The Death Throes of a Desert Planet

A camera drone activates in a dusty and worn looking building. The floors are scuffed and scratched and the sheetrock has cracked and sloughed off the wall in huge chunks. All the furniture has been removed and Saede Riordan sits on the floor looking out a cracked window. Beyond the glass is an alien sky, lit in a dark reddish tint and across which clouds scuttle angrily in a striated mixture of orange, grey, and brown. Saede turns away from the window and begins speaking to the camera.

“Hello Friends. Welcome to Skarkon.”

The camera pans past Saede to look out at the city of Iddiserigard. Three floors below the window frame is an abandoned alley already beginning to fill with dust and debris. Sand and mutaplasmid laden winds howl down the battle-scarred streets. In the distance, an enormous tower of alien crystals rises hundreds of meters above the ruined cityscape, a spiked glacier of mutaplasmids lit from within by a dull red glow.

"There is an atrocity unfolding here on Skarkon II whose scale and brutality can scarcely be comprehended. When everything is said and done, unless urgent measures are taken, potentially impossible measures, the final death toll on the surface of the planet will likely number in the millions. While on the scale of atrocities that have occurred in New Eden the extirpation of Skarkon is barely a speed bump, for those of us to whom Skarkon was a home, the tragedy is every bit as real and important as every other tragedy which has befallen the cluster.

“I make no secret of the fact that I’m a Multiple. That is to say, I have a series of clones all active at once and all linked into one mind by a conjoiner network. CONCORD considers this illegal of course but CONCORD doesn’t have any power in Skarkon anymore and I’ve never much cared for their nonsense rules anyway. When it became clear that the system was going to fall, I slipped four clones onto Skarkon II along with a large number of Slingshot cloning systems in an attempt to aid the evacuation of the world in whatever ways I could. Since my insertion, two of those clones and the majority of the slingshot systems I brought with me have been destroyed and since the destruction of the system’s stargates I haven’t been able to get new clones or new supplies back in. The evacuation efforts have sputtered and stalled despite the planet still containing millions of people and I fear that it is only a matter of time before the ongoing conflict claims their lives.”

“Let’s take a look around.” she says. The camera pans back to Saede as she stands and makes her way down the stairs towards the street. “Skarkon II is my homeworld and it’s still the place where I’ve spent the majority of my life. These streets are my old teenage haunts and the memories I have here are thick enough to cut with a knife. Skarkon may not have been a very good home, but it was still home to me and nearly twenty million others. I can’t do anything about the Triglavian invasion or the radical changes and damage they have wrought on the biosphere and on the very structure of space, but I can help evacuate the survivors and as a capsuleer I can report what I see to an audience who might be able to take those impossible measures required to save their lives.”

Saede reaches the bottom of the stairs. There is no door separating the inside from the outside, and dust and trash have flooded into the landing in thick drifts which she steps carefully over.

“My remaining clones on the surface will continue aiding in the evacuation efforts until either their deaths or until everyone left alive who wants to leave the planet has done so. During that time I’ll be recording what I do and see here and reporting on it to the wider cluster. I expect that the universe has already moved on for the most part, that few people care about what happens to the people of Skarkon and fewer still are in any position to act, but I will not let the people here vanish without at least a record of their plight.”

Saede exits the building, climbing over a mound of sand that has billowed into the entryway. Crystalline materials are scattered throughout the sands and are growing up the walls on exposed surfaces.

“This was my family’s home before we left Skarkon for Origin five years ago. I kept possession of it and this clone has been living out of the building while helping coordinate the evacuations and collecting information on the mutating biosphere. As you can see, it’s been spared the worst of the fighting that’s been going on here, although the mutaplasmids are starting to affect the structure. Most of the conflicts in Iddiserisgard were in the industrial districts where the CBD mines were located. Now those mines are being used to house survivors until we can get them safely off the planet.”

Outside in the deserted street, Saede pulls a cloth up over her mouth and lowers a pair of goggles in front of her eyes to keep out the stinging dust and crystalline shards. She marches down the narrow lane, having to stomp to gain purchase in the loose and shifting sands.

“The UNF took Iddiserisgard from the CBD Corporation back before the Triglavians took the system, and they successfully evacuated most of the city during the initial push to get people off the world. There are still people here, but most of them are people from outlying towns and settlements who’ve fled here since it’s where we’re running evac ops from.

“When the Triglavians first arrived, there was still fighting going on in Sahaal around the space elevator between warclone forces from the Bosena Accords and the Krullefor and Seykal. It was a bloodbath. People congregated around the elevator to try and evacuate or to watch the fighting. They were packed in like rats, shoulder to shoulder in places, thousands of them. At one point, I saw a bomber make an attack run and drop its bombs too early and hit a group of civilians. I don’t even know whose bomber it was, and I suppose it doesn’t really matter. The people there were…” Saede shakes her head, “It was like someone went at the crowd with a huge lawnmower. Here was a man’s head with bits of neck and shoulder trailing off, there was a child’s foot, still wearing a shoe with colorful spaceship print. I saw a boy who had been thrown against a wall so hard that he stuck to it, flattened and oozing. There had to be a few hundred dead right there in that one moment, it was a horrific sight, and that was before Svarog even really got involved.”

Saede reaches a cross street and hangs a left. This street is wider and bits of the pavement are still visible. All along the street are abandoned storefronts and destroyed shops. There was clearly intense fighting in this area. The streets are littered with craters and lines of bullet holes march along the walls. Buildings are collapsed or have had holes blown in them, and in places bodies or bits and bodies can be seen poking through the rising sand.

“So Svarog took one look at that mess and just hit the elevator ground station from orbit. Snapped the cable and destroyed the foundations. The clone I had in Sahaal died in that blast, so I’m not sure what’s happened there after that, but Svarog’s main landing site wasn’t far from Sahaal and they moved pretty quickly to take the city, so I can’t imagine there’s much in the way of survivors there at this point.”

A few other people are moving around the ruined street in much the same way Saede is. They’re bundled up against the increasingly harsh elements, heads down and shoulders hunched, they nod to Saede as they pass but otherwise don’t acknowledge each other.

“The second clone I lost was in Melorisagard. That was a coastal city on the other side of the sea from where we are now. That sea has kept the Svarog penned up and funneled into a set of conflict zones with the UNF and Bosena Accords, small mercies I suppose. But when the Svarog main force landed, they rolled southwest from their landing sites straight through Sahaal and on down to Melorisagard and that was just a bloodbath. Complete indiscriminate slaughter. They marched their armored soldiers down the streets blasting away anything that moved. I saw whole groups of civilians just scythed down while they screamed and begged for their lives. There were places where the bodies were piled so high you couldn’t see over them and the blood and viscera in the streets were nearly ankle deep. I probably could have avoided losing that clone if I was more careful, but I got cornered and tried to talk my way out. Svarog aren’t much for talking. If I’d just gone in blasting I’d probably have had a decent chance, there were only a couple of them there.”

Saede reaches another intersection, one where all the buildings have been reduced to rubble and an enormous sand filled crater now completely fills the street. She carefully clambers down into it and back up the other side. As the camera drone follows her back up the escarpment, a view of the sea opens up ahead. White tipped waves break against a shore that seems to have shifted inward to encroach upon the industrial outskirts and leave refineries and infrastructure swamped. The waters themselves have taken on an angry dark and reddish tint as they reflect the changed skies overhead. More mutaplasmid glaciers rise from the sea like strange icebergs or islands.

“The growth of the mutaplasmids have shifted the coastlines extensively, as you can see,” she says fishing around in her pockets, she finds her packet of cigarettes and shifts her face covering so she can rest it in the corner of her mouth and light it, cupping her hands to protect the weak flame from the howling winds. “What’s left of Kor’ali is underwater aside from the tops of some of the taller buildings and Sa’kak is an island now, or at least the middle of it is, most of the suburbs and outskirts of it are also flooded.

“The other clone I have still alive is in a refugee camp south of Sa’kak and on the far side of the UNF/Bosena lines from the Svarog. I’ve still got a number of slingshot scanners set up there and we’re managing to process through about two thousand people per day. Obviously, not everyone wants to be scanned so they can be cloned, and also obviously two thousand people per day is a drop in the bucket.”

She turns and heads down another street, climbing up a rising hill towards a set of large industrial buildings. She passes through a gate where a pair of local militia members stand guard with beat up old rifles, nodding to them as she goes, then turns down a narrow alley between two warehouses. Inside the warehouses people have set up temporary shelters and are cooking over improvised fires. It’s clear that the population has begun to undergo somewhat uncontrolled mutadaptions and all manner of strange deformities can be seen.

“The military situation between the warclones and Svarog is surprisingly stable, they’re done a pretty good job of keeping the trigs busy and bottled up in what was Skardisaad, but without any way to get the people left here offworld, it’s really only a matter of time before the lines shift and a lot of people die.”

Saede begins climbing a fire escape on the outside of one of the warehouses, “We need routes out, evacuation ships, and protection. The Raznaborg are going after anything in space they can catch including civilian transports and the Kybernauts are only a bit better, although they at least can theoretically be negotiated with. And then there’s this whole whatever it is,” she gestures as she finishes her ascent and the drone peers out over the crumbling skyline towards the desert beyond, where a strange spiderlike monstrosity many hundreds of meters tall seems to be aggressively attacking a mutaplasmid mass, “None of us are sure what to make of that but it’s killed the scouts who got too close so we’re giving it a wide berth. It’s mostly seemed to busy itself with attacking the mutaplasmid towers, so we’re trying not to worry about it too much.”

Saede spreads her arms out to her sides and for the first time, the camera can see that her clone is also undergoing some form of mutadaption, the skin of her arms and hands taking on a red and black tint and a texture of scaled crystals. Awkward spikes sprout from the backs of her forearms and rude black patches leave her dark skin looking severely infected.

“So yeah, that’s the tour, thanks for watching. If there’s anything you can do to help us here, please do. There’s still millions of people down here who need rescuing and no one knows how much time we have left before the world becomes completely uninhabitable. Providing my clones survive, I’ll keep trying to provide reports from time to time to make sure the rest of the cluster knows what’s going on on the ground here. This world will not be forgotten, the people whose lives were lost here deserve to be remembered and honored. From the surface of Skarkon II in the Krai Svarog of Pochven, this is Saede Riordan, signing out.”

Saede offers the camera an informal salute before the signal cuts out and the message ends.

9 Likes

Major proponents of siding with EDENCOM included Operations Coordinator Streya Jormagdnir and Cloning services Coordinator Mikai Heliokanen. Opposing the alliance and favoring the Triglavians were System’s Coordinator Saede Riordan along with Jovian Science Coordinator Alphonse Yridrin and Reconnaissance Coordinator Niapet.

Well. Enjoy your mutation. :kissing:

Having recently conversed in person with both Mz. Jormagdnir and Mz. Riordan, I strongly suspect Saede has seen the error in her stance. Seen it quite literally, might I add.

3 Likes

Don’t know how much of this can reach you back on the planet, but…

We are trying. Everyone is trying. But connections are lost every day, pickup sites have been abandoned, transports are downed and assets in space are precarious. System exits are camped and controlled and the orbit is a warzone. Beacons and depots deployed do not stay functional and setting them creates honeypots that endanger more lives than they can save.

Some protriglavian forces can maybe be negotiated with; Svarog cannot though. All agreements we might make to buy time will also buy concessions to Svarog allies, and make it worse. While the warclones maybe fight well on the planet and shelter civilian life on one corner of it, at the same time in space they are resorted to providing shelter to triglavian allies.

But we are trying.

3 Likes

Maybe. There’s been plenty of occasions when they’ve played the “wounded martyr” act, that there’s reason to doubt they’re being genuine this time. And like the post says, if Saede is a “multiple” then the mutation and hideous suffering that any individual clone suffers isn’t really meaningful. Unlike the horrors being inflicted on the ordinary Skarkonian civilian, by the alien Triglavian weirdos.

I think you are letting past interactions and preconceptions color your view of this report.

1 Like

And ?

Triglavians, Transhumanists, Rogue Warclones, and Minmatar. Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.

Only, one suspects God won’t find many of his own on this place.

1 Like

To me, it seems, you are being a bitch for the sake of stirring conflict. Dr. Riordan is many things, perfect is not one, but neither are you. And making needlessly inflammatory remarks is unnecessary and problematic to the situation at hand.

1 Like

Svarog is not that bad if you talk wit him, but you don’t wanna talk, and things happened

Attempts have been made perehana. They usually end with the person trying to talk being shot repeatedly for interfering or being ‘in the way’.

1 Like

A camera drone activates on Saede Riordan. She’s sitting on a large boulder of which only the upper portions are exposed above a vast sand dune. Night has fallen and the clouds have broken for once, but the view of the sky reveals not the stars but the swirling red darkness of Pochven and the abyss. The air is cold enough that Saede’s breath can be seen and she’s bundled up a good deal more than she was in the last video although she’s still smoking a cigarette.

"You know, when the Triglavians first arrived, I think a lot of us with anti-CONCORD or anti-Empire sentiments thought they might have been the answer to our prayers. The people of Molden Heath don’t exactly have a good track record of being well cared for by the central republic, that’s why Skarkon fell in with the Angels so deeply, it felt like we’d already been abandoned and when the Angels came to our rescue it was a rather ‘any port in a storm’ situation. I was a naive kid and legitimately thought they could save us, but I think a lot of people knew that the Angels weren’t good, they just didn’t feel like we had any other option.

Saede takes a long drag of her smoke and tosses the butt down off the boulder. The camera follows it before continuing a slow circle pan of the landscape while Saede talks. The view looks out over the darkened ocean before continuing to pan left and giving a view of the ruined city of Iddiserigard, normally brightly lit at night but now shrouded in darkness to make for a less compelling target.

“It was really the same with the Triglavians, and I let my optimism and naivety get the best of me yet again. Here was this wildcard faction of precursor beings, of Jovians. And not like the Drifters, these ones actually talked and interacted with us. So I and a lot of other people rather naively thought that well, maybe they would be better than CONCORD and the Empires, maybe they would treat us better than the forces who had abused us for decade upon decade would. But what’s that old phrase, ‘stick with the devil you know?’”

The camera continues panning left past ruined industrial facilities and the rocky terrain of the inland mountains which rise to the west of Iddiserigard. Flickers of red lightning crash ominously from vast peaks of mutaplasmid which now rise amongst the barren mountainous regolith.

“I think the desire to escape, to have anything different, got the best of us and we thought the devil we didn’t know might be better. That was a mistake which I at least was steered away from before I ended up helping the Triglavians conquer anything, but if you’re watching this and still holding out hope that maybe the Trigs will be better friends to you than CONCORD and SARO and the four Empires and their policies of abuse and abandonment, let me take the opportunity to try and change your mind.”

As the camera keeps panning left the mountains fall away into a vast sea of dunes stretching off to the southeast. In the distance a mile-high glacier of mutaplasmid material lit from within by a dull red light casts a dim palor over the sand sea.

“Svarog Clade has absolutely slaughtered their way across this planet. They kill with absolute and ruthless indiscriminate force anywhere they find anyone. They aren’t literally hunting down survivors but given that they’re spreading across the planet like a wave and taking no prisoners and leaving no survivors they really might as well be hunting them all down. They can’t be negotiated with, they can’t be reasoned with, they have been an utterly implacable foe and they’re as out for themselves and no one else just as absolutely as the factions you seek to escape are. They won’t be your saviors, they won’t be your protectors. Maybe you can hide behind them for a time but they’re equally likely to turn around and shoot you in the face if you try.”

The camera finishes its panning and settles on a view out over the Ishohuolvi Penninsula, where an absolutely titanic battle is currently underway. The peninsula is lit by a nearly constant light shot of cataclysmic explosions, rockets and tracer rounds climb into the sky, and deep red flashes of ominous Triglavian weaponry colors the sky and the sea in blood-red light for hundreds of kilometers.

“That’s the Bosena Accords/UNF joint proving grounds. They’ve managed to bottle up the Svarog advance on the peninsula away from survivors and…well I’m taken to understand that both sides fighting out there see that as their idea of a good time, at least at the level of warclones throwing bodies into the fight. I know that UNF forces are pretty nervous about their ability to keep the Svarog there and keep them interested in proving long enough to evacuate the rest of the population and I can certainly say I share their apprehension about that. Not much would survive if the front shifted off the peninsula and came in this direction, and there’s not really much in the way of further settlements to the south to move survivors to, just an increasingly dangerous and increasingly alien biosphere. There’s been some talk about sending people onwards to the old mountain strongholds in the Tenerate Mountains, but that’s a few hundred kilometers away across very rough terrain and a convoy of civilian vehicles would be very exposed and would be easy targets for Svarog airstrikes. As it stands, we’re just trying to stand our ground in the city and hope for the best.”

Saede stands and clamber down from the boulder before slip/sliding down the face of the sand dune. The battlefield falls out of sight behind the lip of the dune as the camera drone bobs along in her wake but it can still see the occasional flash of light in the sky. The slowly mutadapting sebiestor stumbles onto the hard packed regolith at the base of the dune and makes her way into a narrow and rocky ravine. Instead of being rough and sharp, the walls of the ravine are worn smooth by the passage of hundreds of hands on the stone surface.

“This was a holy site belonging to my subtribe for many decades since our arrival on Skarkon. Numerous clans all came here to conduct rituals, honor the local spirits, and send off the souls of the dead so they could cross to the River Annan and reach safety with their ancestors. While I’m not usually one for spirituality, it seems appropriate to pay respects and render aid to the spirits of this dying world before they are lost forever to the howling abyss and the monsters which lurk there. To make sure that none of our honored dead become lost and mad as their souls wander this barren and alien landscape. There has been a lot of death on this world, and there hasn’t been much time to honor those dead or perform the rites to ensure them safe passage, so that’s what I’ll be doing tonight. I would encourage any shamans, witches, or mages of the tribes who can help to send energy towards Skarkon and to be prepared to receive the souls of those who died here.”

Saede reaches a place where the ravine widens into a circular bowl shape into which have been set a rough circle of standing stones. Saede goes over to a small crevasse in the ravine and digs a highly weathered crate out of the sand. She pops open the lid of the crate with a squeak of old wood and rusted hinges and begins removing a set of tools from the crate including two handmade brooms, one regular sized and one minature, a knife that looks to have been made from a piece of crystal and bits of industrial cowling, an old metal bowl of Amarrian design, a series of glass vials with colored liquids contained within.

“This is a ritual of abandoned places, a way of breaking and parting from a place and of severing the connection between the people and the land to encourage the souls that linger here and the spirts that have aided and befriended them to flee this place and cross to the safety of the spirit world.”

Saede picks up the broom and begins sweeping the dust from the circle of stones. Beneath the layer of sand, a set of symbols are visible, carved into the rock face. After clearing away the sand to reveal the circle of runes, Saede jams the broom into a crack in the circle’s center with the bristles facing upwards and lights it on fire. She claps her hands together twice before shouting over the wind,

“The time of Skarkon II is at an end! The spirits of Skarkon II are at their end! The people of Skarkon II are at their end! But where one door closes, another door opens! This will not be our end! This will not be our rest! This will not be our doom! With great sorrow and great hope, I sever our binds to this world!”

Saede looks along her arms for a place that isn’t infected with mutaplasmids and makes a deep gash with the ritual knife without so much as a flinch. She returns the knife to the crate and lets her blood drip into the rusty golden chalice. As it does, with her other hand, she pops the corks off the other bottles one by one and empties their contents into the bowl, swirling them together while humming a quiet and sad song of loss and pain. If one looks closely, they might see her tears silently falling into the mixture along with everything else. She picks up the small broom and dips it into the mixture, then proceeds to paint a symbol of severing on each of the standing stones.

“Honored dead! Honored souls of our ancestors! Honored spirits who have sheltered us on this desert world! I urge you to flee the oncoming darkness which has befallen this place and find safe passage and embrace in the waters of the River Annan! You will not be forgotten! You will not be abandoned! Please flee from this place before it is too late!”

With a final flourish, she swings her arm around and lights the small broom off the still burning fullsize broom and makes another series of symbols in the air with trails of fire and smoke. Her motions become almost frantic as she quickly finishes the spell before the brooms burn out and leave the standing stones once more shrouded in darkness. After the fire ends Saede collapses onto the ground and chokes back a quiet sob, tossing the broom away into the darkness. Then she smiles sadly, rises to her feet, and collects the chalice and the jars in their crate. She tucks the crate into the crook of her arm and begins the long journey back to Iddiserigard. The camera drone obediently chases after her and she glances to it and saying somewhat apologetically,

“If this clone manages to survive long enough, I’ll pass this crate off to a Vele’kor shaman so that they might make a new standing place on safer shores. Stay strong my friends, I’ll keep bringing you updates for as long as I’m able. Until it’s all over or until this clone finds its end. To those of you still trying to aid the evacuation, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for not abandoning this world or her people. I know it must be hard and frustrating and disillusioning, but please keep fighting, please don’t give up on this place yet. From the surface of Skarkon II in the Krai Svarog of Pochven, this is Saede Riordan, signing out.”

Saede offers the camera drone an informal salute before the signal cuts out and the message ends.

7 Likes

A camera drone activates on the rooftop of a building in Iddiserigard. Saede Riordan stands leaning against the rusted railing smoking a cigarette. The sky is a dusky red twilight hue and the space above swirls with the darkness of the abyss. Saede’s clone looks…rather off. Her normally coffee colored skin has turned a charcoal black like that of a burnt corpse and bone white splotches and mottling are spreading across her body. In places her skin looks cracked and desiccated in places with an unpleasant scaled texture and in others it seems to be liquifying and running. Hard crystal spikes extrude from the backs of her forearms and lower legs, and a glowing patch of flat crystal has spread out from one of her cheeks giving her a rather alien visage.

“Hello my friends, welcome back to Skarkon II.”

Saede takes a drag of her cigarette and picks up her arm from where it was leaning on the railing, frowning slightly at the handprint of melting flesh left behind.

“I seem to be melting a bit,” she remarks, examining her still-dripping fingers. “I’m surprised this doesn’t hurt. I have no idea if it’s going to be fatal or not.” She shakes her head and looks up at the sky and then back at the drone, “Anyway, I thought I’d tell y’all a story. Among a lot of the spacefaring clans I’ve come across there’s a tale of the Abyss, what some call the Nameless God, or the Ravening Spirit, of the Howling Lost. The idea is that when souls are lost in deep space, sometimes they can’t find their way home and something ends up claiming them. Not the Evil God of the Amarr although that’s a risk as well, but something that all the spirits, even the Amarr know to rightly fear. A spirit of the void, of the darkness between the stars. She, and in most of the stories she’s definitely a she for some reason, gathers up and consumes the souls of those lost to the void. I didn’t really think much of this before becoming a capsuleer. In fact, before becoming a capsuleer I was much less spiritual than I am now. There’s something about the vast distances of space, the haunted emptiness, that stirs the imagination. I went from being a staunch atheist to…well after living among the stars for as long as I have, the idea of spirits and monsters and howling abominations don’t seem so far fetched anymore.”

The camera drone looks past Saede, panning along the darkened horizon and out over the ocean. To the right side of the image part of the Ishohuolvi Penninsula can be seen, where the endless apocalypse of the warclone Proving Grounds continues to put on a silent lightshow, like a cataclysmic fireworks display.

“The story of the Abyss always struck me as particularly compelling. My clan has quite a few Honored Spirits of the Void. Allied spirits associated with space which we made alliances with during our time cast adrift among the stars before we’d eventually found a home here on Skarkon. There’s The Singer, a spirit of guidance, sort of a North Star in space. There’s the Dark Wind, a spirit of gravitation and radiation that helps protect and ferry the souls of the dead back across the River Annan, there’s Steel Coyote, a spirit of metis and war and technology who protects the living and dead from malicious and alien forces, there’s Thunder Raven, a spirit of warp cores and main reactors and engines whose fiery song keeps the ship humming and alive, and there’s Iron Fox, a spirit of starships and magic who acts as a go between for the shaman when communing with various ship spirits and more neutral spirits of the void.

"These spirits are still honored in the pantheon of my clan and even after having settled on Skarkon II they still maintained a strong position of prominence which the spirits of Skarkon never quite managed to displace. The Abyss is not an honored spirit, and in fact, a lot of the honored spirits we have are guardians that ward off the Abyss and her legions of tortured and howling dead. The Abyss is the demon goddess of deadspace, the collector of mad and tortured dead. It’s said that it is due to her eldritch influence that the dead lost to deadspace become horrifically fused together into slavering nightmares, hungering servants of She who Bears No Name.”

A distant rumble of thunder can be heard on the video, leading Saede to glance out over the ocean before continuing.

“There’s a prayer we offer up to the dead which I quite like, it goes “Dearest Ancestors, Honored spirits, please hear our humble plea. One of our number has been lost to us and we ask you to gather their soul in your embrace. Grant them kindness and safe rest, help them let down their burdens and continue their journey. Honored spirits, this soul must now pass into your hands. In peace, may they leave these shores. In love, we ask that you guide them to the next. Grant them safe passage across the stars. May they be remembered forever, until there is no more death, no more pain, and the Abyss herself shall give up her dead, and return them to us. May we meet again."

The rumbling seems to grow louder and Saede looks around, peering up at the sky for a moment but still seeing nothing but the titanic battle occurring off to the northeast.

“That prayer predates the official discovery of Abyssal Deadspace, so when the Abyss actually opened up like the widening maw of a hungry god and started spilling out Triglavians, it was…well it was very weird. Like an ancient prophecy come to life. I think that was probably the point at which I really stopped being an atheist. The Abyss was suddenly far too real, and that reality settled into me like a forgotten curse laid deep in my bones. The shamans hadn’t been full of ■■■■ after all, imagine my surprise….”

She trails off and her eyes start to widen, the roar has grown to the point where it dominates all other sound, “What the ■■■■ is that?” She shouts over the sound. The camera drone pans away from her as a massive fireball lights up in the southeastern sky, shining like a miniature sun and bringing out a blue to the atmosphere that hasn’t been seen since the transmutation of the system’s star. The brilliant and shining comet soars away to the south in a great and terrible roar and Saede braces herself for an impact shockwave that never arrives. Instead, somewhere off in the southern sand sea comes an enormous flash of superheated drive trails as what is now clearly an enormous vehicle of some sort fires its thrusters in a suicide burn that brings it in for a hellish, shrieking, thunderous landing which scorches the sand into glass for kilometers in its wake. Bits of burning metal and composite are sent flying up on long arcs as it finally slams into the sand and comes to a rest. Saede watches all of this somewhat slack jawed, then shakes herself out of it and hustles into action.

“You’ll have to excuse me folks, I need to go deal with this.”

The camera drone abruptly cuts out and the video comes to an end.

8 Likes

A camera drone activates high above the desolate, frozen, and increasingly alien surface of Skarkon II. Distant scenery crawls along slowly as an arctic wind whips through the hair and clothes of a huddled group of twenty to thirty survivors. The group’s clothes and tattered red flags and banners billow angrily in the mutaplasmid-laden winds as some large and indistinct transport carries them along above an ocean of snow, sand, and densifying mutaplasmid crystal forest.

The group of survivors on the vehicle seem barely human. Some of them are bundled under thick clothes, heavy respirators, and goggles, while others seem less affected by the hostile environment but whose bodies glow in strange red and orange hues from the effects of rampant uncontrolled mutadaption. It’s impossible to tell the time of day, dark red clouds scuttle overhead and a toxic mixture of snow, sand, and mutaplasmid crystals fly through the air and fall out to settle on the thick metal carapace of their vehicle. Flashes of ominous red lightning in the distance reveal impossible scenes of violence between strange towering leviathans and enormous mutaplasmid monoliths.

Despite all of this, the group is in high spirits. An elderly Brutor man kneels statuesque at the front of the observation platform, one knee forward and a pair of weather-worn binoculars held to his eyes; the large spikes of mutaplasmid crystal growing from his spine seem to have done little to affect his posture or slow him down. A Sebiestor man whose eyes glow with mutadaption plays a haunting but upbeat tune on a beat up old instrument while other members of the group accompany him in song. The vehicle jumps and rattles as it carries them over the increasingly rough terrain of the former desert and they all grab for handholds as the deck rolls and shifts.

Finally the camera drone manages to find Saede Riordan amidst the crowd and zooms in on her. The Sebiestor girl has been severely mutadapted: her skin is now covered entirely in black and white mottling patterns, her hair has turned bone white, and red crystals glow in tiny constellations of light all across her body. Crystals sprout from her skin in various places and her whole body seems to be slightly liquid, dripping and oozing onto the deck of the platform.

“Hey there New Eden!” the mutadapted Sebiestor says cheerfully “It’s yo girl Saede here with another report from the surface of Skarkon II. We’re coming to you today from the main evacuation route between Iddiserigard and the Huomaeli Belt Fortifications in the Ternate Mountains. Thanks to some unexpected support from Mahazkei Vas’Hiigara of the UNF, we’re pulling the entire remaining civilian population out of Iddiserigard and evacuating to the old system of bases and fortification lines in the Ternate. The bases there used to form a defensive line between various warring factions on the planet but over the last few months have been turned into the most secure and defensible strongholds left on the surface.”

Saede grips a handrail as the vehicle rocks again. A few of the survivors in the group whoop and holler as the vehicle crests a ridge. They sight some landmark in the distance, pointing and waving excitedly as Maha’s voice comes over mounted loudspeakers.

“How’s everyone doing?” he says cheerfully, “We’ve just cleared the old Cuolisa Ridge Highway and should be able to see the bases now, thank you for riding the hype train!”

A cheer goes up from the crowd as the vehicle launches fireworks into the murky air.

“We’re pretty far from the Proving Ground battlefield now, which is the main point in evacuating to these bases.” Saede says, “They’re also deep underground, with independent air filtration and life support systems. There’s even a few enclosed farms built into some of the facilities. It’s not sustainable, but it should keep the people there alive until they can be ferried off the surface.”

The camera drone follows the pointing finger of one of the riders. It pivots to look forwards toward their destination. Below them, the design of the vehicle is partly obscured beneath some sort of visual glitch which has been introduced to the video to prevent the enemy from gaining too much intel, but ahead of the vehicle vast tracks scar the landscape from previous trips it has made across the increasingly alien world. A darkened range of mountains rise from the frozen desert in the distance and from this mountain range, the fiery column of a launch vehicle rises through the churned atmosphere, heading for clearer skies far above.

“We’re moving people off the planet into orbital infrastructure owned by the Bosena Accords at a fairly steady rate. It’s not quick, we’re having to use military dropships and MCCs since civilian vehicles can’t handle the chop, but we’re making progress. Provided everything goes well we should be able to get most everyone off the surface.”

The launch vehicle passes through a thick layer of clouds and the light of its launch fades, leaving them once more in darkness. Through all of this, the Sebiestor man with the instrument hasn’t stopped playing.

“We’ve got teams out all over trying to find survivors and bring them back to the Huomaeli Belt. My other clone, the one in Gulormola, is helping move that whole refugee camp there and I’ve heard of at least five other camps that are on the move and making good progress. The joint Bosena/UNF warclone forces seem to be doing a good job of keeping Svarog bottled up and too occupied to pay us much mind, though I have heard of flyovers from some of their scout vehicles taking out lines of refugee transports which didn’t have anti-air defenses. It’s a ■■■■ show but we’re managing.”

The camera drone pans back over Saede’s head to look back the way they’d come, the vehicle they’re riding atop continues to be electronically obscured from observation but in its wake a long line of smaller vehicles, everything from tanks and APCs to trucks and motorbikes follow along in the giant’s treads.

“This is the last group out of Iddiserigard. There’s no civilians in the city anymore, just a UNF garrison and a lot of ruins and broken dreams. It’s weird to think I’ll probably never go back there again. When I became a capsuleer, I had dreams of leaving the city behind and never looking back, but even so, the city had a certain feeling of immortality to it, like whatever happened to me and however far I traveled, my home town would still be there, as rusted and full of crime and poverty as ever. But now? If I went back there with a fresh clone in six months, I have no idea if there’d be anything to see at all, if there’d even be a city or if it’ll all just be one giant mutaplasmid glacier by then. It really tugs the heartstrings to think about.”

Smaller vehicles are beginning to pull away from the large transport Saede is riding, racing ahead across the rough terrain, heading for the welcoming lights of the bases in the mountains, following what’s left of highways in places and the tracks of the heavy transport in others.

“But the Matari have never been about places, the soul of a people isn’t in any world, and any world can be a home if we make it one. Home is having our loved ones around us, our clans, and our tribes, home is other people. We take our home with us in our hearts and make a home for ourselves wherever we go. The spirit of the people of Skarkon will live on, the soul of this world will be carried forth in the descendants of everyone who lived and died on her surface. Her death will be remembered forever, and from her tortured bones we’re going to rise into a future brighter and clearer than any of us can imagine.”

Maha’s voice one more comes over the loudspeakers and handheld radios as the camera drone swings back towards the transport. The lights of the distant base fortifications are beginning to appear out of the distant gloom around the mountains.

“And to our front is the wonderful Huomaeli Belt Fortifications! Spend your remaining days planetside away from the chilly outdoors, and inside our five-star plascrete-reinforced bunker walls several meters below ground! Here you’ll find a distinct lack of mutaplasmid glacial structures and hostile Svarog infantry! Instead, you’ll find warm bedding, three square meals a day, and an unrestricted connection to OpComms thirteen-thirty-seven AM, and oh-ten-point-three FM, The Block!, giving you a front row seat to the forward lines, salting the earth as we go and slagging any idiot dumb enough to stand between Block and the people of Skarkon II! We thank you once again for your wait, and for joining us on Commander Mahazkei’s Hype Train to Orbit. Oh-seven, my dear charges! Fly safe.”

A number of drones and small flying vehicles are lifting off from the convoy to zoom ahead and away from them, scouting the land in all directions and capturing video of their escape. The convoy is beginning to break apart and dissipate as individual vehicles break from the formation. A series of fireworks rise from the back of one truck into the ruddy air, releasing cheerful starbursts of color against the dim red backdrop. The group on the observation platform with Saede are hugging each other and clapping their hands together, whooping in excitement as the Sebiestor man continues to play on.

“The people here have had a hard life and the last few months have been the hardest yet, but there’s a surprising amount of optimism among the survivors It feels hopeless at times, Saede suddenly joins in with the group that is singing, “But I heard someone say they knew that someday that everything would fall into its place and everything would be fine. And I really truly honestly without a doubt want to believe that everything will be alright! Oh my god! I will, hold my tongue and I’ll breathe, easily if anyone can say with any sort of certainty that there is something to believe!"

Someone hugs Saede from behind and she laughs and turns to embrace them, leaving black and white goo on them after their embrace. They both laugh and someone sparks a few cigarettes and starts passing them out.

“This is Saede Riordan reporting from Skarkon II in the Krai Svarog of Pochven, fly safe New Eden, we’ll see you on the other side.”

The camera drone leaves Saede behind and zooms down the flank of the vehicle. The design remains obscured but giant murals of a fierce looking creature painted in glowing red paint along with the words STEEL COYOTE can be seen along the side in Modern Standard Matari before the video feed cuts out as the song comes to an end.

4 Likes