The Doc's Bio Lab for Scav Experiments - & other oddities.

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Re: The Doc's Bio Lab for Scav Experiments - & other odditie

Post by Rman Virgil » 16 Jan 2013, 04:31

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I wonder how many players just pondered the "why" of it, like aubergine expressed ? Since the canon is not explicit we can explore narrative possibilities and what prompted this line of discussion.
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Re: The Doc's Bio Lab for Scav Experiments - & other odditie

Post by bendib » 16 Jan 2013, 06:59

This is interesting work.
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Re: The Doc's Bio Lab for Scav Experiments - & other odditie

Post by Rman Virgil » 16 Jan 2013, 08:41

bendib wrote:This is interesting work.
Thanks, bendib.

It's part of my on going exploration of the WZ story holes started back in the pre-lib days with my novella "Crude In Sur Americka" (and continued here with "Trinity", "Warschool" and "ManGodAi 4x"). One of my areas of focus being the blend of "high tech and low life" which is Wm. Gibson's expression for his coinage of cyber punk and the genre he fathered.
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Re: The Doc's Bio Lab for Scav Experiments - & other odditie

Post by aubergine » 16 Jan 2013, 08:59

Are you looking to release it as a complete work? If so, any ETA?
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Re: The Doc's Bio Lab for Scav Experiments - & other odditie

Post by Rman Virgil » 16 Jan 2013, 10:18

aubergine wrote:Are you looking to release it as a complete work? If so, any ETA?
Hadn't thought about it. I find it appealing. Do an ebook. I'd have to go back and make the early work consistent with the later because over time I've introduced new stuff that's not backward compatible. Not really a draw back and I find rewrites very satisfying in their own way. After this present narrative sequence I could get started on it. ETA ? Dunno. Right now I'm committed to 3 other projects: a mainstream novel, an animated film short based on an episode in it and a musical composition called "Reed's Theme" (which has bedeviled me through several iterations already). I'll try for sooner than later, in between these other endeavors. :3
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Re: The Doc's Bio Lab for Scav Experiments - & other odditie

Post by Rman Virgil » 17 Jan 2013, 06:58

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So here are the over-arching themes and divisions as I'm looking at them per faction.

~ The Doc and his minions are the epitome of transhummanism.

~ The Project is divided between a transhumanist sect less radical than the Docs and transcendental sect.

~ The Scavs are split between utilitarianism and transcendentalism.
That's dry, life-less, exposition.

As per my last response to aubergine's question, I am currently revising a short story written 5 years ago to make it consistent with more recent work, that will dramatize these contrasting world views as well the "high tech, low life" narrative trope. Likely post it by Friday, some time. And, by Sunday, the new graphic should be done and I will post with some of that new story context.
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Re: The Doc's Bio Lab for Scav Experiments - & other odditie

Post by Rman Virgil » 18 Jan 2013, 06:00

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Part 1 of 3.

Figured it would be best to post each revised section as completed.

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The Horns of Tatanka

~ Part I ~


There would be no wargaming in Trinity's belly this day.

"Need a hand ?"

The hiss of pneumatics, the clangor of couplings releasing, prompted Commander Mallory's offer.

"Thanks, but no. I'm good." He'd forgotten Mallory awaiting patiently in the corner shadow, stone faced.

Stepping out his EXO's clutches, Elijah reached for and unplugged the synaptic link. There was a special compartment to house it on the tidy desk console which fronted the only window in his quarters over-looking the Trinity complex east to west. Fully garbed in standard olive drab officer issue, he still felt naked as an infant out of the cradle without the electronic implant that not only drove his EXO but connected him intimately, and at will, to the entirety of the Project Protectorate through its main frame at NORAD.

"Give me a few minutes," he said, walking gingerly over to the console to secure his synaptic link, his leg muscles acclimating with a tingling residue.

"We have time to spare yet, sir."

The link installed and blinking green, he stood before the window watching the dawn sun burn off the fog tendrils of Trinty's lower most lattice of hover canals and armor pathways, considering the scav trek that lay ahead and how it was yet another milestone in the entwined history of his life and service to the Project.

Then there was the hidden, personal, boon of meeting and negotiating with his counterpart, the Scav leader. To be facing this freshly minted scav treaty challenge rather than the lingering grey clouds of grief over losing his wife to the wasting plague only a few months ago. For her he could only offer words of comfort that in no way changed the final outcome. On the other hand, the words forged this day with Akbar of the Seven Nations could very well spell the best chance for a future free of the looming Mangodai invasion out of what was once known as Asia Minor, and the wasting virus, their first salvo from afar.

Sure the truce was a gamble. Then again, what wasn't. The Project Protectorate itself surviving the war years following the outward expansion from NORAD and restoring what was left of the Air Force Academy between Colorado Springs and the Denver ruins. Every step of the way was a gamble risking threadbare lives on the jagged edge of any hope for resurrecting civilization to some semblance of a pre-collapse level, however remote. His own rise from squad leader to General, to succeeding Hammond's leadership, to building Trinity itself, so very far from the snow clad Rocky Mountains, clear across the treacherous waters of the great southern gulf and into the blistering Berlize jungles.

And always the chorus of naysayers dogging whatever new undertaking was brought forward. That such and such was just another road to techno damnation, they'd say. And this proposed treaty with the Seven Scav Nations had its fair share of virulent opposition.

"Sir, for what it's worth, I believe you are doing the right thing," said Mallory, his trusted subordinate, who had made first contact with the Seven Nations, almost 2 years past, during the Central American Expeditionary foray for the secret pre-collapse factory and it's stockpile of hydrogen power plant chassis.

Mallory's utterance stirred Elijah out of his rabbit hole of unbiden memories.

"Doing the right thing ? About what, my friend ? Shedding the Exo, my synaptic link, going to the Yuwippi ceremony without an armored column escort or the truce treaty itself ?"

"All the above," Mallory said, without hesitation.

Elijah sat, command console to his back, facing Mallory, half his face lit by the morning sun.

"Inspite of most of my cabinet's luke warm support, I'm sure within myself. And, mind you, I'm not blind to the real possibilty of having my head lopped off like John the Babtist and served up at Trinity's main access gate on the next moonless night."

Mallory shook his helm-less head side to side. A liberty he took for granted having made total candor a condition of service and the Project's commander and chief in total accord with that.

"Akbar is a man of honor and under a flag of truce you can be sure no harm will come to us. You know I know his measure first hand."

Elijah bear-pawed his chin before speaking.

"I don't doubt your judgement but chit happens. For all we know, as we speak, or before we arrive or even while there in the midst of negotiating, Akbar could be ousted as chief of chiefs. In any of those scenarios all bets are off as to keeping my head attached to my neck."

"True enough, but unlikely. I have seen, and owe my life, to the powerful bonds of honor between the war chiefs of the Seven Nations and Akbar. He is truly revered and only his passing into the Great Mystery will unseat him."

"Time will tell. See to the truck's readiness yourself, my friend. I'll be done here shortly and will meet you at the Western Depot."

"I will, and I'll double check our basic kit as well. Akbar's Seer was clear the landscape would present some hardship before we reached our destination."

"Hardship... ? As long as it doesn't include that ceremony you told of with the piercings through chest muscles, I'm in good shape to handle most rigors of the trail, don't you think ?"

"You'll be fine. That other is only for traditional carriers of the Horns of Tatanka who have achieved the status of Moondancers."

"Well then...", said Elijah, putting his hand on the synaptic link winking green beside the console screen, not entirely sure if there was enough common ground to bridge his instinctive distaste for such an act of self-mutilation to no discernable advantage, and the vastly different beliefs it sprang from, to forge a genuine and lasting alliance with the Seven Scav Nations.

"If you haven't noticed, I've removed mine as well. I know what you're feeling Elijah but I'm sure you won't regret it."

Elijah gave a tight lipped grin in agreement.

"I'll grab a hover but even so, the tail end of our journey will likely be a rough ride. See you at the Western Depot at 0800, sir."
Parts II and III to follow through tomorrow as revisions are completed...

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Last edited by Rman Virgil on 18 Jan 2013, 09:45, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Doc's Bio Lab for Scav Experiments - & other odditie

Post by aubergine » 18 Jan 2013, 07:26

Awesome!

I struggled to comprehend this though: "To be facing this freshly minted challenge rather than the lingering grey clouds of grief over his life mates lost battle to the wasting plague." -- looks like some words are missing?

Same here: ""Shedding the Exo, my synaptic link, going to the Yuwippi ceremony without an armored column escort or the truce treaty itself ?""
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Re: The Doc's Bio Lab for Scav Experiments - & other odditie

Post by Goth Zagog-Thou » 18 Jan 2013, 08:31

Love it. Love it. Love it.

Awesome! Can't wait for more, Rman. :D

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Re: The Doc's Bio Lab for Scav Experiments - & other odditie

Post by Rman Virgil » 18 Jan 2013, 09:44

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Thanks gents, that's valued input. :) Being close to what I'm doing, I can lose perspective and sound judgement - among other things. ;)

Aubergine, let me revise for better transparency.

Are these better ? -
To be facing this freshly minted scav treaty challenge rather than the lingering grey clouds of grief over losing his wife to the wasting plague only a few months ago.
"Doing the right thing ? About what, my friend ? Shedding the Exo, my synaptic link, going to the Yuwippi ceremony without an armored column escort or the truce treaty itself ?"
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Re: The Doc's Bio Lab for Scav Experiments - & other odditie

Post by Rman Virgil » 18 Jan 2013, 11:50



~ Part II ~


Chandar tousled the mane of his father's pie-eyed pony, tethered outside the council lodge. That his father was riding his hunting pony and not his armored war trike was yet another gesture of good faith towards Mal-of-Ory who helped bring about todays Treaty Council with the Mekka leader Eli-jah .

"You are to ride alongside him."

The Seer's steps were sly as ever but Chander made a point to not let on he'd been caught unawares.

"It is rightfully your place as Seer, is it not ?"

The Seer gently stroked the pony's withers and it snorted, satisfied with the affection.

"That has been my honor but it is time to pass it on. It is appropriate. Your time is here."

Chandar bristled at the vieled suggestion but kept calm.

"You know my path remains forked, undecided one way or the other."

The old man smiled at the youths rebellious spirit reigned-in with a natural grace and genuine respect.

"Indeed, Chandar, only too well. All the more reason to accompany Akbar as his Watcher."

Chandar's nimble mind tried to uncover the Seer's meaning but quickly decided a simple question was better than misinterpreting in silence.

"How so, Seer ?"

He would make a fine chief, or seer, someday, the old man thought to himself which was nothing new as far as insights.

"Till such a time as your path unfolds clearly before you like a boar trail to a water hole... you must place yourself where you are not yet comfortable. Indeed, the more against the rivers current the better. Only by such challenges will you call forth what is your true destiny. Can you see that ?"

The Seer's wisdom was clear and Chandar nodded assent.

"Good."

Then the tanned boar hide flaps to the Council Lodge parted. War chiefs exiting first and lastly Akbar in his finest buckskins, warrior bonnet, silver smithing turquois bracelets and raven feathered pendant necklace.

Chander untethered his father's mount from the sapling and handed the reigns to the grey bearded Seer.

"You do the honor. I'll go fetch my mount and join you and my father shortly."

Chander rounded up his pony, the pack mule loaded with provisions and their ceremonial accoutremounts and walked them over to where the Seer stood with Akbar already atop his pony.

Akbar looked at his son, and concealing his pride, simply signaled that he mount up.

"My first born you will always be, Chander, but today you must first be a Watcher for our people. Do you understand ?"

"I do, my Chief."

Akbar turned to look upon the Seer.

"Mitaguyasin, old friend."

The Seer raised his right palm in acknowledgment, wondering to himself if the Mekka leader Eli-jah would live up to Mal-of-Ory's accounts and manage to make it all the way to the treaty council site, the great caldera's basin.

Akbar reined his steed toward dawn and stared at the sun's blood welling horizon. Chandar and the Seer abided these eternal moments in silence till alas the chief of chiefs spoke:

"It is a good day to make peace or look death in the face..... Let's ride, Watcher."

A cloud of dust trailing behind, they cantered off toward the caldera's eastern rim, a distant smudge awash in Grandfather's fire. The Seer followed them till they became motes on the horizon, then vanished.

"May the Great Spirit be with them." A simple prayer, but enough.
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Re: The Doc's Bio Lab for Scav Experiments - & other odditie

Post by aubergine » 18 Jan 2013, 19:03

Yes, much easier to read after those edits.

Mal-of-Ory -- subtle reference to freeman of the land? Mal: of the family Ory, a flesh and blood human being?

Any chance of sneaking in a Heraclitus quote in the river bit? "Indeed, the more against the rivers current the better. No man steps in the same river twice."
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Re: The Doc's Bio Lab for Scav Experiments - & other odditie

Post by Rman Virgil » 18 Jan 2013, 20:15

aubergine wrote:Yes, much easier to read after those edits.
Hats off to you. :)


Mal-of-Ory -- subtle reference to freeman of the land? Mal: of the family Ory, a flesh and blood human being?
Would that I were that clever, but alas not. It is something of an inside joke from a previous story where Chander first meets Mallory as his captive and subsequently Mallory challenges Akbar to HTH combat in the middle of a losing battle where the Project forces are vastly out-numbered by the Scav Seven Nations. As Mallory's captive Chandar doesnot reveal his relationship to Akbar but by a clever ruse Mallory uncovers it and turns it into a hostage situation at the point were he is losing the battle to Akbar.
Any chance of sneaking in a Heraclitus quote in the river bit? "Indeed, the more against the rivers current the better. No man steps in the same river twice."

I'm a fan of the Heraclitus Fragments and that quote in particular. The suggestion to use it appeals, but in a different scene and context. What the Seer is saying is more this: there are times when you must overcome your reluctance or hesitation or fear or ambivalence of doing or following a certain path as a means of discovering your true calling. For example..... You believe your future is to be a composer but it's a scary proposition. You forge ahead and by trying you realize it is not really for you. You proceed with another interest, and so on, till you find your destiny - or it finds you through your actions. The point being that yielding to the safety of inaction provides some relief from uncerainty but that is not a calling or a destiny lived.

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Re: The Doc's Bio Lab for Scav Experiments - & other odditie

Post by Rman Virgil » 19 Jan 2013, 00:41

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Part III is longer than I and II combined. I will make 2 posts of it. Here's the first section. The concluding section I'll post later this evening when done. In this part of the story I have dared to try and convey a bit of the ineffable, beyond everyday normal experience. I hope I have not utterly failed.

~ Part III ~

The first downpour struck them a kilometer out of Trinity. Sheets of water like cisterns being over-turned from up on high. In a second wave, rain became hail the size of knuckles making them uneasy about the windshield shattering.

"Good thing I'm not superstitious. I'd take this for a bad omen or, at least, a not so promising beginning," said Elijah.

Keeping the hover steady under these conditions posed many challenges but Mallory felt he had to say something.

"Well sir, I am. Superstitious that is, and I don't see it that way."

The windshield held up through the hail's pelting but the hair line cracks would spread like a web work soon enough. What had them more wary than glass crashing all over the cab and their unprotected faces, were the thunderheads lingering, flashing the occasional muffled bolt of lightning, making of morning as if nightfall were strangely closing in noose-like.

"It's not idle curiosity, my friend. Honestly, how do you see it ?"

Taking advantage of the calm between nature's outbursts, Elijah rolled down his window. Steering one-handed, Mallory followed suit, relishing the ozone infused electric breeze like a heady elixir.

"You follow your true heart and pay the piper, come whatever. Putting failure on this, that, or some other is pure bull chit."

Elijah couldn't help but let out a laugh. Mallory, knowing him well enough to tell the difference between mockery and appreciation, joined in.

The hover started angling upward and Mallory shifted into the highest air cusion and brought his speed down a couple notches. Smooth glideing ended when the ride had them whipping about like rag dolls in every direction, restraints digging into chest and collar bone, as Mallory tacked side to side navigating around deeply gouged earth and rock outcrops that would surely have torn up the under chassis and props. Then, after a couple kilometers, the ground became a flat lichen expanse with none of the previous hazards so Mallory steered true. Before long, a wavering curtain of milky opalescence confronted them. Visibilty was not so much diminished, as the phenomenon distracting for its beauty.

"We're gonna drive through that at this speed ?," asked Elijah.

"Well, maybe I should slow down some more," which he did, to a creep.

Up they continued into the mist blanketed flank of the caldera, aiming for its unseen plateau.

Casting a bobbing side-long glance, Mallory read Elijah's taut jaw as a stoic gutting-it-out which prompted him to pass on the old Seer's reassurance; the caldera's rim would become visible well before they could roll over it blindly.

"Is there a limit to your trust or is it unconditional like a mother's love for her child ?"

Memories of two worlds surged through Mallory like white water rapids. Then in a breath, by some mindful discipline now second nature, he drew back into the present moment like a calming tide.

"I am of them, of their generations, that cannot be altered by neural implant, EXO, years ripped apart or my Project training. In time, if the treaty becomes reality, you'll see for yourself." He paused then as if cutting himself short, thought Elijah.

"Go on, I can tell when you have something more to get off your chest."

That little encouragement was all Mallory needed.

"Just this, I'll add. We are our word. There is no other road to honor and life without honor is pathetic to no end."

Elijah first heard Mallory speak to this scav honor when he stood defiantly before the High Council reporting on the events of the last Southern Expeditionary Force, which he commanded, before the Trinity initiative was born. Back then Elijah didnot ask Mallory to elaborate. He would not again let the opportunity pass to address the distinction that adled him still:

"Isn't that the same intent of our words honesty and integrity ?"

Mallory took a deep breathe, clenched his teeth, then delved deep within for the truest words, and at last, as a sculptor striking chisel to granite with confidence, he spoke to it.

"There's over-lap for sure but there's more to it. Through honor we seek power within ourselves and over ourselves alone. Not over others, or their destiny, simply because we must die and know not when or cannot deal within our own being with shame or humiliation."

Elijah pondered on the divergence of life-ways, granted Mallory had a point, kidded him about missing his calling as a speaker on the High Council and then added:

"Maybe someday I'll know the difference as well as you."

As unexpected as the morning storm, the opalescent veil parted in a swirl of serpent wisps, the jagged rim some thirty meters ahead.

Mallory cut the engine, coasting slowly to a crunching halt, the air cushion stirring a final plume of dust. Dust not mud, for on this side of the mist the ground was desert dry and the light of midday as it should be though the sun was still blocked.

Standing outside the hover, scanning from left to right they caught sight of the two pie-eyed mustangs, and a mule, slackly tethered just shy of the drop-off, each with a feed bag, tails flicking back and forth. Carefree they munched and Mallory, to avoid spooking them, advised Elijah to step surely but lightly as they began to close the distance on foot.

"Are those for us ?"

"Yes and no."

They reached the rise, some paces aside the critters, who paused in their meal, whinnied and then shuffled back a step, to better keep a wary eye on the strangers who smelled nothing like their usual mounts and care givers. If the need to bolt arose, those loose tethers would pose little resistance.

"Is that a riddle, my friend ?"

Odd, thought the Project leader, how the mist clung to the slope on either side of the crown, leaving just the curled ridge with about twenty to thirty meters of scrub, dirt and crumbling limestone exposed. The perimeter ring itself had the shinny appearance of fused stone, likely the result of volcanism, and was many kilometers in diameter, but that was just a guess. It was hard to judge because the view to the far end was obstructed by the bed of mist itself mushrooming upward at what he took for the middle. It was a spectacle more rightly seen way up in the sky during sunset; cloud billows reminiscent of mountain fortresses or, at their most intricate, celestial cities. He wondered how a VTOL would fair flying above this crater. Could it navigate well enough through the hyper thermals, the likely instrumentation disruption, to manage a birds-eye-view above that middle mushroom. From such a vantage you might see below to the very bottom landscape, what he imagined an earthen bowl. But in truth whatever the basin was would remain a mystery till they reached it on foot.

"Not at all. Thinking aloud. Sorry."

Elijah, not the least bit annoyed, attended Mallory in silence. Gathering himself, Mallory continued:

"The animals were left behind for a couple reasons, I believe. First, in case we were unsure of making the descent on foot. Second, to let us know."

"Know what ?"

"That they await us below and that they saw fit to make the final passage under their own power and packing on their backs what the muled carried to this point."

"Sounds like something of a test."

"Indeed, one of a few I dare say we'll face as we continue to the basin. More of the spirit than the body, be assured, though it may seem otherwise."

Elijah took it in but in no manner could these words prepare him for what yet lay ahead. Mallory sensed his friend's trust without words and supposed that none of this would have been possible without such at the heart of both these leaders. Of course there was a substantial contingent on the Project High Council who were hardened cynics and whose support was gained in the end appealing to their baser instincts. In essence, what was there to lose by hedging our bets against the common Mangodai threat. How Akbar convinced his dissenters, for surely there were those whose suspicions of the "Mekkas" ran deep in the blood, Mallory had no clue.

"Sir," Mallory held out his hand with a small brown satchel, "take this. It is an offering. I have one as well. Just follow my actions when the time comes."

"An offering ?"

"As we spoke about at Trinity, there will be a purification ceremony before your treaty council with Akbar. Some details I reserved for when we stood on this sacred ground for then there would be a gut connection not just words. Yuwippi it is called and these bundles are a token of respect offered to the ancestors that they bless the proceedings to come with good will all round. They are also a reminder that whatever is decided this day must also hold good for seven generations to come."

Elijah was touched deeply by the genuine consideration for the world the unborn would inherit.

"I see. I share those beliefs and that is a great deal of common ground. That said, any more suprises ? Scratch that. Let it be as it may. Your loyalty is all I need be sure of here and now. May we continue ?" Elijah made a gesture of pointing open-palmed to the crater's interior clearly indicating Mallory take the lead.

"Yes, let's. But first I'll grab our canteens and kit."

The incline began fairly steep for a good distance and Mallory showed Elijah the side-wise jog technique, much like a scampering shore crab, that allowed for a more controlled descent at this severe incline than a straight, headlong stride. Eventually the slope tapered gently as they approached the second layer of mist and the brightly painted eagle totem. Beautiful and fearsome this wood-working, thought Elijah, before uttering a much more practical concern.

"We'd best get another compass bearing before we cross this threshold or we could end-up walking in circles, no ?"

Mallory shook his head and said:

"Ordinarily true enough but our compass needle spins useless here."

"That's hardly reassuring, not to say strange."

"Strange as in rare, I agree, but the laws of physics still apply. There is much to tell of this crater going back to an age when our ancestors scurried about weaponless trying to out-wit predators, red in tooth and claw. But that's for another occasion. You might look it up in our history-base back at Trinity under 'Alvarez', a late twentieth century astro-geo-physicist slash paleonthologist, or something like that, if I recall. As for our safe passage through this ground hugging cloud to the Yuwippi lodge, we'll be fine. Guides will lead us on the true path of the sacred hoop."

"Guides ? Have you seen some sign I missed that the Seer and Akbar will meet us here ?"

"No. As far as I can tell they await us still at the lodge below. The guides I speak of are called Thunderbeings. Come, you'll see."

Crossing into the second band of mist was like stepping into an inferno without flames. Both men were drenched in sweat within seconds, their garments chaffing, compelling them to shed shirt and trousers to continue bare chested, clad only in briefs. If the ground had not been brittle-sharp like sandstone, and scalding hot to boot, they would have gone barefoot as well.

Elijah's breathing become labored and he began to feel the air sucked out of his lungs. It was as if the mist itself was suffocating them, squeezing the life out of them.

"Stay calm. This will pass." What Mallory didn't say was that to panic would be certain death, a drowning on dry land. Instead what he added was:

"Can you smell that spicy, smoky, scent ?"

Elijah had caught a whiff of something he couldn't place.

"Yes. What is it ?"

"Sage, burning in a fire pit not far."

Mallory could hear his leader's breathing become more regular, the dire gasp subsiding and wondered if they had chosen to ride the mustangs from the ridge would the animals have crossed into this inner hoop of near scalding mist. He let go that question to focus on Elijah's wellbeing.

"Try to recall a past experience that brought you pure contentment, bring it to the fore and relive it in your heart."

Elijah turned inward back to his youth and that shining moment when he asked and she assented, while he cupped her graceful hand in his bear paws.

"We'll get through this. It is as the Yuwippi ceremony that awaits us below in many ways. I can understand what the Seer meant now."

(to be continued)

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Rman Virgil
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Re: The Doc's Bio Lab for Scav Experiments - & other odditie

Post by Rman Virgil » 19 Jan 2013, 01:56

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This concludes "The Horns of Tatanka". Now back to the new graphic in the Yucatan and continued play-testing of CAM 4, in the way of WZ pastimes, that is. As man cannot live by bread alone (there must also be beveridge with a kick and football), so it is with our WZ facinations. ;)

(~ Part III ~ continued)


Mallory pivoted slowly in a circle, seeking some hint of the glittering blue decay that trailed thunderbeings like spent fireworks. Three quarters round and there it was. With a tinge of reluctance Mallory averted his gaze to instead look Elijah in the eye, noting the absence of creases on his face. The Project leader had found his safe harbor, that much was obvious, and keeping him close by was more important than pointing-out their one path revealed.

"Here," he handed Elijah the buckle end of the belt, "take this, it'll keep us together through the thick of it."

Elijah grabbed hold and Mallory turned to follow the first guide's quickly dissipating spoor. When that one vanished another appeared and in between, firepits of smoldering embers wafting sage. At each pit Mallory would cup his hands, dipping out of the pit the vapors, bringing them up and over his face, inhaling deep.

They kept a steady pace, focused tightly on the trailings, but with no visible sun, sky or landmarks, the passage of time, and distance traveled, became meaningless. Were minutes passing or hours, meters or kilometers, they couldn't say and as long as they could quench their thirst when need be, it wasn't critical.. Twice they slacked their parched throats. Was there enough water left to complete the journey ? A question Mallory could not answer so set aside to concentrate on the glittering trail. Which he did till none appeared to follow the last and still the impenetrable mist surrounding them as they stopped beside yet another fire pit reeking sage.

"What do we do now ?," asked Elijah calmly.

Mallory could think of no course of action.

"Best if we wait here for a sign, I think. Be sure, this was no trap and we have not been lured to our death."

Saying his peace Mallory sat cross legged on the pile he'd just dropped that were his shirt and trousers, and reaching for the offering bundle that hung from his neck, held it pressed to his chest, inhaling deeply burnt sage.

"You're praying ?," asked Elijah, as if perplexed.

Mallory looked up, offered a lop-sided smile and when Elijah asked "May I ?", nodded to the place beside him.

After saying his prayer in a whisper, Mallory closed his eyes, stopped thinking about anything in particular, and let his sense of hearing predominate; a skill battle hardened warriors had in common with successful hunters.

At first he heard only his and Elijah's breathing, the grating against the ground when either one shifted their weight but there was something else beneath those sounds; a pattern, faint, intricate alluring . The more he focused on the rhythm the more it stood out till even the sound of his own breathing fell away and if it hadn't been for the dryness in his mouth he would have been happy to lose himself in the cadence, to be one with the drumming.

So it was the drum that would lead them on the last stage of this journey, something the old Seer had left out when Mallory spoke to him last.

Mallory lifted the canteen to his lips and took a modest swig, noteing how little was left.

"We passed the point of no-return a while back didn't we ?," asked Elijah, not expecting an answer, as he too drank but drops from his canteen.

"Yes. But we have a way to continue now."

Elijah stood up and stretched while Mallory told of the drumming in a voice drained of emotion. In turn, as hard as he might, Elijah could hear none of it.

"Let's put our belts together and you stand where you are while I hold the other end and walk the circle."

Purely attuned to the beat Mallory felt confident in the direction by the second circuit.

"This way."

And so they stalked the drum song for a dream time.

When at last they crossed the threshold it was like stepping from night to day in one fell swoop, no dawn between.

"Truly, we are now walkers between the worlds, my friend," Mallory said, using a phrase Akbar's Seer had shared with him after hearing his testament during the last moon's Yuwippi. The testament of a scav child made citizen-soldier of the Project and now, the first bloodless contact between these nations in years.

"Worlds indeed. Who could've imagined anything like this."

Mallory let go his attention on the drumming to take in the other worldly terrain before them.

Steam geysers punctuated the land, haphazardly it seemed, as far as the eye could see. The land itself was mottled like puzzle pieces of tan, dark brown, emerald green, reddish bronze and, most unusual, deep lavender. Then there was the array of stone slabs, strenuous handiwork to some end. These stela appeared, at first blush, strewn throughout the basin but then when the eye wandered from one to the other rapidly they somehow managed to conjure a geometry of spiraling inward, drawing them bodily to an invisible nexus.

"Look at those steam fumeroles. Think of the possibilities - geothermal electric generating plants, comes to mind loud and clear."

Mallory bristled, turning to face his friend and leader.

"Don't even go there with Akbar. That could only happen through war with the Seven Nations, exterminating every man, woman and child old enough to wield a weapon. This is sacred land for all the tribes as it stands and inviolate for those yet to be born. That is also the scav way."

There was a passion in Mallory's voice that reminded Elijah of believers expressing their religious convictions.

"Way ahead of you, my friend. I was actually taking the Mangodai strategic point of view. This would be a hell of a prize and foothold. Ideal for a strong natural defense and resources to no end."

Already in negotiating mode for the treaty council, thought Mallory, closing his eyes to better focus again.

"I see a pennant," said Elijah, pointing.

"Yes. That's where we're headed," he said, knowing it was one and the same with the drum song even without looking.

They couldn't take the most direct route as the crow flies, having to skirt hot springs, erupting geysers, bubbling mudholes and those enigmatic but mesmerizing stela.

Before long the drumming stopped and where they could only make out the triangular pennant flapping from a pole atop an earthen mound, they could make out at its base what looked to be two silhouettes hunkered to the left that began unlimbering to stand tall. To Mallory's eye the graceful movement of both figures bespoke a youthful vigor which was at odds with his expectation of Akbar being accompanied by the old Seer. At the same time he took notice of his own shadow moving ahead and, looking up, realized there was sunshine penetrating through the center of that mushroom cloud they had observed before entering the second layer of mist within the caldera. There was also a breeze that tingled reminding him, along with Elijah, that they were practically naked and that redressing before entering Akbar's camp would be in order, which they did. Besides the heat and humidty were far less extreme here on the basin floor than the mist cloaked slope above.

"We've been in tunnel-vision mode for the better part of this journey," Mallory said in a voice that Elijah recognized as his friend thinking aloud and not as any attempt at persuasion.

"Yes. It's time to switch gears and start operating like a wide-spectrum sensor, if you catch my meaning."

Mallory grinned.

"I do. Let's get you introduced and remember, follow my lead with the greeting and the satchel."

Within thirty meters Mallory could make out that it was Chandar who accompanied the chief of chiefs of the Seven Scav Nations.

"That's Akbar's son, Chandar. I expected the old Seer. That being what it is, treat the boy as a man, a peer and don't give him any special deference because of his father. I'm sure the reason for his presence will be made clear soon enough."

At five meters Elijah could make out the artfull body painting, raven hair flowing below the shoulder, one braid at each temple and the rainbow spray of Akbar's feathered headdress. By comparison, Chandar's apprearance puzzled Elijah for its striking plainess and with his close cropped hair the young man could pass for a common citizen of the Project Protectorate.

Mallory led the way first exchanging the scav warrior forearm grip with Chandar while uttering, "Mado, mitaguyasin" and then the same with Akbar. Elijah followed in kind, matching Akbar's intent gaze, fierce and calm at the same time.

After formally introducing the Project's leader to the chief of chiefs, Mallory said:

"Excuse us. We would pay our respects to the ancestors. Come my friend," nodding towards the pennant pole.

Looking at the base of the pole mound, Elijah saw the sapling with several satchels dangling and the curve horned, and massive, bleached white skull. After Mallory added his offering, Elijah did likewise after which Mallory pointed to the skull and said:

"That is Tatanka. It's meaning you've come to know a little on our journey. The rest will unfold in council with Akbar."

After speaking Mallory turned full circle as if looking for something and with a quizzical look uttered:

"I don't see it."

Walking back to where Akbar and Chandar still stood, close on Mallory's heels, Elijah wondered what his friend was refering to.

"The Yuwippi ceremony lodge.... is it somewhere else ?"

Akbar spread his arms, turning to look and take in the whole of the caldera's horizon.

"This is our lodge."

To which Chandar added, with a mischievous smile:

"Your journey to get here was the Yuwippi, Mall-of-ory."

Akbar looked to Elijah, taking his measure. The moment was not lost to the Project commander and chief.

"You've honored us with this journey. We'll break bread now and tell what deeds we are proudest of in our different worlds. And out of all that passes this day will be born a new future between our peoples."

Hearing the open-hearted conviction girding these words, Elijah could also believe that from these simple beginings would grow an alliance to not only resist but shred asunder the Mangodai campaign of conquest.

"I could hope for nothing finer, Akbar."

The leaders and their trusted companions shared food and drink, speaking well into the night of noble deeds past and those yet to come.


~THE END ~ (And Begining)
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Impact = C x (R + E + A + T + E)

Contrast
Reach
Exposure
Articulation
Trust
Echo
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