So I haven't written shit in like a gorillion years, so I decided to get back into it. I could feel rust creaking in my brain and between my fingers while I was doing this, so it might be a little wonky at first. But hey, getting back into swing and all, and this is the project I'm using to do it.
Archive Hunter: Grocery Run“Oh Mark, my love, so long it’s been since we’ve seen one another. My love for you has done nothing but grow in our distance!” Said Elizabeth tearfully, throwing herself into her love’s arm.
“Elizabeth, my beautiful flower, the war has taken much from me… But my heart replaced what I’ve lost with love for you! Let us never be separated again!” Said Mark, his own eyes growing blurry and weak by the strength of their reunion.
Both owners of tearful eyes looked at each other longingly, barely breaking contact. Moments passed as they lost themselves in nostalgic remembrance of their trials and hardships, and silent love flowed between them; Silent, for their feelings were so strong they needn’t be said out loud.
Their eyes broke contact once they simultaneously embraced each other once again-
“Just fuck her already,” I mumbled, snapping the book shut. Got nothing against sappy writing, but enough is enough. “How far we got left, Slip?”
The mechanical horse drawing the covered wagon made a click and a bleep before a synthesized voice answered.
“Approximately fifty-three meters remaining until we reach the ‘2024 Joint Scientific Institute,’ advising preparation for search and recovery,” Sleipnir said, without even turning its robotic head back.
“Understood,” I said, throwing the subpar love novel to the road and pulling my Inferno Revolver from its holster beside the driving seat. The gun wasn’t exactly the most normal-looking of weapons: It was a fourty centimeter long rectangle with a handle, with two half-circle bits sticking out where the massive cylinder was resting, sealed. The rest of the rectangle was a barrel, and a cooling unit that made a gentle blue line spanning half its length: a heat indicator.
I checked it over, more to pass the time than anything. Sleipnir was walking at a slow pace to conserve energy, and even fifty meters might be enough to misdirect me in the thick Fog. It still didn’t take too long before Slip took me right to an entrance, though. I stuffed a Mjollnir unit into one of my duster’s pockets, put on my hat and tried the door.
“Locked. Beg your pardon…” I mumbled, before kicking the metallic door off of its hinges. I walked in, and saw an unassuming corridor. The Fog was thinner here, and not a problem. I walked around until I found a big empty room, maybe what used to be an exhibit. The room was in shambles, as time, plant and growth and animals did their work.
I found what looked like a sign, removed a few of the vines covering and found what I was looking for: A map, or part of one, at least. Got me a way to the stairs, so I wasn’t complaining.
I followed the road to the stairs with only one, short detour caused by debris, and walked as deep as I could from the stairwell, into the basement. The darkness was a bother, so I pulled back the hammer on my Inferno Revolver. It took a couple seconds, but the gun started glowing with an aggressive, dark red color.
Not a torch, but bright enough to see with. I proceeded into the basement, trusting my memory to make a map as I went along. A few detours were necessary, but I found what I was looking for: something suspicious.
A big metal door, with letters painted on in fading colors: “Authorized personnel only.” Next to it was something that looked like it used to be an ID scanner, destroyed over the years.
“No way around it…” I mumbled, before walking a few paces away from the door. I put my gun up, and fire three times in a triangle. The gun barked hot lava, its blue heat indicator turning red, and the door gained molten holes at three points. As it did, a vacuum made itself felt, proof of insolation. I walked closer and peeked inside, checking the doors. Weren’t too thick, luckily for me, so I walked away from the doors again.
I burst into a sprint and rammed the doors, weakened by their three newest holes. They gave way with a sickening screech. I fell to the ground with a part of door, but the impact wasn’t enough to deafen me to the sound of the building grumbling at its loss.
“That ain’t good,” I mumbled, getting up and dusting myself off. I looked around, and saw what could have been a pristine lab, if it weren’t for the occasional dead, dried body, preserved in this previously airless tomb. A few doors lead to the sides, probably leading to living quarters.
Was probably an emergency shelter, until life support gave out. Unlucky bastards.
I spotted a computer monitor, still manned by a dry corpse in the chair in front of it. I grabbed the chair and pulled it out of my way. As I did the entire body fell to the ground with a dry crunch. Seeing no more restrictions, I pulled the chair back and sat in it. No one was using it anymore, anyway.
I pulled the Mjollnir unit out of my pocket, slapped in on the computer and turned it on. The computer answered with a groan, beeps and a slow activation. As it did, dozens of other little lights and systems activated around the lab.
“Come on, this is my last one. Give me something good,” I said in mourning of my last Mjollnir unit. Easy-to-carry generators strong enough to power entire labs weren’t exactly common, and I’d used all of mine in searches like this one. Without them, I’d be reduced to looking for paper records of a digital age, a few hundred years after they were originally made. I was lucky to ever find intact paper, finding intact paper with what I was looking for on it would be nigh-impossible.
The computer fully booted, and I started my search. Looking from top-to-bottom in an entire lab network takes no little time, and I was getting hungry by the time I found what I was looking for.
“Well, call me Sally…” I said, as the monitor started showing data of the first appearances of the Fog, and where it was originally found. Most labs I’d found with useful data knew about Fog and studied its effects, its cause, projections of the altitudes it would be able to climb to… useful stuff, but never this. This was its source, or as close as I’d get.
First contact with the world-spanning Fog was written in a report with detail. Fog was first spotted in Krubera-Voronja, by a group of diggers, in 2054. The entire thing was recorded by a helmet camera, until the moment the Fog made them all go mad after exposure, as it usually did. First contact, first casualties. There was a list of names and more about the specifics of the expedition inside, but it could wait until later.
Krubera-Voronja, I didn’t recognize the name. I started to look it up, until the monitor flickered: I was almost out of time. I accessed the network as fast as I could and located the emergency portable hard drive, deleted everything in it and put all of the Fog-related work inside, not only the first encounter data: There was still more to look over. Probably redundant with what I already had, but better safe than sorry.
As soon as the files were copied, as if waiting for me, the computers shut down. I retrieved the dead Mjollnir, and started looking for the emergency hard drive. The ground rumbled as I did, probably a bad sign. There were a lot of things beyond a collapsing building that could make the ground tremble in the Fog-covered world, and none that sprung to mind were any good.
I sped up my search, until I found a panel with “EMERGENCY” written on it. It was jammed shut, so I broke through it with a chair. Luckily, the hard drive looked undamaged, but I didn’t even have time to breathe relief before the ground shook again.
“Got to know when to hold them, fold them, and run!” I said as I grabbed the hard drive and broke into a sprint without even pocketing the device. The map I’d drawn in my head while coming in had faded quite a bit, and I ran into a dead end first.
I hardly had time to swear before the dead end burst out towards me, all teeth and massive insect. A mouth big enough to take my entire head burst towards me, and all I could do to protect myself in my surprise was fall to the floor. It narrowly missed me and kept going, revealing its twelve-foot long body in the process, a massive mutated centipede of hunger and teeth.
It turned to face its body against me again in a whip-like manner, taking a chunk out of a nearby wall, but my gun rose faster, and the shot melted right through the middle of its narrow body. A thousand angry clicking noises and thrashing followed, until the thing was down for good.
“Pleasure’s all mine,” I muttered, getting myself back up and running for the stairs. Wasn’t about to relax just yet.
I found the stairwell quickly enough, this time without wrong turns, and hustled up as fast as I could. As I did, more tremors came to accompany the sound of my boots hitting the stairs. A quick look at one of the lower walls revealed cracks forming with impressive speed. I hadn’t even made it to the next corner that it burst into an even bigger mutated centipede, this time with bigger teeth.
It rammed the wall opposing it clumsily, and turned its massive jaw upwards: directly towards me. It climbed with such speed that all I could do before it destroyed the surface I was standing on was stretch my legs wide enough to keep a foot on each side of its mouth, keeping me from getting eaten.
I tried to point my gun in a stable manner, but its ascent hadn’t ended: It bashed me into the next flight of stairs in the half-second it would have taken me to pull a trigger. The stairs held the first time, but it retracted and did so again, breaking through the century-old stairs.
“Shit!” I said to both the pain, and the fact I’d just dropped the hard drive on what I was just plowed through. A moment’s distraction was once again enough for it to bring me further, onto the ceiling of the stairwell. My legs didn’t buckle, but its jaw had started to rip from the strain. It clicked furiously, but slowed down just a bit as well. I took my change and grasped my Inferno Revolver with both hands, pointing it straight down.
Two shots were all I had left, and two shots burned and melted their way down the massive creature. It fell away from the wall as it thrashed in pain, and I started moving: I pushed with one leg as hard as I could until it was on the falling beast’s outside, used it to hoist my other leg out and jumped for the stairwell.
No ordinary man could have made the jump, just as an ordinary man’s legs or back would have been broken by now. I wasn’t normal, though. I could live in the Fog without going insane, the same Fog that made a centipede into the monster falling to the bottom of the stairwell. I was stronger than a man.
I made the jump, hanging onto the stairwell with my off hand. I threw the Inferno Revolver onto the stairwell and pulled myself up with both hands. Thankfully, the hard drive was on the same side as the door, the side I had pulled myself to. I picked both it and my gun up, and looked down one last time. The centipede was having spasms at the bottom, occasionally hitting the walls or itself with its whip-like movements.
“First floor, this is your stop,” I growled down to it before walking into the building.
The light Fog of the first floor was a welcome sight compared to the darkness below, and I took my time stumbling back to my wagon. Superhuman or not, my back and legs were killing me, and my breaths were shallow and painful.
I made it within ten minutes, and Sleipnir only acknowledged my presence by staring at me as I left the building. I climbed into the wagon from the back, opened up a metallic coffer labeled “FOG”, and stuck the hard drive in with more of its kind and a few paper documents. A few other coffers were stacked and lined up, with subject tags from “HISTORY” to “SOCIAL STUDIES,” each of them a miniature library I’d gathered on the subjects.
I got back out, and faced the institute.
“Thank you very much,” I said to the institute, and to the resting scientists within. “You’ve helped out.”
I would have had a moment of silence, but a synthesised voice spoke up from behind me.
“You are not speaking to anybody. Professional help recommended in field: Psychology.” Sleipnir said, as it was the first time it had witnessed me thanking the dead. Wasn’t every day I was shooed out without being able to say in it person.
“Plan a course to the nearest Fog-free altitude, Sleipnir. I need to rest,” I answered while ignoring its latest quip, and it made a beep signifying it understood. I went into the wagon’s driving seat and leaned back, letting out a pained breath as I did. “Alright, let’s go.”
Mechanical hooves hit the ground and I took a nap, another archive successfully hunted.