To the Annexed Districts — I

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Eric Sebring, an old acquaintance of Andrew ‘Soup’ Campbell now working as a senior Customs officer, is taking a cursory look at Soup’s travelling papers. Cursory because he knows Soup is a trustworthy fellow and that his business is legit.

– So… Going up North eh?
– Yeah, quite the trip. You heard about that damned flood in the Annexed Districts, right?
– Of course. I’ve a distant relative living there.
– EolCorp is sending portable generators to the areas without power, and I’m carrying a batch of forty of those buddies in my vehicle.
– Weather’s stable for now, I hear, so you should be good.
– Weather’d better stay okay. I swear I’ll overcharge those morons at EolCorp if I have to endure three days of fuckin’ rain…

Sebring chuckles, signs the documents and calls for a junior officer.

– Sir.
– Open Lane B17, Mr Campbell is cleared to go.
– Very well, Sir.
– You have safe travels, Soup.
– Thanks mate, see you in a week.

Soup exits the office and walks to his modified AM-Transporter escorted by the junior officer, who hands him the travel documents once Soup is inside the vehicle. Soup smiles, puts on his sunglasses and drives away. As he exits Lane B17 and takes the Northwest M4 overpass, he can’t help but look at the incoming traffic in the clearways below. Mostly cargo vehicles like his, carrying imported goods, but also private vehicles of tourists, people looking for a temporary job in the megalopolis, or travellers going to New Greenland and stopping for a couple of days in Arslan to rest after such a long drive. Outbound traffic, especially on the M4N clearway to the Arslan Annexed Districts, is however quite scarce — a few emergency vehicles, and a few other AM-Transporters, mostly carrying perishables.

Despite his frequent travels, and despite his claimed impatience with ‘Arslan’s way of life’, leaving the big city behind always feels strange, and leaving the peninsula altogether has almost a disquieting touch, as if he were leaving the whole civilisation to venture out into that mysterious, dangerous, post-war wilderness that now separates all the major surviving metropolises in the world. At least it’s not raining.

Soup tunes the communicator to the Newswire. “Let’s listen to some crap”, he says out loud.

…haven’t seen something like this in the Northern peninsula since the Wet season of 2059. The two districts that are closer to the coast are completely submerged… – Are you and your family safe, professor? — Yes, we all are, luckily. We live up in Heaney, which is the most elevated area of the Annexed Territories. We’re still waiting for power to be restored, but we can’t complain, really. My two sons are helping the Fire & Water brigade along the coast. It’s really a tragedy, so many people dead or missing.

As much as he tries to stay detached from things like these, Soup just can’t. Losing your home and family when you’re a child is terrible, but losing all that when you’re a teenager — as it happened to him — is worse. Memories have time to fully develop and form a clear picture of happiness, and then there’s this wall of fire and nuclear radiation engulfing everything and ripping lives apart in a matter of 48 hours. All thanks to a mindless chain reaction triggered by power, money, religion, and poor decisions made too impulsively by scared and fucked-up people.

Every time these thoughts flood Soup’s head, he gets ‘gut-angry’ (as Bert once told him) and just wants to throw things and cry like a 15-year-old. He turns the communicator off and bangs the wheel a few times. When he finally calms down, he notices something blinking out of the corner of his eye: it’s the orange warning light of the emergency network system the government installs on every commercial vehicle used for carrying out governmental tasks or missions. Thankfully, the next Service & Charging Station is just 3 km away. Another yellow warning light signals a rapid increase in outside temperature. “Shit, it’s gonna be hot out there. Already!” Soup grumbles as he unzips the travel bag, looking for his thermo-jacket.

The M4N-06 Service & Charging Station is semi-deserted. Soup has no trouble parking the AM-Transporter in the standby area, as there are only two other vehicles. He puts on his thermo-jacket, since the outside temperature has risen to 44°C, and walks to the public phones near the entrance of the station’s main building. He enters a booth (clima-adjusted, thank goodness) and dials #07#.

– Operator. To fulfil your request for a secure line, please enter your code.

Soup dials *05*11*2066003.

– Thank you. You have received an emergency contact request at 0956 hours today from the HL Department, extension 1191. I shall put you through right away.
– Okay, thanks.

A fast-paced tone.

– Yes. Mr Campbell?
– Speaking. Who’s this? I thought Ber– Mr Kay was calling.
– I’m Terry Browne, I work with Mr Kay. He asked me to contact you.
– Is he fine? What’s the matter?
– He’s fine, but off-site at the moment. He wanted me to warn you, since you’re going to the Annexed Districts. Are you there yet?
– No, I’m like 60 kilometres outside the big city, on the M4N clearway. What the fuck is going on? I’m losing time.
– After speaking with Mr Molloy, Mr Kay has learnt that the flood in the Northern peninsula is not the result of a natural phenomenon but malicious sabotage. Two dams in the Northwest AA2 Sector have been compromised.
– Fuck.
– Yeah. Mr Kay told me to tell you to watch out. If the group of saboteurs is interested in keeping most of the Annexed Districts cut off, they may try to intercept your cargo. Do you want me to send an armoured vehicle with a support team to escort you?
– Thanks, but no thanks. I’m armed and dangerous myself, and my vehicle is modified to withstand sudden climate changes, nuclear fallout and armed attacks.
– Whoa, okay.
– I’ve been in dangerous situations before, you know.
– Well, now at least you’ve been warned.
– Yeah, we eliminated the fucking surprise factor. Thank Bert for me. I’ll definitely call if I need help. Is there a way to get to you or Bert directly?
– Yes. Request a secure line in the usual way. When you’re asked to insert your code, dial it, then append two asterisks and the extension. I suppose you already know Mr Kay’s extension. Mine is 1191.
– Thanks, mate.
– You’re welcome. Take care.

Soup hangs up and gets out of the booth. He looks around and finds the station to be even more deserted than when he arrived. Suspiciously deserted. All of a sudden, he doesn’t think that walking a straight line to get back to his vehicle is such a good idea.

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