Praraparara 5412: Shattered ERth
The skitter flew low over the foot hills of Khalif Ornya. It carried only two passengers, an Amtri woman and an Earthman who also happened to be an Instruman who also happened to have a raging hangover. Ahead of them, the old Imperial capitol of San Diejuana waited, its crumbling spires poking up over the hilltops. The skitter’s driver, an autonomous pilot drone, informed them of their imminent approach to the now defunct Imperial capital’s border in it’s bleep bloop language.
Polyglau wore rough, sturdy and thoroughly unflattering work clothes, the kind an archaeologist or miner would wear. Thick boots, overalls, that sort of thing. Emilio hid behind a wicked pair of sunglasses. He tried to play it off as a fashion statement, but their purpose was obvious. He pressed a bag of ice to his head, fighting back the hell imps trying to claw their way out from inside his skull.
“So, Polly. Can I call you Polly?”
“Right. So, miss… Gl… Glauauaooh,” he nodded, satisfied that he’d gotten it right, “I’d like to go over the details of the case one more time, if you don’t mind.”
“Again? Should I write it down for you? I’d rather not have to repeat myself for the fifteenth time.”
“And I’d rather not read anything right now,” Emilio replied. “Besides, it’s important to review things, just in case.”
“Just in case what?”
“You remember something you forgot before. A detail that didn’t seem important at first glance. You know. That sort of thing.”
Polyglau rubbed her head. Not even the sweltering heat of midday could soothe the head pains this man was giving her.
“Fine. In summary, the Reclamation and Restoration Company of the Republic, my employer, is having trouble dealing with an uppity tomb raider named Jaan. Jaan and his men are picking our sites clean before we have a chance to collect historical objects from the ruins and he has even resorted to kidnapping, ransoming and killing my colleagues to keep us at bay. The RRCR doesn’t know what to do and they aren’t giving us any resources to deal with the problem. Private Protection Companies are prohibitively expensive and there isn’t any law enforcement to speak of in the area. I called you because I have literally nowhere else to turn.”
“Tomb raiders, treasure hunters, Jaaaan, ransom, murder, corporate shitballs, history, ruins, okay okay I got it. I got it,” Emilio nodded, though Polyglau wasn’t sure he actually did have it.
“I’ve never heard of the Order of the Wrench,” Polyglau said, almost accusatorily.
“Let me guess, you’ve heard of the big three, right? Hammers, Drills and Saws?” Emilio asked with a porcelain smile, which was fitting because his teeth were stained piss yellow.
“I didn’t know there were any others,” Polyglau replied.
“There are. About a dozen or so. Us minor Orders don’t really get the spotlight all that much, but we’re Instrumen all the same. Yup.”
“So what exactly does a Wrench do?” Polyglau asked, partly curious, partly to pass the time.
“All kinds of things. Tighten. Loosen. Be used as a lever or a club or a paper weight. Lots of useful stuff.”
“I meant you. Your Order. What do you all do? What’s your function?”
“We’re troubleshooters, miss,” Emilio replied, flashing that smile again. “We solve problems the other Orders aren’t equipped to solve.”
“I see. And are they all…” she searched for the right words.
“Social drinkers? Like yourself?”
“Only the good ones.”
“Bleeap. Boowop Beep Beep,” the pilot drone announced.
The foothills parted and the full majesty of the mega-city of San Diejuana presented itself. What was left of it, anyway. Massive spires jutted out of the ground like skeletal fingers reaching out of the grave, grasping for a long dead dream. Ruined urbs and sub-urbs spread out in all directions like guts on hot pavement. This was the seat of the Empire, the capitol of Earth before the Shatter. Somewhere in all that mess was the Imperial Palace, the largest structure ever built on Earth. The old assembly chamber too. The Floating Gardens, the Needle, the Wound, the remnants of the Space Elevator, all there. Somehow still standing. Buildings the size of cities. Parks the size of small countries. Once, all roads led here. Now there was only stillness and the old rhythms of nature, beating slowly in the background.
For years, Polyglau had worked here; studying, cataloguing, and, let’s be honest, harvesting whatever valuable cultural and historical finds were left behind in the Shatter. When she thought about it for too long, she’d wonder if what she did was any different than what Jaan did. Obviously she had the backing of a Republic certified Company and Jaan didn’t but other than that…?
“Our current site is located on the outskirts of one of the stadiums,” Polyglau said, shooing her thoughts away.
“Ah, good location. Defensible,” Emilio said.
“Not that it makes much difference. No one really knows how to fight,” Polyglau said.
“Doesn’t the RRC… RCC… doesn’t your company allocate security teams for dangerous work like this?” Emilio asked.
“We had about a hundred security personnel stationed with us when we first arrived. There’s barely a dozen left, but RRCR doesn’t want to send anymore.”
“Yikes. Why don’t you guys, I don’t know, quit? Or something?” Emilio asked.
“Most of us would love to. But we’re under contract. We can’t afford to break it. There really isn’t much choice.”
Emilio pondered her words. Then, “How does your company expect you to do your job?”
The skitter circled a pair of stadiums, built facing each other in what could only be described as a spectacular failure of urban planning, and lowered itself until it touched down in a broken sea of asphalt where a small camp had been set up among a ruined tent city.
“Blep bo eep eep bah!” the pilot drone squawked as its passengers departed.
“You got it, partner,” Emilio said, slapping the side of the skitter. The skitter unceremoniously dumped his luggage on the asphalt and took off. “I’ll be honest, I never understand what those things are saying.”
“I believe it was imploring you to pay an overdue tab or be suspended from skitter use indefinitely,” Polyglau said, lugging her duffel bag over her shoulder.
“Oh. Guess it slipped my mind,” Emilio said, picking his two suitcases up off the ground.
A group of nervous looking academic types, in similar garb to Polyglau, poked their heads out of a nearby cluster of tin shacks and newspaper huts hidden in the stadium’s dual shadows.
“Polyglau. I can’t believe you actually came back,” said one bespectacled researcher. “I thought you’d do the sensible thing and stay away.”
“And break contract? I like living, you know,” Polyglau chuckled.
“And who is this?” The researcher asked.
“Oh, forgive me. Doctor, this is Emilio Delmundo. He’s an Instruman and he’s here to help us.”
“Greetings,” Emilio said with a curt wave. If a man could retreat into his sunglasses, Emilio looked ready to attempt it.
“Um. Are you sure?” the researcher asked Polyglau.
“He has a badge. And the patches,” she replied.
“Oh. Well, you know, those could be fabricated or faked,” the researcher said in a low voice.
“He has a tool. He’s an Instruman,” Polyglau said.
“Oh. Okay then,” the researcher said.
“You there. Researcher person,” Emilio said.
“My name is Dr. Suhni,” the researcher said.
“Right. I knew that,” Emilio said.
“How?” Dr. Suhni mouthed to Polyglau. Polyglau only shook her head.
“Anyway, I’m here to do some law enforcing. I would appreciate it if you directed me to your security peeps so we can collaborate and apprehend these treasure hunters. Where are they?”
“Captain Wenzle and his troops are in their bunker. They hardly come out these days,” Dr. Suhni replied.
“Great. Perfect,” Emilio nodded. There was a long pause.
“Should we head toward the base camp? I can introduce you to the team,” Dr. Suhni offered.
“I mean, sure. I guess. I don’t know. I’ll have this case wrapped up in no time so we may not have time to get super acquainted, but either way, sounds like a good idea.”
“Is he intoxicated?” Dr. Suhni asked in a low whisper.
“Residually, I’d imagine,” Polyglau whispered back.
“Okay, show me your sciurntists,” Emilio said, clapping his hands and leaving his bags behind him.
“Um, are you going to need…” Dr. Suhni started to ask.
“Just… let’s just go,” Polyglau said.
The other researchers followed Suhni and Polyglau as they led Emilio through the abandoned slum city between the stadiums to a group of currently inhabited shacks and huts hidden away from the main path. Five more researchers waited there, apprehensive from the previous skitter sighting, but relaxing once they saw Polyglau and the Instruman.
“Polyglau, glad you made it back,” one burly researcher said.
“Did you actually wear it?” another female researcher asked.
“Yes. It fit great and looked good,” Polyglau assured her.
“Ooo yes!” the researcher declared.
“So here’s the rest of the team,” Suhni said. There were less than a dozen researchers, all of them dressed in a fashion similar to Polyglau with rough clothes and work boots. Polyglau’s relieved smile faded as she looked around.
“Where’s everyone else? Paul, Jed, Torrence?” Polyglau asked.
“Um. Well. Yesterday, Jaan showed up at the camp while the team was out and…” Dr. Suhni let the sentence hang. Polyglau nodded, a bitter grimace occupying her face.
“That’s… terrible,” Polyglau said.
“It fucking sucks!” the burly researcher said.
“Star. Keep it down,” Suhni reminded him.
“Right. Right,” the burly Star said, taking slow deep breaths.
“At this rate, there won’t be a research team left by week’s end,” Polyglau sighed.
“What about Wenzle and his people?” Emilio asked.
“I imagine they’ll pack up and head home since the terms of their contract only apply if there are living researchers to protect,” Dr. Suhni said.
“Aren’t they not doing their jobs right now?” Emilio asked.
“The contract they’re operating under isn’t very specific about things like that,” Suhni replied.
“They have a really good union,” Star clarified for Emilio.
“Huh. Okay. So that’s the situation, huh?” Emilio asked, scratching his head.
“Yes,” Suhni said.
“So the sooner you can get started doing your thing, the better,” Polyglau said, urging him on.
“My thing. Right. Ahem. Hrrm. Brrruh. Right. So, what exactly are you working on right now?” Emilio asked.
“We’ve been contracted to rescue old tech from various research facilities in this region,” Dr. Suhni replied.
“With a particular focus on Tenshin Motorics,” Polyglau continued.
“A division of the Imperial Science Administration,” Suhni piped in.
“Tenshin. The name rings a bell,” Emilio said, rubbing his chin.
“Really?” Polyglau asked, surprised. “They’re obscure even for us experts. How do you know about them?”
“I travel in… eclectic circles,” Emilio said, stroking his chin. “My life experience is a vast mountain range filled with peaks, valleys, rivers, caves, plains, hillocks, sheer cliffs… you get it.”
“Sure,” Polyglau said.
After another long pause, “Shall we head on over there?”
“Right now?” Dr. Suhni asked.
“Yeah. If Jaan is hitting your sites, then I want to see one with my own eyes,” Emilio said, assuredly. Polyglau thought for once he actually sounded like the Instruman he claimed to be. “But first I’m gonna need my tool! Where’d I leave my suitcases?” Emilio asked, looking around.