Chapter 1


Phineas was amazed. He couldn’t help it. He’d been on the same tram for three hours and it was still going in a straight line. He’d been just on the south side of the Core when he’d gotten on, using his stolen tram card, and he hadn’t known that it was over a three hour ride to the Northern Rim Line transfer point. His choice to go to the northern rim of the city had been somewhat arbitrary; it was called No Town by the people on the CommNet because not many people lived there, and for that reason he considered it as good a place as any to go.

His general direction of travel had been chosen in a less arbitrary fashion. He couldn't go anywhere he was familiar with, so his brother’s place and his mother’s, assuming she and the other twelve members of her family who lived with her hadn’t moved a long time ago, had been excluded from his list of possible destinations to begin with. They would be too obvious, and they’d be checked immediately. His adoptive father had them under surveillance--Phineas knew that without having ever had to confirm it--and would know if he visited one of them the moment he walked through the door.

Phineas was no fool. He was quite silly, yes, and maybe a little bit unstable, but not foolish.

So he’d known to switch tram cards with one of the maids, but not one from his wing of the estate, and to dress like someone else, and to be unpredictable. He had been told that he was very good at the latter, and the clothing had been easy enough to figure out. He wore gray and black and only one layer of clothing, so he found himself a bit cold on the tram. All of this was completed with a knit cap to cover his distinctive, bright red hair, and a pair of round goggles hanging around his neck, just in case.

Of course, his actions were sure to be misinterpreted. It would be assumed that he was Running Away, not only by his father who, in his opinion, took himself just a little too seriously for anyone’s health, but also by the rest of the family and the household except maybe for Ashe, his father's assistant, who would have been unruffled by the Cataclysm itself. Perhaps even by the rest of the city. Phineas smiled a bit, propping his elbow on the windowsill and his face on his hand. That was just the sort of thing his politician father would do: get the public’s sympathy with the sob story of his smart but troubled son, out on his own, unable to protect himself. It would be the best drama on the CommNet. Within weeks they’d be selling the box set with behind the scenes interviews of the maids and deleted scenes of Ashe looking both ambiguous and amused and refusing to comment.

What he was doing would not be something Phineas would have categorized as Running Away. He wasn’t really the type--his psychological profile said as much. He had no logical reason to run away, nor was he prepared to survive on his own. Smart enough to survive, yes, but not prepared.

He was just going on an adventure, really. He hadn’t been out on his own very many times--which he supposed was a little odd, considering how much his father seemed to dislike having to actually deal with him--and he wanted to see what he could see and what he could do on his own. James Maxwell’s son got a certain type of reception; an unknown teenager named Phineas would no doubt get quite a different one. It would be nice to really get to see how it would be and what all he could accomplish on his own, without the shadow of his family name following him around.

As for the direction he’d chosen, it was in the same direction as both his brother and his mother. He had no doubt that the automatic reaction to him leaving would be to assume that not only was he too smart to go directly to those he knew, but that he would have headed the opposite way. He’d even made sure to leave temporary files on his terminal concerning the crime rate, possible lodgings, and anything else a fifteen-year-old on his own for the first time would need to know about the southern end of the city. Ideally, if everything worked out as he hoped, anyone looking for him would be searching the southern sector, but certainly not as far as the southern rim. He’d engineered this because he didn’t want any interruptions. He’d return home soon enough, and he wanted to get his fill before he did, because only his father and Ashe knew what his punishment would be when he returned.

Phineas watched the city flow around him, as though it bent out of the way of the tram and then shifted back into place when it had passed, elastic. The buildings were thinning out, getting shorter. Singing a half-remembered song under his breath, he wondered what he should do at the end of the tramline. He supposed he could pick his way out through the abandoned parts of No Town, into the Fringe, and stand, staring out into the gaping desert. He’d never seen it, except in a few pictures, and he wondered if it was as terrible as the subtitles said. Did it really drive people insane to look out into all that dead nothing?

It was doubtful.

He turned away from the window and slumped down in his seat, which was covered in red faux velvet. A retro-tram, made to look like some old world vehicle no doubt. Phineas smiled. He liked that--out with the new and in with the ancient? That sounded good. He thought he could learn just as much from before as from now. The only problem with that was that there were gaps in the record and things that didn’t make sense.

Maybe after he’d looked into the abyss, he’d check out the sewers. They were one of those things that didn’t make sense, like giant iron ships and lemurs. Monkeys. The next step down from human, but what was the next step up?

He shook his head and tried to remember what the last prime number before his birth year was. That always helped to quickly re-center him, and put him in a place where he could focus his train of thought. It tended to wander if he didn’t watch it closely enough. Kind of like him. He grinned, watching the world go by through the windows on the other side of the tramcar. Of course, this was been the first time he’d wandered out of the compound on his own without permission.

The tram slid to a stop. He rose, thinking about how the older models lurched--it had to do with the hydraulics and the connection to the line--and how if they really wanted this tramcar to seem old world, they wouldn’t have it work so well. Tramlines that were less used and shorter had the older, more contemporary-looking models, and Phineas knew that if given the chance, he could figure out an easy, cost effective way to effect a large-scale upgrade, diverting the transportation funds away from regular maintenance that wouldn’t be necessary if they would just spend a little extra initially to upgrade everything at once. Phineas sighed and drifted to the door. This was why people suspected he was a little unbalanced: he made sense.

The tram station was almost empty. No one but him got off the tram, which would circle back toward the Core now that it had reached the northernmost part of the line. Those who got on drifted over from a grubby coffee shop manned by a pimply teenager who looked like he’d rather be absolutely anywhere else. Phineas sighed again. Coffee would have been nice--iced, with caramel or chocolate, whipped cream and sprinkles--but he only had about fifteen untraceable creds on him, and he had to save them for more substantial sustenance than coffee. It was too bad. He loved sweet things more than substantial things.

He wasn’t sure that fifteen creds would get him what he considered a full meal, but he also wasn’t very worried about that. Should he be gone long enough for it to matter, he supposed he could always steal. At least that would support any claims his father might make about his troubled son, and his father could easily replace anything he stole without it making even a dent in his accounts.

He smiled at the thought and went to the end of the short line at the coffee shop. Might as well live it up while he had the chance. He chuckled at the idea of a large triple-shot iced caramel-white chocolate latte with double whipped cream and an apple cinnamon muffin as living it up, and when he got to the front of the line, he rattled off the ridiculous order as fast as he could to see if the cashier would get it right. The boy either understood the garglemesh of words without a problem or he just didn’t care; Phineas munched on his muffin while the teenager, who seemed annoyed at having to do any wok at all for his pay, mixed his drink. He didn’t really care how much the other boy hated his job as long as the drink turned out well. His excursion out into No Town would be cut quite prematurely short if he’d been arrested for assaulting the boy until his drink was satisfactory.

He sat down at a sticky table to think about what his next move should be. He guessed if he wanted to go out to the rim, he’d have to walk. There was nothing out there that would necessitate a bus line heading in that direction. Private transportation would be the only way around walking, and he didn’t think he wanted to try to hitch a ride even if there were someone with enough creds to own vehicle. Exposure to his father’s less-than-legally-condoned business had taught him that, while talking to strangers was okay, being alone in an enclosed space with them and at their mercy was not. Besides, if he walked, at least he’d have time to look around at No Town, and to see if it was somewhere he wanted to settle down and do research when his father realized that he wasn’t heir material. He drained his cup and took his time licking the whipped cream from the inside of the lid before abandoning the cup on the table and leaving the tram station.