Tex pored over the map data that Mator had provided, not for the first time feeling like Sova was a far different place than it had been in his scrambled memories. Life was harder than ever before, something that the long-dead Mongolic Coyn could scarcely have believed was possible. Rat-poaching meant virtual Lumpen status, starving workers were abducting exmachina, and now Champions were being called out as Voidbringers.
The map data only reinforced his concern. Ixut, as one of the major patropoli of Sova, had always been well-connected to the matropolis of Imtu by tram lines and scrupulously-patrolled side-shafts between the boreholes. Closer in, the sprawling Exurbs of Greater Ixut had boasted docking facilities for cargo and personnel transit. However, in the long aftermath of the Elemental War, many tram lines have failed, and the once well-kept tunnels fell into disuse.
Security concerns would be many. Hostile exmachina. Temperature fluctuations from passing near the boreholes. Desperate Tunnel Folk on the way in, and desperate citizens of the exurbs after arrival. Whatever strange effects Dead Ixut might unleash on an investigatory mission. And whatever political tricks and betrayals might be waiting for the Assembly once they got back.
Tex walked out of his room, down the corridor, until he found an exterior access hatch. He popped the seal, slipped outside, and closed the door behind him. After minutes of climbing and swinging up the side of other residential blocks, he found a nice perch from which to watch Imtu’s dancing lights. He unslung his portable theremin, plugged it into a port on his arm, and began to play a lilting tune.
“Now,” he said out loud, “I may not be the brains of this Assembly, but even I can see that this mission is vital. The Maker may be dying, but I’d wager that Sova is dying even faster. Lord Domadomod, being a Divine Minister and all, probably has all sorts of plans up his holy sleeve to save the Maker in case we fail. But, Sova just has us.”
He used his thumbnail to scratch out a rough image in the grime on the metal plate beside him. Five gear-haloed stick figures in the center, dozens of smaller stick figures off to one side, and on the other side a crude multi-legged gremlin that took up a third of the image. He stared morosely at the picture for a few minutes, his theremin moaning hauntingly.
“Its a right mess we’re in.” Tex looked up, letting his eyes wander the mural-cylinders above and below, seeking inspiration. There, less than a quarter-mile away, was the stoic face of Stern Whip of Industry, exhorting the Populat to keep up hope and work harder.
“Well shoot! I’m a Sovan, aren’t I? I’m a Champion of God and State, aren’t I? Just you watch, Lord, we’ll save our Nation, we’ll save the Great Maker! And everyone will remember that Sova is the greatest.” He unplugged and folded the theremin away, then dove headfirst off his perch, using short bursts from his tether beam to slow and guide his descent.