Contamination – excerpt from ASHES: Infinite Redress

Djoran was dressed in light fatigues, sampling some of the water at the mouth of a small stream that lead into a heavily forested area. The water samples she’d taken under the canopy of the trees had been rich with microbes and indigenous water-faring insectoids. The water itself had a golden tint to it, as if trace minerals of some metallic substance could be found. She reached back to her sample case to place the clear container in with the rest, when she was shocked to discover that the samples had all been damaged, the seals violently broken open.

When she lifted one broken container to determine if the samples were irreversibly contaminated, she noticed a strange chemical reaction occurring. The sample in her hand started vapourizing into a thick violet gas that surrounded her head and started asphyxiating her. She tossed the container away from herself, and the gas dissipated around her, but the other samples had already started reacting as well, and the air around her was growing thick with the mist. She tried to find her way back to her transport pod, but the choking vapours seemed to be erupting from everywhere, until at last she fell to the warm earth and laid silent, gasping for air.

She woke up in a panic, gasping hard and clutching at her throat. She was in a dimly lit room, resting naked on a softer mattress than any she was used to. She could feel warmth beside her, and looked down to find the pleasantly naked shape of Zhessoff, curled facing the other side of the bed. Djoran shook off the nerves from a moment ago and found herself soaking in the soft light emanating from soft lamps placed around the room. The coloured transparent casing of the lamps casting swirling paths of soft light and tinted shadow across the walls, floor, bed and over the gentle curves of the woman sleeping soundly beside her. Djoran was struck dumb by the memory of their dinner together, and after… Condus Mai, she was beautiful. How she’d never noticed before was a mystery now.

A faint tingle was still buzzing softly in her head, and she remembered Zhessoff explaining that Natelkan brandy had some mildly hallucinogenic properties that reacted curiously in multicoloured light. Djoran had teasingly admonished her that the brandy also appeared to have certain aphrodisiac qualities, which caused Zhessoff to laugh merrily. The young woman had tried to argue her case, but her voice, her eyes, and her soft shape already entranced Djoran. Before she’d really known what she was doing, she had taken the girl into her arms and kissed her deeply. The rest had been a long, deliciously tangled thread of events that still sent shivers down her spine. Djoran hadn’t rejoindered in several tyrns now, and never before with a female. It was a slightly frightening concept, but she could already tell it was one she could grow to love.

She curled back down on the bed, pressing herself gently against the soft curves of Zhessoff’s back, folding her legs into the space left beneath the girl’s rather shapely bottom. Trying to settle back to sleep, the image from that nightmare returned to her, and she started trying to unravel what it could mean. At first she couldn’t make any sense of it, until she remembered a strange noise she had heard earlier in the evening. Then she remembered that the probe had made a strange noise while she had been stroking its warm carapace, and she made a startling connection.

Within seconds she was fumbling around for and had pulled her blue leather uniform back on in the dim light. When she heard a confused mumble from the bed, she leaned over carefully and kissed the girl gently on her cheek and pulled the smooth golden sheet up over her shoulder. In another thirty tycks, she was racing back down to the lab, half-skipping as she pushed her feet into her unfastened boots.

Fumbling with the key code for the door, she waited for the door to unlock. Agonizing tycks later, the security lock’s vocal identity check system commanded in a paradoxically soft, mellifluous tone, “Name, rank and regiment.”

“Senior Project Builder Djoran Sendal Lav, of the Phenris Project. Open and secure upon my entry.”

“Identity approved. Compliance,” the system uttered evenly, and as she passed through, it returned, “Room sealed. No further entry will be permitted without authorization.”

Djoran was already moving quickly across the room. Remembering her odd dream, she slipped on a pair of long, tight leather gloves, and pulled a closed atmosphere mask over her face before approaching the probe pens. As she passed the first pens, she suddenly got a bit confused, and thought she heard odd noises coming from the other probes. When she leaned closer to one, she heard only a soft purring noise, and concluded that the sealed sound-enhancing skins of the mask over her ears were in need of recalibrating. She moved towards PR-12 and carefully placed her hands beneath its dampened shell. She noticed that it was warmer than it should be while in rest mode. She immediately got it up into her arms and hauled it over to the enclosure of the workstation cubicle on the other side of the pens.

Still dripping fluids from the nutrient bath, she immediately picked up a pair of specially designed tools used to key open and unseal the protective plates of the hybroid probe’s carapace. Her first concern was to assuage her suspicions and check on the sample compartments. Almost expecting to see violent tears in the hard organic casings, she was relieved to find them seemingly intact. However she became alarmed when she detected a bluish tinge scoring the metal-hard surfaces around the sealed joints where the rounded plates grew together. Carefully inspecting with her optex set for enlargement, she discovered that all of the bulb-shaped containers had developed microscopic fissures that were leaking tiny spores throughout the sample unit compartment. Moving the light around in the compartment space, she was alarmed to find that the bluish tinge was all over the inside walls of the compartment, and that a form of fungus had been building up.

Unsealing the compartment containing the sensor array, she was suddenly bombarded with a cloud of violet pollen spores billowing out. She called out quickly to the security system and commanded, “Seal the workstation cubicle for biocontainment procedures, Elfah/Baytah level authorization only.” When the even tones offered compliance, she began cracking open the propulsor chambers and the mechanical tool units as well. More spores poured into the room, and she found that every interior surface of the probe was covered in a thick carpet of soft burgundy fungus. She could practically see it moving under enlargement, and her fears bloomed as she reached up to unlock the casing to the information-processing core.

She barely took time to notice that her uniform was covered in a fine layer of spores, especially in the areas still dampened by nutrient fluid. As the final plates came away in her hands, she placed the plate and tools down and reached for the vacuum nozzle. She began to clear away some of the thick, ropey masses of spores that had stretched over the thin soft shell. The actual cortical structure was ribboned with blue tendrils that almost glistened. When she moved a tendril aside with a metal cutting tool, she discovered that the shell beneath had been eaten away. Suddenly very aware of how much of this stuff was on her, she looked down to discover tendrils forming all over her uniform, and could feel cool air starting to seep in.

Reaching for the vacuum to clean herself off, she noticed faintly out of the corner of her eye that something was sparking in the propulsor chamber. When she stopped to quickly check it, she found maroon liquid dripping off of several of the hybroid components making up the motor control systems. These ran on raw nerve impulses amplified through carefully sealed gelatinous organs that powered the hard musculature needed to pivot the propulsor engines around in the vented chamber. There was no telling what might happen if those organs were eaten open while a current was running through the system. Djoran moved her hand up to deactivate the probe’s cortical functions before it sensed the damage done and sparked off a reaction.

At first, the control pad, coated in mould, wouldn’t respond. Testily, she cuffed the probe soundly on its hard shell and waited for the pad to light up before trying again. Finally, the key combination sequence took, and the glow of the cortical centre began to fade.

A burning sensation reminded her that she was still covered in the pernicious fungus. She decided it was safe to hit the decontaminant spray, now that the probe’s neuroelectrical functions were shut down. As the spray began to jet down into the room from nozzles in the ceiling of the chamber, the slightly milky fluid spattered over everything. She could already begin to see some of the spore tendrils loosening up, and started to relax. She reached for the vacuum nozzle, preparing to suck up excess fluid in the probe, in hopes of salvaging it once the fungus was destroyed. She could still feel the burning on her skin, and some of her leather uniform began to crack open. She recalled that the decontaminant fluid was synthesized disinfectant fluid extrapolated from Cetacean bioform research. She wondered idly if her uniform would start to shrink on her body if she waited too long.

Starting the vacuum pump, she began draining pools of fluid out of the bottom of information processing core. Just then, she noticed the cortical centre began glowing through the shell once more. She looked up in alarm and noticed that the fungus had eaten through the protective casing of the control pad, which was now sparking with raw electrical current. Her eyes widened and she immediately pulled the nozzle down to the propulsor chambers while sparks were flying off of the sensor arrays. Pushing the nozzle against one of the muscular glands, she began draining fluid out of a seeping open wound. Sparks were catching onto everything, and it occurred to her that real disinfectant fluid might not be conductive, but surely the decontaminant had been formulated not to be.

She felt more than saw the sudden burst of energy from the cortical centre, as the chamber filled up with glowing golden light, and the sodden fungus flashed and exploded away from the probe. She looked down in a state of confusion and noted that purple liquid was dripping all over her skin, and it took a moment for her to notice piles of scrap leather on the floor. Her skin felt numb, but she couldn’t quite figure out if it was the fluid, the fungus, or the radiation filling the chamber that was causing it. The chamber itself was filling once more with spores. She looked up at the nozzles in the ceiling and saw that they too had been covered over with dripping gunk.

With her skin strangely numb, she at first couldn’t work out why her whole body seemed to be on fire, and she dropped to the floor, faint and nauseous. At first it occurred to her that the energy might be doing it, and she started looking for something to deactivate the probe again. Her undergarments were sodden and covered in violet stains. All of her bare skin was covered with fluid and fungus, and now that she looked carefully, blood was leaking from sores opening under her clothes. Ripping feebly at her undershirt, she found tendrils that hadn’t quite broken up creating open sores on her numbed skin. She wasn’t sure if it meant that it was infection and not radiation setting in.

The last thought to pass through her mind before oblivion set in was how much it felt like the warmth of laying in Zhessoff’s arms.

© 2011 Lee Edward McIlmoyle

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