Chapter 29:

Lost Mementos of the Past, Part 1


Caleb bent his head back and took in the last drops of water still present in his canteen. The warm spring sun beat down on him harder than usual today, and he could feel the sweat drip down his forehead as the last bit of water fell into his mouth. That was his last canteen, and he would have to find more water soon if he didn't want to face dehydration.

He wasn't all that worried, though. In the distance, he could already see a relay tower in the distance, one that was sure to have plenty of water in supply. After all, even remainers found uses for potable water, whether it be for cleaning or for creating various solutions necessary for scientific research. They could easily spare the water needed to refill his canteens.

As luck would have it, this was also his and Hope's destination, meaning that their long journey would not last much longer either way. Even Hope's eyes seemed to light up at the chance to get some rest and maybe even clean off the grime and muck. They had been traveling for nearly a month, and even she was so exhausted by the constant travel that she would bear a meeting with Computer if it meant she could get a chance to stay off her feet for a bit.

Thankfully, they wouldn't have to do that. They'd already had their mission lined up already, with the relay point serving more as a rendezvous point for them to meet with their partners for this particular job. As they approached the tower, they noticed the two they were supposed to meet standing outside waiting for them.

When they got closer, one of the remainers, an athletic-looking Asian man, waved energetically at them. “There you are! Thought you weren't gonna make it.”

“It's been a pretty long journey for us,” Caleb replied as he walked up to the two of them and shook their hands. “We pretty much crossed half the country to get here, after all.”

“Sheesh!” the other remainer exclaimed in surprise. He was a blonde man with an impressive physique, and he was surrounded by a variety of cases and boxes. “You sure pushed yourself pretty hard if you managed to get here in less than a month.”

“Sure did,” Hope groaned as she walked past them into the relay tower. “Now, if you don't mind, I'd like to wash off before we head off to our actual job location.”

“She's in a rush,” the first remainer grinned. “In any case, my name's Kai, as you already know, and this is my partner Sean.”

“Caleb,” Caleb replied. “She's Hope. Sorry, but could we wait a bit before we head out? I need to resupply.”

“No need to hurry,” Kai replied. “We've got plenty of time, after all.”

Caleb nodded and quickly headed into the relay tower. He didn't want to keep them waiting, especially when they had specifically asked for their help. He was certain that Hope felt the same way, which was why he didn't bother to remind her to hurry. Instead, he focused on stocking up on long-lasting food and filling his canteens with fresh water.

Once their preparations were finished, Caleb and Hope joined Kai and Sean outside. The two were staring off at the remains of a city in the distance, which happened to the site of their next job.

“Look at that,” Kai said as he noticed Caleb and Hope approaching. “It used to be the biggest city in the country, you know.”

“I never got to come here before the end, but I always wanted to visit,” Sean remarked. “Guess this is fulfilling that wish, in a way.”

Caleb looked out at the ruined landscape before him. It was a massive urban metropolis, bigger than any city ruin he had ever encountered before. The sight left him in awe, even though he had no idea what city he was even looking at.

“Do you know what this city was once called?” Kai asked Hope as she took a look at the sprawling city before them. “It was called New York City. It used to be one of the biggest hubs of human civilization. Now we're going to tear it down.”

“That's the job we're helping out on?” Hope asked quizzically.

“Yep. We're demolitionists, after all,” Kai said as he motioned towards the bundle of boxes and cases he and Sean were surrounded by. “I heard you were working as a scavenger right now, but that doesn't mean that's the only role you have to fill. I thought you might like trying something different.”

“I don't mind,” Hope replied. “Sounds like a pretty fun change of pace. But is Caleb going to be doing the same thing?”

“No, he'll be using his expertise to support us. It'll be a while before we actually start knocking this place down, and there's a ton to get done before that happens.”

Hope nodded with understanding as the group began walking towards the city, but Caleb was a little more restrained. He didn't mind Hope checking out different remainer roles, but he had the feeling Kai wasn't telling the whole story. He didn't think he was up to anything nefarious, but his reasoning sounded more like an excuse than anything else.

After a relatively short two-hour walk, the group finally stood in the center of what used to be the greatest metropolis in the country. Caleb and Hope were already in awe of the city from far away, but now that they were inside it, the effect was even more astounding. Kai and Sean chuckled as they watched the two novice remainers marvel at the sights before them.

“New York City's something else, eh? It's been centuries, yet the place still stands strong after years and years of erosion and decay.”

“How has the city stood like this for so long?” Caleb asked with awe. “The rain and wind alone should have done away with most of these structures.”

“Don't get me wrong, this is much smaller than the city used to be,” Kai explained. “Architecture before the end was incredibly advanced, but even it couldn't last this long without maintenance. That's just how big this city was; even its mere remnants could dwarf most other cities.”

“But what about the demolitionists?” Hope asked quizzically. “When you consider how big this city was, wouldn't it have made sense to start dismantling it earlier? Why wait this long?”

“Chalk it up to nostalgia. We talk a big deal about cutting ourselves off from human sentimentality, but by the end, New York City may have been one of the last places still left standing. We had a sort of reverence for this place that can't be explained by pure logic.”

Hope hummed thoughtfully, but Caleb knew she didn't really understand what Kai was getting at. Caleb sort of understood, though. For the remainers who once lived during the heights of human civilization, this city must have been the last reminder of that era still standing. He himself could remember no such time, but if he did, he doubted he would feel all that differently.

“In any case, the grace period is over. There are no more major metropolises still standing in the country, meaning New York City is the last one left untouched. But we can't leave it standing forever. Nature has long started to encroach, and as long as the city is still around, it will only impede its growth. In other words, we've got no choice but to break it down.”

Despite his readiness, Caleb could sense the sadness in Kai's voice. Even Sean, who seemed a generally cheery fellow, seemed downhearted at the idea of destroying such an iconic city. Nevertheless, there was nothing they could do. Don't hold on to the past. It was an ironclad rule of the remainers. You couldn't get anything done if you didn't.

“In any case, let's get to work,” Kai said as he set down his pack. “Hope, you're with us. We'll show you the ropes of being a demolitionist. It's a pretty intensive job, so think of this as a short-term internship.”

“Caleb's not coming along with us?” Hope asked, surprised that she was the only one being called out.

“Course not. There's a lot of planning involved when it comes to demolition, and we can't get it all done today. Until the actual dismantling starts, I'd like Caleb to scavenge the city for any salvageable items.”

“I see.” Caleb rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “I suppose a huge city like this has to have something of value left behind.”

“Yeah. We've done scavenger runs through the area before, so it's not like this place has been entirely untouched. However, it's still possible that there's useful materials stuck under the rubble and debris. If you can find anything like that, it would be great.”

“Sure. I don't have a problem with that.”

“Great!” Kai then leaned in close and whispered into Caleb's ear. “One more thing. If you meet a remainer named Mina, can you keep an eye on her?”

“Sure,” Caleb replied.

“Thanks.” Kai gave Caleb a wink before heading back to Sean and Hope. “Okay, let's get going! We've got a lot of ground to cover today.”

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