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Book 6, Chapter 47 - Commendations

 A month had passed since construction on the southern wilds' biggest city had begun.

Green Alliance top brass had kicked things into high gear. Nearly all energy and thought was focused on urbanization of the wastelands. Now, it appeared their hard work was bearing fruit as evidenced by the great works being accomplished.

The Green Alliance composed and ratified the wasteland's first constitution. It was the first of its kind for the wastes, outlying a comprehensive system of law for all to follow. All settlements under the alliance's purview were required to have these rules as a foundation - the basis for a future wasteland governed by order and the rule of law.

The Green Alliance also minted and distributed its own currency.

This was also unprecedented and set a standard for the future. Currency was an attempt to break the system of bartering, promote trade, move resources and bring the wasteland economy into a new era. A standardized exchange rate between Elysian coins and wasteland dollars was also established so that in the future more business might come from Skycloud.

Next came a unified language, writing, measurement and more.

The language of the wastes was a hodgepodge of archaic speech, maybe sixty or seventy percent similar to the language spoken on Ark Base. The people of New Earth were a population made up of dozens of societies from the old world. Over the thousand year history of the pariah city, the languages from those cultures had all blended into one. Over time the amalgamation was wholly accepted and widespread among the population.

It was different for the wastelands. The area it covered was huge and settlements were far apart. Culture had collapsed in the time since the Great War. Isolated from one another, each group of post-apocalyptic humans developed their own systems of speech and pronunciation. In some cases these differences were so great it made communication difficult. The Green Alliance was trying to tackle that with their declaration of a national, common language.

Then there was writing and measurement. Ancient writing systems had been lost to the wastes for generations. That wasn't to say there weren't rudimentary writing systems in place, but they were all different. Similarly, measurements could vary greatly from one city to another. Some followed the ancient system, others had adopted ones of their own making.

As of now everything everywhere was the same, differences were being torn down. Breaking things was easy, but building things was hard. Lifting a new modern city from the rubble of an ancient society was no simple feat.

From resource management to safety and everything in between, the processes were so intricate it would make anyone's head spin. Without question there would be obstacles and difficulties to overcome. Cloudhawk was grateful he wasn't doing this alone.

The Green Alliance's development team, from top to bottom, was a well-oiled machine.

But more important than having a capable team of peers, the wastelands were thirsty for change. Cloudhawk understood this. The world he'd come from was savage, blood-soaked and cruel. But since leading his group to victory the general mindset had changed. Aside from a few violent outliers, most wastelanders were enthusiastic that the way life was shifting.

Cloudhawk spent a good deal of his time prowling routes of communication, making sure they were clear of threats. He protected wasteland travelers he met on the way and took the opportunity to see the change in the world through them. He recognized something familiar in their eyes that hadn't been there before, anticipation and desire for a better life. It was a basic part of the human spirit, a beautiful facet that was coming back to the surface.

Cloudhawk was watching tens of thousands of his former self crawling out of the ruins. He recognized the look in their eyes because it'd been in his. That same light burned in him when he left Blackflag, traveled through Greenland Outpost and headed north to Skycloud.

Perhaps for the first time he felt like everything he'd done to this point - right or wrong - was worth it.

He was of course anxious about Skycloud's current attitudes, but through Wolfblade's mysterious efforts the Cloud God had agreed to a tentative peace. It created the space necessary for Selene and Cloudhawk to come together in the ruins of their first meeting place and create the Blackflag Covenant. Since then, Skycloud had relaxed its hardened stance toward wastelanders.

Of course the blood feud between the two realms ran deep. Dispelling it would be a long, hard road.

Selene was definitely grappling with a lot of pressure, but it was a necessary part of the times. Killing was a cycle. Blood always led to more blood, hate spawned ever more hate... Who knew if Elysians would ever fully open their doors to wastelanders?

Cloudhawk didn't expect the people of Skycloud to ever forgive him. What mattered was that they understood wastelanders were people as well, just like them. There was no difference besides where they were born.

Skycloud and the Green Alliance were dancing on the edge of a blade. Wolfblade and the Cloud God were fencing on a steel wire. But whatever goals each held dear, both recognized the problem looming on the horizon.

Mount Sumeru.

The peace they'd forged was a fragile one. The slightest misstep could send them spiraling back into war. Behind it all was Mount Sumeru, a subversive force. No one knew what would happen if the gods turned their attention unto the world of man. Many figured it would result in a storm that scoured the land clean. All the hard work and sacrifice would be washed away. Often at night Cloudhawk lay awake wrestling with the question of what to do. If that storm came, how would he deal with it?

He couldn't sleep because he didn't have an answer. Some things would only be revealed the moment they occurred. So, Cloudhawk focused on only the things he had power over. He did only what he thought was right.

It didn't matter if an abyss was all he could see before him, Cloudhawk wasn't turning back. He would fight through it, heedless of the pain and loss and difficulty. For years he'd faced insurmountable problems, why should this time be any different?

"What are you staring off into space for? Today's the celebration for the new city. As our leader you need to go out there and give a speech."

Hellflower was flying them toward the construction site in a small airplane. The ruins had changed beyond recognition. Of course it'd only been a month, so the scale of it was still small.

Pockets of tent cities and makeshift shacks populated the ground below. Residential buildings were still under construction, though most of the foundation had been laid. In a month New City's labor force had swelled to over thirty thousand people. They toiled every day from morning to night.

From the moment Cloudhawk landed he saw the extent of observation, both passive and active. There were patrols, unmanned drones, and cameras spread throughout the area to ensure safety and order. Any resources Greenland could afford to employ were here to help with the effort.

In the wastes snakes lived among the fowl. Security was a difficult and important task.

After so much fanfare in the creation of this city it was sure to attract all manner of folks. If some night raider groups swept through and murdered the new site's inhabitants, would they ever feel safe? If people didn't feel safe the new city was dead before it even started.

An enclosed shanty caught Cloudhawk's eye. Inside he spied hundreds of wastelanders dressed in all manner of clothes. They were seated in the sand, using tree bark as slates to practice their writing. In front of them was an elderly man with a stone board who was writing out several commonly used words.

He pointed at words in succession and spoke them to the crowd. His students dutifully repeated.

As Cloudhawk looked them over he saw the students range from enormous, muscled fellows to children as young as five. Each one of them paid very close attention to the lesson.

"This is a basic education center that we've set up," Hellflower explained.

It would be difficult for these illiterate outsiders to live comfortably in the new city. Learning to read and write would not only help them get better jobs, but also facilitate further learning in the future.

The two continued on until they came to an open plot of land. It was chalk full of crowds of people, vendors and shoppers. One of them, a young maneater easily two meters tall, was hawking his wares. He had a pile of giant rats by his side. "Fresh meat, twenty dollars each!"

Another man dressed like an engineer was carrying boxes of bullets. "Handgun ammo! Dollar apiece!"

"Drinking water, only slightly contaminated! Three dollars a bottle!" An elderly couple were pushing along a barrel of water.

It was a market!

In the center of the plot a temporary platform had been erected. Surrounding it were a group of Greenland soldiers, as indicated by their emerald cloaks. A group had already gathered, craning their necks for a better view for they'd heard leader Cloudhawk was going to visit.

Who wasn't eager to see the man in charge? Who wouldn't jump at the chance to say they got up close and personal with this mythical wastelander? And so whether it involved them or not, people flocked to the market if they had the time. Before long there were several thousand in attendance and a shout drew all eyes toward the front.

"Leader Cloudhawk has arrived!"

Cloudhawk, Hellflower and a small group of workers ascended the platform. When people saw him there was surprise in their faces. The great and powerful, legendary Cloudhawk was... just some young man.

After a moment of stupor the crowds started to buzz, pushing forward like a wave. Like fans seeing their favorite idol in person, everyone reached out their hands and called out his name.

"I am Greenland's leader, Cloudhawk." He looked out over the fawning crowds with a wry smirk and rubbed his nose, an old habit. He would never have believed he'd get such a reception. "First, let me say I am happy to welcome all of you to what will be your new home!"

The crowd settled down. They didn't want to miss a single word.

"From today forward you can bid farewell to your old lives. In this new city about to be born, we will protect the weak. We will make sure even our poorest have a shot at a worthwhile life. We will work hard to ensure everyone has a place, has worth, and has respect."

The crowds cheered.

"Some of you may ask how we plan to do that. You may be asking yourselves how you can learn to adapt to a new life in a new city. Well let me tell you. It comes down to work and education. Contribution, and effort! A beautiful home is made from the actions of everyone, and so long as you work hard everyone will have food on their tables and water in their cups. Everyone who takes advantage of the education we provide will have a chance to improve their livelihood. For those who fight for Greenland, we offer glory and status."

Nods of satisfaction fluttered among the onlookers.

"This effort is only thirty-five days old, but in that time an exceptional crop of wastelanders have emerged. They have made great contributions to your fledgling city, and Greenland as a whole." Cloudhawk produced a list and began to read from it. "At this time, would those I call please step forward: Scorpion Tail. Black Hatchet. Red Spider. Squirrel..."

A group of people stepped out onto the platform, met with thousands of envious stares. Why were they called onto the platform? Because they were special, skilled. Over the last month they'd proven their worth to the city and Greenland through their contributions.

In all, ten people were standing by Cloudhawk, shuffling in nervousness and excitement. They were standing shoulder to shoulder with a legend of the wastes!

His actions had turned the wastelands and Skycloud upside down. He wielded the power to obliterate whole cities, to stand against gods and demons. He had given everyone here a chance at a new life, no matter where they'd come from or what their history. These were all qualities deserving of respect and admiration.

One could imagine how those standing beside him now might feel. It was an honor worth bragging about for the rest of their lives!

"On behalf of the Green Alliance I want to extend our gratitude. Today you are all granted status as honorary soldiers of the alliance, and notable citizens of the realm."

Red Spider was the only woman among those being honored. As she approached him to receive her award she could finally see him clear. Without question he was the most perfect man she'd ever laid eyes on. Everything about him was stunning and impeccable.

Cloudhawk acknowledged her with a smile. "Red Spider, right? I saw the anesthetic formula you created. It's brilliant. If you're interested we can find a place for you in Greenland's labs. I'm sure it would be a fine place for a woman with your talents."

Red Spider was so moved she couldn't find any words. It was unimaginable, Cloudhawk actually knew about her! He even praised her in front of everyone! She had never been more proud in all her life.

The ceremony was short and simple, mostly because of Cloudhawk's reputation. If it went on for too long it was sure to cause a disturbance. He just came out to inspire people and commend a few workers so they could be examples to the others. When he was done, Cloudhawk and Hellflower left the market.

The genius scientist smirked at him as they walked. "You're more handsome every day and your reputation continues to grow. As far as I'm concerned you could have thousands jumping into a fiery pit with a single word. How's it feel, being a hero?"

Hero? Fuck that. The wasteland's great hero had a scowl on his face. The city's construction was going well, but Cloudhawk felt like a mountain was resting on his shoulders.

Chief among his concerns were food and water. They were the basic needs for life and the basis for a stable settlement. If anything happened to the supply lines that provided these things to the city, half the population would vanish overnight. It would also be a major blow to the prestige of Cloudhawk and Greenland.

"How long will our food stores last?"

"Based on our reserves and production speed, weighted against the rate of population increase... about a month. After that we'll be living beyond our means."

"Just a month?"

Their main food force were the mushrooms brought back from the Spore Planet. It'd already been modified by Hellflower to be safely planted and harvested. Because of the way it absorbed energy it grew quickly and thus became a staple of the wasteland's diet. Especially over the last year, reserves had been staggering.

That's why Cloudhawk had gone forward with his plans for urbanization with confidence. The mushrooms were easy to grow and didn't require much space. He had thought they would be more than enough to fuel the workers while they built this new city.

But now it seemed like he'd been too optimistic. The city had attracted tens of thousands of people and that meant a huge amount of food. With only Greenland and a few farms, reserves were being drained.

"Water is going to run low, too," Hellflower added. "We've invented water purifiers, but we're relying solely on Greenland for its production."

Consumption of clean water was at staggering levels. They were on the verge of exhausting their supply. If Cloudhawk didn't solve this problem soon, the Green Alliance would be in serious trouble.

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