Friday, February 26, 2021


By Mark Schultz

With several vignettes setting up the world and characters of the Xeonzoic era now behind him, Mark Schultz begins to craft a bit of a serial in this week's first chapter -- which is also the longest story we've looked at this far, clocking in at a brisk twenty pages. In this one, we learn Hannah's purpose in the City on the Sea -- she is to open trade relations between its tribes and those of her native Wassoon. The City's Governors' Council is on board with this, believing they need some of the Wassoons' fishing and farmind techniques in order to better survive.

But the offer is not without conditions, and it seems the Wassoon are concerned about the number of poachers that have recently appeared in their territory. It turns out this is the work of Jack, who, as was revealed in previous chapters, has no tolerance for such hunters and forces them out into the wilds to survive on their own when he catches them in the act. And it seems that some of these poachers actually have survived and made their way to Wassoon.

Jack refuses to go along with the deal and leaves in a huff, prompting a governor named Gorgostamos to enlist Hannah to go after him. But Gorostamos actually plans to kill Jack after Hannah helps track him down. Hannah, however, is separated from Gorgostamos and captured by a tribe of lizard-men called the Grith. The Grith are friends of Jack's, and no one knows of their existence except for him -- and now Hannah as well, because the Grith trust her and want her to work with them. The story ends with the Grith revealed to Jack and Hannah that a massive earthquake is about to hit a nearby farm. Jack and Hannah evacuate the farm and it crumbles into the sea. Meanwhile, the treacherous Gorgostamos is found and killed by a Grith -- which is how Jack and Hannah find him as the next chapter begins. On the ride back to Jack's garage, Hannah badgers him for knowledge about the past, and he reaveals that a pre-cataclysm library is preserved beneath the city. Jack agrees to take Hannah there, into the Vaults. But the Vaults are maintained by a group of City tribsemen who call themselves the Moles, and they don't take to outsiders. Still, Jack is able to get Hannah into the library while he tends to other business, revealing that the Vaults also contain an array of ancient vehicles -- cars, airplanes, and so forth.

Hannah sneaks away from her Mole escort in the library and finds a secured shrine, with an inert nuclear bomb on a pedestal. The Moles and Jack soon locate here there, but before the bomb can be discussed, a flood hits the Vaults. Everyone evacuates and much of the library is destroyed before the underground complex is made watertight.

The next story picks up two days later, as Jack comes after Hannah for a book that the Governors believe Hannah stole from the library. But she maintains her innocence and Jack asks her to teach him her fishing techniques. The pair heads out in a boat, and Hannah explains the history of her nation, Wassoon (revealed here to have once been Washington, D.C.), a home of philosophers and brilliant minds. The fishing trip leads to a near-death experience for Jack when he's dragged underwater by a sea creature, but Hannah saves him. As she struggles to revive Jack, she admits to taking the book, and he comes around. But Hannah then reveals that the ancient tome disintegrated upon contact with the outside air.

The next story, a short nine-pager, finds Jack and Hannah discussing a boy who went missing ten years ago, but whose mother has never given up on him. She implored Hannah, an expert tracker, to search for her child, and Hannah agreed -- eventually finding that the boy is indeed still alive. He was rescued years ago from wild hyenas by the Grith, and has lived among them since. Jack tells Hannah that he knows this, but that the boy can never be returned to his mother due to his knowledge of the Grith, and that they will likely soon take him away somewhere else.

Our next installment is another shorter vignette, focusing on a heretofore minor character named Remfro, who was the first City tribesman to befriend Hannah when the showed up in the earlier chapters. Remfro is an aviation enthusiast, and thanks to Jack reparing an ancient glider-plane, he spends this story soaring the skies. But in a moment out of your favorite fables, he gets too excited and flies out over the ocean, where he has no updraft, and winds up splashing down in the sea. The story ends with Jack and Hannah on their way out in a boat to pick up the disappointed and embarrassed Remfro. The story is a fun, breezy read, and makes for a nice sort of "palate cleanser" following the recent serialized tales.

Serialization returns with the next chapter, which begins with a flashback to the year 2030, in which researchers in Japan, in an effort to stave off the deterioration of the Earth's atmosphere, have developed a formula which may bring long-extinct lifeforms back into existence. We then cut to the Xenozoic era, where a group of scientists, joined by Hannah, uncover a long hidden chamber from which escapes an oozing slime. Jack shows up to investigate and tries to kill the slime, but it reaches a pool of water before he can do so, and then the pool immediately spawns a brand new ecosystem. At this point it's a "science vs. nature" story as Jack warns that nothing good will come of this; the new ecosystem will unravel whatever headway the post-cataclysm world has made in preserving itself. But he agrees to allow the scientists to study the pool while keeping it isolated -- until the day a wounded dinosaur topples into the water, its decomposing corpse giving birth to numerous new, tiny organisms.

The story ends with Jack wounded in an attempt to destroy the pool, and while the scientists stay behind to continue to study it, he is returned to the City in the Sea for medical care, which is where we pick up the next chapter, as Hannah watches over his sickbed. But the tranquility doesn't last long, as Jack is dispatched by the Governors Council to look into some workers who have vanished in the jungles. This turns out to be a metaphysical story, hinting at... something... about the Xenozoic era which remains unclear even as the story ends. Jack and Hannah find the men they're looking for, all dead, along with a few animals in the area as well. They set up camp for the night, and while Jack dreams that he's one with nature, Hannah has a "dreamtime" encounter with the Grith.

Eventually they wake up and head home, with narration informing us that, while Jack was sorry to find the missing men dead, he is, on some level, pleased that the Earth rejected them from disturbing the natural balance by building a road.

Maybe it's just me, but I found this one a bit hard to follow. I've never been much for this sort of "mumbo jumbo". I like the Grith as mystery creatures harboring some secret about the cataclysm and the Earth, but Jack's weird ream about being some kind of sea life that gets caught in a net and pulled out of the water by a gigantic Hannah, who then throws him back, is way too metaphorical for my feeble brain to comprehend. Hopefully we'll move back into more straightforward mystery-tinged adventure stories next week.

No comments:

Post a Comment