Jieun got on the wrong car one day, and discovered that not everything in her world was as it seemed.
2,700 words. pg.
Jieun got on the wrong subway train one lonely night on her way home. Her phone had died and her purse hung like a dead weight on her shoulder. She clung onto the bar as the train car shuddered its way along down a tunnel with no lights. Despite the late hour, all the seats were taken. A few older ladies were reading with glasses perched on their noses. A few kids her age were staggering around in the back of the car, drunk. One lady was trying to calm her crying child. As she watched, he wiped his nose on her sleeve. Despite the normalcy of the entire event, Jieun felt distinctly like she wasn’t supposed to be there, and as she glanced around, she caught a few of them looking at her from the corner of her eye, but when she glanced back at them, they were back to normal.
A white hot string of nervousness curled around in her stomach. Where was the car going, anyway? She’d never taken a train car here, and she’d actually been surprised when it pulled up at the platform and opened its doors because she thought she’d missed the last train. Thinking it was a night car, she stepped on, but by the time she realized it was going the wrong way, it was too late.
So here she stood, huddled in the corner with her back to one of the doors, gripping the bar like a lifeline to keep her steady. She watched people out of the reflection of the window - and caught one giving her a bemused look. As she watched, the older gentleman nudged the lady next to him and they exchanged hushed whispers. She swallowed thickly, and took out her phone, punching buttons in the hopes that it wasn’t really dead. The screen beeped once, morosely, and clicked itself off. She stuffed it back in her bag and pulled in a piece of hair, looking back out the window.
Soon enough, she realized that the car was slowly but surely going down into the earth. As she watched, it passed the catacombs of an ancient civilization and wondered just how far down they were. Her soft panic turned into a hard line of alarm in her gut, making her press up against the window to peek - but yes, there. It really was an ancient temple, half of which was cut away. The colors had faded and made it look dull and grey, but it was gone before she could notice anything else.
“Where are we?” She wondered aloud, breath ghosting over the glass. She saw half of an enormous bone before her very eyes - larger than an elephant.
“We’re going to the core of the planet,” came a young girl’s voice. Her head snapped away from the window and jerked back against the wire framework. The girl looked about her age, with long blonde hair and sharp eyes and a smile that looked almost menacing in the reddish light.
Jieun blinked at her, numb. “What?”
The girl stuck out her hand, pushing her hair behind her ear. Her cheeks colored pink behind a heavy foundation. “Hi, I’m Jiyeon. It’s an honor to meet you, Jieun.”
She took her hand, brow creasing with confusion, “how do you know my name?”
Jiyeon’s mouth turned into a bashful smile. She was very pretty, Jieun thought, dropping her hand. “Oh, everyone knows you.” The train picked up speed as it burst through the crust of the planet and slipped through a crack in the plates. Jieun kept her gaze focused on Jiyeon - doing her best to ignore the molten lava pushing its way past the doors. She shied back away from it nevertheless, towards the center of the train. Jiyeon caught her hand again, pulling her close, holding a hand on her waist to keep her there.
“Don’t worry, the train is actually made of bits of a spaceship. Nothing on earth can get through these doors.” Jieun’s heart started beating faster and faster. That was real lava outside the doors, real, molten earth pushing past the glass panes, and inside the car it remained cool, air conditioned.
“I’m dreaming, right?” She touched the window with a hesitant finger, half expecting it to burn off. It didn’t. Only the faintest thrum of warmth. When she looked back at Jiyeon, the girl had a funny little half smile on her face. Her hand was still warm on Jieun’s back, like she was trying to reassure her. Her eyes glinted with the hard edge of untold truths.
“Don’t worry, this material could go through a sun.” As reassuring as her voice was, it made Jieun burst into laughter.
She leaned back against the bar, Jiyeon’s hand slipped to her shoulder, to her hand. She held it and her fingers were cold and clammy and yet so smooth. Jiyeon tilted her head in askance but Jieun snorted with laughter, trying to cover her mouth. From the other end of the train the drunks started laughing too, catcalling.
As she laughed the five minute bell chimed. Five minutes until the arrival of...where? Jieun stopped laughing abruptly and looked out the window. They’d entered into a tunnel made of a shimmering metal. As she watched, they flew at top speeds through a sort of yellow gas and into an airlock gate. The train stopped abruptly, causing her to fall awkwardly on top of Jiyeon. She pushed back, flushed and embarrassed, but Jiyeon refused to let go of her hand.
They were cleaned off with some sort of fluid that steamed as it it the sides and immediately changed into a gas, and then a whirling as a great wind sucked everything up into a great vent at the tops and bottoms of the chamber. Then the train car slowly crept forward.
She gasped, eyes wide, as they slid smoothly onto a track in mid air. The large globe was full of platforms with all sorts of trees. Birds flapped around, and as she stared, a Pterodactyl coasted by the window, its large mouth open in a shriek. Unconsciously, she gripped Jiyeon’s hand tightly as she stared at the different platforms, which all seemed to have different trains entering them, like train depots. There were stairs leading down to other, larger platforms that had buildings and houses on them, as well as more with forests, and even a lake built into the center. The globe itself was smooth and shiny and showed a blue sky.
“It’s just a simulation,” Jiyeon’s voice murmured in her ear. “Its to make inhabitants feel more at home.”
On the whole, it reminded Jieun of an ecosystem she’d made with two pop bottles in middle school. With water and plants and earth, the bottles created their own air and ecosystem, all on its own. She squeezed Jiyeon’s hand more tightly, until the girl made a small noise of discomfort.
She released it with a gasp. “I’m sorry,” she breathed. White lines discolored her fingers. Jiyeon squeezed it a few times, smiling.
“Don’t worry about it,” the girl smiled, as the train finally coasted to a stop in a thin film of steaming water. Jieun stepped back as the doors opened on all sides. Jiyeon put a hand around her waist. “Don’t touch the sides of the car, it could melt your skin off.” She carefully pulled Jieun across the small divide and onto a smooth and polished platform. Upon closer inspection, Jieun could see her reflection. She also noted, as a stone dropped into her stomach, that it was slightly transparent. The Pterodactyl from earlier had found a mate, and they were both flapping around together.
Jiyeon pulled her along by the hand towards a bored looking security guard, dressed in a very plain looking shirt and pants. “Jieun slipped onto the wrong car and ended up coming home with us. I want to show her around.”
“Yes, of course,” the guard said, “Be careful, you know humans are delicate.”
Jieun’s hand clenched tightly around her purse, too busy staring around at everything to process what they were saying. She followed Jiyeon and the crowd of people on the train with them. She stared around at everything, dazed. She felt like she’d been hit in the head, but without the pain, only the confusion. She’d thought earlier that the biggest thing worth doing that day was finishing that overdue report for work. She hadn’t expected this.
As they walked, Jiyeon bounced a little on her heels, pulling her along and chattering away. “Look! Look down there,” the girl tugged her to the edge of the platform, holding onto the railing and pointing down into the trees below. “See him?”
Jieun gasped, jerking back away from the railing in alarm. She stared at Jiyeon, at the gleeful light in her eyes, and stared back down at the ground. “It’s a t-rex!” She exclaimed, watching as his large head bobbed around on its neck. His large legs crushed a bush as he stomped around.
“The last one,” Jiyeon hummed, tapping her thumb against Jieun’s knuckles.
Jieun frowned. “But they’re extinct.” Jiyeon gave her that same infuriating smile, touched with amusement. “What’s going on? What is this place? Why am I here, who are you?” Jieun’s questions came spilling out of her once she started talking. The initial shock had worn off, and now she just wanted to know. “And how am I getting home? I live alone with my grandma, she’s going to be worried about where I am!”
“Lets find a place to eat and sit down while we talk.” Jiyeon pulled her arm. Jieun wrenched it back, balling her fingers into a fist. Raising an eyebrow, Jiyeon sighed when Jieun did the same with both of hers, crossing her arms. “Okay, fine. We’re in the center of Earth - your planet. Aliens settled here decades ago and have slowly taken over. This is their base inside your planet, where they keep a few animals that have gone extinct in the above world. When they need to get away and don’t want to be above, they come here to relax, talk to family and friends from other planets, and just get away.”
Jieun opened her mouth and closed it again. “There are aliens above?” Jiyeon nodded. “How many people are aliens?”
Jiyeon’s looked away, biting her lip. “Are you an alien?” Jieun asked, eyes gleaming with a strange sort of interest. When Jiyeon didn’t look back, she gasped. “You are, aren’t you? Are you peaceful? You’re not going to take our planet over, are you?”
Grabbing her by the hands, Jiyeon led her to a bench and sat her down. A cool breeze brushed air off of her shoulders. A bird she’d never heard before trilled a cheerful call from below. Jiyeon sat down beside her, putting a hand on her arms. “We’re all aliens, every last one of us.” Jieun’s mouth snapped shut in alarm as Jiyeon stared at her. As she watched, her eyes glinted silver before Jiyeon blinked and slipped them back to the warm copper color.
“I’m not an alien,” she whispered. If she’d been abducted, she’d know.
Jiyeon nodded. “That’s right, you’re not. We took over your planet and your people because we needed to hide from other, more dangerous forces.”
“You had no right to do that,” Jieun exclaimed. “You should have asked if you could stay here. Don’t just take over someone’s planet, and kill their people.”
Jiyeon snorted. “We didn’t kill anyone, we inhabited them. They became part of us and we melded together. As far as host bodies go, your bodies are weak - but that’s the charm of earth. You’re no threat, and the resources our enemies want are too few here.” Jiyeon smiled thinly. “We made sure of that by using up all of the expendable resources.”
Jieun’s vision blurred suddenly, feeling sick to her stomach. She rubbed something out of her eye and her fingers came away wet. “But why not me, too?”
Jiyeon smiled kindly. “We didn’t want you to go extinct. You’re the last pure human left. Plus, you have a gorgeous voice.” Jieun stared, trying to find the alien behind that face. All she could see was a kind girl with too much eye make up and a penchant for dying her hair weird colors. She couldn’t see any alien. She could almost see a friend. She stood up, pulling away from her, and walked towards the stairs. There was a market below, with food vendors with mouth watering aromas, children ran back and forth with dogs running around at their feet, excitedly.
Just that morning, she’d been woken up by her Grandma, who gave her a packed lunch and sent her off. At work, she’d chatted with co-workers about the news, and how afraid she was for America if Mitt Romney became president. On the way down to see her boss, she stumbled upon someone fighting with his wife on the phone. She felt her knees go weak, so she slipped down into a crouch. Her purse flopped on the smooth surface.
After a few minutes, she felt Jiyeon’s hand on her shoulder. “Are you angry?” Jiyeon’s voice sounded so uncertain, so like the young girl who she’d mistaken her for. Her age, radiantly beautiful, a painted on confidence in her step and her movements, a bashful smile beneath it all.
“Not really,” she said after a while, surprising herself when she realized it was true. “If I’ve lived with you guys all of my life, I guess I’ve just been doing it all along, anyway, right?”
She stood up, replacing her purse to her shoulder. “Can we get food? I’m starving.” She took Jiyeon’s hand. “You have to tell me everything! Have you been to other planets? What about other aliens? Who are you hiding from?”
Jiyeon laughed at her, squeezing her hand. “Hold on, too fast, too fast.” She breathed, pulling her to a stop on the step. “You’re really a remarkable human being,” she breathed, touching a hand to her hair. “I never thought I’d meet you in person. We all know your name, just in case, but I never thought...” She pulled her hand away, tangling her fingers in her own blonde hair. “Um, yes, food. Lets get pizza!”
Jieun woke slowly in the morning, revelling in the soft feel of her mattress and the comforter hiding her from the world. Her eyelashes blinked dazedly at the wall, following patterns of light with her eyes. Pigeons cooed outside her window, flapping around in the eaves of the building. The collar of her nightshirt pulled at her neck uncomfortably, and she finally rolled over to fix it.
To her surprise, she rolled right into the back of another girl, quickly recognized as Jiyeon, who mumbled softly and shifted against the pillows, soft blonde hair fanning over the pillow. For a minute, she just stared at her, one elbow propped up on her pillow, and thought of everything from the night before. They’d come back as soon as the trains turned back on, and then Jieun took her back with her to her grandma’s, where they fell into an exhausted sleep.
She slowly touched Jiyeon’s hair with a few hesitant fingers, threading them through the strands with a light touch. Just last night, she’d discovered that everyone in the world was an alien. Just last night, she’d discovered that a special train at 2 a.m could take her to the center of the earth, a secret sanctuary safe from any invaders.
Just last night, she found herself falling in love with an alien, just a little bit. But that was another big step she was willing to save for another day. She slipped out of bed slowly and padded down the hallway to where her Grandma was cooking. “Morning Grandma,” she said, leaning over and kissing her on the cheek. “What’s for breakfast?” She asked, pulling away with a smile. Her fingers curled over her shoulders as her Grandma patted her on the hand. She smiled and tried to mean it, and accept her part in this brand new and old, old world.
note: title taken from lyrics from ‘Any Other World’ by MIKA. written for unniefic’s 48 hour challenge. I just really missed writing these two.