The Arkology Reports
After our emergency landing on the surface of Elysium we were discovered by local salvagers who offered to guide us ‘Downstairs’ in return for salvage rights to our craft. It was still a mystery to us who these people were or where they are taking us.
- Associate 90
‘…And sometimes we make up speak as we go along,’ the small man who called himself Charow, explained through his helmet. ‘Ginn really helps dee bind in that regard, capice?’
I smiled politely, not fully comprehending our translator and guide, Charow. This small man in his cobbled-together environment suit was the only one we could communicate with, and it was challenging. His English dialect sounded ancient and made up at the same time. As for the languages of his companions, who were waiting beside our crashed craft, I do not even dare to guess what they spoke.
While gathering whatever useful supplies we could muster from the Comet, he explained to us sign language is common here because they could skip all the hassle of pronouncing words correctly. But my inquiry quickly turned from grammar into something, darker.
‘Why are there so many languages in Arkology?’ I asked while filling a sack with as many supplies as possible.
‘Oh, ah well. All of us came to this place as uh, how does thou call it. Strangers!’
‘Strangers?' I considered what he meant. 'As in foreigners? Migrants!' in deducted out loud. 'Why did you come here? And for that matter, how?’
‘Aw, a nasty story that is,’ he answered melancholically. ‘For all of us, really. Most don’t have a place to return to. Many were driven here by the M.I.D. Yeh heard of them?’
‘M-I-D?’ I repeated. ‘No, I have not.’
‘They left their marks all over this place. Some say they constructed all a this lo-ong ages ago. Others claim, they found this place, and used it for a while till the Crawlies swarmed it.’
‘C-Crawlies?’ I muttered. For some reason, I concluded this was a euphemism for something dastardly right away.
‘Oh, yeah!' he began enthusiastically, taking pleasure in our ignorance. 'Monsters,' he said while holding up his hands and wiggled his fingers as if he wanted to scare a child. 'Lots of them! All over. Except for Arkology.’
‘I see,’ was all I could say. I looked in the direction of the entry point to Downstair, as they called it. Even if he was just trying to scare the newcomers, I didn’t mind it so much now that these scavengers found us when they did. If it wasn’t for them, we would have gone down there by ourselves.
As we stuffed our sacks and anything else we could strap to our backs, the salvagers looked on, leaning on their heavy tools in anticipation of our departure. Two of them were gesturing at the Comet, obviously discussing how they could cut her apart like a carcass. To think that mankind’s, or at least Atlas’, greatest achievements would be turned to scrap with so little consideration was depressing. Humiliating even. Worst of all, nobody back home would ever learn of its existence, achievements or fate. Not even a mention in some backwater newspaper. Our arrival here might as well never have happened at all.
‘Why the long face, mate?’ Charow asked, hinting I should hurry up.
I stopped for a moment and looked at him. ‘Was your first day here like this as well?’
His grin faded. ‘Somthin’ like that,' he said, nodding. But then he exclaimed theatrically, 'But we are here now!’ And slapped me on the shoulder. 'Look on the bright side! No bureaucracy, wars, politicians, and plain moral dogeon-shit. Just beasts, parasites, falling debris, and the occasional plague to worry about! Here you know who your friends are.’
I forced a smile. ‘I take it you like it here.’
He looked at me and said: ‘It is not a matter of like’n. It's an experience!’
And so our journey began. At this point, we were too overwhelmed to ask any questions about our alien surroundings. Something about this landscape reminded me of Egyptian temple ruins if these had been repurposed as a junkyard. This place was nothing like the legends. The large block-like structures, bombarded by debris, looked like metal porcupines that would cut us open just by approaching them. But just like on a flea market, in between the mounds of debris, some oddity would stick out that I would have loved to investigate under different conditions. Remains of statues, vehicles, ruins of buildings whose purpose I could not even guess. It was no wonder the scavengers risked exposing themselves to this vacuum. But to what end? I didn’t see these buffoons start a museum exhibit. I figured it must be for more utilitarian motives I supposed.
Hazardous as the surface might have been, low gravity was a blessing as we carried our load alongside the power cables and oxygen hoses that led to the entrance located inside an outcrop.
I felt it should have been excited about exploring the interior of this ancient structure. But with all the junk and industrious activity, it felt more like walking around an industrial park. An interesting experience for sure, but lacked the sense of awe one would get from exploring legendary ruins.
But not all seemed mundane. On the horizon stood a huge tapered pillar, dotted by various warning lights, that reached far above the tallest structures. That tall, it was impossible to observe to point. My first guess was it would be an antenna of sorts, but of all the structures why would this still be operational. Hard to imagine the scavengers had any use for it. Despite my curiosity, I figured these were questions for another time.
The heavy door, marked with fading symbols, sealing the tunnel entrance looked typical of most nautical vessels. But it was also huge. Charow was small, yes. But he had to stand on his toes to turn the door valve. Finally, the hinged, screeched of age as Charow forced it open.
I imagine my mouth was ajar when we entered the airlock. Again, a tall room with a high ceiling as if it was not built for a human-sized species. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the time to satisfy my academic curiosities.
Meanwhile, fatigue started to set in. The Doctor and 111 carried less than 205 and I, but it became very obvious they were exhausted - even if they didn’t dare to complain. 205, he wouldn’t dare to admit to weakness even if his legs couldn’t carry him anymore. As for the two pilots, at least they were focused on survival for now. I couldn’t help but feel they were developing a grudge toward us. They were test pilots who, unlike us, were offered a substantial amount of money to show up on such short notice, fly the reconnaissance and go home. Now they got nothing but regret out of this and I suspect that could grow into resentment at any time if we were not careful.
As for Charow, despite his cheerful act, I could not help to distrust him. In between moments, I could see he'd rather be cutting up our ship. Charitable or not, we were but helpless strangers for them to exploit.
When the airlock was sealed. Charow lifted his visor. ‘The air is breathable enough now. Don’t mind the smell. Thou be used to it before thy knows it.’
s I opened my helmet the damp scent of mold overwhelmed me. The air was breathable, but it felt like inhaling an entire champignon nursery worth of fungus. This miasma made London’s seem like a mild inconvenience, be it not as foul-smelling. But no options we followed or impatient guide and started our descent into legendary Elysium. I had adjusted my expectations at this point but still, I wasn’t prepared for what we were about to witness. We entered a storage and workshop area, filled with carts, tools, and some recovered objects that I could not identify. A green light near the corner of the gate illuminated the maw of a wide corridor that stretched into the darkness ahead.
‘Dun worry,’ Charow comforted us. ‘Everyone needs to get used to the smell.’
My heart pounded as we descended into the darkness. We only had one electric torch and Charow’s small lanterns, on his helmet and chest, to illuminate the way. Despite it being spacious by any structure’s standard I felt like opening a window already. Meanwhile, the humidity and heat got worse as if we were walking into a jungle. Speaking of plants, I started to notice patches of slightly luminescent matter with an unsettling appearance growing from crevices in the walls and ceiling. It looked like a mixture of toadstools and molten cheese; French cheese with purples and blues that glow in the dark. I must admit, if seen in the darkness, it gives a pleasant fairytale-like atmosphere. But the first time I saw it, I got unsettled by the sight of an overgrown hallway that started to resemble the insides of an illuminated intestinal tract. Not to mention the crawling and scurrying of lifeforms just out of the reach of our lamps. And then, from the depths of side passages and holes caused by collapse vibrated the unearth cries and calls from whatever lurks in the depths of this structure, and its biodome.
‘It smells like a freshly composted greenhouse!’ 111 complained.
‘Yeah… Most flora consists of fungi like plants,’ our guide explained. ‘Hard to guess which is more related to fungi and which to plants.’
‘Plants? In space?’
‘Oh yes, just like the Crawlies, spores and other seeds come through the Veil and settle wherever. Some sections are consumed by jungles that have destroyed much of the interior. Instead of bulkheads, it’s the roots that keep the structure together.’
I could see the botanist in 111 awaken as he told us about xeno-jungles. To me, however, it sounded like the real Elysium was stranger than the actual legends.
‘I take it this place is also filled with … Crawlies,’ I asked, hoping his response would discourage any desire in 111 to explore.
Our guide nodded excessively. ‘Ah, yea bet!’
‘So, what about the city? Don’t they threaten Arkology?’
‘We manage. But we 'ave a secret weapon,’ he responded triumphantly. ‘I’ll show you when we get there.’
As we walked on for a few miles in the blue light of the fungi, we finally caught glimpse of a warm glow in the distance Charow stopped an intersection and pointed upward at a lamp that seemed to be fitted randomly on the ceiling above our heads. The elongated tube, fitted inside an oversized socket, hummed and gave off a radiant golden light unlike I have ever seen. ‘You see that lamp-like thing? It means we're near the town.’
‘These lamps are not normal, are they?’ I asked.
‘They’re no lamps. Those be Vail-generators. They're the only reasons Arkology remains safe from Crawlies emerging from the Void. 'he explained. 'The light is just a side effect…. Or so they tell us.’
'Are there any other side effects?' asked the Doctor.
'Well, when they go off, so will you, if ya catch my meaning.'
‘But these Crawlies are still in other parts of this structure?’ I asked
‘Aye… More of them emerge from the Void every day… Can’t really complain because these are our main source of food, but if they…’
‘E-excuse me..’ I interrupted him. There were too many statements in that sentence for me to respond to. But one remark, in particular, aroused my astonishment. ‘Did you say you eat these things?’
‘We gotta eat mate!’
‘Yes but… ’ He won that argument. ‘It sounds, dangerous… To eat them I mean.’
‘Well, those new here prefer to keep a bucket by their bunk, if ya know what I mean,’ He responded jovially. ‘Most get over it.’ His face turned grim. ‘Mostly.’
I grimaced awkwardly. ‘Yes…’ The mere thought of having to consume those things made me nervous. I never even contemplated the idea of eating any part from an Outsider. It’s like eating bugs or other stuff too nasty to even think about. But these people are stranded here, just like us. A sense of dread was taking hold of me. These corridors might be our home now and we were to adapt or die.
‘Is there any way to contact our Plane?’ I asked, hoping for some good news. ‘Like a radio, or something more advanced perhaps.’
‘There is’ replied an old man behind me.
I faced the Doctor in astonishment, and so did my fellows.
‘How do you mean?’ 111 asked.
‘We know Radio Retrofuture transmits signals from here. But we assumed it was an automated beacon of sorts. We didn’t think anyone would inhabit this place.’
‘Aye,’ our guide responded apparently impressed. ‘Radio Retrofuture owns that control tower. But they don’t share it with anyone.’
‘RRF?’ I had listened to the station at some of the Association's lodges. But I could barely make heads or tails out of their reporting. And then there was the music, which often made me reach for the volume controls. But some Associates would turn the volume back up when the news began. ‘It is here?’ I asked superfluously. ‘The Chair knew this?’
‘It was mere speculation,’ the Doctor mumbled evasively. ‘We didn’t know for sure.’
‘And you would share this with us, when?’
‘It wasn’t relevant to our mission!’ he objected. ‘I wanted to tell you since we crashed, but we had other priorities.’
Fair enough I suppose. There was no point in contesting his intentions now.
‘It is not goin’ to help ya much anyway,’ Charow butted in. ‘The Founder doesn’t allow access to his precious tower. And you are not going to get past Mr. Oil. He is a mean one.’
‘Well, we’ll see about that,’ The Doctor replied confidently. ‘But first, let’s reach the town alive. My back is killing me.’
We walked for another mile when, finally, we saw light at the end of the tunnel, indicating we reached ‘The Gut’. A tunnel large enough for a ship-of-the-line to sail through, with enough room to maneuver, stretching for many miles. In the warm light of Vail-Generators, bolted to the walls at irregular intervals, we witnessed signs of civilization. On fortified elevator platforms, Scavengers escalated up and down the mile-high structure. Beside glowing fungus sticking to the rafters that cast a dreary blues hues sat large birds who observed anyone with suspicion who came near the junk-filled alcoves among the sides of The Gut. These hangar-like structures served as large dumpsters, filled to the brim with debris, and as nesting grounds for these dodo-like avians. I write Dodo-like because of their peculiar black claw-shaped beaks. But these were far more slender and could actually fly… All though gliding might be a better term as in this environment a single flap of the wings would propel them in the air.
‘Stay away from them,’ Charow warned. ‘Those Digeons only exist to bring yea misery… They’re like winged rats they are. Greedy and territorial as a fat man guarding the kitchen.’
Along the way, we did encounter some cleared alcoves that were reserved for outposts; defensible points for flights of scavengers and patrols. I saw a group of such scavs sitting around a heater eating, chatting, or maintaining similar power tools as the salvager's Upside. But the rest of their gear was more modest. Mostly scraped together protective clothing and armor pieces intermingled with some alien technology undoubtedly recovered from other parts of Elysium. It would take too much effort to mention every oddity I have witnessed, but of all the sights it was one particular piece of graffiti that stood out to me. A slab of metal, repurposed inside a simple fortification, was stamped with the letters of the ominous M.I.D. These red markings were painted over with a symbol; A Y-shape in a circle and an upward-pointing chevron-shape intersecting the top half of the ‘Y’. And a phrase in English was painted across it, “Arkology Will Remain Free”.
We were still a long way to go, but at least we could see the end of the tunnel where the ramshackle elevator to Arkology awaited us. The base of the elevator was fortified, essentially splitting the ground level of the Gut into two parts. But on the floor above was our destination.
A significant crowd was already gathered in front of the fort that walled off the platform, waiting for the gate to be raised. The gate was adorned with the same symbol be it more elaborate and having saw-like teeth around the edge. Despite all their problems these people still managed to organize around a shared symbol.
“We should be lucky. They only let groups through once every hour, or in emergencies. Oh, and guess there is…” He looked over his shoulder when we heard the roaring of a heavy engine coming from behind us, intermingled with the high-pitched screeching of scraping metal. ‘Speak of the devil.’ I got blinded by the light of the monstrosity that approached at considerable speed. ‘Don’t stand there! Make way for the Bonsenburner!’ Charow yelled over the noise.
Alarmed we pushed our backs against the wall and waited while the plates beneath our feet trembled. It was truly a monster of a tracked vehicle; the cabin section was at least eight feet in height. I once read Richard Hornsby & Sons were working on a chain-tracked vehicle, but to see it on a beast like this. From the center of its sloping front armor, potruded a huge flame-thrower to would turn the members of Special committee Entomologists green with envy.
From the top of the cabin two armored men stuck out, their lower bodies hidden beneath their respective hatches, who operated heavy weapons of their own. Three other heavily armed people stood on top watching over the cargo containers at the back of the vehicle. Two men carried something that resembled small short-barreled cannons. The third, well, I think it was a muscular woman in some sort of exoskeleton like contraption with oversized mechanical hands seemly capable of feats of considerable strength, and apparently not in need of other weapons. We watched in awe as the massive machine passed us by, leaving a foul trail of goo and gore behind that smelled of compost and burned meat. But as our guide mentioned, this didn’t stop the Digeons who flocked to the filth like seagulls.
‘Quickly!’ Charow cried as he started to run. ’If we move fast we might be in time before the gate closer! Otherwise, they’ll let us wait!’
The low gravity once again was our ally as we raced toward the elevator.
People flocked behind Bonsonburner when we reached the gate. The woman was gesturing at the guards on the catwalk above. I don’t know sign language, but even I recognized the profanity in passing.
Finally, the gate was razed and the engines roared as if the Bonsenburner protested going on to the platform. While pushing our self past the crowd I tried to catch a glimpse of the cargo on the back of the vehicle, but I was forced forward by those trying to get in. Once on the platform, everybody stood still as if their feet were rooted on the deck and refused to budge one inch as the space filled up. Finally, the gate was lowered behind us and the elevator was raised. While compressed between the many bodies, evading the drill bits and grinder blades near our faces, I studied the appearance of these scavengers. I noticed no face without scars, nobody without clear injuries. Even the young ones showed paradoxical signs of age. Their jovial banter and smiles, though genuine, had a sober cynicism about them that I recognize from the wary people I know. Despite our neat appearance none of the rough-looking individuals gave us any thought. We were just, more strangers about to join their ranks.
As the platform ascended to the gate above, I felt loneliness take hold of me. I learned to live alone from a young age. But still, the people in my life were either distant relatives, countrymen, or people with whom I shared a common bond. Now, the closest thing to home was these five people that a barely knew.
The Bonsenburner’s engine started to roar again, this time more eagerly and rattled impatiently as the platform came to a standstill. Everyone seemed to awake from hibernation. Like cattle, everyone evacuated the platform as the cage opened. We needed to force ourselves out of the crowd in order not to get carried away into the square. When the scavengers scattered we could finally catch our breath and observed our new surroundings. My mouth dropped when I witnessed what lay beyond the marketplace, populated by screaming junk dealers and scavengers. Beyond the sign above the city's entrance, surrounded by ramshackle flats and floodlights, underneath a glass ceiling supported by massive beams, we saw the Tower; Its angular shape and size separated it from the ghetto below, like a sinister overlord reminding the peasants who was in control.
This was our destination. This was Arkology.