Wastelands, Grid Ref ██.█████, ██.█████
A camera drone activates, and a familiar visage is seen sitting in a command chair. Unlike the previous settings Mahazkei is not wearing his mask on his face, or the gloves on his hands, the left being flesh and the right being an augment. Beneath is just a human, and a rare face uncommonly seen, discounting the modifications beneath the suit’s cowl to which the mask attaches. Two things stand out from the norm, however. The first is Mahazkei’s skin, alight like a warm flame shining through the tissues just skin deep. It does not appear to be biological in origin resulting from mutadaptation, and is instead reminiscent of a capsuleer’s active connection to any given vessel from cybernetics and is sustained with little fluctuation.
The second difference is his eyes. While his eyes might seem normal — if a bit bright — in stock lighting, the darker environment, red lighting and closer look through the camera’s lens highlights their anomalous nature. His pupils are the eye of the storm with the irises spinning steadily around them, rotating towards his nose in a maddening green spiral. The exact nature of this aberration is not immediately clear, as they rarely change rotational velocity save when his eyes narrow, picking up speed before settling when his focus relaxes. Were he twitching and jerking he would be considered estranged, instead he remained still as his eyes moved carefully between invisible inputs. His hands remained at their rests, buttons and sticks being shifted with practice and almost unreal speed.
Suddenly the silence is broken. He doesn’t look at the camera while he speaks, but his tone does change as if he were holding the conversation normally. “Morning, Summit. I realise that I’ve been out of contact for a bit, that it’s early at the time this is going out, and that this isn’t the most optimal setting for me to be recording.” He waves off with a look of disdain, an almost unparalleled scowl. “■■■■ it. This was always supposed to be about the people. You know, we’re human. We’re not faceless or unfeeling. We gotta eat and rest when the outside gets nasty.”
A beeping rings out in the darkened interior, not harsh enough to be a klaxon. His eyes and skin lose their unearthly glow and he almost seems to relax. His face is riddled with lines, and he almost seems pale.
“And speaking of which.” He sits up from the crash couch and moves, the camera shaking slightly before rising to follow, keeping his back centered the whole time. “Sorry I can’t show you anything substantial today, still going over security protocol, but I think the mess hall should be fine. I shouldn’t need to explain what a mess hall is. As for why I need one I’m not the only person on board.” There is a little light over one of his shoulders, the edge of a holo screen. It isn’t visible, but a similar feed appears in the corner of the camera’s lens, showing a number of warclones or similar elements embarking into a larger bay. They’re all dark colored, but they bear some similar livery to Mahazkei himself, notably the arm band, some orange highlights, and a bright orange handprint cradling the cheek of the helmet. There are minor differences between each of them, with some bearing other markings too small to make out. One helmet sticks itself in the view of the bay camera, sandblasted and worn so its original colors are faded.
“It’s hairy out there, boss. Visibility is shot and if you weren’t darker than the rest of the sky we wouldn’t know where you were.” The voice is filtered through the helmet, obscured, but there is some interference making the words a little more difficult to parse, possibly damage from the rapidly deteriorating environment.
“Are the tethers still connected to the convoy?” His voice is drenched with concern, and by the sounds of it he would be leaping outside were he not exhausted.
“Yes sir. I asked a few volunteers to stay behind for another hour into the next cycle just to do a recount. We’ve not lost anyone yet, sir.” The reply is subdued by the end, as if to be reassuring. And it seems the intent worked. Some of the lines across his face fade.
“Thanks. Tell the volunteers out there that when they trade off I’m going to crack out the beef curry. I’m cooking.”
The helmet cants and moves back a bit, the bay door behind them closing and the room being bathed in a red light. “I’ll be sure to let them know.”
Mahazkei rounds a corner, and raises a hand. “And I’m not about to leave you out for the time. You’re going to get something else for your trouble, and I’m not taking no for an answer.”
“I know that, sir.” They step back more, a little easier to see now. “I know better than to turn down a meal as opposed to those processed bricks you had stacked.”
“Not my idea, may I remind you.” Mahazkei tisked. “Block’s. You can take it up with her.”
“I might just. See you in a minute.”
The camera drone moves from behind him and Mahazkei is now in a mess hall, far more than would be needed for himself alone. “This is the mess hall! The safest thing I can show off to the Summit right now.” He moves behind a counter and into a kitchen, and begins to work. The feed is intermittently cut between bursts of movement, primarily capturing his bare hands being scrubbed and his sleeves rolled, revealing on the left arm a marking similar to his sleeve, the preparation of several pans, and eggs being cracked and scrambled. By the time he seems to be done and plating several large and garnished omelettes with sides of rice there are two dozen people in battle dress patterned in metamateria, sans the gold. Their faces are not obscured, and many of them seem young, or exceptionally experienced in their age. As they stand at attention he waves them off and gestures to the plates he’s set out. “Have at them, people.”
Their expressions break and they relax, looking thankful to the cook and sitting at tables. Mahazkei prepares his own plate, and sits down with the others. The camera stays nestled between two shoulders and captures Mahazkei, the two next to him, and the table behind him. He makes a small wave to the camera before cutting off a piece of his omelette and some rice and eating it. He finishes the bite and speaks. “I forgot, we’re doing a bit today. Today’s stars are the members of Block 1, the boots of this outfit, and my first contact crew for when we roll in. With me is Major Devanti Agamond,” a brunette with almond eyes, “and Staff Sergeant Ruraneh Nauriava.” The second is a bald woman with steely eyes, but both women are in light spirits. They wave to the drone while some around his table and the one behind him start jeering playfully. Mahazkei turns around and projects, “I’ll get around to the rest of you, don’t worry.”
The din settles and returns to light conversation with the clicking of cutlery on plates. Mahazkei turns back around and takes a few more bites before looking back up. “Oh, right. So I want to recap the last few days, with a few perspective notes from my officers here. We start off with an overview of what Mahonisgard is like. So. Mahonisgard is a port city with close to a dozen naval facilities, and at least one of them was a major base. Since it is surrounded by water with a land bridge going south, it made for a favorable fish farm and trade hub between the southern sea and the northern sea. As a coastal city almost entirely surrounded by water every part of the city’s infrastructure in the early days after 'forming was geared towards ports and trade, but when the crisis hit warehouses staged for the shipping of goods were retooled into fisheries, and the remaining ports shipped only fish across the continent, since there wasn’t anything else worth shipping for some time after. So on the north western, south, and south eastern sides the city had ports and more than a few were military, almost a hundred years old, and some of them had been converted to Angel ports after the worst of the skyhook disaster. We roll across the land bridge with room to spare and we’re hit by the eastern winds. Since the sea is flat and one of the few heat sinks in the region with as little heat as we get these days the winds here were particularly severe.”
He takes a moment to take a bite, and gather himself to continue jabbering. “Glaciers have started growing off of the coast breaking up some of the gales, but until you hit the city proper where the ‘scrapers start doing the work it’s really too gusty for infantry work. So anyone who would be outside the limits had to be attached to a vehicle crew, and physically tethered to each other and a few redundancies to keep moving forward. When we passed the ports and yards we didn’t find anything, at all. And I mean in any of them. Clean, parts even too big for standard transport were well and gone, and I doubt the nomads made off with them. Shame since we could have used some of that for fabbing the sleds. Especially Angel gear.” He shakes his head ruefully.
“When Blocks 1 and 2 made the path clear I rolled through into the proper, and by now we had made our presence known. Major Agamond then led Block 1 into the city to establish contact with the inhabitants, and here I pass the mic to her.”
The camera turns to center the Major in frame with Mahazkei’s gesture, and she straightens somewhat as she makes direct contact with the lens. “The inhabitants of the Mahonisgard ruins were not the native inhabitants, but were instead various nomadic factions of mixed Thukker and Sebeistor heritage, almost all of whom had only recently taken residence in the city since the original inhabitants were said to have left some time ago aboard a craft that was docked in the largest of the city’s dockyard. What kind of craft we weren’t told, but it’s safe to assume that if the original peoples of Mahonisgard are still alive that they are well beyond our reach, as the drones Block can deploy cannot survive the debris gales of the southern sea.”
She clears her throat and covers her mouth with a fist before continuing. “When we made contact it was clear that there wasn’t any centralised power between the factions, and the majority of which were nuclear families or larger all with different goals or intentions that mutually agreed to respect claimed territory, since there was plenty to go around. Most of them were mutadapted, and at least half of the total population decided they were going to ride out the storm and stay, try and survive under Svarog rule. Of the other half, it was a roughly even split of people wanting to resist in some fashion, like the Tribal Resistance to the north of the Proving Grounds, and people who simply wanted an out. Most of them had found ways to revitalise the utilities in the city borders, since there was never an invasion force present and most of the original population up and left without taking everything outside of the ports, so the people who wanted to stay could for a while. We chose to make our intentions known to all the factions, anyone who wanted to leave could come with us, and we would leave it to their discretion of whether or not they would come with us. Anyone who didn’t want to go got their utilities touched up to last a little while longer with what we could find on site, so as not to leave the impression that we were going to take their manpower and go without offering work hours in exchange.”
She breathes a small sigh. “Thankfully there was little internal dispute between families about individuals that wanted to stay or go, so getting head counts for the sled fabrication wasn’t too difficult. With the Commander’s direction we asked the people to assist us in breaking down local infrastructure that didn’t see any use or of any metals we could get our hands on within reason. We threw it all into our forge so we wouldn’t so heavily deplete our material stocks, and spent the next week getting everything ready.”
“Can I just interject here?” Mahazkei pipes up, and the camera turns to look at him for a moment. “I got a few pictures of what the city looks like here, on one of the less windy days, so you have some idea of what we were dealing with.” He flicks a finger and the camera feed is replaced with a series of still images of a city consumed by mutadaptive glaciers. The ports are anchors for the base of glaciers that stretch at a 45 degree angle away from the wind and into many buildings. Some of the tallest are fallen over onto each other, only to sprout more crystals as opposed to falling over, creating a criss-crossing lattice of crystal overhangs that connect nearly every building in the city together. Some appear to be horizontal from building to building, and thick enough to walk across, while others stretch from the sea at an angle and skewer building upon building in a slow but gradual growth curve.
“Try imagining finding any serious metal deposits or such salvage without causing entire blocks to collapse because the only metal we can find are part of the supports. We ended up unearthing nearly a hundred buried ground cars, siphoning the fuel, and then scrapping them because using them as part of the exodus would have been more trouble than it’s worth. None of the vehicles we found are capable of traversing the terrain that stretches between Mahonisgard and the Ternate Mountains since the last time I was in town.” The stills fade out back to the standard feed once Mahazkei is done talking. He looks over to the Major and gives an apologetic look before the feed returns back to her, as she begins anew.
“The final products are designed to follow in the wake of Block’s movement, which does limit movement options, but frankly anything else out here would have to be crazier than we are to brave these conditions. Still, the vehicles are tethered to Block as to maintain a powered connection, and allows us to maintain watch over the various sled cars, and also provides a solid communications network, since radio frequencies are harder to upkeep in the storms. If there’s anything someone needs, Block controls an APC with the requested supplies to the car and performs a transfer with limited ability utility drones, they look like spiders, that will offload the supplies onto the car and remove any waste products onboard before returning to Block for decontamination and waste disposal. Gross as it is, any waste produced can be thrown into the reactor for a little reaction mass. Isn’t much, sure as hell isn’t your standard fissionable material, and we have to scrub it sometimes with nanites, but we’re not sure throwing that stuff we find outside into the cores would be safe so we’ll take what we can get.”
“Thank you, Major.” The Major nods, and the lens zooms back out and centers back on Mahazkei. “Discussing the logistics of our journey across the wastelands is Staff Sergeant Nauriava, also our quartermaster for the trip, collaborating with Block on the total count of available supplies, and how we’re making them last.”
The camera turns to face the bald-headed woman, who despite seeming intense before seems much more upbeat, and it’s almost uncharacteristic of her appearance. She seems less formal than her superior, but she straightens all the same with a smile. “Thank you, sir. The trip was planned far in advance of our arrival here, so we have ample stored supplies taking up most of the hold space onboard Block, supplemented with what the Huomaeli Belt could supply us with before we left. We accounted for a much higher population density than we’ve encountered so far, but despite our overestimations we have more than enough to last us the four-thousand-four-hundred-and-fifty-plus klick journey. This includes food and water, clothing, repairs, and any medical concerns we were expected to encounter. While I can’t be any more specific than that, I am able to say we could last a month out here before we needed to worry.”
She’s almost done with her plate, and finishes it rather quickly between her first extended explanation and the next. As she starts again, however, she develops the hiccups.
“Hic! Damn. Anyway. Since our intended target wasn’t available and had been such for months, we found that the people who were here were actually around our lower estimates of survivors, and thus we were comfortably prepared to bring them with us over the longest journey so far. Since we had some surplus, and I thought that a little goodwill would go a long way, hic!, I had a request put in to the Commander to use some of it to improve the condition of the lives of the stubborn. He approved, and we fixed any trouble spots and offered tools and a few pointers on how to use them, so while we wouldn’t be in further touch they’d have an easier time keeping themselves in good shape. “Teach a man to fish,” I said. Hic!”
She takes a drink of water before putting it down and waiting. With no hiccup forthcoming, she continues. “I then had to figure the best size and necessary accommodations for the sled cars for the number of people we were bringing back. The trouble was we’ve got enough supplies, but the groups are tightly knit, and we have a lot of them. Sure we could ask some of them to stick together, and I know a few of the family units were probably already familiar and wouldn’t mind bunking for a time, but we planned for the worst case scenario where people would be stuck together for extended periods without being able to move much because the exo conditions are in the extreme, and would cause injury before long. So I pulled some heads together and we came up with this!”
She flicks her finger much like Mahazkei did, and the feed is replaced with a schematic of a kind of train car, but at the front and back of each section is a kind of screw ring that goes around the car, and if rotated in a specific direction would pull the car forward. At the bottom is a sled that goes around between the two screw rings, with a gyroscopic cabin in the center. Each car would be tethered to Block or have a flexible connector that allows the cars to make relatively tight turns. They are fairly complex, and beyond simple sleds or anything that could have been cobbled together with standard tools.
“Bear in mind that we had this design finished months ago before we hit the ground, but we only had a few already fabricated and stored, and in pieces at that. The rest came from materials we packed with us or whatever we could scrounge up. We’re expecting problems, but so far nothing we haven’t been able to patch and have last to the end of the trip. We have many challenges before us, but our big Block-y style cannot be defeated!”
There are some cries of agreement and chants shared for a moment before things settle again, and as the camera turns back to Mahazkei he is seen glowing once again, fading slowly. His plate is clear of food, and he is dabbing at his lips with a napkin. “Thank you, Staff Sergeant. These are the people who make the impossible happen. It’s not just me, oh no. It’s them and everyone back at the mountain range. It’s them and the people in orbit of Skarkon II. It’s them and Laura, and my corpmates who escorted us out here and saw me off. They’re all the real heroes.” He gestures to them all as he leans back to get his arm out to gesture to the table behind him. He stands up, and starts collecting empty or completed plates. “But I know our job is far from done. Miles to go, people.”
And those around him repeat the last words, quietly. “Miles to go.” They begin cleaning up, and at least one other member of staff joins him back in the kitchen to help with dishes while the others walk off down a hall marked “Quarters”. The camera stays in the mess, looking at the kitchen from a distance.
The camera’s feed ends abruptly, and the recorded stream comes to an end.