that place where stonefish sandbox happen

Aisle 3
Aisle 630
Customer Service
Aisle 200
The Washing Machines
Little Gotherberg
Pharmacy Town

Grandchildren Frost

The icemen slowly crossed the mountain pass, moving with utterly implacable confidence. A good two or so days since they had left the Cloud, but the mission was one of utter importance. They could not fail. They could never fail, not when their Tsar needed them. The peaks of the Urals stretched very high above them, but only one–a lone straggler stumbling somewhat near the back–looked up and them. Whether he saw anything, it was hard to tell, what with his lack of eyes. But still, the straggler shrugged gently, as if in sigh, and continued to push onward. He marched in unison with the rest of them, identical to the rest. They were moving as one carefully coordinated organism. One organism composed of so many frozen parts interlinking and interlocked. A siphonophore of soldiers. Their guns were identical, their faces identical.

This time, there would be no belligerents, no enemies for the Tsar to stop. Today they carried only the most basic of their vast capabilities for weaponry. There was still a purpose, however. They could not live without a purpose. Two days earlier they had arrived at the Cave, an ancient thing tucked away in a foothill. Within the cave it was still cold, and so they simply went through the motion of making a campfire. The real thing would be too dangerous to their fragile forms, but they collectively felt in their frozen chests that it was correct thing to do in this situation. Following this shambolic parody of a camp, they attended to their tasks. It was a rare burst of individual time for the community, ordinarily not permitting themselves that kind of frivolity. A select few gathered snow from the bitter windswept hill, and took to work polishing their weapons. Most kind of wandered about, miming meaningless arguments and bumping into walls.

There were a scant handful though, who looked up in wonder at the scratchings and figures decorating the cave walls. The straggler was among them. They stroked icicle fingers across a female figure, as ochre as a field of wheat. Between her legs, exactly twenty-eight red dots spilled down the rock plane, forever falling towards the cave floor, forever stuck halfway up the wall. The straggler stroked the dots tenderly, simply. Behind him, an iceman cleaning his gun mimed an especially rude gesture, something private, sexual, and singular, himself unaware of it's true meaning, but feeling it was correct towards the softness of the straggler. The straggler of course, felt his comrade make the gesture, but made no indication of awareness, of consciousness towards it. Perhaps not of consciousness at all. He simply stroked the dots at an exalted pace.

They marched another two days through the Southern Urals. In actuality they were not far from their base at all. From the Tsar. The entire region was stuffed to the bursting with ёлка, but none seemed to the icemen to be at all correct.

After four days from the Cloud, the straggler wandered ahead and found an ёлка that seemed satisfactory, and so alerted the rest of his squad, who in turn, alerted the rest of the army. As one, they turned and drew broad, strong axes of ice, and began to March to the beat of some simple drum. Around them the Urals were still, their collective footsteps echoed off the lonely mountains. The deep snow muffled their movements, pushing them back. They had no cares for this. It just was. They simply pushed the snow, reaching far over their heads in places, back. There was as much thought and contemplation in it as a man putting on his shoes.

At the ёлка, instinct took over. Memory knows nothing compared to time and the thought patterns of an all. An all which has thought in the plural for as long as they have lived. In the minds of the iceman there was a calm peacefulness, as muffled as the snow from which they emerged. In essence, they were snow-creatures, blessed with the inner peacefulness and calm chill of snow, the instinctual drive towards grace and simplicity. Even in combat, where they performed the most heinous acts of violence to serve their Tsar, there was no passion, no rage, no inner violence to match the battlefields. Calm. Calm.

The rhythmic chopping of seven or so ice axes, sturdier than they would appear for their material, was soon replaced with a cracking of wood, and a great crumbling. Methodically, but with haste and speed they moved out of the way and the great ёлка, the spruce which for over a hundred years has stood in the snow of the Urals, fell topping down into the expanse of rock and white. The straggler raised his arms, and with grace directed his comrades. From an outsider's perspective, he seemed to be nothing more than a conductor directing some vast, terrible and inscrutable orchestra. A Eugene Ormandy of the mountains. A Leonard Bernstein of Sverdlovsk Oblast. It is clear now, to that mysterious outsider figure. Perhaps they have been watching the iceman since they left the Tsar, perhaps he has noticed the straggler's seeming individuality. Far from a straggler, this is a leader. One granted the tiniest bit of command so that all perform more efficiently. Together they hoisted the mighty tree onto their backs and set out for home. Or is it home? They turn in the opposite direction from their destination. They must know where they are going, however.

Glance now at the one who was the straggler, observer. See now, know that he has achieved his goals. That he, bestowed with whatever faint shadow of a mind granted to him by the Tsar, has done his job. See how he leads onwards through the thick snow, downhill, downhill, downhill further still under the mountain's shadow, until the forests untouched turn to forests razed by the industry of the Tsars in days gone by, and even then downhill, downhill into where the burned wood, and petrified stumps give ways to vast fields of rock and snow deeper and wetter then on the mountain. Less still, more sorrowful. There is no life here. Observer, you are only with your icemen.

Within this bleak landscape there used to be mines, where men would sacrifice health and life digging up the ores and minerals used to fuel the Tsar. The icemen came across one such mine, where vast swaths of marble and gemstones were hauled out of the earth in tonnes. A few of the men in the back, not carrying their tree, began to pick up the scraps, sifting through the snow and venturing down the shaft, spider-like, to scavenge what had been plundered so many years ago. Their dextrous weapons soon freed a meager bounty, and they scuttled out into the darkness again. The sun had set so long ago. These were the dark months. There was still a purpose, however.

The straggler watched them gather their bounty into woven, crystal sacks given by the Cloud for this sole purpose. The straggler didn't understand what they were doing exactly. They had their gemstones, they had their ёлка, now what? What was the point, if any? If the Tsar wanted it, still it would be done. the straggler shrugged and scooped a handful of rock into a crystal sack of his own. Then he fell in line.

He did not deviate from the group for the entire four day hike back to the Tsar. There was no need for him to be on lookout right now.

At the Tsar, under the Cloud, they hoisted the ёлка into a large, pre-dug put, and bolstered it upright with snow and rocks. Clambering up, they placed the gemstones reverently within the branches and then waited as the Cloud formed new weapons. A long string of exposed lights. Strips of metallic ice. The straggler stepped forward for the first time in a while. This was the final moment. He serve the Tsar, the Tsar served God, and God served the universe. This was everything. This was the moment. The Tsar wanted a tree, the Tsar wanted it decorated, it shall be so.

He clambered up the branches and began to string the new weapons. He vaguely wondered how they would be used to claim belligerents, but since he did not think much at all, these thoughts never came forward. It was only now he thought, once he finished this task he would no longer be apart anymore. He would never think again.

The ёлка glowed, a spruce on fire in the middle of the Urals. The radio station where the Tsar lay asleep and commanding shot straight up into the night sky. This was all they could see. Them to the Tsar to God. God above all. God who made the Cloud and the Tsar and their weapons and their belligerents and them. The Tsar made them circle the tree; their weapons fell to the ground. Joining hands, they felt their ice-sculpture fingers freeze into each other. As one, they craned their heads up to the skies.

They were one.

Addendum 2617-3: The following message is decoded from transmissions emitted from SCP-2617 on January 7th, 1974.


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