boyish.

“The rail repair people will be along in a couple of days, probably, you might get hungry and a bit cold. Or you could walk twenty or thirty miles.”


“It costs money to rescue you and pay for medical services. So what d’you think is cheapest? They let us do it. They think they’re being clever, we are just doing our human duty.”

I smiled and offered him a seat on the ATV. He took it.

“Oh, and by the way, I probably showered more recently than you did. We solved the water thing a long time ago. It’s just something your bosses like to say now, and it’s not true. Well, that and the ammonia we use for fuel sometimes.”

The ATVs were driven back up into our relief train on our line and locked down securely. We headed off back to Hearth Nine at a comfortable pace, gently rocking us as we moved.

To read more of _Better Way_ go to https://leanpub.com/better-way