Monday, August 12, 2013

The Lone Trainmen

This was the kind of evening we dream of all winter long. Not too hot, not too cool. Low humidity. Clear skies. Gentle breezes. Unfortunately I was going to spend the better part of it in a windowless basement.

Leslie and I didn’t speak much on the train back, only to agree to meet on the street outside the St. George subway station at 7 to go see her ‘Lone Trainmen’. I got there a little early to loiter and enjoy the good weather. The cafes and street vendors were doing brisk business. It looked like everyone was getting started on the summer evening of a lifetime. Leslie showed up at 7 on the dot. We walked a few blocks over to a huge concrete building built in the brutalist style. She spoke with the night guard, and we soon found ourselves in a sub-sub-basement corridor. This is a city of hallways.

We walked down a dim staircase to get there. At the far end was a door with intense light blazing from the frame gap. No name plates or numbers on it, just a poster of a streetcar levitating above a section of track with the words ‘I Want to Believe’ emblazoned on the bottom in big white letters.

No secret password or handshake to get inside. Leslie had a key.

Holy Toledo! Or maybe I should say, Holy Toronto! I put my hands over my eyes to cover them from the blazing light. But I had to put them over my ears to block out the thunderous din. My poor fight-or-flight system was on overload. I settled on squinting with my eyes nearly shut, walking forward with my hands over my ears, and cracking my knee on a concrete post. In a few seconds though, my problem was solved. The lights went to normal, so did the sound.

I had walked into was a support post of a double Cadillac long control panel fronting an elaborately detailed model railroad layout that stretched as far and wide as the eye could see. This was one big basement. 

There was a large glowing yellow button on the control panel labeled Pause. It pulsated in anticipation of being pushed and un-pausing the show. Beside it was a young woman with smoked goggles tilted up on her head and ear mufflers around her neck. She was hugging Leslie.

After they exchanged hellos, Leslie did the introductions, “Mary, I’d like you to met Special Investigator Ed Bryce from Scientific Investigations; Ed, this is Professor Mary Ellesmere.”

Professor Ellesmere and I shook hands.

“Well, what do you think?” asked Prof Ellesmere extending her right arm and sweeping it in the air over the vast miniature empire.

“It’s incredible Professor Ellesmere, but what is it?” I asked following the arc of her arm.

“Please call me Mary. It’s a model of more-or-less the entire transportation network of New Toronto and the adjacent areas.”

“Holy crap,” was all I could muster in the presence of such awesomeness.

“Holy crap indeed,” smiled Mary.

“What’s it for?”

“Mainly for simulating transportation problems and trying to fix them. Flow control, InterTrak routing, scheduling, congestion. Lots of stuff in architecture, social science, lighting, sound, aerodynamics, ecology too. It’s always being used for something.” Mary paused and said with a smile,“And sometimes that something is simply fun.”

“What are you using it for tonight?”

“Just some maintenance. Would you like a tour?” replied Mary.

“As much as I’d like to, I think we should get down to business.” Mary seemed a bit crestfallen that I had thrown cold water on the tour, so I added a quick, “but I would like to come back for one in the future.” That returned things to an even keel, and I wasn’t lying, I did want to take a look around, but under better circumstances. To move things along, I switched over to the business at hand, “What are you two going to do with the raygun?”

“We’re going to take it apart and try and figure out who made it. Mary has microscopes and radiography equipment we’ll use. Her lab has also got the tools we’ll need to open it up without any damage,” explained Leslie.

Mary looked at Leslie and continued, “It’ll probably take a day or two. I think we should have a preliminary look tonight to see if there’s anything else we’ll need. If there is, I can try and round up stuff tomorrow. You brought it with you?”

Leslie nodded.

That sounded ok with me, but I explained, “Leslie needs to be back in our office tomorrow, so she could possibly start working with you the day after?” That was a question I directed to Leslie in case I had overstepped some scheduling boundary.

I was glad to hear her reply of, “That’s works for me.” 

I had one last question before I left them to their work, “So, who are these Lone Trainmen?”

Leslie starred at Mary. Mary starred at Leslie. They laughed hilariously. 

The next instalment can be found here.

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