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by Rudi Dornemann

The speakers in this station carry the same music as the speakers in all the other stations. The same androgynous voices sing breathy, nearly beatless, non-tunes, vocalizations that are always almost on the edge of words, but never resolve into any particular language. It's all algorithms and averages, and, like any other generated art, endless: you could stand on the platform for a week, a month, a lifetime, and never hear the same near-melody twice.

The music depresses Irene Montevideo, and the 8:17 rain doesn’t help. She retreats into the cushion-contoured shelter. Like most mornings, she’s careful to be the last one in, so she has to stand in the doorway. If she gets a little damp, she also gets a little view -- mostly the back of some warehouse-condo. This morning, however, there’s something extra: a teenage girl crouching down at the platform edge.

Irene suppresses the regular’s grin of superiority; the sogginess of the girl’s sweatshirt says she doesn’t know about the 8:17 rain. But she does know something Irene doesn’t, and hauls a metal plate up onto the platform from the other side of the edge.

It’s exactly the kind of thing that the posters on all the trains urge her to report. Irene wouldn't even have to talk; there are numbers she can dial, and drones will be dispatched. Something makes her finger pause on her phone’s send button, makes her watch a little longer. On the metal plate, a string of musical notes in a figure-eight -- the logo of the company behind the infinity-dirge. Maybe whatever the girl’s doing will shut off the speakers.

The girl pulls a round metal object out of her pocket, glittering and fringed with wire. She looks up, belatedly, and catches Irene watching her.

Irene catches her breath. The girl is tensed, ready to spring up and run, but Irene pushes her mouth into a smile and, when the girl still doesn’t unfreeze, bobs her head in a quick nod and looks away.

There’s movement and the girl is gone. But it’s happening already -- the tune falling into pattern, the refrains first catchy, then cloying; the vocalizations gathering into words, nonsense doggerel that takes all the likeliest rhymes.

It’s the most annoying thing Irene’s ever heard. She can’t get it out of her head for the rest of the day, and smiles the rest of the week.

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