Ghost Town: A Story

Hello everyone!

For the first sneak peek of the next major update, we decided to tell you a story. Enjoy!

Abandoned but not empty

Barotrauma abandoned outpost interior

It was near the end of winter – not that seasons matter much here, of course, but it feels nice somehow to think that somewhere, around that time of year, winter would have been loosening its grip and the sun, with every passing day, making ever so slightly longer appearances in the sky – more years ago than I care to count, that I was given my first command. The vessel was hardly shiny and the crew not much brighter, but they were my responsibility, a sign of hard-earned recognition and trust: unforgiving as life can be on Europa, it was my job to make sure that we lived, and that if we did not, we would at least go quickly and cleanly.

Someone bigger than me believed that I could get that job done, and I was not about to disappoint. So, when a task was assigned – “carry some basic supplies to the town of Newellstead, a touch too far from civilization for any of the finer folk here, and see if you can’t figure out why no-one’s heard from the Newellsteadians for a while” – I wasted no time in getting preparations underway.

PING. The first notes of the sonar – on my ship, on our first mission! – rang softly like a shanty and my spirit soared at the sight of the dots on the display. Our destination may have been far-flung for the big station taxpayers, but it wasn’t very distant at all from where I grew up myself, so the road didn’t worry me. Our journey’s start was a little deeper in the sea, and I even briefly toyed with the notion of taking a side job and a downward detour to prove my capabilities. Captain Lee, the Abyss-farer.

Nay, captain Lee the cargo hauler. I had one job, and I’d see it done before I gazed into anything deeper than the mug of rum I’d have after a long day at the helm. The road was long and blissfully boring – we encountered only some spinelings and the odd raptor instead of any worms or charybdises, and my ship’s security officer proved a much better shot than he was a conversationalist – and we made good time. I could already feel the pat on my shoulder and the swelling of pride in my chest: Well done! No casualties. The paycheck would, in turn, surely warm the hands and hearts of my crew.

Barotrauma divers inside abandoned outpost

The outline of the docking bay of Newellstead that I’d seen on my sonar for some time then was slowly coming into view through the murky water outside the window… and that’s when the spring went out of my step, the pit of my stomach felt as though it fell five decks down, and I slowly lowered the pipe that I’d just been about to breathe deeply from.

See if you can’t figure out why no-one’s heard from the Newellsteadians for a while. The station manager back at Uusi-Turcu surely thought they’d just not cared to check in with the powers that be lately. Out-of-the-way hamlets like Newellstead were prime targets for all the “others” even back in the day, and while the Coalition didn’t like it then any more than they do now, there was little they could do to keep all the small town folk in line, since they couldn’t even keep them all safe. Which, to my dismay, was what looked to have happened at Newellstead.

“Captain Lee! Captain Lee!” the gunner yelled next to me, face pressed against the periscope. “This place looks bad!”

For once, I found no fault in what he was saying – the place really did look bad, like it had faced the end of days. The ocean only knew what had happened there. Insurrectionists? Wildlife? Clowns? My palms were suddenly sweating with uncertainty. Should we sail back, at breakhull speed, and alert the administration at Uusi-Turcu to send a stronger force? Our boat’s transmitters weren’t cut out for signaling for aid this far out. Should we go in and save whoever and whatever we could, while we still could? Captain Lee to the rescue. How I wished instead of foodstuff we’d been carrying a shipment of weapons!

Taking my chances practically bare-handed won out over returning home empty-handed, and if my crew had concerns, they didn’t voice them loudly enough for me to hear over the clicks and beeps of the docking mechanism. Once through the airlock, instead of the usual time-worn but tidy entryway one would expect of a small outpost on the frontier, we were greeted by darkness, interrupted only every here and there by flickering lights. The air felt damp and tasted like brine, seaweed and mold, as well as something else uncivilized that I couldn’t name at first breath. It must really have been some time since anyone on the outside had heard from the Newellsteadians.

“Captain Lee!”

“Pipe it down, will you!” I hissed back.

“No no, captain Lee! Look there!” the security officer continued and pointed.

Halfway out of view, we spied a figure. It sure looked like a person, moving about. A survivor! Captain Lee the life saver. Relief and excitement washed over me, and I started towards the poor soul in brisk strides. Man or woman, they soon heard me, turned to face me… and picked up what looked an awful lot like a half-eaten crawler tail. With the tail in tow, the stranger started towards us, yelling – almost snarling! – as they ran. Then we ran, too.

Barotrauma bodies inside abandoned outpost

A few hallways down, and a handful of swift turns that no-one could remember the direction of, the stranger seemed to have abandoned the chase. I took a deep breath and checked that everyone was still present and accounted for. They all seemed frayed, and the chief engineer in particular looked wild-eyed under the visor of her helmet. Suddenly I wished I had left half of them back in the safety of the sub. As things were, words of encouragement would have to suffice to shield them; I delivered some.

We were lost, and that fact was lost on no-one, even if we didn’t say it out loud. Newellstead wasn’t a big town, but neither was it laid out in any conveniently straight lines. There may have been signposts before, but they were either too dark to read or nowhere to be found. The mechanic claimed he had an inkling which way we should go, and with no competing ideas, we followed him. Dashing shadows, eerie cries and all manner of rustling appeared to follow us, in turn, mingling with the hissing and snapping of the sparse smatterings of lights that still struggled to stay on.

As it turned out, it wasn’t the airlock that the mechanic’s sense of direction led us to. After some more time, we found ourselves outside the station’s reactor compartment. The oddly primitive scent that permeated the whole place felt stronger there, and through the partly open reinforced steel door we heard… snarfling, and trampling, and snorting. Of course. Captain Lee the close-quarters raptor slayer was one thing I could not claim to be. I slapped my gunner on the shoulder and winked. His moment in the sun awaited!

What happened then… Well, they went quickly and cleanly. Aside from the radiation, that is, but that really just served to make sure the animals or the squatters wouldn’t return any time soon. The engineer’s madly glinting eyes were filled with a burning will to live, and by some miracle or simple desperation, she and I reached the submarine before it was too late. Back at Uusi-Turcu, she didn’t speak ill of me by any means, but neither did she sign up for my next mission, to clear out the mudraptor hunting grounds near the former town of Newellstead. Just as well; I requested several gunners instead.

The End

Abandoned outposts and related new missions will be included in the next Barotrauma update, currently planned for late April. Stay tuned!

Barotrauma mudraptors and abandoned outpost reactor

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