The sun gleamed across clear skies and lit up the city below. It was a beautiful day, and Chem began to appreciate the feeling of fresh air, and the sun on his skin. His breaths beget satisfaction as he began to appreciate how long it had been since he had felt the graceful glory of the day around him. He stared in peace at the city just a few feet ahead. It was the first day since the people of Nozomi had awoken, and all were curious about what kind of world they would build together. They had discussed their hopes and dreams by fireside, along with fears for the future. Chem had even been asked by a man to attend a conference the next night. He had hoped to gather all the intellectuals together to discuss the future of Nozomi. Chem was flattered, but apprehensive for what that might bring. He had already created something devastating before, and didn’t want to be part of something destructive again.
The fireside discussions had ended however, once a man with a bright yellow screen decided to check the power of the nearby buildings. Shortly after, through the windows, everyone saw a light blinking in the distance like a beacon. From that moment on, everyone dashed towards the buildings. Buildings blinked on and off as people ran through unlocked apartments and vacant buildings. Instead of joining them, Chem had decided to lie on the ground and fall asleep until morning.
Chem walked towards the city until he was interrupted by seven people walking obstructing his path with a ladder. They all held the ladder under one arm and either a gallon of paint or a paintbrush in the other.
“What’s going on here?” he asked.
“We’re making murals” a woman said as they set down the ladder. “We’re all painters, and no one exactly uses the TriMart anymore, so we ‘borrowed’ some paint. I hope you’re not going to call the police on me” she chuckled.
“I couldn’t even if I wanted to.” he said. He looked over the woman who had her screen painted in various watercolors that also covered a smock she was wearing over her white undershirt. She was indeed a painter. Of that, he had no doubt.
“So what are they painting?” he asked.
“Whatever they want.” she said, “It’s not like there’s many rules anymore. We’re too tired of being cooped up. And this world needs flash and color. I think we’re the perfect ones to add some pizazz, you know?” she smiled, “The soup guy over there calls himself Warhol and likes to paint everyday things in bright colors. The golden woman there is ‘ Da Vinci ’. She’s a really interesting woman to talk to! The one with all the diagonal lines is Picasso ”
“Was that on purpose, or did someone do that to him in his sleep?”
“Nope.” she smiled, “That’s just his style” she continued, “The one with gray stripes calls himself Banksy . He makes very political art about cords, monitors, triangles, that sort of thing. And you might recognize-”
“The star … man, yes” he smiled, “ he was the one who found the year the night we all woke up!” The woman smiled and shook her head, “I suppose that’s not his real name though”, Chem said.
“No, he goes by Van Gogh . You know, the one who made the Starry Night painting?”
“Ah, I’m sorry. I’m pretty illiterate on my art history. And what’s your name?”
“ Artist .” she said, looking up at him.
“Really?” he asked, chuckling, “Just ‘Artist’? No clever art history reference?”
“No” she shook her head, “What’s your name then?”
“Oh, now that’s clever.”, she said laughing, “No clever chemistry reference?”
“I’m afraid not.” he said.
They stood for a moment in silence. “You should make a painting!” she exclaimed.
“What? No!” he stammered, backing away, “I’d have no idea what to do. You’d have to tell me what to do.”
“Painting isn’t about doing what you’re told” she tilted her head, “It seems like you need to color outside the lines a little.”
Chem backed away, “You know what, I just remembered, I have an important meeting I was invited to, that I need to attend.”
“Okay” Artist nodded, “Tell your boss I said hello. I’m sure you have a lot to catch up on at work after being asleep all these years”
“That’s not what-” he stammered.
“You know these murals aren’t ‘just’ for show. We’re putting together a festival tomorrow with food and drinks, and anyone creative we can find, to celebrate the start of this new city” she looked towards him, “You should come.”
“I um…” he started, “Yeah, I should get going” he walked away.
“Good luck on the commute!” she sarcastically shouted after him.
About fifteen minutes later, Chem arrived in the city library. It had a grand ceiling several floors high, with each wall lined to the top with bookcases. It was clean and crisp, and like most libraries, was surprisingly empty. Hard-wood floors led to an array of tables, where a familiar group sat with Order standing above them.
“You’re late.” Order told him. “I don’t like when my people are late.”
“I’m sorry” Chem said, “I got distracted.”
Chem sat at the table’s only empty chair. Sitting across from him was a man with computer code displaying on his Tamashi head. Next to Chem was the man with graphs on his face who had helped find the current date using the stars. Sitting across from him was a man covered entirely in a light blue grid. Chem remembered him as the man who had been assaulted for admitting to be a Triangle Company employee. Finally, there was someone Chem had never seen before - a man in a black suit and blue tie with a headset over his screen.
“Now,” Order looked over the group, “we can begin.” he paused, “I organized this group so that we can determine the course of this city. We will do what the common person cannot. They cannot appreciate the complex intricacies of governance, and infrastructure, so we will do it for them. We will craft the course of this city of ours, and they will be grateful.”
Chem raised his hand, “Does that mean you want us to be the government?”
“No.” Order said, “The people should choose their own government. It shouldn’t matter what form that takes. The head of any government is a fickle position. It gets all the attention, all the credit, and all of the blame, but such superficial decorations are meaningless. What matters is who has control. It’s not the leaders, who rise and fall like leaves on a tree. It’s the officers who have the real power, who stay through storms and upheavals and revolutions and dynasties. The ones in the background, out of the limelight, who interpret and carry out the orders of their fleeting superiors. It is in this role that we shall thrive, and guide this world towards its proper order.”
Everyone sat still without a word.
“Now before we truly begin, not all of you have met. To my left is Chemistry , who is in charge of water composition, and drug management. To my right is Coder , who is in charge of technical infrastructure. And Designer , who’s in charge of physical infrastructure. Designer, what have you found?”
The man in blue with a white grid on his screen answered, “I just think it’s strange that we can hear each other so well. I designed these heads so that they could show flashy pictures while we slept, not so we could communicate and read each other’s faces so well.”
“Come on” the man in the suit said, “You really think you’re the only guy who designed these heads?”
“Yeah,” Designer shouted, “I do! That’s my whole thing!”
“Enough!” Order bellowed. Everyone sat silent in their chairs. Order whispered, “Do you know what my ‘thing’ is?” no one said a word, “It’s order. It’s all that I ask. Now you, Designer, were asked to do a structural assessment of the buildings. Is that more than you can handle?”
“No.” he said.
Order took a breath. “I don’t mean to antagonize any of you, but this world is counting on us to do our best. Every civilization is built on the backs of the exceptional, and there are only ninety-eight of us out here, so everyone has to pull their weight.” he paused, “Now Stocks , was it? You said you had a business proposal?”
“Yes, I do! It’s a guaranteed success. First we take the preservative food right? It’s limited. No one’s going to make any more. It’s a limited supply. Then, we hoard them and sell them at insane prices!”
Order shook his head and took a breath, “There’s a few things you might have missed. First, we need to create an economy. We need to facilitate the trading of goods and services, establish baseline wealth beyond bartering and attempt the beginnings of a stable class structure with appropriate mobility. That is why I called you here, to discuss basic Keynesian economic principles. And your plan, if I understand it right, is to price-gouge literal cookies?!”
The man tilted his head and nodded.
“Your short-sightedness is only surpassed by your naivety. You clearly don’t belong here” Order said.
Gang stood alone outside as it started to rain. He leaned against the wall of a building staring at his surroundings. Even though it was daytime, people were more spread out. It was hard to pick people out to join his group. He’d gathered only Superior so far, and for his plan to work, he needed at least six. He saw a man walk by with a large muscular frame.
“Hey you.” Gang said. The man stopped.
“Yes?” he answered.
Gang decided he couldn’t intimidate the man who was much larger than he was. “I’m putting together a team to be in charge of things around here. You look like you can fight”
“I’d really prefer not to.” the man said.
“I wouldn’t ask you to unless things got bad. There’s a lot of people here. Some are good, and some are pretty bad. I want to take charge of things before someone worse comes along.”
“Do you know anyone worse?”
“I might.” Gang said, looking down, then paused, “I need you to tell me now if you’re interested. I just want to keep things sane around here.”
A woman walked up to them with a witch’s hat and a black cat on her screen. “I heard you’re putting together a little group” she snarled, “I want in.”
Gang looked her over. She looked to be in her forties and didn’t have a large frame. She probably can’t fight well, he thought.
“So what can you uh, contribute” he asked.
“I’m something of a scientist.” she said.
“I don’t need a scientist.” Gang answered.
“No” she smiled, “but you do need an ally, a friend. Someone who knows their way around a few secrets. We’re not quite brothers” she stared deep at Gang, “but what can truly bridge that gap anyway?”
Gang stared, shocked at the woman. She couldn’t have been implying what he thought, but it was such a specific choice of words. He needed to know more. “Fine, you’re in.” he said.
“And who might this be?” the woman turned to the muscular man beside her.
“A new recruit potentially” Gang said.
“Not qualified, huh?” she asked.
“Still considering.” the man answered.
“Ah, but why only considering? she said, “With me, a woman of age and experience, clearly wanting to help, I would surely appreciate a strong outsider to watch over me, and make me feel safe in case there’s anything shady going on. Would you do that for me?”
“Alright fine” he said, “I’ll join.”
Gang only stared at the woman in amazement. What was she planning?
“It shouldn’t be much further!” Kasumi said as they walked along the dirt road. They’d been walking for eight hours and had just left the local roads. A woman and a man from the fire who had introduced themselves as Birdcage and Vine, joined her on her walk.
“It’s really close, it’s just over this hill!” Kasumi exclaimed.
“You said that eight hours ago.” Birdcage said, out of breath.
“Then that means we’re close! Look! The sun is-” Kasumi started, as it began to rain.
“It’s been seven years” Birdcage said, exhausted, “seven minutes isn’t going to make a difference”
“I know” Kasumi said, “But I just can’t - I can’t risk it, you know? I can’t-”
“I know, I’m sorry” Birdcage said, giving Kasumi a side-hug, “we are almost there, right?”
“Yeah” Kasumi said, “I think it’s just over this hill”
“Do you enjoy the rain?” Birdcage said to Vine.
“You haven’t said anything this whole trip” Birdcage said to Vine.
“I know, uh, there’s not much to say, I guess?”
“Why vines?” Birdcage asked.
“Oh, I uh, I like, trees and dirt and grass and stuff. Not much else, but I learned about it and I like it.”
“Oh, that’s great.” Birdcage said.
“There it is!” Kasumi exclaimed at the top of the hill, pointing to the farmhouse obscured by the distant rain.
Birdcage , Kasumi and Vine all sprinted towards the farmhouse. The rain pelted against Kasumi’s skin as she dashed inside the unlocked front door.
“Dad?!” she called out, “Dad?! Where are you?”
There wasn’t any answer. She looked around every room and every closet of the house.
“DAD?! DAD?!” she yelled as loud as she could.
She emerged from the side door of the house and saw Birdcage and Vine.
“I don’t see any-” she said.
Birdcage and Vine only looked at her with serious gazes. The bird on Birdcage’s screen was shuddering. Vine only looked down towards the rain hitting the dirt.
“What-?” Kasumi started, then turned her head towards the yard.
That’s when she saw it. Through the blur of the rain and the fear in her eyes, she saw a grim stalwart gravestone standing alone in the farmland.
“No, it can’t!” she said, “No NO NO!” she sprinted towards it. The rain pelted hard against her skin, through her shirt. She started crying against the rain, running as fast as she could while the ever-present dread wore at every fiber of her being. She bared her fists and clenched her jaw as she sprinted forwards. She used to remember the way her father would look at her in the rain, how he would smile like everything was alright, like he enjoyed the way it felt.
“Please” she remembered him saying, “Promise me you won’t plug into those machines, for me. I don’t know what I would do if I lost you”
She caught up to the gravestone, and fell to her knees crying. She couldn’t even read it. She didn’t even dare to. If she did, she would admit that now it was real, and the hurt that overwhelmed her in that moment would become cemented in her soul. After a moment she dared to look up.
“Takuya” it said, “survived by his daughter Kasumi. May she find the sunshine in her life. 1980 - 2039”.
Birdcage and Vine caught up to her. Kasumi put her hands against the gravestone, wailing in tears.
“Come here.” Birdcage said, taking Kasumi in her arms, crying against her wet clothes.
Vine stared towards the gravestone and put his hands on the dirt. He felt the soil with a confused expression.
“Come on” Birdcage shouted, several feet away, “We need to leave”
Somewhere in Nozomi, a man with ‘Do not enter’ printed on his screen wandered around lost in the rain. He shuddered and darted his eyes back and forth in fear.
A man emerged from the alleyway. His face was pale white, and wore a suit that was red and black. His eyes and mouth were red and jagged in chaotic color, as if they had been carved by a knife’s edge. He walked towards the man with all the charisma and power of a nightmare.
“Hello there.” the man devilishly smiled.
The fearful man trembled and backed up into a wall.
“I do hope you haven’t been avoiding me” he whispered.
The man started shaking and said nothing.
“I have a task for you” he stood inches from the fearful man's face. “There’s a man here who goes by ‘ Gang ’. I want you to join his group. We have what you might call an unfortunate history and I want someone who listens when ‘I’ talk, do you understand?” he stared daggers into the man.
“But I - what if I” the man stuttered, “What if I don’t want to?”
The other man laughed, “Now you’ve forced me to make a decision. Let me teach you a lesson. People call me Chaos for a reason. They don’t usually like when I make decisions” he took out a pocketknife. “Now I could ask who’s rustier, me or this knife? I could tell you where it’s been, I could imply where it’s going, but if we’re honest with ourselves, I don’t need to do any of that” The man started quivering, “Because my next decision won’t be whether to kill you. It’ll be how to do it. And believe me, there are many wrong answers.”
“I- fine” the shaking man said “I’ll do it”