You would think that you wouldn’t need to tell most sensible grown-up people that you shouldn’t look up at the sun. Yet, it seemed like they wanted to reinforce it so badly. I mean, the draw of something that only happens ever 8 or more years or so really makes people want to do something potentially harmful. I get it. People take precautions, though. Those crazy glasses. Tiny viewers with peepholes. Tutorials on how to record it on your camera without burning out the sensor. They say you can take in the experience, but it’s still behind a filter. It isn’t the real thing.
My boss told me not to look at the sun. The morning news squeezed it in between the traffic updates and the weather. Even Twitter, in that little “in case you missed it section,” that never goes away despite trying to block it– that was saying it too. I decided to ignore it. I’ve worn glasses since I was in the fourth grade, and gone through at least seven different stages of prescriptions. It’s not like my vision can get that bad. I mean, I’ve gotten to see Eiffel Tower before, so it’s not like I’m missing out on much either.
The time came, it began passing over. The dark disk started to move into place, crawling like something out of a cheap sci-fi horror of Alien invasions. I had my glasses just in case, but the moment the sun went into full eclipse, I removed them, looking deeply into the void of blackness. It’s a finite point in time that it’s directly in front of the sun. That’s when I saw it. A quick blinking, followed by a quick glint of strange light like I had not seen before. Up above at the edge of the disk, a man in light blue coveralls, on a footstool, holding what looked like a burnt-out bulb, stood. Then, he disappeared, and the orb of light began creeping back out. People started heading back in to their places of work, unknowing.
But I saw.
Outland: Chapter 19
The long road out of the city seemed busier than any city I had ever visited back in the states. I could see people clearing out of the way, looks of fright and intrigue on their faces, and I piloted Gulliver the best I could. Lining the streets were many stalls holding all types of merchandise from clothes, handbags, food of all imaginable type, as well as shady looking stalls chucking flip phones and various sorts of beaten up technology.
We wandered out off the long city streets out into the slummy suburbs, eventually leading into a sort of no man’s land, covered in filth and remnants of civilization. Some of the children from the city had chased me out on the street, but eventually lost interest and trail off. I took a look back at the old port, with the boat as tiny speck out in the distance.
Carefully treading through bits of trash, I had Gulliver wade out into the water, the waves sitting just below the windows of the cockpit. Flipping the switch to put the solar array up, I finally took a breath preparing myself to speak.
“Well, Gulliver. We’re here.” Continue reading “Strange New Land”
Outland: Chapter 18
The cold spray flew up in my face, causing me to reel back and almost fall on the slippery ground, if it were not for my grip on the railing. The unpredictable movement of the waves had not ceased to surprise me like that. Tasting the salty residue on my lips, my stomach churned, and I quickly leaned over the edge to dry heave, swaying back and forth on my heels the whole time.
“What are you doing out here?” The call came out, just barely audible over the sound of the water.
“Grabbing something.” I hoisted the plastic bag over my head, filled with my various maps.
“Can’t it wait?” Johnathan, the first mate, pulled at my long sleeve.
“I don’t want the let the opportunity pass.” I quickly followed after him, shoes carefully treading against the ground.
Stepping inside, I pulled off the lift vest and heavy coat, both mostly soaked. “You have to understand…” I caught my breath. “That mech is my home. Everything I own is in there.” Continue reading “The Expanse”
Outland: Chapter 17
I never ended up seeing any other active ports along the coast like that man down in Los Angeles had told me of. I fully prepared myself to take time travelling underwater to avoid any more of the same situations like I did down there. Luckily, both for my sanity and the speed of our progress, I never was able to spot any more telling lights in the night.
I could feel the cold outside start to penetrate Gulliver’s metal skin. For the first time in almost a year, I opened up the mechanical access panel to turn the knob on the boiler to high. It had been set on the lowest setting to simple be able to heat water for drinking and the occasion shower, but never enough to send hot enough water to circulate into the cockpit’s radiator. I knew it would decrease the efficiency a bit, by my teeth chattering at night from the near hypothermia told me it would be a necessary thing to do. Despite that, my blanket became a permanent installation around my body as I sat inside the cockpit during the day. I cured the fact that none of my old work uniforms had proper, insulated long sleeves.
Long stretches of water were bordered by tall cliffsides that stretched up even farther than the rising tide. Rather than be pushed around by the chilling waves, I chose to pilot Gulliver up top, despite the often thick foliage that we had to push our way though. Many of the trees were taller than Gulliver himself, and the undergrowth was dense and rich. In a way, it was mesmerizing, like some sort of scene out of a sci-fi movie where adventurers find themselves on a strange planet that is inhabited by nothing but trees.
When the sun eventually set, however, I learned that it was increasingly more difficult to spot any lights on the horizon. My fears were confirmed one night when sets of lights flickered on somewhere on the other side of a patch of trees. Startled, I grabbed the controls and stopped Gulliver abruptly. If it hadn’t been for his own systems taken over, we could have possibly toppled over.
“Andrew, I must stress that you must take care while performing such an action.”
“Sorry, Gul. I can’t risk any other run-ins like the one down south.”
“I understand. You see lights?”
“Some just came on out there. They’re probably on some light sensor or timer by the look of it. There’s a lot of them too.” Continue reading “A Way”
Outland: Chapter 16
I could already tell that the days were becoming shorter. The daylight hours were comfortable and cool, but the maps I drew out each night seemed to dwindle off short of the distance I was used to. Occasionally, rain would cut our travel for a day or more, with anxiety taking a hold of me.
The coastline slowly became more green and lush in comparison to the almost desert-like landscape of down south. The few remaining signs of any human life seemed swallowed up by the overflowing landscape. It wasn’t long, though, before I could start to see the leaves of the trees starting to take an orange brown color at their tips. Even worse, overcast skies would threaten rain, and take time out from when we would be able to have the solar array active.
“Gulliver, how many hours of sunlight did you record yesterday?” I awoke one day to the rising sun poking through the dense fog.
“According to the current cycle of the sun rising, we should have had 7 hours and 46 minutes of sunlight yesterday.”
“And we spent about three of those hours, after I awoke, to continue charging. It’s frustrating.” Continue reading “The Cold Air”
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. Continue reading “Authority”
Outland: Chapter 14
As the sun dipped behind the mountains one night, I could see various lights begin to pop on somewhere several miles up the coast. Despite a little bit of light left, I had Gulliver stop. Quickly moving about, I made sure to turn all the lights inside and outside off. Before shutting the shutters on the cockpit window, I stayed up and watched the lights in the distance.
“Gulliver.” I hunched over in the chair, watching eyes fixated.
“Andrew. Perhaps you should sleep?”
“I’m worried Gulliver. There’s people here.”
“Do you think they are good people or bad people, Andrew?” Continue reading “Lights in the Night”
Outland: Chapter 13
The next morning, we arrived back at the water. I can remember looking out at the stretch of coastline, still seeming to continue on with no end in sight. The land was still desolate and dry, similarly devoid of any signs of human life besides that little road. It ended at the edge of the water just as it did on the opposite side of the peninsula.
Despite having missed a large section of land, I mapped out the areas we had travelled as best I could. I realized that it would be hard to tell how far northward up the coast we had travelled. I knew that one day soon we would eventually run across the border into the states, but I knew not when it would be, or if anyone would be there.
One morning, I awoke somehow not covered in a layer of sweat like usual. The hot early afternoons down south were nearly unbearable sometimes, especially with the limited cooling that the interior of Gulliver was equipped with. When I finally got around to opening the shudders covering the cockpit window, I was pleasantly surprised with a thin layer of clouds coating the sky. Continue reading “The Desert Rain”
Outland: Chapter 12
The following day, we crossed the final stretch of water to the mainland with the same ease as before. Before us, just as I had feared, the land was more mountainous than I would have liked. Despite having enough power in the cells to continue on for a bit, I decided to stop and consider the situation.
That night, while copying down the minuscule readings we had taken from the radar, I had to think over the next step. At that point, if we were to continue North before crossing the land, we would be that much closer to the states. However, the risk was high that we would continue to run across the endless peaks barring us from continuing easily. Heading south first would result in a longer journey, but the mountains and hills would undoubtedly taper our as they reached the tip of the peninsula.
I awoke early the next morning, knowing that there would still be power left in the cells for the day. After opening the shutters, I took out a ration to begin chowing down, eyes fixated westward to the rocky hillsides still slightly hiding the sunrise.
“We’re going North, Gulliver.” I came to the decision before I could take the last bite. Continue reading “Baja”
Outland: Chapter 11
My eyes kept straying out the left side of the window, hoping to catch a glimpse of land out across the water. We had crept easily up the coast of Mexico, but I knew heading all the way up the coast, as Jane and Nathan had said, was not going to be in my interest.
“Gulliver…” I spoke up suddenly.
“You have a question, Andrew?”
“Are systems prepared for submersion, you think?” I spoke, knowing myself that the answer would be uncertain.
“It’s not something we’ve undergone in quite some time. I would also factor in the lack of regular maintenance to various parts; the seals, the ballast tanks, the…”
“I understand, Gulliver.” I stopped him, partially ashamed at my failure to really do much of any work on Gulliver’s systems. Once upon a time, there would be teams of people regularly checking on the systems of bots like Gulliver. I had some know-how, but not as much as those guys. “If anything, a short test would not hurt, would it?”
“If a seal were to collapse in a vital spot, it could flood the power cells or the drive train.”
“I don’t like the idea as much as you, Gulliver, but…” I rubbed my chin, thinking. “Our best chance of proceeding here is to cross over the gulf here.” Continue reading “The Gulf”