Mission: coal. Participants: everyone, basically. I need engineers researching a Coal Thumper in the workshop, so my frostbitten waifs can extract the life-giving ore from otherwise unbreakable deposits which remain. I need workers pulled away from wood and steel collection to build and then staff that Coal Thumper. I need everyone who’s off sick from our last near-death experience to bloody well stop being sick so they can work. And I need everyone, everyone, to survive in -40 conditions for a full day, so that our last coal isn’t depleted before we can fix this.
One by one, I deactivate my town’s three Steam Hubs, thus robbing its periphery of warmth and almost immediately over-populating my infirmaries once again. The heater in the children’s shelter is turned off too. It feels so desperately cruel: the beatings will continue until morale improves, and all that. But it is necessary.
There is only one hour’s supply of coal left by the time the Thumper goes up. I enforce another night shift to get it up and running asap, but what I didn’t know before I built a Thumper is that I need one set of people to crew it, but then a second set of people to move the coal it farms over to the settlement’s centre. Piles of the black stuff amass next to the Thumper, but all my freezing people ignore it. Jeez, guys, what’s more important, holding out for official paperwork or, y’know, not dying horribly?
For a few terrible hours, I’m faced with a situation where there’s coal, coal everywhere, but not a block to burn. The generator sputters and dies, and there’s a howl of protest as a group of tent-dwelling workers I’d recently promised to keep warm realise I’ve failed them. Again.
It’s the Scouts who save me, once again. They slump back to town with a few small sacks of the invaluable ore – enough to get us through the night, but no more. Grudgingly, I am then forced to disband this ragged group of five absolute heroes, as I need every spare pair of hands to shovel coal from the Thumper and over to the Generator.
The genny flits between on and off like a lightbulb during a storm, as the 25-man Thumper/collection effort races to keep up with the town’s heat demands. Then, suddenly, we break clear of the coal debt. Autonomy is restored once again.
But we also have legions of sick people once again. More worryingly, absolutely everyone is engaged in an essential task now. I don’t know how I’m going to research new technology or deal with an inevitable shortfall in food, wood or steel. In a moment of sick deja vu, I realise what I need to do – find more people to join my tortured ranks. The last time I did this, it spelled catastrophe. But catastrophe is what awaits us without fresh blood for the snow god.
Carefully, carefully, I pull five people away from other tasks. One from coal here, one from wood here, one from the cookshop… It’s agony, knowingly upsetting our delicate balance as it is, and will almost certainly mean more gruelling 24-hour shifts.
I build a fighting pit and then a pub to help keep spirits, if not high, then at least not at absolute bedrock, but most importantly I form a new band of scouts.
Off they go, in search of people to save, and people to save us. On this outing to the ice-locked wilderness, they find no life, alas.
But they do find a bloody big robot.
To be continued