Corin’s car thrummed and buzzed beneath her as it sped along the old Before road. The vehicle swerved to avoid potholes and tree roots with a mnemonic precision, jostling the mess of gauges, monitors, and dials scattered across the passenger seat. Corin paid little attention to the overgrown landscape rushing by the decaying asphalt gash she was driving on; most of her focus was on the sky and the instruments cluttering her car. A few clouds were scattered here and there, and the readings were... nominal, she supposed, but that didn't mean much. No matter how well she'd learned to read the instruments or the weather, the Maelstrom always snuck up on her. She had to be especially wary on the cusp of—
—Corin yanked the wheel to the right at the sudden emergence of a Cat from the brush, her car veering off the road, sending gadgets flying and her car into a skid. When she finally managed to right the vehicle, Corin let out a sigh of relief. That one had looked big enough to make a nasty dent. She grudgingly fixed her eyes forward, deciding that it was better for her to get to the Park in one piece than to worry about storms.
A groan, and then a voice, came quietly from the back seat. “What... Hello?”
“Hey, welcome back!” Corin responded with a grin, before correcting herself, “Er, welcome forward, maybe?” She shrugged. “How ya feelin’?”
As she glanced in the rearview mirror, the man slowly sat up and massaged his head. He was wearing a uniform of some sort, with a swirling insignia near the shoulder and colorful pins on the sleeves. “Tired. Wait, where is...?” He looked around at the landscape speeding past, then settled on a more important question. “No, where am I?”
“Generally, the edge of Nowhere. Specifically, you’re in my car, and we’re headed to the Park. Also, sorry to break it to you like this, man, but you might also need to figure out when you are. I think you were frozen for a long time.” She glanced back at the man through her mirror again. He seemed a little out of it.
“Frozen? Like--” Some realization caused his jaw to go slack. “Oh my god.” He scrambled to look out the window. “Do you know how long it’s been?”
She shrugged and returned her eyes to the road. “No idea, man. But I think I know where I can get you that information.” She could see in the side mirror that the guy was focused intently on the passing scrub and brush, occasionally interrupted by a crumbling building. Corin hoped he wasn’t getting ready to jump out--the locks on that side still needed to be repaired. “I’m Corin, by the way,” she offered, “And you are?”
He took a second to answer. “I’m... Andris. Andris Greene?” There was a slight question to his statement, almost as if he was asking her.
Corin scanned the horizon, checking the clouds. “Well, Andris Andris Greene, we’re almost out of the Nowhere. Lemme be the first to welcome you to your new home.”
She heard a chuckle. “Just Andris is fine.”
The Park was in sight, now, a huge complex of oddly colorful buildings interspersed with monstrous, twisting sculptures that Corin had always thought looked like the spines of metal snakes. The architects of Before were some real showoffs, she supposed, but it paid off: the Park was like nowhere else she had ever seen in her travels. Glancing back, it looked like the Andris guy was taking it all in, but still with that same dazed look. She wondered when it would wear off.
Corin pulled up to the main barricade, a surprisingly sturdy stopgap shoved in the rift between the Park’s walls. The walls were of Before construction, and had held up well, but the barricade was entirely Now in design. Slabs of wood, Before stone, and scrap metal were piled, nailed, and spliced together to form a formidable defense, complete with a gate in the middle. It was also almost impossible to climb, which made it a good deterrent against Cat attacks. As she got closer, however, Corin noticed there was a lot more missing material than the last time, more scratch marks, and worryingly, quite a bit of storm damage. She shook her head. She’d ask later.
Corin rolled down her window. “Heyyyy, Plank,” she drawled.
A figure, formerly hidden behind an outcrop on the top of the barricade, threw down a rope and rappelled down. He jogged over, a scowl on his face. “That’s Guardsman Plank to you, Stormchaser!” he thundered, thrusting his face towards hers. They glowered at each other for a good five seconds before they both burst out laughing.
“Welcome back, Corin. Oh, and who’s the new stray?”
“Pretty sure he can speak for himself.” Corin rolled down the back window so the guard could get a better look, before glancing back herself. It looked like Andris was handling the situation well. She probably should have warned him about the guardsman, though.
Plank stuck a beefy hand in towards Andris. It was covered in scars, cuts, and quite a few splinters. “Name’s Plank. You?”
“Andris.” he replied, shaking his hand. A look of confusion passed across his face, followed by one of discomfort. “I’m a... Specialist, I think?”
“I... don’t...” Andris looked downright queasy, now. Corin decided that it was probably best to move the conversation along.
“Anyway, Plank,” she cut in, “Mind opening the gate? I need to bring Andris here to see the Captain.”
“Right away, Stormchaser!” Plank shouted as he jogged back to the wall, his question already forgotten. He hauled himself up the rope and disappeared over the other side. A clanking, scraping cacaphony rang out as the gate slowly lifted, grinding against some unseen mechanism inside the barricade. As soon as it was high enough, Corin pulled through and turned to watch it slam shut behind her.
“Well, good news, Andy. Easy part’s over.” she said, turning back around. “Now we get to the fun part.” Corin began the drive back to her garage, avoiding the debris in the way. She wondered if there had been this much the last time she was here.
When she parked, she opened the door for Andris. “Here we are,” she intoned, gesturing around her, “the Park. As long as you stay on the crew’s good side, it’s the safest place I’ve seen.”
Andris gingerly stepped out of the car one boot at a time, steadying himself with a hand on the door. “...Safe from what, exactly?” he asked, taking in the strange architecture and occasional person.
“Bandits, Cats, Storms, stuff like that. Need a hand?”
He shook his head as if something she’d said had confused him. Corin didn’t quite understand what was so hard about it, but maybe he wasn’t fully unfogged yet. “No, thanks,” said Andris, “I just... need a minute.” As he began a series of well-practiced stretches, he mused, “So, is this some sort of... city-state? What happened to the central government? And Who runs this place?”
Corin squinted at some of the buildings as if that would give her something more to say. “I... guess you could call it a city, but we just call it the Park. I don’t know anything about a ‘guvernment’, central or otherwise.” She tilted her head, considering. “Anevon might, though.”
“Hm.” After a final, decisive stretch of his arms, Andris straightened his posture and shut the car door. “Information is definitely what I need right now,” he said, turning to Corin.
She grinned. “Great. Well, we’re gonna have to make a few stops, but I know exactly who you need to talk to.” Corin locked up the car as best she could, and began leading Andris toward the center of the Park. “You asked who runs this place? He’s the first one we’re meeting. I hope you’re up for a bit of a trek.”