Gateways: “Choices, or A Lot to Lose” By Cameron Evesque Davis read by Alex B Reynolds



TRANSCRIPT:
Cameron Evesque Davis is a multi-talented artist based in Chicago. They are the owner of the media production company Hela’s Hand Productions, and create a variety of art, like music, stories, and films. They have one published novel, “Blasphemy”, an urban fantasy book about a pantheon of new gods, the end of the world, and the power of belief. They are also a member of Terra Mysterium, a theatre company in Chicago dedicated to mythology, culture, creation, and audience participation.

 

There’s a time in everyone’s life when you reconsider how you got where you are, and how you’ve done things up until then. My moment came about thirty years into a war. 

Now, as everyone knows, War is Hell. The mysterious “they” say that, and “they” are correct. I have seen too much blood, too much death, and too much pain for my liking.

There’s a place called the Orange Trench. It used to be a roadway or a sewer trench or something, I can’t remember. The surrounding area doesn’t look anything like what it used to. Anyway, so the Orange Trench is now filled with some sort of Orange liquid. Said Orange liquid has something to do with the fires that are consistently burning around us, and the constant smell of burnt rubber that we can’t get away from.

The Orange Trench has the Orange City upon one side of it, a conglomerate of three former settlements combined into one larger settlement. I was a member of the Orange City, and the warriors of the Orange City, though I was never sure why we chose to make our home next to the Trench itself. The smell. Oh, the smell.

But there I was, on the edge of town, looking down at the squelching sludge that made its way squilchily down the Trench, the smell of burning almost igniting my nostril hairs, and fumes from the sludge causing my eyes to water. I was stationed in a lookout tower, meant to keep watch to see if our enemies would, for whatever reason, choose to attack over the river of death. 

They never attacked over the river of death. Their home was in the complete opposite direction, but we remained vigilant just in case.

My friend and fellow soldier Amelia called to me from below, “Hey Yacob, you alright up there? Anything to report?”

I called down to her, answering respectively, “No. And guess.”

Amelia, “Figured. Well, come down then, they’ve called a meeting.”

“Another one?”

“Fourth today, I know you keep climbing that ladder over and over again, but just this once more probably. I’ll see if I can get you off watchtower shift.”

I sighed and grabbed my gun, which was propped up next to my chair. I swung it over my shoulders and made my way down the ladder, a rickety obnoxious thing that I hated. It warped and wobbled as I climbed down, and I was certain it would shatter any second every time I had to use it.

Amelia greeted me and we started walking towards the meeting location, our war room in the center of the city. We nodded to some folks as we passed by, all looking at us blearily and sadly, us nodding back with our own brand of melancholy.  We saw the war room building from a distance, a circular hut, made of what metal we could bash together and a thatched roof. Other soldiers were stationed outside it, two flanking the door and a band of four whose job was to walk a perimeter of the small hut for hours on end. I envied that job.

Amelia and I headed inside and were greeted by the familiar large table in the center of the room. Multiple officers were standing around it, looking seriously down into the map that was displayed on top. They were talking amongst themselves in intense but hushed voices, and as we joined the group, General Victor, an older man with white hair and a large white beard, clapped and everyone stopped their talking.

“Ah, Amelia, Yacob, thank you for joining us,” The General said, his tone betraying a sense of worry which he attempted to mask with his joviality.

I nodded, “What’s this about, Victor? Our previous meetings today provided no solutions towards ending the war.”

The General smiled a white-person non-smile at me and nodded to the man next to him, a man in much nicer clothing than I thought even existed anymore. A full suit and tie. Wild.

The nicely dressed man moved into the space that Victor had just occupied and set a briefcase down on the table. He straightened his tie, cleared his throat, and began speaking, “What is in this case will save us. We believe it can win us the war, and we believe you, a lifelong soldier for our cause, should utilize it. We spoke with others in the Orange City, and they agree that you are the most trustworthy of them all, and it could be no one but you to accomplish this task.”

I looked around at all the officers, who were all staring at me. Amelia was looking at me too, although more meekly.

I asked, “What’s in the case, man I don’t know?”

“I’m sorry, I should have introduced myself. I am Herbert, I represent a community of people in this fine city of ours who have been working on a way to end the war once and for all. It has taken us years, but we finally have it, and it’s in this case. You see,” The man said, and then went to the back of the room, pulling down a roll-out chart from the ceiling. On the chart were drawings of members of the enemy force. There was an enlarged portion which showed a detailed look at one of their neural implants. Every one of our enemies had one.

“These implants,” he continued, “Can be exploited. There is a specific connection that they all have between one another, and we’ve developed a device that can jump between these connections and, once in all of them, cull the host.”

I furrowed my brow, “What? You’re talking about genocide, then?”

Herbert looked measurably upset at my implication, as did the officers in the room who started giving me numerous varied definitions of the differences between genocide and what they were planning on having me do. None of them were terribly convincing. I just stared at Herbert, waiting for his actual response.

Eventually Herbert calmed the room down and said, “Look, I know it’s a big ask, but look around you. This is where we live, this absolute shithole which apparently used to be a city. We can’t even see a city anymore, it’s just a ramshackle bunch of huts next to a river of orange sludge which I’m sure is bad for all of us. Once the war is over, we can work on rebuilding, we won’t have to stay here and defend this crap!”

“I understand ending the war is a good thing, Herbert,” I said, “But what you’re asking me to do is horrifying.”

“We have nothing left to lose, Yacob. It’s our last-ditch effort to win the war and finish the fighting.”

“But if we go through with what you’re proposing, we won’t gain anything either.”

Herbert paused and looked at the General. They shared some words quietly with each other. I turned to Amelia, “Did you know their plan?”

Amelia shook her head, “No.”

“Come with me, I have a better one.”

I left the room, even as the General shouted that I hadn’t been dismissed and Herbert’s obnoxious voice called out to me that I was dooming the people of Orange City! Our people were already doomed. But there was still so much further we could sink. So, there was only one option.

I went with Amelia to the place where we stored our vehicles. We didn’t have many, but a few of them still worked from the time before the war. I flashed my badge, which was a modified old-world coin, which allowed me to rent a truck. We climbed inside, and took off into what counted as wilderness, out the front gates and towards where we knew our enemy’s base was.

We drove in silence until we found their city, the Green City. It was almost a facsimile of our city, except instead of an orange glow and a rubber smell, it had a green glow and a smell of sulfur. Multiple guards upon the watchtowers on this side of the town aimed their weapons towards us as we drove up and parked about fifty feet from the front gate. I got out, and Amelia followed, hands up in the air as we walked towards them.

One of the soldiers upon the watchtower to my left shouted down, “What business do you have here?”

I looked up and shouted, “I have news, terrible news, that you need to hear!”

“We do not trust the Oranges,” the soldier shouted, “What kind of news do you have?”

“News that will save your lives.”

This got their attention enough to let Amelia and I inside. They searched us, though I wasn’t carrying a weapon at that point, and led us to their version of a war room. It looked almost identical to ours. I was led inside, and the solder who led us there said, “General, this person from the Oranges says he has information that will save our lives.”

The General, an older man with white hair and a short beard, on their end turned to me, his implant bleeping on the side of his head as it scanned me. I never exactly knew what the implants did, but it was the one distinguishing factor between our two cities. The man waved his hands, indicating me to begin.

I filled him in on Herbert’s plan. As I was describing the idea, every Green in the room touched the sides of their heads where their implants were, either visible or not, and looked at each other worriedly.

“So, what do you suggest?” The General asked me.

“I brought a friend with me, this is Amelia. She is particularly good at negotiating settlements between parties who are in conflict,” I said, gesturing to Amelia, who looked at me like I was insane, “I propose we have you work out terms of peace with her, while I try and calm my side’s blood lust. If we can get ahead of this, we can save the world, and work together towards something better.”

The General looked at me for a second and smiled slightly, “Well. What have we got to lose?”

Alex B Reynolds began their acting career as Sherlock Holmes in the second grade, and has since been seen around Chicago in such roles as Gandalf the Grey, Luigi Mario, and Skeletor. They are so grateful to return to the Gateways Reading Series, and can otherwise be heard on the “Meet/Cute” sitcom podcast, the Filmthusiast “Final Cut” podcast, and on whatever customer support line is paying their bills this month.