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Fresh Off The Boat

by Kelson Hayes 8 months ago in Fantasy · updated 4 months ago
V+ Fiction Award WinnerV+ Fiction Award Winner
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The Other Side



21 June 4E93

Andrzej Mlynár could hear the Legiolien border agents from where he hid alongside the cargo in the back of the lorry as they inspected the truck driver’s papers. Everyone remained totally still and silent where they were as the border agents conducted their routine inspection; they were stowed away with a band of gypsies travelling from Alvaria, finally nearing the end of their long journey. Taking refuge within the back of a lorry, the group had initially been travelling from the city of Český-Trenčianske, though they’d switched lorries several times across their journey. They’d spent the greater part of the last week hidden with the cargo-holds of whatever unsupervised lorries they could find between the rest stops on their route to Bree. The back of their current transport was filled up mostly with boxes of various sizes of what they assumed to be furniture, though there was no way of truly knowing as they were labelled in Svanean writing.

Andrzej felt his stomach grumble as he sought to ignore the fact that it had been three days since his last meal; three of his friends had died over the course of the journey when they’d unwittingly hopped in the back of a refrigerated trailer. Though they ate lavishly over the course of their time in the refrigerated container, several of the travelling band of gypsies had died due to anything ranging from asphyxiation and suffocation up to freezing to death. Out of the group of thirty he’d started with, only seven of the original caravan remained; the rest had either died or parted ways, though they met new faces along the way between all the changeovers they’d made. There were some small children amongst them, though the majority of them were men. The others never seemed to survive those trips, not being tough enough to handle the poor living conditions.

Children were oftentimes the first to die, followed by the elderly and women. Out of the millions who took those trips annually only a couple hundreds of thousands actually made it to their destinations. Andrzej looked across the space towards his only remaining friend who accompanied him; Tomáš was huddled in a nearby corner beside an older Ishtanian man and his daughter who’d joined their company somewhere in Porvartul at one of the rest stops. As it was, the driver’s papers were seemingly legitimate as the slam of his door could be heard a moment before the diesel engine rumbled back to life. The lorry took off and they assumed that it drove aboard the ferry as they felt it go up an incline alongside the sound of several automobiles all around before the engine shut off once again, leaving them to await the end of their journey within its back alongside the cargo it hauled.

The voyage was roughly fourteen hours across the Brebon Channel and the time passed them by rather slowly, seeming like an eternity to the inhabitants of the lorry’s trailer. Some amongst the immigrant caravan attempted to sleep the remainder of the ride away, though the majority found it impossible. Hunger, anxiety, excitement, and fear kept them awake as they awaited their arrival on the foreign shores of Bree. Andrzej fantasised what life would be like in the Kingdom of Bree and imagined how much better off he’d be than he was back home. The Amverin government had totally devastated his own country, killing their dictator and setting up a capitalist puppet regime to replace the previous communist dictatorship. Along with his death, they’d sold off the factories and corporations of the state at ridiculously low prices and devastated the national economy, though it had improved the lives of those who’d managed to escape poverty nearly tenfold. They’d eliminated the equal distribution of wealth and created a true class system.

At the top were the rich, followed by those who could live luxurious lives off the backs of the impoverished masses. The majority of the younger generation supported the new capitalist system as it gave off the illusion that anyone could become rich, however, the older generation saw the flaws of the changes brought about by the Amverin-backed coup. Their way of life had been totally wiped out and the only reason it was supported was in the fact that the people had access to luxuries and other commodities previously unavailable to them at the cost of their nation’s prosperity. Andrzej and his friends had witnessed the collapse of Alvaria personally as his own father had been one of the factory workers who’d been laid off and he himself had been a small-time business owner whose company went under when the Amverin corporations seized the economy by force.

Locally owned businesses had been run down and foreclosed, bought up by Amverin owned corporations that could afford to sell the goods at cheaper prices, employing more people at a minimum wage established by the government they ran behind the scenes. He had previously owned a cellular phone company, though with the introduction of Amverin’s own service providers offering the first three months free to new subscribers, he couldn’t afford to compete with the multi-million Rinska* company. Having gone under and falling into debt, Andrzej forsook his country after filing bankruptcy, taking what was left of his money and pooling it with his few close friends in order to undertake their journey to Bree. They saw it as an opportunity to take back their lives and start over in a land of true democracy, rather than wasting away in the corrupt system their country had fallen into post-communism.

*Where in Bree the common currency were Stones ($), the Aero (α) was used within the Aerbon Federation whilst the majority of Eastern Aerbon favoured the Voskan Rinska (Я). In Amverin the common unit of currency was Stellas (§).

After what seemed like an eternity of hiding away amongst the lorry’s bulky cargo, finding comfort as best they could, the immigrants breathed a collective sigh of relief at the announcement of their arrival upon Brebon shores. Over the course of the next few minutes car doors echoed throughout the ship’s hold as all around the drivers started their engines to disembark from the ferry to pass through the final border inspection. As the vehicles took off and prepared to approach the border check there seemed to be a great commotion on the port as all around the rushed shouts of what they assumed to be the border agents and dock workers rose up and in the distance they could hear the sounds of what appeared to be a football match. A couple of the immigrants on board the lorry grew grave at the ordeal and the ones who spoke the Common Tongue enough to understand what was going on whispered the translation to their unaware companions.

“Vzbúriť sa*.” an older man whispered, instilling fear into all those occupants aboard who were able to hear him.

*Translates roughly to riots; mutiny, revolt, storm, rage.

The uproar of the revolution outside rose in volume as it drew ever closer to the port and the occupants of the lorry began drawing closer together in an effort to protect themselves and break free of the vessel they were trapped within. The lorry came to a stop and from the sounds of things, their driver was dragged out of his truck by the rioters and thrown into the affray. Bottles smashed against the trucks and crashed all around and gunshots could even be heard cracking off in the distance. Andrzej prepared himself as the doors of the lorry’s container were being pried open from outside and the immigrants made a rush to find themselves in the middle of what appeared to be an anarchist uprising. They knew the anarchist flags for what they were; the red and black was a sign of freedom and revolution anywhere they were displayed, and they joined the rioters who fought for their liberation from the port against the military police who returned fire upon them.

Nationalists also fought back the rebel tides, displaying their own symbols of hatred, discrimination, and oppression. Andrzej was apolitical, fighting for his life alongside those who would aid him and not wanting to join into the affray himself. The military police armed with fully-automatic assault rifles and sub machine-guns, though the majority fought back with rubber bullets loaded into riot shotguns. They were not afraid to surround the perimeter and gun down those who made a break for it into the town of Dover outside. As it was, the rioters easily outnumbered the police and it even appeared that they might overthrow the armed men; taking up the guns of the fallen and using them to push the forces back. So it was that gunfire rained down on both sides, leaving many casualties scattered throughout the docks in the midst of an all-out war on the streets. The rioters were unloading and freeing the immigrants from the massive convoy of lorries even as they dragged and beat the drivers out of their vehicles brutally, attacking dock-workers and border agents alike in their effort to overthrow the government’s control over the port.

Lobbing tear gas into the midst of the protesters and immigrants who joined them, the police awaited their reinforcements even as the rioters came crashing upon them like the waves of the ocean upon the shore. Forcing the NES troops to break rank and fall back even as more rioters from the town centre made their way towards the heart of the chaos, they aided their brethren in breaking free of the docks. They swarmed the police from all sides and fell upon them like rabid wolves at the first sight of prey, tearing them apart and literally stripping them of their cloths and gear. It was totally anarchy and Andrzej fought alongside his fellow travellers in an attempt to break free of the mayhem as best they could. NES lorries pulled up to the scene and the police within disembarked, attempting to construct temporary barricades to halt the progress of the rioters. The anarchists continued undeterred, returning to the city with their foreign band of undocumented migrant travellers.

Molotovs flew through the air and came crashing down upon the officers and their armoured transport; the police responded by unleashing their water cannons upon the revolting masses. The town was ablaze and the streets were full of chaos as all around looters, rioters, nationalists, and police all acted in the heat of the moment in an effort to achieve their individual goals. The majority of the nationalists were shop owners and working class citizens fighting to protect their jobs, homes, and businesses. Their opposition predominantly consisted of the homeless, chavs, immigrants, and other such unemployable persons as there were to revolt against the unfair government that they claimed oppressed them. The police officers on the other hand, came from all across the south-eastern region and the various towns and cities that comprised it. They fought for justice, and many of them were either current or former military soldiers-turned-mercenaries as the NES selected their forces from the best of the best.

Breaking free of the docks, Andrzej took a right off the main road leading into town and ran through an alley towards the hills. There was an old fence but it couldn’t contain him and the handful of his fellows as they hopped the fence and ran from any pursuers through the heavily forested ascent. The sounds of violence and sirens faded into the distance behind them as they made their way further up the hills towards the cliffs that overlooked the ocean and after twenty minutes of sprinting and climbing when it became too steep, they found themselves a shelter to hide away in the form of an old bunker from the Great War. The entrance was from the rear and it overlooked the ocean; there was an opening for a machine-gunner’s nest and it overlooked the horizon where Legiole rested somewhere on the other side from which they’d just come.

Andrzej and Tomáš had survived their journey and managed to stick together through the whole ordeal, though only three others from their lot had escaped with them. Their companions were a bigger well-built lad their age from Gregovia and the Ishtanian man with his daughter. Their names were Yuri, Slava, and Maria respectively. Though they were free of the riots and safe for the time being, they had no food and so they were forced with the decision to either hunt or trap what they could of the wildlife in those woods or wait until the riots passed over and scavenge whatever they were able to in the town. Slava was an experienced hunter in his own country, having grown up on a farm as a youth; Yuri also came from a small farming town in Gregovia where food was hard to come by, and so both were trained in the arts of survival. Andrzej and Tomáš grew up within the capitol of their homeland during the rise and fall of communism and so neither were any more than street hustlers from the city, unlearned in the art of scavenging due to a lack of necessity.

Ever since they’d arrived in the country, nothing but chaos and madness had greeted Andrzej and his gypsie companions. Hiding away in an old bunker from the Great War, they’d taken to scavenging and looting as they could. Dover had fallen to the anarchist insurrection and military forces waged a war against the people, killing any who rebelled and deporting the immigrants as they found them. Life in the town was comparable to a concentration camp or life under a fascist regime and Andrzej wondered to himself what he’d run away from. At least in my own country I was free; this place is even worse, he thought bitterly between bites of a stale loaf of bread they’d managed to score from a dumpster dive nearly three days ago. The bread itself had expired on 29/6/93 according to its label, though he could not read the writing as he only spoke Alvarian and Voskan.

Slava was comforting his daughter as she cried, asking him why her father had brought her to this place. They were all asking themselves the exact same thing within their group, though Maria was the only one to voice her thoughts aloud. Yuri was somewhere in the woods, hunting with a spear he’d carved out of a tree branch after growing sick of the stale breads and pastries. Andrzej was contemplating making another run into the town to see what he could find or steal from the shops. At this point the caravan had nothing left to lose but their lives, and so they might as well enjoy what was left of them. He was in a rather sullen mood, having traversed thousands of miles at the cost of the lives of his friends that weren’t able to make the trip and without a single thing to show for. Indeed, he would have been better off in the streets of Alvaria.

Instead, the young Alvarian man found himself squatting in destitution and dying for a cigarette, wishing beyond all else that he’d never made the trip. He laughed at the thought that those racist Brebon men could call him and his lot dirty immigrants ruining their country when it was their own people making it such an awful place to live. Even in the times before Amverin had killed his dictator, he’d never been forced to live such a lowly existence. Where are the welfare benefits for the immigrant families? Even these jobs we’re supposedly stealing? I thought this was one of the richest and greatest empires in all of Aerbon… It seems like an intolerable shithole to me, Andrzej thought to himself as he prepared to make the trek into town. Their supplies were diminishing and he couldn’t bear to sit around waiting for Yuri to save them another moment longer.

“Where are you going?” Tomáš asked him in their native Alvarian tongue as his friend suddenly made to leave.

“Town. I’m sick of this.” was Andrzej’s curt reply.

Not wanting to be left out, Tomáš readied himself as well and, despite Andrzej’s objections, made the descent into town alongside his only remaining best friend. Together they trekked through the woods as they made their way down the hill in the general direction of the high street. Without speaking, they both prepared themselves for what they would experience upon re-entering the town; things had taken a turn for the worst since their arrival over two weeks ago. Soldiers marched through the streets openly brandishing their weapons whilst the townsfolk brutally resisted them. Every day they’d spent in the country so far, protesters could be seen carrying signs and fighting the militarised law enforcement, and even fighting amongst themselves. The police demanded the papers of any they came across who did not fit the image of a Brebon citizen and even took non-legal residents caught in violation to what Andrzej and Tomáš assumed to be deportation camps. They’d seen it with their own eyes on their brief trips into town, trying to make their visits as short and far-between as possible.

As things were, the town was divided into a series of zones with military checkpoints separating them and small groups of patrols maintaining order in each. The pair of illegal immigrants tried to blend into the setting and join the crowds of people that walked the streets whilst seeking out a local newsagent. It was dangerous for them in those streets as they looked foreign and being unable to speak the Common Tongue didn’t do them any favours. Spotting a homeless man, the two took a look around to make sure there were no nearby patrols to see them as they took advantage of the opportunity fate presented them. After seeing that the coast was clear, Tomáš jogged towards the man and smashed his fist into the side of the man’s head whilst Andrzej stole the cup filled with coins before the pair turned and fled. A handful of people called out after them at the sight of the heinous act, though they ignored the shouts and ducked through an alleyway into the neighbourhoods that rested atop a hill in the northwest end of town.

Once they were far enough away from the scene of their petty crime, Andrzej poured the coins into his hand and counted out $7.48. Returning their attention to finding an Eastern Aerbonean newsagent, they spotted such a store not far up the road in one of the more rundown neighbourhoods after passing a couple of the NES patrols that were scattered throughout the area. They avoided the unwanted attention of the soldiers and quickly made their way within the safety of Chekov’s Corner. It was basically a Voskan general store, though between the two of them, they spoke enough Voskan to purchase a pouch of tobacco, rolling papers, and a bag of rice. The packages were labelled in Voskan and it was a comfort for them to see a language that was at least familiar to them.

Before leaving, the cashier spoke briefly with the destitute immigrants, asking them what their status was within the country. After discovering they were illegal, the shopkeeper told them to wait a moment whilst she went into the back-room of her small shop, grabbing a handful of provisions for them to take along. Putting a 750ml bottle of Voskan vodka into their rucksack along with a spare 25g pouch of tobacco and some bread and meats, she told them that it was her duty to help them in response to their thanks. She said that the fortunate were always expected to help those with less, and so she sent them on their way after warning them to beware the police in the streets. After receiving the goods, Tomáš and Andrzej felt guilt gnaw away at their consciences as they made their way back the way they’d come. They took the bottle from their backpack laden with food and knew what they had to do…

As they approached the homeless man from earlier with the bottle in their hands, he flinched upon seeing their approach, fearing the return of his attackers. They rushed towards him and took him by the shoulders, pressing the bottle into his hands stammering as they attempted to apologise to the downtrodden Brebon man in broken bits of his language. They also offered him some bread and meat from what they’d been given by the kind Voskan woman who’d taken pity on them. Though they were not learned in the Common Tongue, he understood what they meant to say and took the bottle as acceptance of their apology. The bottle was worth roughly fifteen stone alone, and so they’d returned to him with more than double what he’d managed to save in the street that day. He took the bottle from them along with the food supplies and shooed them away before they attracted the unwanted attention of a patrolling NES squad in the area.

Feeling that they’d restored some of the negative karma they’d brought upon themselves, the boys made their getaway and slipped out of town through the same alley that they’d taken into town. They cut through a back garden on the other side of the alley and hopped the fence that separated it from the foot of the hill they had to ascend in order to return to their hideout. Though it was an arduous climb, they found the bunker with little difficulty and returned with their goods to an astonished Slava and Maria. The men took a delight in the acquisition of the 25g pouch of Voskan tobacco and meats, opening the initial 12.5g pouch that Andrzej and Tomáš had purchased with the ill-gotten funds. Each of the three men rolled themselves a decent cigarette whilst Maria munched away at a Voskan pastry.

After another hour or so Yuri also returned, bearing a fox and a couple of rabbits and squirrels he’d managed to catch. Upon his arrival, the Eastern Aerbonean farm-boy went about skinning the fox so that its meat could be hung to dry whilst he prepared the rabbits and squirrels for a stew. Andrzej came out to greet him and offered the lad an already rolled cigarette and told him of their own score in the town. Making sure not to mention the acquisition or loss of the vodka for fear of upsetting him, Andrzej recollected their adventure and told him of the Voskan corner-store in the town. Yuri mentioned that it was a good connexion to have and inquired if the woman might help them find somewhere to stay or if she even had any connexions within the town. Andrzej’s reply was that the police presence was far too great and that they would surely be caught and deported, stating that prison was worse than a communist dictatorship.

“Still, it would be better than squatting like exiles in destitution.” the Gregovian farm-boy replied sullenly.

“Maybe, but I would rather live free than be sentenced to the rest of my days in a prison camp.” Andrzej replied before inviting his comrade inside the bunker to enjoy their Voskan delicacies.


About the author

Kelson Hayes

Kelson Hayes is a British-American author and philosopher, born on 19 October 1994 in Bedford, England. His books include Can You Hear The Awful Singing, The Art of Not Thinking, and The Aerbon Series.

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Comments (4)

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  • Shadow059 days ago

    This is very relatable, especially when I was staying at Shanghai and riots breakout because of the pandemic. The detailed illustration of this story feels so real, there's no way this aint real. I love how you portrayed the angst of each side. Like a Netflix series

  • Bonnie17 days ago

    No wonder your wife is so proud of you. This is really a very good piece! I agree that this should be a short film or something. A series or movie. Kudos!

  • Mad Reader17 days ago

    it would be so dank if this turns into a movie. Alot of people does not know the importance of the message of this story. Imagine a famous actor saying this "Maybe, but I would rather live free than be sentenced to the rest of my days in a prison camp". Chills man. Keep it up

  • I love how realistic this piece is! It deserve the winning spot!! I love how well-written it is and the details of each scene is spectacular. Can't wait to see a movie of this. I bet this will wake so many people about the truth that lies beyond what we think we knew.

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