Babar Alvi, failed chemist postdoc, urban explorer
- Bar doesn’t trust Terra, thinks that Terra is uncompromised by the lichen
- They have civvie MOPP gear, a sprayer, and concentrated hydrogen peroxide
- Terra has a sample of the lichen
Bar finds an unoccupied research lab (3,1) several floors up and they toss their bags in a corner. Terra grips her apple as though it were the last handhold over an abyss.
She slices it up and slices the slices. She smears highlighting chemicals onto a slide and smears a cutting against that. The microscope lights purr faintly as she zooms in, looking for cellular structure.
T: 2, 5
It has no cellular structure. Nothing. There’s bits that look like crystallization and bits that seem to… flow, to pump, to move. But no cells. It’s like zooming into a hunk of metal, though one with some highly differentiated parts.
As she watches the structure expands outwards. Growing with no visible means of such. Something coming into place out of nothing.
“Flatland,” she murmurs. “We only see a little bit of the whole, the bits we are capable of seeing."
Terra tastes bile.
“Well, it’s not lichen,” she calls to Bar. She looks up.
Bar is gone. His bag with the biological agents suit is gone.
Terra sighs. She has one last question to answer - will the hydrogen peroxide do anything to the lichen?
(The dice gods favor the mythos AS THEY MUST)
The solution does nothing. Terra shrugs. She shoves the microscope and apple into a trashcan, hearing metal and plastic crack. She pours in a bottle of methanol and lights a match.
Reduction Roll => 4! Reduced to 4 Insight.
Smoke rushes up; the apple sizzles, the fruticose blackens.
“Well, that works.” Terra murmurs, staring into the blue-tinged flames.
She leaves. Behind her, the fire smoke fills with particulate matter. Little flakes drift up and out like a grey snow.
Eventually the fire alarm sounds.
“OK, OK, OK. Bob had talked about using fire in his note. Before… they got him. Just need to get to a 7/11…”
Bar drives frantically, slamming on the gas and the brake. Night has fallen and the town is unusually sedate for a Thursday.
Can he get enough supplies to do some damage?
Reroll with Insight!
Insight check: 2, no change
Bar gathers up jerry cans from several gas stations, filling them. He buys cleaning rags and a Bic lighter. He finds himself staring at the beer in the gas station. He shakes his head as though coming back to the moment and leaves. His car is loaded down with gasoline and stinks of it. He rolls down his windows and drives back to campus.
Now all I need is campus police to come along, thought Bar. Find a brown beardy guy who got kicked out of this school, with a chemical protection suit and a shit-ton of gasoline. I’m sure that would go over well.
I’ll just tell them the biology department is full of pod people! Of course!
His laughter is deep and genuine. He laughs until he cried, until he can barely see, just hitting the brakes in time to avoid a concrete embankment.
He parks and heads to one of the back doors of the building. Looking around, he carefully pulls out a cat’s paw tool and lock picks.
B: 4, 6
Insight check: 4, no change
The itch of a memory half-forgotten distracts him, looking at the flat lock surface, the cleft of the keyhole, empty expressionless - Bar grits his teeth and ignores the feeling. The deadbolt moves and the door is open. He tapes over the deadbolt and wedges the door with his cat’s paw tool.
He is walking back and looks up. Lance Gleason stares at him from the doorway. Bar drops the jerry cans and steps back, shocked. Gleason flees into the building.
“Fuck!” Bar pants. He grabs the jerry cans and moves in, nylon bag swinging over his shoulder.
Insight check: 2, no change
The department’s air is full of tiny flakes which waft gently through the air. Bar stops before the threshold and begins to put on the hazmat suit.
Her office light was on. Terra had meant to go straight to the basement, but her office light was on. The lights were triggered by motion sensors - it was a pain, if you were writing, every 15 minutes you had to flail about to keep them on.
Someone was in her office.
She paused outside the biology building. The air is full of grey flakes, like ash. Edged in a metallic blue.
“I should put on my suit, I suppose,” Terra said, thinking of what she ingested before.
She dons the suit and gas mask. Her view warps around the edges slightly. She breathes and the sound of it, and of rubber valves fluttering, fills the tight space around her face.
She goes inside, goes up to the third floor.
The hallway is dim, fluorescents only on at irregular intervals. One side is interspersed with doors, leading to offices or small classrooms. The other is a floor-to-ceiling window, all along the hall. Beyond it, dimly visible through the reflected hallway lights, Terra sees a few patches of light from streetlamps in the North campus. Otherwise the school is a dim outline, a vague suggestion.
The lichen floats through the air serenely, unaffected by the overhead air vents.
She rounds the corner. Her door is slightly ajar. Bright light from her office shines into the dim corridor.
She tries to sneak in, but the suit rubs against itself with every step, swishing.
Bob looks up as she comes in. His bald pate shines under the mirror as though shellacked. Before him is a bottle of wine, a corkscrew, and three glasses.
Insight: 5 ++
He looks up at her and smiles warmly. He stands up.
“Terra. I know this is a shock, but it’s alright. Is, ah, Babar with you?”
Terra stares at him. “You can’t be you. You can’t be.”
Bob smiles and points to the seat in front of her desk. “Please, I can explain.”
Terra stands frozen. Bob shrugs.
“Well, you see.” He threads the corkscrew into the wine bottle. “I thought the lichen was, you know.” He smiles. “Some kind of monster.” Twist. “Out to destroy us all.” Twist. “I had no idea, no idea… It wanted to partner with us, Terra. Save us.”
He smoothly pulls the cork from the bottle, pours himself a small measure, another for her.
“It helped me. It fixed me. I was an alcoholic, before. But I’m not an addict any more.” He takes a small, measured sip. “I’m better. But I’m still me.”
“I saw.. your body.”
“Well, yes. The lichen absorbed my memories and consciousness through that hole, you know, in my skull. A brain is hard to duplicate precisely without… touch. A given body’s facsimile is easier to manufacture.”
“Listen, Terra, I know this is a great deal to absorb. But soon things are going to change here. I’ll change. And I want you to be able to change with me, you know? To join in.”
His eyes sparkle as he gazes at her. Terra tastes bile in her mouth.
“Like Lance? Like Ben? Blank-faced, dead-eyed?”
Bob waved dismissively, leaning back. “Lance and Ben are still walking around in the flesh. It made some drones to try to herd you here, that’s all. Their visages, not them. They’re fine. I mean, idiots, but they’re fine.”
A door opens behind her. Someone in a suit walks in, an elderly man, pallid and tall. Dr. Gingery.
He smiles blandly, but then, Terra thought, he always did.
“It’s almost time,” he says.
The lichen in the air reverses as though on tracks, begins to move forward again, lurching, whirling faster and faster. It thrums against Terra’s mask, blinding her, shakes the flourescents until one shatters and another is blinking. A gale of grey and blue screams into the room. In between flashes of light she sees that Bob and Gingery are still. She looks closer.
They are writhing piles of fruticose curls, unwinding from human shapes to masses. What was Bob creeps towards her; Gingery’s arcs between the door frame, trying to trap her. She hears Bob’s voice:
“We will have you join us Terra. You know why. You belong to it. Try to remember.”
Terra tries to break through all this and flee the room.
She runs and dives through the fruticose and it claws at her, it pulls at her mask, and she slams a hand on it to keep it in place. She tumbles out of the room and begins to run.
The ashy flakes in the air are dancing, faster, slapping into the exterior window and cracking it, tapping fluorescent lights and smashing them.
Footprints in the lichen. Two sets. Bar’s breathing fogs the mask. The suit crinkles and folds around him. The jerry cans in his nylon bag pull and twist the strap.
Lichen drifts through the air, covers the floor and walls of the basement in a metallic blue flakes, peeling away like dead skin.
Thicker and thicker. The footprints, once cleaner spots on the tile floor, are now concentrated cracks amidst layered sheets. Coils of the stuff have crawled from a doorway down the hall.
Has Bar managed to sneak in somehow, have Lance and Ben lost him?
B: 5, 1
(So yes, he’s actually managed to creep in.)
He keeps slowly twisting to look behind him, convinced they’ll be there, staring. The lichen drifts serenely in empty halls.
“I don’t have enough gas to just burn down the building… And everything in here is fucked.” Bar murmurs to himself. “They must have some kind of gas main in here, for the labs that use burners. If I can light that off…” He changes course.
Searching for the gas main:
(The failure involves getting caught or herded by the drones)
Reroll with insight!
Insight check: 5 ++
(Bar finds the gas main, BUT the lichen starts freaking out. Terra is upstairs and It’s Time and all that.)
The lichen in the air twitches and begins to quicken. Bar pries open a panel as it rushes around him. He sees the caked layers of lichen on the floor moving around, growing, shifting into and away from each other like tiny tectonic plates. The airborne flakes whirl at him and for a moment Bar sees them transported through him, in him, growing out, his skin covered in a patina of the stuff…
“Anytime it wants. You can finish me whenever you want!” he screams into the maelstrom, bending a pipe with his cat’s paw. “Come on!”
Gas seeps out of a pipe as he cracks it. Bar opens a jerry can, pouring gasoline as he backs away into the gale.
He backs out a decent way. He runs out of gasoline with the doorway in sight. He pulls the lighter from the nylon back, lights the gasoline on the ground. The flame catches and races down the hallway. He looks up, a hard grin on his face, watching the flame dance.
Before him, only ten feet away or so, are Ben and Lance. The fire burns between them and past. They have eyes only for Bar.
B: 2, 5
Bar sprints, fighting the mask for air. He makes the doorway and peers back over the threshold.
Lance has stopped there like before. He holds up a hand and Bar is lifted off his feet as the gas main explodes.
Terra is outside when the explosion hits. The building shakes and part of the roof fires off into the air, raining debris down. She’s thrown to the ground, her mask cracking.
She lays there for a time, ringing in her ears, as debris splatters the lawn. Eventually the sounds die down. She slowly picks herself up.
The sky is full of lichen. Rancid flakes of it fall from the sky, others soar upwards, caught in a thermal over the burning center of the biology building.
“We didn’t kill it,” she murmurs. “We’ve just helped spread it. God…”
One by one, the stars are obscured.
Terra Knafferly, biologist and academic
Babar Alvi, failed chemist postdoc, urban explorer