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The Harbor

Outland: Chapter 9

The structures that began to grow up upon the horizon were faintly familiar.  I remember them because I had happened to stop at this very location on a sort of shore leave once while travelling down my first time to the tip of Chile.  The old buildings were unmistakable. Upon the highest tower overlooking the unique harbor was a caricature stenciled on a long time previous, designed to look like the head and cockpit assembly of the bots we piloted.

“I’ve been here before.”  I sat up, nudging the controls to a stop.

“I don’t know this place.”  Gulliver responded quickly.

“No, you probably wouldn’t.  I heard that before you were activated, models like you were shipped down the east coast of the continent.  I joined a convoy that took us on a boat down this side.”

“What did you do before piloting, Andrew?”

“Me?”  I sat back in the chair pondering.  “I guess I’ve never told you, have I?  Before, I was just doing whatever work I could.  I learned how to drive a semi-truck after I graduated from high school, but I couldn’t keep up with it.  I ended up on the streets.  One day, I saw an advertisement for people who were good with vehicular machinery.  A lot of people applied for the same thing, actually.  Most of them got weeded out early, though.  That’s when we got introduced to pilot school, for these mechs.  After all that… well, it’s history now.”

“I see.”

“Perhaps it doesn’t sound like much to you, if you can even process it.  I got a second chance at making good for myself.”

“I don’t understand that.”

“I guess you wouldn’t.  Let’s see…  Because you’re effectively a tool, you have a purpose as long as you are functioning.  Humans can exist without purpose or goals, which isn’t something many of us enjoy.  Getting the chance to become your pilot helped me do something with my life.”

“That is… good.”

“It is.”  I sighed, listening to Gulliver’s ever dull tone.  “Do you even enjoy my company, Gulliver?  It seems all I talk about is human feelings and whatnot.”

“It is true that my AI is limited to only a fraction of what a human mind can conceive.  I understand that I am a tool.  However, I was programmed to interface and learn from my pilot.”

“We’ve spent enough time together… you probably have surpassed many of the readings others of your kind have recorded from their pilots.”  I sat up in the chair once again, staring out at the old structures bordering the water, some inundated.  “Personally, I’d like to see if there is any food or supplies down in this place before we continue.  Guide us to the edge of where the structures are, and stop us there.”

Gulliver began moving forwards on his own, and I quickly slid down the ladder to the bottom compartment.  Shoving my feet into a pair of long water-proof boots, I waited for the shifting of the walk cycle to stop, and I ordered Gulliver to open the bottom hatch.  I made sure to unroll the freight hook down with me for use if I would manage to find any supplies.

Entering the lowest row of buildings I could access, I found myself in waste-high water, immediately flowing up past the boots and wetting the coveralls inside.  The place had been long since abandoned it seemed, with not even a hint of power or supplies left over.

In the water floated bits of junk, trash, and scraps of wood.  I could feel more underneath the surface around my feet.  Quickly finding a set of stairs up to another level, I climbed them so as not to possible step on something sharp where I couldn’t see.

In what seemed like a storage room, I managed to find a few elastic ties for freight and a few bundles of wire.  Even if I barely knew about Gulliver’s guts and how to fix them, the materials could find other uses- in particular, if I needed to trade with someone.  Places like these were few and far between, and there was no sense leaving things behind if I could carry them.

The squeaky, unsteady floorboards sent shivers up my spine as I imagined running into another soul here. I crept deeper into the structure, eventually pulling the flashlight out of my pocket as the light dared not to enter farther into the space.  Moving into the next set of buildings, I quickly noted the sun growing low in the sky.

I eventually found my way into what was once a restaurant or mess hall.  In it’s heyday, it would have seen many types of various tempers.  I can remember arriving with the group of other would-be pilots, garnering us strange looks in our clean cut matching uniforms.

The musty, cob web coated back room of the building had a few containers tossed around, but it seemed like much of the stuff had been rifled through long ago.  As I was about to head out, I caught sighs of the old bar, with the countertop still intact with various forms of graffiti and other vandalism.  Brushing off the thick layer of dust, I was able to spot the divot from where a friend has started to dig in his own markings, only to be stopped by the bartender.  I couldn’t remember his name, and few others for that matter.

With my meager treasures in hand, I moved back outside and around the edge of the water back to Gulliver.  He stood there patiently, like a silhouette against the darkening sky, waiting for my return.  Arriving back inside, I stowed the items I had found and stripped out of the damp coveralls, rinsing off quickly under the water spout.  I gave myself a quick once-over to check for any leeches, and went up the ladder to work on my maps.

The next morning, I reopened the shudders on the cockpit window to the bright noon sun and the dirty beach ahead of us.  I quickly noticed a few oval shape depressions sunk into the ground before us, much like the footprints left by Gulliver.

“Were those there last night, Gulliver?  Those depressions?” I asked, pointing out northward.

“They were.”

“You didn’t move at all while I was offboard, did you?”

“Of course not, I would not do such a thing without a pilot at the controls.”

“No, you’re right.  You wouldn’t.”  I said suspiciously, looking out at the tracks, following their path up from the water and around the buildings of the harbor.  “Let’s head out, but… I’ll be piloting for now.”

“Roger that, Andrew.”

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Of People

Outland: Chapter 8

We didn’t make much progress that day after passing the canal.  As soon as I could spot a path back down to the water, I quickly ordered Gulliver to take us in the direction of it.  Feeling relived at having been able to pass without any action or drama, I was able to breath freely again.  The sun started to hide itself behind the horizon, and Gulliver slowed to a stop, unable to see the ground in front of his legs.  Lying back in the chair, I slouched down and took a deep breath, tired from the events of the day.

“There were many people there, Andrew.”

I jumped at Gulliver’s sudden attempt to converse.  “There were.  It was a surprise to me at first.  What’s with this all of a sudden, though?”

“My processors have been running the autopilot since we left.”

“Right.”  I noted.  “To be honest, I’m kind of sorry that we didn’t say a bit longer.  But… I know we should keep moving anyways.”

“They had guns.” Continue reading “Of People”

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Canal

Outland: Chapter 7

As we reached the northernmost tip of our side of the continent, I kept imagining myself looking out northward and being able to spot the land dangling down into the ocean.  I had heard that much of isthmus connecting the two landmasses had been inundated under water.  I realized at one point, it would have to be crossed.

The thought of passing the canal put a small nagging voice at the back of my mind, increasing as we continued.  Back before the catastrophe, there had been a few pilots like me with similar mechs that worked the canal, mostly working to regulate the depth of the channels.  Since then, I had little idea of what had happened to the canal, especially as the sea levels had risen.

In fact, there was little of the country of Panama that one could call ‘inland.’  With the presence of the canal and the sea traffic that probably still exited to some extent, I imagined that there would be still a good deal of people there.

The land started to bow outwards once again westward as we crossed over into central America.  The Andes mountains had long since left us behind.  It would only be a short distance to reach the Atlantic Ocean from this point, but I had already made up my mind that Gulliver and I would be heading northward to eventually find a way across to the western rim of the Pacific.

I could start to see the remnants of people’s lives along the edge of the land, confirming their presence by the sighs of more lights in the night.  I was determined to continue along the edge of the water, but the land slowly began to creep uphill to the highlands.  I can remember standing at a sort of fork in the road; following a path inland, or travelling submerged in the water. Continue reading “Canal”

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The Longest Day of the Year

Outland: Chapter 6

“Andrew.”

“Yes?”  I stuttered, having lost myself in staring out the window.  It was rare Gulliver would speak to me unprovoked.

“You wished for me to tell you, and after having just finished my calculations, I believe it is time.”

“You’re being very vague, Gulliver.”

“My apologies, Andrew.  If I may be plainer with my phrasing; the days have started to become shorter I believe.”

“I see.  I did tell you to let me know.  So, you think we hit the solstice?”  I sat up, staring up at the glow of the sun against the plexiglass window. Continue reading “The Longest Day of the Year”

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Monsoon

Outland: Chapter 5

I awoke one morning to the sound of rain pattering against the shutters on the cockpit window.  The heat had been unbearable for the previous few days, but the sudden relief of waking up to a cool morning brought up my spirits.

“Good morning, Gulliver.”  I announced, rubbing my eyes while searching for the switch to raise the shutters.

“Good morning, Andrew.”

“What time is it?”  I wondered aloud, as the dark sky appeared revealed itself from beyond the plexiglass window.

“Approximately thirty minutes past noon.  Until we are able to see the sun, I can’t say for sure.”

“I see.”  I retorted, face pressed against the glass so I could hope to see any daylight poking through on the horizon.  “Status?”

“Fuel cells holding at 38% integrity, charged to 24%.”  He sounded off, my heart dropping in my chest.

“Looks like we’re waiting then.”  I sighed, flipping the switch to stow the solar panels.  “I can get some other things done today, at least.”  Continue reading “Monsoon”

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The Western Tip

Outland: Chapter 4

It had been almost a week of travelling up the continent, following the Peruvian coastline that sharply jutted out into the ocean.  With only limited cooling inside of the cockpit, I could feel myself sweating as the mid-day sun beat down on me.  We were soon to reach the equator, which would mean the best opportunity for us to travel long distances, surviving on the longer hours of the daylight powering the panels.  After that, though, I began to realize that I had no real plan for heading farther into central America.

One dotted along the coastline were various rivers, coming down from the Andes to eventually head out to the ocean.  As I continued north, I found that many had dried up into vague trickles of water sitting atop the ground.  My suspicions told me that people had finally decided to block the water farther inland, using it all before it could get wasted into the salty ocean.  It seemed nobody lived out in the deltas anymore to make use of it.

Bordering the water, I could see fields of the black loamy dirt, sprouting bits of green that grew up despite the lack of water.  I imagined at one point that one could have seen people working fields out here.  I read the gauge on my instrument panel, showing my remaining supply of water.  If I found a sizable stream of fresh water, it would be in my best interest to siphon some up into my tanks to be filtered and sanitized.  My greasy face and hair told me that showering wouldn’t hurt, either.

I could feel Gulliver’s heavy feet sink ever so slightly into the soft dirt and vegetation with each step through the lowland area.  I began to drift off, watching as each slow step propelled us slightly further.  A loud knock jarred me awake, and another had me sitting up in the seat.

Standing up, I jumped around to look out the back port-hole of the cockpit, where I could see a few figures of people having appeared behind me.  “Bring us to a stop, Gulliver.”  I ordered.

“Yes, Andrew.”  Came the response, as the creaking of the machinery stopped.  The small figures outside jumped around, throwing more rocks in our direction.  Sliding down the ladder, I had Gulliver open the bottom hatch and I climbed down to the ground, raising my hands in the air as my feet touched the ground.  I suspected what I might have been facing, but I remained cautious anyways.

Behind the tall river grass, I could see the figures come closer, small faces peeking out at me.  I cautiously dropped one arm down, moving it back and forth in a waving motion.  The kids slowly crept out of the foliage, looking at me and up at Gulliver cautiously.

One of the little ones shouted at me in Spanish, more quickly than I could catch.  In the other one’s hand, I could see what looked like an ear of corn, shaking in his hand.  They waved me down, and I released my guard to come follow them.  Trudging through the rough grass, I found the kids leading us through the alternating prints left by Gulliver wading through.  Stopping at one of the depressions, I finally realized where they had lead me.

Crushed under Gulliver’s foot were various thick stocks of corn, now bent and shattered against the ground.  Around us, I spotted more plants laying intact, including some wheat, tomatoes, and what looked like peppers.  Kneeling to the ground, I attempted to pry off some of the ears of corn, finding ones that remained intact.  The boys seemed upset at me, and I tried my best to apologize in the few words I knew.

A voice called out to them suddenly, deep and harsh.  Appearing from behind the tall stocks, an older man walking with a long wooden stick made eye contact with me.  Hands full of the sheathed corn, I stood up and bowed my head.  The kids quickly ran to his side, rambling at the old man and making gestures at me.  The old man shook his head before turning up to glare at Gulliver, rolling his eyes in disbelief.

He spoke to me, and from what he could understand, he didn’t seem upset.  The kids hid behind him, shooting mean glances my way.  Shooing off the young ones, the old man waved at me to follow him.  Still carrying the corn, dumbfounded, I followed after him, trudging through the tall, bristly grass.  I could hear the trickle of water more prominently as we moved farther inland.

I had failed to spot any signs of any others around during my approach, and I soon learned why.  Coming to a clearing of short-trimmed grass, I noticed the burrows built into the side of a hill, covered mostly with a thick layer of sod.  The two children from before ran around the encampment, drawing a few other children, younger ones, outside.  From one doorway, I noticed a tan-skinned woman peering out at me.  The interior of the building seemed neatly furnished and alight with candles, very homely.

Another, younger man, came out of the second burrow.  With some direction from the older man, began building a fire.  I attempted to help at the young man’s request, but my experience doing such a thing was lacking.  I could sense him scoffing at me, before shoving me off to partially shuck the corn.

The woman from before eventually brought out a few raw, salted fish, shoving spits through them to prepare them to go onto the fire.  I quietly sat back, watching the group act so efficiently.  As the food cooked, I eventually was able to coax some conversation out of them through my broken Spanish.  They told me that the two families had once lived out on the coastline operating a fishery before the water rose and destroyed everything they had.  Not wishing to leave the land, they built up the dirt houses that they now inhabited.

Despite feeling often tongue-tied and at a loss for words, they commended me on my attempts to speak to them in their language.  Many of my coworkers in the corps were from this part of the world, so I adapted myself to communicate with them.  Sadly, I also heard many stories of my coworkers coming from the states up north treating the locals like trash as they passed down the coast.

I apologized for trampling their crops, but they just laughed and told me that the kids had overacted, especially seeing Gulliver standing several meters like some sort of monster.  The food had cooked up by that time, and I managed to eat what felt like a feast.  The feeling of proper company, as well, felt like it had been lacking for so long.  That night, they allowed me to sleep on an extra blanket on their floor.

The next morning, I found the woman and children a few meters away, washing clothes up in what was left of the river.  I dove in downstream, hitting the silty bottom almost immediately.  Despite the heat of the day still mounting ever higher, the water was cool and refreshing.  I heard the cackling of the children as they jumped in after.

After drying off, I grabbed a quick bite with them, telling them I would return shortly.  Running off, I quickly arrived back at the location I had left Gulliver, just beyond the short hillside.

“Welcome back, Andrew.”

“Good morning, Gulliver.”  I said, arriving at the top of the ladder to the cockpit.

“You found people here, I would conclude.  Were they more accommodating than that particular inhabitant of the house from the other day?”

“Very much so.”  I said, engaging the manual controls from my spot in the pilot’s seat.  Trudging inland, this time carefully watching my step for any fields of crop plants, I found my way to the shallow river I had visited previous.  I could see the family start to walk my way, eyes fixated on my place inside Gulliver.

Kneeling over, I twisted up Gulliver’s hand into a big scoop, digging into the old riverbed.  With a swift motion, I dragged out a large swath of the silt that had built up over time, leaving a path wider and deeper for the water to flow.  The mud danced up in the water before beginning to settle, and I could see the children in awe and excitement for their newly created pool.  With a clunky movement, I waved out at the family with Gulliver’s arm, before turning around and heading back northward.

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The House on the Hill

Outland: Chapter 3

That day, we weren’t able to travel very far.  I allowed our power cells to charge properly the following morning, which let us travel for a good part of the day.  I could feel a slight change in mobility with the feet being unbalanced, but Gulliver seemed to compensate for it without having to involve me.

That night, while plotting out the day’s new section of my map, I kept finding myself staring out the porthole.  Out in the darkness of the night, I could have sworn seeing a faint light off in the distance, blinking intermittently.

I had spent many nights looking up at the stars and the moon, perpetually clear nowadays with no other lights around to pollute the sky.  I had practiced guiding myself by the stars in the sky like old sailors had done.  Even though I had only been following the coastline, it helped me determine how close I would be to arriving at the equator.  All of the maps from before the catastrophe were no longer quite right.  I think that’s what originally drove me to start creating my own. Continue reading “The House on the Hill”

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The Force of Water

Outland: Chapter 2

The cloudy eye stared back at me, the bony carcass of the fish from the night before sitting on the plate beside me.  I had allowed myself to fall asleep on top of the map, luckily avoiding scribbling any ink or drooling onto the paper.

Outside the small window of the compartment, I could see the morning sun start to cast it’s glow over the land.

“Good morning, Andrew.”

“Good morning, Gulliver.”

“You’ve risen earlier than usual.”

“I slept well last night, I guess.  Having a full stomach helps.”  I said, rubbing my neck.  Picking up on the fishy odor, I quickly picked up the plate and shoved the carcass into a self-sealing bag before depositing it into the compactor.

My body felt refreshed as I ascended the ladder to the cockpit, noticing the shudders still open from the day before.  Looking down at the control panel, I noticed the switch for the solar panels still in the off position. Continue reading “The Force of Water”

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The Shadow of What Remained

Outland: Chapter 1  (Update- I’ll start putting up what I have of this for the next week or so.)

My eyes flickered open slightly to reveal the bright sun peeking through the metal slats of the shutters covering the cockpit window.

“Good morning, Andrew.”

“Good morning, Gulliver.”  I groaned, pulling my eyes open.  I wanted to avoid being nagged by him for trying to sleep in.  Stretching, I sat up and pulled the back of the chair up with me.  I could already feel the heat of the day entering the cockpit as I flicked the small metal switch to raise the shutters.  The midday sun began to shine though the streaks and specks of the plexiglas windows, glaring in my eyes.  Outside, I could see the blue green waves swaying back and forth against the land, tiny ridges of white forming as the opposing forces of the water pushed against each other.  Opposing the water was the comparatively tiny stretch of land continuing up the coast.  Just at the edge of my view were the mountains, stretching upwards to meet with a thick layer of clouds, almost a barrier from earth to sky. Continue reading “The Shadow of What Remained”

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Shell-Shock

The incessant pounding rattled his eardrums, never hinting at if or when it may cease. Back turned to face away from the explosions, covering his ears did little to dampen the shock wave he could feel creep up his back.

The first real blast he had heard was on the streets of Kabul, sending a shard of shrapnel into his right thigh, the very minimum to have him sent back.  The distance, however, would never be far enough to separate him from the memory.

Everyone around had dropped all sense of urgency, to stop and watch in awe of the spectacle.  He couldn’t bear to face the sight, let alone deal with the flashing penetrating his eyelids.

“Daddy, won’t you come watch the fireworks with us.”  The boy tugged at his sleeve.

“Come on, dear.”  The mother suddenly pulled the young child away.  “You know daddy doesn’t like loud noises.”

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