New Rome

Cian Bennett 2014 + '16

It was the year 3055 when the ISP (International Space Program) announced their creation of a working warp drive, which allowed them the technology to travel at speeds faster than light. At the same time, one of the leading scientists working at ISP announced that they would be leading an expedition to a distant planet completely made of diamonds on the second of December 3058. This caused panics and heated discussions across the globe. For about three and a half years, those who were wealthy enough, either bought seats for themselves on one of the fifteen space crafts the ISP provided, or got third party companies to build one for them, but those could only hold small crews and were extremely expensive. People were calling it the Diamond Rush, and for good reason, there were races to get the best technologies, and finest engineers. People were even betting on seats and holding massive auctions that went on for weeks at a time, usually ending up in some kind of conflict. There were huge protests and riots on the streets, people that couldn’t afford to go, or who were cheated and manipulated into giving up their seats. The authorities tried their best to stop all this, and succeeded for a few months, but soon everything fell back into chaos when various extremist groups started to conduct mass bombings, targeted towards the governmental strongpoints, plunging the world into an even deeper chaotic fray. The ISP never meant for it to go so awry, and even tried to cancel the trip a few times, but they realised that people were going to go anyway, and decided that they didn’t want to be beaten to their own discovery.

In the year following the launch of the expedition, the people who were left behind were confused at first, but eventually started to drift into their own factions and groups, small civil wars between these factions were becoming more and more common, as the years went by. About five years after the launch, a faction named Tartarus emerged from out of nowhere, seizing power for themselves, with the element of surprise at their backs. This was followed a few months later by two more factions by the names, Nemesis and The Legion. The Legion were said to have a solitary utopian city, free of chaos and destruction, It was founded by a man named Senekis Moriah, he called this city New Rome.

The newly formed rubble disintegrated under each step, making it hard to stay balanced atop the ash covered wreckage. Black plumes of smoke were still rising from the ruined scene, throwing foul smells of burning rubber and flesh around the battlefield. The five men soldiered on, trying their best to avoid the bodies scattered like dice across their path, the smell of decaying flesh was strong in the air. One of the men had to keep himself from bringing up his breakfast.

‘You ok Ben?’ said Pete as he turned to the man.

‘Yeah I’m fine, the sooner we get out this hell hole, the better’, replied ben, looking up.

‘You’ve certainly got that right’ Pete said in agreement.

The group moved faster after that, each member attempting to shut out the wasted lives that lay at their feet. They trudged on, through winding streets and thinly made alley ways, staying on alert at all times, just in case there were still hostile soldiers lurking nearby.

After what seemed like hours, walking endlessly through abandoned buildings and secluded back alleys, they finally made it to the outskirts of the city, finding themselves next to a forest, the group continued on up a winding dirt path that seemed to belong to some kind of walking track. They followed it for a few hundred metres, then veered of the path as to make sure no one could accidently stumble upon them.

‘Alright boys, this area looks as good as any to make camp’ said Pete.

The others just nodded in agreement, And Pete sent each member of the group off with their own task. Ben’s task was to try and catch something for dinner, as he was the best hunter out of all of them. He grabbed his hunting bow from his back, and walked in the opposite direction to the others, to make sure there was nothing that could frighten his potential dinner. Ben took a deep breath, and slowly drew an arrow from the quiver hanging from his right hip. Shafts of moonlight were breaching the treetops, making it a lot easier for Ben to see through the darkness ahead. He heard a twig snap off to his left, causing him to suddenly halt, and listen. There came another twig snap a few seconds afterwards, but it was quieter this time, so Ben moved on, further into the trees.

After about an hour, Ben was heading back to the campsite, holding four rabbits, and various edible berries he had picked. The warm orange gleam of the fire came into view, radiating through the leaves of the trees. There was a cheer as he entered the clearing.

‘Well done Ben, where would we be without you’. Remarked Pete, as he ran over to help with the freshly caught game.

Ben just laughed, and handed Pete two of the rabbits to skin. One of the men sitting at the fire produced a fairly large frying pan from his bag, and Ben placed the rabbits upon it, sizzling as they touched the flat heated surface. Then Pete and Ben sat down with the others around the fire, telling each other a bit about themselves and sharing stories, while they waited for the food to cook, as they had only known each other for just a few weeks.

‘Any of you guys heard about this New Rome place?’ Pete said, breaking the silence, ‘they say that it’s free of all this, the chaos and mayhem that has cursed the land.’

‘Really? I would sure love to stumble upon that place’, said one of the other men. ‘Where is it?’ he added.

‘Well that’s just it, nobody knows’. Replied Pete.

After they had finished the meal and told all there was to tell, the five of them produced their sleeping bags and settled in next to the fire, its warmth creating a sense of safety and homeliness. The hour was late when Ben finally drifted off to sleep.

They were awakened by a deafening noise from the trees ahead, and Pete immediately stood up for a better look.

‘What the hell was that?’ said Ben, slowly exiting his sleeping bag.

‘I’m not sure, but it sounded like it came from over there’, Pete said, pointing ahead, ‘I’m going to go check it out’, he added, as he started in the noises direction.

‘Pete, wai…’ But before Ben could finish his sentence, the sound came again, much louder this time, as a spray of blood from Pete’s head sprinkled the group, and his body fell to the ground lifeless. Ben yelled in horror, and ran towards where he had left his hunting bow and quiver. One of the men in the group jumped for his pistol, but was too late, a bullet pierced his shoulder, sending him off in a spiral towards the ground. The remaining two men from the group had vanished into the trees, running helplessly for their cowardly lives. Just as Ben was about to reach his bow, he realised there was no point in fighting, however long he lasted, he would never survive against the unseen enemies beyond the trees. So instead, he grabbed his bow and quiver on the way passed, running as fast as his legs would take him. Adrenaline taking control of his body, Ben dodged and weaved through the trees and bushes, not stopping for anything. The angry shouts of his pursuers becoming ever distant with each second.

When he felt he was safe, he curled up underneath the concealment of a large bush, and closed his eyes, tears rolled down his cheeks as he relived what had just happened, Pete had been his close friend for many years now, and Ben couldn’t believe that he was just gone. He slapped himself hard in the face, so that he would wake from this horrific nightmare, but he never did, and eventually fell asleep, after draining his last tears.

It was late in the afternoon when Ben woke, the sun glaring down upon him, warming his body. Pain rushed through him as he stood up, his head still racing from last night’s ordeal, fighting the urge to just lie down and die, Ben heaved his weight forwards, and started to walk. He didn’t know which direction he was going, but he didn’t care, just as long as he was away from this painful place. The forest floor was soft under his feet, the wind was slowly rustling through the trees, creating an eerie wailing sound. He pushed on, getting to the edge of the forest, finding himself outside a small town. Ben approached the town slowly, looking through all of the house windows, for supplies he could scavenge, and to make sure there were no prying eyes. He managed to acquire a few cans of food, and a half empty water flask from one of the houses, but that was really all he could find. As ben was sitting down, eating from one of the cans he had found, he heard a woman’s voice, coming from one of the houses. He quickly stood up, and out of curiosity started to walk towards the voice. Ben could hear her clear as a bell now, she was just behind the wall he was standing against. He turned the corner, and to his shock and amazement, saw what looked to be at least fifteen or so people staring at him.

‘Stay where you are’, said the woman standing at the front of the crowd.

‘I mean you no harm’, said Ben as he raised his empty hands.

‘Well as much as that may be, I’m not willing to risk it’, she said, beckoning to an armed man behind her, who approached him.

‘Hold out your hands’, said the man. Ben did as he said, and the man tied his hands together with some rope.

‘Alright everyone, I think we’ve got what we came for, now let’s get out of here, and get back to New Rome’. Said the woman.

‘You guys are from New Rome? You’re with the Legion?’ Ben said, his eyes widening.

‘Yep, I think you’re lucky you stumbled upon us when you did, if you really meant what you said about not wanting to harm us, I think you’ll fit right in’.

‘Well, I’m going to stay true to my word’. Replied Ben

‘I’m sorry about your hands, but we were recently attacked by bandits, and it’s really the safest option at the moment’.

‘It’s ok I understand, my whole group was killed recently, including my best friend, I only just got out alive’.

For the rest of the day, they walked towards New Rome, only stopping for small food or drink breaks. Most of the long trek was ascending a small mountain, Ben’s legs were aching from the constant uphill movement. The woman introduced herself as Beth, and after a while, she unbound his hands. They talked the whole way, about the old world, about how boring life had been, and how much they missed that life, doing the same things every day, and spending time with their family. Most of the group felt safe being near Ben now, but there were still a select few who were cautious, every time they walked passed him, or near him. Ben knew that it wasn’t going to stay like that though, so he payed no mind to it.

As they got to the top of the mountain, New Rome came into view, it was bigger and more beautiful than Ben could have ever imagined, the huge city was situated at the bottom of the valley, surrounded by trees, and rocky outcrops. It was still being built, but Ben was attracted to its beauty all the same.

‘There it is Ben’, said Beth, ‘There is my home’.

‘It’s wonderful’ said Ben, smiling at her.

The descent was slow going, they had to travel in a line, because the valley path was so thin, and the loose scree didn’t make it any easier. After a few hours of walking, they eventually made it to the front gate of the city that loomed above, its walls making Ben feel safer just looking at them.

‘Who goes there?’ yelled a man from atop the wall.

‘It’s me Percy, It’s Beth, and we’re back from our top secret mission’ she yelled back, ‘so can you please let us in?’

‘Oh, Beth uhh… of course, of course, open the gates’, yelled Percy.

The gates swung open with a loud crunch, and there it was, New Rome. The last utopian city on Earth. And Ben was standing inside its walls. There were people everywhere, it seemed to be some kind of market, small stalls were set up all over the place, people selling fresh foods, and clothing. Ben took a deep breath, and walked forward, each step lightening his mood.

‘I might just get used to this place’, he murmured to himself as he followed the group through the marketplace and up some stairs. It was at that moment that Ben realised that this had been the first time in years, where he had truly felt safe. For once he didn’t feel like he had to stay alert, and make sure no one was coming up behind him to stab him in the back.

Ben was about to close his eyes to enjoy the moment, when a tremendous flash of light appeared in the sky, temporarily blinding everyone for a few seconds. When his eyesight came, Ben’s heart sank as he realised what was going on. Six ships had just entered the Earth’s atmosphere, one of them looked to be on fire, and two of them were firing their broadside cannons at one another, tearing huge holes in their sides as they did so. There were cries of panic as people started to realise the situation. A loud siren began to sound.

‘They’re here, they’ve returned, the ones responsible for this apocalypse!’

The slowly dwindling light caressed the fiery orange autumn leaves as the sun retreated from the skyline, its monotonous glare easing away. The sonorous cacophony of the nocturnal world hijacking those of the daylight dwellers. A solemn darkness crept across the land, casting shadows of foreboding and uncertainty. The wind was steady, blowing over the rough terrain like the breath of nature, gently stirring the dry grass and drifting tumbleweeds.


A dozen ragged men stood round in a tight circle, their shadows fading with the sun, a six shooter holstered by each of their sides, and the odd rusted rifle within their grasp. The leader of the group, who they called Old Dirk due to his piercing glare, slowly walked into the centre of the gathering, and removed his brown leather hat, revealing a balding scalp of hardened skin.
“Alright boys, yall know why yer here.” The man pointed past the men, at the wind swept sandy hills beyond. “Those savages thank they can set up camp wherever they please!”
The group of men laughed at that.
“Today, we’re gonna set right from wrong, and show them who owns these lands!”
At that, the men let out a roar, raising their repeater rifles and dusty worn hats into the stale dry air.
“Oh, one thing before we get started,” Old Dirk said pointing at the youngest of the group. “This here’s Ulysses, our newest member fresh from Nebraska.”
The group collectively murmured and each took it in turns welcoming the newcomer, one man patting him vigorously on the back with a grin.
“Welcome to Wyoming kid.” He exclaimed, whilst Ulysses tried to act as if his back wasn’t on fire from the firm patting.

From an early age, Ulysses has lead a back breaking rancher’s life, one of hard work and getting the job done. Growing up on his family ranch in Nebraska, an only child, with a difficult step-mother, and a father consumed by a life of alcohol. He would always help his father work the cattle and protect them from coyotes. He practically ran the family business for a time, which was meant to be his step-mother’s job, however she was always out running ‘errands’ in the nearby town, leaving it up to Ulysses and his father.
In 1861, civil war broke out, and the U.S army relocated Nebraska’s soldiers from Fort Kearny and Fort Randall to areas more under threat and in need of assistance. This lead to an increased risk of Indian attacks on Nebraskan settlers. Ulysses’ father was a casualty of such an event.
Ulysses pledged he would avenge his father’s death someday, and in 1863, he left his step-mother and the ranch behind, where he joined a militia group in Wyoming. This group’s purpose was to drive out every last Indian from the country. Or so they claimed.


Old Dirk’s husky voice cut though the group like a sharp blade.  
“Yall know the plan, let’s go boys!
He pushed past the line of men, and eagerly marched in the direction of the sandy hills. The others following in his wake.

Old Dirk has always had a need to lead, to dominate others, and to hate those he does not know or understand. The name given him by his mother was Cole Epping. He was raised by his mother, who was the only member of his family to show any kind of love towards him. There was never a dull moment in his household, he would always be involved in violent fist fights with his brothers, and his father would beat him at least four times a week. Cole would spend as much time away from his father and brothers as possible, however he would always stick up for his mother during arguments between his parents, which usually lead to more beatings.
One stale night, when his father had been drinking heavily, he went too far with a beating to Cole’s mother, and severely injured her, bringing her close to death. Cole acted instinctively, fetching a carving knife from the kitchen and stabbing his father square in the back. After that, his brothers never fought him, because they were too busy trying to avoid him. When his mother recovered from her injuries, she could never look at Cole the same way again. Although she loved him, she couldn’t help noticing the darkness which had consumed her son. And this frightened her.

Ulysses’ torn clothes were rank with sweat by the time he arrived at the sand dunes with the group. With a sigh of relief, he sat down in the soft sand. The sun had well and truly gone down by then, and it was hard to tell whether or not he had sat down on a nest of angry ants. Either way, Ulysses didn’t much care, he needed to rest and catch his breath. Old Dirk walked to the front of the group and once again took off his hat.
“Okay boys, over this here hill lies the savages who want to take our lands away from us.” He spat in the sand next to him. “But not today, I believe god has sent us for a reason. And that reason is to stop these so-called natives once and for all.”
The group of men nodded in sync, as if they were one conjoined organism. Old Dirk turned to Ulysses.
“I hope you know how to use that thing,” he said pointing at the rifle in his hands.
“Yes sir” said Ulysses with a nod. “I used to go coyote hunting at the ranch with my old man before he passed a few years back.”
“Good.” He replied, as he turned back to the men, donned his hat, and held up his old rifle. “It’s time.”
Everyone stood up, their faces becoming stern and solemn. The wind was starting to pick up, lifting sand into the air. Ulysses had to cover his face with his free arm in order to prevent it from going in his eyes. He gathered his thoughts for a moment, then lifted up his rifle and walked over the sand dune with the rest of them.
On the other side of the dune, were dozens of pitched tents which the other men called Tepees, Ulysses did not understand the term, but he went along with it anyway. The camp was dead quiet, all of the natives were sleeping. At the signal of Old Dirk, the group of armed men slowly crept through the camp, their leather boots hardly making a sound on the cool dry sand. Fires were freshly put out, some of them still had left over meats hanging on spits above them. Ulysses didn’t think they looked much like savages. But Old Dirk was older than him, and knew more about the world and its problems, he thought to himself.
Once they were all in place, everybody looked to Old Dirk, awaiting his signal for the go ahead.
There was a long pause as Old Dirk seemed to be readying himself, but after a while, he looked up and raised his hand, producing three fingers. He counted down to one, and on his mark, the men aimed their guns at the tents, and let loose a storm of bullets and an eruption of sound. Ulysses had always wanted to see a fireworks display growing up on a ranch, and decided before he joined the fray, that this was the next best thing.

The noise ceased, smoke billowing out of the barrel of Ulysses’ rifle, his eyes mad with excitement and blood lust. After staring at the bullet ridden tent a few metres away for quite some time, his eyes narrowed and he looked up to see the men were already standing in a circle listening to some victory speech from Old Dirk. But Ulysses didn’t feel like a victor. He was expecting the so called savages to run out of the tents with bows and arrows. But instead they slaughtered them then and there like animals.
Something stirred in the tent in front of him. Ulysses brushed the thought away.
“It must have been the wind, there can’t be someone still alive in there.” Ulysses thought to himself, with a confused look upon his face. There was more movement from within the tent. This time he knew for sure he wasn’t seeing things. He slowly approached the foreign structure, his rifle at the ready. His nerves started to kick in as he drew nearer. Ulysses walked around to the entrance of the tepee, obscuring him from the others, and flung back the flap. A young native boy was sat next to his dead mother, his hands bloodied and his face filled with tears. Ulysses immediately dropped his rifle, a look of shock and bewilderment on his face.
“What have I done?” He muttered heavily under his breath.
In that moment, the boy looked up at him, his face taut with rage, the innocence draining out of his eyes. Ulysses opened his mouth to speak, but his throat was a desert and he realised he didn’t know the boy’s language. Instead he just stood speechless in the entrance of the tent, staring at the boy with wide eyes.
The native boy slowly raised his hands, forming some kind of foreign symbol whilst muttering quietly under his breath and not once breaking eye contact. The hand symbol was unfamiliar to Ulysses, and he couldn’t understand what the boy was saying. But he understood what was happening, Ulysses knew a curse when he saw one.
 

 





  

     

Beyond the Dunes