Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Atmosphere Chapter Two

Chapter Two

Beneath the Scorching Shore

Daniel had gotten down from the robot horse and was now walking alongside Owen, trying to find out as much as possible from him about what happened between entering and leaving the cryo-chamber. There was no air. Or well, there was but it contained no oxygen. Something had happened a short time after Daniel entered the cryo-chamber. The skies were set ablaze and the air became thin and man had to seek refuge beneath the ground. The skies were dark and ferocious for a lifetime and then it rained from the heavens for another two lifetimes. The tunnels and subways which had provided man with his shelter became their death as they flooded and collapsed and man once again had to venture to the surface. But there was still so little air and they had to quickly learn how to build shelters that were air tight and the few of them that were still smart enough to read and write, to construct machinery and tools had to learn how to build air filters and water purifiers. And then man went back to what he did best. Destroy himself.

But the people of the world had long forgotten about the guns and the bombs and armoured beasts that cause so much destruction and take so much life. Left to fight and fend for themselves with improvised spears and swords just as they had thousands of years ago. And this was the way it went on for some time. An untold number of centuries or maybe even millenniums passed as the tribes of man waged war for land or resources, for petty grudges or to appease their new gods or purely for the thrill of killing and destroying. Until just a few centuries ago it is said, when mankind went under some kind of change, a renaissance of sorts. They began to have a great interest in the world that had existed before this one. They searched and scowlered the ruins for information from the past, the way they lived and the way they built and invented. But then, how they governed themselves and how they waged their wars. The gun came back into fashion. Those that had led the tribes and groups learnt of the ways of fascism, dictatorships, cruel unjust monarchies and the abusive all controlling power that religion could hold. And they saw that it was good.

Most of the world itself had seemed to undergone major change. Whole cities swallowed up by the ground, forests scorched from the land and in others towns and villages unnoticeable through the trees that had sprung from the ground. The sea had risen and fallen more times to count but it seemed at a stable level now for a few century. The blankets of snow and ice that was once confined to the far northern wastes of Canada had crept down and claimed New England for itself. The swamps of the deep south now appeared across the land where the sea had risen and lowered leaving vast bodies of water where there was once none. Scorching deserts were not just confined to the Sahara, and the change between extreme heat and extreme cold in the environment could be found within miles of each other.

The air was poison and unbreathable, choked with carbon dioxide from the weapons that had destroyed the world. Unbreathable to man that is. In his absence from the surface, with 'two lifetimes' of water falling upon their heads and the sun glaring in through the darkened skies like a greenhouse the plant-life flourished and reclaimed the planet. The cold unfeeling domain of man become an oasis of greenery. The roads and highways cracked and split apart as trees sprouted up and filled the alleys and avenues of the cities as vines crawled slowly but surely to the tops of the tallest skyscrapers and the rooftops each became their own little forest. The windows fell away and the seeds and sproutlings found their way into the offices and hi-rises filling the buildings with jungles that spread upwards not outwards.

Manhattan, just like it had been before the apocalypse remained the centre of civilisation for hundreds of miles around. Though the millions that once lived and worked and played on this isle of steel monoliths were reduced to just a few tens of thousands. The southern tip of the island or what was once lower Manhattan was now a swamp with water in some places three stories high, much of the buildings remained surprisingly intact. Mid-town was a lot less wet, but a lot more green. A thick jungle had taken over the area, a maze of thick tree trunks filling the street. The collapsed buildings down 9th and 3rd Avenue and along multiple streets formed new canyons of debris and rebar which the plants grew over and disguised almost making one forget they were standing amongst the once largest metropolis on the planet. The canyons directed a deep river on a dizzying course through mid-town and down into the swamps of lower Manhattan. This jungle stopped almost abruptly at 59th Street -just before Central Park-, the greenest part of the old Manhattan was now ironically the most lifeless and stood at the centre of the dead norths where sand and rock reigned. Across the Hudson -which had swelled to a much wider width- where Jersey City once stood now lay the 'Scorched Shore' almost all the land were desert and the buildings were burnt and ruined. Somehow Manhattan’s structures had stood so while well all around the out lying districts had crumbled and fallen. To the other side across the East River the streets and avenues of Brooklyn had given way to nature's advance much more than Manhattan, and there in lay the Tribes of Brooklyn. Untamed and unruly man similar to those before the Manhattanite Renaissance, though if anything they were worse. They knew of the technology and culture that had swept across the island and sort to keep it out of their land, content in their ways and seeking to destroy the new ways and keep man in the dark.

The existence of other settlements still standing became apparent only two or three hundred years ago when the first ships appeared on the horizon and came down the Hudson. They hailed from Atlanticopolis which had became completely cut off from the land and had to make great use of ships, Owen was unsure if they originally held that name of it they took it on when the oceans swallowed the low lands around them. Caravans appeared across the land as well from Philly City where only a single governing body managed to keep control over the city unlike the fractured New York. And soon enough the tiny villages and settlements that existed out in the wastes all braved the hazards to come and trade in Manhattan, so eventually a large marketplace was set up in the warehouses that once stood in western Mid-town by the Hudson, sealed up like the ordinary dwellings in the skyscrapers but with large open spaces for the foreign traders to stay and set up their wares. They tell tales from other traders from even further afield of a city of pure light out in the desert and a city shrouded in fog and ravines so deep and far cut in the land you'd think the earth was splitting apart.

“And just where did you come from Owen? You can't possibly come from here”

“No. we came from the Kingdom originally. My mother and I that is. We had to flee during the great scourge. King Maximilian was always a very paranoid man, so fearful of Brooklyn saboteurs or spies from the Termini. It eventually became too much and he took it out on his people. It didn't matter who, the lowliest subject up to his lords and advisers were all suspect in his eyes and when the scourge came it almost split the Kingdom into civil war. I’m surprised now that the Republic didn’t try and invade. I'm sorry, I'm getting ahead of myself. The Kingdom is down at the south of the island and the Termini Republic is in the middle just before you reach The North. The Kingdom is the oldest group still going in the city I think. They've existed for almost eight centuries I believe. Some say they once ruled all the island but I find that hard to believe, no one group could control all the island, there's not enough people left alive in all the world to watch over every part of Manhattan, not even the Militari with all their technology.”

“You mean Military? Military of who?”

“No, Militari. I know that's not how say it but you try telling them that. And they don't fight for anyone other than all of New York. Peacekeepers I mean. Except they do a pretty bad job at that. I don't know how people in the Republic feel about them but the Kingdom is getting pretty tired of all their bureaucracy and red tape which they seem to love so much. But we put up with them for two reasons, they are the most well equipped in all the land with what most have been the very finest weaponry and armour from the old world. They don't even know how to use half of it but what they do know is devastating. And onto the second reason, they hold the barricade that separates mid-town and the north.”

“What's so bad about the north?”

“It's a cursed land, so they say, nothing that goes beyond the Militari barricade will be seen again. The very worse kind of people live north, tribes that make the Brooklyn inhabitants look like nothing. And all kind of horrid twisted creature live up there. Impossible monsters that will haunt all your nights for the rest of your life should you set your eyes upon them, never mind having to face them in combat... So they say. I remember some nights from my childhood in the Kingdom when the whole building was awoken by series of thunderous crashes. The soldiers donned their gas masks and went to the roof and saw on the horizon to the north the night sky all ablaze and thought something had happened to the Republic. Only in the morning did they learn the Militari had repelled some sort of attack against the barricade with their most feared weapon. A giant gun, as big as a house! Artillery I think they called it. Could fire bullets as big as your arm. I hear its broken though in recent months, if another attack were to come they and the Termini would be in for real trouble.”

“How can things live up there? There's no oxygen. Or is there? Is the unbreathable air only in pockets?”

“No. Its everywhere as far as I know. The traders that come from afar tell tales of similar situations in their towns and cities. The creatures in the north don't need oxygen, I don’t know if they existed in the old world or appeared only after the change but they are more suited to this world than you or I. Again, I've never seen any of them. I prefer finding as much as possible about the old world than exploring the one we live in now. I swear knowledge from the past seems to be the most valuable resource now, but so few take the time to learn about it.”

“How do you know so much about then?”

“Books, information packets, I even have a computer I keep them all on. I think I only ever saw one other computer at The Kingdom used by the strategist. Other than getting supplies from the trade post this side of the Hudson the only reason I venture outside is to look through the ruins for information from the past. What can you tell me of where you're from Daniel?”

“I wish I could tell you, but I'm still trying to piece everything together myself. I lived and worked over on Manhattan I know that. I must have been doing pretty well for myself if I was wearing this sorta crap” He looked down at his suit and saw it had been torn and scuffed since leaving the capsule underground, apparently the suit not designed for post-apocalyptic wear and tear. “I was born.. in Maine, 28th June 2013. We moved to New York City in '21.. I studied Law at Harvard. All the rest is just irrelevant or... stuff Im not too sure on the meaning of yet.”

“What was the city like back then? And what did you do?”

“Big.. and bright. They called it the city that never sleeps, and they were right. The streets were always filled with people, always rushing, always busy. I remember my family were part of a big influx of people moving to the major cities. The population doubled in just a few years, there was so little room for all the new people they ended up making new buildings right atop the pre-existing ones and the whole city gained a kinda second layer. All these new buildings of glistening pure white with smooth contours and big tall windows, built right atop the red and brown brick and stone ones that had stood there for a hundred years prior. Walkways connected them all and new bars and shops were built along with them, I believe they were also in the process of creating a whole new network of roads to accommodate the upper New Yorkers cars. Oh. Um, a car was like... this machine we-”

“I know what a car is Daniel. They litter all the roads. Though many others don’t know what they were used for. I can't imagine being able to cross the island in a matter of minutes in comfort”

“Minutes? Try hours, if you were lucky. Like I said, everyone was always busy, SO the roads were busy”

“But you said they were rushing, so surely you could always move along right?”

“Nah. Never worked that way. We had 'rush hour' when people go to work. Slowest time of the day in fact.”

Owen racked his brain trying to figure out what stranger in the suit meant by that but just shook his head and looked ahead, the entrance to the bunker coming up.

“Almost there. Just inside that building up ahead” He said and pointed over to a slab of concrete with slits for windows all along it, tall poles stood outside with their flags long ago torn to shreds by the elements. The husk of a large truck stood on the road before it, sand up over it's wheel arches and two skeletons sitting in the front seats. A trio of large solar panels and a tall windmill adorned the roof with huge cables that spilled over the sides of the building and disappeared again into the windows.

They made their way up the stairs leading to the blasted open front doors, the concrete walls either side pot-marked with large bullet holes. The robotic steed followed them up without trouble and stood by Owen's side, a torch blinking on from somewhere on it's head and illuminating the area inside. The building had been completely gutted and the floors filled with debris and ancient rubbish. Some major battle had gone on here long ago, but Owen knew nothing, saying he found the building like that. They made their way inside and to a door in one of the facing walls, the other side stood a stairwell going down. Daniel was apprehensive to suddenly going back down underground after only just escaping the clutches deep dark underground an hour before, but a light shone up from below and he followed the boy down, the robot constantly nudging him to go faster, unused to being behind someone so slow. Just two storeys down the stairs ended again and before them was a bulky metal door, long scratches down its surfaces and burn marks around the edges, 'US ARMY' inscribed right in the middle.

Owen taped away at a keyboard set into the wall and the door opened with a hiss of steam, a small chamber inside which they filed into. The bulk door closed behind them and they were covered in darkness for a moment before red lights flashed on and vents along the floor and ceiling pumped in air and changed the pressure. It only took a minute and then the smaller door at the other side of the chamber opened up. The bunker inside was quite spacious, built large enough for a platoon of soldiers and came with cooking and washing facilities. Every bit of spare space was filled with junk Owen had found out in the city and decided to drag back, parts of engines and all kinds of weapons that looked far beyond use, electronics and computer parts for devices that had already gone out of use by Daniels time. The walls were adorned with various paintings and pictures; random places in the old world, a picture of the globe from space and portraits of people, a few of which he recognized -previous presidents, some famous inventors- most of them he didn’t recognize though. Then his eyes stopped on one and he slowly walked towards it, staring wide-eyed at the picture with his mouth agape in disbelief. It was him. Dressed in the exact suit he was wearing right now and with some cheesy faked grin on a smug face. Owen looked over this shoulder now without his mask and squinted at the photo then to Daniel.

“Wow. Guess you weren't lying then. A real man from the past huh?” He said and stroked his chin in thought “You don’t have to wear that mask any more by the way, air in here is quite alright”

Daniel inspected the photo for a few minutes more and stepped back, pulling the gas mask from his face and looking at himself in the faint reflection of the glass photo frame. He looked identical in every way to the photo, it couldn’t have been taken much longer before he entered the cryo-chamber. He looked around to see where Owen was and only saw the robot stood by the corner having somehow taken all the bags and containers off itself and now laid down recharging next to an outlet that he presumed led to one of the solar panels. The boy came back into the main room holding a cup in each hand and held one out for him. He took it happily and sat at one of the main seats that just seemed scattered around the place.

“I... was expecting to see your mother here. Is she not in at the moment?”

“No..” Owen replied pensively “She's dead. Passed away when I was eleven.”

“And you've been here alone ever since?”

“Yep.” He said somewhat proud of the fact he had done so well by himself, taking a sip from his drink before continuing “I haven't been completely alone. I found Stallion when I was twelve buried in one of the storage closest in the tunnel beneath this bunker. Took half a year to get it working but ever since he's gone where I've gone and helped me out of trouble more times than I count.”

“Stallion?” Daniel asked confused before the boy pointed slowly to the robot in the corner that had just been accompanying them and wondered who else he thought he meant.

“The Kingdom make use of that kind of robot a lot, mostly to carry goods in the caravans up to the marketplace but I seen them used as cavalry as well. They can easily take the weight of four people. But just one atop with a sword and a rifle is enough to cause enough havoc to a squad of foes on foot. Never mind when they get the whole mounted regiment out and you have forty of the best soldiers in The Kingdom atop a metal beast that can reach 40mph and survive whole magazines of bullets. And sometimes they'd pile sandbags atop them and then stick one of their machine guns on there, there's no more fearsome sight. But they've only done all that when they were finishing up the Brooklyn Bridge. They had been sealing it up for almost two centuries you see, so that it could be lived on and used as a safe passage across the East River but the tribes of Brooklyn wanted to send a message and so they waged battle across the shores of Brooklyn and at the mouth to the bridge, putting all that work at risk. The Kingdom you see – full name being The Kingdom Of the Two Bridges have had control of the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridge since they were first formed, the third bridge further up the river had collapsed many a year ago and is no use to anyone. If the Kingdom loses the bridges they lose part of their heritage as well as access to Brooklyn, and the Kingdom still holds dreams of controlling all the city, no matter how impossible it may seem.”

Daniel listened with interest, nodding along and taking a sip from the surprisingly fresh tea every so often, wanting to find out as much as possible about this new world if he was to survive here.

“And what, of this Termini Republic? It sounds like they are the only other main group in the city”

“They are. I’m afraid I don't know a whole lot about them though, I've only been to the Republic once before but I was very young. Everything was very grand and prosperous. Unlike the Kingdom which has slowly been dying for some time now. The Republic appeared about three hundred years ago, formed of the various groups that came from the tribes that once inhabited mid-town. The Union, The Districtians, The Termini and a few very small groups whose name escapes me. They banded together to better defend themselves against The Kingdom's advance northwards. The Termini took charge of this new alliance and with help from its allies turned the big train station in mid-town into the largest shelter yet seen on the island. They focus a lot more on trading rather than military exploits and greatly favour democracy over the monarchy of the south. And that's really all I can say. They have a smaller military but its much better equipped. While the Militari say they want to remain neutral its quite obvious they lean towards the Republic. They themselves are one of the youngest groups, only cropping up in the last 70 – 60 years, but quickly made their presence known. Setting up their barricade to the North and a base by the marketplace and another down just above the Kingdom land. Their headquarters are in a big impressive building on the shores of the East River. There's also much smaller groups that don't possess their own buildings and make use of the other group's; Merchant Confederation, The Guild, The Justice, various little mercenary groups that are always cropping up and disappearing again.”

He finished his tea and let Daniel take in all this information, sitting back and looking at all the junk he had collected and trying to locate some he didn’t know the purpose of to ask the man from the past, but thought he'd probably not be in the mood for answering much questions. After he too had finished he asked to see the computer Owen said he had, he knew from him saying before that he only had information about the past up to 1980 but anything could help him to remember his own past. The computer was one of the best of the time but he was unsure if it had originally came from the bunker or Owen had found it out in the ruins, it certainly had its fair share of spare and self-made parts stuck onto it. He looked over the data, re-familiarising himself with the 20th century, the world wars and our steps into space, the rise and fall of so many ideologies. Then back to the age of empires and colonialism and the brief articles on medieval Europe, correcting the mistakes Owen had made when copying the information from the books and adding new articles as more and more fragments of the past entered his memory the more he read on. But alas it helped him remember none of his own past, the fifteen.. ten years before entering the cryo-chamber were still vacant.

Night soon came and Owen prepared a meal for them, made from various vegetables and some form of meat that Daniel didn’t want to know what animal it came from, but he didn’t complain, technically this was the first time he ate in what could have been a thousand years. Despite his desire to stay up and ask the boy more about what was happening over on the island a great fatigue came over him. Even though he had just slept underground in that chamber for unknown eons he was still extremely tired now. Owen showed him to a room filled with bunk beds which he usually used as just another storage room for junk from the surface. The mattress was possibly one of the worst he had ever laid on, but again he didn’t complain at the hospitality of his rescuer, rolling on his side and trying his best to get to sleep, strange visions and voices from the past visiting him again in his slumber.

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