The smooth, predictable ride of the train was doing nothing to soothe the nerves Rena was feeling. Instead, the ambiguous shapes, camouflaged by the darkness outside of the large train window calmed her beating heart. The two day, one night train ride from Corix, the island's most populated city, to Ara, a region closest to the mountains, had just begun. two thirds of the trip ahead of her, Rena scratched at the cashmere pinching her neck. She cursed herself for not taking the shop attendant's advice to wear something under the sweater, since it was an unfamiliar fabric to her skin. She'd shrugged it off and threw it on her bed to wear it on this trip. It would be the one and only time she would wear it anyway. She did admit that she fit in almost seamlessly with the rest of the passengers. The women wore expensive sweaters with high heeled shoes and tied back hair. Rena swiped her hands across her thick black hair, ensuring that her braids were not too noticeable. Her friends had done a good enough job of tucking them into her low bun while creating a smooth and inconspicuous outer surface.
"I can't wait to get off this stuffy train and move into our new house!" exclaimed a woman behind Rena, her accent making her out as a typical city slicker. Rena noted that all the people here spoke in ways that were unlike her and the people she knew. More eloquent. She wasn't jealous though, she just turned her left ear slightly to listen.
"I'm anxious to move in as well. We were always eager to solidify our relationship with the Founders, but now I see that we were doing a great job. Being asked to move to their new development is a great sign," a man, most likely her husband replied.
"Oh. How so?" his wife asked.
"It means that they trust us to make the move look safe and attractive to others. They trust us to make their investment succeed and to handle any problems that arise from the location of the development," he explained in a whisper. He knew better than to be caught dead looking like a social climber. Rena was certain that he wasn't the only one on this train thinking the same way he did. Almost everyone sitting here was rich but not that high on the social hierarchy. Proximity to the Founders was the quickest way to bump up another echelon.
Rena had known that there was a big, government sponsored migration to the region of Ara, but she didn't know why until now. As she continued to listen to their hushed conversation she was made aware that Corix was becoming less and less like the utopia it was made out to be. Advertised as a place for the elite to live in harmony while the working class stuck to the farms inland; all of that changed when the seaside city of Corix got its first ever textile mill. Overpopulation, unbreathable air, and most importantly, the mixing of drastically different socioeconomic classes was the driving force of the Founders to gather their money and invest in settling another colony. The region of Ara wasn't unpopulated, but the Founder's weren't concerned with that. They never have been. Finally, while Rena was gazing at the window, listening to bits and pieces of their conversation, the conductor announced that the public areas except for the bathrooms and kitchen, that passengers could order from 24/7, would be closing for bedtime. Both the couple and Rena stood up and made their way to their rooms. Behind her still, the couple continued their risky conversation.
"I hear that the Founders are on this train, somewhere in a private car and that they'll be making their rounds tomorrow morning so make sure to look pretty and wear that perfume I bought you last weekend," the husband ordered.
"Sir, yes sir," the wife replied dryly, not taking well to being ordered around.
Rena went to bed in more comfortable pajamas, but to say that she slept would be an exaggeration. She tossed and turned all night, and awoke with a groan, remembering that she had another day of uncomfortable clothes to wear all day. She made quick work of doing her hair, following the instructions that her friends wrote for her.
Breakfast consisted of the cheapest thing on the menu, eggs and toast. Although she was hungry, the food just didn’t suit her taste, so she picked at it until a waiter came to take it away. Sitting in the same spot she fidgeted in all yesterday, she waited for the famed Founders to make their rounds. The rumor of the Founders being in the same train had kept her tossing round and round all night. Rena had this crazy assumption that the Founders would sense that she was a scam. That her pearls were fake or that her heels were painted to make them look less old, her scent didn’t match the popular fragrances of the times. Thinking more about these systems and the ridiculous ways that they operate, Rena concluded that the people who created them were the only ones who could truly tell the truth from a forger. She hid her feet under the table and gripped the cup of complimentary water she was given. Suddenly, the couple from yesterday stomped into the seating area. Clearly, they’d fought over the wife’s appearance and rushed out of the room thinking they'd miss the Founders. Ultimately she left the room with uneven eyebrows, mismatched jewelry, and smelling of both lavender and ocean breeze. Rena sighed out of relief knowing that her own smell was being drowned out by the couple behind her.
No matter how hard Rena tried to look more relaxed by the second day, she couldn’t help but think of how out of place she was. She never much cared for these things, but for this one time and one time only, she wanted to be as normal as possible.
Just as Rena was about to doze off, the couple behind her began their boxing match of complaints.
“I told you that we had more time! The Brian’s probably gave us an early time so we’d fight and look like fools,” The wife spat out. Rena assumed that she was planning on keeping that to herself until about the second hour of waiting rolled around with no Founders to be seen.
“How was I supposed to know that Alice? They seemed like a nice enough couple,” he said in defense of himself.
“Ugh! You really are a townie aren’t you? This is how it’s done in Corix. You play nice until it’s time to get ahead,” she explained coldly. He didn’t say much after that.
Rena nodded slightly, finally understanding the dynamics of their relationship. She was more well off than him but he was a hard worker and competent enough to take over her family business. He was handsome enough, pretty smart, and tried his hardest to appeal to her. Little did she know that he was just some inexperienced social climber. The times weren’t so strict that she couldn’t divorce him if she wanted, so Rena wondered what was keeping her with him. Out of nowhere, the familiar crackle of the speakers went on. Rena’s detective activities switched gears, preparing her mind for a whole new mystery.
“Ladies and Gentlemen of Corix and beyond, please rise for the Founders!” Loud cheers and the sound of booth seats being relieved of their weights erupted around the car. Rena jumped up and followed the leader, clapping passionately and fixing her dress. Just as the car door opened, the train had finally left the mountain it was traveling under. The blue sky was cloudless and you could almost see heaven. A good day to do something reckless.
One Founder and one resident at least. Then, get out of there if you can. If you can’t...take out as many Founders as possible. You know where your exit is. You only get one chance.
These were her orders as a spy for the village of Ara, a small indigenous tribe that’s been pushed around too long, and she would carry them out without fail.
Pulling her bun down, she released two handmade daggers that held a little message for the Founders and those who thought that her and her people were simply obstacles in their way to high society: ARA’S NOT YOURS
With all of the attention on the Founders, the collective gasp from the passengers and staff was quite loud when the dagger flew swiftly from Rena’s hand and right in between the eyes of an old, well dressed woman. She had the displeasure of being the first Founder to greet her adoring citizens. Before her body could hit the ground, Rena was sending her next dagger. She thought that it would be hard to choose from these strangers. She was less aware of their crimes. Maybe some of them were just going with the flow. But after listening to the couple behind her for hours, she was certain with her choice. Rena skillfully sent the blade straight towards the booth behind her, scratching the wife’s left ear and piercing her husband’s left eye. Rena took one moment to catch her breath and gather her strength but that was all the time she had left. With the Founders’ security pulling out their weapons, Rena got a jump start and ran.
Weeks before this day, other members of her village had taken this train, sat by this window, secretly wiping it down with a fluid that weakens glass. She had no idea if it would work, but she had no choice but to try. Hopping onto the booth table she led with her shoulder where she inspected the weakest spot might be and jumped.
Fresh air. She ran as fast as she could, glass in her hair and freedom on her mind.