Outland: Chapter 15
The next day took us farther up the coast. I began to see the first major areas of land that had held people at one point. The rubble of what once would have been a city was scattered around the ground, obscuring old dirty roads, cracked almost beyond recognition.
Back down in South America, I had seen many small settlements that had been destroyed. There had been many fishing villages, villas, and other settlements sitting at where the old sea level had settled. By the time I had passed by, there were little more than foundations or piles of rock. Sometimes farther inland, or up on cliffsides, more intact bits of cities still lingered, but obviously abandoned or in disrepair. This place was different.
After the shift, many massive waves hit the shoreline all the way up the coast. I couldn’t have imagined they would have come this far, but evidently, they did. Even now, the ebb and flow of the waves against the shore deposited bits of debris of what once were buildings—painted slats of wood, old signs, chunks of plastic, old clothes, and other indescribable bits of other manmade objects.
Inland, a few choice buildings still stood, but just barely. I could tell by some of the signs around that I had arrived in the states. Perhaps this was San Diego or another city nearby? Whatever it was, it seems that nobody had ever cared enough to come back here. Even deep inland, where the waves had eventually stopped, seemed deserted. The lights I had seen the previous night were definitely farther up the coast.
I called it a night that night with the images still in my mind. Drawing out my maps, I took extra time to fill in the detail of the roads and old infrastructure I had seen. After having crossed the gulf of California back down south, the coastline still felt incomplete, but I could sense I was getting my bearings about where we were located.
I was rudely awakened in the early daylight hours to a loud whirring sound, seeming as if it were coming from the sky. As I climbed up into the cockpit, I noticed a light being shined up and down outside, occasionally flashing through the slots in the shudders on the window. Opening them revealed the source of the sound; a helicopter buzzing about in a circular formation a few meters above us. In the distance, I could see several sets of headlights coming our direction as well. As they drew closer, I could see the vehicles; meaty tires tearing through the terrain, throwing up dust. They bore vaguely official looking symbol like some sort of police force, matching to those on the helicopter.
Not wanting any trouble, I quickly descended to the bottom level and out the bottom hatch. In the distance, I could hear the sound of engines approaching. The spotlight from the helicopter spotted me and fixated on my location, nearly blinding me in the bright light. Eventually, the vehicles skidded to a halt on the rough ground, followed by the sound of their doors opening.
‘Put your hands up in the air.” I heard the shouting at me. The helicopter changed its path, turning off the light and starting to take a wider path above Gulliver. As I watched the flying machine bank through the sky, I slowly lifted my arms in the air, only somewhat urgently.
Before I could catch a glimpse of the men, I was hit in the chest by a meaty shoulder, causing me to tumble to the ground. The sound of radio chatter played in the background as I felt myself hit the ground. My back cried out in pain, and I could feel the weight of a person leading down on my chest.
“I mean you no harm.” I spoke, trying to recapture the breath that had been knocked out of me.
“You’ve got five seconds to tell us what you’re doing here.” The man shoved a nightstick into my chest, making it hard for me to breath.
“I’m… just… on my way… here.” I forced out my response.
“What are you transporting? Are there others inside of that thing? Any Drugs? Weapons?” Another many by the side rained questions down on me.
“Go check for… yourself.” I laid my head back, trying to offer the least resistance to the man holding me down.
“I’m going to head up.” I heard the voice of another man. Turing my head the best I could, I saw one of the men, suited up in a dark blue uniform, begin to clumsily climb the rope ladder. Fully relaxing myself, I could feel the man above me start to let up.
“I can’t believe I’m seeing something like this.” I heard him mumble under his breath.
“Listen.” I tried my best to speak to the man pleasantly. “I’m not here to cause trouble. Just let me up and I can explain myself.”
The man turned his gaze back down to me, giving me a dirty look. Waiting patiently under the man’s weight, the one who had gone inside quickly descended back down the ladder uneasily. I caught a quick glimpse of him holding a fistful of papers that he had not entered with.
“Nobody else…” The man took off his hat, rubbing how brow. “The inside of that thing is crazy, though.”
“Are you going to let me go, then?” I called out to him.
Quickly turning his head to me, I saw a scow crawl across his face, before stomping over to me. He quickly leaned down to get into my face. “Not quite yet. These are your papers, no?” He waived the packet by my face. “Whatever… license you have for this thing, it’s out of date. No passport, visa, no real identification either. I’m afraid we can’t let you go anywhere until we find out who you are.”
The man leaning against me sat up, and stood on his own. Offering me a hand, I shoved it aside and stood up on my own. As soon as I got to my feet, two other men grabbed me by my shoulders and pulled my hands behind my back, locking them in handcuffs.
I was forced into the back of one of the cars, struggling to get into the lifted cab while my hands were bound. With a quick spin of the tires, the men turned the car around and headed back up the coast. Drawing closer, I could see the home base, most likely the source of the lights I had seen.
Leading out into the water were massive berms, sticking well above the water level. The sides were neatly compacted and cemented in in various places. Atop many of them stood tall cranes, and I could see a few cargo ships dotted between them as well. More strips of land had been built up, with wide, spacious buildings sitting atop. Stretching inland were big land bridges, holding roadway atop their cement pillars.
Coming off the beach, the vehicles climbed up rough dirt ramps, eventually heading to the base of what looked like an office building. Beside it sat a taller structure with multiple windows like a control tower of sorts. Still handcuffed, I was pulled roughly out of the seat and led inside.
The building was pristine, but mostly devoid of anything to make it seem like it had been used. Deep down one of the hallways, I was lead into a bit room lined with chairs, leading to a small door at the back. The first man, still holding onto my paper, brought them through the back door into the other room. The second man sat me down in one of the chairs, unbinding a single hand, and reattaching it to the arm of the chair. I sat helplessly while he took a seat across from me.
Shortly after, the first man exited, now free of the papers. The room was silent save the obnoxious tapping of the man’s shoe. We must have sat for hours, the man looking more impatient by the minute. Finally, the back door opened with a click of the latch, and na older looking man in a cheap looking suit wandered out. His eyes met mine for a brief second, before turning to the guard to have him undo the handcuffs. Grudgingly, the man complied, eventually picking up the manacles and heading out of the big room. The suited stood by his partially open door and nodded for me to come in.
Inside the dull grey office, the suited man took a seat across the desk from me. “I don’t suppose you know why we stopped you?” He said almost tauntingly.
“Quit messing around.” I grumbled, massaging my wrists, while avoiding eye contact.
“Andrew Sojak.” The man stared at his computer screen, mumbling my name. “Using expired certifications from an organization that doesn’t exist anymore to pilot a machine that should have been decommissioned.”
“How many of those things matter during a time like this?” I replied snottily. “There are others like me, you know.”
“That’s not the point.” The man’s eyes turned quickly towards me. “The issue is when you enter into restricted American territory while under those pretenses.”
“I’m an American too, so sue me.”
“Is that so? It’s so hard to confirm these things. You don’t have a passport or anything on you, do you?” The man waived his hand in my direction as if waiting to receive something from me. I refused to move or respond, and he started again. “By your social… we found very little, as well.” He quickly turned the screen my way, showing various filed pulled up, including a picture of an old driver’s license from when I was 16.
“What are you trying to prove?” I turned away from the screen, back at the man.
“No credit, no property, no direct relatives. The last thing we have from you is a partial degree from a pilot’s training course, incomplete. After that, pretty much nothing.”
“I’ve been around.” I rolled my eyes.
“Indeed. And now you see why you returning suddenly like this out of the blue is problematic… not even considering that thing you’ve brought with you.”
“Gulliver?” I pursed my lips.
“How cute, it has a name.” The man drummed his fingers on the desk. “The fact of the matter is that you crossed over the border driving that dangerous thing basically unlicensed.”
“The border?” I leaned in, eyes still fighting against his. “Where are the guards, the fences? Was there supposed to be some immigration or customs agent waiting for me there? It’s not like they could have missed me.”
“You dumb kid, you don’t understand the situation, do you?!” His voice raised. “That thing is potentially dangerous.”
“Exactly why I stopped right there when you had your helicopter overhead.” I shook my hand at him. “I know how people feel about the mechs. I could have just continued walking, plowing through this place without any consideration, until…”
“Until the thing eventually ran out of energy.” The man called my bluff. “You realize the men here, the ones that arrested you, are mostly ex-military? They work for us as a sort of coast guard, a port authority too. We would have found a way to stop you and your machine.”
“Well, I’m stopped now.” I crossed my arms, finally leaning back in the chair. “What do you want out of me?”
The man placed his hands down on his thighs, avoiding eye contact. “If we could, we would decommission that mech, and fine you and lock you for trespassing on government property, illegally crossing the border, and operating without a license… But, I don’t believe any of that would work for either of us. You don’t have an ounce of money on you, do you, kid?”
“Not a bit.” I asserted. “My paychecks stopped existing along with that organization that you referenced earlier. Spent the last of my cash on supplies. Before that, I was homeless here in the states. Can’t squeeze blood from a stone.”
“I’d say I’d like to have you work here to pay off all that… but there’s the issue of your mech as well.” The man grumbled. “Scrapping it would cost us a fortune in fees to deal with all the disposal of hazardous materials, and there’s no way we could impound it. You’ve really put me at an impasse here, Mr. Sojak.”
“The coastline up here… are there many people along it, still?”
The man’s eyes drifted up towards mine. “Here and there. Down south here, we’re the only real big port operating. San Fran is under water, abandoned. Portland? There’s some people. Seattle? Who knows. What are you doing… what are you planning, rather? You’re the first pilot to ever come this way, mech or no.”
“I’m just travelling…” I sighed, letting my guard down finally. “I want to make it over the ocean. Perhaps you could do that for me?” I asked slyly.
“No can do.” He shook his head indignantly. “You think I can afford 40 tons of extra weight on one of our ships? We’re tight enough with how much we’re sending back and forth. Our demand of Chinese products has barely even dropped, despite everything.”
“Not even as reparations for what you’ve put me through?” I asserted, sitting back up towards him.
The man squinted down at me menacingly. “You’re pushing it, kid. We’ll toss you some supplies, but that’s it. After you leave this room, you’re going to get what you need and leave.” He forcefully shoved the crinkled papers back at me. “Get out.”
After spending a night on one of the cots in some extra room of the office building, I found myself being driven back to Gulliver, being followed by a small flatbed truck carrying a couple pallets of brown cardboard boxes. After getting back inside of Gulliver, I quickly hoisted the boxes of water and rations one by one into the hull, with some begrudging help from the men.
Without saying a goodbye, I closed the bottom hatch and moved back up into the cockpit.
“Hello Andrew, does today find you in good spirits?”
“Not right now, Gulliver. Let’s get going.” I spoke, hearing the engines start up. Taking a place in the chair, I noticed a few dirty footprints around the cockpit, creating a path to the various compartments that had been left open.
As we started moving, I could just barely see and hear the men’s vehicles crawling beside us as we continued on under the highway bridge and off away from the port. As Gulliver took over, I allowed myself to go around the cockpit once again, straightening it out.
“Sometimes, Gulliver…” I mused. “I’m glad there’s not many people out here.”