Writing Competition Submission - Ruin

RUIN

By Voroxpete

28/01/2022

LOGLINE

In the twisted ruins of a utopian multi-planetary society, destroyed by corrupted AI run amok, an idealistic young noble and his weathered companions must team up with a sadistic pirate crew to find a lost cure that could restore humanity’s golden age.

STORY

In the golden age of humanity we became, at last, a multi-planetary species. The process was a long one, and not easy, but with slow and faltering steps our species reached for the stars. Eventually humans settled across dozens of worlds, each slowly and painstakingly terraformed to varying degrees of Earthlike habitability. Developments in faster than light travel created a more interconnected, closely-nit human diaspora, and developments in automation and AI eventually began to eradicate hardship. Everything could be automated, everything could be produced in almost limitless quantity, and humanity was becoming a post-scarcity species.

With so much of our lives given over to smart machines whose purpose was to automate everything, from cooking and cleaning to bureaucracy and large-scale political decisions, nothing could prepare us for the effects of the dataphage. Though widely believed to be a virus, the dataphage was something far more insidious; a cascading failure born of centuries of design flaws compounding onto one another. It was a threat that many experts had seen coming, but their warnings had been ignored and suppressed by leaders more interested in maintaining the facade of a peaceful utopia. It was endemic and systemic, affecting every last human settled world. Most machines simply shut down, but some survived, albeit now behaving in wildly erratic new ways. In effect, every smart computer system either failed, or was driven irreparably insane.

What remains, in the aftermath of this cataclysm, are small, scattered pockets of humanity, reduced to an effectively medieval existence by the wholesale destruction of our technology. Few working ships remain, and the process of navigating without advanced computation is fraught with danger. There is little to no communication or trade between worlds. Humans survive in enclaves where they scratch out what they need from worlds that have grown strange from the effects of the dataphage. Buildings designed to automatically repair themselves now build endlessly on their old forms, cancerous growths of nanocrete blossoming and collapsing under the strain of their own weight. What were cities are now jungles of twisting stone branches. Reclamation drones pick over the ruins, scavenging whatever useful material can be found in their fallen brethren, or simply reprocessing whatever organic matter they encounter, living or dead. Autonomous defence systems react to every intrusion as hostile, in some cases even turning on themselves. There are blasted wastelands where defence fabrication systems are locked in endless wars, churning out waves of attack drones that annihilate each other in glittering clouds of plasma fire, lighting up the sky for miles around.

In this ruined world, our story begins with Navid, fifth son of a noble bloodline, who has left the comfort of his home to dig deep into the secrets of the past. Centuries have gone by since the collapse, but Navid believes that there are still truths to be unearthed in the ruins of the world they lost. He is accompanied by Grigor, an old family friend acting as mentor and bodyguard, and Steren, his bodyguard. Their journey has led them to the city of Arkkan, and a lost cache of pre-collapse records that, unbeknownst to them, suggest the existence of a possible cure to the dataphage.

Unfortunately for Navid and his companions, they have caught the attention of Irena, a pirate captain with a burning hatred for Navid’s father. She tracks the pair to Arkkan and intends to kill them until she learns what they’ve found. Eager to lay her hands on the most valuable prize imaginable, Irena sets Navid to the task of finding the cure for her.

MAIN CHARACTER DESCRIPTIONS

NAVID – Young and idealist, Navid is not naive or foolish, but holds out hope for a better world. He has the grace and easygoing confidence of someone who has grown up surrounded by wealth and power, but it belies a deeper insecurity.

GRIGOR – In his youth Grigor was a bear of a man, but he has shrunk with age, and now walks with a slight stoop. One eye is milk-white and blind, the skin around it burned. He drinks a lot, speaks softly, and enjoys gallows humour.

STEREN – Young and slight, but strong and fast, Steren was trained from birth to be a duellist and bodyguard. She has a dry sense of humour and gets along well with Grigor.

IRENA – Irena is commandingly tall, with a face and body covered in scars. She smiles easily, but without warmth. Her crew treat her with the utmost respect.

ARDESHIR – A man who believes in power, and his absolute right to wield it. Ardeshir is friendly, easygoing, and jovial until the second someone crosses him. When angered, his cruelty is limitless.

SETTING DESCRIPTIONS

THE CLOUDBREAKER – Irena’s ship is a misshapen hulk, not so much one ship as five, carved up and reassembled to build a functioning whole. The interior and exterior both show intense signs of wear and age, though it has been well cared for.

ARKKAN – A twisted mess of a city warped by the dataphage. Skyscrapers grow in strange branches, arcs, and spirals, twisting into and through one another. The ruins are haunted by deranged maintenance drones and malfunctioning security systems.

PEREL – This enclave lies on a coastline surrounded by dry brush and desert that has been overrun by a coarse bramble of self-repairing wiring. The wiring grows endlessly, and the people of Perel harvest it daily with shockprobes, cutters, and incinerators.

EARTH – Climate destruction forced humanity off the Earth a long time ago, leaving behind machinery intended to restore the planet to its former beauty. These machines did not escape the effects of the dataphage, and now the Earth is a planet overrun by verdant and often strange flora and fauna.

EPISODE SUMMARIES

EPISODE 1 – Navid and Grigor arrive on the planet of Neva Teriz and make their way into the ghost city of Arkkan, unaware that Irena and her crew are on their trail. We follow each group as they negotiate the many dangers of the city, learning about their particular skills and tendencies in the process. On the penthouse of a skyscraper Navid finds his prize, and at that moment Irena arrives, her crew surrounding the three explorers with weapons bared.

EPISODE 2 – After learning exactly what it is Navid has found, Irena changes her mind about killing him, for now. He and his friends are brought back to the Cloudbreaker, Irena’s ship, where she sets him to the task of finding the cure. Grigor suggests a plan to get a message to Navid’s father, Ardeshir, and together they make Irena believe that their next clue is in the nearby enclave of Perel. Grigor succeeds in finding a courier to carry their distress call, but Irena learns of his deception and takes his hand as punishment.

EPISODE 3 – Angry at Grigor’s punishment, Steren ignores Navid’s orders and challenges Irena to a duel. Though Irena wins she is impressed by Steren and leaves her alive, with some fresh scars. Navid’s research leads the crew to the abandoned lab where a team was scrambling to find a cure as the dataphage broke out. With the effects of the plague rapidly encroaching, the last of the researchers fled to continue their research in a place of safety; the now abandoned birthplace of humanity, Earth.

EPISODE 4 – Ardeshir and his mercenaries launch their assault, boarding the Cloudbreaker and killing or capturing all of Irena’s crew. The rescue turns sour however when Navid excitedly tells his father of a possible cure, only for Ardeshir to reply that he has no interest in finding one. Their family’s power lies in the resources they control, and a cure for the dataphage would destroy everything he has built. Now Navid must strike a deal with Irena to reclaim her ship and work together to find the cure.

EPISODE 5 – Pursued by Ardeshir’s mercenaries, the Cloudbreaker smashes through the isolation web around Earth and crash lands in the overgrowth of NorAm, near a city once called Atlanta. Evading hostile wildlife they descend into the ruins of the old CDC HQ, where the research team continued their work. Grigor and Steren successfully cut themselves, Navid and Irena off from the rest of the crew and wound her in the ensuing fight. She reveals why she hates Ardeshir; her sister was killed after being taken from one of his fiefs as a “tithe”, young women gifted to his most loyal courtiers.

EPISODE 6 – Ardeshir’s men cut through the remaining crew of the Cloudbreaker but take heavy losses. He continues to pursue Navid into the ruins, where he is confronted by Steren and Irena. They overpower his remaining men, but Steren is killed, and Irena is overcome by her injuries. He confronts Navid in the heart of the facility, and Navid is left with no choice but to kill his father. He and Grigor then replay the final logs of the research team and learn, to their horror, that they never succeeded in creating a cure after all.

TONE

The world of Ruin is bleak and unsettling, a world of familiar things made strange and terrible. The feeling of the art should often lean into the surreal imagery of the warped cities and corrupted versions of nature. This is Jodorowsky by way of Dark Souls; a starkly unnerving vision of our rich, lush, and powerful world brought low by our own neglect.

The ending is bleak but could contain a seed of hope; while a cure was never found, all the research exists, and perhaps one could eventually be discovered.

THEME

Ruin is a story about our unthinking reliance on the machines we build, and the systems we create; mechanical, social, and political. It’s a story for a generation that is watching our world collapse as uncaring and incompetent leaders do nothing. As a setting it offers a canvas on which to paint many different visions of what human society is and can be, while remaining true to that core vision of collapse and decay, spurred on by human greed and corruption.

CONTACT

Discord: voroxpete#9548

Email: voroxpete@gmail.com

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Just a quick note I wanted to add here; if for whatever reason you’re interested in the premise of Ruin, but not sold on the specific story, that’s OK. One of my key goals was to ensure that the setting itself was something versatile, a canvas on which many different stories could be painted. It could just as easily serve as the backdrop for an anthology, or for a much larger story many seasons long. The individual elements of the setting were selected for their ability to create interesting conflicts in unique locales. It’s a world that has plenty of room for short stories, spin-offs, and whatever else the DAO ultimately decides to do with it.

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