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Traffic Tower

Location  Imperium of Man
Traffic Tower

In the grim darkness of the far future, man trusts his life to marsh lights.

Few legends handed down from truly ancient times would be so crass and boring as to delve into the mundane minutiae of everyday life. Who would ever long to hear a fireside tale of logistics and the flow of production or city traffic? Who would ever clap and sing along to folk sagas of ordinary deliveries or traffic jams? Who would ever write an ode to all the little clever practicalities and smart systems that made life flow into such a smooth ride for their progenitors? Who would ever remember the undying names of engineers and inventors whose silent toil benefitted their people so much, with scarcely anyone even stopping to think about the marvellous systems of transportation, waste disposal and information access which their forefathers lived amidst? Who would ever praise the unsung ingenuity of common builders and toolmakers, even though their carefully crafted roads, sewers and aqueducts proved endlessly more useful to the common man than any inert tomb monument could ever be?

Nay, the human soul does not long for what is grey and plain if life, no matter its inherent brilliance of underlying thought and odyssey of trial and error, for the heart of man ever sings with the vivid imagery of red blood and towering edifices. The bold hero in his thundering chariot may attain immortality through generations of storytellers, yet the wheelmaker who toiled with the war-wain's spokes and hubs remain forgotten, even though his craftmanship and cunning was highly valued back in the heroic age both once lived in. And so hardly any details at all of Man of Gold's commoner life have been preserved in the scattered multitude of mutating myths that remain as part of popular memory's oral tradition in the Imperium of Man. As a rule, only the extraordinary, the horrible, the majestic, the witty, the lustful and the violent will draw our everyman's attention. Tales are for man to escape his weekly grind and run from the clutches of boredom and everyday miseries. Stories are for man to dream, to fly far away on wings of golden words, to reach for the heavens in his mind. Legends are to lit a flame in the heart of man, and to invigorate his spirit with adventure, riddles and monstrous terrors. Fly high, o man, fly on the timeless wings of stories!

Yet let us dive through the air before we fly too close to the scorching heat of the sun, and let us land on common earth and solid ground. Let us, for a brief while, turn our backs to soaring glory and great feats, and stare at the dirt besmirching our hands. And let us behold that which the hands of man has wrought, even if those crafted items seem petty and insignificant to the eyes of that imagination which calls out for clashing warriors, cunning lovers and deeds of daring-do. Let us behold the small and prosaic pieces of artisanry as we contemplate the vast and disjointed flora of mythology and folklore left over from a once shining golden age. For there are still rare mentions of technologies and their common applications buried amid the myriad of wild legends. They are rare, but probability dictates that they still exist. After all, in an interstellar realm of a million worlds and uncountable voidholms, you can always find the most unexpected if you search long and hard enough.

The relics and fossilized artefacts from man's bygone aeons of wonder may be few, but the sheer wide spread of man across the stars mean that hidden treasures still lurk out there, no matter how much has been destroyed or eroded by the gnawing teeth of time. The same is true for ancient tales handed down from the cannibal horror and internecine darkness of Old Night, and in some odd sagas may be found unlikely little everyday details, who bear witness to a time much different from the Age of Imperium. Some such little odd mentions and poetic spice among grand stanzas include passing references to self-flowing traffic, robotically guided skywains and horseless wagons that never once would crash into each other despite their high speed. What these allusions hint at, are a plethora of different traffic control systems in the hands of Abominable Intelligence, that once made the hustle and bustle of human traffic flow with miraculous ease, unrivalled efficiency and utter safety during the Dark Age of Technology.

Enter, the fallen glories of the everyday movement of vehicles and their synchronized orchestration, in a harmony as perfect as it was unthinkingly taken for granted before the Cybernetic Revolt wrecked everything. Without need for human commands or mortal vigilance, the artifice of machine outshone the primal flaws of fleshly man, and in innumerable arcologies and settlements across twain million worlds and a swarm of void habitats, man could trust in machine talking silently to machine with the speed of lightning, steering a velvet-smooth flow of traffic in a mathematical orchestra of unbelievable reliability. If some component still failed or if some compartmentalized code package was somehow corrupted, backup systems would catch the error in a safety net of sophisticated redundancy that is simply unknown to anyone living in the Imperium. For in a dark time of ending, man has lost almost everything, and he cannot even remember what he has lost.

This total tragedy of oblivion and ignorance can be observed in everyday little glimpses from billions of cities and voidholms across the cosmic domains of the Terran Imperator. For something as mundane and boring as everyday traffic has turned into a veritable logjam of shrieking brakes, yelling drivers, startled pedestrians, crushed lives and burning wrecks littering poorly policed roads, streets and viaducts pockmarked by disrepair and potholes. Where once automated systems of inter-responding vehicular AI and cybernetic traffic nodes ensured the lives and safety of millions of passengers in an effortless rush of silvery skimmers, man nowadays travels almost blind and deaf to his fellow drivers, without any sure knowledge of their intent, sobriety or even sanity. Man behind the wheel or steering rods has become isolated and must guess as best as he can from unsure signals and badly followed rules, dodging daredevil drivers even as he himself indulge his competitive agression and need to assert status and dominance through risky offensive driving.

The worsening of humanity's deteriorating grasp on its own science and technology has meant that traffic control tech has become ever more rudimentary and makeshift, usually in the form of temporary stopgap measures turning permanent as the years drag out their long march. Amid the star-spanning territories of the Adeptus Mechanicus may yet be found wetware, slave-linked servitors, master cogitators and noospheric systems of shaky reliability that ensure a regimented flow of transport in vital districts, although tech-priests and lay operators often have to override central commands when danger rears its ugly head, either through binary means or manual mechanisms. Some noble Houses on the most opulent and less regressed of Imperial worlds can likewise afford some licensed and heavily expensive primitive systems of inter-communicative drive protocols for their innermost core fleet of vehicles, yet such droplets of lingering technological refinement are invariably lost in the ocean of blank traffic and rugged vehicles without any cogitative auxiliary tech whatsoever.

Even without large networks and wireless fidelity, some Imperial traffic of groundcars and aerowains once used to sport a rather reliable element of vehicular servitors programmed to preserve their ride, cargo and hopefully also passengers, yet such wetware has grown both increasingly uncommon and ever more decayed of manufacture, with newer servitors, electrografts and slave systems performing starkly worse than more antique relics from bygone silver ages of the Imperium of Man.

Still, traffic control can be maintained tolerably even without any electronics tending to it installed in rushing vehicles. After all, automated traffic lights and similar crude devices will still reduce the death toll and destruction compared to the unregulated crowded onslaught of traffic rush most of the time. By establishing an order of simple optical signals that determine who may drive and when, the worst excesses of anarchic traffic can be avoided by trusting in human eyes, even if accidents, engine failures and crazed drivers remain all too common on streets and roads alike.

Yet even such a barbaric state of traffic control tech is doomed to sink lower still, for man's capacity to sufficiently maintain, repair and manufacture required numbers of automatic systems controlled by simple cogitators and sensors, is ever eroding, ever rotting, ever faltering. Indeed, this drawn-out process of deautomatization and weakening grasp on techno-lore means that failing traffic lights and similar signal systems controlled by machine spirits are ever more replaced by humans employed to swing signs around on an axis, or flip switches or pull on semaphore rods. Nimble little trafauto-lumens that go unfixed for too long are increasingly replaced with traffic towers and frail little boxes where men, women or juves may be found standing, their attention ever shifting, their heads ever turning and their eyes ever darting as they monitor the flow of traffic and try to signal to vehicles when to stop or when to go on.

These manually controlled traffic towers are raised structures providing a better view of surrounding traffic, as well as granting some degree of protection for the traffic controller amongst the chaotic hazards of moving vehicles and quick robbers. Uniformed operators of traffic towers provide some very limited surveillance and ability to fire light sidearms at fleeing transgressors or loudmouth deviants, and thus contribute to the sense of order and social control that authorities all around the Imperium desperately seek to prop up, despite the violent and disorderly jungle that most human societies have become in the far future. Crewfolk of traffic towers hold a good vantage point in the middle of an endless stream of bodies and vehicles, and may as such serve double duty as eyes and ears for local policiary forces or territorial clans, guilds or noble Houses. Yet they are almost only useful in this spy role if the towers are equipped with functioning vox systems or other communication equipment, which can never be taken for granted in an ever more dystrophic Imperium of Man.

Some traffic towers sport winged semaphore signalling arrays, while others are festooned with skulls, gibbets or the hanged corpses of crims, demagogues, malcontents and heretics. Inside hive cities and voidholm tunnels, traffic towers may sometimes be mounted hanging down from the rockrete ceiling, rather than be raised from the floor on street level, or erected jutting out from nearby buildings. Traffic towers are usually shoddily constructed to replace failing automated traffic lumens, their raised platforms manned by cheap personnel manually handling primitive electrical controls and activation rods like trained apes.

Although a bewildering variety of palettes exist across the stars, human traffic towers most commonly sport the ancient electric signal heraldry of green, yellow and red lumens, as per the finds of Standard Template Construct archeotech and various local living traditions of traffic control that somehow made it through the Age of Strife with some scraps of ancient lore and techno-sorcery intact. These flickering lights and electrocandles (or sometimes torches, braziers or oil lamps moved around behind coloured glass lenses) shine their glowing messages to the bewildering traffic buzzing around the tower. On the hard pathways of Imperial settlements may be found rickshaws and other crude vehicles pulled by human muscle power, as well as archaic carts and wagons pulled by yoked horses and all manner of alien draft animals. Porters and human treadmill monstrosities may be seen among the same cracked and filthy lanes as halftracks, bemos, trikes, walkers, overcrowded omnibuses, trucks and tramcars teeming with clinging passengers. The traffic of the skies are often almost as varied, with all manner of tech and tamed wildlife on display. It goes without saying that similar manual traffic control towers used for ground vehicles exist for aerotraffic and bluewater vessels, for the demechanization and regression of technology continues unabated in all areas of human society and transport.

And so badly paid traffic tower crews rattle forth litanies of activation and mantras of maintenance while handling their little turrets, their hands flicking switches to activate negotiationis luminaria that once mindless machines would have handled in a nanosecond. Day after day, they shout themselves hoarse at misbehaving drivers, clean the purity seals, honour the machine spirits and pray to His Divine Majesty that the fruits of technotheology will not fail them and leave bloodstained chaos on the jumbled intersection below. Such a bare-bones arrangement of traffic control represents yet another step down on the ladder of technology, yet another ancient achievement sliding out of the stiff fingers of senile man.

For even in the most mundane items of the grey neutrum of everyday life can be seen the regression of mankind on full display. On hundreds of thousands of worlds and voidholms beyond number, hidden traitors and pious servants of the God-Emperor alike make their way through a maelstrom of traffic guided by crude signal towers, and many will eventually not reach their destination as they unawares set out on their last journey, never to return alive home again.

In the far future, the state of man's traffic is as sclerotic as the tech with which he seeks to control it. Ever worse, ever more backward, ever more primitive.

All this transpires, in an era of deepening dementia. In an epoch of descendant degeneration. In a time without hope.

Far has man fallen from his ancient pinnacles, and even the most dull workings of yore are long gone, never to be seen again. Their likes would be hailed as nothing short of miracles among the rutting savages that remain, yet they are all gone now, all lost forever.

Such is man's path in the Age of Imperium, heading ever downhill.

Such is the sunken state of mankind, in the darkest of futures.

Such is the lightless pit which our species has dug itself into.

It is the fortyfirst millennium, and there is only decay.
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