35 - The Greeting

“Jeez, we’ve been wandering this desert for a lifetime.” Archie blew a dust-rocket out of one nostril. He watched it disappear into a crack in the ground distastefully.

“Shut up Archie,” grumbled Au thirstily as they drifted to a stop on the apex of a withered mound, slightly above the vast sea of salt flats. She scanned for any sign of life. Au jumped as Archie poked her in the ribs. She followed his pointing finger to the horizon. Was that a shimmer of the heat, or perhaps the expanse playing its usual tricks? A pair of figures were silhouetted dark against the white of the salts. Goggles back on, Au tweaked the throttle and zipped off. The bike whined as they zipped off in that direction, a little light on planned maintenance and heavy on dust by this point.

The walking pair was cresting a little mound with some sort of sled in tow. Archie and Au zoomed over. They were greeted by a dusty and exhausted Observer, and a dusty, exhausted but enthused Impecca. As they dismounted the bike, after a few sips of borrowed water, the Observer waved away their cracked-lip pleasantries.“Let me ask you one thing, do the temporal fields humm? He then added, with a flair for the dramatic when Archie and Au hesitated, “Then we are lost.” Archie and Au were indeed lost. They Took a Step Back. “You are Observer Tyton Barnes, yes?”

“Er, yes” said the observer, “are you from the M&G cong.?” He squinted, trying to distinguish the pair from the dust that caked them. He recalled the orange jumpsuits, but their begoggled faces didn’t have the withered look of someone who’d spent years buffeted by dust and boredom. “You aren’t Alovian are you?” At this, Impecca perked up.

“Well, no, but we dropped into both of those places looking for you”

“For me? Places? You stopped into Chronus?” Said the Observer, as he was thought of himself now. Years of reading correspondence headed Attn: Observer had had that effect.

“Chronus er, what? No, the Alovian research station, remember those ruins above the falls?”

“Alovian research station?” interjected Impecca excitedly, having tripled the amount of people she knew in the last few minutes.

“Empty”, said Archie matter of factly. Impecca visibly drooped. Of course she thought sadly, just like Chronus. Au looked at her. There was something strange about this girl, an unnatural symmetry that not even the best plastic doctors in Laudishan could claim their own. Her teeth positively shone out of the dust. While working at the tacky tourism stall she’d had to keep her mouth closed around dusk or risked attracting legions of moths; though sometimes she’d just been grateful for the company as they flitted about.

Au looked pointedly at Impecca, and then the levitating sled; remembering the lev-challenged bike back at the node. “Are you the node carrier? They’re looking for you at the supply station. They’re putting out a search party.” The Observer looked guilty “The carrier is, er, no longer with us in the physical sense” Archie looked at him accusingly, as a union guy himself.

Hurriedly, the Observer added “Buzzard accident, the wildlife have been Acting Up. I think, ever since that smudge made an appearance.”

“Smudge aside, though admittedly an important topic that we will revisit shortly”, began Au, looking at Impecca “Who are you, then?”

“Impecca” She said helpfully. “Of Alovian descent.” She added sadly, “Though as it appears, the last in this general vicinity”

“As far as I can understand it,” said the Observer, “She’s an eight-hundred year old Alovian descendent.” Impecca attempted to explain the circumstances of her birth and artificial upbringing.

The Observer tried to provide Old Jardinian context. “This is all after a schism, in which apparently all Old Jardinian people led a righteous crusade against those researchers and engineers responsible for the failure of the project at Chronus, and by extension, for this” He gestured to the Great Expanse encompassing them. “I assume this story has been lost to time; I certainly had missed the boat, as indeed had Impecca’s forebearers.” Archie and Au nodded their agreement.

“Apparently they continued to live and endeavor in secret, as I imagine they did in this Alovian station you visited, and as I saw to a smaller and probably less successful extent in Chronus Extent. The latter is where Impecca grew up, completely alone.” Impecca described the monolith, with the Observer providing appropriate cultural analogies. “And not one tourist,” she finished sadly.

He continued his story. “When I received the Mark of Excellence, with it came the instructions for a temporal solar farming device, that could be scaled & chained in number up to provide unprecedented quantities of power. I won’t go into the physics and probability mechanics that I don't entirely understand, but I can tell you this - the prolonged use of many such devices would invite the anomalous events that I’m certain are causing that cloud. And what’s more, the system looked very similar to some elements of the failed project at Chronus so many years ago, that Impecca showed me.

If my experience is anything to go by, technology marked with the Alovian symbol has been finding its way into the hands of those with Mark of Excellence. That is the real secret to the success of our exalted industrialists, though I doubt they would ever admit it.” He added, “Sorry, Archie”

Archie had the look of someone who’d just found out all his heros were fraudulent, and indeed, the very basis of his societal understanding had been shaken.

The Observer shook his head. “Flaunting his wealth like it was something deserved. I would be surprised if he knows how to build anything. And now that the Alovians have apparently left. I mean, the Ascendancy Has Been Realized, what kind of hokey baloney is that?.”

Even Impecca, an incumbent member of the obscure science club that was Alovian, didn’t know the answer to what kind of hokey baloney was that.

“It’s the Dean, isn’t it. Somehow she distributes the gifted technology from these hidden Alovians. I’d imagine she probably holds some back too, to make sure she’s useful in the future. Except now apparently they’re gone. You have to laugh at that. Eventually, the people were going to find out. How’s she holding up without her queenmaking source?”

Archie shrugged. “Not well. We know she managed to lose all of her data.”

The Observer snorted in humor and despair. Au elaborated. “We think she is the only person who knows about the smudge, besides us of course, but it has existentially crippled her. She’s unresponsive.”

Archie jutted in.” We came of course, because we are very altruistic and care about our fellow old Jardinians and want to figure out what is going on here.”

“We also didn’t have jobs, Archie, we had nothing better to do,” said Au>

“I imagine that society is just about crumbling back home...” she said, checking an elegant projected wrist interface for the time, “Yep, about now. Everyone probably started to figure out that the Industrialists are cowering in their castles with sand foundations, or more accurately, industabunkers with sand walls, as production grinds to a halt.”

“Without updates and instruction, they’re lost, and they know it. They’re probably scrambling like wet badgers to keep hold of their positions, but if there is one thing that Jards don’t like, its being lied to. If my nose wasn’t blocked with all this dust,” she let loose an elegant nose rocket, “I would smell a revolution brewing.”

The Observer looked horrified for a moment, “but the smudge is encroaching. We have to warn the people!”

Archie, fired up now, said excitedly, “We’ll go with you. We’ve got to get back to the city!”

If it isn't already burning, said Au mournfully, who knew a bit about how people would really feel upon realization that they were living a calculated sham.

Previous chapter Next chapter All chapters