Day 84. 74 pages, 30,863 words.
“So where do we go from here?” Predericon was the first to find her voice after the Bookwyrm’s little story reached its conclusion. “What do we do? Sit here until we die of thirst?”
“Is that something it seems like you would do?” the Bookwyrm asked.
“I’m beginning to feel it’s expected of us, yes,” Lelhmak replied.
Predericon shook her head. “The airlock,” she said, crossing back to the little adjoining chamber. “Will it open again? Is there some way to access its controls from this side?”
“Not that I have been able to find,” the Bookwyrm told her.
“Bah, you’ve only been looking for, what, twenty thousand years?” Lelhmak joined Predericon at the doorway to the airlock and began examining the smooth white frame with his scanning instruments. “The immortal Demigod thing might be right,” he admitted. “It’s fairly impenetrable.”
“So dying, then,” Gyden said, also joining them at the doorway. She grimaced at the streaks of slime on the opposite wall, and wiped her hands absently down her side. “You were trying to get away,” she said, turning back to the Bookwyrm. “As soon as this door opened, you barged through and clawed at this wall as if it would open. Why the urgency?”
“A pent-up instinct,” the Bookwyrm said. “I found myself unable to control it after so long. It superseded even the need to destroy the gukané.”
Predericon glanced at Gyden and saw she didn’t believe that any more than Predericon did, but it was a thread. “So you have an escape instinct,” she mused. “And it drove you here,” she stepped up to the grey-slimed rear wall of the airlock. “In spite of the fact that your Flesh-Eater framework wouldn’t allow you to leave?”
“It would allow me to leave this chamber and travel elsewhere in Segment Twelve,” the Bookwyrm said. “Perhaps this would allow me to seek out new alternatives, and possibly spread, so I can understand why I am prevented. It is, of course, why the Destarion has instituted the bulkhead seals that allowed you to enter without leaving the passage open for me.”
“So you’re trapped in Segment Twelve by your programming, but only trapped here in the lower archives by the fact that you can’t break through this hull material?” Predericon frowned. Something didn’t add up – if Odium could pound a Flesh-Eater right through the outer hull with a single punch, but the Bookwyrm could tear Odium to pieces … she reminded herself, since Lelhmak seemed preoccupied with his hygeine gear, that this was a logical fallacy and did not necessarily mean the Bookwyrm could breach the hull. There were simply too many missing variables. “What about the person who took away the interactulix?” she asked. “How did they get out?”
“That was some considerable time-”
“Back up a moment,” Gyden said. “You said ‘spread’. You mean like you did on the Vorontessa?” the Bookwyrm inclined its great scaly head. “Are you going to spread to us?”
The Bookwyrm didn’t answer for far too long.
“Good news,” Lelhmak suddenly spoke up, seemingly unaware of the depth and awkwardness of the silence he was filling. He brandished a small device that seemed to be constructed out of gleaming hygiene and protective attachments, and ran a thumb across its upper surface. Water began to drip steadily from its underside. “I rigged a couple of my spare filters into a water condenser,” he said, pleased. “The air’s not quite as damp here as it was in some other areas of the platform, but assuming it’s a stable and ongoing environmental condition, there should be all the water we need.”
“That’s great,” Gyden said. “So we’ll have a prolonged death.”
“You’re pretty negative for someone who just found out they’re not going to die of thirst,” Lelhmak grumbled.
“I’ll hold off on the negativity, provided living longer doesn’t mean I have more opportunities to be amalgamated into the Bookwyrm’s whole Worm-Riddlespawn-Flesh-Eater deal,” Gyden said.
“I do not know what you mean by amalgamated,” the Bookwyrm said. “You will not be physically altered. As I said, I do not remember any existence before my incarceration here, but I have studied the archives and it is entirely possible that the fragment of the Worm that I embody could enter your thought processes just as it did during the Cult’s dominion. Although it is only a fragment, so it is possible it would behave in a different manner.”
“Then maybe it’s best if we don’t get out,” Predericon said.
“That’s a commendably selfless attitude,” Lelhmak remarked. “You’d think I would have voiced it, since I’m the one who’s pushing the big quin.”
“I’ll probably be a bit less philosophical after a few weeks drinking condensation out of your air filter and eating Demon chunks,” Predericon admitted. “But if there is another way out, and the last visitors here managed it without succumbing to the Worm Cult’s psychological infection…”
“There is no other way out,” the Bookwyrm said, and pointed at the light. “Except through the bottom of the archives, of course.”
Predericon examined the slowly-shifting swamplight with a crawling sense of unease. “I assume, since you haven’t taken that route yourself in all the time you’ve been in the lower archives, that it’s not something you’d advise?”
“It is not something that is possible for me,” the Bookwyrm replied, “due to my … Flesh-Eater framework, as you say.”
“So that way lies a segment barrier,” Gyden concluded.
The Bookwyrm inclined its head again. “It might be possible for you, but no – I would not advise it. The archives descend into recursive infospace, and finally open out onto Segment Thirteen. That area of the platform is known as ‘the darkness’.”
“That sounds bad,” Gyden admitted.
“Only if you subscribe to an instinctive and superstitious fear of the dark for irrational reasons,” Lelhmak replied.
“I do,” Gyden said. “I do subscribe to that.”
“So do I,” Predericon said. “Additionally, when it’s a darkness as conceptualised by a Godfang, I would take issue with the ‘irrational’ descriptor.”
“Alright then,” Lelhmak held up his filter device. “Who’s thirsty?”
– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while sitting in the carpark.