Guide is set in a post apocalypse Earth (think Cormac McCarthy’s The Road). The most important thing is that the French control everything. Highly irritating as that might be to Anglophiles, that isn’t where the problems end. In this future, aliens have contacted Earth. However, as the West has fallen, it is unable to get any advantage from this. Indeed, most of mankind has been reduced to the level of sub-human brutes.
1) – Gun Law – 2,900 words (Chapter 5 )
Thursday, 21st April 2061, on the other side of the world,
THE POTEMKIN STAIRS still lead north-east. Staring back up the stairs, south and west, a deadly game was set to begin…. A sweep in the port city of Odessa on the Pontus.
A hollow howl echoed from the city. Things were afoot.
Stepan looked across at Olev, who shrugged.
“Ono tam.” It’s there. The speaker crouched facing the sun. A shell of old mortar and bricks, latent with memory and regret provided sufficient camouflage.
His companion, tall and rangy, wore multicam patterned jeans and jacket. Fierce avarice played in his face, his eyes. Thick locks of dirty sun-streaked hair jutted from the trapper on top.
“Ya nichego ne vizhu.” I can’t see anything. A long speech for Olev, hunched next to his hunting partner.
“Shush.” Stepan edged forward, his strong, stocky frame preternaturally quiet. Warehouse ruins, part of the burnt-out port of Odessa, lay around. “Vot tam. Smotri.” It’s there. Look.
Olev grunted and moved away from him, a movement shielded by still-standing walls. Stepan reciprocated. Their trap was laid.
Another howl – followed by one, two, three more. Soon. Soon.
Stepan studied the scar on his hand, where the skin had puckered as it healed, and then looked up the terraced steps again. They were ready.
A flash of movement – and then gone. Sun-cast shadows coloured Stepan’s sight.
How long? Seconds? Perhaps.
Again, movement. Driven backwards. A stumbling bipedal figure. Chased. Straining to stay ahead. Over the lip of a landing. Ten flights and nine landings to go.
Would that figure get to the bottom?
He was ready. Olev too. Total focus.
Down and down. An efficient loping gait. And the chasing pack clearer. Hounds. Stepan counted five – then six.
Not one stumble. Not one fall. Impossibly.
Down the seconds ticked. The race, a tense magnet drawing his attention. Hand didn’t stray to hip. The weapon there – probably illegal. Although out here, who cared?
The last flight was passed.
Time slowed. A muscular tic in Stepan’s left eye took an eternity to flick.
Closer, closer… a loping sprint in their direction. And the pack, harrying.
Over cracked, crumbling concrete.
Wordless, Stepan and Olev pulled tight. A sturdy net rose into the air.
“Bud’ ostorozhen,” Stepan muttered to himself. Careful.
Suspended before them a bipedal figure. Almost human. Squirming. Emitting a strange mewling snarl.
Phh-tick. The creature jerked. Then was limp, a small dart embedded in the side of its neck. Enough sedative for a bull. It would be out for a good few hours.
Stepan studied the creature for a few moments. Different. Yes. There would be a good bounty for this.
Now they must move.
Olev whistled. Six Armenian Gamprs ceased interest in their prey. They waited, lolling about as Olev helped Stepan make good their prize. The pack had done well in singling this one out. But more of these manlike creatures could come. If they had been aroused by the gamprs, it would be well to leave now.
A late afternoon sun shone accusingly down Potemkin Stairs. Stepan took the front and Olev the rear, their trophy trussed and suspended from a sturdy pole between them. The two men chased dockside shadows aboard their landing craft.
One minute. Two.
Was there sound from the city? Pursuit must come, but now far too late.
Quiet, alert and close, the Armenian mountain dogs followed.
Their captive secured beneath tarpaulins, they left the silted harbour.
Stepan let out pent-up breath.
“Ya nadeus ty eto seryozno. A to uzh silno hocetsya komu-to vrezat’.” I hope that was an insult. I need a fight.
“Da kto ty takoy, chtoby ya s toboy eshche i dralsya.” No insult would be low enough for you.
“Davay, davay. Podley eshche masla v ogon’. A to kak-to ploho u tebya eto vyhodit.” Good. Good. Show passion. I should not know if you are serious.
Olev, a grim face topped by a blond shock of hair, in which crinkled, amused eyes twinkled. Fifty miles of coast-hugging would see them to Olbia.
* * *
Suada gave little thought to her day job as she prepared to go out. The Varangian Quarter was lively and that’s where she would be headed. The Quarter was where most of those not strictly under the remit of Rûm could be found, many from former European nations. Those that made their home there were a rich mixture of culture and colour. This was reflected in what they wore. With so few demands on attire, she needed little persuasion to leave her headscarf behind. Why would she wish to be marked as a prude, anyway? Besides, it would be more lively with the fresh wind upon her face. She joined Süheyla; they laughed and joked as they walked in the morning sun. Süheyla never wore a headscarf.
They headed inland, away from the port, enticed on by a siren song; an answer to a call, a promise of gaiety and fun.
* * *
As a special envoy to the regions and statelets that bordered the Euxine Sea, Elrosa enjoyed a number of benefits. At present he was ensconced in one of the order’s official residences in Nova Theodosia. An unequal trade for the busy rush of thankless diplomacy.
Elrosa switched the coffee machine on and pondered a message.
MAYO CLINIC FIFTEENTH ANNUAL FUNDRAISING EVENT
Sister Establishments – Relief and Re-homing Project for the Displaced
He read no further. There was a reluctance in his inner self, one he knew too well. This was an invitation to an interchange of pleasantries. Which would undoubtedly bring him into contact with Wahchinksapa, leader of the Sioux Nations. And should he go, the mandat culturel would send observers.
Perhaps next year he might accept an invitation and play the watching game. But not now.
Window opened, the rumour of sound was true. Bustle and murmur from near and far filled his studied silence. The water boiled and he fixed himself a coffee. Black. No sugar. He sat at his mahogany desk, cup in hand.
Perhaps he should go, even though Rûm was the junior partner in the mandat culturel and, as its representative, he would be closely watched. There were other agendas that could be served by such a visit.
Should he go? His duties soon took him to Colchis. Offence would be taken if part way through that mission he went gallivanting off across the Atlantic. It would be difficult. No, impractical.
Perhaps next year.
Elrosa rose and strolled back to the window. It framed an avenue whose trees were planted two decades ago.
The sounds of commotion played through that window. Although a good distance from the Varangian Quarter, he could usually hear it. Often a murmur, sometimes strident. A mish-mash of brash, brazen colour and culture. An invitation. Raucous. Sultry. Rarely calm, never quiet. Above its noisy hubbub he could sometimes hear shouts of anger, screams of delight… or chagrin. What happened in there stayed in there. It never erupted into the main part of the city.
Nova Theodosia, built around the harbour, was in essence a port, and place of administration. The Quarter had grown up around the port – different peoples mingled there, some forming separate communities reflecting their cultures. The displaced, those allowed to congregate in Taurica in general and at Nova Theodosia in particular, were given self-governance leeway. Villas, homes and huts straggled out from Quarter to hinterland. The old capital Simferopol, along with many post-Soviet urban areas, had been long abandoned.
Elrosa heard a great cheer. A roar. What was underway now? That could only be the stadium.
The Varangians had taken little time in its building. They were a vigorous lot with great enthusiasm for organised mayhem, when they weren’t perpetrating random attacks against each other. How, he wondered, might the urge to violence be better deterred? Surely not by demonstrating its efficacy. Could such stadia have a positive effect? Elrosa doubted it.
The door downstairs slammed open. In from the street came pounding feet. Elrosa imagined them met by the kastrensios responsible for this building; envisaged excited conversation.
Up, up they pushed, ready to test his calm.
Hasty knock to study door. Respectful pause. In came the chamberlain; bubbling, bursting with news.
Elrosa forestalled an undoubted incoherence of fact and thought.
“Poydyom”. Let us go. For the wild-eyed Varangian in tow.
The connection to the stadium commotion was plain.
The kastrensios looked hesitantly at him, at the Varangian.
“Follow if you must.”
He might not, but would be happy in the knowledge that he could. The kastrensios set about his instruction, lively, purposeful.
Elrosa’s mind slipped back to the invitation from Wahchinksapa – an old adversary, numinous yet civilised – one rarely met.
Quick strides. Residence, avenue and Rouman port area left behind. Clothes changed and their wearers. No headscarves – which few, even unmarried women, wore. Colours brighter, gaudier.
“There is a claim.”
“A thing not seen before.”
There was always something new under the sun. But little here. Not here.
“And in this case?”
“Two hunters. They brought something new. I have seen it.”
Each place had rumours of strangeness. Invariably brought by bounty hunters.
“From far off?”
“They are registered to Olbia. Olbia has no records of the creature and cannot process their claim.”
So, the other side of Taurica.
“And the thing they bring?”
“From Olbia at the mouth of the Southern Bug. Sedated.”
“Where was it caught?” He knew where Olbia was.
“They work old Odessa. This is common knowledge.”
A new species. Sedated. Shown in the stadium. Five thousand and more that stadium held and a potentially lethal creature paraded in it. The Varangian’s utterances – the truth of the matter – hardly a surprise. It’s what they do. Elrosa sighed.
Soon he would be asked about its disposal – killing what they had caught – and affirmation that they followed the correct procedure. This repulsed him but the same rules applied to all, rulers, ruled and all in the chain of command.
Half a mile. A mile. Twenty-five minutes of rapid strides.
Swift paces and swift phrases.
The roar and ebb of sound added to the tale. Vendors’ stalls packed streets between busy bars and tavernas. Smells of North and West. Traders hawking artefacts, collectors’ items, cult objects and fragments. The Wall of Berlin. The true WMD dossier. Genuine rock star relics – sufficient to make a super-group; with enough left over for a full complement of roadies. Essence of glamour infused (or blessed) by the dying presence of pre-apocalypse celebrities. All procured at great hazard from the legendary Mersey Sepulchres. Authentic? Imaginary nonsense? Who knew? Yet the superstitions held.
His Varangian guide saw little but the path they trod.
Kabuklari stadium was ahead. More of the characteristic shells were missing from the walls, jostled off by the bustle of passers-by. Those fallen were work for the city cleaners – whatever was left after souvenir-hunting by enthusiastic young.
Most had streamed out of the stadium. Only the curious and the malign stayed behind, gaping at the thing. The bars that lined the sides of Kabuklari stadium were full. So were nearby tavernas. A crowd mingled among the stalls of vendors. An announcement would be made soon. The hunters would know their reward for certain. And the bars would stay full. More money might change hands – wagers on the outcome weren’t unknown.
* * *
Olev watched the crowd from his position on the terraces. Waiting for their catch to be attested was thirsty business.
“Hochu vypit’,” he muttered to Stepan. I need a drink.
“I zhenshchinu tozhe hochu.” And a woman.
Olev scowled at the response. “So mnoy podelishsya. Mne ne podhodit hladnokrovnaya zauchka.” Spare me your women. I need no pale-blooded Byzantine bookworm. A litany, safely lower than the sound of the crowd. Which would save him future barbs of embarrassment. Olev left Stepan’s sharp tongue to spear paperwork.
He scouted out the local bars and in short order retired to The Dusty Bugle. A spirited cheer greeted him as he entered. Once inside he eagerly made acquaintance with a foaming mug of ale. A rousing version of When Going to Üsküdar was underway. Feet stomped and tankards hammered the tables, sloshing to the tune.
Insistent singing from a fiercely strident group of drunks changed the course of the song.
“Wasn’t such a sex machine…”
There were other lyrics, less savoury, more direct. And they turned to him, Olev, their hero on this day; propitious protector and champion for all that was good in Rûm.
“Up, up, dance away the dust. Be our Russian bear.”
Another great cheer as Olev climbed onto one long table, a tankard in one hand, to dance a perilous jig. His ale sloshed. Patrons jostled and pushed, good-naturedly.
His beer was finished before the song. Another thrust itself into his hand. Olev danced to the mad music. A stein for each song.
“Dance, dance, you great Russian bear. We are your cubs.”
More songs. At one end of the great table stood Suada and Süheyla, attracted by the noise of merry-making, delighted at their ringside luck. They watched the Russian hunter, amazed yet fearful for his precarious balance.
Then a crackle. A pause in the party. A song finished part way through. A voice, thin and tinny, but bearing the cultured tones of Byzantium.
* * *
Elrosa looked at the note in front of him. English first, brief. Then Russian in full.
“Citizens of Nova Theodosia. I declare that the bounty brought from Olbia shall be recorded as ‘Hyperphonoid’. Further details of its nature and potential hazards will be posted in due course.”
Rousing cheers could be heard from around the ground.
“Its type was first found in former New York, on 17th April 2060.”
A silent yet audible groan.
* * *
“Amerika! Amerika! Ya priydu k tebe i voz’mu tebya svoimi golymi rukami.” Amerika! Amerika! I will go there and crush with my bare hands. Who he might choke life from wasn’t clear, but Olev’s curse was without real venom. It had always been so. Even before the Fall, America was the place that saw new things first. Now they were the place that saw bad things before all others. To go there might (perhaps) be unwise. It certainly wasn’t permitted. There were even quarantine rules….
The heat of revelry died. Some made ready to leave.
Again the crackle. Faulty speakers sparked to life.
“This, however, is the first sighting on these shores. It is accorded complete discovery honours barring only naming rights.”
* * *
The bar re-erupted. Now carousing could begin in earnest.
Olev, his ale now lost in a maelstrom of sound, looked for a partner to his jig. Süheyla turned to share her glee, in time to see him whisk Suada from her feet.
Suada was squeezed tight, beguiled by the power of his arms. She felt the delight of their bodies tight together and would not fight against that immense strength. His drunken dance continued, she wrapped to him.
More entered the bar, followers of sound. A crush against all inside, a swirl of unsteady bodies, drunken stools fighting to stay upright and sober. Unsober patrons stood no chance. A flow of folk forced one, then more tables to fall. Crush then became crash as several sturdy tables succumbed to mechanical impulse.
Olev fell. He felt her fragility. A trick of choice or chance let her be shielded by his body, protected. But his head encountered a table leg and oblivion welcomed him.
Suada lay atop the big brawny Russian, who was now senseless. The table, on its side and still sturdy, protected her, him, from further bruising by jostling tipsy custom. He, Olev (she now knew his name) would nurse a bruise when he came to.
If he came to! Sudden thought: could he now be injured? She looked upon his face, now half-hidden by his trapper and let his head lay upon her lap. He looked stern but serene. To examine him better, she took the trapper off – it was no longer jaunty but was rather battered skew-whiff by the force of his fall.
He opened his eyes… and fell again. Eyes like calm, reflective Rouman pools were studying his tousled sun-straw thatch. Eyes to quench fires; eyes in which he might drown. Maybe he could sit her down and just look. And listen. He might listen all night and never grow tired. Even if all she talked was books.
She wanted those big brawny arms around her again and wondered if he were big in other areas. Suada felt lucky.
A step at a time.
* * *
Elrosa examined the creature. A fine mesh where a mouth ought to be. Apart from that and ears, which, thin and delicate, would not have been out of place on a bat; it could pass as human. Having determined its type, it wasn’t difficult to deduce the danger it posed. He supervised its destruction and shuddered.
The announcement, the declaration of the bounty fled to the back of his mind. His work in Colchis couldn’t be tampered with, but it was time. He needed to see Wahchinksapa.
There was a darkness whose heart lay in the former US. He had no inclination to make its acquaintance – but there needed to be better answers to this… problem. Something better than sticking one’s head in the sand.
Wahchinksapa was a formidable opponent, but in this he hoped to find a measure of agreement.
2) – Peer Pressure (4 mins reading from ch 13)
Brent works in intelligence, in a pre-apocalyptic America. Sometimes a sacrifice is made for the greater good.
3) – Bait (3 mins reading from ch 27)
By 2062, civilisation is in an advanced state of disrepair. Triste approaches Former Urban Area Ninety-one —one-time Des Moines.
4) – Capitaires (reading from ch 4)
An outline of the future.