Nestled against a cliff face and mostly hidden behind large rock formations and a dense tree line, Accord Botanical Research Station Bravo, known more colloquially as “the Moisture Farm,” is one of the largest research stations still in operation in New Eden. It shows, too. Dozens of Accord Guards patrol the outpost in a never-wavering effort to keep this place, one of the last bastions of scientific research, safe from the advancing Chosen menace.
Moisture Farm is also one of the more practical outposts in New Eden. With fresh water (read: neither salt water or contaminated by the Melding) in such limited supply, leading Accord scientists devised new ways of drawing moisture from the ground and air that can then be purified, sealed, and shipped to all corners of New Eden. It’s this reason that the Accord has sent so much security to this seemingly remote place: to protect it from all enemies, whether they come from nature or from behind the curtain, at any cost.
Of course, I didn’t know this right away…
“So what are you doing out here,” asks Jakob, the wirey sniper who was kind enough to put a well-placed bullet into what I assume was the head of that Melding creature from earlier. “This isn’t exactly the safest place for a civilian.”
As I walk beside him up the dusty road, the gravel crunching under our feet is partially drowned out by the ever-uncomfortable squish I hear and feel inside my boots. In the minutes since I first met Jakob, the insect goop has had a chance to solidify and cool, turning the squishy remnants of the bug into a cold, somewhat sticky, and rather unpleasant-smelling coating of sludge that drenched my back, arms, and legs.
“Well,” I tell him as I walk with stretched legs. “I’m working my way north, towards Thump Dump. I saw on my map that there is supposed to be some kind of moisture farm near here, but I haven’t seen anything. I’m starting to think I’m lost.”
“Nah, you aren’t lost. But you would’ve passed right by it if I hadn’t saved your ass back there.”
“Is that a fact?”
Jakob gives me a bit of a knowingly snide smirk as we continue to walk. Ahead of us is a large metal platform, an obvious dropship landing pad. I point towards it.
“I would’ve missed that?”
“Do you know what that is?”
“Yeah,” I say rather-of-factly. “It’s a PLP: Personal Landing Platform. Judging by the extensions that have been welded to the sides, I’d say that you modified it for dropship use.”
Jakob stops walking and stares at me a moment, a brow clearly arched. He observes. “You’re not some local farmer who got himself lost, are you?”
“No, sir. I am not.” I proceed to explain who I am, and what I’m doing while walking across New Eden. I fear that since my first encounter with Remigio way back in Stonewall, my enthusiasm has been lost. As I’ve wandered, I’ve lost much of my enthusiasm for this series and, for only brief moments, I can see why those poor sods waiting for the Aegis are coming from. Sure, they’re waiting in vain for a ship that won’t arrive for years yet, but if holding out hope for a life raft off of this dying rock is what it takes to keep themselves sane, who am I to judge (The views expressed are those of Emmanuel Almas and do not reflect the views and opinions of his publisher – ED)?
We walk up the hill and around to the far side of the landing platform, where it is somewhat buried into the ascending earth. With the rumble in the distance of a dropship that is surely making its way here, Jakob and I walk up the step. As we climb up the stairs I can see the massive SIN tower standing directly ahead of us and behind it is no kind of farm that I’ve ever seen before. Steam is expelled from the bottom of a massive tank directly in front of us. Further inside, Accord guards – too many to count without actually pointing each one out and assigning a number – patrol the area.
“Wow,” I mumble.
Jakob turns and smiles, his hand reaching out to tap me on the shoulder. “Welcome to Moisture Farm, reporter. Come on – let’s get you cleaned up and settled in for the night.” The scout leads me through the camp, directly to the barracks. As we walk, I pass by a number of turbines that whir softly, though I hear a distinct sloshing coming from inside the large tanks.
“So I take it that this isn’t a farm,” I say, most obviously.
“That would be a safe assumption, yeah.” Jakob says with a chuckle. “This is a science outpost, technically, though we serve a far more practical purpose. But I’ll leave that for the Doctor to explain.”
“Dr. Kelley. He’s the one in charge around here. After we have you settled in for the night, I’ll hunt him down and inform him that you’d like to talk.”
“Well, I never said that-”
“You’re a reporter, right,” Jakob asks. I nod. “Yeah, you’ll want to talk to Dr. Kelley. I’ll try to find him before my shift ends. He, uh, can be a bit slippery sometimes.”
After another short stroll, I’m led inside a sterile barracks. Unlike many of the others I’ve seen, this one is damn near pristine. Freshly-pressed white sheets drape each of the identical twin-sized beds. Matte grey footlockers with steel accents shine under the white fluorescent lighting, and sitting on top of one of the beds is a simple blue and white jumpsuit.
“Showers are down the hall. Feel free to clean off, change into the clothes we’ve provided, and turn in for the night. If you need anything, shout and a patrol guard will swing by.”
Before I have the chance to say anything, Jakob has turned and started walking down the hall. I turn and eyeball the clothes for a minute. Well, I think to myself, may as well take advantage of their shower. I take the jumpsuit from the bed and make my way down the hall. I shower, brush my teeth, change into the clothes that were left for me, and eventually make my way back to my bed. The whole time I fail to see a single Accord scientist, researcher, soldier, or engineer. It’s a little off-putting, frankly, but I don’t complain. Instead I plop myself down on the freshly prepared bed, and after only a few moments I drift off into a wonderful abyss of nothing.
An abyss I’m quickly ripped from when I feel a cold, flat piece of metal tap against my head. My eyes squinting to help me adjust to the light, I flail an arm about to swat away the source of the tapping metal.
“What the hell,” I grumble half-coherently.
“Senior Chief Butcher said you wanted to see me,” replies a short, stocky man in a white lab coat with thick-rimmed glasses. “Let’s get this over with before something creeps up that I can’t get away from.”
“What, like an aranha nest or something?” My grogginess is helped by another thwack from what I can now make out as a metal clipboard. I may have let out an expletive or two.
“I don’t have time for pointless jibber-jabber. Do you have any real questions or can I call this a night and kick you out of my facility?”
“Your fac-” I stop myself mid-sentence. Thankfully. “You must be Doctor Ke-”
“Raymond Kelley. I’m in charge of Research Outpost Bravo, and you are wasting my time.”
“You’re not a very patient person, are you?”
“Not when it comes to journalists snooping around my station, no. So ask what you’re here to ask and then get the hell out.”
I sit up, rubbing my forehead and glaring at Dr. Kelley. I’m not a fan of his bedside manner.
“First of all,” I begin. “I wasn’t ‘snooping around’ Moisture Farm. I was escorted to this outpost, and in fact to this very room, by a man named Jakob.”
“Yes, Senior Chief Butcher. He told me he found you wandering around and brought you in to, quote, ‘clean you off’, whatever the hell that means.”
“It means I took a shower.”
“What is your problem?”
“You are my problem, reporter. Do you even know what it is we do here?”
“We’re an extraction and filtration facility. For brevity’s sake I’ll explain what that means before you ask. To use very basic terminology, we extract water from the air and out of the ground. We then purify that water so that it can be consumed by humans in New Eden.”
“So…” I try to wrap my head around things. “Wait, what? You’re a water treatment plant?”
“You seem confused. I’m not surprised.”
“I’m going by what you just told me.”
Kelley turns his torso and tosses his clipboard onto the bed behind him, then turns back to me. “Look,” he says. “I’m trying to be civil but my patience is waning. But for the sake of your competence, yes, we are a water treatment plant.”
“I don’t see why that would be a classified location.”
“Classified? We’re not classified; we’re just hard to see through the trees.”
I arch a brow.
He arches his in kind.
“So why, then, are you so uptight about everything if any ol’ bloke can stumble on you?”
“Because we provide a vital service to the Accord,” Kelley sits down on the bed across from me. “Think about it. Almost all of the naturally-found water in New Eden is undrinkable. If it isn’t salt water from the ocean its water that’s flowed into New Eden from that cloud.”
“But I thought the Accord said that water was not affected by the Melding.”
“They say that to ease the worries of the outliers – the remnants. Those people who refuse to settle in Copacabana or Sunken Harbor, or any of the other Accord-designated communities.” I go to object. Kelley continues. “Now before you say a damn thing, let me be clear – we don’t know that the Melding can transmit itself through water. But the Accord doesn’t want to take any chances. That, in short, is why this place exists.”
“In short,” I say, in some disbelief.
“Well, I have to ask how you manage to draw the water out of the air.”
Dr. Kelley smiles. I should’ve known right then that this wasn’t a good sign.
“That, reporter, is classified.” Kelley stands up, grabs his clipboard, and turns to walk away. “I’ll have a few guards escort you out.”
A few minutes pass before two men in Accord Assault battleframes walk in and escort me off of the base. Neither of them say a word or so much as look at anything other than me, who is a solid five paces in front of them and can feel their gaze burning through the back of my skull. After a few minutes I make it back to the road. I turn around and see the two of them standing on the dropship landing pad, staring at me through narrowed eyes.
It’s hard not to shudder.
I turn, and start making my way north. I still have a healthy way to go until I reach Thump Dump, but who knows – maybe it’ll be a nice, quiet, uneventful trek.
…who am I kidding…