After a solid workout and lots of friendly conversation, the four of them walked about the stronghold, showing Terna the facility and talking about its history.
“From what I’ve been told, this was a hobb holdout from the city.” Zell said. “People who refused to leave when the rest of them did. They struggled to survive, but unlike your people, Terna, they accepted the new system and dealt with it, selling its salvage for morties.”
Terna frowned. Such weakness only encouraged the BuyMort.
“Yeah, whatever,” Crawley said, reading her face. “It’s a system. A tool. It does what it’s told. It’s people who are the demons.”
Horta cackled. “Yeah, tell that to my fellow grimms. If you can find any.”
Terna studied his face, searching for anger. But mostly what she saw was slouch-backed resignation.
“Anyways,” Zell said, reclaiming the narrative, “the hobbs here struggled, and sold, and died, and sold, and mated and sold. And when enough life had passed and enough had been sold, they took this refuge of theirs, a simple sewer-management and treatment facility and they used BuyMort to transform it into a wonderfully stocked, clean and mighty underground vault.”
Terna looked about at the walls, ceiling, floors. There were lights everywhere, so many apartments and conveniences.
Conveniences like film.
“All-in-all these city hobbs, my ancestors, put together a community capable of holding over one-thousand individuals. Their Wizneiber affiliate did well, especially for those old days, building up enough for multiple recreational centers, a library, a fully underground vat-based vegetable and fruit farm, meat-replication printers . . .” Zell paused, obviosuly unsure as to where to go with her dialogue. “Lots of stuff. Half of which you might not know anything about. But I have an idea of where to go to next.”
“The garage,” Horta laughed excitedly. “The oil and the engines are awesome to tinker with.”
They made their way down a series of hallways, passing dozens of people. It seemed that the community was mostly humans and hobbs, but the occasional other stuck out among them as well.
Terna felt curious about them and wondered what about this place would bring such a being away from its own kind and into this tribe.
Affiliate, she corrected herself mentally, spitting the BuyMort word through the neurons of her mind. If she was going to be in this world she would have to use the right words. At least for now.
Exiting the long network of passageways, the chatty group pushed through a series of double doors and entered into a vast parking garage. All around them were painted lines and rectangles, inside which sat an array of cars and automobiles. And in the exact center of the place there sat a massive elevator, a gridwork of steel and other unknown alloys. Through it she could glimpse even more parking lot . . . and also a large, perhaps 120 ton tank. It was an armored behemoth that looked to be a mix of hardened plastics and metallic alloys.
The Next Generation of Aeramo-Grade Tanks features a Grade III fusion core, electronic shielding, audio-absorbing plasti-atomic plates, condensed steel alloys and an assortment of energy, plasma, and ballistic round choices.
Aeramo-Grade Armor, Aeramo-Grade Death. Credit Level 90? Ask about our extended loan guarantee. 6,000,000,000 morties. 4.9 stars.
She narrowed her eyes at the thing and tried to imagine what it could have done for her village. Then she cast her gaze over to Zell, who was watching her expectedly.
Grudgingly, she understood why some of the hobbs might have needed to use the BuyMort. It must have shown in her face, because Zell smiled, then turned away, gesturing to the garage.
“Welcome to the Wizneiber Motorpool. We’ve got cars, jeeps, motorcycles, armored personnel carriers and, yes, an armored fighting vehicle. An ass-ton of firepower should we ever need to use it.”
She stared at it all, watching as Horta jumped on a bike and clicked it on. It whirred to life, mostly silent, exuding the refreshingly humid smell of thunderstorms.
“A lot of what you see here is self-contained on fuel. Solar. Rads. Fusion. As much as possible the affiliate has stayed self-sufficient and hidden.”
Besides the vehicles she saw that one section of the garage contained pegboards and a variety of tools, the shapes of which were stenciled into the boards behind them as a way to keep things organized. There were metal benches, with drawers slotted into them, and plastic-looking closets were set kitty-corner to each of the work stations.
And there was one large semi-transparent vat that was shaped like a glass orb. It glugged, full of an unknown substance.
Terna raised an eyebrow. That must have been the fuel that wasn’t self-contained.
“The motorbikes are what we use most,” Crawley said, butting in. “They make for good insertion. Like where we went to get you and yours. Don’t have to worry about terrain much. Rides up and down mountains of pretty steep grades, and you don’t get caught on trees or rocks at all.”
“I want to see the tank,” Terna said.
The three of them looked at her.
“I want to know how it works. I want to know what it can do.”
Zell opened her mouth and Crawley nudged her with his elbow.
“Yeah, let’s go see the tank. It’s the prize of our motor fleet, and it more than anything else here is our guarantee that so long as you stay with us, you will be safe.”
They moved through the parking lot and crowded into the elevator. It shined with constant cleaning, a far cry from the few that Terna had experienced before. She saw that there were three buttons on its pad. Zell reached out and depressed the second of them, and the elevator cage swiftly descended to it.
“What is the third level?” Terna asked.
“Emergency exit,” Horta said. “Good for keeping our asses if we ever get into a tussle with a big affiliate.”
Terna noticed that he was staring at Crawley when he said it.
“Bigger than the entirety of BuyMort?” Crawley asked. The grimm chuckled.
“For your information,” Zell said, “that level is one of the most important in the entire facility. Matter-transformation units, freezers, water sanitizers, air-recyclers, and our facility’s triad of Deramark fusion reactors are all down there. We’d be dead without it.”
Horta shrugged and looked Terna dead in the eyes. “All I know is all I need to know. Affiliate goes boom, everyone runs there.”
The elevator settled and its doors opened. This level was just as big and organized as the first, but most of its parking spades were empty. Nonetheless the same set of workstations lined the walls, ready and stocked, waiting for repair. Terna marveled at the set-up. It seemed like between the top and bottom levels a full 20 vehicles could be serviced and sent back to action if ever this base were to come to war.
Their tribe had had a gas motorbike, a truck, and an old cranky battle tank that refused to move about 10 km an hour. And their repair system for all three was an old hobb named Ghang, and his apprentice Ford.
When a vehicle went out, it stayed out for weeks and sometimes months at a time.
“My idea,” Crawley said, smiling. “Got it from a battle readout from one of the Earths. There was this hostile takeover happening, one affiliate battling another, and the one that was getting attacked, well, it happened to sell vehicles and also repair services. So they had a lot of workers, they just started sending out waves of vehicle attacks. And dragging them back and fixing them whenever any of them got too damaged to fight. A month of that, and the other affiliate gave up. Nearly went bankrupt!”
Zell nodded. “For a lot of the affiliates, the morties is their weak spot. If you can keep fielding your stuff for cheap, and they can’t, wave attacks can be a winning formula.”
Terna’s eyes widened. “But what about the vehicle crews?”
Horta cackled. Zell and Crawley looked uneasy.
“It’s the NoMort thing. Different mindset,” Crawley said, putting an arm around Zell’s shoulders.
Zell nodded, looking guilty.
“Storage,” Horta croaked, still laughing. “You pull a bunch of dips up from Storage, tell them if they survive they can stay with the affiliate. Unlimited soldiers.”
Terna shuddered. If she understood it right, for such battles they would lure in the most desperate and hire them as soldiers with the promise of a nice apartment and food afterwards.
It didn’t make sense. She felt that she had learned a lot about these people in the last 24 hours and such depravity didn’t fit their style.
“Why wouldn’t you invite them all in before battle? There is so much here! Can’t you invite in all of them and everyone can work together as a tribe?”
Zell sighed. “I wish we could. It’s just —”
“It isn’t realistic. We’d bankrupt ourselves, drive up our interior costs too much, make our product exports too expensive and non-competitive. It would destroy our bottom-line.
Emergency Credit Available on Demand! an ad shouted in her ear. She dismissed it.
“Fine. I don’t understand. You brought me around to show me everything and keep me entertained, right? To win me over? Then let’s see this tank,” she said.
Terna grimaced, realizing that she’d allowed her anger at all of this BuyMort to seep through and that she was acting like an entitled dick.
“I’m sorry,” she sighed. “I would just feel better if I knew more about the military of your people. Everything we had was trash, all leftovers from the time before. And now that my village is gone . . . I just want to know that this village won’t be gone soon as well.”
Eyes softened all around.
“These people here, Terna, they’re tough cookies. It’s why I’m here. Tired of being on the losing side,” Horta said.
“Come on, Terna, let’s head on in. Not only can the tank’s AI-assistant run you down on all of its systems and capabilities. It can run a wonderfully realistic simulation of a battle as well.”