[Editor’s note: this is a guest post giving an account of another downtime, played by Bart, who is responsible for our hacker, Ghost.]
After loading in the loot from their latest gig, the hacker Ghost and kid mechanic Tail have separated from their companions to bring the stuff to their hideout quickly and are preparing to launch a whaler they found at the bottom of the facility, to get away from the reinforcements coming from above, which their friends are currently keeping occupied.
The bulky machine actually resembles a whale. The tail ends in two rotors, and the sides of the machine contain two hover engines that seem to double as rotors. The cockpit gives a distinct vibe of the head of a killer whale. Whalers are a type of semi-hover crafts that were really common in New Horizon before the Crash. They are really slow and hard to manoeuvre in the air and can’t fly very high, but they are supposed to be airtight and capable of operating underwater. Goldfish hunters sometime use them to seek out the big mutant fish schools underwater and report their current location to others who will swim down with tougher vehicles.
The whaler sits next to a shaft that goes down into New Horizon as far as the eye can see. A walkway spirals around the shaft, but even that eventually vanishes into the distance.
Tail finishes working on the Whaler and closes everything up. He watches as the kids are being dragged in and placed inside the whaler. He looks at them confused, as he tries to talk them. Then a bit annoyed when they dont answer. Then he just ignores them. After everything is loaded, Tail goes in and starts the Whaler, warming it for take-off. The thing coughs to live, its thrusters taking a few tries to come alive. “We good!” You hear Tails voice from the cockpit. The machine takes quite a while to take to the air. The weight of the loot is being hard on the ship, so Ghost slowly lowers her down into the rabbit hole. He can hear the sounds of shots being fired coming from upstairs, and he hopes the rest of the team is alright.
Tail seems to be very excited about the ship. He is monkeying around, pressing and tinkering around with stuff and generally making sure the ship stays up.
They start their slow descent down the shaft, seeing an infinite number of tunnels cross it as they slowly drop down and down. After 10 minutes of steady descent, there is still nothing on the radar that gives any indication of the shaft ending anytime soon.
It feels like a kind of time travel to them, staring out of the windows. At the upper levels, they see recent buildings and abandoned cars from the age of the crash, then as they go further down, they see less damaged but much older buildings. After a while they notice a change in the whole layout, and Ghost figures they must’ve crossed into the docks. The only light remaining here is some scattered remnants of machinery and city that are still powered by a quirk of fate, and the light of the whaler’s powerful spotlights.
The shaft widens and in the distance they hear the husks of old machinery. Probably factories, utility docks and the huge -now abandoned- railways that Titan Corp used to move its massive trains around the belly of New Horizon. It is terribly quiet, and still the radar detect no movement except debris that from time to time falls from the upper levels, probably disturbed by the little life that remains down here, but possibly just because the structure is old enough to get instable. Those drops are followed by little tremors as if a huge metallic beast is snoring down here.
Ghost slowly steers the whaler further down, weaving around and between machinery and vents as necessary. “I wonder how far down this goes…” He says while glancing up.
“What was originally up there that required access to this… pit?” he wonders aloud.
As they drop down further, he soaks in the silence, and unconsciously sends out a ping through the husk to see if a part of it is actually alive down here. Somewhat to his surprise, there are actually some scattered responses.
“Kinda looks like the big shafts in between districts no? Weird that it is in the middle of everything!” says Tails from the back of the whaler.
Ghost can’t do anything but nod, “Indeed”, he’s obviously impressed by the fact that this shaft is here, in the middle of the city. They keep going down.
“Are we ever going to get anywhere?!” says Tail, getting frustrated with the ceaseless monotony of the descent.
Ghost shakes his head, and wonders about that himself as he stares through the window, trying carefully to avoid any objects in the way. A few beads of sweat form on his face from the ceaseless concentration.
When the amount of debris decreases a bit, Ghost slows the descent and tries to connect to the net to download anything that would remotely resemble a map of this place. Something tells him the infrastructure to connect to the husk will only get worse as they continue their journey. He suddenly regrets not moving the ERHAS (Extreme Range Husk Aligned Scanner) they had in their normal transport over to the whaler. He downloads as much information as he can while they journey down the rabbit hole.
After 40 minutes of slowly making their way down, the scenery changes again. “Wooow” Tails exclaims, as they leave what was probably the Docks and enter the Pit. There is no technology or docks anymore, just massive structures of concrete, and darkness. All light is gone, and the only light remaining is what the whaler’s beams give off, but that play of light creates an awesome spectacle. Everything is wet and slimy, reflecting the light. They suddenly make out what have to be the corpses of REALLY old buildings hidden in the darkness. They must be hundreds of years old by the looks of their husks and lack of the usual steel. Ghost lets out a low whistle in appreciation. He looks a tail “These buildings really are ridiculously old. Have you ever seen something like this before?”
Tail just shakes his head, staring outside.
It takes them about 20 minutes longer before they eventually reach the bottom. The whaler sets down on a concrete base, amidst the rubble. There are odd concrete pathways with dotted white lines, and at some places in the rubble there even seems to be some rotted wood. The diameter of the tunnel at this point is still over 50 meters, but even with their spotlights they can only see about 10 meters into the distance. Dozens of tunnels and paths are going everywhere. Some should lead to the waterline, but they are not sure. Ghost tries to compile all the maps he got on the journey down into something intelligible. He was expecting the concrete floor, the maps show that there used to be a “deck” here, or what people from decades ago thought of as a deck in their simple minds.
The maps show a vast and complicated network of old streets that could make anyone lose it, after showing the map to Tail they figure their best chance is to try and find a way further down, to sea level. That way they’ll have to deal with less structures getting in the way. Only debris and the massive columns that support the district, for which it should be easy to figure out where they are. After that it is pretty much simply sailing northwards. It takes a few tries to find the correct tunnel. Many of the routes on the map have been blocked by fallen debris piles, or things were built in the spaces where shafts used to be. In other cases, the maps are just plain wrong.
Half an hour later they find something, the place used to be a kind of dock, were ships that only travelled in the water used to stop (they have difficulty imagining that, and spend a few minutes trying to figure out how that would’ve worked). The surface here is inclined and broken, a big depression, and further ahead, only slightly illuminated, but visible because it reflects the light from the spotlights, they see it: water.
Ghost does a double check on the lights, before manoeuvring the vehicle forward to the waterline. They can now clearly see the water and all the rubble it contains. The water seems to fill some kind of huge channel about 100 meters wide that runs out through what looks to be an equally huge tunnel. It’s impossible to see how deep the water is, but it certainly seems deep enough to hold the whaler.
Ghost looks at Tail “Do I do anything special here? I have plenty of experience with AV’s, but not with AV’s underwater.”
“Aaah.. “ tails hesitates looking at the dashboard and pressing some buttons.
Ghost just looks on for a while, looking kind of sceptical. Tail seems to be pressing buttons at random, but suddenly the Whaler twitches, and locks come down over the places that were previously open and the air seems to change a bit, a slight hissing is heard from somewhere back in the cargo hold.
A red sign on top of the dashboard suddenly flashes on: “AIRTIGHT”
“We good tank man!” Tails happily exclaims, completely oblivious to the doubtful stare Ghost gives him.
Eventually he shrugs though and positions the whaler above the water.
“Well, let’s do this then” he says as if commanding himself, and he slowly lowers the vehicle into the water. When it seems about completely underwater, Ghost stops the whaler and stands up to take a walk around the inside of the thing. After satisfying himself that water is not pouring into their transport somewhere, he returns to the cockpit and starts moving again. The Whaler slowly glides into the water, reaching the bottom and finding that it is slightly inclined they follow it downwards. They can feel the resistance of the water, as soon as the machine is submerged the thrusters falter for a bit and seem to switch into underwater mode. Making a sound not unlike some of the huge fans running up on the higher levels of New Horizon. As they go down, the hull moans a bit, which freaks them out, but it otherwise seems to hold fine.
Ghost slowly releases the breath he had been holding “Apparently she works fine.” He briefly wonders how the others are doing, then realizes that there is no possible way to know and travels onwards.
He sends out a ping again to the husk surrounding him, but if the husk even exists here it remains as silent as the grave.
The whaler moves slightly faster underwater, but the going is slow because they have difficulty keeping their bearings and have to watch out for obstacles in the dark muddy waters. They see all kinds of strange fish swimming about. After some travel they see lights ahead, as they get closer they notice it’s a school of fish that have small luminescent bodies that quickly flash their bodies when the whaler comes close and rapidly shoot away, the school moves in crazy patterns, which are quite confusing but also very pretty with the greenish blue background.
Their lights turn off suddenly and they disperse, after a few moments, the school come back to life a few meters away in a more relaxed state and they slowly swim away.
Ghost keeps going steadily northwards, based on the maps, they should now be nearing the border between D68 and D73.
As they get closer to the border they see another school of the glow fishes, this time they are swimming forward ahead of the whaler, swinging smoothly from left to right. For a moment Ghost entertains the idea that the fishes are guiding them. It’s quite entrancing and Tail is all smiles.
“Oooh!!!” Tail says grinning wide. The radar beeps and when Ghost checks it, he sees movement up ahead. It is something very confusing, the radar is detecting hundreds of ships slowly moving in on them up ahead.
“Umm…” Ghost stares at the radar feeling suddenly uncomfortable in this metal hulk surrounded by millions of gallons of water. He drops the whaler down to the bottom of the tunnel, setting it down on the base of it, sinking away slightly in some kind of muck. He kills all the lights and the engine, then stares through the window with Tail, in the direction the ships were coming from, to see what the hell that can possibly be.
His hand is hovering over the ignite button, and shaking.
It is too dark to see much outside, the only light being the dim bluish light coming from the glow-fishes. Without radar they can’t tell how close the “ships” are, but Ghost thinks he had a good idea of how far they were. It shouldn’t be too long. The glow fish are swaying left and right and suddenly they see something strange. At first it seems like a shadowy mass is moving towards their general area, big dark shapes moving over and through the glow-fishes, casting shadows and leaving them in more darkness.
Then they see sparkles of gold and orange all around, as the bluish light reflects off the skin of hundreds upon hundreds of goldfishes the size of a man. Some dance around the glow-fishes, but the glow-fish seem to not panic at all unless the goldfish get very close. Then they hear a bump, and the whaler shudders a bit. There is yet another bump followed by the hull whining, as if some pressure is being applied on it. They can’t see anything around, the light from the glow-fish seems to be dimming more and more.
Tail is seemingly oblivious to the whining, staring at the spectacle with a huge grin on his face “Wooooow!”
Ghost himself is impressed for a moment, staring at the huge school of goldfishes, but the hull creaking snaps him back to reality. He anxiously listens to the sound, trying to pinpoint where it comes from. More thumps and shudders come. Suddenly there is a very hard and very loud succession of thumps, and the whaler shudders, whining loudly and inclining a bit. Tails loses his footing and falls to the ground with an “Ouch!!! The hell!?”
Ghost manages to keep his seat, but stares around at the back of the whaler with wide eyes. He’s had quite enough of the fishes and frantically smashes the ignition switches. Turning everything on again with the speed of the devil. When he flips on the light, three huge goldfish heads are looking right into the cockpit. They seem shocked by the light at first, but then it seems to turn their mood and they start bashing the lamps, knocking a few off.
As Ghost starts up the engines, the entire whaler is swarmed by goldfish, pushing and bashing against it with their huge bodies. The ones near the window open their mouths, and it becomes apparent that these goldfish, besides being oversized, have also grown wicked shark-like teeth. It is clear they’re trying to eat the whaler, but they have trouble with the glass and metal it is made off. A person would be instantly ripped apart.
The whaler slowly manages to plow through the fishes. Just when it seems they might get away, a heap of goldfish crashes into the side, spinning the whaler wildly to the side. The whaler hits a column with a crunch, and they are stunned for a moment. Tail is launched to the side and he hits the wall with a scream. Another hit, this time from behind pushes the whaler forward.
Ghost is slammed forward and feels the security straps of the seat burning against his skin. Tail was ready this time, holding on to the wall, and doesn’t gets thrown around. Fortunately the hit actually gave the whaler a push and they are propelled forward out of the mass of fish, the thrusters kick in and the whaler quickly accelerates.
Ghost slams the gas paying little attention to correct direction, and just launches the whaler forward through the tunnel, trying, with his limited vision, to find the part of it that has the least obstacles.
He has been cursing like a sir ever since their first lurch. He frantically calls back to Tail “Please check if we have any leaks!”
They can’t see behind them, but they need no sixth sense to know that the fish are on their tail. Tail stands up and starts frantically running around, struggling and cursing all the while. The whaler has a whole range of leaks, and the water is pouring in. An siren is ringing somewhere in the cockpit, and the “AIRTIGHT” sign in the cockpit is flashing rapidly.
Ghost keeps the pedal floored, though the machine is already at it’s limit.
“I just knew something had to go wrong.” he spews off another stream of curses, and yells back at Tail “I hope you can fix it as we go, since we’re NOT going to stop!”
The whaler shoots through the tunnel, occasionally bumped in the back by a fish that apparently managed to catch up. Small pieces of debris rattle against the cockpit as Ghost doesn’t bother to evade them, and instead focuses on the straightest line forward. The fish are incredibly aggressive and won’t let go.
Up ahead the roof of the tunnel suddenly breaks open in a wide area, light shining down into the water from above. Ghost doesn’t need to see that twice to know that it’s an opening away from the fishes, and swerves the craft directly towards it. Scraping by what looks to be the ruins of an old building with an eerie screeching sound, but he is past caring, he’s seen the way out. The moment the ship is below the opening, Ghost pitches the ship straight upwards, making the most of their forward and sideward AV engines, and launches straight up out of the water. The hull screeches in protest. He hears a loud metallic sound from the back. “CAO!!!” curses Tail in mandarin as he is launched backwards, hitting the back wall with a loud thump. Oddly, no more curses follow.
Water is leaking in everywhere now, and it’s all pooling towards the back due to the orientation and speed of the ship. The ship is slowly pulling upwards, but the rising water levels and the loot strapped into it pull down on it. It rises slower and slower. The light is growing strong and stronger, but they are not there yet. Ghost is frantically looking around the dashboard for any button containing “Life saving turbo” or anything of the kind. A few seconds later the whaler jerks out of the water, the thrusters jerking and sputtering, giving them a brief moment of weightlessness, then changing into AV mode. A small shockwave pushes the water away, as the whaler throws out more energy than usual to lift itself out of the water. At the same time goldfishes come to the surface as well, bumping into the back of the whaler, and jumping out of the water with their massive bodies trying to reach the whaler, but liberated from the water it bursts upwards and is out of the fishes range.
Ghost looks down at the fish and they’re all up there on the surface, looking straight at the whaler and snapping their jaws violently, as if they can still reach it if they just try hard enough. The whaler has automatically activated a pump and water is gushing off the sides as it slowly rises. As the ship comes up, five other ships are coming down the shaft that the whaler just burst into. One of them is the same type of whaler, three look like the sort stormtroopers use in Star Wars, with bulky open sides and big harpoons mounted on a turret on the deck. The last one is like a garbage AV, big and long, with a cargo area on the back that’s open on the top.
Someone is hailing the ship on comms. “Wow, wow, wow, freeze it choomba! Put her in hover and don’t move, or we drop you!”
Ghost is a bit surprised by the ships, but at least they’re not trying to bite his whaler to pieces. Considering he was planning to hover there anyway, he finishes that manoeuvre, and hails them on the intercom.
“Don’t worry, as long as you don’t force me back into the water, everything is all fine with me!”
He’s still enormously panicked. He quickly puts the intercom on speaker, and unbuckles himself, then runs down to the back, where Tail still is.
“Aiight choombs! Keep her like that steady and we will have no problems…” Comes over the speaker. But Ghost is not paying attention, he sees Tail is badly hurt. One of the equipment crates fell on him and crushed his cyberarm, which isn’t too much of a problem, but it’s must’ve also smashed the rest of his body, he has bruises everywhere and is out cold.
Ghost pulls the crate off Tail, then brings him forward to the cockpit. Having no medical knowledge makes it difficult to figure out how to help him, but he thinks he’s heard that you shouldn’t move people bashed around too much. He quietly tells Tail “Sorry man… but I guess this is still better than drowning or eaten by fishes.”
He sees 2 of the harpooners and the whaler pitch towards the mass of goldfish. The whaler opens up her belly and a heap of what looks like rotten meat, fish and various body parts falls into the water. The fishes go berserk, piling upon each other to get to the bait. He see the two harpooners work in unison to spear a fish at the same time and pull on it, lifting up from the surface of the water and pulling in different directions. The fish struggles for a long while, much longer than an ordinary fish would have, as he is carried upwards into the carrier.
“What in Exalta’s bolts are you doing down there choombs? Whose team are ya on? Don’t try anything funny, tell us where your support is and we can negotiate your release. Fucking amateurs, are you seriously trying to poach the gold triad’s turf?!”
Ghost turns to the intercom again “Sorry guys, I have no experience with whaling whatsoever. I just needed to get away fast, and this was the closest vehicle and route. I just didn’t count on the fucking fish.”
He takes another look down at the water, where the fish are still milling about frantically, even though one of their number was just taken.
“Nobody would anticipate anything that was named ‘goldfish’ could be this fucked up huge or dangerous!”
He hears laughter on the channel, there’s are comms from other ships coming in now.
“HAH! He for reals? You hear that Ape, this guy just went into the wet pit blind and clueless!”
“…Ffuuuuuck… choomba ya lucky you aint goldfish food.”
“Haha! Crazy ass choomba, oi we got the motherload of schools here thanks to him tho.”
“Ya man, pulled them right up from the deep.”
Tail is woozy, hurt and coughing up water, having been flooded by all the water in the ship when pinned to the back wall, but he seems to be breathing, albeit with effort.
Ghost sees the gold triads keep on fishing the goldfishes out of the water and loading them on the cargo AV. They take a good while. Once the whaler, having dropped all of its bait, is done, it hails him on the coms again. “Oi choombs, land your whaler on that ledge over there. It’ll hold us both no problem, let’s sit it out, shi? We wait nice and easy for the harpooners to finish the job, that way we check your tale has no spin to it, shi? If it happens you do have a team waiting for this haul hiding somewhere. Well then… then we stop being pretty with each other, ne?”
Ghost replies slightly less anxiously now, having confirmed that Tail is alive and they are apparently not going to shoot him out of the air.
“Landing it anywhere more fixed than this will be good. I need to look after my friend here for a bit. He got hurt while escaping the fish.”
He steers the whaler over to the ledge, then sets it down quickly.
“You do not happen to have anyone there with medical experience, right?”
Once he sets down, he puts on his helmet, and opens the door of the whaler, stepping out in full armour.
The unknown whaler drops down next to theirs, and 4 guys come out of it, all of them wear cybernetics similar to Tail’s, patch made out of junk and looking like they can hardly hold long. All of them seem to be Cantonese, with the clear scale-like skin of the goldfish people. They all have long rifles on their back, and also wear a pistol on their hips with a machete on the other side. The machete’s hilts are covered in gold scales, and there are a few ribbons of different colours hanging from them. They jump out laughing and chatting with each other, then they notice Ghost and they stop in their tracks.
He see all of them get nervous, putting their hands on the hilts of their pistols. The one in front raises his arms to the level of his chest in a peaceful matter. “Oi oi topsider, no need for violence, ne? We all friends here.”
Ghost is slightly embarrassed, by this display, seeing them get out careless like that, but still doesn’t feel entirely comfortable, though he wants to trust these people. He takes off his helmet slowly, in the hope that it will show goodwill. In a way he’s baffled by their response, as the only thing he’s still carrying is his pistol, but he supposes the armour looks somewhat intimidating.
“Sorry guys, no clue what to expect here. The fish didn’t exactly help.”
The guys relax a bit, but still stay on watch as well. The leader is smiling though.
“No prob choombs, what’s the news with your buddy there? He got hurt? We can check him out fine yeah? We used to people losing limbs in our line of work.”
Ghost eyes their cyberlimbs. “I think this one’ll be right up your alley.”
He turns back to the whaler, and cautiously lifts Tail out, then walks out to roughly somewhere between their vessels before putting Tail on the ground. He’s biting his lip.
“It looks rather bad. His arm is probably fine, it was cybernetic anyway, but he got thrown around a lot, and probably half drowned.”
One of the guys walks forward and kneels in front of Tail
“Ah man poor fella!”
He looks up at Ghost, his eyes are big and angry.
“Man… you really have to buckle up when handling a whaler choombs! Guy could’ve been killed, easily.”
Ghost looks at the proceedings guiltily, seeing the man checking for signs and applying some sort of paste to his wounds.
“Exalta above…” exclaims the man.
Ghost looks down, very much aware that that is probably nothing but the truth. He remains silent while the guy works on Tail. The leader of the men whistles and waves at the harpooners that woosh around above the water, doing their job with gusto. Once in a while you hear a cheer coming from the harpooners as they swing real close to where you are.
“Don’t listen to Doc here choombs, he is hard on anyone. Things happen, shi? Karma. Kid’s alive and that’s all that matters.”
The Doc looks up at the leader with the same angry eyes and goes back to fixing Tail.
The leader shrugs and says to Ghost “Let’s sit it out for real.” He motions to the other two who go into the whaler, then come back with a folding table and chairs, they also bring a few plastic boxes and set them down on the platform. After setting up the table, they sit and open the boxes, picking out glass bottles with some transparent liquid inside. They start drinking it, trying to chill, but you notice their hands are close to the pistols still. The leader waves at you to sit.
“C’mon choombs, take a seat. Name’s Ape man, what they call you?”
Ghost is impressed by the preparations they have made, bringing a table out here to drink while ostensibly working.
“Whoa, you come well prepared. Been doing this for a while ne?”
Ghost comes over to the table and sits down, slightly more relaxed by the apparent care with which they handle Tail, and occasionally he looks back at Tail and the doc. He looks at the liquid doubtfully.
“What’s that you’re drinking? Anyway, the name’s Ghost.” He lets out a short, forced laugh. “I guess it may seem more appropriate after coming out of that pit.”
The leader looks at him with a twinkle in his eyes
“Hah! definitly man, white faced and all!” He laughs. “Ghost. Yeah that fits well. Yeah Ghost, we do this all the fucking time. We hunt for the hood every day, people on the docks get almost no food. Gold meat is slimy and tasteless, makes you all scaly like after a few years, but it won’t killa, and it keeps ya fed.”
“In regards to the drink, that, my friend is Musk. Soy like grass grows wild around the pit. We ferment it for fun times. Hard as it gets, but it definitely helps you live through the bad times. Here, have some.”
He picks up a bottle and holds it out to Ghost Ghost takes the bottle, sniffs at it, looks at the other guys drinking it, shrugs, and takes a sip.
“God knows I need it…”
He looks at the harpoon-boats flying around the fishes.
“How do you normally get these to come here? Dump the food and wait until they come?”
The Musk is ridiculously strong and it has not much flavour. It burns down his throat but the warm sensation feels nice. Considering he is soaked and cold it is a pleasant sensation.
“Ah… that, or if it’s no enough to call them we send a whaler or two in. We keep very close look at the radars when we do. They are attracted to light, so we have glowing bait as well. The glowfish are another good sign of them, fuckers keep a sort of… what’s it called? Sinthetic relationship or something like that. Point is, glowfish attract big prey towards the goldies, and then eat the remains. Goldies are very ravenous, they tear and take chunks off their pray rather than swallow hole. Man it’s scary as fuck. A goldie comes in takes a chunk off ye, then the glowfish come and bite at your wounds. Have seen it way more than I’d like to.”
Suddenly the A-team tune plays, and the leader of the whalers sits there baffled, until Ghost picks up his phone. He stares at it for a moment wondering how he can have connection down here, but eventually reads the message from Coyote telling him to leave the equipment at Ragu.
After about 30 minutes the harpooners finish loading all the fish the cargo ship can carry and you see Ape and the rest get ready to leave. They pick up their stuffs and load it into the whaler. The doc finishes with Tail. He tells Ghost the cyberarm will need lots of repair, but that Tail will be okay as long as he rests for a day or two. Ape extends his cyberarm to Ghost.
“Well Ghost, looks like we won’t have to throw you down to the goldies after all. Been a pleasure to meetcha. Thanks for the easy haul my friend. We can all call ourselves lucky today and get back home early. Way back to topside ain’t hard from here. Or just follow us to the Docks.”
Ghost grips his hand. “Thanks! For a moment there I thought we’d run into worse trouble than the fish.”
He carries Tail back to the whaler, putting him in the co-pilot seat, and this time straps him in quite securely.
“I’ll be following you to the docks. If you ever need some help with something related to the net. Give me a call. I owe you one.”
“We don’t get much net here white devil, but sure, I’ll hold you down for that one.” He grins. “Aiight, keep her close, we’ll get there before you know it.”
He hops into his whaler and it takes to the air. Followed by his squad of other crafts.
Ghost sighs, staring after them as they fly up, and gets in the whaler to follow them. Another adventure complete, but what awaits them next? After all, it can only get worse…