Doomsday RE: A Wasteland Memorial
A 1983 Doomsday Tale from the Future through a Nation's Eyes
Around the Vienna Exclusion Zone, Alpine Confederation. 2031.
“How long has it been?” the embodiment of Austria mused loudly to no one in particular. Taking a brief look around, he sighed, even while forcing back the urge to cough. A faint silhouette of a bird seemed to be flying off in the distance. “Who else would know then? It's from another time.”
Yet one that grows more distant, he added silently, a part of him still holding back the urge to bemoan his old capital even after all these years. That he was here at all also seemed like an inexplicable stroke of luck. Due to some engine failure, the ferry that would take him to the inaugural ceremonies in Budapest Memorial was forced to stop nearby. Apart from a few headstrong tourists and the occasional supply post, the landscape remained coldly silent. Still, there have been stranger events.
Brushing off with some difficulty the summer winds blowing about him, Roderich had spent much of the time going about the rubble that had once been the heart of his Empire. Hard to believe that people lived here at all. While the site itself had since been deemed safe enough for people to visit, much of the damage remained. Many of the surviving ruins were largely hollowed out, the stone and metalwork in some of them melted from the bombs. Familiar landmarks like the Hofburg or St. Stephen's Cathedral were either long gone or had crumbled away. The very ground he stepped on was a mixture of dirt and glass, though here and there sickly patches of grass tried to take root. If there were any bodies left lying around, they would have faded away years ago. Yet even now, that hasn’t stopped the sharp twitches of pain from wounds that were no longer there. Gott, not again…
He could still picture with unwanted clarity what happened on September 26, nearly 50 years earlier. He remembered buying flowers for a clandestine meeting that evening when sirens began blazing through the city. Evacuation orders were hastily made while his army mobilized. But by then it was already too late. TV and radio reporters had barely even finished delivering that dreaded news when two nuclear missiles struck. Beyond that, everything seemed to be an anguished blur for a while. All he could remember for certain the dark times right after Doomsday were of endless fires and fallout. Of screams and gasps from those unlucky to be killed outright by the bombs. Then of fending off Soviets attempting to ravage his land. Of being forced back by Switzerland and his own people for "safety." Of a reunion with Hungary that never came.
"There you are!"
He looked back, almost stumbling to find his little Sopron gingerly approaching him. Or rather, Transdanubia as people seemed to be calling her these days. "Good news! They're finally done with the ferry! We probably should make good time now, right Papa?"
Somehow, hearing her call him father still surprised him. Indeed, he couldn't help notice how much his now seemingly teenage daughter looked more like her mother in her folk dress, a familiar flower sitting neatly on her collar. Although it also caught his attention just how oddly forced her normally spirited enthusiasm came across right then. Still, out of more than routine conduct, Roderich allowed himself a relieved smile. "I suppose so, Meine Tochter. Apologies for keeping you waiting."
Watching Julia guide him to the waiting jeep with her delicate hands reminded the Nation that this wouldn't go on forever. His daughter’s new place in the world was already proof of that. As he noticed the sun finally setting, there was no doubt in his mind that time was moving ever onward. Perhaps people would one day return for good and rebuild this lost city. But by then, would they even name it Vienna, let alone call themselves Austrian? There seemed to be less people who remember what life was like before Doomsday after so long. And soon, even they would begin to die...
"Is anything wrong, Papa?"
"I was just remembering another time, I suppose," he sighed as he cleaned his glasses. It was only then that he noticed a strand of grey hair that had fallen on his hand. Brushing it away, he quietly followed her back to the car. Perhaps one day he'd give her a serious tour of the ruins. He might even let Prussia do it if need be. But then again, it's not my place to burden you with the past, isn't it?
Even with all the new highways, railroads and airship routes being laid out around the former Frontier, Roderich thought it more fitting, and safer, to use the Danube for getting to the site of the proceedings along with his little Julia. He knew that compared to the other Nations, whether Prussia’s zeppelins or the chartered tickets of his fellow Alpines and their son, taking a ferry seemed like an archaic choice. But if anything, not even Doomsday ruined much of the timeless beauty of the river that ran through his long-distant Empire. Or perhaps his nostalgia has finally gotten the better of him. At least the ceremony's still a few days off.
And yet as the aristocrat looked on at the night sky beyond his window, he felt uneasy. It wasn't so much that Sopron’s people were considering the notion of leaving the Alpine Confederation altogether. Or how lately, he seemed to be getting weaker and more exhausted than usual. Somehow, at the back of his mind he knew the greying strands of hair were just the beginning. Perhaps the centuries were finally catching up with his body. Perhaps I’ve known all along… Sooner or later it would start off an irreversible aging that not even a Nation could hold back. All while a persistent feeling of his very identity eroding kept gnawing from within. He grimaced, wondering just how long it would take before he began resembling Franz Josef on his deathbed. Or become nothing…
"I suppose going back to that damned wheelchair is the least of my worries now," he faintly muttered to no one in particular, only to force back another coughing fit. A thought entered his mind. Would the world remember him or his kind? Perhaps. So long as there were history books and museums, he was sure, the name and relics of Austria would remain in humankind's memory, even if only as a mere footnote. After all, he had witnessed and outlived so many over countless generations, yet there would be no tombstone or monument down the line for him. That he outlived his beloved Hungary didn't make the pain any less sharp, even now. Yet deep down, there may very well be some ironic twist. That in the end, only a few would know that one by the name of Roderich Edelstein existed, and in due time, much like Rome, Germany, England and so many others, he would vanish altogether. Mein Gott…as if that is consoling!
"Um…Verzeihung.” He turned, perhaps much to wearily than he would have liked, to find Julia standing close to his seat. There was the same unusual tinge of uncertainty in her voice. “Was I interrupting something?"
Sliding seamlessly to a timid smile, he beckoned her to sit beside him. Best not to trouble her with such bleak matters. "It's just been a tiring day. Nothing for you to be concerned about. Now what seems to bothering you? If it is concern over Hans, Vash or Lilli, then-"
"Nem. Sorry, but it's – it’s my pact with Janos," the Survivor-Nation replied rather hesitantly though with strained composure, referring to her half-brother Partium.
“Is something the matter?! What has that boy done?”
She shook her head. "It’s not that. Don't get me wrong, Papa. For the peace of my people, for the Wastes – I'm willing to do this. But there's so much left to work out. And after all the quarreling, I don't even know for sure if that Transylvanian wannabe's still eager to go through with this whole United Magyaria business. Gott..." She tried forcing back what was clearly a look of frustration. "I like to think that everything’s just gonna be fine. Would it?”
Without a second thought, Austria embraced her. It didn't matter to him anymore if anyone else was watching. "You can't miss this opportunity, child," he whispered gently to her as he let go. "I've done some regrettable – horrible deeds in the past. But this is your world now, and you have all the right to make your own path in it. All I ask is for you to be better than any of us ever were." A soft grin entered his face. Despite all that happened over the years, as difficult as it was to see her leave, she was still his little Sopron. Our Sopron. "Make me...Nein, make us proud."
He continued smiling as something of his daughter's confidence returned, the familiar-looking flower almost reacting in unison. "Ja, Papa. Számíthat rám!" As she gingerly nodded and stood up to make her way out, she looked back to murmur something just audible enough for the aristocrat alone to hear. "And I'm sure Mama's proud of you too."
The Nation sighed as Sopron left. She'll do well out there, I have no doubt of that. Looking back, he saw the illuminated ruins of Budapest Memorial coming into view. Through the reflection on the mirror however, he thought he could see a bird taking shape into a familiar angel standing across from him in her old uniform. There was look of warm content on her face as she moved up beside him, her arms gently holding his.
“It’s so nice to see you again, my lady,” Roderich murmured. It was a comforting reminder that even now, she was still there with him, watching over their family and holding on for the day all of them would be together again. Perhaps he was indeed living on borrowed time. But if there was any solace from all this, it was that in the end, the wait would be worth it. “So this is how it begins?”
“Nem,” she replied wistfully as she held him in her arms. “I can’t tell the future, but until your time comes, just promise me that you’ll keep moving on.”
"You have my word, Elizaveta.” Austria closed his eyes. “You have my word…”
“It doesn’t end here, Szerelem. Nothing ever ends.“
“I know. I’ll see you soon…”