Sudden brakes woke me up. By inertia, I hit my elbow on the metal side of the bed and sighed. My arm started aching, but still not as much as my head. I cursed and opened my eyes.
The dim light made me squint. Then I got up from the bunk and sat with my feet touching the cold floor. The clock showed half-past eight. Looking out the window, I saw that the picture outside had changed.
Earlier I saw abandoned dilapidated houses, neglected fields, and rare trees, crushed by a thick layer of black dust flashing outside the window. Now I was looking at the once majestic building of the Kazan railway station. This city had seen much better times. The bricks in the walls were missing in places; almost every window had the broken glass.
The most conspicuous place showed a huge red banner with two white hieroglyphs. I don’t know how to read those correctly, maybe Ka-Shang or Ka-Zhen. Despite all the simplifications made in Chinese after the Great Reunification of Peoples and my countless efforts, I still could not communicate. Reading and writing were even a bigger problem than speaking.
This part of the Russian Union passed under the wing of the Republic of China long ago. The thankful Republic wrote off Russian debts for anti-radiation shields and food greenhouses. Of course, this transition brought little improvement, but the situation looked more under control.
Transparent green balls aimed to absorb chemicals covered all the visible land. Tiny helpers glowed in the dark like garlands scattered across the night. Several freight cars were visible on the platform behind the station. White barrels stuck out of them like candles from a cake. Each of them bore an inscription: ‘Attention! Dangerous substances! Keep a distance of 3+ meters’. They wrote the warning in all five common languages: Chinese, English, Russian, Arabic, and German.
Suddenly, I heard two muffled voices coming from outside. Two workers, dressed in bright yellow uniforms, exclaimed on the platform. One of them knocked on the wheels with a wrench filling the surrounding reality with a dull sound. Having checked all the wheels, the workers moved on and their voices got lost somewhere beyond my vision.
The noise inside the train did not subside and was not subject to control. People were chatting all around me. I was lucky with the ticket. I came across the bottom seat in the niche, simply saying the best possible. Two pairs of legs, lying on the bunks above me, seemed to envy my position. Just like two passengers with aisle seats sitting in front.
I heard that nowadays they even started selling tickets for standing places. But that’s only for bullet trains and high-speed airships. Enjoying my place, I once again looked around at all my closest neighbors. I have been watching them for three days and at this point it seems to me there is nothing they could surprise me with. The woman on the bunk bed next to me is about the same age as I am.