The Arkology Reports
In the twilight of Elysium, beneath a translucent dome above which a permanent storm of aether reigned, was a community of interdimensional refugees.
With our mouths agape, we stared at the maelstrom hanging over the city that shrouded the rotating gears of massive size. Interconnected cogs were illuminated by the blue jolts of electric light that raged among the intricate network of machinery.
Beneath that technological onslaught were the slums, just as those of Manchester. However, it inspired a sense of mystery like the temples at Thebes anda, just as the structure it inhabits, otherworldliness.
A central tower, surrounded by a multi-tiered city, whole levels were interconnected by ancient causeways, wider than London Bridge. These ancient viaducts and torn open decks were occupied by multi-story buildings, whose upper levels were again linked by rickety walkways.
The ghetto filling the miles-wide room, from wall to wall, and story to story looked like a child's brick construction arranged inside a cupboard.
The tower, however, painted in many shades of fluorescent colors by the city lights, was a technological marvel. The stylized structure stood in stark contrast to the hive composed of ramshackle tenement buildings. And it wore a crown, made of massive coils from which a cluster of cables ran through the dome into the horrific maelstrom above.
That city, covered by gear-shaped shadows, was called Arkology.
Despite the impoverished first impression, I could not help but marvel at the outlandish landscape, illuminated by purples and blues. Shining diamonds between the brass and blue structures cobbled together from the innards of Elysium itself.
It should not be, but there it was. A testament to the spirit of man, and its ability to survive in the most unlikely of circumstances.
When arriving in Arkology, there is a lot one has to get used to. Elysium’s beating heart. The artificial light raging from deep red to a pale blue. The smell of aromatic mold, mixed in with that of roasted meat and grind metal.
But When I arrived in the city’s outskirts I was confronted with a far more mundane threat. That being the hustle and bustle of everyday trade, as traders and scavengers alike cried themselves hoarse selling their wares. For millennia storytellers, priests and philosophers pondered and speculated about what went on inside this celestial body. Well, here it was. The Multiverse’s most exotic flea market where people traded the artifacts recovered from the depths of Elysium, hauled around in sacks and wheelbarrows. Hardly the utopia as imagined by the ancient Greeks, or the feasting hall of the Vikings, or the orgy of souls like in the fantasies of the more ‘esoteric’ religions.
Just men and women buying and selling their produce. From junk to artifacts. Utilities to arts. Like common miners, they dug them up from the many shafts and dragged them up here, to pass them on to the merchants crowding up the entrance to the city’s streets.
I closed the visor on my space helmet to drone out the loud merchants crying out to the scavengers. It was just too much. My body felt numb, my nerves were overstimulated and my mind felt it could crack at any moment.
Charow, our guide stepped back on the elevator platform from whence we came. ‘I am going to take my leave then,’ he said plainly.
‘Wait, where do we go from here?’ I asked. ‘Is there a customs office, or something?’
He threw his head back as he erupted in honing laughter. ‘Bwhaha. Fuck no! Do what you want!’
‘Wh- What do we do?’
‘I just told yea,’ he yelled over the clanking of the descending gate and waved at us. ‘Welcome to Arkology!’
Like lost children, we watched the cage close and how the platform started its descent. We were on our own, in front of a city filled with unforeseen peril. As I saw it, every individual here could be a predator, waiting for a gullible victim who didn’t know their way around.
We separated ourselves in a less crowded corner of the market and inspected our inventory. But we did so only to distract ourselves from the fact we had no idea how to continue.
As for the inhabitants, despite their human appearance, they intimidated us. Many covered their mouths or faces with masks or respirators. They gestured and laughed like they were under influence. And at times I felt they were intentionally crowding me, pointing at me, and laughing at my expense. Why I had this sensation of paranoia, I did not know. Maybe it was the heat. The low light conditions. The fact that we were, by lack of a better term, underground. But we quickly deduced it was something in the atmosphere, and I was certain spores of the outlandish fauna were drifting in the thick air.
Then, from out of nowhere, Associate 205 was tapped on the shoulder. As the lad turned around he recoiled in fright for the tall man with an eyepatch smelling of grease and old sweat. He wore a long greenish cloth coat, and blond curly strands of hair hanging from underneath a padded caul similar to an ushanka. ‘Where did you got da helmet, Scav?’ the man asked giddily with his black toothed smile, gesturing at our equipment. ‘What do yea want for it?’
‘Want?’ the young man responded. ‘No, I do not wish to part with it.’
‘Ah, come on. If you bring it to my shop I can give yea a good price for it.’
‘I am sure you do, but-’
‘The Doctor butted in. ‘Wait. I am sure we can negotiate a price.’
‘What are you going to use it for, boy? A pot to piss in?’
‘That’s great!’ responded the tall man eagerly. ‘Why don’t yea come by my shop?’
‘He’d love to,’ answered the Doctor in his stead, and looked at the lad threateningly. ‘Don’t you?’
205 nodded uncertainty. ‘Sure. But where is your shop, sir..?’
With a wave of his arm, he beckoned us to follow him. ‘I can take yea there right now!’
And so we joined the blond man and headed into Arkology. We took a rickety elevator to the first floor - a crude cage composed of welded bars. As we assended, a second cage descended in the shaft beside ours as a kind of counterweight.
To describe the streets on top, I’d usually make a comparison to those in some foreign country. But I have never seen such a place. At first glance, the streets looked like that of a medieval settlement. The large hovels remind me of roman Insulae if these were built from scrap, and supported by alien timber frames, with stories constructed overhead; sometimes connecting two opposite buildings.
The road itself was just wide enough to push two carts through simultaneously in either direction. Interestingly the deck was covered in a dirt-like sludge.
Veil-Generators, like those we encountered before, were mounted on various street corners and lampposts. I suppose it would be naïve to think Outsiders wouldn’t appear in human settlements. Regardless, it was a terrifying thought what could happen if the Veil-generator were turned off somehow.
I walked beside our new guide and said: ‘I’m sorry, sir. I did not catch your name.’
He reached out his hand as we walked. ‘I’m Olly. Olly Oil.’
‘I… I am Associate 90. So, what is it that you do here?’
‘I make sure things get fixed,’ he answered straightforwardly.
‘Things like what?’
‘Things like whatever the Scavs drag in, and what the hunters need.’
‘Does that mean you have knowledge of the technology that was used to build this place?’
‘Ha! The ones who build this place don’t even remember that.’
‘You are referring to the M.I.D?’
He stopped and looked at me with suspicion. ‘How do you know about them?’
‘A man named Charow told me. He guided us here from the surface.’
He continued walking. ‘Charow needs to stop flapping his trap about things he knows nothing about,’ Oil responded.
‘Is he wrong?’
Oil stopped in front of a wide garage door, located on the ground floor of an insula, with a large round keyhole in the wall next to it. From his pocket, he produced something like a stave that appeared to be unremarkable. But he lodged it in the lock mechanism, turned it, and with a satisfying click the lock was released. Bearings roared as he raised the door and his workshop was revealed. It consisted of a single room that served both as a shopfront and a tinker’s den. On closer inspection, however, its specific contents were revealed. Most of the inventory consisted of outlandish power-tools, that made use of external batteries I had seen scavengers wear. Hacksaws, grinders, drills, those I could recognize. However, there were also alien devices whose functions could only be guessed at. But this unkempt smelly man managed to open them, inspect their innards, and potentially got these working again.
Mr. Oil produced a casing from his jacket. On it was the same logo as on the tower, reading RRF, and when he opened the case to reveal the cigarettes inside. He took one out, lit it up and the room filled up with the herbal odor of the fag.
‘Yer helmets,’ he began, exhaled another purplish plume of smoke. ‘Where did you get them?’
‘We are spacefarers who crash-landed,’ 205 replied.
He looked at us in surprise. ‘Really?’ he cried. ‘How did you get through the Veil?’
‘Excuse me? The Veil?’
‘Yes! You don’t think we are in space, do you?’
‘Well… Actually, we have no idea. We had no intention of landing, you see.’
‘Yes,’ said the Doctor. ‘With you apparent expertise, could you tell us what this structure really is?’
‘An Ark?’ suggested Oil. ‘An interdimensional space station? Maybe a spaceship that got trapped in this dimensional pocket as you did. All I can tell y’all is old. Arkology got started about 20 years ago… Our relative time. We aren’t the first. We won’t be the last.’
‘There are more settlements like this?’
‘We are not sure at the moment,’ he replied pedantically. ‘But there used to be. Anyway, my time is precious. Your helmets.’
‘Look at that. It expands and contracts like it is breathing!’ said Associate 111 enthusiastically while gawking at the mushroom-like fungus that was for sale. I looked at the tulip shape thing that looked like it belonged on the seafloor. Its ‘pedals’ had mushroom-like fins on it that vibrated. It was one of the easier to describe foodstuffs that were for sale at the Bazaar beneath the Maelstrom and turning gears.
To get there, we had to walk down the main road to the ground floor, it was a wider road, going straight from the city entrance to the Bazaar that surrounded the central tower. From a distance, the bazaar looked like an island of fluorescent lamps of greens, blues, and purples. Within that sea of cobbled together, stalls and shacks stood larger buildings with large fluorescent signs to make their presence known. Most of them were saloons or places of ill-repute. But some resembled defensible towers, however, it was had to tell with all the crude ornamentation.
Meanwhile, we were evading bands of hunters, miners, and small motorized tractors, dragging cargo-laden carts behind them. Then there were the food bars where people ate at, sitting on stools, and shops filled to the brim with all manner of random bits and trinkets.
In places, the shadows of the rotating cogs would pass over me as I looked at the wares that were painted in a hue of blues and greens by the ambient light.
With some Lexirands, as the currency was called, inside our pockets we started our quest for food and lodging. Oh, the food. If one went looking for potatoes, corn, or rice he’d be greatly disappointed. instead, we had to do with mushroom-like fungus, algae, and something resembling bamboo. Those were the most tolerable species to look at. Some of the fruit looked like it could eat me instead. Not to speak of the abominations they slaughtered behind the counter. Some of the meat looked spoiled before it even hit the slab. Others, well. It appeared either spongy or like peat. At Least 111 was having a good time, as she gawked at the various plants, seeds, and what-not displayed on the counters. I myself was more interested in the various artifacts on sale, but digging them out from underneath the less valuable junk would still require an archaeological expedition - not to mention that all these objects had been torn from their original context. I suppose it wasn’t as important to them as it is for us.
Macabre curiosity led us astray, and before we knew it the maelstrom above started to lose its intensity. The flashes became less frequent, and the emitted light started to dim. As it turned out, the place had something approximating a night and day cycle, be it determined by the machinery overhead.
‘Better make yourself scarce newcomers,’ said a merchant.’ The dark is not friendly to fresh meat.’ a friendly overture perhaps, but he said it with a smile that betrayed the schadenfreude.
In no position to argue, we decided to find a place to sleep. With the cold intimidating flashes gone the warm light of the Veil-Generators became more prominent. Their lamps illuminated the streets with their golden glow, illuminationg the miasma that floated about the place.
At one saloon we could sit at a table and, after struggling to understand the crude menus, we managed to order something that looked entirely unappealing. Between bites, I listen in on some of the conversations around me. The languages spoken were many and alien, although the most common tongue seemed to be a crude English dialect. But everyone complimented their words with hand-gestures, just in case. It seems that verbal communication was more a force of habit in this place than a necessity.
As we sat at the table, they didn’t treat us like an oddity. Strangers like us probably wandered around this place all the time.
Our meal was interrupted when three burly men walked in, displaying a lot of swagger as they did so. Though they looked haggard and scarred like the rest of them, their clothes and facial hair appeared more groomed than the rest. They weren’t in uniform but dressed alike, wearing waistcoats and bowler hats. Even the patch jobs looked fancy, adding rather than detracting from their garments. Meanwhile, despite them wearing heavy boots typical for the city, these were covered by rather dandy-looking spats. There were no badges or symbols to be seen, yet they strut around like they owned the place.
One of them started to eye us. Just 111 at first. But soon all of them turned their attention toward our table.
The one in front, a barrel-shaped man tipped his hat as he approached.
‘Ain’t you lot clad all fanc-e.’ he began to address us overly politely. ‘Yea be no Newcomers. But yea’re no Tourists either. Where do yea hail frum?’
‘Actually, we are new arrivals, good sir,’ the Chairman replied. ‘We just didn’t arrive in typical fashion and we don’t plan to stay.’
The men glanced at each other. ‘What yea on about?’ The other man asked.
‘We crash-landed. Then the Salvagers on the surface brought us here.’
They studied our suits for a moment. ‘How da frag you do that?’ the first one asked flabbergasted.
‘Accidental. We are spacefarers who had no intention to travel to this realm. Regardless, we represent a party who do have a keen interest in the Multiverse. But enough about us. How about you? You are keeping the peace here, I am correct?’
The enforcers looked in each other’s direction again. ‘That be a way of putting it. This block is ruled by the House of Style.’
‘I thought Arkology had no government?’
‘It ain’t! But somebody needs to keep order,’ he responded abruptly. ‘Speaking of which, what interest do yar masters have here?’
‘We don’t have masters. But I don’t see how this is the business of a- peacekeeper such as yourself. If you have a problem with us being here, I would like to hear this from your master himself. ’
The enforcer started to grin. ‘The lady has no time for you, friendo. But I can always relay the message.’ he responded mordantly.
‘I that case I want to request an audience with your mistress. Surely, she is open to a potential Alliance.’
‘An alliance with whom? You lot sitting around this table?’
‘This lot managed to find a way to Hades without the need of a Rift. Unlike typical newcomers, we have a world, and a civilization to get back to. Surely, that must be worth something. I mean, imagine your rivals getting access to a place like that-.’
The Chairmen’s words got through to him. ‘Fine! I hear yea.’ the Enforcer interpreted him and bent forward. ‘But a word of warning,’ he whispered with a soft yet threatening tone. ‘Screw us over, and you lot go head first in the Styx.’
‘The what? B- but no worries. No, screwing over.’
He straightened himself again. ‘Be at the Eternal City tomorrow,’ he said plainly. ‘You know it when yea see it.’ And with that, he tipped his hat and left us alone.
During our first “night” we stayed at a hostel. It provided bunks and a roof over our heads like a crowded barrack. It seemed to be a tradition for new arrivals to have their first night at a place like this. But it provided us with little comfort.
‘You lookin’ for permanent residence?’ the hostess asked. A woman may be in her forties but looked like she was in her sixties, clad in colorful rags like an overdressed gypsy with a voice to match. She always leaned on something as she carried the weight of the roof on her shoulders. ‘Head for the top deck, like everybody else,’ she said. ‘That’s where they all go. Many go up, but never come down again. Not without being carried by a Styxian that is. Sometimes they bring um down by the cartload…'
Up to that point, I had been nodding all the while as if I knew what she was talking about. But then she lowered her hag-like voice and leaned closer to me. ‘A word of advice, if you go hungry up there, don’t get any funny ideas. Styxians make short work of cannibals.’
Shocked at the idea, I couldn’t help but ask. ‘Who are these Styxians?’
She leaned in even closer. ‘Masked crackpots they are. They worship the Styx, or something. The water must have done somethin’ funny with their heads. They go around the place, and collect the bodies to lower them into the river. Anyone who tries to hide bodies from them, they punish.’
She straightened herself and shrugged her shoulders. ‘Somebody needs to do it, I suppose. As long you don’t mess with the bodies, they leave you alone. Until it’s time to collect you, that is.’