5 - The Camel

The Observer closed the door at the base of his node, for the final time after years of tedium. Together, he and the computer set out. They quickly left behind the node, the dunes, and the cliffs they slumped against. The Observer weaved between shrubs, careful not to get too close to the hungry looking ones. The Festivian’s Toe Nibbler was a well-known hazard of the deep jungle near sodden; the observer would have been less-than-surprised to find a distant shrub-cousin of the carnivorous plant here. The dust motes and salt particles swirled around them in a haze. The sun was visible, but more of a bright white spot amidst the dense particle cloud. The salt gave the air a crisp seaside quality, one that the vast beaches of Sodden advertised but routinely did not deliver over the general smell of degeneracy. A few hours later, the Observer wondered aloud if he’d locked the door to the node. The computer hadn’t been paying attention, had been working on its speech library and said as much. The Observer shuddered at the strange jilting speech of Alden Carnibus, formerly a classmate and currently an industrialist of tremendous fame and repute.

One could hide, and the Expanse did hide, a multitude of strange beasts within its dusty shroud. The computer described and noted them as they passed, the observer keenly interested. Sometimes the beasts passed at great speed, and sometimes with plodding surety. They all seemed uninterested in the smudge-bound travellers, pursuing some long forgotten function in the form of instinctual migration. At one point, two miniature camels and a desert fox hastened by . It appeared they were trying to form a common language with their laboured grunts and squeaks. Man and machine alike watched through the swirling dusts as an eagle with a receding hairline joined them, to markedly little success. The Observer mused that it might go bald from the stress.

Sometime after the motley crew of animals passed, another dingy bunch, bipedal this time, thundered by in hot pursuit on battered lev-bikes. Unknown to many Jards, but faithfully noted by the journal entries the Observer had read from other observers, a sizable number of exiles eked out a livelihood in the great expanse. Poaching and illicit manufacturing were the most common activities. ChemAR packs were developed in rogue labs on the edge of the expanse, one of the few technologies available that wasn’t directly approved by or profited upon by the meritocracy that was the Old Jardinian circle of industrialists. A dangerous profession that; the Observer had indeed seen a few distant explosions over the years, wild and unruly colors flaring for startling moments as another ChemAR lab did not heed the relevant workplace safety warnings.

Luxurious dinners, the kind favoured by Alden Carnibus’ and his ilk, were never complete without some foreign delicacy from the great expanse, the Old Jardinian industrialist caste relishing extravagance and exclusivity. You’d be hard pressed to find a proper dinner without say, the roasted fatty humps of the Boam ’s miniature camel (ouch). Credit for weekend forays into the cities and goods would be a welcome bounty for the most efficient and ruthless poachers.

Dubious of the legality of the unfolding scene, and having a healthy respect for beasts of possible scientific interest, the Observer hailed the poachers, hoping to distract them. Luckily for him, the roving meat-marauders were low on their weekly quota. Dinner and entertaining season was just beginning. If it had been a good month, these types of characters would hunt lonely dusty wanderers like himself for the sport of it. The masked leader paused briefly, drew the rest of his crew to a stop, made some colourful gestures and threatening remarks, barely audible over the distance and took off again after the beasts. The Observer recognized the unsavoury leader’s helmet, a Hackit helmet, though with some unsavoury ornamentations. Not exactly an ideal ambassador for the sport he had thought, shaking his head.

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