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Concept Art Writing Prompt: A Clash Of Future And Past

Illustration for article titled Concept Art Writing Prompt: A Clash Of Future And Past

On a misty field, two time periods seem to clash as a medieval army meets the bearers of futuristic technology. You tell us: what's going on in this odd scene?

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This illustration, titled Progressors, is by artist Mikhail Borulko. Can you come up with a short story inspired by this image? If so, post it in the comments!

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laurendavis
Lauren Davis

Mikhail watched his toxin meter as he crossed into the exclusion zone—a two day's hike from the wall—and let out a breath as the light continues to glow blue. He was tempted to take off his helmet, but protocol forbade it. Anyway, if he encountered any survivors, he'd need to avoid an exchange of microbes.

Although, they wouldn't really be survivors. The Pan-American Recovery League called them "potential exclusion zone inhabitants," but doubted their existence. The offspring of people who had survived the UpsilonChem Disaster, still living here two hundred years after the initial fire? Mikhail had always fantasized about it, though, a tribe of people eking out a hardscrabble existence in the ruins.

He spent most of the afternoon collecting soil samples, Rec-7 logging his position each time he uncapped one of the plastic jars. There was certainly no shortage of life; turkey vultures soared overhead in low, lazy circles, and every now and then, Mikhail caught a flash of something—maybe a rat?—fleeing through the tall grasses. He made a note to requisition some live traps from the depot in San Jose. Once an hour, Rec-7 emitted a chirp, something almost like a bird, but alien enough to alert anyone within hearing range to their presence. If that didn't draw out any PEZIs, Mikhail had a satchel filled with stake-shaped cameras that would glow all night with an irresistible purple light.

It turned out, however, that he wouldn't need them. Mikhail heard the PEZIs before he saw them, their soft stomping a veritable cacophony against the relative silence of the meadow. He scrambled to his feet, checking to make sure Rec-7's camera was recording before he even thought to worry about his own safety. As they came into view, it took Mikhail several seconds to believe what he was seeing: a company of knights, straight out of a children's book, walking five men deep with huge, brightly painted shields in front of their bodies.

"Rec!" Mikhail called to the robot. "Stream to HQ! I want this live." The streaming light blinked to life on Rec-7's head. "This is Mikhail Kozar in the UpsilonChem exclusion area, sixteen forty-three hours. Encountered probable exclusion zone inhabitants. About to engage." He paused. "Or flee. We shall see."

Before the knights reached him, however, a figure cloaked in a black robe dashed in from of them, holding up a thin wooden cross. "Stoppit!" the figure shouted. "Stoppit!" As the man turned to face the small army, Mikhail noticed a pack slung across his back, a blazing orange nylon. He took another look at the knights. What had at first appeared be shields were actually flimsy pieces of plywood decorated with faux heraldic designs. The helmets were a little better, as they looked to be old sports helmets painted silver or covered in foil. Mikhail wondered, was this all theatrics? Or did they believe that the trappings of ancient armor could protect them?

The man threw back his hood and began hiking toward Mikhail. His tanned face looked young, but was deeply lined, with a chaotic beard springing from his chin and cheeks. The man shoved his cross into his belt and smiled as he held out his hand. "Hey!" he called. "You josh?"

Mikhail shook his head. "I'm Mikhail," he said, hoping his helmet's microphone wasn't distorting his voice too badly. "I'm from," he waved vaguely behind him, "out there."

The man clucked his tongue as a grin spread across his face. His extended hand shot into a pointed figure. "Ah! You talk oldie," he said. "Laksme granddad." He peered at Mikhail. "You from Organ?"

"Organ?" Mikhail repeated, not understanding.

The man seemed to ponder for a moment, then mimed a pair of doors opening. "Wall?" he said, then turned his right hand into a pair of legs walking through half the open door.

Oregon, Mikhail realized. The world outside the wall.

"I can't take you out there," Mikhail said quickly. "There's a protocol. We'll have to get you all quarantined and inoculated…"

But the man waved him off. "Forgan Organ," he said. "Common...Mee-kale wassit?" He looked at Mikhail questioningly.

He nodded. "Yes, Mikhail."

"Josh," said the man. Mikhail suspected it wasn't his name. "Common. It's better in Upcam."

The man grabbed Mikhail's gloved hand and tugged him along. Rec-7 obediently zipped after them, its steaming light still glowing. Mikhail couldn't decide which surprised him more: the company of ersatz knights or the fact that they didn't seem interested in leaving the exclusion zone.