Arion, Episode 102: The Lone and Level Sands


“Once you have pulled the pin, Mr Grenade is no longer your friend.” – Anon.
Noricum, 1106 Week 17

World encounter: 24. Encounter with local wildlife.

Showing Team Dolphin the sights was less exciting than anyone expected; a succession of comments such as “now, this six kilometre wide radioactive crater marks the site of the Emperor’s summer palace, where he kept his collection of racing yachts – and this lump of corroded metal might be part of one of them, who knows? Don’t touch it, it’s probably toxic…”

By the same token, leaving them is easier than expected. Muhsteyjen explains she has a pilgrimage to make, a visit to a religious site. (“Another crater, I expect,” Cori mutters.) She will make her own way home to Blue, she says. Where the Dolphin and her crew go next, she does not know and does not really care. Her path lies elsewhere.

She marches purposefully into the badlands, with a map from the Dolphin‘s aerial reconnaissance drone and a toxin detector to look after her. Her mission can be accomplished just as easily at any former Empire facility, but it feels fitting to use the Empire’s old virus research labs; in a way, paying her respects to the scientists who kept trying to find cures until the bombs took them as well. Not really a religious location, but how are Arion and the others to know that? Only a few of the Cult of Sindal have memorised the coordinates, there are no maps from the period left, and one crater looks much like another.

On the second day, she finds an abandoned farm, now being used as a nest by predators, and is forced to use several rounds of irreplaceable ammunition to disperse them. She relies on traps to keep them at bay overnight. Not far now; a couple of kilometres to the edge of the farmlands, and she neither needs nor wants to get closer than the berms marking the edge of habitable land. Her rifle scope reveals bones whitening further in; the remains of farmers who turned forty and walked into the blighted region to repair the berms until the viruses killed them. A strong man can last a tenday, she has heard.

Muhsteyjen moves up as close as she dares to the nearest berm, and pulls out a grenade she’s carried since Blue, containing bacterial and viral cultures she went all the way to Collace to find. She hefts it for a moment, looking at it carefully; then hurls it as far as she can into the badlands. There is a curiously gentle explosion on impact, spraying the cultures in all directions. Maybe they will counteract the tailored viruses that brought down Noricum and the Sindalian Empire two millennia ago, and allow the wounded planet to heal; that’s what the lab on Collace was hoping, but by the time they completed their research, the Empire had fallen and they were cut off. They did all they could, and she has done all she can, and all she promised; now her part in this is over.

She stands gazing at where the grenade fell for a long time; there is no need for urgency, now. Then, she turns, tugs her rifle higher on her shoulder, and starts back toward the starport.


GM Notes

The idea for the grenade comes from the earthenware flower grenades that used to be available; you were meant to throw them into abandoned ground as you drove past to brighten the place up – the earthenware smashes open on impact, releasing a mixture of seeds and compost that produce flowers when rained on.

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