I Am A Train


Flashpoint

Nineteen dead as tube train crashes in Harrow

24/02/2053: At least nineteen people have been killed, and scores injured, after a London Underground train derailed at the height of the morning rush hour.

The train, a Metropolitan line service from Amersham to Baker Street, is understood to have come off the track at speed shortly after leaving Harrow-on-the-Hill station at 08:32 GMT. The injured have been taken by ambulance for treatment at hospitals across north west London.

The cause of the crash is not immediately apparent: the Railway Safety Board has launched an investigation. It is known that the train was under automatic (artificial intelligence) control at the time of the crash: a London Underground spokeswoman declined to rule out the possibility of a terrorist attack.

Officials have suspended the entire London Undergound network as a precautionary measure, causing severe overcrowding on buses and trams, long queues at taxi ranks, and heavy congestion on the roads. Passengers are being advised to avoid travelling through London and seek alternative cross-country routes unless absolutely necessary.

Investigation

Inspector Adeeva Smith was grateful to escape the taxi the police had provided.

As rush-hour options went, it had been much less hectic than a journey by replacement bus or tram. Nevertheless, her legs were stiff, and she relished the crunch her boots made on the sodden ground as she stepped from the taxi.

Smith was a dour woman, with her sunken eyes and uneven nose the most prominent feature on a face betraying a mixed Indian and British ancestry. She moved in brisk steps, flat-footed, careful, ensuring that her uniform would not become stained with the mud as she trudged across the car park, police-issue cape billowing behind her in the wind.

She rang the bell once at the site office, and allowed a thirty second wait before answering the door. Adeeva peered past the walls of the hut as a rain rolled past at low speed, rails flanging, the words ‘not in service’ displayed in bright white light above the unlit windows.

The door opened, and Inspector Smith shook hands with Thomson, the site manager. She had first met him earlier that day: her impression of him as a down-to-earth, warm-hearted engineer had been tempered by the constant interruptions. Updates to the casualty count, mostly.

“The death count’s risen to twenty-three,” Adeeva began, her tongue burning from the coffee she’d drunk from the urn, “and they have another forty-two in a critical condition. Most have been discharged, they’ve got four stable and under observation.”

“So, that’s at least two hundred and twenty casualties, total,” Thomson replied. There had been easily a thousand, possibly more, people on the train when it had derailed.

“Grim.” Smith took another sip from her coffee, her mouth now prepared for the temperature. “As far as lines of inquiry go, I’ve been asked to advise you that we have received two claims of responsibility, both independent.”

“Cybertwats?”

“Cyberterrorists,” Smith nodded. “We’ve had the Marxist International Liberation Front and the Anonymous IRA, but we haven’t been able to confirm that it was either of them.”

“We can’t rule out it being a mechanical failure,” Thomson said.

“Quite.” Adeeva opened her handbag, picking out a slender, thumbnail-sized stick with an old-fashioned data connector on the end. “We need to collect a dump of the train’s driver, and the black box recorder.”

“That shouldn’t be a problem.” Thomson showed her to the cloakroom—Adeeva removed her cape, and replaced it with a high visibility jacket, the poppers messily clicked into position.

It was a half-mile walk to the crash site. The wreckage was still here (it would not be removed until tomorrow, when the crane and the low-loader would be arriving.) The train’s front car was on its side, at an unpleasant angle across both Metropolitan line tracks. The rails were peppered with detonators, and every signal was glowing a solid, obstinate ruby-red colour.

“There’s a download port on the front,” Adeeva announced (she had checked the schematics for this type of train.) “I won’t need to get inside the cab.”

“Just as well,” Thomson grinned.

Inspector Smith plugged in the download tool, and started the operation on her phone. It took around three minutes for the download to complete: as well as the data recorder, Adeeva made sure to take a copy of the train’s driver—the AI construct that controlled it, communicated with the signalling system, and kept a look out for obstructions on the track.

“All the other trains are back in depot,” Thomson said, as the progress meter gradually filled. “The drivers have all been disabled as a precaution. We can’t rule out sabotage.”

“Or the ‘mad AI’ scenario,” Adeeva agreed. She hoped not. The artificial intelligences that drove these things were an integral part of the railway’s infrastructure: moving back to manual control, after decades of steadily increasing automation, would be a political farce.

“Hope not, but you never know. They are supposed to be ‘people.’” Thomson offered Smith his hand, but she refused, steadying herself against the train’s coupling mechanism instead.

“It’s just a legal status,” she said.

“For now.”

Tipout

Detective Inspector Magnus Sayer reached his office in New Scotland Yard HQ feeling thoroughly out of breath.

He had got home late last night (very late—around eleven p.m.) and slept through until six. Even though he had skipped breakfast and hurried his toilet, the unpleasant, stop-start, crowded bus journey into central London had made him forty-three minutes late, and exceptionally grumpy.

He re-opened the email he’d received yesterday, the one that had arrived before all this mess with the Tube had started. Sent to the anonymous tipster address, at half past eight—a list of five names and addresses, a collection of bank statements, plans to detonate a chemical bomb, and radical literature from the Tibetan Liberation League.

“Lang and Wu have confessed,” Magnus’s secretary said, “the other two are denying any involvement.”

“Any news on where our missing suspect might be?”

“Not yet.” Sam sat down at his desk outside Magnus’s office. “He might’ve managed to escape during the clusterfuck around the Tube crash yesterday.”

“Probably.” Magnus sat down in his office, switching the separating glass to ‘privacy’ mode and examining the documents he’d been sent again.

They had raided Alex Lee’s house in Watford yesterday morning, and found plenty of evidence to implicate he was in league with the plot. Radio equipment, manuals on computer security and black hat hacking, chemistry equipment, a key for a self-storage room containing a large barrel of motor oil.

But Lee himself was nowhere to be found. Magnus had put him on a ‘wanted’ list, but with the tube crash there simply weren’t enough resources (i.e. police officers) available for a manhunt.

The phone rang. Inspector A Smith, from the Incident Investigation unit. Magnus had not spoken to her in moths, beyond the occasional smile as they passed in the corridor and a drunken dance at the Christmas party.

“Adeeva,” he said, as Smith’s face blossomed on the screen. “I’m supposed to be in an interrogation in five minutes.”

“It’s urgent,” Smith said (she looked to be in the back of a taxi, and had clearly hit a stretch of clear traffic.) “I’m assigned to the tube crash yesterday, I found something on the train’s data recorder you’ll want to see.”

Magnus accepted the file transfer. “What is it?”

“Look in at the memory dump from eight thirty yesterday morning. Just before the crash.”

“What’s there?”

“Look and see,” Adeeva said, peering out of the cab’s window. “I’ve got to go, I’m just arriving…”

“Where are you arriving?”

“St. Thomas’s Hospital, I’m here to see a body,” she said, opening the door of the cab. “I have to go, I’ll ring you later.”

The image went dead. Magnus examined the file he’d been sent.

Because train driver AIs were technically ‘people,’ they had to be allowed unrestricted (but monitored) access to the Internet. Actuarial tables showed in this one’s log, along with a number of Tibetan extremist websites—which had been exploited with a simple injection attack—and a large number of WHOIS requests.

And then there was an email. A single, outgoing mail, to the Metropolitan Police’s anonymous tipsters’ email address. The same mail Magnus had been forwarded yesterday.

The Man Who Fell to Earth

“Alexander Song Lee,” the pathologist announced. “Lived in Harrow, killed outright in the impact.”

“Thank you,” Adeeva said, adjusting her face-mask. The smell of death was something she had hoped she would avoid by moving to Incident Investigation—so much for that.

The corpse was of a young man—around twenty-three, at a guess—of far Eastern descent, with short black hair and a strong brow. A tattoo of a quotation from the last Dalai Lama (the one who was assassinated) on his hip; his accoutrements contained what appear to be an empty chemical vial, a cheap mobile phone, a small electronics toolkit including a soldering iron and a timing circuit.

She went out into the corridor and telephoned Sayer again. “You’re still looking for Alex Song Lee, correct?”

“Yes…” Magnus’s words were hurried—he sounded impatient. “What is it? I’m in an interrogation…”

“I’ve found him,” Adeeva said. “He’s in the morgue at St. Thomas’s.”

A pause. A few clicky, filtered, artifacted breaths.

“He’s where?” Magnus demanded.

Adeeva hung up and texted him the details. The corridors suddenly felt very dark, small, constricted, and looking out of the window at the gridlocked traffic below her only reminded her of the congestive heart failure her city was experiencing.

Inspector Smith strode for the lift, thinking about the statement she’d inevitably have to give to the press.

How do you begin to explain this?

We Regret To Announce…

“Thank you, all, for agreeing to come at such short notice,” Magnus began, shifting uncomfortably in his dress uniform. “As I’m sure you’re aware, the circumstances in the last few days have been quite extraordinary and I thank you all for your patience and understanding.”

The assembled media murmured, their coats and computers and cameras foaming into a sea of obstinate hostility.

“I’m going to pass over to my colleague,” he continued. Sayer looked to his right: Adeeva Smith was quietly sipping water, her eyes fixed on the press junket before her.

She began with the facts. “At 8:30am yesterday, the Metropolitan Police Crimestoppers service received an anonymous email from someone claiming to know about an impending chemical bomb attack on London Bridge railway station, masterminded by the League of Tibetan Avengers. This informant forwarded a substantial amount of intercepted radical literature, bank statements, and the names and addresses of five perpetrators.”

Adeeva stuck to her script as the slideshow played on—the photographs of the five young men, the mugshots for the four apprehended.

“Police entered Alexander Song Lee’s flat at eleven thirty-two yesterday morning. We recovered a substantial amount of bomb-making equipment, radical literature, and also confiscated additional material for use in our investigations. Alexander Song Lee, however, was not present, and could not be contacted or apprehended. At this point, we had assumed that he had gone on the run.”

She paused for a moment, giving the information time to process. The hacks were digesting it, like the skin of a watermelon: slowly, cautiously.

“Meanwhile, as you are all aware, a London Underground train crashed in Harrow-on-the-Hill yesterday morning. This morning, we visited the morgue at St. Thomas’s Hospital, and discovered that one of those killed in the crash was Alexander Song Lee, of Harrow.”

A pause. Delayed reaction. A few widened eyes—some were making the connection.

“To clarify,” Adeeva said, deviating from her notes, “the Alexander Song Lee killed in the train crash yesterday, and the Alexander Song Lee understood to have been involved with the League of Tibetan Avengers, are one and the same person. You will also recall from our previous briefing that two organisations—the Marxist International Liberation Front and Irish Republicans Anonymous—have claimed responsibility for that crash.

“After examining the train’s internal memory, and a dump of the train’s driver A.I., we discovered an exact copy of the mail sent to the Crimestoppers email address yesterday morning. Moreover, we traced the mail address back to its source: the proxy used by train drivers during their downtime at the Wembley Park Underground depot.”

Silence. Some were still processing what had been said; some had their faces screwed up in confusion, or denial, or incredulity. Ridiculous!

“I understand this is a highly unusual and unexpected development,” Adeeva continued, tripping over her words, “but this means we bel… our current line of investigation is that the train deliberately crashed itself to disrupt the terror plot by the League of Tibetan Avengers.”

Someone, somewhere, let out a breath. The remainder of the room sat in a stunned silence.

“The investigation is still in its early stages,” Smith continued, “however, this is our current line of inquiry—this is where all the evidence points at this time, and we will keep you updated as we learn more. Until then, we will be working with London Underground and the relevant authorities to bring the investigation to its conclusion.”

Three pregnant seconds. Magnus leaned forward, and opened his mouth: “Any que—”

He caught sight of Ahmed, the Press Liaison manager, at the back of the room, his fingers in a triangle shape. Stop.

“Thank you for your time,” Magnus said, hurriedly, gathering his papers into a messy bundle and rushing for the door. Adeeva followed, as her audience began to simmer, and boil.

“Are you saying the train is being investigated for murder?”

“Was the train hacked?”

Inspector Smith scurried through, pushing past and hoping the cameras wouldn’t catch her.

“Is the public in danger?”

“Could a taxi be hacked and programmed to murder someone?”

“Thank you,” Magnus said, as Ahmed bundled them both out of the door and slammed it shut.

Adeeva took a long breath.

Not a good day.