A Pleasant Void
Before the Arclight crashed and brought with it the end of the civilized world, Cerrado Plains was part of a larger wildlife preserve. Green grass and rolling hills dotted a landscape that saw all manners of wildlife roaming free from hunters or outside human interference. It served as home to dozens of endangered or threatened species of wildlife, which were always being studied from afar.
This is where ‘fun’ goes to die.
That boredom is now welcome as I walk through areas that had once been closed off to the public. So much of this place seems untouched by mankind, or the Chosen. This little sliver of New Eden stands as a tiny beacon of hope that maybe, just maybe, things can one day return to normal.
I huff and puff with each heavy breath as I march up the hilly road leading into Cerrado, still grumbling to myself about all of that business at the bridge. My feet ache from the abnormal amount of walking I’ve been doing over the past few days. I wouldn’t have thought that I’d miss my Chopper as much as I do, but now that my toes feel like they’re exploding in fire with each step I would give almost anything to have something with a motor. Oh well.
Walking up the dirt road gives me an incredible view of the Melding Wall. It would be awe-inspiring if not for the fact that it’s slowly choking the life from this world. Even then, I can take a moment to appreciate that it is a very pretty life-suffocating wall of deadly alien gas – but I still opt to avoid it as I make my way to the crest of the hill. Reaching the tipping point, I look outward at the expansive valley, and I spot something that I would have never have expected.
Well, okay. “House” is possibly an overstatement. What I see in front of me is a ramshackle hut that looks like it was pieced together with discarded remnants of other buildings; tool sheds, shacks, large cargo crates, and whatever else that could be found lying around. It isn’t the most welcoming place in New Eden, but at this point shelter is shelter and maybe, who knows, I’ll find somebody who can point me in the right direction. So I walk towards the shack. And I walk.
And I walk.
Eventually I enter a small clearing near the shack. The surrounding area looks as if somebody had tried to build a community here, but abandoned it not too long after. Two half-constructed shacks sit across the street from the larger hut, which I learn isn’t a hut at all but rather an Accord outpost. The large “United Armies of the Accord” banner slapped on the front of the building makes it fairly obvious what this place is, as does the
The surrounding area looks as though people had tried to build a community here, but abandoned their efforts. Two half-finished shacks sit across from the larger hut, and as I approach the makeshift building I find that it isn’t a house at all – it’s an Accord outpost. A large “United Armies of the Accord” sign hangs over the entrance, and to the side are a number of Accord-issue stations and generators that feed power to the still-active SIN tower.
I approach the building, head tilted to the side like a curious dog as I reach the fence. As I take another step, I hear a sound from behind me. It’s a quick couple of clicks that I’ve become entirely too familiar with on this journey of mine.
I slowly move my hands out and up, holding them above me as I roll my eyes. A moment later, the person holding the weapon introduces herself.
“You’ve done this before, huh?”
“What, the whole being held up at gunpoint thing,” I ask, not even bothering to try and hide my displeasure. “Once or twice, yeah.”
“Well you can put them down for now.”
I arch a brow and slowly turn my head back to see my “attacker,” for a lack of terminology. A young woman, likely in her mid-20s, holds an Accord-issue assault rifle at the hip as she takes a step back from me. Feeling this as an invitation of sorts, I turn around and lower my hands. I introduce myself with a blunt “Hi.”
“Hi,” she says.
“You almost shot me.”
“This is a dangerous place, especially since the Accord left. You can never be too careful.” The woman lowers her rifle further, the barrel pointed at the ground. “But you aren’t one of the dogs, so I’ll let you live. Now why are you here?”
“Dogs,” I ask.
“Not actual dogs, but I don’t know what else to call them. All I know is that they come out of the Melding sometimes, and they’re vicious. Now, again, why are you here?”
“My name is Emmanuel,” I tell her. “I’ve been traveling across New Eden, and right now I’m headed towards Thump Dump.”
“Thump Dump? Why would you ever want to go up there.”
“I’m looking for something.”
“Looking for what, stranger?”
“I’m not at liberty to say.” The woman lifts her assault rifle and takes aim at me. I arch a tired brow. “And shooting me won’t make me answer your question any sooner.”
She stares at me. I stare at her. A number of moments pass without a sound, and I have no intention of telling her anything. But my feet hurt. And I’m hungry. And I’m tired. And I’m cold. And my feet hurt.
So I sit.
The woman stares at me as I sit down and take off one of my boots to rub my sore feet. “What are you doing?”
“I’ve been walking almost non-stop for… however long. I’m tired. I’m sore. I know you’re not going to actually shoot me, so I’m sitting my happy ass down and taking a breather.”
I look up at her just in time to see her stifle a grin and a laugh, her rifle dropping down to her side once again. She takes two steps forward and holds out her hand to me, which I stare at for more than a second before glancing back up at her.
“Come on,” she says, nodding towards the old Accord shack. “It’s dangerous out here. It’ll be much safer inside – plus it looks like you could use some dinner.”
Not being one to argue against food and a roof over my head, I take her hand and pull myself to my feet, slipping my boot back on. We walk back to the larger shack, where the woman pushes the door open and slips inside. I follow shortly after and push the door closed behind me.
It’s quaint inside – a couple sleeping bags sprawled out on the floor, with a lone heat lamp in the middle of the room. She invites me to sit down, which I do, and we strike a conversation. She tells me that her name is Claudia, and until the Melding came she was one of the people who watched over the wildlife reserve. She also tells me about how after the Melding came the Accord tried to establish a presence near the Melding, and how they abandoned the outpost after fending off six Chosen advances in eight days. That’s when she moved in, and has been keeping the Cerrado Plains SIN tower operational for the Accord since. It’s only been a few weeks, but it’s worn on her face.
We talk late into the night, sharing stories and telling her of my experiences on this assignment. Hours pass, and eventually we decide to finally call it a night and catch some sleep.
I haven’t slept like that in weeks.
I’m awoken quite abruptly the next morning by the light that streams through from between the wooden planks and square into my eyes. It’s not the ideal way to wake up, I admit, but I roll over and let out a small yawn.
“Good morning, Clau-”
“Shh!” She is short, quiet. As my vision clears from the fog of just waking up, I see her pressed against the wall near a crack in the wood, peering out with her rifle at the ready. I rub my eyes and sit up. As I do, I see a shadow move swiftly across the crack and see Claudia tense. I crawl over to the opposite side of the crack, splitting my attention between Claudia and the view outside.
“What’s going on,” I whisper to her.
“It’s a dog.”
“A dog, or a dog.” I ask, emphasizing the second instance of ‘dog.’ She stares at me in a perplexed disbelief before shaking her head.
“Remember what I told you last night?”
“One of those.”
“Oh, so a dog, then.”
We stand against that wall for a bit, listening for the sound of something not human outside. We only hear the light breeze rustling nearby trees. I grow impatient, as does Claudia. She tightens her hold on the rifle, stepping away from the wall and making her way towards the far side of the shack. I allow myself a few moments more of listening, hearing nothing, before I kneel down and peek through the crack in the wall.
What I find is something that I would not consider a “dog” by any stretch of the imagination.
“Claudia,” I whisper to her, trying my damnedest to keep quiet. She slides over and nudges me to the side, looking through the crack. After only a second or so she takes a step back and readies her rifle.
“Son of a…”
“What are you doing?”
“If we get the drop on it, I can take that thing down without much of a-”
“Take it down? It doesn’t even know we’re here. If we keep quiet it’ll wander off.”
“It’s a threat, friend. To both of us.”
“Just let the thing go,” I say to her with a little more force in my voice than I had wanted. Her eyes go wide for only a flash, and then narrow once more as she takes a step back. I turn my attention back to the crack in the wall and look out. It’s obvious that thing has come out of the Melding, and it is obvious that if this thing caught our attention we wouldn’t stand much of a chance. So I keep quiet and observe. The creature sniffs around the shacks across the way from the building we’re in, and looks around in curious haze. I watch the creature for as long as I can see it, while Claudia sits ready to fight if need be.
It sniffs at the ground, its large bottom teeth inadvertently scooping bits of the dirt as it lifts its head. Four small, beady eyes give a purple glow as it looks around, its tail sifting the dirt behind it as it walks. Just from look at its thick plated hide, I know that Claudia’s assault rifle wouldn’t do much of anything against it. So we sit, and we wait.
After the creature walks off (spoiler alert: we survived), I walk back to the heat lamp and sit down. I take the paper and black chalk from my satchel and quickly sketch out something that looks roughly like the creature that I had just seen outside the shack.
Claudia looks at my drawing, completely puzzled. “Why don’t you just take a picture of it?”
“Cameras make noise,” I say bluntly. “Besides, this is calming to me. It lets me close out the world for a little bit.”
She keeps staring as I draw, and I admit that it’s a little distracting. But I tune it out and focus on my picture.
“I whittle,” Claudia says out of the blue. I look up, a brow arched at her proclamation. “Like you said, it helps me relax.”
I shake my head and return to my drawing. The morning passes by quickly, and soon I find myself outside once again and heading north. Claudia has agreed to travel with me up to Thump Dump before swinging back through, so at least I’ll have somebody to talk to for the next day or so.