The first volume of my science-fiction superhero serial DystopiaNZ. Here, we meet the founding members of the DystopiaNZ and learn what threw them together.
DystopiaNZ is a science-fiction story of post-humanism and the battle against sinister supra-government organization The Quid Pro Quo. Themes include science & sci-fi, sociology & politics, crime & law, nationalism, cultural & ethnic relations, morality and ethics, and what it means to be human or more than human in a rapidly changing world
Cruel Antarctic winds cut across the grimy streets, lanes and alleys of Neo Zealand's second largest city. Halfway up the South Island's east coast, Aparangi City stood firm against the southerly onslaught of early winter. Sleet pierced the haze of smog and light pollution, which gave the one million-strong settlement an eerie glow within the otherwise dark and dismal night. Streets and underpasses flowed like the concrete veins of an urban colossus, and the echoes of a lone wailing siren reverberated around the towering buildings of this vast cityscape.
The unrelenting icy rain pounded the rooftops of Aparangi's New Industrial District. Smokestacks jabbed the dark skies from saw-toothed roofs, like irregular arrays of cigarettes - spewing forth their toxins in order to sate the addicted masses. Factories and mills, workshops and labs jostled for space within the crowded manufacturing hub of southern Neo Zealand. Disused railways and eroded piers flanked jungles of power lines and forests of telecommunication towers - the ever-increasing thirst for energy and data painting the skylines a thousand tones of monochrome.
It was here - deep within a disused side street - that a small, recently abandoned appliance factory stood in shaded silence. Graffiti-ravaged walls held strong, supporting the leaky tin roofing against the meteorological onslaught. Freezing rainwater pooled and overflowed from a rooftop terrace, cascading past the dimly-lit entrance way below. The rusted, heavy iron double-door swung lightly in the gusty winds, shattered chains hanging loosely from twin handles.
Within the once-productive Puaheiri Ltd workshop - now just a hollow shell via the whim of the global conglomerate Taiheiyo Corporation - four young men were reluctantly gathered. A cornucopia of class, colour, creed and culture, they were a disparate band of allies – as unusual as the events that threw them together. A crew of circumstances beyond their control or understanding, dozens of uncertainties were written across their faces.
David Ward glanced through the assembled group. All in their late teens, the youths shivered in their saturated attires of choice. With the cold biting through his own hooded charcoal jacket and scuffed jeans, he shuffled across the dusty concrete floor towards a metal drum of cardboard, paper, and other scraps which the previous tenants had neglected to recycle.
David withdrew his metallic cigarette lighter from his right pocket, flicking the lid open in a motion that was second-nature to a man who had smoked for half a decade. He produced a flame of butane, which in turn produced a rush of affinity in his pyromania-diagnosed heart. Raising his left hand over the flame, he reached out with his spirit to the fire he kindled.
With a sweeping motion, he directed the flame to the metallic drum, watching in satisfaction and awe as the fires obeyed his commands and leapt into the shredded documents and collapsed boxes. The spark had become a flame, the flame became a fire, and the fire illuminated its master in an infernal orange glow. David was no ordinary man – the last week had cemented that fact - but neither were the others.
The fire grew as the men gathered to bask in its warmth, illuminated by incandescent tendrils of orange incineration. David observed his mismatched crew and sensed their mutual distrust of one another. They formed a cross-section of their society, originating from vastly different backgrounds, descended from separate ethnicities, belonging to contrasting socio-economic groups, and operating on various sides of the law. It seemed that the only thing that bound them together was the unlikely trait that had manifested in all of them.
The reluctance of the typically passive David gave way to the frightening realization that there was no-one else in the group that would be trusted by the others. There was no option otherwise, it must be him - it could only be him. He gathered his meagre courage with a stony reluctance and began to speak.
"My name is David, and I can control fire." The words were heavy - like the dusty concrete he stood upon as he delivered them. Never had he expected that his love for flames hinted at a deeper connection to the phenomena of combustion, smoldering beneath the surface of his persona. Nor had he thought that this unlikely ability would place him in the cross-hairs of a sinister conspiracy.
"I've brought us here for a reason. Over the last week, we have all discovered within ourselves and each other a set of... characteristics... abilities... traits that set us apart from the general populace." He looked around the fire, noticing the skepticism the youths had expressed about another had given way to a cautious receptiveness. David's meek nature was now bolstered by the trust he had earned from his companions, and driven forward by the unspoken need for leadership.
"But as we learned this, we encountered growing evidence about a covert group called The Quid Pro Quo." He let the name sink in, like the slushy rain leaking into the factory. "What we do know about them is they operate outside the law and government, using any means necessary and at their disposal to force people like ourselves into servitude, taking what we can do and turning it into a resource to fuel their own activities and ambitions."
This fact stirred something within the youth who stood to the right. "I don't know about you guys, but nobody rules me" he swore, gesturing to himself with his left thumb. His rhetoric was only reinforced by the anarchist tattoo glowing on the back of his hand. Akira Kinomoto was a 19 year old with Japanese parents and a digital obsession. The cyberpunk trenchcoat Akira wore with asymmetric tactical pants was coincidentally practical for this weather - even though its wearer rarely spent much time outdoors. The improvised heat source threw ripples of orange light across him as he awaited a response.
David nodded to his companion, before continuing. "The evidence we have is vague, but it seems that they have covered up crimes, manipulated governments and other organizations, and even killed people." He looked to the man to his right during the final part of this sentence. With deep red hair and a pale skin tone, the eighteen-year-old stood slightly taller than David. Lithe and comparatively well-groomed, he seemed considerably out of place sheltering in a disused workshop. But then again, so did the others.
Keith Stenmoore, ever the proverbial "southern man", nodded solemnly and indicated for David to continue. His tidy shirt and blazer distinguished him from the others, with their casual attire, but his indoors apparel left him cold in a hollow, draughty factory during a winter storm. Keith rubbed his hands over the flames to keep hypothermia at bay as David continued.
"I know we have our differences, but I also know we need all the help we can get - this means we need each other, and we need everything that we are capable of as individuals, and as a group." David's unremarkable brown eyes moved to another of the group.
The two-meter maori teen shifted slightly in his tough guy stance, arms folded across the chest of his XXL blue hoodie. The large chain that Tamati Ikaroa wore like a necklace clinked slightly with his motion. He projected a constant image of displeasure at the situation he found them in, though beneath the gangsta exterior he agreed with David - at least on a pragmatic level.
"Yeah, bro. Yous know what you can do. I know what I can do..." He looked down to his worn out sneakers and shifted his considerable weight uneasily. The flickering flames threw an orange glow over his deep polynesian complexion. Built like a hefty rugby star, he was an imposing sight - even in this state of unease. "...The hell do WE do next, though?"
Sealing his fate as the de facto leader of this group of misfits, David finished his address. "We can't let our city, our country, become a dystopia where people are hunted and oppressed, where people are used and thrown away, where people evade justice and bury the truth."
This comment sparked a sarcastic, yet strangely hopeful quip from Akira: "If this is a dystopia, what does that make us? Dystopians?"
David rubbed the stubble on his chin as a wry smile crept across his face. "Dystopians - with an NZ." he announced. "We hide in plain sight from our enigmatic enemies, gathering information, gaining strength and growing our abilities, recruiting others in our plight, and collecting the resources we need to fight back." Fire ran through Davids veins as he forged the foundations of an association of his peers. Together, they had a chance to change their own lives and save the lives and freedoms of others.
David raised his lighter once more - an icon of his abilities, a tool that empowered him, a key that unlocked everything he was now capable of. The flames it had spawned danced below within the old drum. The fire and the flames, the incineration and incandescence, the smoke and cinders were flowing and spiralling and dancing in their mesmerising motions. "DistopiaNZ" he announced to his audience, his shadow streaming out behind him as the pyre rose like a dragon's breath from the ad hoc brazier.
"Indeed" came the low-key response from Keith, taking his cue from David to lift a tool of his own: an antique analogue pocketwatch. Ornately inlaid with gold, it was finely crafted to precisely measure the ebb and flow of time. As a Scottish-descended kiwi, such stoicism and understatement were Keith's unofficial philosophies. David had wondered what it would take for this guy to show any enthusiasm or emotion, but that would be an issue for another time.
"Sticking it to the man, eh?" Akira reached into his coat pocket, withdrawing his cutting-edge WISP cyPhone. In the hands of most people, it was a modern technological marvel. In the hands of Akira it was a heavily-modded cyber weapon, and as good an avatar as any for what he was now capable of. Raising it in a toast to the newly-forged circle, he concluded "You know I'm in, Dave"
Three pairs of eyes turned to the remaining member of the rag-tag party. "DystopiaNZ, huh?" The youngest of them asked derisively, as the group awaited his reply. Tamati unfolded his muscular arms and lifted the bulky chain from his shoulders. He wrapped it around his right hand enigmatically, with a skill that implied he'd done so many times before. Suddenly, the wayward youth punched his chain-gloved fist forwards in a mighty uppercut, mirroring his new comrades.