I apologize for the lack of updates last week. I was writing my exam for a class which is central to my major. As such, it required special attention and I was very anxious. The good news is I am returning this week with another story from the wastelands of Toronto in the distant future.
The Boys Are Back In Town
By Kristina Blaise
Today was a normal day like any other in Ryer’s Berg. The common folk went about their routines as merchants or repairmen or what have you, all under the borderline-authoritarian protection of their bandit soldiers and leaders. The shanties carved into the ashes where once lay higher learning drew crowds and expelled finishing visitors. Shops bristled with neon and zealous traders hawking their goods. In a lot of ways, this fairly typical wasteland community was about the same as any pre-Exchange town was. A whole lot of folks were out here, moving to and fro, flotsam and jetsam, between all the various tasks which tend to clutter one’s day; these were in the realms of the social, the occupational…even the criminal. Much like life before the Exchange, however, things that were unpredictable–for better or for worse–could happen as well. Today was going to be one such day. Disruption, for better or for worse, was indeed well on its way. As a matter of fact, it was roaring down the ruined highways like a smoking, rusted meteor.
A convoy pulled into the central plaza around the time everyone was breaking for lunch. Most folks assumed that they were either roving traders from another settlement or a mercenary company who were going to assist with law enforcement. Both of these analyses were way off. Out of the lead truck, a procession of freakishly hairless, tattooed men and women carried materials to set up a tent, and proceeded to do just that. It was just a small thing, big enough to serve as a stage for the tattooed folks and do little else. In a quaint way, it was a bit like a circus tent from the old world.
Hardly Spoke To Folks Around Them, Didn’t Have That Much To Say
The tattooed strangers stood in a row, five in a single file line, looking like a group of otherworldly monks. Their tent bore a banner that the townspeople did not recognize. It was a black flag with an opaque white circle, and displayed prominently on the circle was a red spiral. It wasn’t a flag that anyone could associate with any existing bandit clan or bounty hunting organization active in the wasteland. Many people were disquieted, while others were merely fascinated. These weren’t folks from around here, and they had a unique sense of style many found endearing.
The lead stranger reached into his rucksack, and from it he withdrew an aging, curious box. It looked like a relic from another era, one that would have been considered old before the war. One of his comrades pulled up a short table, and on it he rested the box. He dared not open it yet, knowing in his heart that one had to have a sense of pacing in the industry of show business. Even in the wasteland, this rule was not to be trifled with.
The Speaker Addresses His Audience
“My sons, daughters, those that lie betwixt. I am the Speaker for the Sons of Mephistopheles, and we invite you to join us for a most exciting show. Do gather round, have a seat, maybe grab yourself a nice snack. I warn you that we might be here a while, but it will not feel like long, rest assured. Together, we’ll have a splendid time. I guarantee this,” the central figure announced with the flamboyance and diction of a carnival crier.
Many townsfolk felt skeptical, disinterested, disaffected. They believed these strangers to be just another bunch of irradiated wackos with something to sell, some snake oil to try and spin like they were some sort of old world infomercial. Many more, however, decided to tune in. Who were these odd, shaven strangers? What was it they were trying to pawn off?
“For years, you have subsisted in this husk, this burnt monument to the hubris and error of your forefathers. You carve out a meagre existence of spartan scarcity, in which food, water and fuel are luxuries rather than basic rights. Today, we wish to show you something that will ease your burdens.”
The central figure–the Speaker, as he called himself–knew that it was now time to open the box. The curtain could at last be raised. As he cracked open the box, the onlookers swore they could make out a faint, purple light emanating from within. Their eyes were agape, trained on that mystery box, expecting some sort of wrath-of-God-esque thing to occur before their very eyes.
“We bring with us a gift from many, many eons past. A life-saving, age-old secret passed down by old gods and legendary heroes. Our father has blessed us with these gifts, these Stars as we call them. We would like to show you just what these gifts can do.”
The Speaker reached into the box, the faint purple glow giving his hairless face a sleek and glamorous pallor. With a lift of his arms–one that was almost certainly slowed purposefully for dramatic effect–he drew forth a ball of an unknown, shiny metal. If this object was truly as ancient as the Speaker claimed, then it had been curated with intricate attention to preservation. The purple light that once framed the monk-like wasteland wanderer’s face now had a source; strange hieroglyphs on the ball’s silvery surface pulsed with that same deep, violet glow.
“I hold in my hand a Star. With it, we can work towards a better tomorrow,” he held the Star up, then lowered it for a moment, “I will now require a volunteer from the audience, preferably one who has in their possession some electronics, or perhaps a potted plant. Quite disparate items, I know.”
Laughter was elicited from the audience, almost as if one queue. The Speaker was a natural at spinning a crowd. Eventually, a junk dealer stepped forward with a headlamp of the sort intended to be mounted on a gas mask; additionally, she brought a little sapling that would one day bear mutated berries. What the dealer did not realize was that this day was coming much sooner than anticipated.
“How bold of you. You come before me bearing both a plant and a machine. I am going to give you quite the show, young miss,” said the Speaker as the dealer passed off her items to him.
The Speaker arranged both the plant and the lamp in a small horizontal line, with the Star between the two of them. Together, the arrangement formed a triangular sort of shape. The Speaker waved his comrades to come over, and each of them—one man, one woman, both equally hairless—put a hand on the Star.
“These friends of mine are the Channelers, masters of the Stars and all their gifts. They will show you what the Stars can really do,” the Speaker explained as he took a step back.
The Channelers stood perfectly still for a moment, hands clasped around the Star as if hanging on for dear life. Those that had stuck around to watch this bizarre show were all watching the bald outsiders and their fantastic metal orb. What followed definitely satisfied the crowd’s itch for wrath-of-god type things.
It was far too subtle for anyone outside of the most watchful observer to pick up, but for a moment the lights in the Star went out. In the space of a second, everything went deathly silent; in another moment, one so slight it is hard to say if there ever really was a gap between the happenings at all, the table sprang to life. The glow returned to the Star in a manner so intense it seemed as if it would blind anyone who got too close. There was a noise like the absence of noise, like all the sound in the town just sucked in on itself in a singularity and then expanded outwards at terrifying speed. When the noise and light cleared, the objects on the table were barely recognizable.
The headlamp, which once was breaking down and malfunctioning, now glowed like it was purchased only the day before. Where once had been a sapling, a tiny shrub stood stout, green, and riddled with ripe berries. Once the crowd had picked their collective jaws up off the floor, they erupted into uproarious applause. The Speaker joined hands with the Channelers, and together the three of them took a deep bow. Then the Speaker approached the awestruck junk dealer, kindly returning her repaired lamp and blooming plant.
“You see now the gifts we offer. The Stars our Father bequeathed on us can give the gift of life, the gift of energy, the gift of altogether prosperity. We can show you the way to a better life. You need only let us in. Brothers, sisters, and siblings, will you let us bring you to the gates of salvation?”
The crowd completely lost their minds, breaking into deafening cheers and hoots. Some even threw their hats into the air. The junk dealer was already wandering around the crowd offering people berries, and everyone who tasted them swore they were sweeter and more full-bodied than any of the same sort of berries they’d had before. Of course, however, good things must often come to an end. The revelry of the crowd at the newfound miracles brought by the strangers ended almost as abruptly as it begun.
The noise eventually caught the attention of the bandit clan authorities controlling Ryer’s Berg. A detachment of armed security forces moved in to investigate, charging in with the self-righteousness befitting any law enforcement with as few rules of engagement as they had. These were not men of honour or justice; they were in power because they were the meanest and the strongest, and they’d do anything to keep people at their mercy. Those wannabe peacekeepers fired shots into the air, the cheers of the crowd turning to screams, and sprinted head-on towards the strangers and their tent.
“…Merely a new path…”
“On behalf of the sovereign settlement of Ryer’s Berg, property of the Goatmen clan of bandits, we find you guilty of trespassing and spreading treasonous, heretical ideals. I advise you to come with us or face immediate execution,” the commander of the lawmen demanded.
The Speaker and his comrades said nothing for a moment, but over a matter of a seconds a kind of half-surprised, half-enraged look spread across their faces; it was a little unnerving how in sync with one another they collectively were. Yet still, they remained silent and resolute, their anger burning just beneath the surface. The lawmen looked puzzled, fearing that an attack may be inevitable. When their adversaries struck, no amount of military training—even of the better quality sort that existed before the Exchange—would have saved them.
The Channelers put their hands on the Star again, then put their free hands on the Speaker. The Speaker, in this moment, felt the power of the old gods become part of him. In his mind’s eye, the weapons carried by the lawmen became his potential tools. Hardly obstacles, merely a new path.
The Wrath of Heaven
The crowd watched with something that was closer to apathy than horror as the lawmen’s guns began to light up. Initially, some speculated that the red glow was them opening fire on the strangers, but since the strangers did not fall this proved not to be the case. The lawmen began to shift from righteous fury to raw terror as the guns seared their hands in a slow burn, the metal becoming white-hot and molten. They dropped their rapidly-heating guns as fast as they possibly could, trying to scrape away with as few burns as possible. It was of little difference. The guns burned brighter and brighter, unrecognizable blobs of slag at this point, until the burning reached its apex and expanded outwards. Violently, the weapons combusted into darkly beautiful blooms of flying molten metal. The blast engulfed the lawmen, collapsing as they burned away into a writhing, screaming mass of fiery agony. Before long, the crowd went silent in shock; it wasn’t necessarily out of fear, however. The spectacle was morbidly entertaining to them.
“Well, my people, I’m afraid I overlooked, heh, one little detail,” the speaker wiped his forehead with the sleeve of his robe, “this is power over life…or death. You know how life is out here. So, tell me, do you want to sit here at the behest of some thugs with old guns, or would you rather wield the energies of the divine? Don’t you want to strike down your enemies with blessed lightning, with the very wrath of heaven itself?”
Just One Obstacle
The crowd on a normal day, of course, probably would’ve dismissed a descriptor like that as the ramblings of a madman. God died sometime ago, crawling off to die sometime after the Exchange. After all, what sort of God would be cruel enough to preside over a world as decayed as this one? Yet realistically, little reason for skepticism existed when the Speaker backed up his claims more than enough already. This man gave them hope; moreover, he gave them catharsis. The applause was deafening.
“Yes, yes, excellent!” The Speaker called out, “we welcome you to our family. Together, let us move forward into a new era of peace, happiness, and unity. However, there is one obstacle that will stand in the way of our quest for peace, o my siblings. Just one obstacle. If we are ever to achieve our goal, we must turn our attention towards the biggest heretics of them all: the Department for Special Defense.”