Secrets of Kythera: Chapter 1
Somewhere in a prairie on a cloudy day, a figure of man walks his way, crippled. Sometimes he stops and pushes himself towards nearby tree so he could take a breath and carry on. The man’s in real bad shape; his face beaten, his shabby clothes got dirt and blood stains, his body covered in wounds. His right arm — which is an all-metal mechanical prosthetic, tainted with blood and covered with scratches — rattles as he walks, making a cranking sound audible by anyone in his vicinity. He struggles to take a step forward with aid of a stick, hobbled, as he’s heading forward a way that only he knows. Sometimes his mouth gapes, catching as much air as possible and risking himself with mild ether poisoning.
As time goes on, his pace becomes slower and slower. He stops more frequently to gather a slightly more of his remaining vigors and continues walking until at one point his body fails him. The stick snaps, tripping the failing body onto the ground. He can’t wake up anymore, realized that he had used all of his remaining power. He knows he won’t make it. As the clouds are getting darker and darker and the light rain falls, his body stops struggling. He knows that nobody will notice him in the middle of grassland, but that doesn’t matter for him anymore. There is no sign of remorse as he closes his eyes. The rainfall pours onto the prairie, soaking him thoroughly with water that infused with a slight amount of ether. It doesn’t matter for him anymore.
Moments after the rain finally stopped, the prairie emits a fragrance that familiar for those who dwell around the woods; the scent of fresh, wet soil and hints of grasses. Such scent that even those who born after the Catastrophe would imagine the time when everything was never filthied by the foul ether of the Great War way back when. Sunlight pierces the disintegrating clouds, bathing the prairie with its warmness and light. Some critters and insects come out of their hiding places and give the land their songs as if they were taught by the Mother Nature herself.
Another man clad in scouting gear passes by the prairie. Who knows his intention is in the woods, but at one moment he noticed a downed figure lying down among the grasses. He noticed also the mechanical arm, which gives him assumption and at some point, fear of something dangerous leaps onto him. His fear, however, is no match for his curiosity in his mind; he decides to check further, and approach that figure with discreet.
“It’s a man,” he mumbled, “and seems like he’s still there. Might be a victim of those Coggers, but let’s see what Graham would say about this lad.”
After checking the downed man’s wellness, he puts an attempt to pick him up. His rather small stature doesn’t want to fail him, and after a little while, he carries the unconscious man’s body eastward.
Through some hills and a patch of bushes, he arrives at the small settlement where some other folks gather round. They wear the similar outfit as the one who carries a downed man’s body. Some are slacking around the fire, chatting and bantering while enjoying canned meals and bottle of drinks. Some other are remaining vigilant in their posts with their weapons on their hands. This scout fella takes the downed man to a bunker beside a nearly-demolished house.
The bunker has a recognizable metal door that always open, and a glowing lightbulb at the entry tunnel tells that someone’s living inside. The scout enters the tunnel, following a short downstair passage until he meets another metal door, which is heavily reinforced with thick metal platings around and on the door. The inner door is opened already. Without knocking, he enters the room that’s large enough to store various crates and stuff inside. Many tomes and scrolls scattered on the table in the middle of the room. At the entrance he sees the man he’s sought after, sitting on a chair with flattened cushion, against the entrance door.
“Graham! Graham! You might want to see this.” The scout tries to get a fat middle-aged man who’s in his seat, enjoying a cooked mutton.
The fat man replies, “Don’t tell me you’ve been into another field of anomaly and got mundane artifact again.”
“No. I wasn’t in anomaly; I found this weird man in the middle fo prairie. He has strange… whatisthisshouldbecalled… ‘mechanical arm.’ And he’s still alive!”
“Nonsense! You’re lying!”
The fat man, shocked in disbelief, then puts his meal on the table then turns his head towards the scout who carries the downed man’s body on his shoulder. He’s truly shocked by the scout, who surely expresses his confidence by his face.
“So, Graham, my friend, where should I lay him down? I’ve carried him all the way here.”
“I don’t believe it that you’re taking a Cogger into my bunker.” Graham shoves everything on the table right in the middle of the room — including his unfinished mutton — so the scout can lay his load on his shoulder down.
Once the scout lays the downed man’s body on the table, Graham then examines everything upon the body: the stiff and endured mechanical arm; the implanted lens on place where the right eyeball should be there; an unusual gizmo implanted on the man’s left chest that ticks, glows blue-ish luminescence and hums faintly; the shabby, torn clothings; and the pockets. Graham found some bullets and a small journal book on the man’s belonging.
“So many scribbles here, all ruined by water…” he mumbles. He flips some other pages and finds a half-ruined passage written on one of the pages.
“Ah, this one is readable. Hmm… Stalwart?”
All of sudden, the downed man’s mechanical arm moves on its own and grabs Graham’s hand. He’s awake, struggling to take the journal from the fat man, and Graham could tell that the man doesn’t want it to be read by someone else so he gives the journal back.
“Hey you, bring a first-aid kit here. Seems like we’ll have him for several days.”
It’s been three days after the scout recovered that man — who later called as ‘the Cogger’ by the folks around the settlement — from the prairie. Graham takes care of him with everything he could find in his bunker; stim-paks, bags of distilled ether, and anti-radiation potion were dispensed periodically. The scout and most people around settlement were curious as to why such a man like Graham care so much towards someone he barely knows, yet they didn’t put their nose further into it.
The next day, the Cogger finally wakes up. Graham — sits on his favorite chair — turns around and looks at him with unsurprising expression. The Cogger’s appearance is a total mess, as he sometimes tripped when trying to walk a bit. He’s still too frail to stand on his own. The mechanical arm’s still rattling as he tries to move, and sometimes his eye-lens twitches, adjusting the focal point after days of inactivity.
“You’ve been four days lying down there, unconscious,” says Graham. “You were beaten and wrecked at the same time. Thanks to one of the Vigilantes out there, you were taken here and seems like I managed to patch you up with all those supplies I had. Now, sit down there in the chair; I want to ask you something, but by looking at your conditions now it seems I have to wait a little longer.”
The Cogger then sits down at the chair beside a flattened bed where he laid down for days. His arm finally ceases to rattle. He tries to stretch and flex his mechanical arm as well as the fingers, then grasps on a desk nearby.
“Not many things I have down here, Cogger.” Graham continues meddling with things on his desk, which mainly are papers and a typing machine. “Food and drinks are on that cupboard before the table, but I have to tell you: those are not free.”
Moments after, the Cogger stands up and reaches the said cupboard. He takes a bottle of booze, open its cap and sips a little bit of liquid in the bottle. He’s still trying to hold himself after being downed for days, then grabs on a slice of stale bread from the cupboard. Bread and beer give him a little energy to let him steady; moreover, he’s been days without one of those.
“Feels better already, eh? Come here, I’d like to hear something from you. I can’t stand with someone who doesn’t talk for days.”
“Alright, Cogger. Seems like you’ve lost your memories even you don’t know your name. For now, let’s go with that nickname.
“Thanks to me, you could wake up in a safe place and have your wounds treated although I don’t know how to fix that hand of yours; but seeing that gizmo of yours on your chest glowing when I injected the distilled ether was thrilling for a moment. People of your kind are strange, indeed.”
The Cogger remains silent, as Graham continues his talk.
“I’ve taken a look at your ruined journal, and everything was totally destroyed. The only thing I could save from it was only a name: ‘Stalwart.’ I don’t know who the heck this ‘Stalwart’ person is, but it seems you have some kind of connection with whoever and wherever he is.
“Also, there are some bullets in your pocket. I don’t know the purposes of these for you, but those are not of common calibers used by most of the people around. Even Marshals don’t have such rifle that uses this kind of caliber. I don’t see values in these, so I’ll give it back to you.”
He hands over a couple of bullets to the Cogger. Those are much larger than .30 caliber — the most common rifle caliber around — featuring rimmed cartridge and full metal jacket coating. The Cogger puts those bullets in his pocket.
“One more thing: I have to tell you that I did it for no charity. You have to pay for those supplies you’ve used. I’m not interested in cash in particular; instead, I have some tasks for you to perform for, say, paying your debts to me. Those will be kind of dirty jobs, but by looking at your eye, it seems you used to do such jobs, am I right?
“In fact, I am looking for someone who’s unrelated to anyone around this settlement and the Old City to do some, let’s say, surreptitious works. Someone who’s related to neither Marshals nor Vigilantes, yet not part of the Outlaws as well. An ignorant one. Outcast. Lone wolf. Then all of the sudden one of those Vigilante scouts came here, threw you in. You’ll accept this work, or else I’ll call my men in and put you into another slumber. What will you say?”
“Tell me more about it,” says Cogger briefly.
“Right to the point, eh? I’m starting to like you, Cogger.” Graham expresses his delight towards the Cogger’s response. “Then, let’s get into the heart of the problem.”
“Some of those Outlaw ruffians took a housing complex near of here. They started to harass my men and snatch some goods for them; some of the stolen stuff are valuable artifacts. A couple of days ago, they kidnapped one of my men who’ve sent to the Old City along with a valuable note from my client. They’ll ruin my business if nobody takes care of them.
“Since you’re agreed to this deal, the first thing you shall do is go upstairs and meet Chip. He’s the man responsible for the safety of people around the settlement. Once there, he’ll tell you the next step. Everything you’ll need for this job will be given once you accepted his words. Clear? Good. Now, you may go.”
The Cogger stands up, takes his shabby coat which hung next to the cupboard, then walks toward the exit.
“I’ll see you again later, Cogger,” said Graham as the Cogger walks upstairs to the outside.
As he steps outside the bunker, the Cogger sees a complex of ruined houses encircling a small patch of soil where ashes of bonfire visible in his point of view. Everything has been overgrown by grasses and moderate-sized plants, as well as some shade trees, stand sporadically among the derelict walls and roofs. It’s sunny afternoon, with few thin clouds floating far in the sky, and in such weather he sees a small object floating ni the sky; such object that no one could ever tell what actually it is, but it floats there, exists.
Witnessing the new place he discovered recently with a clear head, he, however, doesn’t bother the weather, the grasses or that strange object in the sky. Steadily he walks in a pathway that leads him to the settlement, where some of the settlers are gathering round a nearly demolished building at the far side of the settlement. Most of them wear similar outfit: sturdy clothing with studded leather patches on joints, shoulders and chest area, leather vest with several pockets for multipurpose compartments and a hood, a pair of leather gloves, thick cloth trousers with matched leather boots. Each of them has a gas mask encircling their neck and firearms in their possessions.
As Cogger walks toward the commune, one of them gives a holler, waving his right hand to this stranger. Cogger, without hesitate, comes toward that man.
“So you’re the Cogger that Graham dude spoke about,” the man briefly takes a look at him. He scrunches his thick eyebrows when looking at the standing-out brass-colored mechanical arm and the glowing thing on his chest. “Never seen anyone like you before. Quite an impression to see lunatic with metal arms like that.
“Back to the point. People here called me Chip. I’m in charge of keeping this place safe.” That man introduces himself. “Maybe you’ve been told by Graham about this job, but he may not telling you another thing to know.
“The complex is about half a kilometer from here, just follow the pathway towards Old City and take a left turn at first intersection. Some of my men are there, waiting for my signal to get inside the complex and get the jobs done. Your objective is to take the note and everything in the hostage’s belongings; whether that dude’s dead or alive when you raid the houses, that doesn’t matter. Just take the stuff and get back here immediately.
For this job, take this revolver, bunch of bullets and a few of supplies. These should be more than enough. Got it?”
Chip gives the Cogger a worn-out revolver, fully loaded as well as several bullets for reserve, a dagger, a pocket radio communication device, two rolls of bandages, a stim-pak and several painkiller pills. Cogger puts the supplies in his side pocket and slings the revolver’s holster on his hip. He’s armed and ready. Chip then picks a handheld comm device and tunes into the team he’d assembled beforehand.
“Team, I’ve sent someone to your current place. He’s the Cogger, wearing a shabby brown coat. If he does something wrong, shoot him at will. Over.”
Undaunted by the Chip’s command, Cogger dismisses as Chip’s team sent an affirmative signal, then the radio transmission ends. Off he goes to the said complex.
Walking through the woods, Cogger sometimes put his sight towards things in his way; grasses blew by the mild breeze, critters that lurking around branches and twigs of shady trees, and spots reek of pulsing air that makes the soil bright and the wind twirls around them. Cogger witnesses by himself a poor critter that got caught by one of those pulsing air dragged into its proximity then blasted all of sudden by something akin to focused intense heat, exploded into pieces. He realized that walking in this kind of woods is meant neither for leisure nor for a picnic, so he tries to avoid any kind of anomalous phenomenon as he trots along.
Followed the pathway as Chip instructed, finally he meets some other scouts who stand at the roadside. As he approaches, one of them recognized the Cogger and gives a holler to him.
“Ah, you must be the Cogger that Chip lad spoke about,” said the scout. “I’m the leader of this group. Ready for some job, don’t you? Let me tell you a thing or two about the situation.
“First, you won’t make it if you’re only trusting that rusty pistol, lad. Here, take this rifle; it’s from one of those Outlaws we’ve taken down earlier. Oh, and some bullets, too.”
The scout leader hands over a rifle — a lever-action marksman rifle with a notable splinter on its stock and a leather strap sling — and some bullets. Cogger tries to pull the lever, which is jammed in the first try, and then an empty bullet casing springs off the rifle’s chamber when he managed to pull it off. He checks the ammo loaded in the tubular magazine then loads three more bullets into it.
Cogger slings the rifle onto his back, and asks, “So, what’s next?”
“Simple; we’ll raid through the sideways,” the scout answers. “There are only a few Outlaws we’ve observed, maybe three or four, but I think there’s more of them inside those buildings. Estimated there are about eight baddies. Most of them seem inexperienced and armed with peashooters. Four of us could take them down without hassle.
“We’ll walk around the complex from here, through bushes and woods. Problem is, the path we’re about to walk through is within a field of anomalies, so we have to stick together and walk in single line. I’ll take the lead and open the way.”
“And for the final remark, our lad is in the largest building on the far side of our entrance. You know what to do with him. Now, let’s move out, shall we?”
The scout leader gets up and grabs his hunting rifle then gives a signal to the others to move into the breach. Cogger follows them afterward. They take a detour path, traversing the bushes under shady woods where only a little of sunlight reaches the wet grasses. The sound of crickets echoes the woods, giving another rhythm into the desolation while those young, armed scouts walk through the thick bushes and tall grasses.
As they make progress through the bushes, faint hums can be heard in their proximity. Several spots of pulsing air are observed right in front of them. The scout leader takes something from his pocket and revealed it’s a bunch of rusty bolts and nuts. He throws a nut forward, which results in a burst of something consists of hot air, dust, and rust visible out of thin air. Not long after, he throws another nut thrown slightly to the left of the previous one’s trajectory. No burst visible.
“Alright. Walk that way, one after another,” the scout leader instructs.
One by one, they tread through the field of anomaly carefully. Several turns and detours have been traversed, a handful of nuts and bolts have been thrown to show them the right way.
“Why with that face, Cogger?” One of the scouts remarks Cogger’s curiosity which is shown on his face. “Don’t tell me, you haven’t been taught the way to safe traveling outside the Old City, hmm?”
“Don’t blame him in such manner,” the scout leader notices his fellow scout’s tease. “Not everyone is being informed with things such as anomalies, monsters and such. Lucky he’s with us. Stay focus.”
Several turns later, they finally managed to pass through the field of latent hazards that only experienced travelers could traverse. Cogger is quite intrigued with such phenomenon; he might have known about it before, but his memory fails him often. He has witnessed something he surely doesn’t want to give it a try on him, and indirectly the scouts told him how to avoid such anomaly from getting him.
“Once this job is done, Chip will gladly tell you a thing or two about surviving outside,” the scout leader replies some of Cogger’s questions while walking their way through the bushes. “For now, let’s go and get the job done, shall we?”
They keep their pacing as the sun slips further to the west until at one point they spot a wall of another derelict settlement. They stop for a while then continue walking in slower, quieter pace.
Stick to the outermost wall, they check the current perimeter, and one of them moves forward, strafing towards the next wall. On his way towards the next safe spot, suddenly a gunshot can be heard and that scout falls onto the ground, groaning. He got shot in his left leg, and spontaneously, while screaming in pain, rolls toward the nearest low wall. Some other gunshots follow the first.
“How could they spot us?!” One of the scouts goes into prone and readies his rifle.
“They must have anticipated our arrival!” The leader replies. “Damn! Didn’t expect this coming today. Everyone, fire at will!”
The inevitable gunfight happens. They trade in bullets in such skirmish that began in an unexpected way. Roars of blazing guns disturb the peace of desolate shady woods, grunts, and groans of shot men disrupt the solitude more. As the shot scout can’t move forward due to his wound, the rest — including Cogger — keep making progress while trading bullets, suppressing the cowering bandits to the far corner of settlement. One by one, the bandits are taken down until at one point they managed to reach the building where a hostage is held.
There are two bandits along with the hostage inside, as observed by Cogger who’s followed by one of the scouts. With only three bullets left in the revolver’s magazine and none left in his rifle, he quickly shoots the bandits without a doubt. One got a lead to the head and instantly killed, another one got leads to the chest, loudly grunting in pain. The scout leaps in, checks both of them, and then shoot the wounded one without even a single doubt in mind, killing him. The hostage — witnessed the quick action they had shown — is tied down to a chair at the corner of the room, and seems relieved by their coming.
“Ah, you must be Chip’s men, aren’t ya? Ha ha, I know he won’t let me down.”
Cogger unties the hostage with the dagger he carries along the way from the settlement. The hostage moves his wrists, stretches his hands and then stands up.
“I’m Jim of the Old City,” the hostage introduces himself after fixing his collar. “I was in my way to Graham’s place, delivering goods for him when these ruffians knocked me down and took me as a hostage. I don’t know what’ll happen if you didn’t come today. It’s a pleasure to meet you, and thank you very much.”
Cogger replies, “No problem, that’s my job anyway.
“By the way, I was asked to retrieve something from you by Graham, so if you don’t mind…”
Jim then pulls out something from his pocket. It’s a sheet of folded paper with a message written in it. Such message is cryptic by nature which neither both of them could comprehend the hidden meaning behind it. Along with the message is a transparent piece of cloth with faint greenish glitters visible when exposed to light.
“If Graham trusts you, then I can trust you,” said Jim. “Give these to him. Only him that knows the meaning of this message, and about this cloth: it’s the artifact he’s looking for. Tell him I obtained it from a traveler who ventured himself into the Dark Valley.”
Cogger retrieves the items from Jim. Shortly after, he received a radio transmission from the scouts who are still outside.
“Report the situation. Over.”
“Outside the complex, mending the wounded. Over,” replies one of the scouts. A faint grunting sound can be heard in the background.
“Inside, with the Cogger. We’ve taken down hostiles. Hostage is safe. Over,” replies the scout who’s beside Cogger.
“Looks like our job is done,” the scout leader concludes. ”Take a rest now, lads, and you, Cogger, come here to me. Over.”
Later that day, when the sun goes down and its sunset light makes silhouettes of the woods and clouds, Cogger arrives at the bunker’s front door. The lightbulb’s gloomy light illuminates the dark tunnel that leads to the middle-aged Graham’s dwelling room. The fat trader is meddling with his papers in front of the counter desk when Cogger opens the inner room’s reinforced door, and he notices his new acquaintance’s attendance since the door creaks open.
“Good evening,” greets him briefly. “So, how’s the job?”
Without any words spoken, Cogger puts the cloth artifact as well as the cryptic note on the counter table. Graham lifts his eyebrows, unsurprised with the items before him, then continues meddling with his mundane papers.
“What did they do to the courier, then? Or maybe, what did you do to Jim?”
“He’s above, with the scouts,” answers Cogger. “It was his decision to come here instead of going back to the Old City. He wants to stay here for a while after being taken hostage yesterday.”
“And so that’s his decision, I suppose. My men have everything he needs for a couple of days, and for you as well. There must be a spare bed in one of the dwellings around, so you can rest in proper comfort.
“Anyway, you’ve managed to take the job done. Although at first this job was intended to pay your debts to me which means you will get nothing from it, I think I’ll give you a little bonus for the trouble along with your way. Bullets are also counted as currency in some places and might serve you when bartering for supplies or such, just so you know. Take these before I change my mind.”
Graham lends some bullets to Cogger — twelve .45 rounds exactly — then puts the paper and cloth into his stash right below the counter desk. Cogger grabs the bullets laid in front of him without hesitation. As Cogger is about to leave from the trader’s presence, Graham halts him for some words.
“By the way, come back here tomorrow morning, Cogger. There’s something that suits you well.”
It’s a night with such clear sky; the moon and stars shine brightly, in contrast of the dark void of the night. The settlement dwellers gather around a little bonfire which is lit dimly, giving enough warmth and light that complimented with bottles of booze on their side. They’re fighting the cold breeze from the woods around, and the boozes surely do the job well to them. Cogger joins up the little party the dwellers held, which mainly consists of pep talk and banter between guys in duty.
Those dwellers are a member of Vigilante, as one of them explains themselves to Cogger. He explains a bit of this and that to the half-machine stranger as if they’ve been together for months. Banter delivered to each other as well as some useful information about their surroundings and tips of particular stuff; everything can be a hot topic that night, even most of the dwellers complain about the lack of feminine figures among them. Cogger realizes that he hasn’t seen any woman around since the first time he woke up.
Later, when the bonfire finally snuffed out and the night is at its peak, instead of sleeping on the bed served for him, Cogger sits next to the open window and writes his first journal in a pocket journal book he bought from one of the dwellers for two round of bullets. His former jurnal is ruined; a slight scratch with rough graphite would tear the pages apart. His right eye is getting drowsy, but his prosthetic left eye lens’s still contracting and relaxing as he’s writing in the middle of the night. Sometimes he mumbles gullible sentences which can be faintly heard by some of the dwellers who shared his room with him.
I’m trying to write journals so as I can track about myself. I don’t remember anything, yet somehow I have several abilities retained: communicating with others, using guns, reading, writing. I think these will do some good to me, because that’s all I have, besides the clothes I wear and these mechanical attachments I don’t know how I obtained these in past.
People called me Cogger. They said that’s the name of my kin, the notorious half-man, half-machine kin who lost in time all of the sudden sometime in past. They deemed me as dangerous at first glance, despised me in first sight, but slowly they accepted me. Chip convinced the others that I am not that dangerous. For now, I’m fine with that name — until I know what my real name is, at least what’s the name people often used to call me back then.
Today I did a job for the trader who saved me. Graham’s the name. Dirty job, I could tell, but that’s the only choice I had for now. I have to prepare myself as he’s about to give me another job tomorrow. I could recall that he has promised me information about someone named ‘Stalwart’. Name’s so familiar, yet I don’t know what’s my relation between that man and myself. Only time will tell, as long as it ‘ticks’.
As he stopped writing, the night has passed its peak and the moon has slipped off its apex in the sky eastward. Finally, he calls it a night and lays his body onto the modest bed, and so that’s his first day of his long journey ahead.