The Fading Glow of a New Day
Shanty Town, a name affectionately given to it by the locals, is exactly what its name implies: a town of shanty houses which are barely held together by little more than force of habit. Massive industrial turbines filter water through the town in old, rusted pipes from long before the Arclight crash. In fact, it speaks to the ingenuity of the people who live here that this machinery, some of which pre-dating the Firefall event, even works.
This place isn’t marked on many civilian maps, and to discover it was something of a blessing in disguise…
Making my way west from Sigu’s Sanctuary, I slow to take in the surroundings. Thick brush, seemingly untouched by the melding, line both sides of the dirt road. Above me, a flock of Storm Kestrel sails across a twilight sky of oranges, reds, purples and blues. The sun itself barely pokes out from behind the light-sucking Melding wall, though the occasional beam of light still pokes through in the late afternoon.
As the sky’s many colors begin to darken, I realize that it will soon be far too dangerous to travel on my own. I pull off to the side of the road and take in my surroundings, catching the faintest glimpse of an orange glow in the distance. At this point I can either make my way towards the glow, or turn around and try to make it back to the archaeological dig site. With the sun setting and my options quickly dwindling I turn my chopper towards the glow and peel out, kicking up dust and small rocks in my wake. It’s only a few minutes ride before I see the source of the glow, and immediately a small part of me regrets not turning around.
Old, rusted aluminum panels stick clumsily out of the dried dirt as drainage runoff drips from a large pipe. The loud, almost deafening roar of a massive generator drowns out everything around it, though I see a couple of disheveled men huddled around a large bonfire. As I look in further, I see groups of people moving en masse across a large walkway. Further back I see a massive building, constructed of wood and rusted aluminum, which looks out on all of this curiously cobbled-together community.
“Hi there,” I hear a voice – smooth as silk and clear as the night sky – say to me as I dismount my Chopper. Rubbing tired eyes, I take a moment before looking back to find the source of such a voice: a young woman, leaning against the rock face with her arms crossed, looks me up and down with brown eyes.
“Hi,” I say to her, shortly. I really just want to find a bed and go to sleep.
“I take it that you’re new around here?”
“If by that you mean ‘this guy looks like he has absolutely no idea where he is,’ then yes. I am new around here.”
The woman pushes herself off the wall and steps towards me, arms still crossed.
“The name is Rosa Ribeiro,” she introduces herself. “In case you were wondering.”
“I wasn’t, but thank you.” My brow furrows, then I let out a soft sigh. “I’m sorry for my crassness – I’m just tired. I’ve, uh, had a hell of a week. Could you tell me where I am?”
“Sure thing, pal,” she says. “This lovely chunk of New Eden is called, with much love, Shanty Town.”
“I wonder why they call it that,” I quip sarcastically.
“I don’t know – I hear it’s named ironically.”
I fail to hold back a chuckle as I place my hands at the small of my back and stretch.
“So, does this place serve a specific purpose,” I ask, turning my back to her as I stretch. “Or is it just as the incredibly apt name describes it?”
“So long as you aren’t Accord, Shanty Town turns away nobody. It’s not like we could anyways, considering most of these people would have nowhere else to go except the jungles or, god help them, into that damned wall.” I turn around to find Rosa sitting on my Chopper, looking at me.
“Off,” I say. She arches a brow. “Now.”
With a sigh, she removes herself from my Chopper and starts to walk towards the center of this town. I start to follow behind her, my hands slipping into my pockets as I do.
“You’re not the most sociable of people, pal,” she says to me, her eyes trained forward.
“As I said, I’ve had a hell of a week.”
“Yeah, well with an attitude like that you’ll wind up pissing people off – and trust me, this is not the place to be making enemies.”
“Yeah, I picked up on that by the lovely décor.”
Piles of trash line the sides of the street as old and rusted walls sway noisily in the nighttime breeze. In the distance we can catch the faintest glimpse of lightning flashes from the Melding above one of the massive, decrepit overhangs. Before long Rosa and I are passing underneath the overhang, and all I can think is oh please don’t crush me. We reach the other side, and relief washes over me in a terrific wave.
“So where are we going,” I ask. Rosa looks back at me, again with an arched brow.
“Who is ‘we’, buddy? If I recall, I started walking and you followed.”
“Okay, where are you going?”
“I’m going to see Dr. Strobl,” she tells me.
“Who is that?”
“You should ask more specific questions next time.”
“Okay,” I sigh. “What does Dr. Strobl do?”
“He’s a surgeon. If you want to know anything more, you’re going to have to talk to him yourself.”
“So you’ll take me to him?”
“I just figured you would be following me the entire time.”
“That was the plan,” I admit. “After all, you seem to know your way around this maze better than I do.”
Rosa shoots me a small smirk before looking away from me and continuing onward. We do a complete loop around Shanty Town, and I can see how run down this place really is. Puddles of standing water attract all sorts of diseased insects, which may explain the emaciated look of so many of the worse off here. Those people who aren’t huddled around a bonfire are stumbling out of a local bar – the neon rainbow sign humming softly as we pass by it.
Eventually we reach the medical center, which is built underneath a cliff face. To reach it, we make our way down two steel stairwells before walking into what I can only guess to be some sort of reception area. However, the room is empty, and the lights are dim. In fact, I’m convinced that Rosa and I are the only two in here.
“Are you sure this is the place,” I naively ask.
“Dr. Strobl,” she shouts, ignoring me entirely. “I’m here! Do you have it?” Silence follows. I stay two steps behind her, crossing my arms as the chillness of the room hits me. She stands her ground, her head slowly turning to take in the room.
“Do you ha--” Rosa begins to shout again before being interrupted by the lights flicking on.
“Hold on a goddamn second,” a voice shouts back from another room. A few moments later a man, with grey starting to show around the temples of his head, comes out holding a small satchel. “You are so damn impatient sometimes, I swear to god.”
“I work for impatient people, Doc,” Rosa explains to him. “Is this everything?”
“It should be – four conductors, some injectables, and a SIN receiver I picked off some poor bastard who was gored by a brontodon. This should be more than enough for--,” Strobl looks up and sees me behind Rosa. Immediately he pulls the satchel close to his chest. “—who the hell is that?!”
Rosa looks back at me, then back at Strobl, and proceeds to tell the grandest lie I’ve ever heard.
“Oh, him? That’s my dad. He was visiting from Brasilia when the Arclight crashed. Obviously he can’t go back home because of the cloud so he was staying up in Copa. When he knew that I had survived, he wanted to see me. So I told him where I was, and he showed up only an hour or so ago,” she turns back at me. “Isn’t that right, dad?”
“Uh, yeah. That’s right. Just made it here tonight,” I lie through my teeth. “I have to admit, this place is a hellhole.”
That part wasn’t a lie, but it was enough to make Strobl burst into a hearty belly laugh.
“Yes it is, Mr. Ribeiro. Yes, it sure as hell is.”
Strobl hands the small satchel to Rosa, along with a note. Rosa immediately slips the note into her shirt pocket as she takes the satchel, wrapping the strap around her wrist. With an assured handshake and an exchange of farewells, Rosa grabs me by the wrist and leads me back up the stairs. Not a word is said between the two of us until we’re outside. Once the cool night air hits my face, I let out a small sigh – Rosa, however, does not.
Wheeling back, Rosa swings at me, striking me square in the jaw. Caught completely off-guard, I drop to the ground in a heap of exhausted, annoyed, pathetic meat.
“What the hell were you doing?!”
“That’s no way to treat your father,” I quip. “Especially when he A, not your father, and B, had no idea he was walking into a… whatever that was!”
My wit had finally failed me.
“You don’t need to worry about what that was. You need to just make damn sure that the next time you keep your damn head down.”
“Next time,” I ask with a snide tone. Rosa sighs, then turns to walk away. I quickly climb to my feet, the rush of blood to my head making me dizzy momentarily, and follow after her.
Not a word is said between the two of us as we return to my Chopper. Rosa quickly sits herself down on the seat of my cycle, swinging the satchel between her legs, as I stare blankly off in the distance with my back partially turned to the bike.
“So,” she asks. “Where are you headed from here?”
“North, I think. Towards the Accord command center.”
“Not really,” I sigh. I don’t know what compels me to do so, but I just unload my frustrations. “The war is going to hell – it doesn’t take a genius to figure that out. Whenever I try to talk with someone from the Accord about it they either blow me off, or lie to me, or talk down to me like I’m some kind of damn child. I even had one try to steer me into the ocean!” I bring a hand to my brow, rubbing my forehead as the faintest signs of a stress migraine creep on me.
“Who are you,” she asks.
“Emmanuel,” I tell her. “I’m a writer – a reporter, more specifically. I was trying to put together a piece for people on Alpha Prime about how, even after the crash and the Melding and the Chosen, life on Earth is worth living. But the more I look around and the more I see things like this…” I gesture at Shanty Town behind me. “…the more I can’t wait for the Aegis to get here.”
Another moment of silence is shared between Rosa and I as I re-gather my wits.
“Well, Emmanuel. I think you’re right,” Rosa says. “About Earth being a life worth living. And I think that’s a story that people need to hear. But you’re going to tell your own story – just know that I’ll be sure to hack into the SIN and read it once it’s out. Dad.”
We both share a laugh.
“I can’t believe you pulled that crap,” I say.
“I can’t believe you played along, old man,” she retorts.
With a shake of the hand and a brief hug, I climb back on my Chopper. Pulling away from Shanty Town I slow to see a view of the horizon, and the sun slowly starting to creep over the trees; a new start to a new day.