Spore Batch 01--"Fire in the Sky"

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Day 23, year unknown.

Per Morrow Project protocols, all project activities, missions, research and interaction will be documented as best as Project staff can manage, as soon as they are capable. After being brought online by means of the fail-safe system, it has taken me 23 days to diagnose the least of the problems facing TMP Bolthole-VYZ, scavenge for viable spare parts in the kits of the slumbering project staff and bring the bunker’s computer system to some semblance of working order. Should the project staff eventually be revived, they may be a bit dismayed by some of my pilfering through their belongings, but I’m certain that with death as an alternative, they will likely forgive my assault upon their personal electronics and such.

Ostensibly, this record will be kept to enlighten any TMP personnel, should they chance upon this location sometime in the future. If you are a project member, I hardly need to explain this, but if you are not a project member and have somehow managed to find your way in here and are reading these files, I would politely ask you to stop now, and to slowly back away from the computer that is likely to explode at any second thanks to your unauthorized access. I have had to clean up enough around here, and I certainly don’t want to have to mop up your remains, as well. If you simply must persist and believe that I am fibbing, very well. Like almost everything else around here, the self-destruct mechanism within the computer station may have broken down, too. In that case, I am explaining why I am leaving this log because, well, to be honest, there is no self-destruct mechanism. But every moment that I can keep your eyes scanning the screen in front of you is one moment you are not looking behind you, which is where I am probably standing right now, preparing to subdue you.

Still with me? Greetings, fellow Project staff! I am ABLE, an AI-controlled robotic unit assigned to Bolthole-VYZ during the 2010 General Equipment Upgrade. As I mentioned earlier, I was brought out of sleep mode by the bunker’s fail-safe system, apparently due to the computer finally giving up the ghost. Based on the condition of things here, I am not surprised. I am not certain how much time has passed since the war, as even the secondary and tertiary methods (the flora planted outside and the super-high viscosity drip) have been compromised. It is therefore my sworn duty to maintain this facility to the best of my ability until I receive directives from Prime Base, or until the readings from outside indicate that it is safe to manually revive the team in stasis here. For the nonce, I shall effect what repairs I can, and make things as presentable for my biological teammates as I can.

Day 45, year unknown.

I have finally cleared a way to the surface through the emergency hatch and taken some readings, as the surface sensors were not responding. It seems as though much of the immediate area topside is covered in a thick layer of ash and soot that still emits fairly potent ionizing radiation. I’ve no idea the source of this contamination; such a weapon was never described in the arsenals of any hostile power. This residue appears to have contaminated the surface sensors and eventually burned them out through over-exposure. I can only surmise that this phenomenon is a by-product of the nuclear holocaust, and hopefully it is localized. Rudimentary analysis indicates that the half-life of the samples is significantly longer than the residue from a thermonuclear detonation, but short enough that it should go through enough cycles that the radiation should drop to tolerable levels within 80 to 100 years. Once I have completed some other tasks around the Bolthole and installed some alarms and such, I will drop into conservation mode to preserve my runtime, and check on things periodically until then.

Day 257, year unknown-plus 12.

My annual check of the Bolthole and environs yielded an unusual discovery. The radioactivity topside has decreased dramatically from this time last year. I was at a loss as to how this came about, wondering at first if my admittedly makeshift analytical equipment had gone wonky, when I discovered that my samples of the contaminants had, themselves been contaminated! Ever the thorough scientist, I trundled back top and carefully took several more samples, only to discover the same results. Seeing a pattern, I concluded that the contaminated sample was not an outlier. It appears as though some kind of fungus is thriving in the radioactive soot up there. Now, I’m no mycologist, but I would venture that the fungus is responsible for the reduced readings. If this trend keeps up, I might have been able to wake the team by the end of next year, barring any changes in the fungal growth patterns, but this spot of good news was, as usual, tempered by further catastrophe.

My repairs to the bunker have not been holding in the past year. My alarms and sensors were designed with macroscopic dangers in mind. It seems that some form of biological agent has found a way to creep in, and it has compromised the electronics and life support for the cryostasis tubes. Four members of the team have perished. I will cannibalize salvageable parts from their units to try and maintain the other, less-compromised tubes. I can no longer afford to enter conservation mode to pass the time. If the situation becomes too dire, I may have to initiate revival on all of the team to give some of them a chance at survival, regardless of how slim the system says their odds are. From here on out, it will be a long, slow dance. An endless equation in this calculus of death.

Day 189, year unknown-plus 53.

I truly began to question my own electronic sanity today. I swore that I received some kind of a signal on the wireless. I replayed the signal buffer to see if I was hallucinating, and discovered that I was not. Under other circumstances I would say “thankfully I was not,” however, the nature of the signal rather makes me wish it was just photon floaters and fuzzy logic. Some kind of orbital asset picked up and pinged Bolthole-VYZ’s comms, and appears to be piping telemetry data back and forth for the purpose of sending a lander down nearby. I have no idea what this is or who is sending it, but it is not the sort of thing an assistant such as myself was intended to deal with alone.

Through careful monitoring and maintenance over the past 41 years, I have not lost any more of the team in stasis. There are five members of the team I could likely revive, but three of those are chancy. The other two of the five I have been taking special care with; their machines suffered the least damage, and I have long known that if I had to wake anybody up, they would be my best bet. I will now commence the thawing process and hopefully Sergeant Harris and Corporal Riley will be able to deal with this developing situation.

Day 6

I have decided to adopt a new dating style for these entries, based upon the time I woke a portion of the team and they ventured topside. Nothing exciting happened for the last 41 years, and I can only presume that the previous 12 years—when I would come out of conservation mode for a few days annually to perform security checks and run tests on surface radioactivity—were just as dreadfully boring. Such being the case, I would like to forget those years if I could, and take this opportunity for a fresh start.

Sergeant Harris and Corporal Riley were revived with no issues. The conditions they woke to were probably not what they were expecting, and they came to with minimal symptoms of stasis shock. When I set their tubes to thaw, I left the main chamber to set up the charges that would allow their entry topside. Both the men were up and skulking around before I was able to return to them. I rather suspect they would have tried to ambush me had Mr. Riley not tripped on an uneven floor tile in the mess hall (pushed up by a bloody root, of all things, can you believe that?) and given away his position. Fortunately, he was in a safe place for a blunder, though I do hope he is more careful (or less unlucky) when venturing outside.

Upon revealing his position, I called out and attempted to calm them down. In order to determine if I was a friendly, they called out a codeword that they and the team had concocted prior to being put under in 1982. “Thunderbird,” I heard one of them call out, to which I naturally replied “are go.” Evidently, the phrase was the name of a silly animated show from the 1960’s, a time when these men were probably just children. I fervently hoped that was the proper code phrase, and that my programmers weren’t just playing a joke on me. I’d plot vengeance except for the fact that said rapscallions are likely long dead by now.

I brought the two men up to speed on what little I knew of the current situation, that some kind of landing craft was homing in on our location. Sergeant Harris naturally inquired about reviving the rest of the surviving members of the team, which I think I dissuaded him from for now. I can certainly understand his motivation, and it only makes sense, but the truth is, I only revived him and Corporal Riley because of the situation at hand and because they had the best chance of coming out of stasis unscathed. With their tubes offline, I will likely be able to perform repairs on some of the other tubes, and eventually revive the rest of the team.

While I was introducing the human members of the team to their grim new reality, a handful of people topside had taken notice of the lander coming down, as well. Nearby were two small settlements, and both of them sent people out to investigate. From the settlement of Blue Mount came a fellow named “Sir Segway,” and a young woman named Freya. From a place called Rattle Farm came Cleetus, Shemp, Chet, Glinda and Rollo. The pair from Blue Mount arrived first, and awakened the occupant of the lander.

Now, you might be wondering, since my narrative up to this point has been entirely from a first-person perspective, how could I possibly know what was going on out there at the time? The truth is, I do not know. Not exactly. I discovered a few days after my charges set out into the wasteland, that they were not the only ones to be surprised by equipment updates after we were placed in stasis. The version of the rejuvenation serum the team was dosed with—which I was fully briefed on as of my inclusion in Bolthole-VYZ—was upgraded, as was I. The current version causes the serum-enhanced team members to emit nano-scale “spores” that utilize a form of near-field communication to transmit data. These spores home in on me, evidently, and they carry sensory information from the team members when they are in the field. Unfortunately, there is a significant lag between when the spores are released and when I receive them, so this system is completely useless in a tactical sense. It will likely prove quite useful in terms of documenting the mission, however, and definitely gives me something to while away the hours. My knowledge of the events topside is merely an extrapolation based on the experiences of Sergeant Harris and Corporal Riley, and the conversations they later had with people. So, without further ado, I was getting to the annoying part of the story.

Sir Segway and Freya arrived to investigate the lander, or as they called it, the “Fire from the Sky.” Since some unknown time ago, their ancestors’ world was obliterated by “fires from the sky,” I could understand their wonder and fear. As they drew closer to the lander, which bore arcane sigils that neither of the illiterate sods could decipher, a hatch opened and a ramp folded out. From within the dark, sterile recesses of the lander, electric eyes peered out and assessed the potential threats gathered outside. The spidery limbs of the creature uncoiled, and…

All right. Full stop. I…I can’t bring myself to do it. I can’t bring myself to infuse this entity with undue charm or mystery. I feel like I am doing you, my audience, a disservice. Inside the damn lander was a robot. A robot infused with a bloody singlemindedness and one that is largely the antithesis of nearly everything I stand for. The robot stepped out, and instead of trying to interact meaningfully with the locals, like any TMP member worth his salt would, the MARS unit simply decided that they were not threatening enough to warrant further attention and ignored them, went on its merry bloody way and probably just followed a bearing caret in its internal HUD to stamp inexorably toward its goal, which was a small cave in the side of a narrow ravine nearby. This was where I had just blown the charges that uncovered the main entrance to the Bolthole.

Freya raced ahead of MARS, who didn’t seem to care if the biologicals got there before it did. Sir Segway did a fine job of stalling the machine and attempting to distract it. In all likelihood, its programming was probably weighing the possibility of having to liquidate the both of them should they stand in its wholly militaristic way. Fortunately for the both of them, its priority protocols must have been at a low—nearly lackadaisical—setting. Freya arrived first and sent her highly trained—and I use this term loosely—“dog” in to scout the cave. It somehow conveyed to her that the way was clear. She entered to find the door to the vault, and was greeted by Sergeant Harris and Corporal Riley. The TMP members easily made introductions to Freya and started their meeting with the topsiders on a good, calm footing, as they were trained. The project members were invited back to Blue Mount, where they planned to begin learning as much as they could about the fate of the world.

Sometimes simple plans have wrinkles, however, and as the group made its way out of the ravine, they encountered a group of locals attempting to lay claim to MARS’ lander. Things might have gotten ugly, but the other group of locals seemed to recognize Sir Segway, and they were sufficiently intimidated by MARS to put aside the fantasy of scavenging the lander. The strangers turned out to be a group from Rattle Farm, and it transpired that they had fallen on a bit of hard luck and felt that their only hope to make things right was some aggressive acquisition tactics, but their hearts weren’t really in it. As it turned out, Sergeant Harris felt he could help them; a vital piece of machinery had broken down on their farm, and he was certain he could fix it. They welcomed the offer, and brought the group to their settlement. A short while later, Sergeant Harris’ technical aptitude prevailed, and there was much rejoicing. The people of Rattle Farm shared foodstuffs with the strangers, engaged in friendly gambling and were lubricated with an ancient bottle of Jock’s hooch that had been stored in one of the few stasis crates that did not fail over the years in the Bolthole. With new friends made and old acquaintances positively reinforced, the group left Rattle Farm and moved on to Blue Mount.

Sir Segway was the “leader” of the settlers at Blue Mount, a settlement which appeared to be centered around a largely unscathed pre-war brewery. The settlers were sometimes called “Walmarians,” as they had come from the--I’m not making this up, I swear—the Republic of Walmar. At some point in the past, Sir Segway and Freya had rescued these unfortunates from an extra-territorialised shopping centre and brought them back to Blue Mount, where they settled and formed a small community. During his travels, Sir Segway had obtained a vapour condenser and a solar collector, which allowed him to create a fair amount of pure, clean drinking water. He also used some of this water to create beer, a trade known to one of his several dependents.

Members of the Team wanted to move out as soon as possible and explore, which was understandable. Sir Segway was a merchant of sorts, and travelled far and wide throughout the region, which was called the “Shadow-Over Valley,” a likely bastardization of Shenandoah Valley, as this region of America was once known. The name was fitting, however, since there was an immense, perpetual wall of black smoke far to the north and northeast that reached far into the sky. No one knew where the smoke came from, but the locals claimed that it had always been there. Surely, future investigation will root out the source of this mystery, but not today. Sir Segway convinced Sergeant Harris and Corporal Riley to stay at Blue Mount for a short time, though, as some important convoy known by the locals as “The Pilgrimage” was due to pass through town in the next day or so. The project members conceded; they didn’t want to travel without friendly guides if they could, and they were also curious about this convoy.

Early the next day, the group was alerted of the approach of the convoy by Seven-fingered Bob, Sir Segway’s trusted sentry. Freya, who seemed to have an uncanny connexion with animals, sent a terrifying raptor out to investigate. Something about the convoy seemed to cause her some unrest, and the people of Blue Mount readied themselves for a scrap. It turned out that the convoy was not a ruse, as they had feared at first, it just didn’t have as many people in it as the locals would have expected.

Upon further investigation by Project members, they learned that the Pilgrimage was a regular event in these parts, and was sponsored by two settlements called Bastion Alpha and Bastion Omega; fortified settlements that guard the primary egress points of a locale known as “The Morpheum.” According to local legend, the Morpheum was home to some quite unsavory creatures which—if not stopped—would run rampant throughout the region and spread death and destruction wherever they went. To prevent this, the twin Bastions regularly recruited volunteers from all over the valley in a custom known as “The Tithe.” This particular convoy had come from parts south, and the leader of the caravan, one Master Sergeant Woodruff, claimed that numbers were down. Something had the southern settlements spooked, and the volunteers were reluctant to join. He had not been able to get to the bottom of the matter; evidently, he had a tight schedule to keep. This irregularity piqued the interest of Freya, however. As the project members quickly learned, strange mutations were not uncommon, and Freya was not without radiation-borne alterations to her genome. The glaring irregularity she noted about the convoy was that it contained no mutants such as herself. Or even Seven-Fingered Bob. For the sake of people like her—mutants—she wanted to learn more about what was going on down south. Sergeant Harris and Corporal Riley were easy to sell on this plan; they wanted a chance to help the locals, and to travel. This objective fit both those criteria. They prepared for a trip to three settlements to the south, a journey that would likely take a fortnight, barring any complications.

Fortunately, the early part of the trip was through land that was relatively hospitable. The group had no problems gathering plenty of food and water to sustain them. Freya regularly used her avian companion to scout ahead, as the eyes in the sky were nearly as helpful at times as an orbital asset. The hawk spotted a vicious-looking dog lurking to the side of the trail ahead. Freya noted that the heavily-scarred beast also had a collar on, suggesting it was trained and following orders from its master. Freya wanted to use her talents to try to calm the beast, but it appeared her winged scout had other plans as she saw the telltale indicators that the bird was preparing to swoop in and attack the threat!

By Lucifer’s testicle, what happens next!? This is the last batch of spores I have picked up, and they have taken several days to get here! You can’t possibly understand how maddening this is. You, dear reader, have the luxury of scrolling down and reading the next entry to discover how everything turns out. I, on the other hand, have to wait for the next installment of a cliffhanger that I know full-well has long since concluded! I wish those buggered spores would chivvy along and spit it out! The suspense is killing me! All the more reason, I suppose, to work on those talkies I wanted to give to Sergeant Harris and Corporal Riley, so I can mother-hen them all day long when things get too exciting!