Today's Concept Art Writing Prompt takes us to a spot that humans have abandoned and nature has reclaimed. A team of explorers is having a look around, perhaps for the first time in years. Why was this place abandoned? Why have these explorers arrived? And what will they find there?
Freelance video game and film concept artist Ioan Dumitrescu (via Concept Art World). Have your writerly way with this painting by coming up with a story inspired by it, and post your story in the comments. I'll be adding stories to this post. Happy writing!
Here's my story:
Farrah hopped off the dumb waiter before it reached the ground, savoring the pain of the impact. She gave the cord a slight tug, triggering its return trip toward the cab. The air was sweeter than she had expected. The chemical output of the Anchor Chromene factory may have driven the population inland, but that seemed forgotten now. She supposed the plants must have helped with that. Vines clung to every building, their growth so pronounced against the still intact buildings was eerie. An irrational part of Farrah's brain worried that if they left the walker too long, vegetation would start crawling up the legs.
Bear hopped off the dumb waiter next, followed by Carla. "No Patty?" Farrah asked, and Carla rolled her eyes. "Did she at least map the area?" Carla tapped the display on her wristlet, causing Farrah and Bear's to vibrate in sympathy. A blueprint of the complexes sprang into the air in front of them. Farrah shoved a few fingers into the projection, rotating it back and forth. She shook her head. "Looks like she didn't pick up any surprises."
Carla peered at the nearest building. "Do we know if the locals set any? The evac for this sector was pretty thorough."
"But not very quick," Bear broke in. "Train almost didn't make it to Almaty 'cause the passengers thought it'd be funny to set off demag bombs. Plus, you heard the stories about the party decorations."
Farrah shivered. She'd been just twelve when she'd snuck into her older brother's room and found him watching a doc on the evac, There'd been quivering shots of the cars, cleared of their insane revelers, draped with human intestines and glitter. "Caution's the word, then," she told her crew. "O'Shea actually wants us back alive on this one."
"Only needs one of us back," Carla said, and Bear clucked his tongue in mock disapproval.
Farrah shoved a thumb back toward them without turning her head. "No one forced you two to be here. You've got scavenger's rights on the place. We get O'Shea's shiny biddie and you lot can keep whatever you can carry." Odessan artifacts ran a fortune, especially if you could reunite a family with a lost trinket. Of course, that was because few dared to recover them.
They found the building O'Shea had described in their briefing, a boxy apartment complex now covered in a furry coat of ivy. They hacked at the vines until the door was clear. "Open or smash?" Bear asked.
"We may as well spring any trap the locals set," Farrah said. She and Bear each grabbed a door handle as Carla backed up, her freezing canister aimed at the door. The body burst into view as soon as the door opened, wobbling backward and forward like a jack-in-the-box. Farrah took a step back and studied it. It was mummified with age, but she could see the remnants of a pink grin painted across its rotted mouth. Then she spotted the squirming movement in the corpse's gut. "Freeze it," she told Carla, and Carla sent an icy blast that quieted whatever was living inside the body.
"So this is where O'Shea's from," Carla said as she reholstered her canister. "Explains a lot."
"O'Shea was born in America," Farrah corrected automatically.
Bear grunted. "Even better."
Farrah said nothing. Her own parents were from America originally, but they had decided to try their luck on Mars instead of Asia. They slipped into the building, careful not to touch the frozen corpse. "No fire," Farrah ordered them. "Freeze only."
It wasn't difficult to find the unit O'Shea had specified. Whatever the locals had done before evac, they'd left the apartment numbers intact. The door to 1201-A was battered, but still locked. Farrah shoved a wad of smart plastic into the keyhole, and the lock clicked open.
A blast of hot, musty air greeted them. Farrah couldn't parse all the odors, although she suspected rot, mold, and maybe a few preserved molecules of Anchor Chromene. She couldn't tell if the apartment had once been clean or well appointed. Everything now was coated in a thick layer of dust and decay. Farrah glided past the kitchen counter, the couches, the aged entertainment wall and pushed open a door off the living room.
She could tell at a glance that this had once been a little girl's room. The faded and peeling wallpaper still bore flowers and fairies, and a princess canopy — its artificial fabrics still shimmering — draped over the bed. Farrah tried to open the drawers of a bedside dresser, but they wouldn't budge. She pulled out her cold cutter and sliced the top of the dresser off cleanly. She plunged her hands into the drawer and searched until she found what she had been looking for.
Farrah emerged from the apartment with her quarry in hand: a green plastic pony no bigger than her fist. "That's it?" Carla asked. "That's what we're risking our necks out here for?"
Farrah shrugged and muttered, "Rosebud," as she tucked the pony inside her bag.
Gonne expounds on the reclamation of Earth in verse:
I heard my podfather's voice in my ear,
As we entered the troposphere.
Each word rang like a bell so clear.
You can never go home again, my dear.
The command given, we rally and cheer,
Slipping into our Mechs, donning our headgear.
The doors open, Terra first appears.
The raped land below, land once and always revered.
Our regiment lands, our Holy quest ever near,
No purpose in the Universe was ever so sincere,
To reclaim our home land from beings too queer,
We will murder them all for their blasphemy severe.
Lands once green and lush, waters once clear,
Brought to ruination in such a few short years.
How shockingly quick steel and glass did appear.
I will make each one pay, their flesh I will seer.
I stand now at watch, from my post I peer,
The slow crawl of Nature, reclaiming the sphere,
I'm satisfied to stay, many a year,
For now gone are the creatures of hatred Shakespeare.
In WeaklyRoll's tale, an archeologist finally reaches his destination, one he is personally connected to:
The walker came to a stop. A bumpy 2 hours of travelling through crashed space freighters, frigates and battleships didn't help Marty's back, but the nimble legs of the walker made the trip possible for the excavation team to arrive at their destination. What a destination is was; getting the permits and rights to excavate here were pain enough, but after several years the time had arrived, and Marty set foot onto the ship his Great Grandfather couldn't save.
The Octavio had taken a lot of damage while it held off a royal cruiser from reaching the Octavio's caravan, but the damage was to much to continue. As the Octavio attempted to enter the orbit over the barren planet of Wenig, the stress of the reentry broke the battle ship apart. All aboard had been killed before the pieces of the Octavio even hit the ground.
Many ships fell to the same fate as the Octavio; the entry was too much for any ship trying to land on the planet. The aftermath became a graveyard of fire, smoke and metal that turned into a vast expanse of grey and charred metal covered in the green of the planet. Marty looked at the pieces of his Great Grandfather's ship and marvelled at the stillness of it all, and how a scene of death and destruction was now home to an environment teaming with life.
After years of sitting, of settling, the Octavio had become accustomed to it's new home, and Marty felt the solid foundation of the ship under his feet as he walked down a corridor he hoped would lead to his Great Grandfather's quarters. He had expected the ship to fragile, but the combination of the ship's materials, the ground it sat in and the vines and greenery that surrounded it kept it stable. Marty looked at his display, which showed a display of the Octavio. He clicked on the structural view and the old image of the ship transformed into a skeletal structure that allowed Marty to figure out where he was. He placed his pad on the floor, reached down and pressed "fit to size."
The pad lit up, lights raising up forming the structure of the Octavio. It took several minutes, and when the last light had formed, Marty stood in a hologram replica of the hall way that would lead to his Great Grandfather's quarters. Marty smiled.
In ChrisWhiteWrites' story, the crew is pursuing a creature through time and space:
The biggest problem with time travel isn't the journey, it's the arrival. The jarring, absolute silence as you tear through the space-time continuum, the draining loneliness as your cerebral comms go dead for a heartbeat. The impotent panic that something has gone wrong, that you're the only survivor. It's been thirty years since a catastrophic re-entry, but as static envelopes your brain you can never remember just how long it has been in meat-space. It's unpleasantly like being drunk – from the glass of water's perspective. But you go where you have to, nestling into the fabric of time. I understand, but that doesn't mean I'd do it all again if I get a reset.
Paris. 1944. The beast has been here, the sensors ring out their chaotic, unnecessary warnings. The beast was here. The cracked, blood-soaked cobblestones, torn swastikas, the Arc de Triumph shattered in the ancient city square. The walker's tripod legs touch down amidst the evidence of his landing. Cleanse the population of their haunting memories, remove the ghosts of the impossible from their minds. There is nothing more difficult than erasing a chapter of history – each newspaper headline, each photograph must be deleted. To protect the Earth, to ensure our future history.
Venus 6. 2109. The jungles have taken over. The terraformed surface has been given over to alien biomass, the creeping arboreal fingertips of human intervention. The warm, wet atmosphere has been over-exploited, the greed of the colonists for their own world too obvious in the South-East Asian biomass exported over thirty-eight million kilometres. The dragon was here. The scanners show it still is, too heavy not to fall back to ground. The tripod speaks through the comms.
The air crackles. Electric fire dances across the out buildings. We will bring the beast back. Alive, if possible. Dead, if necessary. The biologists will have as much fun with an autopsy as they will with a living specimen.
FranciscoSolidarityFlorimon relates a very curious rescue mission:
They found him in a ruined building that had been overcome by the thick roots of a flowering vine. He was senseless-near catatonic. But, ask him to speak and he started screaming in binary, interspersed with passages lifted from Heidegger's Being and Time. It took an hour to shut him up, although it wasn't entirely clear what triggered this silence. Vanessa doubted it was the back of Michael's hand, although it must have been a factor at the very least. Still, Barton's silence had come on a bit after he had gotten backhanded, and was therefore as mysterious as it was serene.
Michael shrugged. "I'm sorry," he said "I just don't like academics."
When Vanessa and Inga failed to say anything sympathetic or conciliatory, Michael said, "My father was an academic."
"Well listen," said Inga, more to Vanessa than to the man who'd simultaneously revealed himself as an anti-intellectual rage freak and an abuser of the mentally-handicapped, "This doesn't effect us, right?"
"What are you getting at?" asked Michael, rising to his feet.
Inga pointed up at the tripod.
Inga said, "Am I the only one here who suspects this thing is recording us? What happens when the people who financed this little rescue-mission find out their man has suffered abuse while in our custody?"
"That's stupid," said Michael.
Vanessa opened her mouth to speak when Michael interrupted: "Don't worry," he said. "I'll take full responsibility for my actions. But if they think they can get away without paying me the full amount, they've got another thing coming."
Inga said, "That should be the least of your concerns."
Michael laughed derisively. "What else are we both talking about here? That's the only thing you're worried about, is whether or not you'll get paid the rest of what's owed you."
"Don't worry," said a voice. "You'll get what's owed you."
* * *
Michael, Inga, and Vanessa whirled around to find Barton had drawn himself up to his full height.
"Oh," said Michael. "So suddenly you're not damaged anymore? Good on you."
"Days before you found me," began Barton, "I had been contemplating the mystery of this Earth. Why was it that in this version of history, Man chose to advance upwards into pure consciousness, while we instead went sideways?"
"Shits and giggles?" suggested Michael.
Barton smiled and shook his head. He said, "And then, right before you came here, I swear I heard it. There is a voice in the vines and in the trees. A doorway was opening up to me, but when you came here, that door shut."
"It's getting late," said Vanessa. "Before the sun sets, we're going to put you in the tripod and take you home. It's for your own good."
"You'll find that the tripod is no longer under your control," said Barton. "I've reprogrammed it, and if there's one thing I can assure you of, it's that none of us are going home."
"Is that true?" asked Inga. "He's just crazy, right?"
The tripod was programmed to obey Vanessa's voice. She commanded it to assist her in apprehending Barton, but it did not comply.
"God damn it," said Michael.
ParkerThompson's crew finds an outpost that appears older than it should be:
"Don't move, keep quiet." Dr. Vonnuessen hissed.
"Who are they?" Petra asked. Yosef Vonnuessen shot Petra a glance, one of intimidation and fear. She gazed downwards and bit her lip. The Doctor motioned for her to follow him down a cramped utility corridor. In the dark, she went to grab for her MULTI, but as she did do, Yosef quietly said, "No tech. They can trace it to our position." He pulled out and ancient light emitting diode tube and lit it up with an audible "click" of the on button. The pale blue light gave Petra some comfort, at least now she could see what she was bumping into.
"Scavengers, pirates, criminals..." The Doctor muttered as he flicked the light up and over the walls, searching. Petra wasn't sure if he was swearing or telling her what was in the three legged walker. She had lived in a dozen colonies in her lifetime, many had tech that had evolved suited to the climates of the colony, but this one was quite different. Colonies shared tech, so in many ways similar designs appeared in transport vehicles, agriculture, messaging and terminals. After all, why re-invent the wheel?
"I still can't believe it." Yosef said a bit louder now, his paranoia subsiding, "This outpost is clearly human, but it must be thousands, tens of thousands of years old." Petra fidgeted with her MULTI, not that activating it would help any. They would have been able to study much of this ruin from orbit, but nothing came up on the info streams. It is possible that the search request was flagged and it was that it was something completely unknown that had caught the attention of the Grime, Petra considered. They would have to be operating in this region for them to arrive that quickly. She suddenly felt claustrophobic.
"Doctor, can we leave please? What if they are Grime?" Petra spoke quietly but she could not hide the distress in her voice.
"Yes." The Doctor said, "I agree, the risk is high. We need to act quickly. I have found an access panel that may serve our purpose. He slid his MULTI from its holster and activated it with a series of personalized gestures and then placed it in the access panel The quantum AI "woke up" and began to seek a method of connecting with the surrounding surface. It began to absorb some of the alloys it was resting on, forming the neural tendrils that would enable it to map the entire city-sized outpost in a single burst.
He pulled out a second piece of ancient tech, it looked like a directed energy weapon to Petra, but she didn't dare enquire. "I won't have time to wait for 9R to disconnect." The old man said, "Will your friend 54yc accept his info transfer?"
Petra's eyes widened with shock. Dr. Yosef Vonnuessen was going to leave his quantum AI on this planet. She found herself nodding in astonishment, moving quickly to activate 54yc, her MULTI. It was her second MULTI; the first one, given to her at birth had fallen victim to the Fuctersculk virus. The pandemic killed off large swaths of QAI's, it had been The Grimes doing everyone said, their aberration of programming. What could be so important in these ruins that would make Dr. Yosef Vonnuessen behind such a vital part of himself? She glanced over at him; he was gesturing to 9R, communicating to it in their own secret language. It glowed, pulsed and hummed in return.
Suddenly, something snaked up Petra's leg and burrowed in deep into her thigh. Petra's gasp quickly turned to a scream- a scream stifled by the Doctor's palm.
"Don't move, don't look." He said. He was on top of her, pinning her to the ground, but she was still writhing in pain. Yosef glanced at Petra's leg expecting to find some indigenous animal attacking her, what he saw instead was tech of some kind. It wasn't of a type that he recognized from any other colony, nor did it look to be Grime. Did it come from this ruin, he wondered?
9R hummed a series of questions at him, Petra was losing consciousness and his panic mode was kicking in.
"Petra! Stay with me. Focus!" Her eyes struggled to stay open.
"Doctor... I can't feel my leg, but everything else is on fire." Petra whispered through shallow breaths and dry lips.
"Stay with ME!" He scolded her, grabbing at his knapsack and rummaging around for a first aid kit, hunting for a dose of adrenaline.
Observing the commotion around the humans, 54yc took initiative and chirped away at 9R, louder than what 9R would prefer, but considering the circumstances at hand, it accepted and started seeding info into 54yc's data pockets. It had been a good run, 9R postulated, letting all its data and saved mems run through the sensory points. It hadn't ever assumed that this would be the scenario in which it would find its end, but indeed, it was here and it would fade, alone on an alien planet. 9R had not mapped the outpost yet, it would be the last thing it would seed into 54yc. That submit needed a high pulse, and be damned if it was going to let the memories take second place to a silly map.
By now Yosef and Petra were sitting up; the foreign tech was still wriggling, buried into her leg.
"Easy now. Save your strength, we need to get the cruiser yet."
"What is it?"
"Not a clue other than it's all kinds of ugly." The doctor said in his usual stellar bedside manner.
::UPLOAD COMPLETE:: 9R was running low on energy, it would be able to map most but not all of the outpost. It would be able to let the humans know the placement of the intruders, and that was more critical to their survival. 9R began the charge.
54yc marvelled at all the yummy seedlings it had just been shared with it. It was tempting to review all of right now, but 9R had said to wait, not to get ahead of itself, the was still the outpost map to pack away. It hummed contentedly and preened a data pocket special for this one.
::PULSE:: 9R hummed and strobbed with the map info and flashed it to 54yc.
Well, THAT is an interesting structure, 9R thought and then powered down, still anchored into the access panel.
"We are good to go!" Yosef said scooping up 54yc and putting it into his holster. 54yc protested a bit, but Petra was not doing well, and that THING was still in her leg doing who-knows-what. Petra clung the old Doctor and watched him bring up the second ancient artefact and point it at 9R.
"Goodbye old friend." The blaster went off, once, twice, threes, time shedding shiny yellow cylinders, belching flame and noise as it did so.
Even in her stupor Petra was shocked and dismayed to witness the murder of a QAI.
"NO!" she yelled. "NO!"
"No time to argue, we need to go NOW!" He now yelled at her, tears rolling through his wrinkled face.
And they ran, hobbled and crawled as fast as they could to the hidden cruiser, 54yc helping them elude the intruders, its mind teeming with the fresh map info that 9R had bestowed to it.
::SAVE POINT:: That really WAS an interesting structure, marvelled 54yc, and began to analyse the potential that singular iconic shape may hold.
tardegrade reminds us that when exploring a region with a robotic vehicle, you better not lose your keys:
They had flown the land-cat walker in at low level as the battle raged above the sky's of the dead city. Skirting the main battalion groups of both sides they had made it most of the way to their landing target unimpeded. They had feigned engine and communication problems when a solitary air wing controller had challenged them but it had been blown from the sky during the brief conversation anyway. At the landing zone they had used the cover of the derelict buildings as they guided the walker towards their ultimate destination. The raid had been perfect, no resistance, everyone had been dead for years anyway, even the vegetation hadn't been as big an obstruction at they had imagined it might have been. In and out, grab the license codes, still valid and intact even after all these years, due to a peculiarity of the antiquated orbital registration system. Each code that granted an Earth orbit pass out was worth trillions. It had taken their processing unit only fifteen minutes to download all sixteen million codes and there associated hash algorithms that proved there validity. Terry had sent his two companions back to the walker to warm the nano reactors up, ahead of him as the transfer was finishing up. Who else could have thought to find such a treasure in this hole he smiled to himself. Knowing your history paid dividends, literally.
When he arrives back at the walker he sees the machine is powered off and quiet. Beneath the bridge where the walker stands mute Brian is standing at the edge of the muddy river and poking at the slow running stream of water with a stick. Whilst Dave is stood on a ledge in the river lighting a cigar. ‘What the hell..' Terry drops down from the bridge and joins the two men.
Terry: ‘Hey what the hells going on?'
Brian calls back at Terry raising a hand and waving distractedly.
Brian: ‘We're just looking for something. It's OK.'
Dave uncrosses his arms to draw on his cigar and then stabs an accusing finger in the direction of Brian.
Dave: ‘What he means to say is that "he's" just looking for something.'
Terry: ‘Well what? Come on guys we've gotta get out of here.'
Dave: ‘Yes we do. Tell that to butter fingers over there.'
Terry looks over to Brian who has now crawled on to wooden pallet his arms over the edge of the barely buoyant structure searching back and forth in the brackish river as he attempts to pull himself further out into the flow of water. A dawning realisation creeps over Terry accompanied by disbelief and a timorous fear.
Terry: ‘You dropped the keys?!'
Brian: ‘Err. Sort off.'
Terry throws his hands in the air in frustration, in the distance the sound of a large explosion rattles the ground, the sound of battle rolls across the sky each new dull thud of explosive munitions growing nearer.
Terry: ‘Damn it Brian. That is so not green.'
Dave: ‘Oh come on Terry look around you, this place is Supergreen.'
Terry: ‘That's not funny. You know what happens if the Fragbots find us.'
Dave: ‘Sure, big-badda-boom.'
Terry: ‘Yeah that's right smart arse, big-badda-boom. Screw the keys, call up HAL and use a memo scan, we're leaving.'
Dave: ‘Not until we find those keys.'
Terry: ‘For why?'
Dave: ‘Because Tom Sawyer here decided to tell the land-cat to catch some Z's until we got back on board.'
Terry: ‘What? Why? It's a machine!'
Dave: ‘I know that. Tom Sawyer knows that, but none the less he decided to implement a sentience program.'
Terry: ‘A sentience program? It's not capable of sentience, it's a krudding Mk 12 for frippery's sake.'
Dave: ‘Yup. That's what I said and you know what came back at me?'
Terry: ‘I can imagine.'
Both men turn to look at Brian who turns around wobbling on the pallet and raises his muddy arms in the air to protest.
Brian: ‘OK so I thought it would be sweet. Haven't you guys ever watched the Black Hole?'
Terry: ‘The old Disney movie?'
Brian: ‘Yeah that one. Well I liked Ole Bob the robot OK. I figured while I was bored with all your esoteric Hunter S.Thompson posturing crap it would be kewl to have the land-cat act like Ole Bob.'
Terry: ‘So you told it to sleep, whilst we were on a potentially existence critical snatch and grab?'
Brian: ‘No! I told it act like Ole Bob so it decided to go to sleep. So sue me.'
Terry: ‘If I'm still alive tomorrow, I will!'
Terry turns to Dave and raises an imploring hand, his face a stoney grimace.
Terry: ‘Dave we don't need the keys, you can hack these things, I know everyone in the academy heard about you hacking a land-cat once when no one else could do it and it wasn't BS. We have to get out of here now!'
Dave freezes with his cigar pursed in his lips and turns slowly to face Terry his eyes wide.
Dave: ‘I can't do that Terry, not again.'
Terry: ‘Damn it Dave just do it! Now!'
Terry looks back in desperation and sees the fear in Dave's eyes.
Dave: ‘Ok. But I'm going to need a pocket knife, a torque wrench, two rolls of cling film, a box of tampons, a large piece of Roquefort cheese, a bottle of baby oil, a tube of tomato puree, a lamp shade and the zest of two large lemons.'
Terry blanches as the words sink in and he now understands exactly what Dave had to do to hack the land-cat at the academy. No one had ever told him that that part of it was true. That was just a horrific myth made up to scare freshmen, surely?
Terry: ‘Oh good grief!'
Dave: ‘Yes exactly.'
Terry: ‘That thing?'
Terry: ‘So you were the one that…?'
Terry: ‘And that's why you can't … err… ?'
Dave: ‘Oh yes!'
Terry claps a hand over his mouth his eyes wide in abject horror.
Terry: ‘Oh heavens!'
The two men stare at each other mutely for a moment, each observing the others face twisted in to a grimace of fear and despair, when the casual tone of Brian's voice breaks the silence.
Brian: ‘You do know that Tom Sawyer wasn't the guy on the raft? It was Huckleberry Finn right?'
Terry & Dave [In Unison]: 'JUST FIND THE DAMN KEYS!!!'
llem reveals exactly what caused all that overgrowth:
I'm sure you've all seen movies that made the Reclaimers out to be diabolical masterminds, but anyone with a grasp of modern history will tell you different: they were boneheads. We are, let's face it, talking about a movement whose best effort at sloganeering was "Let's Rec Everything"; all the political fire and clearsightedness of a first-year student who's been vegan for a week because of a really hot chick, and even more sadly for everyone else, utter genius at biochem.
DIYbio synthorganisms weren't new, of course. What If My Body's Bacterial Flora Shat The Really Good Drugs? was and is a fun game for anyone with enough smarts to make it happen, but not enough to wonder what it'll do to their liver. Designing kitchen-sink ecoweapons in an attempt to deliberately punt humanity back to a state of universal subsistence agriculture was simply, shall we say, the road less travelled.
Their efforts were surprisingly subtle. The Rec used a geneered Kudzu as the delivery system for their symbiotic fungus, which over time broke down and fed on spimecrete. Real estate prices for antique dumb buildings went through the roof...at least until everyone remembered the amount of tunnels there are under a city.
What killed the old cities? Stupidity and subsidence.
Now, if everyone would like to form groups of three? For the next part of the field trip, each group will be using one of the Geography department's walkers to take core samples from buildings....
Drabbler emphasizes the perils of the natural world:
As the walker waited behind them, the forward team hacked and slashed a path through the thick foliage that now covered much of the city.
"It's amazing how well the buildings and everything have held up after all this time," Jim said, tossing aside a heavy vine. "Do you think anything here still works?"
Tom rolled his eyes. "Don't be an idiot. It's only been eighteen months, not a hundred years. Less yakking and more hacking, and we just might make it to Central Power before-" He didn't even have time to scream before the jaguar tore out his throat.