The high-speed train's carriage number eight sways softly as it rolls over a switch and stops. Again. You have no idea what the problem is. Judging by the frustration in the conductor’s voice coming over the PA system, neither do the personnel.
“Due to a technical fault in an ICE from Cologne bound for Frankfurt, we have to wait because of other trains being re-routed on to our approach. We will reach Frankfurt Central with approximately 25 minutes delay.”
There is a collective groan from the passengers who have to catch a connecting train. At this delay, most of those will have left the station when you arrive.
When the train finally starts moving again, the evening twilight has turned to night. You spot the moon over the roofs, coloured yellow by the dusty haze of the city. The office high-rise buildings of downtown Frankfurt begin to fill the view. Overshadowing them are the bank towers, their neon logos and LED floodlights on their distinct roofs glowing in the dark.
“We have been informed that our train terminates in Frankfurt Central today, due to heavily congested lines.” The anger in the conductor’s voice is palpable.
Of course. You sigh and look out again. Only a few office windows are still lit, looking forlorn behind the reflective glass facades of the money temples. Your mind wanders to the big crash a few years back. One or two of these imposing monuments are still not much more than papery shells.
“Ladies and gentlemen, in a few minutes we will reach Frankfurt Central. On behalf of Deutsche Bahn we apologize for the delay and cancellation and the inconveniences this may cause. Please contact the nearest DB service centre for refunds of tickets and other incurred expenses. Thank you for travelling with us, we hope you will nevertheless have a pleasant evening. Passengers scheduled for connecting trains…”
You tune out the rest. The dimly lit maze of tracks outside stretch beyond the view and the rails seem to meld together when you look down. Where is the next affordable hotel that isn’t a million miles from the station? The super-fast train pulls into the station at the pace of an elderly pedestrian. The passengers who are still betting on the slim chance that they might catch their next train queue at the exits.
There is a weird mixture of anxiety and resignation in the carriage. You are already past those stages when the train whispers past the platform and a little smile finds its way onto your lips. A bit strange, given the circumstances.
Your carriage is at the end of the train, and you wait until the frantic activity around you is over.
“Thank you for travelling-”
Oh, shut up. As you leave the train and step out onto the platform, the crisp autumn air clears your head. It is almost, but not quite yet, cold enough to make your breath mist. Platform 6, section D, is already almost empty. The throng of passengers hurries toward the main building, leaving only a few stragglers like yourself behind.
As you amble down the platform as well, the train doors close with a soft hiss. The digital displays switch from ‘Freiburg im Breisgau’, your original destination, to ‘please don’t board’. Well, here you are. Home is 300km south from here, but you are not going any further tonight.
There is a bench in the middle of the platform, right beside a vending machine for cold softdrinks and sweets. You drop your backpack onto the bench and flop down beside it, then pull out your phone. The screen gives you the equivalent of an indignant ‘mind your own business’ in the form of a 1% power sign. There was a socket right beside your seat for the last five hours.
The fluorescent light hums its monotone under the ceiling.
You give a deep sigh and lean back.
Your phone’s battery may be empty, but your thermos is not. Small blessings and all that. A slight shiver runs down your back at the contrast between the chill air and the warm mug in your hands. As you watch the steam rise from the last of your coffee, you hear the sound of footsteps. Or rather, hoofsteps. What you see when you lean forward is just about the last thing you expected to encounter here.
There’s a pony further down and right at the edge of the platform.
Of course you know what they are, but they are still an uncommon sight in central Europe. It really looks out of place here.
As she (you are pretty sure it’s a mare) comes nearer you realize she’s a unicorn. A faint pink aura glows around her horn, dimming and brightening in regular intervals. She is also wearing an orange high-vis vest covering her whole back, a garish contrast to her pale pink coat and purple mane and tail. A black plastic bag follows her in mid-air over the rails.
You realize you are staring. That is probably quite rude on her world as well. With a sigh, you look away from the strange sight and take a hasty sip of coffee. You forgot how well that trusty thermos insulates though; the damn brew is still scalding hot.
The mug slips your fingers as you jerk back with a curse.
A second before there would be hot coffee all over your legs and shoes there is a rustle in the background and a quiet tinkling sound in front of you. The mug has stopped in mid-air and so have the splash and most drops of coffee in a random pattern of pink light. The remaining drops not in suspension form a few spots on the concrete.
The cup rights itself and the coffee flows back into it, almost like playing a video backwards. Actually exactly like that. The pink glow deposits the cup beside you and vanishes.
You have seen unicorn magic on TV, but never up close in real life. “Wow.”
“You’re welcome,” the unicorn says in a melodic voice. “Your last train left without you?”
You close your mouth and take a calming breath. “That was fantastic!”
She smiles. “You’re the first one to be ecstatic about stranding here.”
This is a good time for closing your eyes and pinching yourself on the bridge of your nose. “Sorry, guess you get that all the time. I’ve just never – anyway – yeah. Missed it by about half an hour, I’m three hundred kilometres from home in a city I don’t know and I’ve got no idea what to do right now. You kinda fit into that picture. No offense.” You lean back with a sigh. “They could at least have told us what caused the chaos this time around.”
“There was an intercity on the line to Cologne that caught fire after a transformer overheated, most likely. A whole carriage burnt out but nobody was hurt. Both tracks are closed until further notice and all trains had to be re-routed to the approach you came in on.”
“I’ve got my sources,” she says in a conspiratorial tone and gives you a wink with one of her large green eyes.
“Arriving at platform 18: ICE 9557 from Paris. This train terminates here, please do not board.”
The mare looks over her shoulder. “Not bad for a day like this, only 37 minutes late.”
There is no way she can see the display on platform 18 from over here on platform 6. “You know that by heart?”
“I like numbers and schedules. Where did you want to go?”
You tilt your head. “Freiburg.”
She nods and briefly closes her eyes in concentration. “Were you on ICE 273 from Hamburg that terminated here today instead of Karlsruhe? Then your next opportunity is IC 209, but that leaves at 2:48am.”
“Alright, I’m impressed.” Also, shit. That is going to be a long and cold four and a half hours.
“Hmm. Since you’re not going anywhere for a while, care to walk a bit with me? My shift isn’t over until midnight and I’m bored. And your coffee should be good to drink now.”
The cup hovers in front of you. You hesitate for a bit but shrug and take it. There is a weird prickling sensation on your skin as your hand passes through the magic glow, but nothing else happens. It is almost disappointing, but the coffee is indeed at just the right temperature.
Well, that sure is something that will look good in your memoirs. You are drinking coffee in the company of a bored alien in an almost empty railway station. You stand up with a shake of your head and a smirk.
She walks back to the edge of the platform and her horn glows again, making the plastic bag float up from the rails. This is going to take some getting used to.
“Okay, where was I? Right. Platform six, sweep twenty one.”
Her horn glows a little brighter and several meters of the ground under the rails shimmer pink while she closes her eyes. Small ripples and eddies appear in the glow from left to right. After the last one on the right side of the field has appeared, the glow fades, leaving only some bright lights in the gravel. The mare opens her eyes again as about a dozen or so items levitate up. Most of them are cigarette butts, accompanied by a piece of what appears to be chewing gum and a few scraps of paper. The floating bag opens and swallows the garbage that spirals into it. It is a kind of disturbing sight and you almost expect to hear it chew and swallow. Maybe burp as well.
“I’m working on making it chase the different pieces,” she says with a grin on seeing the wide-eyed reaction of her one-man audience. “Last time I tried it, it burst into flames and I got reprimanded,” she adds with a sigh. “The two boys behind me loved it though, so it wasn’t all bad. But the spell matrix still needs some adjustments, that’s for sure.” She tilts her head and looks up at you. “Could I move up in the world as a waste incinerator? Possibilities, possibilities. What do you think?”
You blink a few times to get your brain back into gear again after marvelling at the cleaning spell. “I think,” you begin but trail off while making eye contact. “I’m thinking what are you even doing here? You’re a unicorn and they don’t just let everybody through the portal yet, do they?”
She rolls her eyes (quite impressive, given their size). “Hm? Well, I don’t have citizenship and needed a job after the crash. Didn’t fancy having my visa revoked you know. I like it here. Deutsche Bahn was hiring and they liked what I showed them.”
“So what did you do before?”
She moves a few meters along the platform’s edge and her horn glows again. “Boring office job. So, what’s your name? I’m Penny.”
“I’m Nick.” You watch the track bed light up again and shake your head, not wanting to let this slide. “You said you’re bored here as well. What was your work?”
“Shh,” she says, her eyes closed. There is a 1€ coin in the catch this time. It finds its way into a pocket on her vest while the bag swallows the rest again. “Who cares? And I’ve got friends now.”
“You didn’t have any before?”
“Not real ones,” she says with a slight smile and walks down the platform again. “You know, friends who care about you and not just about what you do, who lend you a hoof or who give you a shoulder to cry on and who enjoy your company because you’re you. Hold on a moment.”
You wait for her to continue while she tidies up the next stretch of track bed. You never realized how many people apparently smoke outside the designated smoking areas. Huh.
Both her and the plastic bag turn their attention to you. She lets it drift away from your face again after a second. “Sorry. Anyway,” she begins and swishes her tail, “People like, hmm, like Justin. He’s from Zimbabwe and that’s not his real name but nobody can pronounce that, so he chose one that sounded good to him. He’s doing the same job as me although he’s actually a math teacher. His German is about as bad as his Equestrian, though the latter is improving.” She winks. “Hey, I’m doing my best.”
Her ears droop a bit. “He’s been through some bad stuff. Lost siblings, seen things no one should have to see. Don’t know how he does it, but he still greets everyone with a smile and laughs at the world in general. Now shush.”
There is a sad looking pacifier in the next sweep. And some small change as well. Vest pocket.
“That’s for our ‘tip jar’.” Air quotes with hooves are adorable, especially with what appear to be hoof boots of some kind.
“You have a tip jar?”
“Well, kinda. Lost money, thrown away cans and plastic bottles, it all adds up. Even found a diamond ring once. That was nice. My idiots insisted I wear it on the tip of my horn for a week.” Her laugh has a tinkling quality to it and it is much more alive than it was twenty minutes ago. “Treated the four of us to a serious meal and a few beers at a place close to here for it.” She makes a face. “Irèk got me to taste a piece of sausage after the third round.”
You stare at her for a second. You were not prepared to add a cute pony eating Bratwurst to your world view. “Uhm… and?”
She scuffs a hoof on the ground. “What can I say? I liked it. Earth pigs are dumb anyway.”
There is a whole discussion here that you are not prepared to take right now. She is also kind of right. You drop that whole train of thought as the two of you wander down the track a bit further. “Okay, who’s Eric then?”
“It’s okay, nobody pronounces that right apart from me. Shh.”
The black maw of garbage doom devours a few scraps of paper.
“Any use for that?” A condom still in pristine packaging floats towards you.
You decide you really like Penny. “Heh, I’m afraid you’re too late to save me. Already got kids.”
She pouts. “But it says strawberry.”
You pocket it for later consideration.
“Ah yes, Irèk. He’s an electrician from Poland. Smokes cheap tobacco and always throws the butts onto the tracks. Because he loves me, he says.” She chuckles again. “Always tries to stay downwind of me when he lights up though.” Her eyes seem to focus on something far away. “He was my first real friend. A week or so after I’d started here he sat me down in a corner and ordered me to tell him why I was always so miserable.
That was the longest hug I’ve ever gotten. Then he told me about his recent divorce in turn and I hugged him back for just as long.” There is a sad smile on her face as she turns away. “He told me that pony hugs are the best. And he says he’s going to grow a pony tail to support equality in the work place.”
More scraps of paper. The last one does a dive and a pirouette and then bursts into flames.
You can’t hold back a laugh, a welcome relief from the lump in your throat. “I can see you need to work on that.”
Penny sticks her tongue out at you. It is quite impressive.
The next thirty minutes or so pass in silence until you finally reach the end of the platform, well past the ‘authorized personnel only’ sign. It is strange and somehow a little exciting, standing there illegally at the side of a literal legal alien. The dark and empty expanse of tracks, switches, overhead contact lines and red signal lights reflected in the bands of steel seems otherworldly.
“Pulls at you, doesn’t it?” Penny says in a soft voice.
You look down at her with a quiet nod.
She sighs. “Well, that dark horizon is for another time. My shift’s almost done. Let’s head back.” Her horn lights up and she levitates the now full bag back into the air beside her.
An unpleasant realisation hits you. “Ah dammit. I left my pack on the bench! My laptop and everything is in there!”
Penny gives a little chuckle. “Don’t worry, I put a ward on it.” She taps her horn with a hoof for emphasis.
“If someone’s tried to take it they’d have been in for a surprise. Feels a bit like touching a weak electric pasture fence, and I added a hiss and growl for emphasis,” she says, looking smug. “I really hope someone’s tried.”
“That’s awesome,” you say with a grin and reach down to give her a little shove and rub on the neck without thinking. Her mane feels much softer than you would have expected. A second later, your brain catches up with your action and you blush fiercely.
Penny looks surprised and opens her mouth to say something but then just grins and head-butts you in the leg instead, making you stumble and fall. Thankfully with her head slightly angled, otherwise she’d have stabbed you - you felt her horn sliding over your thigh. There is a strong tingling sensation as her horn flashes and her magic cushions your fall.
“Don’t do things to another species without knowing what it means to them,” she says with a smirk. Her voice turns lofty as she stands over you. “Do you accept your new pony overlord, human?”
For a second you feel a rush of adrenaline but when you look into her mirthful eyes, you have to laugh. “Yes. Of course I do.”
Her eyes sparkle. “I love that line. Got it from Jan.”
You stand and brush some dirt from your knees. “And who’s that?”
“He’s from around here and he’s technically a handyman. Not the sharpest tool in the shed, but he’s funny and he’s the reason I have these.” She lifts a fore hoof and shows you her hoof boots. On closer inspection, they do not look like boots at all but more as if a horseshoe and some runner’s footwear had produced offspring.
“He said that if I’d started to wear Nikes he’d get his boots shoed by a farrier in turn. The look on his face was priceless, plus these are comfy and glued on instead of nailed on. Win-win! Spent days searching the internet. They’re called ‘Megasus’ though, which is kinda stupid. As if pegasi would ever bother with shoes. I’ve written to the company and suggested ‘Uniboot’ and that they should get in touch with the customs authorities for cross portal transfers, but I haven’t heard back from them.
“‘Megahorn’ might work as well if you target colts and hip young stallions in Manehattan as your first potential customers. Their fault if they don’t want to make inroads into the Equestrian market, could be a real export opportunity and then they could make a fortune. Maybe even set up a subsidiary in Fillydelphia and apply for a Crown Development Grant. Save a ton of bits in tax and infrastructure development and invest those funds in networking and staff training instead.
“Just look at Camelbak and what they’re making off their specialist pegasus lines for coastal weather patrols. If they’d float the company now they’d be golden. Last I checked they were in talks with the Canterlot board of commerce to open a shop on Palace Trot and work with local designers and the head of the Chonamare weather district. When they get an official stormfighter seal of quality, watch those sales explode.
“Anyway, I’m looking forward to hear Jan show up with a distinct clip-clop any day now.”
“Uh… what?” You were not expecting trans-dimensional market analysis involving places you have never heard of. Except for Canterlot, but that is about your total knowledge of Equestrian geography.
“Well, you pick up things along the way,” Penny says and looks away with a little smile and starts walking again. “Hey, look! Someone’s tried to take your pack!”
It is indeed lying on the ground before the bench, a barely noticeable pink glow around a spot on one of the shoulder straps. Penny does a victory prance around the bench before lighting her horn again. There is a pale pink flash around the pack, followed by a whiff of ozone.
“Oh! You smell that? I guess he was wearing a digital watch or something. Magic and electronics don’t go well together, especially if it comes as a sudden pulse.”
“Uhm… what about my laptop? That’s in there.”
Penny’s smile drops. “Eh. Uh. The pack should have shielded it. I think. Was it shut down or on stand-by?”
“Shut down, I think.”
“Whew. Then it’s okay,” she says with a sigh of relief.
You remember Penny’s experiment with floating paper and give your pack a brief check for burn marks. Then you lift it onto the bench again, sit down beside it and glance at the blue digital display overhead. You are pretty sure that that slight flicker wasn’t there before, but the important thing is that the clock shows that it’s only close to midnight. Almost three hours to go. “Damn.” You look at your new alien acquaintance and sigh. “So… you heading home now?”
She tilts her head and looks at you while biting her lower lip. “Hm. No. I can’t do that, I’d feel really bad to just let you sit here.”
“So, how are we going to kill that time then? I’ve got a deck of cards if you like.”
“I’d rather not stay here,” she says. “How about you come home with me, Nick? I’m not really equipped to have guests staying overnight, but we’ll manage.”
This night keeps serving up things you would not have expected. Might as well go with the flow. “Thanks! I’ll take you up on that.”
Penny gives you a brilliant smile. “Let’s go then!”
It is a fifteen-minute S-Bahn ride and then a ten-minute walk to her place, a low housing block at the end of a dimly lit road that has seen better days. There is a crack in the glass door beside the two dozen letterboxes. The provisional repair with a strand board seems to have been in place for a while already.
You watch in fascination as Penny floats a keyring out of another little pocket of her work vest and unlocks the door. The glow of her horn is almost brighter than the fluorescent lamps in the staircase. Waiting for the lift takes forever.
Looking into the mirror in the grimy elevator, you have to chuckle at the strange pair reflected there.
“Lifts are one of your best inventions,” she says and gives you a tired smile. “Stairs for humans are awful when you have four legs and have been on your hooves all day.”
That is an interesting thought. Accessibility laws will probably be re-written in the near future when there will be more ponies in well-paid jobs in the cities. They are going to make life a lot easier for disabled people by their sheer presence alone.
The door to her flat is the typical seventies brown plastic veneer that leads you to expect the opposite of what the flat looks like on the inside. There are dull red tiles and old wood panelling in the little entrance area, but after that, there is a new, soft green carpet the colour of meadow grass. Brass uplights mounted on pristine white walls flood the living room with a soft glow and make the ceiling come alive. It is painted in the colours of the early morning sunrise on a sky with ephemeral clouds.
Penny smiles at your obvious surprise. “Come in and make yourself comfortable, I’ll go and clean myself up in the meantime. There should be a beer in the fridge if you like, otherwise there’s coffee.”
You watch her disappear into the bathroom and only now notice the dust and grime on the fur of her legs and belly. There is a pathway of protective carpet tiles on the floor towards the door. Of course… glued-on shoes.
With a smile, you turn to look around the living slash bedroom. In one corner, there are two mattresses on top of each other. The bedlinens on what looks like feather duvets are the colour of the summer night sky, adorned with a few splashes of black and a broad sickle moon.
There is a notable absence of chairs but there is a low table with two futons on its sides. In front of an equally low glass desk is a white beanbag chair and several broad cushions in light blue, green, lavender and pink. The colour scheme reminds you of something, but you cannot quite put your finger on it.
The desktop is tidy and polished, only a few folders lined up against the wall to the left and a sleek laptop sitting in the middle. Next to the computer is a neat stack of what appears to be timetables, the top one showing morning departures from Barcelona Central. At the back right corner is a Newton’s Cradle, that classic executive desk toy. You cannot resist it.
As you make your way into the small kitchen that has knee-high wooden platforms in front of the stove and sink, you think of how all this clashes with the impression of the lowly garbage collector you met earlier. At ‘there should be a beer in the fridge’, you first thought of cheap lager. Somehow, you are not surprised this time around when it turns out to be fine red ale from a microbrewery for craft beers.
You sit down in the beanbag with your pint glass full of velvety goodness and put your feet up on one of the cushions. The gradually subsiding clack-click-clack from the desk makes for a soothing background noise. There are a few pictures on the wall and what looks like a diploma with an embossed seal.
You cannot decipher the strange letters but there is a translated header, saying ‘To whom it may concern: Certificate of Distinction for Pendulum Ball. For translation of detailed examination results please see back.’ Pendulum Ball? Is that her real, actual name? Close to the seal is another translation. ‘Royal Canterlot School of International Enterprise and Finance. F. Pants, Chair’
Next to the certificate is a picture that looks similar to old subsequently coloured black and white photographs. Three colourful unicorns with what reminds you of graduate caps speared on their horns grin into the camera. One of them is Penny. There is some handwriting (hornwriting?) under each of them. Signatures, most likely.
“Ah, I see you found the beer,” she says, startling you out of your thoughts.
Without the high-vis vest and the dirt, she is a beautiful creature. You don’t know what she’s done to her mane and tail other than wash them, but now they look elegant and wavy with almost no discernible strands. Under the lighting in her flat, the purple colour is much more vibrant as well and her coat is shiny. The only thing disturbing the image are the hoofshoes she is still wearing.
She follows your look and smiles. “That’s their drawback, they’re glued on and sometimes I still need a farrier to check my hooves. I only change them every four to six weeks but I’ve devised a cleaning spell for them for the parts I can’t scrub. At least they’re pretty soft and don’t ruin my carpets and bed.”
”And before you say anything, I did not melt the first set.” She says in a defensive tone. “These things are expensive, you know. I can’t afford that.” Her voice mellows. “I’ll get the other beer and join you.”
You notice an image in the fur on her flank that looks neither painted on nor like a tattoo. It is dark grey and appears to be a stylized version of the toy on her desk, with one of the balls in motion.
When she returns, a full pint glass containing what looks like an IPA is floating beside her. Accompanying it are two beer mats that speed ahead and place themselves on either side of the small table between the futons. You don’t think you could ever get tired of watching this.
She grabs your glass in her field as well and sets the drinks onto the table. The few drops that spill over the edge of the glass crawl back into it a second later. The first Earth bar that employs unicorn waiters will make some serious profit. That reminds you of a thought you had earlier.
“Well, cheers,” she says and lifts her glass.
You blink and shake your head. “Sorry, spaced out there for a moment. Cheers to my saviour, Pendulum.”
She gives you a smirk. “I prefer Penny, if you don’t mind. Pendulum sounds weird.” The actual word in Equestrian does indeed sound very nice in comparison when she translates it back.
“Alright. Penny it is. Cheers.”
You savour the taste, smacking your lips as you look out the window into the neon-lit city night. All the details appear washed out through the half-mirror effect of sitting in the light and looking out into the dark through a pane of double-glazing. Still, there is a bright yellow spire in the skyline of downtown Frankfurt in the spot where your reflection is looking back at you. It is the Commerzbank tower, the city’s highest office building.
You take another sip. “Penny?” you say and turn back to the unicorn.
“You were a banker, weren’t you?”
A drawn-out sigh is her answer. She floats the glass to her lips and takes a long sip. “Yep. Investment division. That one,” she says and lifts a hoof to point at the yellow light. “We thought we could do magic with numbers and we did, for a while. Then the crash came, thousands of people all over the country lost their jobs because of people like us and the taxpayer had to bail out the bank with eighteen billion Euros.”
“Lost my own job as well together with a lot of my colleagues who also weren’t up high enough in the hierarchy,” she says in a quiet voice and looks down at the table.
A long silence follows until you cannot bear it any longer and reach across to touch her shoulder. “Hey,” you try, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you.” When all she does is to sigh in response you give her shoulder a soft squeeze and move to one side of the futon you are sitting on. You pat the empty spot beside you.
She sighs again, but there is a tiny, sad smile on her lips as she moves around the table and sits down beside you.
You put an arm around her and she leans into you. Her fur is amazingly soft. “Don’t you want to go back? I mean, the economy is booming. Any bank would take you right now. And it doesn't have to be a bank if you don't want, people with your skills are sought all over the place today. I mean, your CV has to be impressive, no? It's a seller's market at the moment.”
“Maybe? I guess I lost interest.” She shrugs and takes a sip of her ale. “It’s all a bit fuzzy, but I remember contemplating jumping out of a window. Then I remembered that I like Earth and all its amazing things a lot, so I tried to find a way to stay. Found one and didn't look back.”
“Garbage collector,” you deadpan.
“Pretty unique garbage collector,” she gives back with a smile in her voice.
“Okay, I’ll give you that. But still.” You drink some more.
“I'll admit that it was awful in the beginning. I don’t think I’d have made it if I hadn’t met Irèk.” She exhales, then lifts her glass and downs the remaining contents in a few long gulps. “Do you mind?”
You find yourself with a unicorn stretched out over your legs, her head in your lap. She almost knocks your beer out of your hand with her horn as she lies down. You didn’t know ponies were related to cats. And like with cats, you do the only thing humanly possible in this situation. You pet her mane and scratch her behind an ear.
You swear you can hear purring, though it is probably just your brain filling in the missing parts. At least she doesn’t have claws to flex and pierce your skin.
“So no going back ever?” you ask.
“Mmh, don’t stop.” She wriggles an ear and you oblige. “I had a big beautiful place to live and a great job full of friendly people who’d backstab you as soon as the going got tough and my only friends were back in Equestria. Now I have a small beautiful place to live, a rubbish job, and some great friends I can always count on. Right now I’m fine.”
Another sip. “So no plans at all then?”
“I didn’t say -ahh- that. I’m going to Finland next spring.”
“Yep. To the first European railway timetable championship in Inari. I should at least be able to make it to the semi-finals. There’s some prize money as well.”
“My point exactly.”
Her horn lights up and several cushions levitate away from the desk and wobble into place behind your back. You let yourself sink into them with a chuckle and a sigh. A memory surfaces of a time long ago where you spent quite a bit of time on horseback and you smile. Scratching up and down along Penny’s maneline where the fur begins produces exactly the expected result. She groans and closes her eyes with a deep and content sigh.
You think of your family that you will have to call first thing tomorrow. How you are trying to pursue an academic career that you lost interest in a long time ago and which you never should have started in the first place. In a system you have come to hate. With superficial people as co-workers and only a few old friends that are scattered all over Europe and which you never get to see anymore. How you and your wife hope to give your kids a good start in life in that same system. The impossibility of change.
Tomorrow you will board ICE 71 at 10:25am from a very clean platform 6, Frankfurt Central, and return to reality.
You look down at the softly snoring unicorn in your lap.
Here and now? All in the world is right.