The Perfect Apocalypse
Unseen Prophet/Invisible Enemy
by Rob Richardson
It was hard not to be curious as to their motives.
I had tracked them since their emergence from the Grand Central Gateway. I had been warned to stay away from the gaping chasms and tunnels that led to The Below since I was a child but I had no need to fear them now.
They were nothing but abandoned passages to ignorance and fear. To a world that had been left behind centuries ago.
The couple had some sort of dispute and it was apparent that they did not fully trust one another. That was a mistake. Those that surfaced from The Below rarely survived in The Above. You needed all the allies you could get – you needed someone to watch you back. If you couldn’t trust your companion to do that then you were fucked.
That word always made me laugh. The Old Speech was rough and harsh sounding but it was often the most descriptive and reliable. Plus, it rolled off the tongue so easily.
I had watched them for four days now, they had barely traveled ten miles. In fact on the second day, they had circled the perimeter of the previous nights camp. Even the most expert of survivalists could become lost in this unforgiving jungle. They were yet to encounter any of the horrors that dwelt within it.
But they would. And soon.
They were headed toward a Hulk encampment. When those beasts decided to hunt it was time for the jungle to shut down. Everything, and I do mean everything, went to ground. The Hulks though – a by-product of the scientists at CERN opening infinite doorways to other universes – could tear acres of this terrain open and would readily feast on deadly Rag-Deer or Ghost Wolf for several days before ending their onslaught.
How do I know about the truth about CERN? I’m the only one who does.
I was once a girl of the Y’Xanshi tribe. We were nomadic but stuck to the boundaries of the exotic terrain that had once been North America. My father was the Chief’s Third Spearman. It wasn’t an honour as such but it did mean we ate before most of the others in the clan.
We traveled game trails, losing much of our number to the Rag-Deer. Our main sport was Justsi Lizards which were integral to our well-being. We used their skin for clothing and shelter, their bones as weapons and their meat for sustenance.
One day, our paths crossed that with the marauding Hulks. The immense red-furred behemoths ripped through the treeline, hurling and crushing those I had loved, grown up and broke bread with. The ate my father quickly before glaring in my direction and pushing through the undergrowth as I fled.
I came across an ancient, scientific compound. The facility had once been owned by the United States military but ran under the guise of a pharmaceutical company called Life Cine. And life it did indeed hold.
I dodged incoming boulders and logs that were thrown at me from the creatures that were pursuing me. For them it had become more of a game. They wanted me dead now for sport. It was not about feeding anymore.
I fell through a crumbling wall in the facility and into a pool of silver liquid. I frantically tried to escape the fluid-filled pit but I was unable to reach the edge. The Hulks were baring down on me now. It was drown or be torn limb from limb. I began to panic and the world turned black.
As I came round, sub-dermal processors whirred into life. My eyes shone with a renewed brightness and I could sense new things. Around me lay the corpses of the animals that had led the chase. They were torn apart, savaged even.
There was a stabbing pain in my head. Something wanted access to my thoughts. So I let it.
The SUIT (Sub-dermal Utilitarian Infiltrator Technology) had bonded with me at a genetic level. It knew everything about the world after CERN. It could tell me about the world before CERN. It gave me strength, agility, heightened senses and the power to camouflage with my environment. I was the most powerful being on the planet. The top of the food chain.
SUIT told me that I was The One.
I had to protect the world from those who sort to change it. SUIT and I were survivors and this world befit us.
Looking at the pair who bickered and argued below my hidden position, my decision was made for me.
To spare them the horror of this world I had to kill them.
The Perfect Apocalypse
Stain of Scarlet in the Long Ago
by Maria Selke
A faint buzz of grow lamps fills the air. A solitary scientist, clad in the white coat that is the mark of laboratories everywhere, slips into the room. Humming softly to herself, she tugs on her long brown braid as she approaches a single robust plant. The clusters of alabaster blossoms and succulent leaves are a stark contrast to the dozens of yellowed, wilting plants that surround it.
“Greetings, my darling” she whispers to the plant. “Let’s get you ready for the real set of tests, shall we?”
Grasping the base of the plant gently, she upends the pot and taps the bottom gently. Suddenly, her hand jerks back and the plant drops onto the countertop, shattering the pot.
“Dammit!” she exclaims. “When did you grow thorns, my lovely?” Her hand leaps to her mouth as she sucks on her fingers while looking down at the plant. Several drops of her blood glisten brightly against the deep green of the thorns on the stem. As she watches, the drops appear to be sucked into the stem of the plant itself.
“Well now, that’s strange.” She murmurs to herself. Quickly and efficiently, and with no more lost blood, she divides the plant into three sections.
One pot, filled with sand, she places into a chamber with blazing heat lamps. A second pot, filled with thick clay soil, she places into dark chamber with swirling gases. The third plant, without a pot at all, she slips into an aquarium. It floats for a moment before sinking into the silt at the bottom of the tank.
Slowly she shuffles through the room, gazing sadly at many shelves filled with dying plant life.
“This better work,” she whispers, “because we are running out of time.”
As she closes the door to the lab behind her, a small bubble escapes from the tank. If she had returned to the plants at that moment, she would have seen the alabaster blossoms changing. From the base of each blossom a blush of color crept toward the tips. Moments later, not a single white flower remained. In their place were lush, scarlet blossoms.
Welcome to 2012 – the year of new beginnings and possibly the most final of endings!
As you can all see, The Perfect Apocalypse is following along nicely as Maria Selke gives us her interpretation of the landscape above ground, Michelle Lloyd and Arch take our heroine deeper into the bewildering environment and Jason Schiely puts up some more beautiful cover and concept art.
Hope you are all OK and, more importantly, reading, writing and drawing hard as this year is the year the Runaways make their stand. 2012 is going to be the year that Runaway Writings brings the conclusion to many of last years storylines but gives birth to many more sagas – limited only by your imagination!
More than ever do we want YOU to join our project! Whether you’re an artist, a writer or even a musician, Runaway has a place for you. It couldn’t be simpler to join our project. Read through our work, pick up a story strand you like and lets us know that you’d like to get involved in the next chapter. Comment below one of our posts or DM us on either Facebook or Twitter. Check out our Mission Statement for more!
What are you waiting for?
The clock is ticking…
Aeryn Soma Above
by Jason Schiely
Aeryn Soma Above from the latest collaborative project The Perfect Apocalypse by Jason Schiely
The Perfect Apocalypse
by Michelle Lloyd
Aeryn had heard many fantastical tales of Sunlight. She had heard of its’ brightness and its warmth. She had heard tell of how it could burn your skin to a bright red, and how it could burn your eyes to look directly at it. She had also heard tell of how it could bring life – or deny life.
As she pushed open the heavy metal door to the outside, she gasped at the intensity of the light. But the sudden warmth of it caressed her like a gentle touch, and she found herself turning her face up to greet it. She had never felt anything like it, not even an artificial duplicate of the sensation. She could smell something foreign to her, but it was strong, and somehow it automatically spoke to her of freshness and of life.
“What is that smell, Arthur Watchman?” She breathed in wonder. Mentor Watchman seemed mildly amused as he watched her initial reactions.
“Oh.” Aeryn smiled slowly. “They smell wonderful. Like….light, and air, and life.” Aeryn put one hand out towards a thick vine, touching it with her fingertips. It was moist beneath her touch, and slightly rough.
“There used to be buildings here, in the Long Ago. Now there is barely rubble.” Mentor Watchman commented. “The world has reclaimed itself from the humans. We were always the intruders in the Above. Some say that the world has simply been restored to its’ natural state.”
Aeryn released a small burst of joyous laughter at the feel of a sudden breeze on her face. It played with her hair and teased her skin, making the leaves of the trees whisper secrets before it died away.
She ran over to a nearby tree, a large tree with thick branches. She dropped her supply bag and jumped up and grasped the bottom branch, pulling herself up. The bark was rough beneath her palms, and even though she’d never climbed before it was something that she knew how to do from instinct. It was as though something primal had been awoken in her, some sixth sense that told her body what to do. Her limbs flexed and worked as she continued to climb, all the way to the top.
The top branch swayed ever so slightly beneath her feet as she looked around. She felt the bark against her back, gently grasping her clothes. There were treetops as far as she could see, a lush carpet of rustling green. The mountains were to the north, capped with snow and jutting up angrily against the horizon.
Aeryn drank in the sight for a few minutes before making her way back down, using the roughness of the bark to control her descent. The leaves of the jungle floor rustled beneath her feet as she dropped lightly back to the ground.
Even though it had only been two minutes, if that, Aeryn knew in her heart that she could never return to the Below. Not after seeing the energy and abandon of the Above. She knew, instantly and completely, that she was one with this place. “I am home, Arthur Watchman.” She laughed again, something which she had never done in her life before coming to the surface. “I am home.”
Mentor Watchman was looking at her strangely, with some sort of mixture of disbelief and wonder. “He was right. The Soothsayer was right. I never would have believed it, but….he was right.”
“You speak in riddles, Arthur Watchman. I dislike riddles.”
“Never mind, it’s not important. So Aeryn Soma, I must assume that you came up here with a plan, and a direction. Lead, and I will follow.”
“South.” Aeryn spoke without thinking, and yet somehow she knew it was right. “We must go south.”
“South?” Mentor Watchman looked at her sceptically. “Forgive me, but…the Hulks of the jungle. I have heard tell they are mighty fierce, and that they will remove the flesh from a man.”
“Go back to the Below with the People of the Shade, Arthur Watchman. Go back home and hide beneath your bed like a quivering child.” Aeryn challenged.
“I will do no such thing, child.”
“Then leave your bleating at the door, for I will have none of it.” Aeryn picked up her supply bag and shouldered it, heading into the thickest part of the jungle.
The night sounds of the jungle were so unlike the daytime that Aeryn would have sworn she was on a different world. She could now hear the larger nocturnal animals calling to one another, in hunger and in lust. Even the plants and trees made a different sound, a more enigmatic and sensual sound.
As Aeryn walked back to the campfire with dead branches for fuel, she could hear the smaller animals around her feet, moving and chattering, but she felt threatened by none of them.
Arthur Watchman was waiting for her. She was still confused about why he was even here. His manner and purpose were too delicate for the Above. He had no connection with this world, and no obvious desire to be here. She sensed from him a deeper motive, but was unsure of what it was. All she knew was that her trust was something which needed to be earned – and he had thus far done little to earn it.
Aeryn sat opposite Mentor Watchman at the campfire, making her perch on a fallen tree. The flames warmed her skin, countering the cool night air.
“I cannot fathom something, Aeryn Soma.” Mentor Watchman began as she sat down. “I have taught you to be a hunter. With the training you have you could have killed any animal in this jungle, large or small. Yet you provided vegetation for supper.”
“And what have the animals of this jungle, large or small, ever done to deserve my killing them? You would have me sully my blade with the blood of an innocent creature just to fill your belly. If you wish such a thing on your conscience, Arthur Watchman, then foul your own weapon to do it.”
“I was curious as to your motives.”
“And I am curious as to yours.” Aeryn countered.
“What do you mean by that?”
Aeryn tossed two branches onto the fire, watching the flames lick at them before slowly consuming them. “The Soothsayer would have you betray me, for motives you have yet to explain in a satisfactory manner. I have no evidence that you will not do his bidding and slit my throat in my sleep.”
“You will watch your tongue, child.” Mentor Watchman’s tone was even, yet somehow dangerous. This was the man who had taught her how to handle a blade. This was the man she thought that soft duties had destroyed. She saw now that he was not destroyed – only buried and forgotten. “If I were to take your life, Aeryn Soma, it would be while you were awake and facing me. And you would know why.”
“Forgive me, mentor. I did not mean to accuse you of dishonour. But I would know why our Father would wish me dead.”
“Why?” Mentor Watchman repeated. His smiled as though I were a brainless, naive creature. “Because you would destroy all he has built up. If the People of the Shade saw or heard of your love of the trees and the sunlight and the Above – he would lose his disciples. For what is a Leader without those who follow? You are The One, Aeryn Soma. And nothing is more dangerous to him than that.”
“Then I can never return to the Below.”
“Would you wish to?”
“No. After I find Katsura and see her safely back to the Below, I will make my life here.”
“As I suspected you would, Aeryn Soma. As far as the Soothsayer is concerned, I will have fulfilled his request and you will be dead. But as for the actual act? I have no quarrel with you. Let someone who does bury their blade into your heart.”
Aeryn considered her mentor for a long moment, weighing his words against her own knowledge and judgement. “Very well, Arthur Watchman. I accept your explanations, and I wish you good night.” Aeryn stood up, brushing herself off before finding an appropriate place to settle for the night. She stretched out on the forest floor, settling amongst the leaves and foliage.
“Good night, Aeryn Soma. Sleep well, for tomorrow will bring new challenges for us both.”
The Perfect Apocalypse
Scratching The Surface
Arthur crept in the shadows attempting to keep watch on Aeryn. She had already begun her climb up the Grand Staircase toward the faint light in the expanse above. The Soothsayer’s Warchief watched her ascend slowly, almost as if she was more nervous than she had led on. A warrior she may be, but hardly the heart of a lion. The stairs were a rusted metal, flaking in some parts with hints of its original form in others. They rose eight steps, plateaued and turned to the left, rose another eight steps, plateaued and turned to the left, and repeated the process for six flights in all. Aeryn had made it almost five flights before feeling the unease of being followed or watched. Her hand raced to the hilt of her blade in anticipation of a blindsided attack.
Arthur gazed in amusement as she seemed to jerk right and left, look up and down, anticipating an unsuspecting spy.
“Show yourself, fool!” Soma cursed at the echo from her shout that reverberated off the cavern-esque walls. After a few moments she took a deep breath and reassured herself she could continue her ascension. No sooner had Aeryn regained her composure only to be spooked once again.
“The surface is not what you think.” Arthur immediately evaded the incoming blade, fully aware of Soma’s abilities. “You might not be so successful hitting me, since, well; you know…I mentored you.” The blade caught a piece of the wall, snagging a mess-like fabric and tearing through a cylindrical banister.
“The Soothsayer sent his watchdog to check up on me? How remarkably expected.”
“He believes that I do his bidding, but we all do what we have to in order to survive. Put the sword away, you can stop playing the ‘hero’ now.” Slowly Aeryn’s massive blade made it back into its sheath. “Ah, waiting for an explanation? I forget how outspoken you are sometimes.” Arthur looked her over awaiting her to regain her calm. “Before you tried to carve me up I mentioned how different the surface actually is from what you’ve been told.”
“You’ve been to the surface?” A befuddled expression came over Aeryn’s stoic face.
A wry smile came over the Warchief while he continued with his story. “You heard the great and powerful Soothsayer mention that nobody goes up willingly. Well…who do you think he sends up unwillingly? He’s not going to send diplomats or couriers or even traders to the top. No, no, no. His best blade should be able to handle whatever is above.”
“I beg to differ.” Aeryn interjected insulted by his claims as “best blade”.
“Ah, yes, you are the best blade now. Terribly sorry for the confusion. To the point, no one has seen the top more than I. Thus, who better to chaperone you than CERN’s most loyal and trustworthy soldier?”
“No one has seen it more than you? Others have been up there?” Again, confusion flushed over Soma’s fierce features.
“It’s really quite amazing how well we have kept the ‘People of the Shade’ in the dark. Do you really believe the blabbering of a filthy, old man? And yes, he really does reek. Primarily of sewage and wet leather, trust me. The man is simply telling the people what he wants them to hear. And blindly, the people depict it as fact. The old seer is undoubtedly a ‘soothsayer’ but not the ‘all-knowing’. You see, the prophecy is exactly the reason we are underground in the first place. Our beloved master saw the outside world decay around us and deemed himself fit to lead a civilization. Very inspiring words convinced all of those you see below to heed everything that senile clairvoyant spews.”
“Why do you speak this way? You degrade our father and speak of treachery.”
“No, silly girl. Not treachery. His intentions were noble. He wanted to shield humankind from the devastation that was happening above. Our beloved Soothsayer wanted to start over, begin anew down here until the surface was ready for us to once again roam. I want you to be ready girl. When you come to the top of this staircase I want you to understand just what exactly we will encounter.”
Arthur began past her and up the stairs. Still she stood there, unsure if she was enraged or intrigued. Perhaps it was both. What could the Soothsayer possibly gain from folktales and fiction? She began after Arthur, hurrying to catch up.
“If our leader speaks lies, what is truly wandering up above?”
Watchman continued climbing, within steps of the dim light coming from the surface. He finally came to a halt at the top of the Grand Staircase and waited for Aeryn to join him.
“You wonder what is out there, girl. The rest of the world.”