Rough Sleeper
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subway.jpg

Mind the gap.

You breach the familiar chasm — a fracture between spaces — and step onto the train. You're the only person who still cares enough to go out at night. Somewhere downtown there's still people, you hear, but you've never seen them on this route. It's mostly become a ritual for you. Far, far late into the night, edging up against the early morning, you leave with no possessions and find a random train, and you close your eyes, and try to absorb the city.

The subway is like the bloodstream of the city. It runs every day and night without stopping, its routes like great loops connecting every part of its massive sprawl. They shifted it to completely automatic maintenance and control centuries ago, so every train could run perfectly without the need for human oversight. If you were to peel back the ground, you'd find electric pulses of light streaming across the city limits, firing like neurons as they burrowed through the mechanical underbelly of the organism.

If you see a suspicious package or activity on the platform or train, report it immediately!

The city is called the greatest in the world. If you look at it from the sky, its pillars reach like the claws of titans from down below the earth. In old pictures, the dazzling lights twinkle with life, scattered galaxies in a starfield of concrete and steel. It is home to hundreds of millions of people. It breathes and morphs and moves. The city is everything. The city is the entire world.

But it's here on the subway, on your long silent rides, that you feel like you know the city best. Nobody's ever with you on the plastic blue seats, standing by the aluminum handrails. It's you in the mile-long carriage of dozens of train cars, meant to hold thousands of people. But you try to surround yourself with the city, try to make its weakening, dying pulse match your heartbeat, try to savor what of it is left.

The only company you have is the automated announcer voice - a script so long you counted it a year until it started looping over, filled with the tinny, cheerful jingle of so many companies with their own special messages, half of which have gone bankrupt and gone away - and the little banners on the top of the train car, all peeling off and revealing the layers of paper covered up underneath. At some point they stopped replacing them.

Ladies and gentlemen, please move all the way to the middle of the train.

In fact, at some point the city stopped replacing itself. A cursory walk along the entertainment district, once the foremost in the galaxy, would reveal the messy guts of pipes and wires sticking out from the ground and walls, radon signs that once glowed bright falling away in the darkness, old convenience stores boarded up with debris scattered on the front plaza.

They didn't realize that a city needs its people to remember it, to take it in, to live within it. Without it, all that's left are old bones, and a system running itself over and over and over again until somewhere in the line the machine breaks, bit by bit, and are replaced by overgrowth. Maybe the people will fade away too.

If you have any questions or concerns about your customer experience, contact the main offices.

You emerge from your little cocoon of light to the soft glow of streetlamps painting the worn street surfaces. The sky is starless. The buildings are like the feet of looming gods long since mummified, a quiet veil gently cast from above. As you pass under the streetlamps, they flicker, and fizzle, and burn out.

You reach home as sun rises, and the city begins to move again. Sooner or later, you think, there won't be any more city left. Just a backdrop, just a haze of fog where people move from one place to another and back again, never looking up at how strange and beautiful the sky is. You never realized how big it was until you checked.

And the subway drives further and further, rumbling the ground beneath the endless night. And the city is a rough sleeper, all people that walk among its structures by day while living through uneasy dreams by darkness, never waiting to be seen, never waiting to be remembered. And the people turn into urban ghosts haunting a fading crystalline microcosm of reality, making careful to leave no trace or imprint until they bleed back down into the city's metal veins.

You have arrived at your final destination.

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