Author: Natalie the Nightsjester

RUIN OF MABLE : Episode 2

Mable is first a farmers settlement and that is where they spend the vast majority of their resources. In the bigger picture Mable is located almost exactly in the southern center of the desert between two other villages making it a natural stop for traders looking to restock. Some traders have managed to bring two or four wheeled vehicles back to life but the vast majority make use of gigantic land bound rodents called Belhops to ride on. They have a few advantages, one is they can easily traverse the fine powdery dunes between the hard packed trails and two they can sniff out water and food from great distances.

 Jonah scratches the dense scruff of hair on either side of one belhops face, the large animal lurches forward and inhales the air around Jonah. “Yeah that’s a good boy.” Jonah smiles and the oversized Guinea Pig lets out a deep oscillating hum that carries across the village. Earlier in the day Tara the stable mistress went out to the fields to find some help with an influx of visitors and Jonah volunteered enjoying being around animals and they in kind enjoying his presence.

Tara pats one of the harnesses bearing a symbol showing a circle below two squares, speaking to Jonah “They are all from Ur looking for seeds and saplings to help rebuild their own farm stock, from the sounds of it they finally rid themselves of the demon.”

“The demon?” Jonah asks.

“Yes their well was polluted by some demon to become poison, made their skin crack like the darkstrain. Some woman from the Gate City banished it.” She explains.

“A woman? Do you think she was one of the sages?” he asks

“Probably.” Tara finishes brushing the accumulated sand out of the belhops fur and leads it to a nearby set of troughs filled with grasses and water. Jonah climbs up on a ladder to see over the crowd to a group of mitomi talking with the prime trader, sure enough they all look like they have crack like scars all over their skin. Sliding back down the ladder the belhops begin to make a soft groan and begin to act more cagey, large ears flopping up briefly then falling. Moments later a loud rumble is at the south gate that comes to an abrupt halt. Jonah peaks around the stables to the gateway, a darkstrain has arrived on a rebuilt motorcycle wearing a deep maroon cloak with some kind of large stick tied to his back. 

The gate guards approach him demanding to know why he has come back. His voice is very different from any Jonah has heard before, deep and intimidating carrying an air of authority. “I am here only for fuel! I can pay a fair price in crystal psionite.” The guards look to each other then back to the darkstrain looming above them. One of the guards holds out an open hand “We will see what we can spare you.” The darkstrain places a small token the shimmers like opal in the guards hand. The guard looks over to Jonah “Boy! Come take this to Aariz, tell him a darkstrain needs fuel. Oh and put on some gloves!” Jonah leaps up putting on a pair of leather gloves running out to meet the three just outside the gate. The bike is loaded up with all sorts of random objects as well as a banner bearing the symbol of Gate City. The guard drops the surprisingly light token into Jonah’s hand and shoos him away before he could ask any questions. Jonah pushes his way through the crowd and finds the prime trader. Aariz takes the token and with another piece of psionite knaps a small fleck off the edge and picks it up with the bare tip of a finger. 

“Stand back Jonah.” Aariz says concentrating hard on the tip of his finger then touching the ground. Radiating from the point of touch the ground illuminates and radiates heat as the sand congeals together and shrinks to a ball of pure heavy metal. Aariz looks satisfied and looks over to Jonah “Alright it’s real, take this barrel of rice oil over to him. Should be enough to take him five or six hundred miles.”

Jonah lifts up the barrel that’s roughly half his size saying with a grunt “I wonder why he doesn’t just use that to make his own.” 

Aariz smiles “That’s the thing about Psionite, it can’t transmute living matter into other things and can’t create things made of living matter like this fuel. If that wasn’t the case little villages like our own would never see a soul. Now get going, i’m sure the guards aren’t happy about having to babysit a darkstrain for any amount of time.” 

Jonah wastes no time running back to the south gate, the mood between the guards and the darkstrain still icy. On his arrival the darkstrain heaves the barrel into place then gazes up north as he speaks “You all should stay indoors tonight, might have some interesting weather.” One of the guards perks a brow and asks “How do you figure? The skies are clear.” The darkstrain hooks a leg over his bike and brings the scrapped together beast back to life with a low rumble. 

As he takes off he shouts over the sound of the engine “I just have a sense for these things, good luck Mitomis.”

 The guards shake their heads and head back to the gate one whispering out “Weirdo.” Jonah watches as the bike disappears into the wastes to the east.

Eta watches as a cloud of dust rolled in from the south, something has just left town in quite a hurry. With an aggressive sweep of a sickle  another fistfull of rice comes up and she hears the foreman call out “Alright! We are about to break another dam, clear out for a half hour while the patty drains!” Eta grips the dull back of her sickle as she steps up and out of the drained patty. Her favorite place to rest in these brief intermissions are atop the cold slabs of chrome that stick out of the sand that never heat up no matter how long they sit in sunlight. Eta glances to the north to look at the ruins sticking up towering above the rest of the desert and wonders why they have not tried to salvage the place in all the time the settlement has been here. The ruins seem to have some kind of interior but from the stories the elders have told her no one has figured out how to get inside or bypass whatever material it is made of. The children have made up their own stories about what lies within, hidden treasures, a horde of evil androids, sand. “Probably sand.” she thinks to herself. Every so often when she finds her mind wandering she can see herself on the inside, writing she cannot understand on every wall and… something deep within, powerful and mysterious. These are not dreams of course, no one dreams like the humans did but its very much like that. Eta has become hesitant to talk about these visions over the sixteen years she has been alive, most of her friends just think she has a mild case of sunstroke and needs to get more shade but Jonah still believes her. At least he acts like he believes her.

The day came to a close and at the well Jonah, Eta and Davin meet and chat about all the goings on of the day and snack on some hearts of palm. 

“Did that picture come out?” Asks Jonah. 

“Yeah but you two were busy today, I will bring it to you two sometime tomorrow so you can see it in the daylight” Davin smiles “Maybe you two can actually look happy about the picture if we give it another try.” 

Eta tilts her head “What are you talking about I am smiling right now.” she forces the expression.

“That’s not how that works Eta.” Davin sighs, he turns his head as a flash of light catches his attention.

Seconds later a low rumble as the dim deep blue sky turns black as clouds slowly come in from the north. 

“Just like the darkstrain said… “ Jonah quietly says to himself.

Davin looks somewhat concerned “Hey you two should get going home and make sure everything is secured up there. I will meet you tomorrow assuming the weather permits it.” 

Jonah and Eta nod back to their friend and scurry back to their guard tower dwelling, tightening the ropes and bolts holding it together and setting up a tarp to protect them from the elements. The winds pick up and sweeps through the village making all the sheet metal creak and towers sway slightly. The sun fully sets and the dark overtakes the village. Dim electric lamps pop up all around the village and at the gates. 

Eta looks out to the north as the sky darkens and the storm picks up “Is it normal for these things to roll in from the north? All the storms I can think of come from the sea.” Jonah nods, “Well I guess you are right but it’s not impossible.” Jonah too looks to the north as lightning illuminates the ruins in the distance.

RUIN OF MABLE : Episode 1

In the shade of a decayed steel watch tower Jonah and Eta enjoy a moment of escape from the harsh light of the midday suns. They were called there by a mutual friend who found a curiosity among the garbage lining the dunes, a camera. What’s better is that its not some digital camera that got ruined like most other electronics but an analog film camera, clogged with dirt but still functional. Eta has begun to lose patience.

“We have been waiting here ten minutes, the foreman is going to notice!” Eta complains squeegeeing a palm full of sweat clear of her green forehead.

Jonah gets on his toes to peer over the five foot tall wall to catch a glimpse of his friend hustling over to their meeting place. “He’s almost here, just keep it down.”

Davin, a friend of Jonah since childhood is one of the villages engineers. His job is supposed to be improving the irrigation system, salvaging useful lost technology and helping make sure none of the buildings fall over. Right now he is just a kid again.

“Sorry I am late but I found it!” he holds up the camera “The film was pretty close to where we found this.”

“Is it still good?” Jonah asks.

Davin slaps in a thick rectangular cartridge and looks through the viewfinder. “Only one way to find out. You two get a bit closer together and I’ll let you know when I am about to shoot.”

Jonah motions to Eta to sidestep a foot or so and they step back into the harsh afternoon sun.

“What does he mean by shoot?” Eta asks only to get a shrug from Jonah in reply.

“Alright stand still!” Davin calls out, the siblings stiffen as though commanded to halt by a drill sergeant.

Click. A small white plastic sheet with a black square shoots out.  A minute passes.

“Is it done?” asks Jonah.

“Don’t move I said!” Davin shouts back, Jonah straightens back up just as stiff and now visibly embarrassed.

Another minute passes, Eta begins to walk away. 

“Wait wait! Where are you going? I am not done yet.” Davin once again calls out.

Eta calls back immediately “You have no idea what you are doing, bye.”

Jonah throws up his hands and walks after Eta “I will be back to see how it comes out okay?

Davin sighs and looks down at the camera still clinging to the paper, to his amazement out of the darkness the image of his two friends begins to show through.

Whenever possible Eta and Jonah take the long way around to the fields through the south gate of the settlement. This angers the foreman of course but he usually gives them a pass considering the circumstances. Six years prior Mable was attacked by one of many hordes of rampaging androids called M-S-F. During this attack the parents of the siblings barely missed the closing of the north gate and were killed still begging to be let in. They are not the first children to be orphaned in a MSF attack but it’s very rare for it to be so close to home.

The foreman is gigantic for a Mitomi belonging to a mutation they call Gigas who are nearly seven foot tall, dense, burly and hairy. According to mitomi legend a Gigas is born when twins fuse in the womb, the only evidence of the twin being a set of extra horns in front of the two normal ones.

Eta sneaks around first being smaller and quieter on her feet giving the signal Jonah to approach the tool shed. Once inside the relative cool dark interior the door slams behind them and they are both lifted off the ground by hands threaded through their horns like skewers.

“Wasting the engineers time again runts?” The foreman slowly turns the two to face each other three feet off the ground with his large round face between them. “And late no less. Mitomis with no sense of duty are no Mitomi at all.” he nudges the door back open with his foot and walks back out the door still holding them both off the ground. “You kids have been given a lot of leeway in serving the village, which I thought was fair but now… Now you are both adults and need to have some more self respect.” He swings them both around to see the other villagers working and occasionally laughing when they catch a look and the two being dangled. “Now until I see some improvement I will have a special assignment for you both, exploratory farming.”

Eta unlike Jonah has been fighting trying to free herself is first to be dumped out onto the hot open sand “What do you mean exploratory farming?” she asks. 

The foreman drops Jonah as well and looks out to a vast leveled plain of sand, a hundred yards square. 

The foreman continues “You will learn the ethics of your ancestors by mimicking them. Turn this waste into something worthwhile or show up on time. You get to choose what happens first.”

At the end of the day, little progress has been made beyond a few dozen feet of soil turned and two young mitomi too tired to look up to see the foreman’s satisfied face on their way back in for the night. Normally the whir of generators would kick on now to light the village but tonight the sky is visited by one of the great rings of light that appear to circle the world. Some Mitomi see a spiritual side to the coming and going of the rings but all appreciate the illumination and small degree of silence that comes with that.  The village itself is home to a few over two hundred of their kind, mostly farmers with a small contingent of full time warriors to discourage raider harassment and defend against the inevitable MSF attack. At the center of the village is a large well that draws water from the nearby lake and serves as the meeting ground for casual socializing. Mitomi by their nature are passive but often indulge in gossip.

From the chorus a rumor filters through to the passing siblings “A Darkstrain! Taller than a gigas with squinty eyes, he showed up the other day asking about the ruins up north beyond the fields.”

“Did you tell him anything?!”

“Absolutely not! Even if I knew something I would never tell one of the destroyers.”

“Destroyers of Gate city.” Jonah thought to himself reminded of stories told to him about the creation of the great desert by the village elders back when he was a child. 

Jonah and Eta quietly make their way through the village passing by the sandstone and sheet metal dwellings of dozens of distant cousins on their way to a run down watch tower they have claimed for themselves. At last making the climb slowed by exhaustion at the days work they sit down for a short evening meals of various greens and breads created through their labor.

The pair surrender to exhaustion against rough straw filled pillows and look up to the  ring glowing distantly in the night sky. For a moment Eta feels lifted up and taken elsewhere, flying through the stratosphere past the clouds to the starless night sky to see across the vast open wastes peppered by the lights of distant settlements like their own and the vast forest of light emanating from the gate city at the center of the expanse. In the next moment she is back to the runned down guard tower next to her brother, a soft glow fading from the gem in her forehead.

“Out of body thing?” Jonah asks.

After a moment of registering her surroundings Eta responds “Yeah.” her voice trailing still not quite present.

“Why are they called rings?” she asks.

“That’s what the sages called them, why?” he replies.

“What if they are not rings at all, how can we be so sure that is what they actually are?” her voice strengthens to its typical forceful almost demanding tone.

“Why does that matter, the sages are right about everything else, I trust them.” he holds a hand up and pretends to grasp the ring of light.

Eta sits up “I can’t accept that… I don’t want to stay here and be dictated truth I want to know for myself!” her voice builds into a near shout that is quickly shushed by Jonah.

“You are not going to leave Eta.” he says as he works on making his sleeping space bare-able for the short night.

Eta growled standing up to look over the tower railing towards the south entrance where the belhop stables reside. She smiles “I will just leave with one of the traders.”

Jonah replied “No you won’t.”

Her smile tightened and crooked “Okay, then I will sell myself off to a slaver, you can even have the money.”

Jonah replies “No you won’t.”

Eta slides down the rail and  rolls back into her sleeping space grabbing onto her rough straw woven pillow, and screams into it. 

“You will have to deal with it Eta. That’s just how life is for us. Dealing with things.”

“No, I won’t, and I don’t have to deal with anything.”

Jonah gives her a sympathetic glance. Her face lifts from the pillow eyes red and teary. She says quietly “And you shouldn’t either.”

The watch tower goes quiet as does the rest of  mable village, hours pass and the ring drifts to the horizon as the first of twin suns rise in the east.

CONTINUED: Episode 2