Everything is about control. The hierarchy of life; the natural order of things. When human civilisation plunged into darkness on Eridonia during the Aftershock and subsequent Fall of the UTN – human beings lost the dominance of control. As the human order crumbled, people found themselves at the very bottom of the hierarchy. Struggling for control of their basic survival.
Fear of the dark is natural. A primal fear with its roots set firmly in the very core of basic creatures; for you must fear what you cannot see. What you cannot know. The darkness crept in, only giving way to the warm glow of headlights a few dozen meters at most; the curtain of blackness almost had a weight to it – the complete absence of light. The drive was long, the tunnels were cold, but the crew of the Rats’ caravan were hardened veterans. For every meter of darkness the ramshackle Coyote waded through, they had a dozen hours on the clock. You don’t make this drive without that – experience. No one takes this route without a Rat on navigation, or better; driving.
But there are some things that experience can’t prepare you for. As the darkness was swept aside by the Coyote’s headlights, the shadows of debris and rubble in the highway tunnel stretched out far ahead of the approaching vehicle; only to give way moments later as it rumbled past. The suspension dampened the harshest of the bumps, but the pre-fall scout vehicle still shook and rattled as it drove.
“Coming up to Checkpoint Tower”. A voice came from the driver’s position, barely audible over the roar of the twin-Fission Turbines powering the coyote.
“Aight”. Came another voice, the tone course, but calm; betraying the veterancy of the speaker. “Something changed here, the waders are on the move. Better stick to the road.”
“Another hour at best, your call.” The voice from the front of the vehicle replied.
“We’ve got time.” The second voice responded, raising volume slightly to compensate for the sound of gravel hitting the chassis of the vehicle.
The coyote passed the Tower; the abandoned position remained ominously silent as it drove by – its occupants long since dead.
“What’s a wader?” Came a third voice; its tone much softer but laced with apparent fear.
“You gonna tell her, Mike?” one of the veteran Rats smiled as he nudged their passenger in jest, glancing around the somewhat cramped troop compartment of the vehicle. The woman, who was sat next to the Scavenger with a large footlocker on the floor in front of her, looked at the man nervously.
“Natives. They don’t like us, we don’t like them.” The other scavenger replied, a somewhat frustrated expression forming on his thick-bearded, scarred face.
“What? She’s gonna find out sooner or later.” The first scavenger rebuked, looking at the woman sat beside him, who was obviously concerned.
There was a brief pause as the Coyote lurched violently, the sound of the suspension absorbing the impact creating a metallic creaking below the floor panels. The Scavengers looked over to the drive, who raised one hand with a thumbs up gesture, instinctively knowing his comrades would be looking.
“It’s fine! It was on the road!” the driver shouted back, smiling, as if he was trying to contain his excitement.
“Don’t fuck the ride, Badge.” One the scavs shouted back. “Already replaced two shock absorbers this week. Frame’s probably on its way out, just more expense, time….” His exclamation faded into a murmur as he began grumbling to himself.
“Natives? Like, people?” The woman asked, looking to the first Scavenger for answers, dragging the footlocker in front of her closer as it had slid during the impact.
“Not anymore”. He replied, grinning sadistically. “Don’t worry though, we’re in control.”
Darkness gripped them once more. The fear of the nothingness before them almost drowning out the immense pain, but adrenaline helped too. Mike opened his eyes, he felt the hard, cold surface of pre-fall Polymer Concrete road surface hit his face; spitting the gravel from his mouth, he pulled himself up, but not before his leg gave way to extreme pain.
“Fuck.” He groaned, looking down to the blood pouring out of his knee, which had been severely grazed by friction with the road surface. He glanced up, his blurred vision slowly giving way to a bright orange light flickering between the droplets of sweat and blood on the surface of his eyes.
As the scavenger squinted, he began to make out a shape among the light; the coyote, now laying on its side bellowing flames from its turbine compartment, the road wheels still spinning. He didn’t have time to acknowledge what had happened before the tinnitus faded and gave way to blood curdling screams from closer to the wreckage.
“No…” he groaned again, reaching down to his hip holster, placing his hand on the grip of the salvaged Old Federal FIMD handgun. But before he could draw, a cold, metal force landed heavily in the back of his head; years of enduring hardship had taught the veteran scavenger many lessons, but blunt force trauma to the cranium is not something that experience alone can protect you from.
Rolling onto his side, he slowly focused his vision on the figure standing over him. The blood-red tint of his makeshift armour betraying his allegiance immediately.
“Crimson Clan controls this road.” The figure spoke, deep voice course with bitterness as the man lowered his pose to a crouch, bringing his bearded, sadistically smiling face into view.
“It’s all about control.” He said again a few moments later, standing up, placing his armoured boot on the scavenger’s neck.
The Scavenger’s eyes filled with blood and his ears with renewed ringing, slowly giving way to a low frequency humming noise that seemed to vibrate the very road below him. He wiped his eyes, the figure standing over him moments ago was gone, in its place were fragments of bloodied armour and chunks of flesh. He rolled onto his side and lifted his gaze to the road beyond the burning coyote wreckage; brilliant white rays filtered through the smoke and debris in the air, casting the wreckage’s shadow along the road towards the stricken man. His eyes only adapted in time to make out the silhouette of a large vehicle, gliding almost effortlessly over the road surface towards him.
The humming intensified as it approached, only subsiding when the scavenger was lifted from the gravel momentarily, before being engulfed in super-heated helium exhaust plasma; the outline of his body burned into the charred polymer concrete below.
“Raven-1 reporting sector secure. Hostiles were neutralised approximately two clicks from waypoint bravo. Two light recon vehicles, one transport. Approximately a dozen foot mobiles neutralised.”
“Copy that, Raven-1. What is your status?”
“No losses. Situation under control.”