The Arkology Reports 5

Day two, after our crash on Elysium

"Here’s ya chu-fee," said our hostess bluntly, holding a steaming pot as she walked up to my table in the common room of Etzad’s hostel. Cirallel Etzad was an old woman - a hag quite frankly - who provided food and lodgings to lower-tier Tourists, as they called travelers visiting Arkology. And the only one we could afford with the Lexirands we had at hand. I observed the colorful drapes that covered up the structurally unsound walls, as she poured the black brew into my tin. Its aroma had a hint of ground coffee beans, mixed with a particular dirt smell. I suppose it was what I asked for. This was my way to start any day - Oh, the things I had taken for granted.
As I held the tin with my stiff fingers, she gave me a stern look as if she suspected I would spit it out. Hesitantly, I blew away the hot vapors and sipped. It tasted something like coffee alright - coffee that had been filtered through an uncooked potato.
“90?” said Doctor Perno the moment he entered the common room.
“Yes, Doctor?”
The Doctor wanted to say something but lost his train of thought when he noticed what I was drinking. “Is that coffee?”
I shrugged. “Close enough.”
The Doctor joined me at the shallow table against the wall. While discussing our predicament, we discovered the tabletop was of interest to us. It was a tile made of the same material as the outer hull of Elysium, or Hades - whatever we should call it. It looked on the surface like turquoise granite, but beneath the thicker surface rested thinner layers.
“What are you doing?” asked 111 as she saw us holding our noses close to the tabletop.
“Research?” responded the Doctor.
205 came in last and looked around with a mixture of fatigue and confusion. “There is breakfast?”
“You two are late,” said Doctor Perno.
“Older people need less sleep,” remarked 111.
“And the young need to respect their elders,” he sneered. “Now let’s discuss our next plan of action.”
“We haven't had breakfast yet,” complained 205. “And is that coffee?”
The Doctor raised his voice. “This is not some safari! We can’t dillydally.”
“We just got here.”
“And we should leave as soon as possible. We might have a month before we start succumbing to Traveler’s Decay.”
“Will we?” asked 205 pedantically. “I Don't think that is a thing in this place.” He turned to our hostess. “Cirallel. How long have you had this hostel?”
"Years," she said without taking her eyes off a ledger she was inspecting.
"See?" said 205.
The Doctor harrumphed. "There are plenty of other things that can kill us," he said. "We’ll head for the Eternal City then."
"What are we supposed to do?" asked 205, brashly.
“There is a whole world for you youngsters out there to explore,” said the Doctor. “Besides, we need to prepare for a prolonged stay, just in case.”
The lass" eyes widened. “How long, Doctor?" she asked nervously.
“Don't be naive, woman,” he sneered and dropped the matter immediately. “We’ll be at the Eternal City. You two investigate how we can make a living till we discover a way to get out of here.”
“You expect us to…” 111 hesitated to say it. “Find jobs.”
“What did I just say?” asked the Doctor, annoyed.
I slapped my hands on the table. “Yes, we all have our work cut out for us it seems. We"ll leave the moment I finish my coffee, or whatever it is. You can explore the markets. Figure out how people make a living here.” I knocked back my brew. “Alright, all done!”
When we were about to walk out of the door, the Doctor turned around. “205?”
The young man looked up. “Yes, Sir?”
“Don't let her out of your sight.”
205 was taken aback. “I-I won't, sir.”

There was something unreal about being in an indoor city. When looking up, all I could see was the light of the machine that appeared to transcend upward into an infinite vortex of electric violence
The luminous gasses were so blinding, those massive wheels appeared to float in a bottomless well of storm clouds.
While I and the Doctor walked past the insulae-esque tenement buildings, I reminisced about this place called Arkology. Refuge of the worldless; City of Scavengers who prey on the carcass of a long-gone greater race that we call Elysium.
The locals boast this it is the capital of the Multiverse because you won't find such an assortment of people from various planes anywhere else - which is most certainly true. The city lacks any form of consistency, except in the diversity of its ramshackle architecture, language, and traditions. Many buildings have been repurposed from one wave of refugees to the next. The new inhabitants would leave the cultural vestiges of their predecessors, and add their own. Imagine, if you will, an imperial Roman occupying a Japanese house. When he"s gone, a Sioux moves in, and finally, an Irish immigrant takes over. That is Arkology in a nutshell. It would either fascinate anthropologists to no end or give them a heart attack.
While discussing our observations with Perno, I found a way to address his behavior at the hostel this morning. “Please, sir you are driving them up the wall,” I said.
“I have no patience for this,” he mumbled. “This place…”
“We barely slept. It's all-new,” I insisted. “We all need to get a feeling for the place. It's stressful enough.”
“We need to be realistic. This place…” he stopped again.
“Let"s focus on making friends who can help us. We have some food and money left to last us a couple of days.”
He muttered something unintelligible in response and then we continued our way across the bazaar. Near a far corner of the bazaar, we would find our destination.
“You can"t miss it,” one of the dandies had said. Well, he was right.
Three stories high, the Eternal City looked like a palace in comparison to the rest of the quarter. Above the entrance and each porthole, there was a shell-shaped lean-to"s made from murky stained glass. Above the curved slope running up to the entrance was an arch of purple branches.
At the top of the causeway, we approached the doorman, a formidable man of Asian descent, who wore finely tailored overalls adorned with serpentine embroideries.
“I assume this is the House of Style?" asked Doctor Perno.
The doorman grinned with his arms crossed. “Is it? You must be tourists?” he remarked, amused.
“Well, no. We are stranded,” he explained. “We have been invited by some of your… Colleagues to visit Ms. Style.”
“Stranded?” He started to laugh heartily. “That’s a new one. What brings you here then?”
The Doctor’s patience was running out. “Could you please inform the lady we are here?” he insisted as politely as possible.
“Fine then.” The doorman said, somewhat condescendingly with a slow nod. “Keep ya suit on.” He opened a small cabinet beside the door and took out a horn attached to a thick cord. “Yo, Oman?” he spoke inside the horn. "Is me lady expecting anyone..? Yeah, some fresh meat claiming to be stranded… Uh-huh, that's what I said." After a moment of uncomfortable silence, he finally hung up. “Alrighty then. Come on in.”
After that treatment, we were somewhat surprised he held open the door for us. I must admit, I was impressed with the lavishly decorated hall with a double staircase decorated with floral patterns in the bearings and railings. On either side stood some mannequins, exquisitely dressed in couture fashioned from alien hides and plant-fibers I couldn't identify. Dresses of fish-like skin and fluorescent hides. Hats decorated with remarkable shells and quills. One of them even wore a scarf made of a whole caterpillar-like animal with striped golden fur as smooth as that of minks, and a small ovoid head with big black eyes. Curiously, I reached out to feel the softness of the fur, but to my surprise, it was still warm.
“IE!” the scarf squeaked like a calf.
I jumped back as the animal raised its head. “IEE-EE!” it squeaked upset as it spiraled down the mannequin’s legs and rushed toward a tall lady of significant size who just walked down the stairs.
"Oe! Did they frighten you, darling?" she comforted the caterpillar as it draped itself around her neck like a sentient scarf.
“I-I-I… sorry,"I apologized. “I didn’t realize it was alive.
"Ha-ha," she laughed. "You are new here," she said and reached out her hand, holding it up as if she expected us to kiss it. So we entertained her.
Miss Style wasn’t the type you’d expected in a place like Arkology. She was a sizable lady wearing an extravagant dress of reflective gold and yellow fabrics. After some introductions, she asked. "What can I do for you, darlings?"
“I assume your hench- Your men have already informed you of our predicament?”
She constricted her face into a giddy grin. “Spacefarers,” she uttered childishly. “Well, you ain’t the first. However, if it is a return ticket you want, you’ll have to travel back the same way everybody arrives here.”
“And that is?” asked the Doctor.
“On the White Ship, darling. Surely, travelers like yourselves have heard of them?"
“Could you be more specific?”
“Oh,” she replied reluctantly and forced her lips into a forced smile. “The White Ships arrive at the Station carrying refugees from whatever world just experienced an untimely demise. All of us were granted a one-way ticket here. Only those with Silver Tickets are free to come and go as they please.”
Ears stood up the moment she mentioned the Silver Tickets. “And you happen to have one of these?” I asked.
She burst out laughing as if we just asked a ridiculous question. “Hoe, hoe, hoe. Oh, no, darling! Only our beloved Founder can arrange those. Of course, he’’ ll never make time for the likes of you. He only ever talks to me when he needs new threads.” She then restored her composure. "But, maybe I could arrange a meeting…”
“Could you? That would be marvelous!”
“Yes, but what would you offer me for this unique opportunity?”
“Oh…” The Doctor’s enthusiasm melted away. "If we get this Golden Ticket, we can…” he gave me a desperate look.
“We could,” I began cautiously. "Offer you some resources at the Association’s disposal."
She considered it. "Resources from Earth?" she asked, intrigued.
“Yes.”
“Hm…” Scratching her chin, she shifted her eyes from left to right as she considered the options. “Oe! Cotton,” she said.
“Cotton?” repeated the Doctor. “As in fabric, cotton?”
“Yes, darling. Woven and undyed.”
We looked at each other. “Sure, we can do cotton… Once we settle the logistics.”
“Fine then. I see what I can do. I hope you won't disappoint me.”
“We wouldn’t think of it," said Perno. “Well, I suppose we’ll have to wai-”
A door to the side of the hall flung open. Two scavs dragged in a hapless man who struggled to escape.
“What’s this about?” asked Ms. Style.
“This guy tried to steal a bunch of shawl-worm larvae, Style,” answered one of them. “What do we do with um?”
"Ahg!" she responded, appalled. "Off with that filth!" she demanded as she beckoned them to take him away. Feed him to the caterpillars." As the man was dragged away, she scratched the neck of her worm draped over her shoulders. "What is the city coming to? Just look at you. How can anyone even think of hurting you?"
"Is that really necessary? I mean, I understand you are angry-"
"I not angry, dear, I am just disappointed…" She took a fan out of her decollete. "I do hate to be disappointed," she said, shaking her head while waving the fan to cool herself.
"Right… We’ll take our leave then."
She reached out her hand again. "Well, stay in touch, dears."
With haste, we made our way out of the palace and returned to our hostel.
And we strode across the bazaar, I asked Perno, "You think this is wise? I think that woman is insane!"
"If she won't kill us, this place will," said Perno. "I wouldn’t worry about it. Besides, she thinks we can deliver her something nobody else can. We have to make sure she maintains that assumption."
"We are going to deliver the cotton, right?"
He cleared his throat and said. "There is a likelihood that is physically impossible."

Back at the hostel, we were sitting in the common room with a cup of coffee when 205 returned from his inquiries. Alone.
Perno straightened himself. "Where is 111?" he asked, dismayed.
"She’s at the bazaar somewhere."
"Somewhere?" he repeated. "What did I tell you?!"
"She keeps going off by herself," he said defensively. "She’s like an unguided projectile near plants."
"Well, 111 is an Associate after all," I told him. "Maybe you should have made 111 watch 205 instead."
Perno muttered something and then asked 205, "So, found anything to do?"
"Well, the fellowships would like to take me on as an apprentice," he said.
"A fellowship?"
"They are kinda like guilds I guess. They are the ones sending out the groups of scavengers or hunters down the corridors."
"Sounds dangerous," I said.
"They know what they are doing," 205 insisted. "They spend more time out there than they do in the city."
"Famous last words, boy," warned the Doctor.
"I’m not a boy. Also, these people are expert Outsider exterminators."
"Outsider exterminators?" interrupted Perno, skeptically.
"Yes. Experts."
I crossed my arms. "I don’t doubt their skills, but even the best of veterans die in battle."
"Well, that is kind of the point," retorted 205. "We don’t have such veterans, to begin with."
"That is not our job," said I.
"But exploring is," he said. "Including Outsider infested structures."
"Alright, I get it," sneered the Doctor. "You want to go down the tunnels. Just remember our priorities."
"Right," said 205.
"Right…" sneered Perno. "So, learned anything about acquiring accommodations?"
"Well, this sounds a bit macabre, but…"
"We find an unoccupied lot?" I deduced.
"Or build or own…" he added. "Many of these tenement buildings formed just by building on top of each other. Those Gejpol slabs are very strong and weigh little in this low gravity environment."
"Gejpol?" Perno knocked on the blue tabletop and asked. "That is what they call this?"
"Yes. The structure is built from it. However, many of the plants thrive on it too."
"Hm, and now they’re eating the whole structure away?"
"Yes… Some fellowships are scrubbing the infestations. Hence, they are called Scrubbers."
"It sounds like the Scrubbers are performing a public service. Who is paying them?"
He shrugged. "Didn’t ask?"
"Well, I suppose we should be looking for an empty shack then," I said.
"We can," said 205. "But, I need to be off. I have a meeting with my fellowship."
"Already?" reacted the Doctor, dismayed.
"It was now or never, sir." Then he left in a huff.
"Boy is going to get himself killed," I said.
"He does have a point," said Perno.
"Don't tell me you are on his side now."
"I’m not. Just saying there is a worse way to die in this place," he remarked casually.
"Will you please stop with the doom and gloom!"
"Just saying out loud what we are thinking," he responded bluntly.
I focused on my coffee. To my surprise, I actually developed a taste for it. As I enjoyed my brew - although enjoyed might be a strong word - a familiar face entered the common room. It was the same dandy from the saloon. "The misses arrange your meeting with the Founder," he said.
"that's great!" I reacted. We were making progress.
He furrowed an eyebrow. "Yea, think so?" he said. "The bloke is a blighter, he is."
"W-What do you mean?"
"You think he sits in that tower all day for fun?! Half the town wants "em dead."
"But, didn’t he found the town?"
"So what? He’s a troglodyte who doesn’t care about us or the city. He just sits there in his studio and harnesses us through the speaker system."
"So, why is nobody doing anything about it?"
Perno remained awfully quiet all of a sudden. "When you’ve seen em," he began. "Yea tell me."
"Can we meet him now?"
"You’re gonna have to ask at the Haul," he said. "Mr. Oil might let you in… Or not."
"What do you say, Doctor?"
"I have no intention to sit here like a retiree, waiting for the children to come home. Let’s go."

Moments later, back at the bazaar, we arrived at the base of the central tower. The heart of Arkology, right at the center of the settlement. An unsettling amalgamation of building and machine, not unlike a factory that was connected to the translucent ceiling by means of a massive bundle of cables. Large pipes leading up from the ground ran straight into the corner of the tower. The roof was crowned by a central Pylon, surrounded by rings that audibly cracked and hummed with electricity, that just happened to incinerate a flying creature venturing to close.
As the charred carcass of a dodo-like thing fell by our feet - Don't worry, I’ll get to them - we observed the domineering building that cast its long shadow across the bazaar. Despite its prominent location, the building had no administrative functions. It collected no taxes, nor did it control a police force. Yet, anyone who spoke ill of the place, or even mentioned ideas about getting inside uninvited - or so I was told - often found themselves waking up in an alley, robbed of precious belongings.
As we looked up in awe of the horrid machine, we had a surprise encounter with 111, who walked up to us with a sack filled with alien flora, some of which moved.
"Where have you been?" asked the Doctor.
"Well, I lost sight of 205. So I decided to hang around to-"
"Right… Okay, found anything that could help us?"
She raised her eyebrows in enthusiasm. "Oh, I found a lot!" she held up a disgusting-looking mushroom. "Here I have-"
He raised his hand in disgust at the thing. "I meant things that can help us get out of here."
She lowered her shoulders "Oh! No, sorry… So, what are you doing here?"
"We are about to visit the Founder," I said.
Her mouth hung agape. "You are going inside?"
"Yes?"
"Can I come? I always wondered what was going on behind the scenes of that wireless station."
"Eh…"
"Sure," said the Doctor, to my surprise.
And so the three of us walked to our destination.
Instead of a proper doorman, the entrance to the End of the Haul was surrounded by smoking scavs who didn’t approve of us making our way past their company. To my understanding, the Haul was a saloon of the sort. But didn’t feel like one. Instead, it felt we were intruding in somebody’s home, and when we went inside, it became obvious why.

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