Side thought (4)
“Do you have any intention of staying in town?” He addressed both of them directly, making it clear that he was not fooled by their trick.
The man placed his hands on his belt, closer to his weapons, Bruce noted. “Certainly,” he said, obviously forcing himself to be cordial with the University officer. “We’ll set up camp within the city walls and stay for the week. Once we’re restocked and repaired, we’ll move out.”
Bruce glanced behind them, past the glow of the plasma lantern to the caravan. The collection of people was clustered around the few lanterns they had, and he could see that they were also of all ages and looking rather poorly groomed. Their faces looked beaten and filthy around their masks and goggles, and matted hair stuck out from under traveling helms. These were typical traits of people who traveled in the open air, or who even worked outside in the city without some type of shelter around them. However, since water was difficult if not impossible to find inland, bathing daily was not possible. He noticed that among all of the masked faces, however, there were children - young children, no older than two or three by the looks of them - who were not wearing dust masks. Considering that they were conversing in a dust storm, Bruce had to force himself to suppress a shudder of horror at the sight.
“I don’t see a problem with that,” he said flatly. “You’ll have to hold a residence pass with you, unless you have travel papers written up already.” The man pulled a bound packet from his jacket. It was worn and the cover in near-tatters, held in an old binding, but covered all of the appropriate information for such a large group. “All right. You’ll find some open land in the far West end of the city, along the wall. You can find a place to set up camp there.” He filled out the visitation page as he spoke, then handed the packet back to him. “Welcome to Torenz.”
The trio returned to their group with a quiet thank you, and the group collected their belongings and children to mobilize again. Bruce went to his radio and called for the inner guards to open the main gate to allow the travelers through. As the gates opened and the caravan moved through, Bruce watched them carefully as they passed. The amount of children without masks was small, but they certainly had a presence. Bruce took a mental note of the oddity, but pushed it to the back of his mind as the gates closed behind them and he was left alone again on guard duty.
Side thought (3)
The group - now a large silhouette that had shape and individual objects among it - looked to be about 8 wagons, each somewhat larger than the classic Conestoga wagon from the Oregon Trail. There were people walking alongside them, two score or so, from what he could see at this distance, though he figured that there were clusters of them all along the caravan and didn’t take this estimate as much to go on. If they were hostile he would certainly need help. He was suddenly very glad that he had called in the approaching group.
When they were only ten minutes or so away, he lifted his rifle and slung it over his shoulder, holding it in place with one leather-clad hand. With the other hand he wiped the film of dust from his goggles. It was already growing dark and difficult to see; he didn’t see the need to make his vision worse by letting his goggles stay filthy.
The approaching group halted about thirty paces from the gate. Faces in the group glowed as plasma lanterns were lit, and Bruce saw that there were kids among them, and adults of all ages. Three of them started forward toward him, taking one of the lanterns with them and closing the thirty paces between he and the caravan swiftly.
“What brings you to Torenz?” his voice muffled slightly from behind his mask, but holding the air of authority that he had been trained to use when addressing travelers. The three people before him - and man and a woman both in their mid-forties, and a young man that Bruce estimated to be no older than seventeen or eighteen - were all clad in cheaply-tanned and -made leather traveling gear, their faces mostly hidden behind mask and goggles. They all had a dagger on one hip and a handgun on the other, the latter of which Bruce took special note of, since it was an old-world handgun as opposed to the new plasma-powered models.
Not surprisingly to him, it was the older man of the group who responded to him. “We’re stopping through to restock supplies and have some of our gear repaired.”
Bruce nodded and looked them over, watching each of them carefully for a moment. He noticed that while it was the man who spoke, the woman was watching the University Officer’s every movement. It was possible that the older man was simply the spokesperson and that she was the true leader of the caravan.
Side thought (2)
It took being stabbed in the stomach and nearly bleeding to death for him to accept that he was not dreaming. That was also when he was removed from the special-ops team that he had been working with. Instead he sat guard duty or patrolled, or did the occasional shift of policing. Incidentally, the team - along with all others - was disbanded at the same time, seemingly without any cause.
He looked back to the shape on the horizon, then he looked up at the sun. Probably within the hour, he thought, and adjusted his mask and goggles. It certainly was not a pod, considering its speed of approach, which meant that it was very likely a large group of wanderers. Probably, he figured, a caravan, with carts pulled by small plasma-powered machines that could pull very heavy loads, but not very quickly. They had been designed for other purposes about 3 or 4 years after the Quake when horses were dying from the poor air conditions, but now they were used by these people who could not afford pods or bikes. It was an archaic and extremely dangerous style of travel, but people still did it.
Bruce picked up his radio and mentioned that there was a likely-large caravan group approaching, and to be aware. If they proved to be hostile he wouldn’t be able to hold them off himself. Luckily forty or fifty other agents would appear seemingly from nowhere and back him up. He was, however, expected to be the military gate in to the city if they were reasonable.
As the hour passed and the sun began to sink lower in the sky, the wind kicked up a bit in to a low-grade dust storm. Bruce strapped his helmet on, growing tired of the wind whipping his hair against his face and making the perpetually-raw skin near his temples sting.
Side thought (1)
I’ve been slacking lately, writing and not posting. I’m sidetracking for a bit with this, trying to finish some thoughts and get a better understanding of this world I’ve created.
Bruce leaned back against the thirty-foot stone wall, the coolness barely penetrating his heavy greatcoat. His plasma rifle was leaning against the wall next to him, rather innocent in its appearance which stood out quite obviously against the wasteland landscape. Dust was whipping against the side of his face where his mask didn’t cover, and his goggles were clouding from his long guard shift, both things he had grown used to, having to deal with them on most days.
Behind him the city of Torenz sprawled across the bland landscape, the stone wall creating a sort of fortress out of it. He had been around since the city was established with the first University headquarters, enlisting with the University as soon as its existence was made known. Now, twelve years after the Quake, he was still enlisted and assigned to guard duty outside the main gate. It was a far cry from what he had started out doing, being little more than a grunt with a gun, but his 6’7” stature at least made him exceptionally qualified for the job.
Something appeared on the horizon, little more than a dark blob in his vision about twenty miles out. He watched it for a few minutes, gauging its rate of approach. It was slow-moving and he estimated that it would arrive in one to two hours - while he was still on duty. He glanced up at the sun, then back at the blob; whoever it was had probably planned their arrival about an hour before dusk, so it was likely that it would be closer to an hour.
With a heavy sigh, Bruce looked down at the rifle, catching a good look at his greatcoat, too. It occurred to him, as it had many times before, that this all seemed so strange. For all anyone knew they could just be in some twisted dream from which they could never wake, much like a coma. In the early years following the Quake, this was something he had actually considered. After he had managed to survive and had enlisted with the University, he still carried the thought. He figured that if he could get in to some extreme situation - as if the Quake wasn’t extreme enough - or have something happen to him, he would wake up.
Immediately following his enlisting, Bruce was involved in clearing out dead bodies, mass-execution of those unfit to work or survive, and some instances of kidnapping and assassination, yet the illusion never broke. He was still living in this world.
On Romance and Friendship (10)
Adam was staring at the hospital room door marked 212. Around him doctors and nurses buzzed about, paying Alison and him no mind. He knew he should go in, but it felt wrong to intrude on her while she was in this condition.
“It’s not like she was in a car accident or tried to slit her throat, you know.” He turned and looked her at, hardly surprised that she knew exactly what was stopping him. “She popped some pills. Her condition isn’t the same as if she had slit her throat or wrists.”
As Alison went to sit in the waiting room of that floor, Adam pushed down the handle of the door and pushed it open. The smell of hospital had been present the entire time, but he had not noticed it until now. It was the look of a semi-catatonic Elizabeth in bed, hooked up to an IV, that made him suddenly aware of the sterility.
He closed the door behind him and took a few steps toward her bed. “Elizabeth?”
She didn’t respond right away, and Adam repeated her name. Slowly she turned from staring out the window to staring at him, her eyes slightly glassy and her look blank. He had been warned that they had had to administer a mild sedative to her to calm her down. Apparently she had woken up in a bit of a panicked fit.
After a moment her eyes seemed to focus on him, and her face showed some sense of recognition. He sat down, keeping a fair distance from her, though not consciously. “Look, Elizabeth… why?”
She spent a moment looking him over, then her face went from absolutely neutral to stony anger. “You made me do it. If you hadn’t left me, I wouldn’t have had to.” Adam wasn’t sure how to respond right away, and watched as her face shfited in to something much more vicious.
On Romance and Friendship (9)
“Get out of the fire! What are you doing? I called the move!” Jessica was leaning forward in her chair, her ribcage pressed to the edge of her desk. “Pillar: move.” Her voice was more even as she called the mechanic out to her raid team in to her headset. She shifted, sitting more comfortably. Her right hand was resting on her computer mouse - a 14-button gaming model - and she was clicking rapidly with all of her fingers. Finally she stopped, leaning further back, “Yeah! That’s how it should be done.”
Multiple voices cut in to her headset, cheering and getting excited about the loot they received.
“And so the big orange worm goes down again,” one voice said, garnering chuckles from the rest of the team.
“You wish that happened every night,” Jessica responded, taking a sip of her juice while she moved her character through the on-screen environment.
The same person responded - a guy in his early twenties with a very slight southern accent - by saying “I’m not denying that,” although the words lacked any seriousness.
Another voice - a guy in his early twenties as well, except he had a very thick Australian accent - responded with humor in his voice. “He wishes it was with you though.”
There were more chuckles, but neither Jessica nor the first guy to have spoken responded, and the joke dropped the channel in to momentary silence. The raid continued, the chatter light-hearted and the boss farming successful. At the end of the two hour raid time they had downed five of the bosses, only getting one failed attempt in on the sixth.
Many of their team members logged off, needing to wake up for work in just a few hours. The remaining five of them stayed on Ventrillo, continuing to voice chat as they went about other business in the game. They evaluated the fights, specific player strategies and skills, and just generally chatted.
Through this time Jessica and the guy with the southern accent were chatting in-game via whispers as well, sometimes reflecting on what was happening in voice chat and often just general conversation with each other.
“Well, it’s getting late,” Jessica said, rubbing her eyes as she read 4:30 am on her computer’s clock. “I’m going to head to bed.” She typed a quick response and good night in-game as well as the other four remaining bade her good night on voice chat. “Goodnight guys.”
On Romance and Friendship (8)
It wasn’t particularly unclear that Mary Ann was suspicious of him, but Robert caught the signal and jumped to defend himself. “Well, you see,” he said, struggling to find words that wouldn’t classify him as a stalker. “When I was unable to show up on Saturday, I wanted to apologize to you. You don’t list any contact information on your profile page at all, so I had to Google you.”
Mary Ann’s face wasn’t softening at all as he told his tale, but he insistently pushed on.
“I was just hoping for an e-mail address, but I happened to get a lot of hits about your art work. You never mentioned that you were an artist - not one so famous, anyway - so I wasn’t sure that it was actually you. Luckily there was a gallery’s page with a profile of you, with a picture, so then I was certain. I called the gallery and asked how to contact you if I were interested in a commission, and they directed me to your studio. They gave me your phone number and this address. I tried to call several times, but you never answered… so I thought that I would just stop by.”
Once he had finished, Mary Ann’s body language had completely changed. As far as she could tell, he was being completely sincere, and he had only tracked her down to make things right.
On Romance and Friendship (7)
Mary Ann was in her studio as usual on a Thursday afternoon. All of the large windows were open, letting the fresh spring air in to the warehouse-like space. she was working on a large watercolor landscape - certainly not among her most interesting commissions but certainly no less beautiful. The lakeside landscape seemed to be coming to life as she mixed colors both on her palette and on the canvas. A reflection was beginning to take shape on the surface of the lake when she heard a knock on her open front door. “Hang on a sec!” she called, her hand still moving and her brush still moving the paint across the water’s surface. It only took her a couple of minutes to complete the reflection, after which she put her brush on a damp towel and turned toward the door.
“Can I help you?” she asked, wiping her hands off on her jeans as she walked to the man standing stiffly in her doorframe.
“Hi,” he said, though it seemed like more of an exhale. The man - no older than thirty, tall, moderately built - was standing with his hands loosely clasped in front of him and his arms hanging limply down his front. Everything about him said “I’m nervous”, even the way he had greeted her. “My name’s Robert. We were supposed to have a date on Saturday.”
Realization flooded over Mary Ann, and she was tempted to slam the door immediately. She had managed to forget the whole thing by painting that entire night until she eventually passed out in her studio. The next day was so busy for her, she had no trouble forgetting what had happened as long as she stayed occupied. Having Robert show up at her studio was certainly not part of the plan. “Oh,” she said simply, her posture changing from business to disinterest. “Hi.”
He hesitated, clearly debating simply leaving instead of saying what he had come to say. Her obvious hostility was not particularly welcoming. “Look,” he finally said. “I know I stood you up. And I know that you’re angry. You should be. All I ask is that you give me a chance to explain. Then… maybe another chance. If you want.”
Mary Ann looked him over as he talked, her face stony all the while. When he finished, she shifted her weight. “How did you find me?” she asked. “I don’t say anything about my profession or studio on my profile.”
On Romance and Friendship (6)
The version of this that’s in my journal is super sloppy. I tried to clean it up, but there are still moments… »;
“What’s up?” Her voice was cool and cheery and there was some faint classical music playing in the background. Adam knew that that meant she was writing - or that she had been, until he interrupted her.
He forced his voice to even out the tremolo brought on by emotion and adrenaline. “Hey. Sorry to bother you.”
Having been friends with Adam for the past five years, Alison had gotten good at finding everything he tried to hide. For the most part he could fool anyone, even the girls he dated, but Alison could read him as easily as she did the books she wrote. “What’s wrong? What happened?”
Adam took a deep breath, holding the phone away from him for a moment. “I just had to send Elizabeth to the hospital,” he replied.
Before he could continue with what had happened, Alison’s music was turned off and he could hear the rustle of her jacket. “I’ll be right over - Tony didn’t take his car.”
It took her about twenty minutes to get across town to Adam’s apartment building - a feat that seemed to bend time and space. Adam was pacing his living room waiting for her to ring his bell. He was terrible at sitting still, even - or perhaps especially - when there was nothing that he could do. Instead of hearing the buzzer though, he heard a knock at his door. He opened it to Alison standing in the hall, car keys in her hand. “How did you get in?” he asked, peering down the hall in either direction to see if one of his neighbors may have been the one to open the door for her in their way in.
“By now your doorman knows me,” she said simply. “Come on. Tell me what happened on the way there.”
In the forty minute ride to the hospital, Adam told her the story of what had happened leading up to his phone call. They then tried to figure out what would have caused her to do it at all, let alone in this fashion. They were quiet by the time they arrived at the hospital, the fact that Elizabeth’s life was in danger finally sinking in as the adrenaline rush wore off.
When Adam asked if he could see her, he was met with considerable resistance. Since they were no longer dating he had less pull than he would have just a few months before. He was growing frustrated and his already-frayed nerves were wearing very thin. It was made worse by the fact that the nurse to whom he was speaking was more sarcastic that he could deal with. Alison stepped in when she arrived from parking the car in the garage across the street.
“What’s the problem?” she asked, resting her arms on top of the counter.
“He has no relation to her. She is in critical condition; he can’t go in to see her.” The nurse’s voice was firm and precise, but it was obvious that she was growing tired of repeating herself.
Generally, Alison was a very placid person. Adam had only seen her temper boil once, and it was an astonishingly terrifying this for him to witness. She rarely yelled - even when mildly frustrated - but instead became very snappy and eloquent in her insults. Her feelings were generally expressed in journals and short pieces of writing alongside her novels. When she got angry, the writer in her showed.
“I’m not certain where you draw the line for your term of ‘relationship’,” Alison responded, her lips pulled tight as she enunciated every word sharply. “but I believe that the fact that she was found on his bed would be a permissible place to ignore the line. He was the one to call the ambulance, and given that they had a fairly deep relationship and a less-than-tidy break-up - which is likely what led her to this in some way or another, I’d like to add - I think that you can probably make an exception for him.”
The nurse stared at them for a moment, then directed her full attention back to Alison. “And who are you?”
“I’m his current girlfriend,” she replied flatly, glancing over at Adam to see a flash of confusion across his face amidst his worry and doubt.
The nurse hesitated, then filled out their visitor’s forms. She gave them their passes. “She’s in the ICU, room 212.”
“Thank you,” Alison said curtly, took the passes, and led Adam away.
“My current girlfriend?” he asked, looking down at her with a puzzled look still on his face. “And did you need to put so much fault on me while giving her my life story?” Adam was fidgeting with the pass while they waited for the elevator. He suddenly felt like he was a small child being led in by one of his parents to see the other on their deathbed, uncertain what to think or feel, but very glad that he had someone with him who did know.
Alison shrugged. “It got us in, didn’t it?”
Adam didn’t respond, and they boarded the elevator in silence. While effective, Alison’s speech had made him feel even worse about the whole situation. Somewhere, deep inside him, he had known that if Elizabeth did die, it would be his fault - rather directly, most likely. But he hadn’t really thought about it until now. Going in to her hospital room and confronting her about it terrified him, but he needed an explanation.
On Romance and Friendship (5)
Adam sat down on his couch, not even bothering to take off his shoes or suit jacket, or to loosen his tie. It had only taken a moment for him to realize that Elizabeth had been there while he was out - things were out of place and there was an overall feeling of untidiness. While they had dated he had always been the neater of them, and his apartment still reflected his need for order. Her presence there sent him back a few months in feelings, and he needed a moment to suppress it. There was no reason for her to have stopped by - he had returned all of her things months ago - and he felt very… invaded.
He looked around carefully and nothing seemed to be missing, but he definitely needed to talk to maintenance about having his lock changed. She had made a copy of his key before returning it. He has discovered this about two weeks after he broke up with her when he came home from work to find her and her lover doing it on his sofa. They had talked since then and she hadn’t come back in months. Now he was certain that it wouldn’t stop.
Once he knew that all was well and he had regained his bearings he moved from the couch and to his bedroom to change. He didn’t have anything planned for the evening, except drinking a beer and watching TV or maybe popping in a movie.
He turned the corner in to his bedroom and stopped short in the doorway, staring aghast at Elizabeth’s slim figure thrown across his bed, an empty pill bottle in a still-quivering hand. In quick reaction sharpened by his years as a firefighter, he was checking her pulse as he dialed 911 on his cell phone with his free hand. She was still alive and warm - she must have done it only minutes before he had returned from lunch. As he relayed information to the 911 dispatcher, he worked through her thoughts in the past two hours as best he could manage. Elizabeth hadn’t known that he had taken the afternoon off and that he would be home three hours early. It could only be her intention that he find her dead.
It didn’t take long for the ambulance to arrive and the EMTs to start issuing medical care immediately after arriving. The police showed up a few minutes after - two young officers he had never met - and asked him questions about what had happened. Adam didn’t have much to tell them - he hadn’t been there much longer than they had. He also hadn’t spoken to her in weeks, and had no idea what was happening in her life to lead her to this.
He was sitting quietly on his couch when they wheeled her out on a stretcher, oxygen mask covering her still face. They asked if he wanted to go to the hospital with them in the ambulance, but he declined. At their confused, yet hurried looks he explained that he needed to call someone first and would meet them there in a little while.
As quickly as they had all come, Adam was alone again, the past twenty minutes burned in to his memory. He could barely react to everything. The only thing that he could think to do was pick up his cell phone from the floor near his bed and call Alison.