The city is vast and improbable in size. It is mass of clustered towers and high-rise monoliths, jutting into the sky like needles, shattered teeth and monuments to the great gods of concrete and steel and glass. It is lit from below by the eternal red glow of the endless clusters of ever-burning electro-furnaces; and from on high the pale white and blow lustre of arc lights and diode lamps. The narrow knife-cut canyons of The City are forever wreathed in faint, almost ephemeral clouds of steam and colloidal exhaust ventings. From the distance any detail is lost behind this gauzy blanket, leaving only vague, red tinged shadows of the monster that looms within.
But as vast and improbable as the city is, no matter how far it might rise into the heavens or how bright its lights might shine, it pales in comparison to the rolling hinterlands that lie about it. The word hinterlands tends to put people in mind of palatial and bucolic pastures, somewhere parochial, perhaps even quaint, the sort of place where you’d like to take your family for a quiet picnic beneath the shaded canopy of an old oak tree. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although it used to be true that outside the city lay the countryside, that isn’t the case any more. It is important to consider the definition of a hinterland: “an area lying beyond that which is visible or that which is known.”
As far as the denizens of the city are concerned, that is a very apt description of the Great Yard of the Junk Barrens.
It rings the city, stretching for hundreds of miles in every direction, a seemingly unending swathe of waste and cast-offs. It lies about the city like its shed skin or its fallen leaves. The yard is where all the city’s unwanted goods eventually find their way, tossed away by a people who know the cost of everything but the value of nothing. The barrens have to them as much landscape and character as the land which preceded it. It has its ranges of low-lying hills, it has its towering pinnacles and its great flatlands and plateaus. All of it is split by a web of thin, oily water that runs through the grand junk mounds like a delta. These tributaries flow from the great concrete outflows at the city’s skirts. They become rivers and rapids and they pool in great fathomless lakes. But most of all they become the slow-moving black canals that bisect the islands, through dark tunnels of flaking steel, through vaulted and lofty aqueducts of mouldering cement and through crude and crumbling cuts of plastic wrapped rubbish.
But these waterways are only canals because they are used by people. Without people they would be nothing more than sluggish, near stagnant streams. For even in this blighted trashland, in the shadow of the shinning edifices and looming titans of human achievement, there are people. People who somehow cling onto life and carve out a meagre existence despite the misfortune of being born or thrust into where they now find themselves. They are a people well bloodied, not yet broken and thoroughly unbowed. They live in cobbled together shelters in the lee of broken girders and the rusting hulks of bulk transporters. The world sometimes forgets that as the magnitude of the magnificence of the upper strata of society increases there is a thrice-fold growth of the misfortune of those at the bottom of the pile. For every colossal mega-city there will always be a slum which dwarfs it in size.
The city and the junk yard exist in a perpetual duality, a yin and yang. The two is all that either know, and each is separate and other; a linked and proximal anti-thesis.
It has never been entirely clear exactly how the junk barrens came to be. That the myriad of cast-offs come from the city there has never been any doubt. The matter of how it gets from point a to point b is more of a mystery. Some say that in the dead of night the city folk sally forth on huge, flat-bottomed barges scattering assorted flotsam and jetsam in their wake. But no living soul has ever seen these barges, nor one of the city folk for that matter. Others say that everything is just dumped into the rivers and the water itself carries the waste in its flow. This could be true for things either small or buoyant, but what of the megaton girders that appear overnight? What of the crete-boulders a hundred feet to a side that are there one week but gone the next, only to return years hence? Such rearrangements are far beyond the ken of simple hydrodynamic flow. Those among the yard folk who are more fanciful than others tell a different story. The speak of strange shapes in the inky depths, of ghostly lights flickering on the tides. They speak of metal beasts that swim out from the city, carrying its ferrous night-soil, digesting and tearing and dismantling it as they go. Placing it amidst the isles in a pattern only they understand. The people of the barrens call the Junkers; a legend that they speak of in hushed tones. The junkers they say, are not a thing of good or evil, only of purpose and portent. They are as likely to bring luck as they are woe.
But even those who think that this tale is nothing more than a myth still leave offerings on the shore line, where the browning metal meets the iridescent water. Be it trinkets, a particularly fine spring or cog, or even a wafer of one of the rarer alloys. Sometimes the offerings stay there for years, other times they vanish within the hour. Even the most ardent unbelievers still hedge their bets, they consider it a small investment, just in case. All of the yard folk think it is worth trying to curry the favour of the Junkers in the deep, to convince them to bring them good fortune and the finest scrap.
Those who believe the hardest hope that one day they might even see one the Junkers up close. To be bathed in the warm yellow light of its many eyes. And that having met a Junker, they might tame it like it were a rust-rat or a sludge-dog. They hope beyond hope that they could befriend this myth of the deep, and in doing so find the answer and solution to all their woes. It is all the yard folk could ever want. No more scrabbling for scraps, no more hunting for spare parts, no more sifting through the rubble. The route to an easier, better life. It is the answer to their dreams.
But it has never happened yet. Even so, the myth endures, all across the tumbledown junkscape.