52 – Atlantis 18

Long before Captain’s Log was ever a thing, there was Atlantis 18 and Gale. As with most of my stories, that one started with a dream and a misheard phrase. When I was about five years old, I heard the term “race riot” used in my presence for the first time, and before anyone took the time to explain it to me, the image I had was of… well, a very fast riot. A high-speed wrecking crew tearing through town, never stopping, just plundering what it can on the run and destroying the rest. That image stuck with me, and collided, years later, with a dream about a hotel full of water and a boy who needed to live there, because the air would kill him.

I tried to write about Atlantis 18 so many times, and failed. It was the first time I realized something important about art: sometimes, a piece of art wants to be in a specific format. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense any other way. Imagine The Matrix as a book. It would be monumentally frustrating, the descriptions of shifting through Matrix spaces and Neo’s visions of the code would be completely impenetrable. It would be a horrible book, and nobody would read it. Similarly, games as interactive media tell stories that would be impossible to tell in a non-interactive medium. (Which is an immensely fascinating space that I’m sure I’ll rant about at length another time.)

So this is the point at which I realized that Atlantis 18 wasn’t a story I could tell in narrative form. It’s not a book. It’s a comic at the very least, maybe animated. It’s a story about the salvage towns the Atlantis company ran on Earth after everyone with any sense left it for the stars, about twenty-five years before the intrepid Captain Zarkov was born there. It needs wide open spaces full of silence, not full of my words. The more I tried to tell that story in story form, the more I just wanted myself to shut up.

Someday, when I can figure out the medium it needs, I’ll get it out. For now it’s just bits and pieces in the background of Captain’s Log and Bluebird. What you need to know to understand the poem is, Atlantis 18 is the 18th salvage depot in what used to be the southwestern US, and little towns have grown up around all the depots, organized toward scavenging media, data, and technology from the wastes. These towns are under fairly constant predation by a number of bandit clans, some of whom roar through town in the manner described above, forming a kind of, ahem, “racing riot.” See, it sounds lame when I write it out, it’s much cooler as a visual.

Gale and her little band (her brother and a few others, mostly women) run a protection racket in Atlantis 18. One of the ways they defend the town is by leaping onto the bandits’ vehicles from the rooftops, hanging on with titanium claws that they also use to tear into the cars’ tires and engines. Imagine a bunch of velociraptors chewing on a long-haul trailer truck and setting it on fire while it careens toward a cliff, and you pretty much have it.

An old friend drew Gale for me once; I’ve never managed to do it to my own satisfaction.

There’s not an inch of bare skin left on her.
Between her skin and the weapons of time
she layers any other skins she finds,
bird in leather and titanium spurs.

She perches on the roof all afternoon
as below the bandits’ cars roar by
two other crows like her on either side
limber their wings. The sun is setting soon.

Driver’s blinded by the last light of day.
The last roof in town explodes with brown wings,
they hook their talons into the machines,
severing fuel lines, arterial sprays.
They drive the train straight into the ravine
and before they fall, the birds melt away.

Check out the rest of the 100 Sonnets

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