…it’s where you’re at! (two)
From the field journal of Captain Randall Origami-Picket 541-639
2nd Tops expedition.
Day 1: We have departed the relative shelter of Liars crater. This time, finally, to proceed with the expedition. We have spent almost six months depot laying out east at the old Booths Folly outpost. An old mining station long abandoned by the hapless prospectors after their quest for riches had proved fruitless and occasionally fatal.
Day 6: Booths Folly Outpost has provided ample shelter for the past 24 hours. We anticipate an early breakfast tomorrow morning before making for the Barringers Fingers old road which will take us around thirty kilometres east and up onto the true surface of Sako. From that point onwards the expedition will have truly begun.
Day 8: We have passed the extent of Tycho Crater. The outer impact bowl has given way to the planets true surface. Approximately six thousand metres above sea level of the crater. The atmosphere here is uncomfortable and I thank that we have spent time atop the cliffs of Liars to acclimatise ourselves to the low oxygen. The temperature has dropped considerably. Only the insulation from our top suits protects us against the cold. Happily, the thin atmosphere causes zero weather and the conditions will remain constant throughout the expedition.
Day 9: The surface consists mainly of a fine dust. More akin to flour than sand. The sledges are constantly bogged down and require lengthy delays to dig them out. The sledges require earthing every half hour, causing more delays. They seem to be picking up excessive static charges. Perhaps from the friction between the dust and sled runners or else some other hidden mechanism below the surface of this mysterious planet.
Day 11: We have been fortunate. By sheer luck we have encountered a desire path through the dust. Our conjecture has led us to believe we have wandered onto a trail used by the nomadic tribes of the indigenous people of Sako. This natural road has increased our daily gains and with it, our morale.
Though we count amongst our number two indigenous team mates, we must be cautious. A number of the nomadic tribes roaming the plains are ferociously territorial and our mere presence would be considered hostile. Our colleagues shared kinship will aid us little should such an encounter occur.
A large percentage of our encumbrance consists of tributes and trading materials, intended as offers of respect or bartering materials should we encounter any of the more belligerent native clans.
Day 23: Finally. We have navigated the ridge. Our reward is our first true sight of the pipes. The damnable rusty iron monstrosities which breach the surface in patchwork formations across the surface of the planet.
Far to the east we can just make out the wall of Thumper crater. Our ultimate destination.
The Admiralty have stipulated, as a condition of our grant, that accurate surveys be undertaken at predetermined waypoints. Though military in origin, I suspect this requirement is of a more commercial nature. The possibility of a permanent road from Tycho to the Pipe Fields and their potential wealth is a compelling one. Orbital surveys have revealed much but there is still no comparison to ‘boots on the ground’. I have taken the decision therefore that this location shall become our first infield depot.
Four trusted men have been detached from the main party and shall remain here to carry out the necessary scientific works. Upon the tasks completion, the team shall return to Booths Folly and begin the arduous process of ferrying supplies back to the temporary outpost.
The prefabricated shelter has been unburdened from one of the sledges and is currently being erected. This structure will function twofold. Firstly, as shelter while the survey team proceeds with their honourable task and secondly as ration storage and shelter for the rest of the expedition on our glorious return journey.
The other officers and I have spent the construction down time surveying the landscape and plotting the next stage of our journey. From our present location we will set out tomorrow heading north. Following the line of the ridge back down to the true surface and onto the vast sea of dust below us. From there we intend to strike east for approximately four days where, good fortune prevailing, we will arrive at an unusual surface feature spotted this evening by lieutenant Barlymo. Approximately two kilometres South West of the Great North Central Pipe Field. From our vantage point the feature remains unidentified and I firmly believe further investigation is well warranted.
Day 30: Our fifth day in the dust field. Our progress is painfully slow. The dust in the great plain is much deeper than any we’ve previously encountered. The merest movement sends plumes of the damn material into the air. The filters on our top suits are constantly malfunctioning. Two suits have now been cannibalised to repair other failed equipment. Their previous owners have headed back to the first outpost carefully retracing our sled tracks.
Our Indy team members seem much more adept at navigating this surface. I have taken the decision to send them forward of the main party to search for the end of the dust field. I pray they can return shortly with better tidings regarding the upcoming terrain.
Day 35: Four more of the party have been turned back. I cannot accept the burden they place on the healthy men. The loss of the party members is offset by the extra rations now available to us. Though the healthy men become more burdened with each departure. I will recalculate the rations when this damn sea of dust is to our heels.
Day 40: Lieutenant First Grade Landau Barlymo has passed. Presumably respiratory arrest caused by an acute failure in his top suit. We have paused briefly to intern his remains.
There are mumblings now within the party about turning back. Returning via the route carved by our own sled trail. I estimate we can make it back to the first outpost within five days. This decision would undoubtedly be the end of the expedition. The moneys will not stretch to another attempt next spring.
Day 41: The intolerable conditions continue. As does the perishing of equipment. Around midday the forward sleds called a halt to proceedings and word was passed for absolute silence. The other officers and I joined the forward men. A dull almost metallic banging could be heard. Almost imperceptible but rhythmic. Though impossible to pinpoint, the sound does seem to originate to the east in our general heading.
Day 42: A signal flair has been spotted due east of our position just after midnight. I have chosen to interpret this as a signal from our Indigenous colleagues that relative safety and more substantial terrain has been reached. The other officers have supported my decision and tomorrow at first light we will continue eastwards.
The mysterious banging has ceased.
Day 45: Three more men have perished. Our equipment is in a critical state of repair. But finally, we are leaving the dust field. Around noon the forward sleds sent back word that their footfall is now landing on metal somewhere below the infernal dust surface. We suspect we have, by some blind luck, encountered one of the subsurface pipes leading to the Great North Central Field and we are now following its course out of the dust. The forward men have been issued a metal detector from the supplies to assist in forward navigation. Through sheer desperation progress is vastly accelerated.
Day 46: We have passed the Dust Field just after nightfall. Hastily we make camp. There is no sign of our indigenous team mates.
Tomorrow shall doubtless be a challenging day as we must decide what future this seemingly cursed expedition has left.
But for now, we will sleep.
Day 47: The morning has been spent surveying our current surroundings. First light has revealed we are at the mouth of a short pass between two parallel hills. Initial estimates put the pass at around two to four kilometres. The length of the pass and indeed some areas of the adjoining hills are blemished by the tangles of rusty brown pipes which break the surface. Further down the pass the diameter of the pipes increases greatly. Gigantic tubes of metal obscure the end of the pass from view. The impression is one of some nightmarish man made forest of metal.
Central and at the mouth of the pass sits the head of a golem. Abandoned. Possibly resting here for a millennia. Truly a terrifying site which has caused much discomfort to the men who are already muttering of curses and ill omens. I suspect this is the surface feature we observed from the ridge on day 23.
I have, during my military service, visited the Golems. The six massive ancient machines which stand dormant to the North of Tycho City. The mystery of who made them and for what purpose is not one I expect to be unravelled in my lifetime. The UltraSamp Times recently ran an article detailing how a team of scientists and engineers from UltraSamp are working on methods and theories to activate one of the machines. I do not believe this would be a wise course and I see no virtue from the undertakings success.
The sight of this decapitated head has bought me back to the origin of this expedition, coincidentally two years ago to the day. Sitting in the high backed chairs around the log fire of the gentleman’s lounge at the Finnigans Gulf Yacht Club . The brandy that particular evening had been a Sako vintage. My companion, Commodore Helb Schmidt a former naval officer of high regard, had complained most vocally of its quality. As we awaited the servants return with a more suitable reserve, Schmidt had commented on the large oil painting hanging above the fireplace. A rather splendid depiction of the Sako Golems at sunset painted by a celebrated former member of the aforementioned and esteemed club.
Schmidt had talked of his distaste for the planet in its entirety, based on his service with the UltraSamp navy during the third terraforming war. As a veteran of the conflict myself, I felt suitably entitled to defend Sako and argue its numerous virtues. The arrival of Beachwald’s finest brandy added impetus to the discussion.
The enthralling debate concluded when, after I made the statement on the unrivalled opportunities for exploration, Schmidt had proposed the wager. And with this bet and a handshake came the birth of the ‘Gentlemens Adventure Club of UltraSamp BelSamber’.
That such a wretched expedition could have been conceived with such a quality brandy was, on retrospect, the true tragedy.
Excusing the deaths of six men obviously.
The afternoon has been spent calculating rations and assessing the state of the equipment. I am confident to report that despite the delays and struggles of the dust field, the rations are ample for the further journey. We intend to proceed east at first light.
The men have discovered tracks in the fine dust around our camp. They are adamant the tracks were not present earlier in the day. I attribute them to our missing indigenous colleagues. I choose to believe they have proceeded to scout the area in our absence. The other officers seem less sure.
Day 48: I have been awoken at just after midnight. The first watch are disturbed by movement and sounds coming from the pass behind the golems head.