Please enjoy this preview of MBOTA: Chapter 1, suitable for a festive weekend of consumption that will hurry our world on to sweet oblivion. And don’t forget to read the Prologue, which is like Chapter Zero but with an earthier flavor.
It was Scavengeday, second day of the week, so Super, Flapman, and Gibson emerged from the Grotto to see what goodies they could find or haggle for or steal out in the ruined world. The entrance to the Grotto was hidden under a collapsed parking garage near the city’s waterfront. Or at least what used to be the waterfront of what used to be the city. There really was no city, per se, anymore. Nor was there an ocean now. Instead, there was the Cromulent Zone—stretching from the entire eastern third of the hemisphere and continuing across the dry ocean basin, until it reached its limits against the Atlantic Mountains—the only portion of the Earth that was not utterly uninhabitable. They were in the northern part of the ravaged planet, and though they had heard rumors that some life continued its miserable existence south of the wobbly equator, everyone knew that was absurd.
Outside of the CZ was something that was no longer Earth—it was other, which was a term that really told one nothing about the characteristics of the broad swath of planet beyond the Great Barrier Rubble Heap, which on the other hand, was a term that was self-explanatory. Some said that the world beyond was a massive and unbroken sea of lava, which was totally plausible—even likely—but that theory didn’t differentiate the unknown portion of the planet from such prominent features of the CZ as the Infernal Rift, or the Western Lava Lakes, or the Central Magma Desert, or the Southern Slag Cataracts. And surely the unknown must be worse than the awful place everyone currently inhabited!
So most accepted that the world outside of the CZ was composed entirely of poisonous skeletons and acid, which was cool because it sounded terrible and because skeletons are cool. The known world that harbored the existence of all creatures, on the other hand, was merely an arid waste, a jumble of ruins, a scorched and smoking landscape, a hostile territory populated by even hostiler beings, a hellish region where death openly strutted and evil plotted its inevitable victory. Gibson had once called it, “Canada as the gods intended.” Super didn’t know from Canada, but the Cromulent Zone was home, and that was terrible enough for him.
Today was unusually pleasant, though, and the pale disc of the sun could just be discerned through the swirling masses of volatile, caustic atmosphere, and breathing caused only a little bronchial inflammation (and no bleeding at all!). Gibson had said that the Kaiju counts were reasonably low today, which was nice because none of them had a desire to die in a flash of radioactive breath or to be annihilated under a massive foot or to become a protein source for some unspeakable embryo today. The plague beacons were currently dark, and even the batons of the Securitoria, the robotic flatfoots that kept the rabble in line, seemed a little softer. In other words, a perfect day for shopping.
The surface was bustling with activity on this lovely, low ambient-toxicity day, and though they saw a number of organisms that they would normally murder, they respected the Scavengeday Universal Truce as they traversed the crumbling asphalt of the shattered city center. Baseline humans, Wizard Army reconnaissance units, bloboplasms, unidentifiable monstrosities, and even the odd Reptiloid likewise upheld the temporary peace. Nothing was eating anybody else, and even the Craxk-head sitting on the pavement, staring deeply into his own mind under the influence of that popular drug, was safe today (but Super knew that once the klaxons signaled the end of Scavengeday, he would be fair game). This was about as close to harmony as the Cromulent Zone ever got, and everyone seemed to enjoy not being slaughtered. There would be time enough to kill or be killed on Carnageday or Shunday or Ambushday or Tacoday or Half-taco-half-ambushday—really, any of the eleven days between now and next Scavengeday.
The trio walked together easily, but despite the brief moratorium on lethal violence, each remained vigilant—there were plenty of things out here that thought the rules didn’t apply to them. Only a year ago, they had run into the Nine Mothers on a Scavengeday. She was a quasi-individual, coadunate monstrosity that prowled the Fens and whose disapproving gaze sucked the life-force of any organisms unlucky enough to encounter her trans-dimensional passive-aggression. They’d managed to escape, but Super had had to sacrifice his pet monkey, Archduke Chuckles, in order to facilitate their getaway. Fortunately, the Mothers had fallen for the oldest trick in the book: screeching decoy primate. There had been a terrible trade-off, though. Now the Archduke worked for the Mothers, and Super had heard that he had become a real bastard. Really, he’d never been that nice anyway, despite the name, which Super supposed had been a bit of wishful thinking on his part. Monkeys were natural bastards. The difference was that His Grace now had some formal training and some motivating guilt. So they stayed out of the Fens these days.
As they crossed a wide, relatively rubble-free intersection, they passed a group of feral Baseline humans, who as always, looked ragged and afraid. They glanced up from rummaging and stared warily in their direction. One of them must have lost either her glasses or her completely rational fear of everything because she raised a hand at them and stood up. She was wearing an outfit of layered dry-cleaning bags, belted at the waist with a daring braid of multicolored twist ties, and she wore calf-high boots of pink, fiberglass insulation. It was a sweaty, itchy, and completely stunning ensemble, and Super felt a pang of pity-lust, which was the most beautiful kind of lust. She opened her mouth, which had only a few scabs and many of its original teeth, and got out, “Hell—” before her eyes were drawn to Flapman’s own drawn eyes and terrible, nearly-toothless mouth. She emitted a frightened yelp and scurried toward the shelter of a dilapidated gelato cart. This precipitated a brief but furious escape by the rest of the troop, who whooped and screeched as they scattered. Super shrugged, and turned to follow Flappy and Gibby, who had already lost interest. Feral Baselines offered little else but weapons-grade BO and double rabies, so they didn’t bother even trying to rob them.
Super Patriot Boy, as always, wore only his starred and striped flag wrapped around his narrow waist, some jaunty sport sandals obtained during a recent Scavengeday foray, and a frayed and fading tricorn hat. His devotion to whatever dead and nearly forgotten nation the flag represented was as quaint as it was puzzling, but neither Gibson nor Flapman questioned Super’s sincerity. It was better to let him have his precious little identity, and in any case, they could barely remember what the nation had even been called. Chimerica or Ameridocious or Second Amendment or something. Whatever. It had been just as destroyed as everything else had.
Super walked with a loopy, disarticulated gait over the chunks of concrete, assorted rubble, and the corroding hulks of hunter-killer gunships that littered the landscape of that primeval pedestrian mall. He was careful not to step on any broken glass or corpses, and he moved in random patterns that were half the result of intercortical delamination and half an effort to avoid Morlock burrows. Beside him, the monster Flapman drove his enormous feet in strides so ardently malevolent that other scavengers steered wide arcs around him. He wore a flannel robe in red plaid, which was open and swung loosely with each step and beneath which he wore a dingy t-shirt. His pants, what might have once been the loose cotton pants of an institutional inmate, were stained and worn thin. His bag wobbled on his shoulders and seemed in constant danger (to every other living thing) of falling off. But the leering face stayed put, seemingly by magic, no matter how angrily Flapman moved.
Gibson walked ahead, scouring the landscape for useful items. He was easy enough to pick out against the backdrop of small fires, abandoned ruins, slagged girders, and overturned food trucks. His thin frame was clad in a skintight bodysuit of wince-inducing yellow that, when it crossed into one’s view, overwhelmed all other visual stimuli. Super had long thought that Gibson must be like a beacon to predators, but the searing hue seemed to function like the warning colors of a noxious insect or a young venture capitalist, broadcasting its terrible taste to the world. His insectoid appearance was intensified by a dramatic set of bulging ocular implants whose lenses appeared to shimmy and swirl in the sickly sunlight. Not only did these enhance his vision by extending its sensory range to both extremes of the electromagnetic spectrum, but it also gave him neurological access to the AI Transglomeration’s Bonanzasphere—a separate universe of data generated entirely by that breakaway computer civilization—though his puny human brain could endure only the barest glimpse of its quantum labyrinth.
But out here in the real, horrible world, his ocs were most useful in detecting threats and determining responses: he had access to incredibly accurate CHUD migration models and Kaiju distribution maps, and he could spot a plague-shambler at four klicks. Obviously, they gave him an absurd advantage in scavenging, and he constantly pointed and directed the other two to objects in the ruins. Occasionally, he spotted something of interest—a rusty nail, an ancient gummi animal, or a brittle and faded issue of Cranny Fancy—though just as often as not, he left his discoveries where they were after inspection. Gibson had a virtually complete set of Cranny Fancy as it was, though he held out hope that he would someday come into possession of the elusive special edition from volume eight, Clefts, Cracks, and Crevices: Theory and Practice. He longed to see what mysteries were revealed in its rumored 172 pages, but he acknowledged that its existence might only be legend…