Wednesday, 26 June 2013

White Weather

It’s snowing! IT’S SNOWING! Here! Now! Big fat fluffy flakes piling up a meter high. The schools are closed. It’s beautiful.

Yes, I’m suddenly six years old. No, I don’t care.

I’m going to grab Black and head outdoors. Guy could use some exercise.

EDIT:  While snowballs, marshmallows in milo and a roaring fire are not to be sneezed at, you probably want some actual news.

Roy! Your leg is complete and being shipped your way as we speak. Instructions for assembly are included, as are the controllers and their batteries as well as a charging cord. It may take a little getting used to.

As for what occured after the solstice, there was a lot of faffing around while I told the police I ran over a deer and wrote to my parents for money to pay back the rental company for their car as well as the cost of the tow. Then I went and got food, Singstar, and incredibly drunk, since I'd missed Matariki and thought I might as well catch up. Two words:



While there’s something slightly sad about a celebration with only two people, I woke up with a massive hangover and Black was somehow on the roof so something approaching fun must have happened. Rose’s advice about cold water was both painful and invaluable.

Before the party, but after I’d gotten home, I did a quick check to make sure everything was as I’d left it. It was, save for the rats. I found five little rodentine corpses in the vapor and injection cages dead from bites, and a further four had completely disappeared unaccounted for. Interestingly, two of those four had not been part of the experiment at all; they were two of the three least bitey ones I’d picked out to be Black’s pets on Spyre’s advice. Clearly, some miniature drama must have played out while I was gone. I’m not sure what this means for the experiment, but I’ve cleaned the cages up and returned things to as they were.

Something odd that I’ve noticed about Rinforzando. Azoth is viscous and tends to hold together when tugged on.  I was withdrawing mass for the experiment when the similarity to nylon and other manmade textiles struck me. Not that I was going to act on this little bit of whimsy as azoth clothing strikes me as a singularly bad idea. However, the triangular area I was pulling up on split, forming thin strands between the main mass and the tongs. That’s not something that’s happened before, and the implications disturb me.

Since there are accounts of making azoth into physical weapons, I’m going to test methods of doing so. Also, you may have noticed Last’s plan to kill the Rake over here. I’m planning on making each participant a medal. There’s not much else I can do from here, but they'd deserve it.

Otherwise, things here have been quiet lately. Always a worry when that happens.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Winter Solstice

Ugh, well, it was eventful, to say the least. I rented a car and loaded it up with supplies and got out of town by late afternoon. It was pretty fun, at first, just like the roadtrip. I sang along to the radio, and Black stared out the window as the kilometers rolled by. The plan was to just keep moving the entire night, not staying in any one place, and I’d made sure to get lots of sleep beforehand and six packs of V ready. It was all set.

The radio got staticky after about an hour and a half, and steadily worsened as we went on. This wasn’t a red alert, since that always happens once you leave the footprint of the city and get into the mountains, but knowing the association put me on edge. I turned the radio off and plugged in my iPhone and started playing that.

As the sun dipped to the horizon, I flicked the lights on. Black, who had found a packet of crackers in the glove compartment and was steadily chewing his way through them, made an irritated noise. I told him if he wanted us to crash into a tree, we could.

I sort of regret saying that now. Because we did.

Not right then, of course. Right then, the iPhone’s music started getting snowy as well, and this time it wasn’t supposed to happen. A growing sense of unease began to pervade everything. I went a little faster, the driving equivalent of putting your collar up.

And all of a sudden, there it was, standing calmly in the middle of the road, picked out by the headlights. The iPhone screeched, and the brakes and tires joined in in a cacophonous duet. Thanking absolutely everything that my uncle had decided to give a lesson on bootlegger’s turns while I was practicing for my license, /the paddock he allotted for the training was pretty ripped up by the end of it), I turned around and rode the nope train to fuck that ville all the way to… wards him again. And this time he had his tentacles out.

There came that sinking feeling you get when you know there’s no way this is going to end well and that there’s no way to avoid it. I was determined to try, though. Gears grinded as the car was complainingly hauled into reverse, and I started backing away from him at high speed, eye fixed on him and ears straining for the noise of any oncoming traffic or the sound of the judderbars. I was as taut as a wire, and when Black chose this moment of all moments to shake my shoulder, I snapped at him.

WHAT.” I said, and rear ended a road marker. Several road markers. I slammed on the brakes for the second time in as many minutes and glared at him.

After the wide eyed response to being practically firebreathed upon vanished, he pointed out the window. Slendy was gone from the road, but we were now in a forest. I craned my neck in all directions and nervously licked my lips.

“It’s okay, it’s, it’s okay. I know where we are. This is McLean’s Island.” The pine plantation is pretty distinctive. I locked the doors and windows. “Black, whatever you do, don’t get out of the car, and don’t let anything in.” I started yelling out into the darkness. “Ha! You want me to move? Well, I’m staying right here! How about that? Ha! I win! I… Black will you stop eating those crackers, you’re driving me nuts!” I snatched the packet from his hands. It was empty. The crunching noises continued.

I felt myself pale. Black just kept looking at the empty gap where the packet had been in his hands. I put it back and verrry slowly shifted into first.

Something heavy smacked onto the hood. I didn’t get a good look at it since my knee jerk response was to floor the accelerator and it rolled up and over the windscreen, leaving a trail of blood. I turned on the wipers, frantically switching gears, and that loud screeching noise was totally from the tires and absolutely not me.

Daughtry’s Renegade started playing in my head as I watched the speedometer’s needle climb higher and higher. I knew an approximation of the road layout, but that was useless if this was a Loop. I drove randomly, any direction was good as long as it was away. Black had dropped the cracker packet and was now hanging on for dear life to the point where he was leaving marks in the seat. As I rounded a corner at something approaching 80kph, he made an ‘I don’t like this’ noise. I told him to stuff it.

A bit of detail to make what happened next make sense; in McLean’s Island there is a part of the road where it goes up and then dips suddenly, enough that at normal speeds driving down it gives the stomach dropping sensation of being in an elevator. I wasn’t driving at normal speeds, and all four wheels left the ground. Everything went into the slow motion mode of imminent impact as we flew through the air, and then they connected with the road and lost grip. In less time than it took to react, the car had halted itself with a tree, and I had lived up to my icon. I blacked out.

When I woke up, my neck informed me that it had only recently healed and was going to hate me forever for doing this to it again. My chest and abdomen hurt where the seatbelt had cut into them, and my body was starting to get very jittery from adrenalin and caffeine. I groaned, coughed up a lung, and opened my eye. First thing I noticed was that Black was gone from the passenger seat. Second thing was that the windscreen was smashed, letting the cold, wet night air in. Third thing was the tree the entire front of the car had wrapped itself around. The headlights had gone out, and refused to come back on.

At first I thought he’d gone flying through the windscreen, and fought with the seatbelt while trying to see if there were any bodies out there. When I got free, I found his seatbelt hadn’t torn, it had been unclipped. I swore. I grabbed a torch from under the seat and climbed out through the gap where the windscreen had been, curling my lip at the blood still on the hood. The ‘not letting anything in’ policy had just gone down in terms of feasibility. I shouldn’t have brought him, I thought. Shouldn’t have. He would have been completely, well, mostly, safe back at home, as long as he didn’t try to open the windows. And now he’s in the forest, somewhere, probably in imminent danger of being eaten.

I started searching around and away from the car with the torchbeam, while still keeping one hand on the metal. “Black? Hellooooo! Are you out there! I know you don’t talk much, but make a noise!”

I think it’s understandable that when a hand reached out from under the car and grabbed my ankle I panicked. I kicked it free and then kicked under the car, to a cry of pain, before crouching and shining the torch under it, ready for anything.

It was Black, and his nose was now bleeding. I was immediately and profusely apologetic. His sleepwalking stare had now become a little more thousand yarded, and he wouldn’t get out from under the car for love nor money. In the end I performed the most awkwardly angled nose fixing with the first aid kit, and managed to persuade him to get a tarp between him and the ground. I tossed him the sleeping bag and the pillow, and then prepared for a long night of paranoia and no sleep.

It… was not fun. Every little noise had me on high alert, and I kept at least one part of me touching the car at all times as I patrolled around it, taser in hand. As the hours ticked by the numbers of scattered crushed green cans around the area rose and my head was constantly swiveling as I tried to account for my blind spot. I kept checking on Black in case he disappeared again. Every time I thought I began to relax a little, I spotted it, lurking in the background. I’d rarely felt so defenseless in my life. He could have killed us both then and there, if he got the whim, and I began to wonder why he hadn’t.

An hour before the sun rose was the last time I saw him. When I saw it rise it was like seeing it for the first time. I laughed. I was as tired as hell, but I was alive. Despite not being out of the woods yet, I felt like I’d passed some kind of trial.
I wrenched open one of the back doors and started rummaging. The screeching sound of the metal woke up Black; I heard the sound of his head thunking against the underside of the car. I retrieved what I’d wanted, and then slammed the door shut, whistling.

“Hey, Black!” I said chirpily. I bet my manic grin was the last thing he wanted to see this early. “Nonono, don’t go back to sleep, come on out. It’s gone.” For now, said the part of my mind that wasn’t currently euphoric. I ignored it, and pulled the tarp out from under the car, with him on it. I sat down on it, facing the sun, and opened the bottle of whiskey. Yes, yes, I know.

As I poured it into the cups he blearily sat up. We watched the sunrise turn everything gold. Everything was covered in dew, so it sparkled, and the air smelled of pine and petrichor.

“You know,” I said. “There’s so many places that celebrate the longest night of the year ending. I can see why. It’s a way of saying, ‘We’ve passed through the worst. We survived.’ That’s a great thing to celebrate. Being alive. And it’s still going to be cold and frosty for the next while, it’ll be hard, but now we know, we know that it won’t last forever, because the shortest day’s been. Time to honor the dead! Time to celebrate the living!”

I leaned back against the car and sighed. I wanted to sleep, very badly, but I couldn’t just yet. “So then, here’s to being alive!” I passed him his drink and gulped down mine. “Here’s to passing trials!” I threw the cup at a tree. Given a growing dislike of forests, I found it hard to care about littering them.

Black copied me in gulping down the drink and then started coughing and spluttering. After a few slaps on the back he was fine, but when I poured a second drink and put it in front of him, he ignored it. I smiled, and drank them both, looking up at the now blue sky. Everything was perfect.

That’s when I remembered where I was and how I’d got there.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Experiment #4: Vaccine

It’s been a while since I made one of these posts. The purpose of this experiment to help recreate the Cure by testing the hypothesis that it activated an immune response to azoth.

Each group of test rats shares a cage, food and water supply.

Trial One:
10x rats are a control group.
10x rats are continuously exposed to azoth vapour. Their cage has activated charcoal filters in order to prevent the vapour from escaping into the lab and contaminating the results. Similarly the vapour supply is shut off one day before the cage is weekly cleaned, in order for it to have dissipated before it is opened. The filters are also changed at this time. The azoth is replaced monthly.
10x rats are injected weekly with a 20 mg/ml solution of dissolved dead azoth.

The supply of dead azoth is taken from the living azoth sent to me by Kelevra, which after a conversation with Rose  we decided to name Rinforzando. It is ‘fed’ a solution of equal parts bleach, ethanol, chlorine and hydrogen peroxide to ten parts water. Varying the concentrations to see which constituent is most effective is an experiment for when this one is over in order to keep things consistent; my money’s on the alcohol. As it grows excess amounts are cut off and killed with concentrated hydrochloric acid, before being stored for later use.

Trial Two is similar in construction, save that each rat has been innoculated with 2 per cent solution of antibodies extracted from Carter’s blood beforehand, and then was observed for three weeks before exposure to azoth in order for any adverse effects to become apparent. There were none.

In other news, Adam left me his fedora behind, along with a note. I am sincerely touched.

I’ve managed to pin the chemical structure of the active substance in Strider’s pills. Extensive searching of the literature reveals no previous work on it. Making a drug is, if not easy, then doable in a garage with the right equipment and the right recipe. But the development of a drug takes years and millions of dollars, so why no patent or paper to pay it back or get recognition? I suspect government involvement, but that only increases the mystery as to why a random Runner had them on him. Speaking of making it, I can. The yield is incredibly piss poor, so if you want any in bulk I’d probably be repeating the same procedure over and over again for the next six months, but at least Strider has something to show for his donation. I’m currently working on trying to find ways to increase the yield.

As for Morningstar’s pills, I haven’t had much chance to do any work on them, but a quick test reveals the becoming increasingly familiar chemical signature of azoth. Teasing out the other chemical constituents will take a little more time.

Speaking of chemical constituents, something I should have done earlier was to test azoth for DNA. Interestingly, it has none. It does, however, contain RNA. All this means that if there is a LUCA, it is far, far back. Azoth has more genetically in common with virii than any other living or unliving creature.

R, your arms are almost done. I just need to do some fine tuning to get smoothness of movement up to par and then weld on the outer coverings. Since I can’t do any neural integration, especially so far away, the controls for the arms will be on a modified tooth protector which you operate with your tongue. I’ll send you two of those and a pack of the batteries they require. The arms themselves require power point charging. An overnight charge will keep them running for three days straight. Roy, your leg is a little behind but works similarly.

What else, what else… right. The Dying Man river water. I have a hunch that the black dots are the active ingredient and also that they are some sort of organism, and I am planning to test both.

Thanks to the hemisphere flip, I’m getting the Winter Solstice much sooner than most of you, just as you’ll be getting the Summer one much earlier than me. Since I still have some time on the car rental left, I plan to grab Black, skip town, and spend it out on the plains near the mountains, where there are minimal trees and lots of wide open spaces. The other option is to stay home in the city, but since both Kelevra and Fracture have independently found my house it’s evidently not as safe as previously thought. So I’ll be incommunicado until I get back.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

The Raid

We set out for the lab early that morning, not afternoon as previously stated, in order to retain an element of surprise. The sun was just rising and hadn’t cleared the mountains yet, meaning the only difference between day and night was no stars. While doing a final check of my pack in case I’d missed something, I tossed the spare stick of insect repellent to Black and told him to use it if he went out, or he’d be eaten alive. Then it was off to Adam’s hotel to be once more greeted by a gun to the face.

I drove us to the point on the road closest to the lab, which was an hour and a half drive. Then it was a full three hours trudging uphill. Adam questioned the choice of wearing a T shirt and shorts in the mountains, but I told him I had a history of overheating on walks like this, to the point where I once went over the Hubert Pass in my underwear and there were warmer clothes in the pack for if the weather went south. At one point when he wasn’t looking I snapped this shot of him. The guy seems to have ‘posing dramatically’ as a hobby.

The lab slowly came into view. It looked exactly like the sort of thing a passing lost tramper wouldn’t care to notice which I suppose was the point; abandoned, locked looking hut buildings situated in what had once been a clearing but had overgrown inwards. The largest one even had ‘PADDOCK HUT’ carved into a lintel with peeling white paint. For a second I wondered if this was the right place, but of course it was; I’d looked at a list of huts built in this mountain range, and none of them had this name.

I hung back behind the trees. Adam went straight for the front door while I circled behind from the opposite direction and lost sight of him. I waited until the shouts, screams and shooting stopped, and then waited a good thirty minutes more before hefting a nearby rock and tossing it through a window. I cleared the remaining shards from the sill with the side of my taser and then climbed in, leaving the unwieldy hiking bag outside.

The room was filled with about three dead Proxies. Obviously Adam had been here on his swathe of destruction. In comparison to the outside, the inside was surprisingly well kept, albeit filled with the mess that tends to accumulate when people live together for any length of time. I searched the bodies for anything useful, but they had nothing. One last look around what was clearly a dorm, and I went on the hunt for some labs proper.

They were downstairs; I found an open trapdoor which lead to a series of interconnected basements, each white and sterile apart from the blood and quite obviously used. This was more like it; I made a beeline straight for the computer and booted it up. Guessing the password was stupidly easy, since someone with a poor memory had written it underneath the monitor where they thought nobody would look. I set the machine to transferring files while I looked at the emails. Thank god for Firefox and its memory.

These in particular caught my attention:

Helsingborg’s been compromised and the next destination is here. You need to start getting things ready for transport immediately.
You’ve also failed to give the requested genealogical data. I know you have it.

You may have talked in a few of the right ears to get your position but as far as I’m concerned you’re a jumped up kid too big for his boots. Yes, I have the data. Here you fucking go. [There was a document attached to the email. Unfortunately all hell broke loose before I could read it.] Much good will it do you; I know what you’re after.

As for Sweden… well, that’s what security is for. Hunting accidents happen all time in the mountains.

Then I leave the matter in your no doubt capable hands. You won’t hear from me again.

Neither of these codenames were familiar, on or offline, but you bet I’ll be on the lookout for any mention of them now.

I went to click on the attached file at the exact same moment a bullet decided to embed itself in the monitor. This didn’t do anything to the data itself, but did cause me to swear as glass shards embedded themselves in my face. I had to fight the urge to bring my hands up to it.

“Hands up!” someone yelled. Their tone brooked no argument, and I complied. A man pointing a pistol straight at me stood in the doorway; in his late forties by the looks of it, with mottled burn scars on his face, neck and hands. There was something oddly familiar about him that I couldn’t put my finger on. He nodded towards the computer. “The USB stick, take it out.”

I slowly took it out. I could see what was coming next.

“Toss it to me. No funny ideas.”

I tossed it in front of him. Keeping the gun trained on me, he stomped on it with spiked boots, crushing it to bits. I couldn’t help wincing.

“Now…” he said, and that’s when he was shot twice from behind, falling forward onto his face, revealing Adam in the doorway. I just stared at the man with two gaping holes all so suddenly in his chest.

“I told you it would be dangerous,” Adam said, lowering his gun.

“Thanks,” I said, watching the blood spread out on the floor and fighting the urge to do something. I asked him if he’d found any useful paperwork. He’d been busy, but the only paperwork he’d seen had dealt with the economics of the place. It looked like the only information on what they’d been doing here was on the computers. He expressed disappointment about the flash drive. I grinned, removed the floppy disk and CD and waved them in his face. Nobody expects those anymore.

The lights flickered, and suddenly you know who was right there in the room with us, and he was not happy. Where I was and what was happening conspired and suddenly I was eight and terrified again. I froze, but Adam didn’t. After shooting a couple of times, to no effect other than an even more pissed off Slender Man, he grabbed my upper arm and ran, pulling me along behind him like a flag. In the hallway between two buildings I managed to shake my head clear and start running under my own power. We performed what was quite possibly the quickest ladder climbing of all time and raced through the bush towards the car. Forget the hiking bag; everything in it could be replaced. Smoke started rising up through the trees, and I bet you anything that if we happened to go back there, anything even remotely of use would be gone.

Going downhill with less weight was significantly quicker than uphill with huge packs, but it was still an hour of scanning the treeline before I spotted the road and realized I’d left the headlights on. I practically collapsed onto the bonnet, panting for air. I can move very fast when I want to, but I don’t have the right sort of muscle to do so for extended lengths of time. My legs hated me.

Adam fiddled with the doorhandle and I tossed him the keys before going back to being draped over the car like a wet noodle. He revved the engine, and I reluctantly flowed into the passenger seat. He started driving for Christchurch, until I told him that we couldn’t very well leave Black stranded and he performed a U turn.

Black wasn’t in the hotel when I arrived, which did not do anything to help my already frayed nerves. After a moment of panic I remembered the tracker and located him by GPS. I packed up everything in the hotel, sorted things out at the front desk and found him at the lake front, staring out at the water. He was covered in bites.

With Black, Adam and everything else in tow, I drove to Christchurch without stopping. If anything happened on the way, I was too focused on the road in front of me to notice. So once again, I have a detective sleeping on my couch. I’ve tossed a tube of insect bite cream to Black, since I can tell telling him not to scratch them is going to be an exercise in futility, and now I’m going to bed.