003 - The Augurbox Expedition

Our humankind has bloated and collapsed many times, captured stars now faded from memory, settled and re-settled, rooting and then reaching, over and over. On the eonic timescale, I reckon we look like fickle nomads.

Tis a schoolroom tale, told with placid authority, sponged by us all in youth without much thought. But the truth is not so clean as that, as we come to grasp with age...or not. The map is stained, epochs lost to the creases. Cobbled from fragments.

Truth is we don’t know much of anything. And every several seasons, something leaps from the fog and reminds us of our collective imbecility.

I’ve crossed routes with more than a few peddlers of OLD WORLD TECH in my time. Their pitch is always the same. The ancients were far more advanced that we are now, yet their artifacts still live among us, scattered across the cosmos like droppings, waiting for their chosen host to bring their inert magic back to into the plane of the living.

I tend to breeze the hawkers ‘cause junk is junk, but their steel remains stropped despite my aged wisdom. The scam works. It works because, every once in a while, it’s true.

Dob Hessian dropped into the Scabbies way back when I was still wobbly and throwing chaff. This story is an old one, but comes by way of a survivor of the Hessian Crew, prattled in fragments from the slack jaw of the Bench crawler she’d become.

The Hessian Expedition was well-endowed for the time. Dob had some modest lineage with channels to pools that could finance his whimsy. Quipt with not one, but two gastros. A full hand of specialists...survivalists, geologists, and the like.

And Dob was captain, hungry for Coe-Kopum deposits he had convinced both financiers and crew lay copious beneath the sediment. Skarem was a fountain of wealth and they would helm the spigot, so he said.

But Dob also pakt a rare piece of kit, held close and clamped like a nursing pran. For Dob’s eyes and fingers only, clacking the keys with wary glances. We know now, his precious piece was THE AUGURBOX. And only after they were well unchocked did he let slip that this Old World device held the power to pinpoint their treasure in the vast, convoluted wastes of Skarem.

They dropped right atop the edge of Iris as most crews do, taking on fresh water and whatever their gastros could forage in jungle. Dob would then consult with the Augurbox in solitude, plotting their course in concert with a machine.

Only took one cycle for the scrapes to pile up. The geologist, upon scoping the terrain that lay in their way, took issue with Dob’s optimistic portrait of the mission. Harsh whispers flew back and forth and resulted in the geo attempting to flee back to the jungle. But he was captured and bound, held tight as a crude lesson of the importance of crew cohesion.

Deeper and deeper into the wavery heat they trekked and their geologist’s traitorous wisdom soon proved prescient. Gruel and strain is no stranger in The Fringe, but the Scablands scrape at you a little more furiously than the rest. Dissent began to brew, borne of suffering.

Now suffering is one and swell if there’s the scent of bounty, but the core samples offered no hope and the water supply waned. The gastros struggled, confounded by the environ and squeezed by Dob’s insistent pace which grew more feverish by the cycle. Perhaps the tip that permitted them to crawl as far as they did was the happenstance discovery of Juicebox rodents and their fluid-filled bellies.

The chant flows that every cycle come campset, Dob would scuttle away with his precious box, leaving his crew to fester while he communed with the oracle. Atop all the pressures he allowed his crew to endure, this might’ve been the glaze that set the whole gang alight.

During one of Dob’s sessions, he was heard yelling. By account of our gastro-orater, she’d had enough of the shroud and snuck to spy her captain’s chatter. What she heard was spark to tinder.

Metaphorically prostrate afore the electro-creature, the captain was pleading. Begging for intel. And not just over coordinates and timescales, but - most surprising of all - over the contents of their pillage. No mention of the promised Coe-Kopum. That was a ruse. Dob instead begged for the Augurbox to reveal what the promised treasure might be. He didn’t know. And this whole toilsome errand was on behalf of the cryptic crunching of an age-addled computer.

The young gastro brought this back to the crew and as a testament to their fiber, the ensuing confrontation remained civil. He rebuffed them at first, but soon realized he no longer commanded any sort of loyalty. Then he started begging. ▾ ▾ ▾

He had encountered The Augurbox on a pilgrimage to the temple of the Hindlands on Beshtala. Some monk was hawking tickets to ask the device questions. Dob was so taken by the experience that he offered to buy it outright. Only after an offer of the bulk of Dob’s family fortune did the monk concede and the box was clamped. The way Dob spoke, it was as if the machine had chosen him for this mission, the desperate gloss of higher purpose shining through his eyes. No, there was no Coe-Kopum in the Scablands, but that didn’t matter. The treasure they were seeking was far greater, or so he insisted. He chanted wild of ancient relics, Old World artifacture brought back to life. Priceless. But when pressed for specificity, all he had in turn was lofty apologetics to the fidelity of his pet.

The fact that they slept that night without so much as a stake thrown is a miracle in itself, but come wake time, their marksman and pilot were absentee. They executed their escape with more savvy than the geologist and could not be tracked, not that Dob’s muscle would be so inclined at this point anyways. My gastro friend demanded to speak to the Augurbox itself and with the unanimous and glareful support of the crew, Dob conceded.

The Augurbox gave her no satisfying answers. She resorted to threats. The box closed up.

The inevitable mutiny was simple enough. The entire party decided to head back while they had enough Juiceboxes in sack daisy-chain their way back to the Iris. Dob cursed them. He even fired a couple shots at them wildly as they left, though it’d be a stretch to assume he intended them to strike meat. He was last seen at a great distance hefting the Augurbox himself, dragging them both deeper into the heat.

This story is an old one. Could have easily lost it in my own brain haze had the name AUGURBOX not rang out once again and cracked the gears from their crust. The ancient computer has resurfaced.

It now lives in the pocket of the increasingly famous Loot Eater, probably one of the only Drifters capable of going hard enough in the Scabbies to intersect Dob’s deadly trail and find the thing. What I’ve heard is that the box - as seems to be its wont - has spurned her. Whatever mechanical intelligence lies in that thing has decided our species too fickle a collaborator to execute its aims and it’s gone quiet. Might be the clearest take yet? I get the feeling its intentions may outlive us all.