Jump to content
beak

[Quest] Politics, part i

Recommended Posts

Posted (edited)
Quote

Title: I smell like a what?!
Class: B - Moderate
Hook: The queen of a giant ant colony is in distress. Something was wrong with the deer carcass she was fed and its messing her hormones up, making it hard to control her soldiers. As these soldiers are useful to Chesterfield defense, the local government has put out contract work to figure out what's happening in the ecosystem, bring back samples if necessary, and help resolve the queen's hormone issue. Notably the hive sits atop a vein of nith.

Only the cruelest form of charity grounds itself in bare necessity. One more day, such a giver promises (while dispensing his change). One more, then back to business. Better to wince and give less, broadcasting with sidelong glances the useless guilt that plagues the action, depending on some other passerby to supplement the still-inviting beggar's cup. Better, even, not to give at all and affirm thereby the great indifference, its every representative more unexceptional than the last; such action proves no disgrace to charity (since it isn't an attempt at charity, to begin with). 

To give more than what is needed defines the virtue of generosity, perfectible by acts of charity insofar as each such act demonstrates an attachment to people and not to things. Amelia enjoyed the company of the generous. She trusted their sense of proportion, a combination of discernment and moderation to which she could defer when her habits of thought proved too cumbersome to gracefully field the world of common interest. Amelia did not always find it easy to be generous. 

But, whatever her occasional lapses, she did possess (for now) the generosity required to accept the ordinary cruelty involved (for now) in the universal satisfaction of bare necessity. The word for this satisfaction was economy, those predisposed to bestow it (but nothing else) referred to as economical, and the science dedicated to its refinement was called economics. Around Amelia, Chesterfield natives exchanged their opinions on topics as varied as the weather (it was a gorgeous morning, wasn't it, look at the water), the concept of sea-steading (what makes a commercial entity sovereign?—if we start a business, do we get a sea-stead?), and the latest disaster scenario hosted at the Silver Screen (speaking of disaster, what about that production value?). The Chesterfield boardwalk didn't seem like an outgrowth of pure economy, but that didn't necessarily mean it wasn't. 

She'd arrived in the city the night prior and checked into an unlicensed adventurer's hostel marked by a sign that shouted in red neon letters "Mega-Hostile Murderhobo's Mega-Hostel" (with another smaller sign beneath it: Murder Ho, Beau!). She had slept well enough that it had taken the sound of her roommate yelling at his sentient, autonomous sword to wake her. What do you mean, the man had shouted, you just 'hiccuped' a singularity into my pocket dimension while you were sleeping? You know that's where I keep one of the omniverse-class fractals of my soul. You could have bruised me. Amelia had left the hostel directly after. 

After grabbing a bite at a karaoke bar still open from the night before, Amelia had decided to acquaint herself with Chesterfield before pursuing her original business in the city: an appraisal of the city's Public Education System. The boardwalk signaled the end of her wandering. The South Sea stretched before her like a language sufficient for self-expression, which nonetheless struggled to find purchase on a surface more solid than itself. Amelia realized she would be spending more time in Chesterfield than she had anticipated. There was so much potential for the truth to thrive here, where art, science, politics, and love seemed on the verge of combining to form one seamless thing. If Amelia knew anything, she knew this. 

She could never have imagined a city with so much room for good. Or, and this is why she would have to stay, so much capacity for good's byproduct, evil. 

Spoiler

For those who have come to this thread from the interest thread, please don't take the pacing of this introduction as an attempt at "brevity." Until such time as I have someone with whom to roleplay, I'll be treating this as a much more long-form exercise, which allows me to fiddle around and do as I please (I must at least amuse myself!). It therefore exceeds the 300-word maximum to which I'm otherwise committed (for comparison's sake, this post practically doubles that). So: don't be intimidated! I can play well with others, I promise. 

 

Edited by beak
Looking like an absolute mess in the spoiler section

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

After spending the morning and most of the afternoon at a series of Crook terminals distributed throughout the city, Amelia concluded that Chesterfield's Public School System would prove a problematic institution in the long-run. The problem was not one with execution, since, as far as Amelia could tell, the system performed its intended functions at the exact limit of technological progress. It was a state-of-the-art solution to one of the difficulties faced by traditional educators: to wit, the problem of the individual. The magnitude of the universe and the variety of phenomena within it meant that any teacher, no matter how knowledgeable and experienced, could not hope to relay to her students more than a fraction of the meager fraction of information she had obtained throughout her lifetime. Even if, through a miraculous coincidence of instruction and dedication, she could manage to communicate everything she knew in one all-encompassing stroke, the sum of that knowledge would not constitute a meaningful fragment of all theoretical knowledge. Any individual teacher (even one rhetorically granted freedom from error) therefore represented a bottleneck for her students, at least as far as information was concerned. 

The Public School System solved this problem. Elegantly, too. Every Crook terminal (Amelia had checked) offered the user unlimited access to the sum of all knowledge (well, as far as they knew) as well as a fair amount of informed opinion in cases where a given discipline had meaningfully diverged into distinct schools of thought. In terms of empowering its user to participate in consensus reality, the system did its job better than any educator.

But there were problems the system could not address. 

Because, while a user-facing system for self-paced, self-directed inquiry was likely equal to the task of teaching a skill or a trade, it posed an obstacle to the principal aim of serious education (this, admittedly, could also be said about most teachers). If the dissemination of mere knowledge were education's aim, the Gaian Academy could have safely shuttered its doors after the invention of the first almanac to concentrate its resources on the enhancement and reproduction of accessible, comprehensive glossaries of fact. But it hadn't, nor could it have without annihilating its purpose: to initiate students into the process of truth. 

Education was not the only way to encounter the process of truth. It was not even the most common way (that was family, the terrain on which most, but not all, people first discern the truth-process of love). But education was unique among the branching paths in its explicit intent to guide people toward such an encounter. A school that did not attempt so was a library with more room for error (not to mention overhead). Incidentally, a library was what the system seemed to be: a repository for knowledge, fit mainly to perpetuate the pursuit of common interest. 

Left as it was, the system would reproduce an endless flood of journeymen citizens, each sufficient in their way to repair an airship, write a poem, practice divination, or solve a math problem. But each artist so educated would prove shallower than the artist who had studied at the foot of her craft's master, observing his attention to detail, taking heed as he explains the choices she will face at her writer's-table later that evening. Each PSS-trained scientist would prove less ingenious than the scientist who had worked side-by-side with an alchemist as virtuosic in his craft as he was eccentric in his habits, whose ingenuity inspires in his students a form of thought they will make their own. So down the generations, the process of truth obscurely reproduces itself: being-to-being, being-for-art to being-for-art, etc. So little of this will ever reach any screen. But the Chesterfield Public School System would replicate in its students only that graven image of truth-process communicable via terminal. And if they couldn't understand what they'd read, or got the wrong idea from it, the screen would glow the same. Some would waste years chasing misunderstandings that a moment's intervention from a teacher might have corrected, only to find themselves at the other end of their brief life bewildered and alone. Most would never know what they didn't know. 

Which was to say: Chesterfield's Public School System alienated its users from truth neither more nor less than would its absence. The knowledge made available by the system possessed no moral quality. Universal access would prove mostly harmless. Perspicacious users of the system would seek out appropriate mentors to initiate them into their chosen truth-process (as they would have done, regardless). Mediocre users would mistake the knowledge offered by the system as an end unto itself and continue living, as most do, beneath the threshold where considerations of good and evil exercise any consequence (as they would have done, regardless). Reliance on the system would prove problematic for Chesterfield in the long-run since the latter group, outnumbering the former by a factor of at least 100, could directly vote its members into positions of power that require an actual grasp of the truth of politics (as opposed to familiarity with the concept) and find those members incompetent (or worse). The fault did not rest specifically with the PSS, but nothing in the system could prevent the outcome.  

Amelia would, therefore, identify the CPSS as a negligible threat, with a non-binding recommendation to her once-and-future peers that they look in on the city of Chesterfield in twenty to thirty years with an eye for budding simulacra. They'll probably insist that everyone knows what they know, she wrote. They all learned it from the same place. Even if they've gotten it completely backward, she wrote, they'll believe what they all learned together. She tapped her stylus against the tabletop and stared across the street at three black-screened Crook terminals. She sent her report, paid for her drink, and went in search of lodgings for the night. 

From where she had been sitting, the terminals looked like grim shepherds, their hoods pulled up to hide their faces. 

Spoiler

Season 8 The One With The Stripper GIF by Friends.   i swear i'm gonna start the quest next post


 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

"So, I don't have to be a licensed adventurer to use your service," said Amelia. She stood in a small lobby, leaning against a black counter beneath a sign that read "Ask Me What You Can Do For Chesterfield." Amelia had, about fifteen minutes ago. Now she was embroiled in a life-or-death struggle with an official representative of a company (or collective, the details were in question) she hadn't realized wasn't a direct outgrowth of Chesterfield's local government until it was far too late. 

"That's correct!" said the woman standing behind the counter. "This is but one of the many advantages you'll enjoy over your competitors as one of our clients. Here at the Chesterfield Adventurer's Cooperative For The People By The People, we remember the good old days, when all you needed to be an adventurer was a sword, a bag of holding, and a dream."

"But," said Amelia, "isn't that still technically true? I mean, while there's an entire industry built around questing, salvage, etc., I can't imagine an effective impediment to the general practice of adventure." 

The woman ignored her. "We believe in the little guy," the woman continued. She frowned and fixed Amelia with a look. "That's you. That's why we employ several licensed adventurers to give us—and, through us, to would-be adventurers like you—The Dirt You Need from the license-exclusive quest register." 

"Is that legal?" said Amelia. 

"Not even slightly," said the woman with a laugh. "But we are board-approved for extralegal action through the BRIBE ("Broad Rapport Involving Big Earnings") program. Chesterfield: the only law is profit!" 

"Okay," said Amelia. "So, if I want access to the license-exclusive board, then I pay you ten percent of any reward granted upon completion of the quest. That sounds reasonable. Almost generous."

"No," said the woman, laughing again. "You misunderstood. Since you, as an unlicensed adventurer, can't legally collect a reward for any quest listed on the exclusive register, we deploy one of our licensed adventurers to collect the reward for the quest you've completed, then award you ten percent of the listed reward. Please note that, contractually, "ten percent" is a matter of our discretion."    

"That's legal theft," said Amelia. "Just theft, actually, since none of this is legal. Do people ever buy this pitch?" 

"We employ dozens of affiliates," said the woman. "Dozens."

"And if I'm not looking for any license-exclusive quests—" said Amelia.

"Then there's a Crook terminal right outside, sweetie," said the woman. "Let me know what you decide." Then she turned away from the counter and busied herself sorting a series of pamphlets on a rack behind her.

Amelia found what she was looking for on the digitally-supported quest board relatively quickly. Because there were three options, total, and of the two she qualified for directly, only one of these didn't involve combing a continent for a shard of broken mirror. "Ants," she said to herself. "That seems... quick." She accepted the quest with the push of a button. As soon as she did, the screen displayed a page titled: 

Other Adventurers Who Have Accepted This Quest.

There was only one name on the list. "Well," said Amelia. "I don't see the harm in it." She opened his profile and clicked on "Send Message." 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)

Severin's attention was firmly fixed on the flickering screen of the Crook terminal in front of him, engrossed in a digital treatise about the biology and culinary uses of the Sassafras found in the forests of Lagrimosa. While he pondered what a good cup of Lagrimosan Sassafras tea might taste like, he came across a note which warned the reader that the ingestion of Sassafras could cause vomiting, stupor, and hallucinations, and quickly began to scour the rest of the text for more information. One link led him to another, each of which in turn contained several more links to related sources, and it was not long before he found himself reading a rather strongly-opinionated article about how Sassafras root beer tasted like a vile combination of wild mint and herbal cough syrup and could cause catastrophic and irreversible liver damage.

All the while, a notification about an incoming message went unnoticed for some time, before the annoying little flash at the bottom-right of the screen could no longer be ignored. He then remembered that he accepted a quest to help the authorities of Chesterfield with a problem concerning a nearby ant colony, and mentally chided himself for getting distracted before turning his attention to the message. He began scanning it slowly with his eyes, starting with the title:

[A Message From Amelia To Severin]

In a short moment, he learned that this Amelia was interested in the ant colony investigation as well and that he was invited to meet her at the Unchecked White Collar Crime Restaurant and Grill this evening at seven.

'Wait, the Unchecked White Collar Crime Restaurant and Grill?' Severin barely managed to suppress his unease as he mouthed those words to himself.

Once the time and place had been registered in his mind he turned to check the time, and upon realising that it was already well into the afternoon, a sense of panic and urgency welled up inside him. Quickly, he wrote a formal response and sent it through the Crook terminal before he disconnected it and hurried back to the Casa de la Mendicidad, the hostel where he had lodged these last few weeks. All thoughts of Sassafras root beer quickly faded away and gave way to the upcoming meeting at hand.

Edited by Pygmalion

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

"Yes," said Amelia, gesturing to her open menu. "I'd like the eye of the beholder, please." The waiter, who had prompted her to order seconds earlier, seemed surprised, a moment, then nodded and walked away. He, no doubt, suffered from the superstition, surprisingly common, that beholder's eyes maintained their arcane properties even after they had been removed, prepared, and cooked, which made eating one a lottery of possible gruesome deaths. Amelia did not so suffer.  

She sipped from a fluted glass of Casper red, sourced, she had been assured, from only the finest mountainside vineyards of that prosperous port. She did not mind it, but if it was, in fact, the finest that Casper had to offer, then the city was fortunate indeed that its mercantile exports were, to put it lightly, diversified. She set her glass on the table and looked out across the rooftops of the city, where she could spot several people (on different roofs) invested in the business of daily life: one hung her laundry on a line; another tended her apiary; a third leaned against his roof's parapet to survey, like ants, the folk that walked the streets below. 

Amelia had come to the Unchecked White Collar Crime Restaurant and Grill from her new hostel of choice, Fattighuset (whose lodgings had proven as accommodating as their weekly rates were affordable). The restaurant's clientele might have intimidated Amelia if she hadn't detected, at once, that, beneath the apparent menace of their opulent displays and practiced smiles, every diner on the rooftop played a private game of strategy against almost every other patron. And every player so engaged (except for that rare specimen who, perceiving the game at too high a resolution for practical purposes, could be relied on to outplay himself) discerned at a glance that Amelia wasn't playing, which meant that she, although a momentary distraction, was quite literally beneath their notice. No more a feature of their world than they were of hers. 

She had been seated promptly. Now, she waited, glass at hand, secure in the knowledge that good food and (she hoped) good company were on their way. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Giant Ant Support Program (GASP) headquarters, located on the very outskirts of the Sunrise Quarter in Chesterfield, was an unimpressive building despite its self-important name. Little more than a farm, Amelia thought, where the city employed an assortment of butchers, breeders, and bureaucrats to manage the entomological component of its defense. Still, she supposed, there had been a charm to it. But that charm had ended where the bureaucrat seated at the desk in front of her began. 

"I reject the imputation," he said, "that the administrative wing of GASP has anything to do with the queen's—" He paused to consider his phrasing. "—current indisposal and furthermore challenge any of the fair shareholders of our city to do a better job than we already do." 

"So," Amelia tried to continue, "as I was saying, what I'd like to do is see what's left of the last deer carcass used to feed the queen. Poke around a bit, maybe. See if there's anything obvious—"

Amelia had waited all night for her companion to arrive, but he never had. She had left a note with the maître d' and retired to the hostel for the night. The next morning, she had set down to business. 

"And isn't it typical," the man cut in, "for them to send an adventurer to fix a budgetary problem. You're getting paid in, what, reputation?"

"It's unclear," said Amelia. "However—"

"Roaming hordes of interns," he said. "That's what they send us. Do you know how much it costs to import a breeder buck from Timber Creek? You've got to ship them through Casper: mag-vac or freighter, and they know they're the only two games in town and there's no difference between'em. They'll gouge you either way. Especially when they hear it's Chesterfield. It's like they think we print money. And we might! But not to feed giant ants, I'll tell you that much. No. For ants, you can have two silver pieces and you're encouraged to rub them together if you think it'll make more."    

"Right," said Amelia. "So, the wonderful thing, then, about me, in this scenario, is that I'm free. At least as far as you're concerned. You pay me nothing. I look at the deer carcass, maybe ask the breeders and feeders a few questions, and then I'm on my way. Like I was never here." 

The man across the table leered across the desk at Amelia. 

"You think this is easy," he said. "I can tell. Easy to take the blame. Easy to bear the weight of every failure of an outfit like this one. When you didn't tell poor John to carry the leaking pheromone canisters past the worker pit. How do you work on a giant art farm without realizing ants climb? And then his wife Martha, trying to act like it's my fault we don't have the money for proper railings. Their son clinging to her leg, still asking after the man we had to carry out in pieces days later when the colony calmed down enough for you to be able to hear again. That's what they don't tell you; that's exactly what you don't know. That much chitin, on that large a body, on that many bodies, creaks. Like the whole colony was laughing. Loud enough that you could barely hear John scream."  

Amelia swallowed. The man paused and considered her again. 

"So it isn't easy," he said. "Don't think for a second what anyone does here is easy. But have at it, if that's what you want. At least if you die, I don't have to tell your widower that he won't see a Zengi-cursed copper. Not because I don't want to give it. I'm not a psychopath. But because I don't have it to give. And even though she hit me, and cursed me, and blamed me for it, even though I stood there and accepted every blow, looking straight into the eyes of that, her, his, I mean John's child, thinking I somehow deserved it, deep down, not for this but for other things, in some strange way grateful I could be, could prove useful to her, his wife, you see, at least as a body, because a body can be struck, of course, struck or ripped to pieces, unlike the thing that moved her to strike, which would quite possibly never leave her or the, you know, the child, even though he was too young, then, to know how to say it, or even how to feel it, entirely, but still I could see it stirring up the mud in his eyes, like each passing second made those clear waters go, darker and darker, then darker and darker still, and who knows, given enough time, what such a pair of eyes might see?" 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)

"The last GASP HQ, which was also the first GASP HQ, collapsed during the faction wars," said the feeder. "Supply lines became too unreliable and couldn't ship enough of the material required to make the pheromone canisters that fuel the operation. Or they could ship enough of it, just not on time. Aluminum won't cut it. The colony's sense of smell is sensitive enough that even the slightest change to a pheromone's odor could mean a catastrophe. We depend on Last Chance, on the other side of the continent, to ship us odor-neutral vakar, which a feeder can transmute into a control pole in a pinch. Alchemists fashion the canisters on-site. But, eventually, the trains from L.C. just stopped arriving. Either that or arrived empty. Luckily, the guy in charge saw the collapse coming and pulled the work-force, so nobody got hurt. The city still sacked him and put him on trial for criminal negligence, but it wasn't his fault. Nobody in the world's trained to care for giant ants while there's a full-blown war going on. He was convicted and barred from future civil service. After that, most of what you'd call the "skilled laborers," I guess, took private sector jobs. Said they wouldn't work for a city that would treat its own like that. At least the profiteers lacked pretense. I wasn't there, but you hear stories." 

Amelia followed the feeder across the center of the GASP compound toward the freezer containing, among other things, the deer carcass Amelia meant to inspect. The man had introduced himself as Odd, which had proven confusing to Amelia, at first. Finally, the man had smiled and, with the air of an apology, clarified that while, yes, he could be considered odd, his name was also Odd. And that he, therefore, had been in no way seeking comfort or validation from Amelia, which would have been unprofessional and, if she didn't mind him saying so: "more than just a little odd." She had laughed maybe a little too loudly, fidgeting with her hands as though each held (and sought) the secret to make the other hand complete, her cheeks still burning with an embarrassment that Odd graciously tried to ignore. Even so, his lips seemed, to Amelia, like an envelope barely containing his amusement. 

"But that's how you get a situation like John's," said Odd. "At least that's what I think. The people who know the work don't want to do it anymore; meanwhile, the city spares no expense to prettify the boardwalk for tourists instead of shelling out for top-shelf ant medicine to keep its citizens safe. There's not much profit in ants, you know, and less the more you spend. GASP makes most of its money selling used canisters to weaponsmiths who'll use the vakar to make weapons they sell to poachers, but the margins are slim because we have to invest most of our profits into buying more vakar. So most of our workers are people desperate enough to risk their lives for what little money GASP can give them out of its discretionary fund. But the city's happy because the unemployment rate goes down, at least on paper. It seems like there's a Crook terminal on every corner in this city, but do you think anyone's looking up how to become a giant ant professional when Chesterfield's the only city employing the creatures for its self-defense? Even though it's a science unique to Chesterfield, you'd have to be daft. Most of the people working here hired someone to pass the licensure exam for them. Management knows, of course, but they're more desperate than the workers are. So that's the story of city bureaucracy, subtitled: how an otherwise ordinary man gets torn to bits." 

Edited by beak

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

"I knew John," said Odd. "He was a nice enough guy, though stupid: no cunning to him, which meant he was easy to trust. He definitely paid for his license. He'd tried his hand at light salvage with a smaller crew but didn't like it. Claimed it was because he couldn't stand to be away from his family, but he seemed the sort to say that instead of admitting that his legs got too tired hauling all that junk back to the city." 

"The few times I did see him around his wife and kid, it seemed like he didn't know what to do with them. The kid especially. He'd hug and kiss his wife occasionally, little things that had more to do with him than with her, but whenever the kid stood next to him, John would reach out and just put his hand on the kid's shoulder, not as, like, a gesture of affection, but ownership. The same way you might put your hand on a shovel while surveying the hole you've just dug with it. I didn't hold it against him, though. He was one of those people who needed every little thing explained to him, which I knew since he always expected me to do the explaining. Around here, at least. And since no one could explain what he felt for his child, or what he should do with that feeling, he did as best he could. Probably thought he was doing a hell of a job. Hell, maybe he was. What would I know about it? Regardless, he thought this would be an easy gig."  

"Hold on," said Odd. "You might like to see this." He waved Amelia onward and made a shuffling run toward a fence that bordered the northern end of the GASP compound. Only, as Amelia approached, vaguely annoyed at the latest in a series of preventable delays, she realized that she hadn't seen the boundary for what it was. 

"Here's the worker pit," said Odd. "It has railings now, after John. We saved ten percent of the used canisters for months until we had enough vakar to build them. It came out of our wages, but here they are: bought and paid for." 

Amelia had expected something with the name "worker pit" to be little more than a hole in the ground. But as she peered over the railing (cautiously), she understood the magnitude of her error. The worker pit was a hundred-meter-deep hexagonal crater pierced, quite intentionally, she understood at once, into the earth, vast beyond reckoning. Even from the lip of the canyon, she could hear the muffled creak of shifting chitin below, where, through the sheer cliffs of glass that constituted the crater's walls, she caught her first glimpse of the colony's machinery. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)

Severin carried himself with a great deal of unease as he entered a bland and thoroughly-unremarkable building at the outskirts of the Sunrise Quarter in Chesterfield, which just so happened to be the headquarters of GASP, the Giant Ant Support Program. It was neither the ants, nor dealing with the GASP staff, that troubled him, but it was the fact that he had completely failed to show up for an appointment with one Miss Amelia Badiou yesterday. A short nap to refresh himself ahead of the intended meeting that evening had turned into a fitful sleep that stretched into the late hours of the night; once he realised that the evening has passed him by, his concerns and worries only grew like a looming storm over his mind.

'Aaaaagh! How am I supposed to face her after standing her up like that? Should I just hide in my room for a week and hope I don't run into her? But then... wait, we're both still assigned to the quest, and I'll have to work with her eventually. What's the best way to apologise? Or maybe, should I just flat out admit I overslept? No... she'll excoriate me! I haven't even met her and already I'm a failure! I'll never...'

That line of thought continued to course through Severin's mind well into the morning and beyond. He got absolutely no sleep that night.

At least now that he was at the GASP HQ, he hoped that delving into the problem of Chesterfield's ant colony and its queen might be, if nothing else, a useful distraction for the time being. Unfortunately, it only took a few minutes of conversation with the GASP bureaucrat that met with him to be reminded that Severin couldn't dance around his hang-ups about Miss Badiou if he was going to get to the bottom of the queen's hormone issues.

'...another one? Who in the world is sending you people? First this red-headed girl comes here asking about the queen, and now we've got a shifty-eyed, scrawny kid asking to look around here and there, all in the span of one morning. Have you ever been in an ant colony before, in the midst of hundreds - no, thousands of ants? Do you even know what you're getting yourself into? I wonder if you've heard about poor John; I told that lady about him, but she didn't look like she was dissuaded.'

Severin's thoughts were distracted by the mention of what was surely Miss Badiou, the only girl he knew (and in fact, the only other person) who took on the quest to help the queen of Chesterfield's ant colony with her hormone problems. His face gradually went blank as thoughts of the ant colony became mixed with his anxiety about the lady that he had stood up yesterday. The bureaucrat continued on, going into John's story in quite some detail, until he noticed the blank expression on Severin's face and took it for blithe insouciance.

'Am I boring you? You look ask if everything I've said to you flew past your head!' the bureaucrat said with just a hint of indignation in his voice.

'No, s-sir.' Severin blurted out, snapping out of his thoughts and his attention coming back to the man in front of him.

'I swear, you're just like that lady this morning; guess there's no stopping you too...' the man said, before letting out a sigh. 'I'll arrange for a feeder show you around. I hope you've understood everything I said.'

Severin merely nodded in silence as he struggled in his mind to recall everything that he was just told.

Edited by Pygmalion

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

"It's transparent vakar," said Odd, anticipating Amelia's question. "A Chesterfield original. The founder of GASP, Edmund Oscar Wilson, invented it. He also developed an odor-neutral variant, then sold both formulas to a mining company in Last Chance for a fortune. They're still our sole supplier. Before the collapse and Wilson's ban from civil service, the mining company supplied GASP with vakar at cost, which is what made the project affordable, even profitable. Understand: they were, and still are, making money hand over fist selling transparent vakar to hunting and poaching caravans. You need it if you're going to hunt the big game (and I mean you-don't-even-leave-your-gyroscopic-sphere big), which is where the real money is. With Wilson's help, the mining company had cornered an entire market, so they had a special relationship with GASP that ended the day the city fired Wilson for saving his workers' lives. I wonder if the members of the board would have done it if they'd realized how much money they stood to lose by doing so. 

"That's a lie," said Odd. "I don't wonder at all." He stretched his hands over the railing, palms open, as though he could hold between them the creaking colony that busied itself below. "Wilson was a genius. Ants, especially giant ants, are mostly blind. They depend on scent and their antennae to navigate. He built the transparent catwalks that transverse the pit from a specially cultivated strain of silveril, grown in soil saturated with sonical (types A and W) and auryl crystal powder in an unknown ratio. The metal absorbs some of the sonic energy of the ants' chitin-creak and converts it into vibrations in the catwalk that they can follow with their antennae to cross the pit without falling. He never sold the formula to anyone. Every administrative head of GASP since Wilson has started their workday with a prayer for the catwalks, since if they ever break, Wilson is the only one who knows how to repair them. You try explaining that to the board. 

"The worker pit functions by incentivizing certain behaviors in the ants and disincentivizing others. Ants, Wilson argued, cannot be domesticated, only controlled. The vakar cliffs, for instance, disincentivize climbing because the hooks the ants use to climb are damaged when they pierce the material (and they can pierce it, or any simple metal, easily). But ants don't feel pain; they don't suffer. They merely disprefer being damaged. So the vakar cliffs only disincentivize climbing; they don't prevent it, which John would have known if he'd passed the licensure exam on his own. Even though a solid foot of vakar lines the pit and more encloses the colony, the only thing that prevents any single ant from breaking through the barrier is mere disinclination. Even this railing is mostly symbolic." 

Here, the bright-eyed feeder tapped the railing with his right hand. Amelia shrunk from the edge of the pit while trying not to appear to do so. 

"Don't worry," said Odd. "You're not carrying ten faulty canisters of attack pheromone. They probably don't even know you're here. Even if they did, you're no threat to them. You might be food if they got hungry enough, but we keep them well fed. Each spring, druids repopulate the small forest at the bottom of the worker pit from the seeds produced by its previous iteration: another Wilson innovation. You can't see it from here, but there's a small lake at its center. Artificial, of course, but sourced from a clean, plentiful aquifer. Around the lake and throughout the forest, Wilson planted lupine, dandelion, and thistle he'd cultivated to extraordinary size and nectar production rate in the Great Pine Barrens. The strains are unique to the worker pit. From time to time, we'll find the body of a meta-botanist who decided to try her hand at corporate espionage down there. Then, of course, there's my job: the feeder." 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

"The worker pit sustains the colony without meaningfully taxing its resources," said Odd. "A worker, mandibles to stinger, measures about six feet. Its lifespan is three years. When one generation of workers dies, the next one eats them. The only exception is the queen, who lives fifteen years and births her replacement before dying. In this respect, giant ants diverge from their minuscule counterparts, whose queens fly from their anthills to reproduce abroad. The giant ant queen, however, breeds once a year (and you'll know it's time when you spot some wingers prowling the catwalks; don't worry, though, the ants are too heavy to fly). That's a feeder's only vacation. The colony so fiercely protects its young that our job becomes impossible. A feeder feeds the queen. The queen, Wilson discovered, is the key to the colony.

"It's too dangerous to try and reach the queen through the worker pit," said Odd. "The soldiers would kill you if you tried. Wilson built this place with transparent walls and see-through catwalks precisely because of the threat posed by a giant ant in its natural habitat: underground, where its chitin-creak echoes deceptively and its sense of smell and antennae yield an absolute advantage in the dark. He thought ants, which humans could only control, not domesticate, were too dangerous to be used for military purposes. But he'd already invented the pheromone canister by then, intended to halt the encroachment of giant ants on human homesteads in the Chesterfield countryside. Later, when the city convicted him of criminal negligence, he stated under oath that it was the only problem he had solved too well. The city had seized on the military applications of his invention and Wilson, determining that he was the only person who could attempt such a project without destroying the city, founded GASP with the understanding that the program would proceed under his direction, to his specification, and without bureaucratic interference.

"Wilson spent the next decade looking for an ant queen hatchling. The problem, you understand, was not merely one of geography, but also timing. Since a giant ant queen lives fifteen years and births her replacement before dying, you could find an active colony and still have to wait fourteen years before you had the opportunity to seize a hatchling. Wilson identified four colonies on the entire continent of Lagrimosa, each radiating from the ants' point of origin: the Great Pine Barrens. These, he surveilled constantly. He knew that removing an ant queen hatchling from her antknoll spelled doom for her colony, the destruction of which would disrupt the surrounding ecosystem, potentially irreparably. He also predicted that a fresh species of giant ant would emerge from the Barrens once every fifty years. 

"Still, he wrote in his memoir, when the day of the hatchling theft arrived, 'the larger part of [him] hoped the attempt would resolve only in the fact of our grim and miserable deaths.' Wilson brought close to a thousand fighting men with him onto the Zuhl Plateau. Of the three that returned, one went back to his home, kissed his children goodnight, and threw himself from the roof of the nearest building, one committed himself to the Gaian clergy and is now a well-respected diocese, and one was Edmund Oscar Wilson, who bore in his arms an ant queen hatchling which he fed nectar from a ladle. Both survivors have sworn to take the fate of the Zuhl Nine Hundred to their grave, but Wilson's hard and fast rule at GASP was, and still is: don't approach the queen from inside the worker pit."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

"Wilson returned and stove the worker pit, personally," said Odd. "Those present likened it to an act of Gaia. A team of engineer-alchemists layered the exterior with transparent vakar Wilson had already prepared for the occasion. Through manipulation of the young ant queen's pheromones, Wilson recruited a handful of worker ants from another colony to build the young queen a chamber in which to spend the rest of her life. The rest was a gradual modification, the results of which you can see before you now. Feeders take an elevator extending from the surface to the queen's chamber at the bottom of the pit. Because the elevator shaft is a direct route to the surface, Wilson argued, and endangerment of the queen such a provocation to the ants, mere vakar would not do. I'm not permitted to share the exact specifications of the shaft with non-feeders, but I can recommend that you never try to scale it, up or down. 

"We feed her deer carcasses. The herd we maintain topside is her private stock. Why? Well, Wilson discovered that, while all ants emit pheromones to some degree (which is how they communicate and disseminate the queen's imperatives), a queen ant's pheromones, which she produces at rates far higher than a worker, bear, for some reason even he couldn't explain, greater significance to other ants. He theorized that this might have something to do with motherhood, but he couldn't account for the effect of his ant queen hatchling's pheromones on members of another colony, which is how, after all, he found her first mate and thereby created a new species of giant ant. (Every giant ant you see below is a Chesterfield Ant; despite being a prolific inventor, Wilson never forced his name onto anything.) 

"Before entering the queen's chamber, a feeder injects a frozen deer carcass with alchemical substances that elicit specific pheromonal emissions from the queen: attack; soothing; distress; you name it. The chemical formulae of these substances are privileged information in Chesterfield. Even I don't know them. Specialized GASP alchemists prepare them topside, then we administer them below. Feeders gather and store the queen's pheromones in canisters and take them to the surface, where they are stored until such a time that GASP, or the Chesterfield board, deems their deployment necessary. Our job is dangerous: the only job that even management won't allow an unlicensed worker to attempt. We bathe in soothing pheromones before entering the queen's chamber, but it still isn't enough to keep her from emitting distress pheromones that attract soldiers to her defense. From the moment of our entry, we have roughly three minutes to feed the queen, milk her for hormones, and close the elevator doors. Sometimes, not even that long. We live and die by Wilson's elevator shaft, which every feeder calls "the Light." Had John been a feeder and not just a utility hire, nobody would have blinked at the news of his death. The board expects a couple of feeders to die each year. Structured compensation for their families is baked into the GASP budget. 

"Before the collapse, Wilson did all of the feeding," said Odd. "He was the one she knew. The man who fed her nectar from a ladle on her long journey home. It's just politics, I guess."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)

"Wilson once said that ants possess a better understanding of duty than humans do," said Odd. He turned away from the railing, then. "Because an ant's duty to its colony is absolute. It has no feelings on the matter. It could not refuse its queen's orders if it wanted to. But, more importantly, it would never want to. He said that this, not sheer reproductive capacity, was why there were ten billion billion ants and only a relative handful of people. He said that until we understood the truth of duty, humans could never domesticate ants, only control them. He also said most people had no hope of understanding it and so would settle for mere allegiance. All allegiance, he said, was self-allegiance.

"Everyone saw John with the faulty canisters and knew he was straying too close to the pit. We could have stopped him. Even in the end, when one of the worker ants, not even a soldier, grabbed him by the leg, there were a few seconds when we could have pulled him back, maybe. He'd have lost the leg, but there are spells for that. But the canisters had fallen on the ground around him, which meant that more ants would be on the way. So we—" 

Spoiler

Rolled a 1 (d2), 3 (d3), 2 (d4), 2 (d6), 10 (d10), 2 (d12), 3 (d20), 16 (d100)

Discernment: 1-5, Ignorance; 6-8, Inkling; 9-10, Understanding

"You kicked the canisters into the pit," said Amelia, as though reading the words from a book she had memorized as a child. "Past him. And you let it drag him down." The words sat heavy in the air. 

"But maybe it was his duty to die," said Odd. "For the good of the city, the colony. Maybe Wilson would have said—"

"That depends," said Amelia. "Was it a choice? The canisters or him? Or could it have been both?" 

Odd turned back to the railing and gripped it, his knuckles like a pulsing string of pearls. Amelia stepped forward to place her hips against the fence. She tilted her torso toward the pit, slightly. 

"Then I guess you have your answer," said Amelia, quietly. "Because John, whatever his faults, was part of the colony. Your duty included him. And if the queen, or the city, has any virtues whatsoever, they lie in her fidelity to this one truth, which she, unlike us (and it can be sad to be human, I know), finds inscribed inalterably in her anatomy. She alone knows the colony is not for the queen; the colony is for the colony through her." 

The gentle creaking of the ants endured with the force of silence. Amelia watched one ant slowly tap its way across a catwalk, its body suspended above the pit as though in the naked air. It looked, she thought, like a blind man probing a sidewalk with his cane. 

"But Wilson's wrong," said Amelia, "you know. Ants don't have a better understanding of duty than humans do, because ants don't understand a god-damned thing. They react. The queen doesn't know what she knows or doesn't know. I know next to nothing about giant ants, and nearly everything I do know I learned from you, but I'd imagine that a species that eats its dead probably doesn't experience a lot of grief when one of its members expires. And it certainly doesn't care about the degree of brutality involved in their death. It doesn't imagine their final thoughts, or fears, or simulate, with a sinking dread, their panic. 

"But you do," said Amelia. She spoke with a series of gentle nods. "We do. Right? Grief is a species of love. Love is the foundation of duty. And if Wilson domesticated an ant queen, it isn't because she taught him how to be dutiful. It's the other one, the one he taught her. The one that feels like spoon-fed nectar, you understand? You know which one I mean."

"I know which one you mean," said Odd. He bit his lip and stared across the worker pit. 

"You do," said Amelia. "By truth, by truth, you do." 

Edited by beak

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY & EXPOSITION

# Amelia is a woman about town. Specifically, she's a combat-capable ethics teacher who sees in Chesterfield a great potential for both good and evil and wants to nudge it towards the path of truth and virtue.

# Amelia stays in a hostel, gathers information using Crook terminals, registers for a job through one of the local pro-adventuring guilds, and puts out a social ping to turn her individual force into a group effort. The job is to find out who / how / why an ant queen's meal was tampered with to make her hormones go bonkers.

# Amelia begins her line of inquiry at the Giant Ant Support Program (GASP). Here she finds out that ants are farmed in part for Chesterfield defense, and that there is a functional grey market underpinning this aspect of the local economy.

# Amelia finds that GASP depends on Last Chance to ship odor-neutral vakar to handle the pheremone tanks. GASP makes most of its money selling used canisters to weaponsmiths who fashion the vakar into weapons to sell to poachers, with slim margins, as the money goes into buying more vakar. Most of the workers hire others to pass the licensing exam but management is too desperate for workers to cut them loose.

# Worker pit description:

Amelia had expected something with the name "worker pit" to be little more than a hole in the ground. But as she peered over the railing (cautiously), she understood the magnitude of her error. The worker pit was a hundred-meter-deep hexagonal crater pierced, quite intentionally, she understood at once, into the earth, vast beyond reckoning. Even from the lip of the canyon, she could hear the muffled creak of shifting chitin below, where, through the sheer cliffs of glass that constituted the crater's walls, she caught her first glimpse of the colony's machinery.

# GASP handling method:

Feeders inject frozen meat with alchemical substances to elicit specific pheromones from the queen. The formula is confidential information kept even from most GASP employees. Feeders bathe in soothing pheromones to keep the queen from distressing too much but it doesn't stop the queen from calling soldiers to form a line around her. From entry, feeders have approximately 3 minutes to feed the queen, milk her for hormones, and close the elevator doors.

# Dungeon Crawl Goal: Make it to the queen's chambers, secure the deer carcass, bring enough of it back intact for GASP and Chesterfield to study

EXmuB6E.png

Edited by supernal

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...