The Arkology Reports

Day 1: Arrival

To whom it may concern,

These reports detail some of the events that I, Associate 90, have experienced on the legendary Elysium Object. Forgive me, for I have written much of this from recollection and under considerable strain. I had little opportunity, or means, to make proper accounts during our stay in Arkology. It’s a peculiar place and, as one of the first Associates to ever set foot on Elysium, the last thing I was expecting to encounter within this celestial object. Like everyone else, I was only familiar with the pale bell-shaped silhouette of Elysium, adrift inside the same orbit as the moon. So, imagine my disillusion when I, and my fellows, descended into the world known as Hades.

When I was summoned in June of 1873 by the 7th Chairman, I was both surprised and honored. But when I learned I was the only person on this ragtag assembly of associates with any zero-gravity experience, I started to lose my enthusiasm. They assured me our lack of experience wouldn’t be an issue. All we were expected to do was to operate the cameras, while the pilots navigated. All the requirements mentioned were: having a functioning brain with common sense, no prior heart conditions, and not being overweight. Suffice to say I didn’t feel that honored anymore. However, some of my reservations were taken away when I heard we were being transported by ███████████████████████ ████████████ to the Babylon Platform. I heard stories about it but never saw it in person.

During our journey across the Atlantic Ocean, I got to introduce myself to my traveling companions: Two young associates, Associates 111 and 205, and Doctor Perno. I find it hard to be a judge of the feminine character, but 205’s bashful behavior is all too familiar to me. 111's presence, whose youthful femininity could send any man's heart astray, didn’t help in that regard. 205 was clearly trying too hard to impress the young lady. The Doctor on the other hand… Well, he is a man with his best years behind him. Unlike the youngsters, who are clearly looking for some adventure, he is doing this out of a sense of duty if anything. Not the most proficient of crews. I hope the Babylonian pilots are better prepared.

The neglected state of the Babylon Launch Platform didn’t improve my expectations for my own survivability. There was but a skeleton crew working on the old Comet III rocketship to get it in working order after so many years of neglect. It was almost a spitting image of its predecessors: A bulky dart with fish-like fins. But as soon the ship was prepared, we boarded her. The interior smelled of the fresh paint they used on the interior wall after they polished away the flaking paint and rust, and weak spots were patched, just to name a few points of concern.
"Don’t worry about it," Dr. Perno had said, as he noticed us eyeing copper slabs welded in place. But he probably thought the same as we did. I asked him what our mission was and why it couldn’t wait. “Reconnaissance for the landing spot on Elysium for a future boarding party,” was his answer. And clearly didn't want to speak any more of it.
“Are we merely paving the way?” I asked him.
“Indeed,” was his evasive response. “No different from all the other Comet missions really. She is designed for it.” That statement sounded so ironic, I had to refrain from mentioning the other two launches were absolute disasters.

While writing this, I recall the history classes on the first two space-rocket launches very vividly, despite my teachers only mentioning these in passing. Especially with the successful launch of Gallie Rocket last year. The Comet-rockets are now but an unremarkable step towards the first moon landing planned for 1874. An easy thing to say when you weren’t one of those on board those vessels. The Comet cosmonauts were intended to be the first people in space. Now, they are just conceived as a necessary sacrifice. Their deaths were pointless to themselves but lead to greater things down the road. Events they will never be a part of. They can count themselves fortunate if they get a brief mention in some ‘heroes’ award-ceremony.

 

Our mission was simple. Achieve what the previous Comets had attempted. Get close to Elysium, take photos of the surface. Especially of any location that looked remotely like a suitable landing spot for future missions. Indeed, this is a true reenactment of the cosmonauts that came before. But we have something they didn’t ██ ████ ██ ██████ ██ ███ █████ ███ give us all the force we need to break through the Von Straub barrier. At least that is what we were told.
I held on to that thought as the engine ignited with explosive violence and propelled us toward the heavens. When the pilot had warned us that experiencing this amount of gravity would feel like being crushed, I thought he was exaggerating. But as the Comet accelerated, it felt as if somebody was smothering me with a blanket that felt more solid with every passing second. Despite our bulky suits that protected us, I felt my ribs collapsing into themselves as my heartbeat reverberated along my body. Unable to move, I was forced to breathe as if sucking air through a straw. Meanwhile, the high-pitched screeching of metal cut through the air as the deafening roaring of the engines pierced our ears. I recall being more terrified but haven’t been this nervous since the time I entered a rift for the first time. It kind of felt like that, not knowing what to expect or if you live or die. But ten minutes after we launched and the first solid-fuel canisters detached, I knew we would make it. Now it was a matter of counting down to hitting that illustrious barrier and see █████ actually worked. Still not sure if it did or not.

At this point, we left the Earth’s atmosphere. "12 seconds!" cried one of the two pilots.
Hastily, we opened our visors and bent over. I squeezed my eyes as I hovered my face over the viewfinder. The magnifier gave me a clear view of the Elysium Object. And yet, it still looked like an unfocused image projected inside a camera obscura. An effect attributed to the illustrious von Straub-Field. At least it appeared less bell-shaped, and more oblong now, with parts sticking out as it was unfolding.
"Five seconds!"
Fear turned to intrigue, and my desire to get this operation over with turned into the hope that we would be able to maintain course long enough to get a clear view of what was going on.
"Three!"
I was holding my thumb over the camera's trigger, ready to fire.
"Two. One!"

That is when it all went awry.

Like the flip of a switch, the weightlessness had gone and we descended in freefall. The alarm wailed as the ship trembled as if it hit the gravel. The pilot nearly panicked as the cabin was fully illuminated. Gone was the blackness of space and our eyes were blinded by the teal surface of Elysium, which was coming toward us at great velocity. All of a sudden, the cabin had turned upside down and I could feel the straps that held me to the chair cut into my shoulders as I hung from the ceiling. There was a lot of screaming. I wasn't sure if I participated in the dreadful choir, as I was too distracted by looking at the front viewport. Star-shape ruptures appeared in the glass as all matter of the debris came our way, scraping and tearing at the hull of the Comet. I don’t think the pilots made any efforts to avoid the assorted junk, as they struggled to get the ship under control. I closed my eyes, comforting myself that we would pass through the debris eventually, or if, when I opened them again, I would wake up anywhere but here. Instead, it seemed to last forever as I could feel every scratch and dent in the ship vibrating through my chair, into my body.
I have had nightmares about the horrors I have seen and made peace with the eventuality that one of these creatures would be the end of me. But there I sat, strapped to my seat, reciting the prayers from my childhood and counting my blessings as we raced to our likely demise.
The crew was silent except for the pilots who were trying to keep up with all the failing controls. They had over forty years to build this blasted ship. Sure they would have made it more resilient.
"Got it!" I heard one of the pilots cry and I could feel the craft slowing down. I opened my eyes and saw the horizon of what seemed like a bronze planet. We passed the debris field and achieved something that could resemble a landing trajectory. Overhead, the debris flew by at such speed it felt we were traveling beneath a ceiling composed of scrap. Meanwhile, the world below started to take shape. The ‘landscape’ below reminded me more of the Grand Canyon than it did my childhood imaginations of Elysium. It was like a monstrous machine in the shape of a Faberge egg, covered with an industrial patchwork with wide crevasses the size of the Grand Canyon. Gaseous fumes escaped the depths of these raptures, which ran like a river-rapid through the alien factory grounds, interconnected by an intricate network of tubes and roads that stretched across the surface like the strands of a spider's web.
The only thing the pilot said was, "Please, prepare for impact."

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