Fiction Fragment Friday
Today’s Fiction Fragment Friday is a bit longer than usual. This piece is a reworked condensed version of Chapter One from the Skies of Glass Metropolis Novel I wrote years ago. I originally wrote this in serial fiction format releasing part of it each week on the Skies of Glass blog. I have always talked about going back and editing it for release, but thus far have not done so. It was the first fiction writing projected I ever publicly released.
For anyone that does not know the history Skies of Glass is a roleplaying game and setting created by Daniel Repperger. It was the first roleplaying game I ever played and I found myself wondering about how one of my favorite towns Metropolis, Illinois had fared in this post-apocalyptic world. When I asked Dan about it he told me I should write it up. I cannot thank him enough for this comment because it led to a revitalization of my interest in writing fiction. It also made me comfortable enough to run the setting as the first convention game I ever ran. I have since written quite a bit in this world include a published story in the flash fiction compellation Worth a 1000 Words.
This particular work I am sharing today I reworked to include in the Skies of Glass Roleplaying Game as part of an example settlement setting. This will be released to Fear the Boot Patreon backers with the newest release of the beta ruleset within the next few weeks. It is also particularly timely to release as I was recently in Metropolis for the annual Superman Celebration.
I hope you all enjoy and if I get enough feedback maybe I will rework the whole novel and plan for a release.
“You better hurry up and get moving boy. You don’t want to be late for your first day of Militia. Sergeant Reynolds doesn’t have much patience and you DON’T want to start off on his bad side. That man sure can hold a grudge.” James chuckled as he watched his son nick his cheek shaving. “See now that wouldn’t happen if you’d woken up earlier.”
Jim was rushing to get ready as quickly as he could, but he had been up a bit too late the night before celebrating his 18th birthday. Good friends and poor-quality liquor had taken its toll. Of course, Jim didn’t really have any frame of reference to determine what liquor would be good or bad. “I know dad, I’m hurrying. The fort is only a mile away, so I’ve got plenty of time if I run.” Jim’s words were muffled as he slipped a shirt on over his head.
“Yeah, I’m sure you’ll make a great first impression on Sergeant Reynolds if you show up panting and out of breath.” Jim’s father sighed and all the laughter drained from his face. “Look in all seriousness son I want you to be careful out there. I know it’s your first day and you’ll be in training, but it’s a dangerous world. We’ve had it pretty good here in Metropolis and a lot of people out there are jealous of that. Keep your guard up because the Ists are always out there waiting to stab you in the back if you don’t.”
“I’ll be fine, don’t worry so much. We haven’t heard from Ists in almost six months now. Besides it’s not like I have a choice in this. Every male age 18-22 HAS to serve full time in the militia.” There was a mocking tone to Jim’s voice as he paraphrased the line, he had heard so many times growing up. The idea of serving in the Militia was something that really bothered him. The idea of being forced to do anything bothered him. He took a deep breath to get control of his voice hoping to keep things from getting out of hand. “I know how dangerous the Ists are. I may not like the idea of being in the Militia, but it’s important and to be honest I wouldn’t mind getting a little bit of payback for what happened to Mom.” His father started to speak, but Jim cut him off abruptly. “I won’t do anything stupid, but I can’t talk about this now I really am going to be late.” Jim paused at the door on his way out. “Besides its just training what could possibly happen during training?” With that parting comment Jim grabbed his bag and was out the door running full speed east towards Fort Massac.
Jim’s father stood in the door to their house watching him run off into the distance. “Your mom would be so proud to see this day,” he mumbled to himself. Memories of all the time both good and bad he had in the militia swam through his mind. He thought of his old friend Jason Reynolds and broke out into a laugh. “I’d give anything to see your face when you meet Jason.” When the laugher stopped James went back into the suddenly very quiet house.
Jim was exhausted by the time he reached the Fort. It wasn’t that he was out of shape, but the June sun was beating down on him the whole way. He had forgotten his water at home in the rush to get out the door and hadn’t bothered to eat that morning either. Dehydration was starting to set in and a nasty hangover certainly wasn’t helping his disposition. Jim couldn’t help but think of the string of bad decisions that left him doubled over panting inside the supply depot.
“You look like Hell.” Old-Man Higgens chuckled. He was walking through the depot picking out uniforms, basic supplies, and much to Jim’s relief a bottle of water. “Bet you can use this.” He was an older man with a full head of grey hair. Time had begun to catch up with him as he moved slower than he once had. Despite these signs of wear and tear he was in fairly good shape for a man in his 70s. The years couldn’t take the smile from his face.
“Let me guess, you stayed out all night celebrating your birthday with friends and had to run all the way out here from town. If I had a dollar for every time that happened, well I guess it wouldn’t make any difference at all now would it with the dollar not meaning anything and all. I just can’t seem to give up those old phrases though.” He sat a pair of black boots on the counter and wiped a bit of mud off them.
“I can’t seem to give up this building either to tell you the truth. This used to be a visitors center before the bombs dropped.” He pointed to the wall behind Jim. “You can tell by all those pictures I won’t let Jason take down. He keeps telling me that maps or signs would be more useful.” A sigh escapes his mouth. “He’s a good man, but he misses the point. History is important or we’ll just repeat our own stupid mistakes. Society has just gotten to the point now where we can start stabbing each other in the back again.” The man’s face took a much more somber tone as the conversation shifted.
“You know I was working here that summer. When the bombs dropped that is. I wanted a little extra money and was hoping to buy a car before school started up again. My parents were visiting relatives, and well..” A hint of pain could be seen on his face. “They didn’t make it. All I had left was this place. Nobody cares about the history here anymore though. That’s a whole nother world. They only care about the now and the technology of before. It’s such short sightedness. If they would have only looked to history before deciding to blow us all up it might never have happened.” There was another sigh. “Ah, but I am rambling.” He sat the bundle of supplies on the counter and turned away. “You best get changed and up the hill to report for duty. Jason’s going to be mighty hard on you for being late. The way you look now ain’t gonna help your case much either.” As old man Higgens strolled into the back-room Jim was thinking that he had just finished the most one sided conversation in his life.
“Well I guess I best get this over with,” Jim sighed as he stepped into what used to be a bathroom to get changed. The sun shined through the window just enough for Jim to get changed by, but not enough to clearly see all the supplies in his pack. He was thankful that his own bag was able to fit nicely into the new one. There was no table to set his bag on while he changed, and he didn’t want his personal items touching that floor. Enough time had been wasted so he decided to dress quickly and get orientation over with.
As Jim approached the Fort he got his first good look. Once it was a replica of a fort built by the French in 1757. At least that’s what all the plaques in the supply depot said. Pictures had shown a large wooden structure that only barely resembled what now stood in front of him. Metal from cars, building, and whatever else could be found had been used to reinforce the walls. These additions had grown the fort to twice its original size and changed its clean structured appearance into a twisted metal monstrosity. On either side of the fort were tent structures and buildings that Jim could tell had been constructed after the bombs. There was a clear style difference in post bomb Metropolis architecture that focused much more on function than aesthetics. A large drawbridge sat in the middle of the fort’s outer wall, but without a trench or water running around the fort it sat flat on the ground. It reminded Jim of a mouth waiting to swallow him whole. His dad had described it, but nothing he had ever seen could quite compare to the site before him.
As Jim walked across the drawbridge, he saw three other boys slightly older than himself in appearance lined up. He couldn’t help but be disgusted by how perfectly in formation they stood. They were so rigid and stern. In front of them was a fourth much older man who was pacing back and forth. A sense of dread filled Jim. The moment had finally come for him to pay for his bad decisions.
Jim noticed a girl he recognized from school curled up in a corner with a book. Chloe Reynolds was undeniably cute, and Jim liked how her long blonde hair draped over her shoulders. He found himself staring a bit longer than appropriate. Perhaps he was just delaying the inevitable. Jim quietly approached the older man and with a nervous voice gathered the courage to speak. “Are you Sergeant Reynolds?”
“What do you think? Who else would be standing here pacing because some snot nosed punk can’t seem to wake up in the morning? Do you think these men have nothing better to do then stand here wasting their morning waiting on you?” His voice had gotten extremely loud, and he moved to be directly in Jim’s face. “Well boy don’t you have anything to say for yourself?
While the run from town had worn him out; the sweat pouring from Jim’s face now came from fear and nervousness. He knew that Sergeant Reynolds would be a stern man, but he wasn’t prepared for anything quite like this. He wanted to say something smart to put the man in his place but found himself struggling to form a coherent thought. “Well, uhm, sir. I errr, I tried to get here on time sir. I didn’t…” His mind raced trying to come up with a way out.
“What’s wrong with you boy? Do you have some sort of brain damage? Spit it out. Well uhm, sir. Are we going to have to teach you English on top of everything else? You might be the sorriest excuse for a trainee I have ever seen walk through that gate. Well, are you going to say something or am I going to have to make you run laps around the fort until you remember how to speak?”
Jim didn’t know what he would have said next, but he was shaken out of his shock by the sound of laughter. “Sorry Sarge, that look on his face is just too priceless. Well, uhm, sir. I err. He looks like he’s going to piss his pants.” The boy on the end was laughing loudly and barely managed to get the words out. Once one of them had broken down it was only seconds before the others had joined in. Soon they were all bending over holding their stomachs as they laughed hysterically. Jim saw Chloe look up from her book just long enough to give them an annoyed look and then return to reading.
“Well damn boys, I had a whole speech ready to go. I thought I could make this one cry and you have to go and give me away. I didn’t even get to ask him if Higgens had laced his boots for him..” Sergeant Reynolds looked annoyed for a minute as his hands waved in the air. Finally, a smile cracked, and he couldn’t help but join in the laughter.
Jim stared relieved and confused all at the same time. “What’s going on here?”
Sergeant Reynolds managed to regain his composure, but the smile never left his face. Jim noticed that it made him look significantly less scary than he had been just minutes before. When he spoke again his voice had a jovial tone to it and Jim could tell that he was trying to hold back more laughter. “This is a militia, not a military. We’re just another part of the town and like to have a little fun with our new recruits. Everyone gets the speech. Even if they show up an hour early. I can usually keep up the angry act for at least five minutes, but the boys here just had to be a part of it this time.”
“Dad warned me about you though. He said that you were really hardcore and that you didn’t have a sense of humor to speak of.”
“Your pop is an old buddy. We went through training together twenty-five years ago. There’s no way he’d spoil this joke for me. We expect a lot out of you here. Make no mistake; it will be hard at times, but it can be fun too. Of course, today you’re going to be doing a lot of sitting around and listening to me talk. For the record, that’s not the fun part.” Sergeant Reynolds pointed to one of the doors on the inside wall of the fort. “We best get started. Head on in there and take a seat.”