~Six years post Cataclysm

The edge of the great city was a wreck. Thick grey mist clung to the ground, and rusting metal and rotting wood littered the surroundings. The white snow that covered the floor of the city could be seen in the distance, but here, the snow melted quickly to form a steaming layer of fog and vapour; something below the area still kept it hot, though the Cataclysm had long passed. Seen from above, the area surrounding the city looked like a reddish brown mass of rust, with towering ruins stretching far into the sky until they pierced through the clouds, dwarfing even the great Spires of the city.

Though life in the city itself was already perilous, out here it was even worse. Machine patrols in the city kept the numbers of rogue and mutated wildlife low, but the automated war machines had found far less success in the constantly humid environment of the rust and ruins. Though technology had survived to a limited extent within the city, such things were all but non-existent out amongst the ruins. The only light was provided by dimly flickering torches that constantly threatened to go out as they were slowly smothered by rain and wind. Shelter was scarce, human population was near zero, and yet here and there amongst the ruins some people managed to survive.

Maika was perched atop the rusted remains of what had once been a water tower when she first saw the flying machine. It'd been high noon, the only time of day where you could actually see farther than a couple meters in front of you because of that extra little bit of light that penetrated through the clouds of fog. She'd been climbing up the slippery steel girders to make her way towards the top to check on water collectors she'd placed up at the top. She'd constructed them from scrap using thin pieces of metal wire for the frames around which she'd then stretched some plastic sheets she had salvaged from amongst the rubble. When she had arrived she'd been disappointed to find that there was only a little water in the collection cups at the bottom of the rigs. She pulled out her canteen and slowly began to pour in what little water she'd collected into the metal bottle; when she'd gone and emptied each of the twelve water collectors she could still hear the water sloshing in her bottle when she shook it.

The quiet howling that slowly grew louder against the relative silence was what drew Maika's gaze to the flying machine. It was a beat up thing; smoke poured out from engine nacelles beneath its wings and its curving path was slowly taking it closer and closer towards the ground. Maika didn't really know what it was of course; nothing like that had been invented in her lifetime. She'd been born into this desolate post Cataclysmic world and had lived amongst the debris and rubble all of her life. But she'd already realized that the flying machine merited investigation even before it slammed into the ground with an earthshaking explosion and so when the vehicle finally impacted the ground she was already on her feet clambering down the water tower heading towards the crash site.

Maika nimbly hopped down to the floor and took off in the direction of downed aircraft; it wasn't hard to spot, the smoldering wreck was the brightest object within a couple square kilometers and it was sending a plume of thick black smoke high into the air. As the small girl approached the crash site she could feel the heat from the glowing wreckage wash across her face; all around the fallen vehicle the snow was quickly giving way to pools of water and columns of steam. Maika boldly stepped forwards, her bare feet cringing from the heat below them which steadily grew greater as she drew closer to the flames.

No movement graced the carnage, no sounds of life or indications of survivors, just twisted black metal and the sounds and smells of burning and smoke. The idea that anything or anyone could've survived the impact was unthinkable, and yet Maika could not bring her self to move along and pass by the burning wreckage without taking a closer look to inspect the destroyed vehicle for anything that could potentially be of use. She pulled her spear off of her back; a lengthy meter and a half long metal rod tipped with a foot long bayonet that she'd found in the remains of a once grand building, filled with antiques and treasures unlike anything else still in this barren world of rust and vapour. She prodded at the flaming wreckage with the tip of her spear and was not surprised when she eventually found the almost unrecognizable remains of a human body; blackened and broken within a shell of scorched body armor. The sickening familiar smell of burning flesh assaulted her nostrils and she fought down the immediate urge to throw up which she knew would follow, quickly checking the body for any sort of identifying features. As she had suspected there were no hints of who the person might have been, as was normally the case. With that in mind she took a moment to check on the integrity of the armor; most of it was damaged beyond use, but a few of the carbon polymer plates had survived the crash mostly intact. These she removed from the body and tossed into her pack, perhaps she'd be able to find a use for them later. Rations; that was what she was really looking for. Any sort of food out here was hard enough to find already, but rations which could be stored for a long time and were full of all sorts of nutrients that were rare and hard to find in these conditions were particularly of value.

It was some time before Maika finally found what she was looking for; the black crate blended in with the rest of the blackened and twisted metal and plastic surrounding it. The box itself had been relatively unharmed by the crash and the passing fires which were by now dying out had done little to damage the durable casing. Maika flipped open the locks that prevented the ox from opening and peered inside to take a look at the treasures within.

Jackpot; the box was crammed with ration packs, about two dozen of them, enough to keep Maika fed for two months. Alongside the rations were two cases of bullets and a pair of loaded carbines, a knife, and flashlight, a battery pack, and three filled canteens; all useful items that would help to keep Maika alive. She strapped the knife to her waist, improvising a belt by slicing a strop of clothing off of the legs of her worn pants. She took a canteen, the flashlight, and the batteries and stuffed them into her pack; odd bulges stuck out from the bag at strange angles from all the stuff Maika packed into it. She hefted one of the carbines, and noting the shoulder sling attached to it slung it over her shoulder so that it hung loosely in front of her, ready for use.

She grabbed half a dozen ration packs and placed them into the various remaining empty pockets of her bag; the sack looked like it was about to burst from the excessive amount of objects stuffed into it. The rest she left in the crate, which was too large and heavy to carry with her on this trip. She quickly locked the crate and shoved it back into the midst of the wreckage, carefully layering debris and metal over it to hide it from prying eyes. She would come back for the rest of the rations and the other gun tomorrow, after she offloaded the stuff she had now into the little hole she called home. With the job done, she turned back the way she had came to head home, more than satisfied with her foraging trip of the day.

….