"I only seen her the once, and it was from a fair bit away. All clad in black armor, with a kinda long cape-thing, but nothing as spooky as that robe of shadows or whatever the Shibboleth wears. She's some kinda psychic warrior or something, apparently wields one of them mind-blades like the cyber-knights do, but more like a whip, I guess. She's not as outright mean as Cassius, but liable to cut off a man's head if he steps outta line."
The trimadore laughs as Silver nudges him to be on his way while the others are still trying to coordinate a meet-up later.
"Silver here's got my number. Shouldn't be any problem making my run from Springer to Laughlin then getting back to Marron in that five-day window. Then we can see what we'll see, as far as the Blue Hand goes. 'Til then, good luck, and thanks again for the nukes!" With a rumble, the raptor-legged Gunwolf rises and heads southwest, into the desert.
As Toto disappears to the south, the group loads back into the Sky Siren -- now weighted down with looted munitions -- and heads west. Sir Keegan's patchwork digital map proves accurate enough, and before long the COT stands on a high rise, gazing down at the town of Marron below.
Built against a rocky hillside, the town is basically a walled fort, with towers and other structures built along the wall, surrounding more traditional buildings that include a saloon and mercantile exchange, as well as greenhouses, a small stockyard and several large warehouse buildings. The residential structures appear to be mostly prefab, squat boxes, with open patios and canvas pavilions connecting or adding on to the homes.
Here are there, the tall, willowy people of Marron can be seen moving around, their pale skin exposed to the sun and seeming to glow with a golden light. You don't see any obvious guards, but with the aid of farsight, Kim is able to spot some mechanized security measures - a handful of turret-mounted railguns and mini-missile launchers, patched into a surveillance network that makes use of repurposed skelebot parts. Robot torsos and skulls hang from the walls like macabre trophies, connected by fiber-optic cable to form a camera network with eyes scanning in all directions.
Scanning with the Sky Siren's sensors doesn't add much useful information - the entire town, or at least the parts of it within a dozen yards of the residents, suffers from weird interference that mucks up radar and other tech. Some sort of nuclear electromagnetic radiation seems to be to blame - if Keegan's description of the Marron D-bees' diet was correct, it could be some byproduct of the townsfolks' radiation-based metabolism.
Orrin's critter friend is able to fill in some of the blanks. The D-bee residents of Marron tend to rise with the sun, with women, children and the elderly working outside or in the greenhouses in the morning and afternoon. The able-bodied men instead head into the largest warehouse, next to the hillside, and don't emerge until nightfall. Glowing brightly in the darkness, they head to the communal dining hall to meet with their families and share the radiation absorbed below.
The Blue Hand raiders, meanwhile, don't seem particularly intent on keeping a close watch, on the residents or the outside world. They appear to be bunking for the most part in a reinforced vehicle depot next to the large warehouse, moving between there and the mercantile and saloon buildings for meals and recreation. They rise late and stay up drinking into the night for the most part, taking breaks to practice shooting or to harass some of the townsfolk.
Using his psychic sight, Rill is able to slip in for an even closer look - one that reveals the reason for the seemingly lax defensive measures. Of the women and children in the compound, a full quarter wear collars or belts rigged with small explosive charges, which appear to be linked in some way to handsets carried by their Blue Hand captors. Any time one of the residents appears ready to rebel or disregard orders, their tormentors hold up the controls in a threatening manner.
COME ON IN
A minute or two later, a couple of the Blue Hand reavers head to the main gate, which swings slowly open ...