Day 107. 117 pages, 50,114 words. Nope.
She heard the cake land on the misprint’s side with a wet slap, then fall softly to the floor. There was another moment of silence in the absolute darkness, and then her straining ears heard a slow slithering sound as one of the thing’s forelimbs groped for the object.
“Don’t put me in there,” it said plaintively, and then there was a strange huffing, a louder slither-and-smack as the misprint backed swiftly away and pressed against the wall, and Predericon caught another soft patter, receding across the room – the cake had been batted away. The misprint mewled again, then the sound deepened into a rattling growl.
“Contamination detected,” a new voice, this one directionless and recognisable as the Destarion even if it was still a little different to Predericon’s recollections of the other segments, spoke loudly. The misprint yipped.
“Destarion,” Predericon called, “can you hear me?”
“Sanitation countermeasures deployed,” the platform said. “Analysing.”
“Don’t please,” the misprint whispered.
The gastroclave interface lit up. “Your passenger profile is ready,” it announced cheerfully. “Are you Predericon Ti Akmet? Researcher from the Manatrikti Academy of Firstmade and Elder Theology and Megaengineering?”
“I – what – yes,” Predericon snapped. “What-”
“Kedane Lelhmak, on file, was your research overseer?”
“Yes. What do you mean, on file-”
“Does that mean that the profile on record for ‘Laz’ is that of your associate, Gyden Lazeen?”
“I assume so.”
“What is her current whereabouts?”
“What? She’s dead. She was obliterated by something that dropped from the ceiling and grabbed her a few minutes ago, just before you completed your most recent processing job.”
“I see. She isn’t on file yet. Perhaps I can assign…” the gastroclave fell silent. “Sanitation countermeasures are about to be implemented in this room,” it said suddenly. “You are strongly recommended to leave.”
Predericon backed away until she found the open doorway to the adjoining chamber, and stepped through. The door closed behind her, plunging her into darkness again. There was no sign of either the misprints or the vine-arm-serpent that had attacked Gyden, but the floor was evidently still liberally scattered with blood and other remnants. Predericon could feel them underfoot, even through her boot-soles.
She realised she’d left her entire pack in the gastroclave room with the misprint and the ‘sanitation countermeasures’. Just as she was casting blindly about and wondering whether she should finally pull out her lamp, she felt the air shift and saw a tiny glimmer of grey light that told her the door had opened again.
“Predericon Ti Akmet,” the almost-Destarion’s voice said, “I am formulating an extraction scenario for you. Please wait while cross-Segment protocols are set and I conduct a risk analysis.”
“Okay…” Predericon stole back into the gastroclave chamber and crossed to the machine. By the light of its interface she could see no sign of her pack, the cake she’d thrown, or the misprint. They might all have been pressed up against the edges of the room, hidden from view in the shadows, but she didn’t think so. There was a faint smell of ozone and burned organic matter in the chamber that suggested the ‘sanitation countermeasures’ had been quite final. “What should I-”
“Please remain calm.”
“Are you serious?” Predericon muttered. Outside the gastroclave room, she heard a new sound – a whirring, chattering, sound that she couldn’t envision as anything but the ‘swarm’ that Gyden had referenced a couple of times. The things that had either killed and dismantled Lelhmak, or just dismantled his body, and had been diligently carrying away Gyden’s waste ever since. It sounded as though they were doing so again now, in a sense – one last time.
And abruptly, it was more than she could bear.
“Hey, would you like grwzzzz sauce?” the gastroclave asked her as she stalked back towards the patch of darker black that was the doorway.
“No thank you,” she said evenly, and pulled her lamp from her sleeve-pocket. She stepped into the next room, raised the lamp, and brought it to maximum illumination with a vicious jab of her thumb.
She stared at the twisted, glittering cloud in the middle of the room for a moment in complete confusion. No, it wasn’t a cloud – it was more like a tree, or something even more intricate, like a cosmic web. Thicker and more cohesive in some places, diffuse and glittering in others … and made up of tiny, unrecognizable shapes like flecks of mirror.
Suspended in the branches of this bizarre spheroid tree, splayed and shifting awkwardly, was the pallid amber silhouette of a Molranoid. It was Gyden, Predericon intuited suddenly. Gyden, picked out in the blood and pieces that had been left behind in the room after her death.
The swarm, if that was what it was, rattled and rustled more loudly in agitation as Predericon’s light struck it. Some parts contracted and grew denser around the web-network, others seemed to puff away to nothing like dust in a strong wind. The horrible misty spectre of Gyden’s blood-shade began to stretch and attenuate away towards a dark doorway in the far side of the room – the corridor through which Gyden had brought them here in the first place, Predericon guessed disjointedly.
One of the coalescing arms of denser swarm-matter was stretching towards her with an angry hiss.
“Please remain calm,” the Destarion said. “I am calculating the implementation requirements of your extraction scenario.”
“You might want to be quick,” Predericon said, stepping back. The swarm engulfed her.
The pain was immediate, and so big it seemed to fill the urverse.
– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while sitting in the carpark (and incidentally coughing up a lung).