The Arkology Reports
The moment Associate 111, Doctor Perno, and I stepped into the End of the Haul Saloon, we were welcomed by a strong herbal aroma merged with the stale scent of beer. Suspicious glances of the scavengers leaning on the bar tables followed us while an odd melange of low reverberating horns and heavy drums played over the speaker system. The place was filled with seasoned scavs, be it of a particular breed. Fitter and better equipped for combat than the lot we encountered before.
At one table sat a sturdy man with a bright blue arm-prosthetic so alien in shape I could only imagine it was recovered from Hades’ ruins.
Another woman was clad in a mechanical exoskeleton that supported the whole body but offered little in ways of protection. She might have been the one we noticed standing on top of the Bonsenburner the day before. Others had weapons by their side. I couldn’t even imagine their function.
As we passed their tables, these warriors either ignored or observed us curiously. When we reached the bar, we put our hands on the counter uncertain of what to do next.
Then I saw him. My eyes grew wider when I recognized the man standing behind the bar. A tall man with blond curly hair with a mechanical monocle strapped to his head.
Mr. Oil? Eyes squinted, I inspected him, convinced he wore an eye patch before. But this time he was dressed in an anthracite uniform wonderfully tailored to size. It might not be extravagant, but far above the standing of any Scav regardless.
I squeezed my way past the other patrons toward him. ‘Mr. Oil?’
He responded by showing me the same black tooth grin as the day before. “So you found us, 90?”
“Associate 90,” I corrected him. “And what are you doing here?”
Oil swung his arm in a semicircle. “I own this place!’ he said as if it should be obvious.
“You do?’ I responded baffled. ‘Then why-’
“None of your business,’ he interrupted. ‘Speaking of which. What’s yours?’
‘We want to speak with the Founder,” I said. ‘Ms. Style arranged a meeting for us.’
Oil grinned. ‘She is a darling, ain’t she? The only person who can provide me with a decent pair of threads.’
“I can imagine,” I said. “So, what is this place exactly?”
“This place is for the hardest workers,” said Oil proudly. “When I need to fix things, I ask my patrons to fetch the parts from below.”
“Parts?’ responded the Doctor. ‘ Is that the reason you sought us out?’
Oil leaned toward us over the counter. “I am also the one who decides who gets to meet the Founder,’ he said, forebodingly. ‘So, for example. I don’t let idiots through who waste my time.’
“I see,” said the Doctor. “Can we please meet the Founder, Mr. Oil?
Oil observed us for a moment, and then straightened himself. “OK,” he said, and walked to the end of the bar. He folded aside a piece of the tabletop and gestured us to join him.
The three of us followed Mr. Oil through a hallway hidden behind a curtain. At first, we entered a storage room with a strong herbal smell that hurt the nostrils. The place was stacked with weathered containers and tweed baskets hanging on the walls, filled either with alien foodstuff or jugs. But we passed all that and entered another corridor, adorned in a glossy brown material which led to a stairwell surprisingly lavish in size with a domed brass elevator cage at the center. But, we wouldn’t use that machine. Instead, we had to climb the U-stairs going around the skeletal elevator cage until we finally reached the next floor - five stories up at least. We were stunned to find out it was a waiting room.
In front of a large turquoise gate, with the RRF logo surrounded by elaborate brass and silver inlays, sat several groups of dignitaries on opposing benches by the drape-covered walls - It reminded me of a circus tent. Each of them was dressed in ceremonial or official attire reflective of their culture. One delegation looked like successors of some Mesopotamian city-state, wearing colorful robes and stylized braided hairstyles. Another group appeared to have stepped out of the European middle ages, all wearing liveries depicting complex heraldry. And some old men in monkish robes sat there with heavy stacks of decorated tomes, clad in precious metals and stones, in their laps.
If I were to describe the remainder of our company, this journal would become a book on anthropology. However, all of these groups had some form of luggage or another that they watched nervously as if afraid somebody would take them. Despite their fashions and symbolism being colorful and ornate, the atmosphere was that of depressing gloom. It felt like a pin drop could upset all those present, making us walk cautiously as if we arrived late for a funeral in progress.
Oil addressed us, curtly. ‘Report to the desk and have a seat,’ he said, before heading for the elevator - the Boer.
Behind a desk by the gate sat a brown-skinned woman of East Asian origin typing away on what I imagined to be an electronic typewriter of sorts. But instead of paper, symbols appeared on the circular glass screen in front of her.
She finally stopped her work, and looked at us for acknowledgment, waiting for us to make the first move.
“Uh, good day?’ began the Doctor. ‘We have an appointment with-’
“English?” she asked.
“Uhm… Yes, please.”
“You have an a-point-ment,” she said phonetically.
“Yes. Yes, we do.” Perno then explained the situation. The young woman nodded throughout with a polite expression.
Looking around, I realized that she probably didn’t speak English as often as… Well, any other languages. Who were all these people?
When Perno was done, she pointed out a place for us to sit and then continued what she was doing.
We sat down beside two men who looked like they could be from the dark continent, or maybe Australia. They were dressed in primitive, but ornate armor and robes that covered most of the chests. But their unprotected limbs showed fresh scars and cuts that were still healing. They didn’t bring any chests or goods like the others. Just one item wrapped tightly in hides like an animal mummy. From its elongated shape, it was hard to tell. But based on their costume, I imagined it to be a vase or urn perhaps.
While waiting, I was nearly hushed to sleep by the foreign whispers, when the secretary got up from her desk and approached the warriors sitting beside us.
To our surprise, the lady spoke a language foreign to us that included a series of clicking sounds. The warriors responded in kind and agreed to follow her through the gate with their package that one of them clutched to his chest.
I couldn’t help but feel all these people had been on a long journey that held much significance to them, only to be met by the most linguistically inclined bureaucrat in the multi-verse. It still wasn’t clear to me at this point, why.
Fortunately, we were next in line.
The gate opened by itself as we followed the secretary inside.
The Founder’s chambers looked, and smelled, like a museum of curiosities, or rather its attic. By the walls, which were covered by red and orange drapes, stood stacks of priceless paintings and countless other artifacts, even relics, many of which were made of precious metals engraved with lavish depictions of gods and legends. A real treasure trove, just like in the pirate stories. And yet, if this was Buckingham Palace, the horde would be guarded by a contingent of Beefeaters. But here these items stood as if they were ready to be carried away to the flea market. It occurred to me that the dignitaries had brought these priceless objects here to the place where they held the least monetary value.
Despite all these splendid objects, my eyes were drawn to some stacks of worn books laying unsorted in a corner. I recognized some of the letterings, like Arabic, Greek, and Hanzi. Also, Anglo and Germanic languages were represented. That is when I recognized titles I roughly translated to Hanzel and Grettel and Jack and the Beanstalk.
A black column adorned with consoles, dials, and gauges and the occasional switch that, I imagined, controlled the flow of power running through the arrangement of cables running from the machine into the ceiling.
Terrifyingly enough, in front of the ominous machine, stood a weathered leather ear chair with cables running out of the back and electrical displays jury-rigged to its frame.
On a side table, standing on a table cloth of hides, stood a roughly vase-shaped device. A machine with indeterminable purpose with flanges and sockets on the side as if it should be attached to something - An engine perhaps? Yet, it was brought here by warriors from a society that barely advanced past the iron age.
The only man who had the answer was standing to our right, by a large round window, when we entered the studio. A man short in stature overlooked the city.
The secretary addressed him in what sounded like a Dutch.
‘Dankie, Ms. Match. You are free to leave.’ As she left the room, the man dressed in a double-breasted knee-length coat turned around with that large monocular implant of his that covered his left eye. That, and his wide grin, reminded me of a goblin. This was the Founder. “So, you are the Associates of Ishtar?” he said, condescendingly.
“And you are, the Founder? I recognize your voice from the Wavecaster, Mr. Lexicon.” “Always nice to hear from a fan,” he responded with a mocking smile and steepled his fingers. “So what can I do for your Associates?”
“We need Silver Tickets to get home.”
He laughed. ‘Muhaha-ha, I knew there was a reason Style didn’t tell me what you wanted. What makes you think we would even allow you to leave this place?”
“Allow us?” the doctor repeated, dismayed. “We didn’t think you would object?”
“Few people outside of Hades are aware that Arkology exists. We like to keep it that way.”
“Then, why broadcast it to the universe?”’
“Not even Arkology can survive in Isolation. News from the Multi-verse is hard to come by. Even harder to spread the message. Radio Retrofuture is in a very unique position.”
“Speaking of position,” I began. “Where exactly is Hades’ station located? Outside, I noticed multiple versions of Earth.”
“You are free to conclude whatever you like from that,” was all the Founder said. “Now, about those Silver Tickets.”
“Fine, Mr. Lexicon. What do you want? Information on other Planes.”
“I can get those from anywhere.”
“How about resources only found on Earth. With the Silver Tickets, we can provide those to you.”
“I prefer to be paid ‘before’ I give people one of the most valuable items that can be given to men.”
Suddenly Dr. Perno stepped forward. “How about the information on the MID?”