Cinéma Chaotique
rating: +9+x

"Okay, Gabriella, this was fun in theory, but I think we should turn around and go home now."

"Mio, what did you say as we hopped the gate and avoided the guards?"

"That at some point I would say I wanted to go back."

"And how did you instruct me to respond should that happen?"

"To ignore me and keep going forward."

"Yep. So with that in mind—" Gabriella turned around and took a few more steps forward.

Mio grabbed Gabriella's arm, pulling her back. "That was past Mio, you can't trust anything she says."

Gabriella chuckled. "Mio, Nightflower is a three-hour trek in the other direction. I'm not hauling my camera equipment back over that fence, and I am not turning myself over to the guards. We keep going." She took several steps forward, approaching a dilapidated building in the town they had reached.

Mio groaned, rushing to keep up. "Shouldn't we at least stop and evaluate? I mean, we jumped into this with a backpack and some film equipment. We have no plan, no safety net, no clue what awaits us out here."

"Yeah, I thought that was the whole point of this. I mean, completely uncharacteristic of you, but still."

Mio sighed. "I'm just saying, shouldn't we have asked the elders what awaited us out here?"

"You honestly think they would've told us the truth? Hell, you think they would've let us leave if they knew we had any desire to explore the wide world?" Gabriella looked sympathetically at her friend. "I get it. But this is what we've always wanted. To explore the world, to document it," at this, she jiggled the camera, "and eventually to share it with our friends and family. And we promised Baa-baa Yūka." Mio faltered at this. She knew Gabriella was right. "We're 22 years old, Mio," Gabriella continued, "I don't want to be stuck in Nightflower forever, never knowing about the world beyond it. I mean, nobody's been outside Nightflower for… decades, maybe. Who knows what we'll find out here?"

"A fight between a crab monster, a man, and an android skeleton."

"…Sure! Or maybe, like, a town or—"

"No Gabriella, look." Mio pointed, and sure enough, there was a fight occurring some distance away exactly as Mio described. "Tell me you have your camera on," Gabriella subtly nodded, pointing it at the action. The two quietly moved through the ruins of the town, using what structures were left as cover should the fighting creatures spot them. They couldn't help but be aware that the people who once inhabited these buildings were long gone.

As they got closer, they got a better view of what was going on. The closest creature to them was the "crab monster," a giant-humanish-crab-creature that towered over the other two. In the middle distance was what seemed to be a human skeleton aided with technological features. The furthest was the most recognizably human, but something was off. His skin, though not pale, had a sickly grey undertone, he had wounds that were old but clearly not healing. He was the first to make a sound.

“We don’t want any trouble,” he said, apparently to the skeleton creature, “we just want what you took from us. You’re outnumbered and outclassed. Just give us back the food and maybe I won't take what little flesh is still on your body.” The crab made an incomprehensible noise, distracting the human. His face shifted to disbelief. “What are you– no! We’re not taking a break! We gotta deal with this now!” The crab thing made more noise. “What civs? There are no civs here! Civs don't exist.” The crab gestured behind itself, pointing right where Mio and Gabriella were. The human creature looked where the crab had directed, making eye contact with Mio. As they looked at each other, the man's eyes widened, mouth slightly agape as if trying to process the mere sight of her. She quickly hid behind a wall, pulling Gabriella with her.

“Did he see us?” Gabriella whispered.

“I think so.”

The noises got louder as the skeleton seemingly joined the argument now too. Mio looked around her. There was no clear path out, no way they could outrun the three monsters without being seen. She calculated every path but nothing was working. Finally, the familiar voice spoke out.

“It's not possible,” the human (if it was human) voice said. “Maybe they're–" the voice was cut off by the crab noises. "Fine, fine, If you wanna deal with the 'civs,' deal with them, but I’m going to deal with this asshole. And you better not take too long, or this time I’ll actually ditch you.” The two held their breaths as somebody clearly came towards them. There wasn’t any time to wait.

Mio grabbed Gabriella’s hand and began running, but before they got too far they found themselves in the clutches of the crab creature — literally, clutched in his giant claw-hand-things.

“Let us go!” Mio shouted, writhing and kicking at the beast that had grabbed the two of them. The crab ran (or perhaps the proper word was scuttled?) away with the two in his claws, moving quicker than any creature of its size ought to be able to. As they tried to fight themselves out of its grip, the desolated city flew by, alien yet all too familiar. Suddenly the crab thing shifted them. They squirmed again as it gently lifted them higher to place the two of them down on a fire escape on a miraculously still standing building.

“Just what do you think you’re doing?” Mio asked as the thing slowly backed away. Slowly, the crab gave two familiar gestures: its claws raised, but defensively (wait), and a single pincer raised to its closed mouth (quiet). The two were stunned by the recognizable gestures. If Gabriella hadn’t known any better, she’d say the thing smiled at them as it disappeared around the corner.

"Okay this was fun, but now we should really go home. Come on, let's find a way down from here and get the hell out of here."

“Maybe we should wait here, Mio,” Gabriella said, cautiously. “And stay quiet.”

“You’re going to take instructions from that monster?” Mio said, horrified. “It probably just left us here like sitting ducks to come back to later. And then it’ll eat us up with its crab friends.”

“I don’t think crabs eat humans.”

“I’m not waiting for that monstrosity to come back here and kill us.”

“I really don’t think it’s trying to hurt us. Otherwise, why wouldn’t it have just done that in the first place?” Mio didn’t have an easy answer to this question. “It was very careful to not hurt my equipment. I’m still rolling! I caught the entire fight until it saw us. I think… I think it wanted to keep us safe from the fight.”

“Sure, maybe, but maybe a lot of things. Maybe it’s leaving us here so that it can cook and eat us later. Maybe it wants to sacrifice us to the crab god! And you’re really asking me to believe that… thing isn’t gonna kill us?”

“I’m asking you to trust me,” Gabriella said quietly. “Maybe that guy he was with can tell us what’s going on.”

Mio looked at her, weighing their options. Finally, she sighed. “Fine,” she said. “But I’m still gonna look around this fire escape for the quickest escape.” With that, she slowly began climbing up to get a view from the top of the building.

Mio grumbled to herself as she climbed the stairs. This whole thing had been her idea to begin with, but it had been a stupid, impulsive one, basically a joke. She hadn't realized Gabriella would actually be willing to leave with her. But here they were, three and a half hours from home, and the only footage they'd caught was a fight that could've gotten both of them killed.

As she made her way to the roof, she saw the town spread out before her. She silently cursed herself for not bringing Gabriella with her. The cityscape would make excellent B-roll for the documentary. The city was unfamiliar; at this point, she couldn't even tell which direction Nightflower was. But there was something beautiful about it. At one time, this had been a place of meaning. There was a story here, hundreds of stories, maybe even thousands.

But it seemed unlikely anyone who could tell those stories was left.

Slowly, Mio made her way back down, checking the windows on each floor. Should they need a quick escape, she'd need to know the best way inside. Sure enough, Gabriella was reviewing the footage they had gotten on their trek thus far.

“I could see a lot from the roof,” Mio said, interrupting Gabriella’s viewing. “No clue where those creatures went, though.” Gabriella nodded. The two waited in silence for a few moments. "Safest escape route is through a window on the fifth floor. We should wait there.”

"Mmhmm," Gabriella said, not looking up from her footage. Mio scratched her head. She couldn't get a read on her friend.

"There's a great view from the roof. Could make for some good footage." Gabriella perked up at this. "I could start work on the opening monologue." Mio pulled the familiar journal out of her backpack. "What do you say?"

Gabriella thought it over for a few moments. Then she looked up and smiled at Mio. Just as she stood up, a noise came from around the corner. The two looked at each other, quickly backing themselves against the wall. They heard indistinct muttering that soon became clearer.

“…sure this is the building? I swear we’ve passed this building like two times already.” There was an incomprehensible noise. “You and your ‘internal compass,’ how many times have you confidently led us into danger?” Another noise. “This place? Okay, where are they? Am I supposed to just call out? Like, ‘here, civvy, civvy, civvy’?” With another noise, two figures rounded the corner and into the alley. Sure enough, there was the crab-monster and the not-quite-man. The absence of the android skeleton indicated these two had won the fight. The crab waved to greet them.

The human looking thing stared at them, a little uncertain and almost awestruck, like when he first locked eyes with Mio. After a few moments he shook his head, clearly trying to clear whatever thoughts he had been thinking. “Great,” he said. “The civs are okay. Can we go now?” Mio and Gabriella looked in anticipation as the crab spoke back. “They can get down themselves, don’t coddle them.” The crab walked towards them. “No, don’t– You don’t know where they’ve been!” The crab only looked at the girls. Mio looked at Gabriella, shaking her head. Gabriella only shrugged, stepping off the fire escape. Carefully, with both limbs this time, the crab caught her and gently set her on the ground.

“Thank you,” Gabriella said with a smile. Mio looked at her in disbelief. Gabriella narrowed her eyes at Mio. Mio sighed and stepped forward, and she was lowered too.

“Great,” the human said. “Now you’re probably covered in germs. Civ germs.”

“You know, we can hear you,” Mio said to him.

“Can you now?” came his sarcastic reply.

“And what the hell is a ‘civ’?” Mio continued, confused.

“Wow. You’re even more clueless than I thought. Good luck not dying out there.” He turned to the crab. “C’mon, let’s go.” He turned and began walking away. The crab didn’t move, and spoke back to the man. “No, we’re leaving.” The crab continued to argue with him. “Big whoop, everybody needs help. Dragging two dead weight civs around is a bad idea… So what if my tone is harsh? …Well maybe they'll be fine, maybe they're not even civs! That one looks pretty dead behind the eyes." He pointed to Mio with this last statement.

"Hey!" Mio said.

The man didn't acknowledge her outburst. "No we’re not… Yeah, and it’s the biggest mistake I’ve ever made… oh you’re seriously going to… no, I— fine, fine. Fine. Have it your way.” The man turned to the two girls. “We’ll take you two civs home. That’s the only favor you get from me. Okay?”

Mio and Gabriella looked at each other, uncertain. “We don't need your help.” Mio finally said.

"You seem completely lost, everything you're carrying is weighing you down, and you look like a bunch of clueless civs who wouldn't last a day in this world. Take our help or don't, but don't claim you don't need any. You clearly do,” he said coldly. Mio glared at him, trying to find some retort, but none came. "If you're coming with us make sure you don't fall behind," he said as he walked out of the alley, the crab creature following him. Mio and Gabriella looked at each other hesitantly, but soon left the alleyway to join them.

“What are your names?” Gabriella asked.

“Why do you want to know?” the man asked.

“I dunno, just thought I should figure out what to call you in my head.” Gabriella shrugged. “Or I could just stick with ‘asshole.’ That’s been working great so far.” The crab let out a noise that almost sounded like laughter, and the man grunted in response.

“Fine,” he replied. “It’s Nihtro.”

Mio looked over at her friend, confused. “You mean, like nitro?”

“No, Nihtro,” the man said sternly. “N-I-T-R-O.”

“Yeah, that spells nitro,” Mio replied. The man sighed, too weary to reply.

“And that thing,” he said, pointing to the crab. “Well, eir name doesn’t really work with human-made sounds,” he said unhelpfully. “And it doesn’t translate either.”

“So those sounds are a language,” Gabriella said, oddly excited. Nitro stopped in his tracks.

“And you don’t have universal translators. Great.” He sighed, putting his face in his hand. "Won't last two seconds without…" He murmured. He looked at his surroundings. “Come on, I think there’s a surviving tech shop around the corner. I can probably cobble something together for you with the parts inside” Nitro hurried towards the shop, ushering the two girls inside. “You stand guard,” he said to the crab. “And you two, follow me.”

There was hardly anything left in the store. Parts of the ceiling had collapsed in. Everything had a thick layer of dust on it. To Mio, the weirdest part was that she thought there should’ve been fewer things. More looting, barren shelves. But instead it mostly just looked like it hadn’t been restocked in a while. Plenty of things weren’t there anymore, but she was surprised by just how many things were. Nitro walked through the store, grabbing different things off of the shelves and muttering to himself. Eventually, they walked to the back of the store, ducking into an aisle as he opened the packages, disassembling the gadgets inside and recombining them. After some time, he held two versions of the same earset gadget, messy in the recombination.

“You’re gonna need to step back for this,” he said, pushing them away. “Technomancy can be a dangerous game.” Very quickly, he took a large marker out of a pocket on his jacket and drew a large circle on the floor, then began filling it with complex symbols. When he was finished he stood in the middle, holding an earpiece in each hand. He closed his eyes, closed a hand around each, and began murmuring. At first, it seemed like nothing was happening. Then, the two noticed a faint glow from inside his hands. As he finished the chanting, the glowing subsided. He opened his hands, and the messy wiring was gone, cleaned up into two succinct devices. He handed one to each of the girls.

“There you go, two universal translators.” As Mio took hers, she noticed Nitro had one in his ear. “You’ll be able to understand anyone with a coherent thought now.” Cautiously, they put the device in their ears. They waited expectantly.

“…How do we know it works?” Mio asked.

“Go talk to that big lug out front. You’ll figure out pretty quickly.” Gabriella and Mio looked at each other before heading to the front of the store. The crab person waited expectantly. Mio hesitated, but Gabriella walked forward.

“Hey. Nitro says these should be good, so hopefully, we can understand you now. And I wanted to thank you for getting us out of the way of the fight. And for being so gentle with my video equipment.”

What happened next Mio and Gabriella found impossible to describe. The sounds they were hearing now were the same sounds they’d heard the crab make earlier, and the translator wasn’t giving them an English reading of what he was saying, but it was as if they now had the context to understand the language, and the meaning and intent came through perfectly.

“Of course!” The crab exclaimed gleefully. “That technology looks highly specialized. And in perfect working order, too! I would’ve felt so bad if anyone had broken it.”

Mio’s jaw dropped. Gabriella took a few moments to process what was happening, but as she understood, she nodded and smiled.

“I think it’s working!” She said, excited. “Well, I’m Gabriella, and my friend is Mio. Since we kinda got sidetracked in introductions earlier.”

“The grouch said that your name was impossible for us to pronounce,” Mio interrupted. “Is that true? Or is he playing some stupid joke on us?”

“No, it’s true,” the crab replied somewhat sadly. “In my own language, my name is—” at this, it let out a sound that somehow remained almost completely untranslated. There was only a vague sense of me coming from the sound. “But as you can tell, there’s not really a good English equivalent.”

“Well, what does Nitro call you?” Gabriella asked.

“Nothing, usually. He always just says ‘ey can be so annoying,’ or ‘why is ne still here?’ or ‘get over here, you idiot!’ But mostly Nitro just doesn’t refer to me.” Ey shrugged. “When it’s just two of you, it’s kind of clear from context.”

“Well there are four of us now, and we need some kind of epithet for you…” Gabriella said, deep in thought. Suddenly, she looked up with a wide grin on her face. “How about Sebastian?” Mio slapped her own face with her hand as Gabriella said this.

“Sebastian…” Ey pondered on the name before looking back at Gabriella. “I like it!” Ey exclaimed, smiling at Gabriella. Mio was convinced she would never forget the horror that was eir smile. Nitro finally joined them out front at this moment. “Nitro, good news! I shall henceforth be known as Sebastian.”

Nitro looked at em for a few seconds before responding. “…Yeah, that’s not gonna stick.”

“So,” Sebastian continued without paying the man any mind, “where are we taking you?”

"Nowhere particular," Gabriella said. Nitro stopped in his tracks.

"I'm sorry?" Nitro asked sharply. Neither Mio or Gabriella responded. "Where the hell are you two from?"

"We're not telling you," Mio brashly responded.

"And we're not going back," Gabriella added.

"What?" Nitro snapped.

"Nobody has left our community in a long time," Gabriella began explaining.

"We left so that we could record the world outside our community. Turn it into a documentary," Mio added.

"And we're not going back," Gabriella repeated.

"You're turning it into a what now?" Nitro asked. Sebastian struggled to contain eir laughter.

"Don't tell me you don't know what a documentary is," Mio challenged.

"I do," Nitro said, "it's just that that's the stupidest fucking thing I've ever heard."

"I actually don't know what… that word means," Sebastian said, hesitant.

"You've never seen a documentary?" Gabriella asked nem, eyes growing wide in excitement. "Oh they're wonderful! They're movies but they're about real life events."

"As in they've adapted a story and reenacted it on camera?" Sebastian asked, curious.

"No, they film the events as they happen! The narrative is found and solidified in the edit!" Gabriella prattled on excited.

Sebastian turned to Nitro, with what was clearly a wide grin on nir face. "I'd very much like to learn more about these document films!"

Nitro groaned. "No, no, don't let them take you in. We are barely surviving as it is, we are not taking in two civs—"

"Okay," Mio interrupted, "You're gonna need to stop the condescension and tell me what the fuck a 'civ' is because I'm getting the feeling you're not using the word with affection. We may not know much about this world but it's because we lack context. And that's what we're trying to find out here. Context. For our home and the rest of the world, too."

Nitro stared Mio down, two unbreakable wills.

"Nitro," Sebastian's voice interrupted the staring contest, "perhaps we could learn from them as they learn from us."

Nitro kept staring at Mio. "I suppose I can't say anything to dissuade you from following us?"

"Not really," Mio said, raising an eyebrow in challenge.

Nitro broke away first. "Fine! One evening. But we aren't taking them any further than Haphway."

"Halfway to where?" Mio asked, confused.

"Can we interview you for the documentary?" Gabriella asked, excited.

"No," Nitro responded.

"Absolutely!" Sebastian said at the same time.

"Keep up," Nitro responded as he walked away. "Or I'm leaving all three of you behind. We can trade information when we make camp for the evening."

"No, tell me what civ means," Mio demanded.

"It's an urban legend. A human who survived the calamity." Nitro said.

"The calamity?" Gabriella said, curious for more.

Nitro sighed. "Why do I get the feeling that you're going to need a shit ton of context?"

With that, the four made their way across the ruins of the town. They had a long way to go before they made camp.


Mio sighed as she walked away from the campfire. They had gotten a lot of information from the conversation with the scavengers and with Gabriella surreptitiously recording it, they had more footage for the documentary.

It had been a long day, filled with a lot of twists and turns and right now she just needed a break from everything. She planned on transcribing the footage they got that day once the others had fallen asleep, which meant more work that night. And Sebastian had agreed to an interview tomorrow morning, before they took off for the day, which meant waking up early to set that whole thing up. And once they left, it would be another long day of walking. She hadn't known that so much of this would involve walking. If she had, she might have thought this through a little bit more, never left Nightflower. At least the walks there weren't nearly so exhausting.

She turned back to look at the campfire. Despite how different the two duos were, Gabriella was clearly already warming up to the others. It seemed she was currently engaged in a very interesting conversation with Sebastian, who was looking at her with the same wide-eyed fascination and excitement that Gabriella had observed him with. Him? Them? Mio recalled that Sebastian had briefly used "em" pronouns in reference to… eirself, she supposed, but she recalled another pronoun being used as well. She'd have to ask em in the interview.

And here she was, agonizing over what a crab monster's pronouns were. But this was not the weirdest thought she'd had today, not by a longshot. She abandoned all thought of the crab's pronouns for now and turned her attention to Nitro. He seemed to be observing the other two carefully as he made his way to the opposite end of the campfire. Watching them, like he was trying to avoid being seen. He pulled something out his bag then proceeded to use a nearby stick to draw in the Earth around him, tracing something similar to what he had drawn during the translator creation. He held the thing he had pulled from the bag to his other arm. He closed his eyes, his mouth began moving subtly, and if Mio wasn't mistaken, his arm began to glow ever so slightly. What was he doing?

"Well you're new," a voice beside her said. She turned, startled, and found herself face to face with a woman. But something seemed off with her; her skin seemed… not quite sickly like Nitro's, but almost pale and desaturated, as if it hadn't seen the sun in years. And her eyes. They almost seemed inhuman.

As she fumbled backward, Mio was able to get a better look at the woman. She wore formal clothing, more formal than Mio had ever seen in her life. The suit was like those she had seen in pictures, black pants, white button-down, but for some reason, this woman donned a cape. And along with the black and white, it was impossible to ignore the vibrant crimson accents of this outlandish getup; the vest, the broach, the lining inside the cape.

"You look like a lot of fun," the mysterious woman said with a smirk. "Tell me, are you any fun?"

"Hold on," Mio said, "Just who the hell are you? And why are you dressed like a vampire?"

At this, the woman's eyes widened, and her condescending smirk transformed into a wide grin of pure elation.

"She knows what a vampire is!" The woman bubbled. "Oh, you are an interesting one! I think I'm going to have a lot of fun with you in the mix, indeed!"

Mio closed her eyes and shook her head. Was everyone out in the Wasteland completely insane, or was she just good at finding the weirdos?

"This is crazy. And you still haven't answered my question. Who the hell are you?" Mio opened her eyes again only to find that the woman had disappeared. Mio looked around, confused. She couldn't have gotten far, could she? Yet, the woman was nowhere in sight. What had just happened?

She'd known the Wasteland would be an adventure, but not one so mad as this.

Mio made her way back to the campfire, still mulling over what had happened. Had she hallucinated it? Was there something wrong with her? What was happening?

"Hey, just in case there's something I missed, is it possible to get sick from being in the Wasteland too long?" she asked the group. "Like, is there some kind of airborne pathogen that causes you to go crazy, or like, hallucinate whole-ass people and conversations?"

"Let me answer your question with another question," Nitro said, "is every word out of your mouth so rude and annoying?" Gabriella shot Nitro a look, but he didn't seem to notice. Mio stared him down for a few moments before remembering what she had observed away from the campfire. She looked down at his arm. What had he done to it? She couldn't see any difference. It seemed like nothing had happened to it, no marks, no anything. In fact, it was the most normal part of his body so far as she could tell. "What?" Nitro said, annoyed by her staring.

"It's no more dangerous here than in a settled community," Sebastian interrupted, attempting to diplomatically answer Mio's original question. "Don't worry. You're safe if you're traveling with us," ey said, smiling reassuringly at her. Mio gave a weak smile back, though the response didn't make her feel much better.

Gabriella leaned over slightly. "You okay?" she whispered. "What's going on?"

Mio sighed. "I'll explain later. For right now I think it's best we sleep."

"Finally, something I agree with," Nitro said. "Do you two know how to camp or is that another thing I have to walk you through?"

Gabriella chuckled. "We may be new to the outside world, but we're not total idiots."

"Alright! Alright! I was just asking." Nitro sighed. "Worst mistake I could ever make, letting two smartasses stick around."

Sebastian smiled at the girls. "Actually Nitro, I think the worst mistake you could ever make would be to underestimate these two."

"Thank you, Sebastian," Gabriella said. "I'm very grateful we ran into you." Mio had never before thought it possible for a nine-foot crab monster to look bashful. Then again, she had never before thought such a crab monster existed. Until today.

Mio got the feeling that starting today, a lot of the things she thought possible were going to change.

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