4 - The Path

The observation node network was nestled in the dunes and cliff faces at the edge of the loose empire, beyond anything worth mentioning around polite company. In decades and centuries past, other Observers had ventured out into the salt flats from these numerous nodes straddling the rim of the Great Expanse. Rumours of Strange Beasts and Odd Events could be read in the datafied journals and records. However, the region did funny things to the mind, and the Observer knew to take these dusty tales with a pound of salt. Connecting to the personal terminal mesh in his boxhome, he was able to load up the coordinates of the menacing smudge on one of the hallucinatory augmented reality cocktail packs, known as chemAR.

T hough the Smudge wasn’t exactly hard to see, it was comforting for him to have wayfinding for storms and otherwise limited visibility on this trip, a distance beyond most excursions done by his distant colleagues over the years.

He jammed the pack into a receptacle at the base of his neck. He ’d got the chemAR shunt on a whim for some off-grid adventuring during his school years, and hadn’t had the chance to have it removed before his latest career move. It was less pleasant than other modern personal visual interfaces, the more tech-forward solutions, but it was cheaper and more useful on the run , away from the empire’s ubiquitous networks. It was something developed open-source, by the workers and for the workers, a rare departure from the new product cycle resulting from pure industrialist vision and ambition. Wearing it, he’d felt a kinship with the workers, the salt-of-the-earth, a harkening to his previous days, even while wading into the social arena with the city’s elite. During his brief time as a prodigy at the university, the absurdities of vanity politics, the delicate dance of brash confidence and enigmatic etiquette comprising the many-layered competition of the social arena were made a bit more tolerable with some reminders of the past. This chemAR, the most tangible, is a worker’s technology made a part of him.

He could now see a path towards the smudge superimposed by way of induced hallucination over his vision. It was a glowing blue, impossible to miss. He packed a spare chemAR pack with the location of the node already programmed in. With this, he could quickly switch the packs to find his way back. He ’d requested a couple of the blank packs and an interfacing input from the carrier a few months ago. The packs certainly weren't standard M&G Cong. issue, but were certainly useful in a pinch, and besides, reminded him of home.

The Observer tried to start the lev-bike again, but with a sigh of frustration, he found it needed a code to start. The start knob in front of the seat was laid out like a combination dial, so he’d probably have to guess three numbers. The carrier was in no position to give clues, dead and de-seated as he was. The observer didn’t even know the poor guy’s birthday. He tried three nines on a hunch. This hunch was incorrect. He tried to listen to the clicks like a predictable hero in a blockbusting heist entertainment, nothing. He tried numbers at random, no dice. Eventually the little dial recessed into the machine, opening a slot for a hexagonal key.

He looked reproachfully back where he’d buried the carrier. Some slight grave robbery then. He safely stashed the computer back inside the mudroom. After some gentle stretching, he grabbed the shovel used for de-duning the front door. Some digging later, the carrier was unceremoniously frisked for keys. Nothing. Rolling the corpse back into the shallow hole and reburying the poor fellow, the Observer resigned himself to a long walk in the dust. Only the essentials then, enough foodstuffs for a week, and some of those chips he’d been looking forward to. He couldn’t carry these along with the computer, so, after some sweat, fumbling with tools, and general labouring, he was able to wrench the lev-pad off the bike. He was able to fire it up with an auxiliary battery, and make a floating sled for his provisions. Strapping the little dust-phobic machine back on, he imagined that the strange pair he made with the computer would have drawn looks from many Jards back at home, but the deeper wastes of the great expanse had no judging eye, only a gaping maw (if reports were to be believed).

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