8th August 2020
Saturday night is here and I'm logged into Skype on my laptop whilst sitting in the living room.
This means that it's time for the concluding chapter of Matakishi's Wasted Hack campaign.
Location: The Chasm.
It was time to prepare for our trip across the forested chasm floor. We packed our ropes, pitons and climbing gear.
We also prepared for an insect infested sweltering trip as best we could.
The three balloon ladies would have to stay behind, for them scaling the sheer slopes was out of the question. It was also decided that Jasper would stay put. He could look out for them and drive the transporter if need be.
With us on this foray would be D4-VID, Cornelius and the two Chrome Bois, Tombaga and Elinvar.
Our estimation was that the descent to the chasm floor would be a hundred metres. The rope we were carrying barely extended beyond twenty. We would need to climb down in stages.
Our approach was simple, we would secure a piton at the top, then Cornelius - our best climber would climb down and scout out a suitable ledge to temporarily hold us and hammer in another piton.
With the rope secured, the rest of us would safely descend.
The rope would be retrieved and we would begin on the next stage.
That was the plan anyway...
Descending the first stage went mostly without a hitch. But truth be told; we had forgotten to take into account the extreme weight of The Chrome Bois! The pitons barely held their positions.
On the second stage, when Tombaga began climbing, the top piton dislodged entirely, sending him plunging downwards.
Tombaga was forced to drive his cybernetic hands into the very slope itself with his superior stenght to save himself! After retrieving the rope, we continued our descent.
By the end of the third stage, we had dropped beneath the tree line and got our first look at the forest below.
The forest was trapped in a perennial gloom beneath the canopy, only the occasional gap allowed a golden ray of blazing, dazzling sunlight to penetrate. The undergrowth was thick and pervasive here. We could hear the occasional movement of grass and leaves, as well as the chirping of insects and distant cry of birds.
Finally, after the fourth stage of climbing, we reached the chasm floor. Ahead of us was a three kilometre march through an unknown landscape.
From the first step, it was slow, hard going. The ground was damp, soft and a mire, every sinking, sucking footstep a struggle. The air was humid, close and uncomfortable, it buzzed with swirling swarms of giant insects, the ground and trees crawled with them.
There were spores here too, the forest was abundant with them.
We tried our best to avoid all this as we pushed on.
A little way into the morning and ahead of us we heard a loud crashing noise and the harsh sound of splintering wood.
Gripping our weapons, we advanced, not knowing what to expect.
Not knowing what to expect was generally an effective strategy. This situation was no different.
What we encountered, was not what we were expecting to encounter?
It was massive in size and seemed to be some sort four-legged reptile, with a long tail, equally long neck and a small head. It had trampled its way through the forest to reach the leaves and shoots it was currently eating.
It had not noticed or was ignoring us. Either way, it was entirely focused on what it was eating and did not appear to be a threat to us. We briefly considered trying to tame it, but no doubt that would have ended badly!
We decided to leave it be and moved on. Half an hour later we heard the sound of something large crashing through the forest again, this time behind us. We span round and looked back at the way we had come, almost expecting to see something charging us.
But there was nothing. A few moments later we heard bestial screaming, howling and roaring coming through the forest. This continued for a short time before abruptly ending. Something pretty bad had happened back there?
We waited and watched for a short while, nothing came towards us, nothing else happened.
We kept on going.
The ground had been slowly but surely sloping downwards throughout our journey. After half a day's travel we had reached what we surmised was the lowest point in the chasm.
Running the length of the chasm was a wide stream, it's murky brown waters flowing sluggishly. At best this stream could only be described as 'uninviting'.
Our previous 'experiences' with large bodies of liquid - particularly 'murky' liquids had taught us one indisputable fact: There was definitely something nasty lurking just beneath the surface!
No one had any intention of putting one foot into that stream, we needed another way to cross it.
After a brief search we discovered that as its narrowest, the stream was twenty fire metres wide or so.
Agent Pip and Max used their glitch mutations to teleport across without mishap. Useful for them, but not so much for the rest of us. I could teleport at least two people to the other side using my shift mutation, but at the very least this would leave me on the wrong side.
We started looking at the trees, maybe they cold be used? They were mostly over twenty five metres high.
Swinging across them would be impracticable.
Perhaps we could chop a tree down and use it's trunk as a bridge. I wondered how long it would take with my machete?
The cyborgs declared that they were carrying 'chainsaw' attachments, perfect.
We stood back and let The Chrome Bois do their stuff. The noise of chainsaws cut through the forest sounds as much as did through tree trunks. Soon enough there was a loud, distinct creaking noise, followed by splintered and then crashing noises.
As the trunk fell, it triggered a plethora of activity, dislodged insects scuttled away, small exposed creatures fled into the undergrowth and plants trembled and swayed from the impact.
A short time passed and everything seemed still again.
The trunk was long enough to span the stream, so we crossed... cautiously. As we carefully made our way over, we observed movement and possibly bubbling or frothing originating from the water close to the trunk.
Whatever it was, we were having nothing to do with it.
Leaving the stream behind we continued, from now on, the ground would be gently sloping upwards.
Because the chasm was deep and we were travelling under the shade of the canopy, the day's light was failing earlier than expected. Soon it would be dark and we would need to camp for the night.
As we were searching for a suitable camp site, we caught sight of a flickering light in the distance between the trees. It was clearly some sort of fire light.
There was no way of knowing its size or its distance through the forest, but someone else was definitely out here with us.
Should we investigate the fire light or ignore it.
It may be nothing but a waste of time, or a trap? Perhaps it might prove useful?
In the end we realised that if we did not investigate the light, whoever was over there might come and investigate our own light instead.
Heading towards the light, we kept going until we encountered a clearing of sorts.
The forest had opened enough for us to see what was up ahead.
And up ahead was another vast and ancient cargo ship, like those we had previously seen at The Refinery.
It had partially sunk into the ground here, the part of the ship that was still above ground level was blanketed in vines, creepers and other greenery, barely any original part of the ship was visible.
Through the windows we could see fire within and the silhouetted shadowy movement of people.
It dawned on us that this chasm must have existed in the ancient world, otherwise why would anyone have built a bridge across it?
The chasm must have been some sort of water-channel or canal that gave passage to these massive ships during the world before.
We considered sneaking up to the camp fires to get a better look, but felt that this might be seen as suspicious or even worse, aggressive.
In the end, we chose to announce ourselves and Aoxo shouted, "Hello the camp." loudly.
After a few seconds, there was some movement. Emerging from the darkness and almost ghost-like were some humans, painted white and brandishing spears.
They stood there watching us and we stood there watching them. We tried to communicate with them, but it didn't work, they didn't understand us.
Instead, we tried a different approach. Slowly and cautiously I pulled some food out of my pocket. I ate half of it and gave the other half to one of them.
Another man this time painted in ochre stepped forward, he had two circles painted on his wrist. They ate the food and seemed to like it. They both then stood up straight and gave me a salute?
After this, they prompted us towards the old cargo ship. We allowed them to herd us 'on board', climbing up the hulk was relatively straightforward as the vegetation was sturdy enough to provide adequate handholds.
After clambering through the window with the fire light, we found ourselves in a smoky room filled with more people. In the yellow-orange light, they cast giant shadows on the walls and we could see that they were also painted in white. They silently watched us.
One of them wore some old headphones, broken technology from the world before. He approached and began quickly talking at us in some unintelligible language. In amongst all the jabbering, we caught a few words that we recognised, 'radio, captain, crew'. We noticed that on his wrist were three rings?
Aoxo believed that the circles were symbols used to denote rank in the ancient world, the more circles, the higher the rank. The man in the headphones seemed to have the highest rank and it seemed he was called 'Radio'.
Perhaps Radio was the 'captain' and these people were 'crew'?
Was it possible that the original crew of this ship had somehow become trapped down here? That would mean that these 'chasm people' might be the descendants of the crew?
The 'crew' here indicated that they wanted to share their meal with us, we acquiesced and also shared our food with them.
Some of the food ws thrown down a dark hole in the floor. Aoxo tried to surreptitiously glance down the hole, but saw nothing.
After the meal has concluded, everyone has gathered with us in this room.
Radio seems to be concentrated intently, then suddenly said. "Haste makes waste!".
They all cheered vigorously and turned to look at Max expectantly.
We were taken aback by this, hesitantly Max replied, "Hang five.".
Radio concentrated and a moment later booming laughter rose from the hole below!
It seemed that Radio was communicating with someone - or something? No wonder Radio was his name!
Radio concentrated again and said. "'If' is in the middle of life." and turned to Aoxo.
Aoxo replied. "If you can keep your head when all about you, you’ll be a Man, my son!".
There is more booming laughter.
Radio concentrates and says. "The writing's on the wall.". Radio raised an arm and pointed at the indecipherable writing and symbols on a wall here, then he turned to Agent Pip.
"Who you gonna call?", Replies Pip.
Again with the booming laughter.
Lastly, Radio turned to me after saying. "We're not laughing at you, we're laughing with you.".
"Laugh and the world laughs with you.", was my reply.
There was some more booming laughter.
Radio then said, "Heart of darkness." and pointed at one of the people here. There was a brief tussle and that person was grabbed and flung down the hole! It was so quick that it that was almost over before it started. It was certainly over before we could recover from the shock and act.
"The horror, the horror!" Boomed the voice from below!
After this, the crew here quickly settled down for the night, seemingly unperturbed by what had just come to pass.
Soon they were all asleep and the only noise in the ship was the loud snoring that rose out of the hole and from below.
Outside, the night was impenetrable and only the sounds of the forest reached us.
Now left alone, we had the opportunity to see what was down the hole, we didn't want to use lights or flares for fear of waking the crew.
Instead we had D4-VID film down the hole with it's thermal lens.
When we watched D4-VID's footage, we could see the heat signature of a massive creature, nearly the size of our transporter!
We had no idea what it was and little desire to find out. Since it was not part of our objective, we decided to leave it well alone.
Before settling down for the night ourselves, we posted watches. None of us felt comfortable with these people.
Dawn broke and a number of the crew left with their spears, no doubt on a hunt.
As we were getting dressed and packed. We grimly noticed that spores were growing in the creases of our skin. It seemed that we had not managed to avoid them.
Some of the crew approached us with buckets of the white paste that they used to covered themselves. Did they want us to do the same? Did the paste help with the spores? We chose to politely refuse the white paste and made ready to leave.
Before departing, we pointed in the direction of the chasm wall were heading towards. The crew saluted saluted us. We had no idea if they had understood.
We bid them farewell and began our next march.
It was a new day, but it was the same old slog. Soon the forest had swallowed up the cargo ship behind us in its verdant maw, seemingly eradicating all evidence of its very existence and relegating it to memory and imagination, save for D4-VID's footage.
Midday was upon us by the time we had arrived at the chasm wall, we had now reached the far side.
As with our descent, we had to climb out of the chasm in stages. The slopes were no obstacle for Cornelius, so it was a slow climb, but fortunately an uneventful one.
Shadows were beginning to lengthen when we escaped the chasm. The sun had become dim and reddish as it crawled behind the western horizon, in the waning light we could see the original tower, faraway and decorated with spots of winking light in the gloom.
Our journey across The Chasm had not been entirely straight and accurate, but it was close enough. The second tower, dormant and unlit as it was, lay close by.
Tombaga and Elinvar got to work on the generator and a few hours later, the second tower became 'fully operational'. The generator powered up with a rumble, lights winked on and control panels sprang to life.
We gave The Chrome Bois the honour of activating the light bridge. The tower vibrated and thrummed as the power surged, it was almost palpable in the air.
Moments later the humming stopped and wide a beam of light extended out of the ground next to the tower and then continued to extend across the chasm. From the other side, at the other tower, the same occurred.
The two beams converged and connected in the centre.
The light bridge was completed. It glowed eerily in the cool evening darkness with an almost unearthly quality.
Was it safe though?
Aoxo walked along the light bridge and stepped over the chasm, he jumped up and down a few times.
Yep! Seemed safe!
We radioed Jasper and he bought the transporter and the balloon ladies over. When they arrived, Jasper took us to one side and explained that the balloon ladies - as well as himself were showing signs of spore contamination.
The Chrome Bois also retrieved their buggy and returned. They were as curious as us to see The Domed City and had decided to accompany us.
Briefly examining the balloon ladies revealed that the contamination seemed quite advanced. They asked "Are we there yet?" and seemed quite miserable. This adventure was not proving much fun any more.
Everyone was examined next. This revealed that Cornelius had also been extensively contaminated.
We cleaned ourselves as much as possible, but the contamination remained. Jasper said that this not his area of expertise and was beyond him.
The balloon ladies and Cornelius seemed unwell, but under no immediate threat either.
We had no idea on the long term effects of this. Our best option was to reach The Domed City, they may have what it takes to deal with this.
We looked to the horizon away from The Chasm and saw a distinct light that continually winked on and off.
"It's a beacon." Stated the ladies. "We're nearly home.".
The Domed City was close. We quickly agreed that the quicker we reached it, the better. So we decided to drive through the night.
The multi-lane road headed in the direction of the beacon. Even though it was the product of the ancient world, it was in good condition, so our little convoy made good time.
The night was dark and quiet.
Other than the rumble of the transporter's tracks and the dull, low roar of The Chrome Bois' buggy, we drove through the night in an empty silence.
The transporter's headlights were flicked over to full beam, bathing a large swathe of the road ahead in blazing, almost blinding light. From within the transporter, everything outside of those headlights was so black that the universe didn't even seem to exist any more and only sprang into creation as the beams touched it.
A few kilometres into the journey and a faint and dull red hue had appeared, marking out the horizon against the moonless sky.
We had seen this before, when approaching Haven by night, but here, here it was on a much larger scale.
We continued like this for four hours along the featureless road. Then we saw The Domed City begin to rise over the horizon.
Domed City was something of a misnomer.
There was no single dome. Instead there appeared to be one massive dome, surrounded by numerous smaller satellite domes. There were transparent domes too, we could see the lights from within.
Soon we came to a smaller 'slip road' that branched off the multi lane road and veered towards our destination. We took the exit to The Domed City.
For a further hour we travelled. The domes had continued to grow and grow until they towered above us.
We made for the dome as indicated by the balloon ladies and entered unchallenged, the entrance unguarded?
Perhaps they had been entirely protected from the savage hardships of the wastes by The Chasm and felt no need for guards?
Inside the dome, we saw the city for the futuristic wonderland it was. We had to pull over to take it all in.
The streets were well maintained, clean and brightly lit, many walls were decorated with large screens that displayed beautiful women, happily applying make up, all of this accompanied by blaring inoffensive music that was piped along some sort of speaker system that appeared to run throughout the whole city.
The people walking these streets gave us sidelong glances and shuffled away, occasional smirking or laughing in our direction, but always avoiding us.
They were uniformly beautiful and young. We saw no children or old people?
The buildings here stretched up to the dome, adorned with gleaming lights. High above flew hover cars, darting and buzzing between the skyscrapers and unerringly navigating around each other.
The city was a mystery to us, we turned to the balloon ladies and asked them if they knew a place that we could get some medical treatment for the spore infection?
The ladies led us to a medical dispensary. They appeared confident that they could treat the issue. Once we handed some of the remaining cosmetics over, they provided us with pills.
Their effect on Agent Pip was immediate, the rest of us saw no results.
Following this, the ladies led us back to their home somewhere in the city. We had to take the transporter as close as possible, then walk. In our state we were not permitted on public transport.
It was small apartment, high up in tower block, with scant room for all of us. The ladies went into their bedrooms. For them, it was the first time they had seen themselves in a full length mirror in a long time and they saw the full enormity of what the road hogs had done to them and they were not happy.
Meanwhile; exhausted from the last two days and feeling unwell, we slumped down on the floor and making the best of it, went to sleep.
By morning, it appeared that the medicine was taking effect and we were grateful to see that the spore infections were clearing up.
The ladies announced that they had been instructed to go the central dome to see 'Pilot Nimble', leader of The Domed City. They agreed to allow us to accompany them.
Once again we were denied entry to the public transport network and had to make our way to the central dome on foot.
Largest and most expansive of all the domes, the central dome was a sight to behold. As well as the 'usual' skyscrapers and hover cars, the sky was filled with hot air balloons entering and exiting the central dome.
Before we reached our destination, we went past a half built skyscraper. It seemed, when completed, it might be the tallest structure in the dome.
There was however a visible lack of activity or workers on the site, for some reason the construction had halted.
Then we saw a name running the length of a finished portion of the build, the name was ISAAC!
We knew what ISAAC had been communicating with a second settlement, I guess that this was that settlement!
Questions about ISAAC would have to wait. The balloon ladies took us to another skyscraper. Outside on either side of the entrance was a large screen, each one displayed looping footage of women piloting hot air balloons.
We were taken in and up to an office on the top floor. The view was spectacular. We stared down at a colossal maze of concrete and glass stretching up and out, filling the city. We watched as tiny specks made their way their way through the grey pathways.
Pilot Nimble was tall, blonde and beautiful. We were introduced to her and she thanked us for returning the three lost pilots.
Pilot Nimble turned to Betty, Veronica and Sabrina, looked them up and down told them they were too heavy to fly and should report for 'processing'.
Even though we already had an idea what it was, we asked what 'processing' involved?
Pilot explained that the three ladies would be reduced to their component elements; their fat and oil would be used to produce more make up! This was standard practice for any pilot no longer fit to fly or anyone who was 'too old' or 'unattractive'.
We had many questions, but we started with the ISAAC building. Pilot Nimble explained that instructions on the ISAAC building were provided by 'the giant dancing crab' and were received by flying over the crab and recording its drawings.
Recently however, there had been no instructions, so construction on the building had stopped.
We asked what was the building's function? Pilot Nimble did not know.
After this Pilot Nimble asked what reward we wanted for rescuing Betty, Veronica and Sabrina. We asked if we could learn to fly.
"This was not possible.", said Pilot Nimble. "Only women could learn to fly and Agent Pip 'was not the right sort'!". I watched Agent Pip with her tightened fist by her side turning white.
Instead Pilot Nimble agreed to provide us with a fully functional hot air balloon.
I got the feeling that Pilot Nimble did not want us to stay.
The balloon ladies along with us, returned to their apartment.
Whilst they prepared to be processed, we argued with them and tried to convince them not to report for processing.
They could try losing weight and return to piloting, but they said that it would take too long.
They could return to Haven, they would be safe there. But the ladies were not convinced. - They were hot air balloon pilots, what would they do in Haven?
The balloon ladies explained that they had only ever been pilots and there was nothing else for them. They explained how there society worked.
When children were born, they would be classified as 'attractive' or 'unattractive'.
Unattractive children were 'put to work' in factories and the like; until they were too old, then they would have to report for processing.
Attractive girls were trained as 'pilots'
Attractive boys were trained as 'escorts'.
They too would have to report for processing when they became too old.
We were aghast, but the balloon ladies had explained all this in a matter-of-fact way. To them it was entirely normal.
We had failed to convince the balloon ladies that there were other ways to live. They still wanted to report for processing.
In the meantime, a hot air balloon had been delivered to the apartment.
We strapped the bundle to our transporter, we were ready to leave. There was no reason to remain, but...
Before proceeding any further, we had a discussion about our next step. In the end we came to an agreement. The Domed City could not be allowed to continue in this manner.
It was time to instigate some regime change!
Returning to the apartment, we asked the ladies about Pilot Nimble and how she got to become the leader of The Domed City.
The best pilot in the city is given the honorific 'Pilot Nimble' and placed into the position of leadership, they informed us.
Next we asked them, if we could prove that Agent Pip was the better pilot, then she would become Pilot Nimble? The ladies seemed to think that this was the case.
Now we had a plan...
We returned to the central dome and returned to Pilot Nimble's office. She seemed surprised to see us.
Agent Pip stepped forward and announced that she was the best pilot in The Domed City. As proof of this, D4-VID displayed footage of our re-entry to Earth, including Agent Pip's piloting skills. Agent Pip demanded that she was allowed to become the new Pilot Nimble!
Pilot Nimble agreed that Agent Pip's piloting had indeed been impressive. But it was not enough to convince her to relinquish her position.
Agent Pip had held her tongue since the 'not good enough' statement, but this was too much for her!
Gripping her frying pan tightly, she judiciously applied it to Pilot Nimble's head and Pilot Nimble promptly fell unconscious!
We found controls to the city's public broadcasting system in the office and activated it. Agent Pip announced through the system that she was now Pilot Nimble and D4-VIDs broadcast the re-entry footage throughout all the domes to prove it.
It worked, they had accepted the changes. People here existed in a highly regimented hierarchy it seemed. It was a society built on cohesion and compliance. It simply did not occur to them to question anyone in authority.
We were in charge of the city, we could make the changes we needed. Agent Pip was now Pilot Nimble.
Word was sent to Haven and Home: Seek out The Domed City!
So it was that over the coming weeks, people from Haven and Home ventured the wastes and reached The Domed City.
There were those that stayed, understandably unwilling to abandon what they had worked so hard to create.
Even so, they knew that if the giant ants did finally become a threat, The Domed City would be there for them.
This vast and advanced settlement had room enough for everyone and would provide protection from the giant ants if they ever expanded this far.
Life would improve for all people, the folk of Haven and Home would be safe. there were ample supplies and resources here - with the technology to provide even more.
The practice of processing would be stopped and children would no longer work the factories, nor would people be judged for their attractiveness. We would teach them new skills and new ways to live.
The people of The Domed City accept these changes they accepted everything - passively.
We even came to an accord with The Chrome Bois, in exchange for access to the technology of The Domed City, they would help with it's protection if need be.
The Chrome Bois even talked of a 'suicide run' into the giant ant nest! Eager to test the limits of new cybernetics they would create.
We had walked in depths of the C.H.U.D. complex and flown beyond to the heights beyond Earth's grasp. We hand tangled with pig and ant and walked with monkey.
Now we could rest now and relax. Secure in the knowledge that we had delivered the people of Haven to safety.
A safety were some of the harsh realities of the wastes were assuaged and for now at least we could flourish.
So ended the missions of:
I play, I paint.