This continues the adventures of Nujanai, Fermi, and Emmeline Grippelash, previously discussed earlier in this series. Last time, we ended with the protagonists talking to Mockeries in the Reading Room of the Buttonsnemp Researchery.
Nujanai attempted to convince the Mockeries that he, Emmeline, and Fermi were the backup guards, sent to relieve them of their duties. Mipple Pamp:
… and the other Mockeries rejoiced: they had been waiting “at least six weeks” for their shift to end. (In reality, more like twelve years.) Things were going smoothly at first, but something Nujanai said triggered his suspicion a little bit: he was asking about a “secret passage” that seemed to be indicated on the hand-drawn map, without realizing that it was the same passage through which he’d entered the room. They ate a bit of food, drank some water, and rested a bit while chatting with the Mockeries.
That is, until a gunshot was heard once again, somewhere out back they way they’d come—the way the failed Slug Gang leader Naphann had fled—and then another scream, apparently Naphann’s. The Mockeries were unnerved by this, but continued to speak with the group until one of the Mockeries saw “The Purple!” approaching in the hallway behind them.
The Mockeries unlocked the metal doors to the room—the chamber marked “library” on the group’s (clearly incomplete) hand-drawn map—and rushed in, calling the others to follow. Nujanai did, but then the Purple Sludge entered the Reading Room, so Fermi and Emmeline decided instead to flee south down a hallway they had not yet explored.
Inside the library, Nujanai took a look around, and found signs that one or more people—humans, not Mockeries—had somehow found a way to survive in there for an extended period of the time. He found the metal bookshelves within almost completely empty, aside from a few crusty old journals. At the south end of the room, he found a spot where the floor tiles had been ripped out and a sort of “fire pit” set up. On one side of the fire pit lay the covers that had, for whatever reason, been stripped off the library’s books before they’d been burned in the fire pit. (Many of the titles on the spines were among those on the Book Salvage Requisition List.) On the other side of the fire pit lay a massive pile of rat bones, all picked clean of meat and gristle alike. At the north end of the room, another bucket—but this one was empty, and clearly had served as a makeshift toilet for a long time. The walls, meanwhile, were completely inscribed with complex mathematical calculations written in ash from the pit.
Seeing all this, Nujanai understood that they’d collected probably all the books they were ever going to get.
Meanwhile, Emmeline and Fermi traveled down the tunnel, stumbling first upon a a rather grisly sight: a pile of excrement on one side of the tunnel and a pile of relatively fresh rat-skins on the other. They contemplaed searching the excrement, but when they realized it was probably human, they decided to avoid it and move on, perhaps hoping to discover whoever had left it there.
A little further down the tunnel, somewhat fresh and bloated corpse with a few books tucked into its clothing:
- Tombs of the Skies: A Survey
- Angelics and Aliens: A Critical Study of Ultraterrestrial Biology
- a diary written in a spidery, difficult-to-parse hand
They quickly grabbed the books and moved on. Finally, they arrived in a large chamber in which most of the floor was covered by a large metal plate, with a curious object at the center: something that, to them, resembled a sort of bullet, tapered at the bottom and with a few fins protruding from it:
In the side of the object was a door with a single glass-like window in the middle of it: this window was the main light source within the room other than Fermi’s and Emmeline’s lamps, and by this light they could see a rickety metal staircase leading up to the door.
They hurried up the staircase and peered into the door. Beyond, they saw a group of bedraggled human beings, as well as one curious face that had not seen before:
The bedraggled, gaunt people stared in surprise, and seemed like they might open the door, when a familiar face finally appeared:
This man, the treasure-hunter with the melted foot whom they’d met earlier, was not audible through the door but Emmeline and Fermi could see him yelling about the situation. Fermi, and then Emmeline, tried and failed to pry open the door, and then a deafening roar began to fill the chamber, from beneath the vessel.
They hurried down the staircase just in time to see the Purple Sludge enter the room, but then stumbled on a pair of ropes hanging from above. When they looked up, they realized that part of the ceiling stood open to the starry night sky, the ropes hanging from the hillside above them.
Taking one look at the Purple Sludge, and hearing the noise of the rocket, they decided to shimmy their way up the ropes as quickly as they could.
Back in the ruins of the library, Nujanai noticed something—a missing wall-tile near the door of the library, which suggested a reason why the Purple Sludge had never entered the library: it was fully shielded with a layer of metal. Certain now that the library could serve as a temporary safehouse if things went wrong, he gave the Mockeries a pep talk, convincing them to join him in saving his friends and leaving the Researchery. The Mockeries straightened their red uniforms, cheered proudly, and began to march out of the room, led by their chief, Mipple Pamp.
Following simple logic, Nujanai deduced that Fermi and Emmeline must have fled south, and luckily he avoided taking a wrong turn and ended up in the same room as they had, with the rocket about to take off and the Purple Sludge making its way around the edge of the metal plate in the floor, and Fermi and Emmeline disappearing up the ropes. Nujanai took the bucket in his hand, hoping to take a sample of the Purple Sludge, but when the lip of the bucket touched it, the thing reacted violently, wrenching the bucket from his hands and hurling it across the room. It then lashed out at him, but he narrowly avoided being seized by it.
The rocket took off then, burning up the ropes hanging from the sky-window. (Thanks to a good Luck roll, Emmeline and Fermi both made it out before this instant, and had rolled some distance away down the hill.)
At this point he got a good look at it: it had slipped into some pooled water, which made its previously opaque coloration turn translucent, and revealed what looked like a human figure curled up in a foetal position inside it. The Sludge emerged from the water, approaching Nujanai and his band, and they fled into the tunnels with Nujanai at the rear. He tried to convince a Mockery to carry the bomb to the Sludge, but failing that, once he rounded a bend that seemed like it might provide cover, he tossed his firebomb at the Purple Sludge and then ducked for cover.
The noise of the blast roared through the tunnels, the Sludge, still aflame and continuing to burn, advanced on the group, who fled, outpacing the Sludge. They retraced the group’s steps, hurrying through the Reading Room, the old lecture hall, and then into the ruined Lab, when a small Machinery appeared, looking something like this:
… but with high-speed cleaning brushes attached to its underside. Nujanai, already wounded, told Mipple Pamp to have the Mockeries take on the machine, and they did. Only one of them was lost in the fight, a threadbare bluish wolf named Snoggle Pont who tragically was “cleaned” into shreds.
In the ruined Laboratory, Nujanai paused long enough to pick up the remnants of Naphann’s pistol—the wooden handle melted away, but the metal portions intact. This was the only evidence that Naphann had ever passed this way.
Then the group fled through the Control Room, ignoring the holographic ghost to jabber on a loop and leaving the (previously locked) metal double door to the room wide open as they fled.
Outside, Fermi and Emmeline hammered some ropes into the hillside and lowered themselves down onto the ruined machinery at the entrance to the facility. Below, on the street, an old woman watch watching, for whatever reason with a baby in her lap: as they slid down the ropes, the old woman called out requesting alms. Fermi actually tossed her £1, and then asked if she’d seen anything. The old woman told them no, only idiots go into the old complex and she hadn’t seen anyone come out again. (That said, the black warhorse was gone.)
Around this time, Nujanai and the Mockeries emerged from the Researchery, relatively close to safe and sound. They decided to go find a room for the night—which they could afford, if they skipped dinner, by pooling Nujanai and Emmeline’s remaining monies—and to head to campus with the salvaged books and other materials the next day. Nujanai insisted the Mockeries should join him, as he was hoping to form a Mockhuman Union… which is to say, he was convinced he had recruited himself a personal platoon of hench-Mockeries. (Don’t worry, it won’t last.)
The session ended there.
With Neville Galoonik gone to the Living Stars with some aliens and the last surviving academics who’d survived in the Researchery, one enigma went unnoticed: if that was Naphann whose body was curled up inside the Purple Sludge… who took the black warhorse? Of course, it could be anyone who happened to pass by… but, muhaha, it wasn’t just anyone.
Although the Researchery stood abandoned for twelve years, the Mockeries’ employment contracts were worded in such a way to bind them to the site long-term, because of the sensitive materials in the complex. They are permitted to leave, since a decade has passed since the Researchery fell, but—if they can figure out that they’ve been there twelve years rather than just the six weeks they think they’ve spent there—then the pittance wage of £30 a week due them will add up to almost £19,000 each.
(The Researchery doesn’t exist anymore, of course, but given the way debts work in Bastion, they may well be able to collect it—the debt may have transferred multiple times to other organizations. The Borough Administration may be able to track down the details, for a fee… paid up front, of course.)
It seems that, as I anticipated, that the trip to campus to drop off the salvaged books and attempt to collect their payment (and submit the forms necessary to expedite that payment) will be the next “adventure.” That’ll take a little more time to set up, I think, and will have a wider variety of challenges to be dealt with. I’m looking forward to the challenge, though!