The Breach (Part 9)

Posted 5 months ago :: Last edited 4 months ago by NeonSlushie

Half-buried in stacks of survey reports, Vas’an almost didn’t notice when Kellworth stopped by to hover over their desk. Almost. 
“Hmm? What is it now?” they grumbled, glancing up at him. “Another drone report? Add it to my inbox and I’ll—”
“No, no! Read it now!” Kellworth said eagerly, handing over the tablet. “This is a very good one. I need to see your reaction.”


Part 1

Vas’an sighed. “Are you going to keep standing here until I agree to read this?” they asked. It was a rhetorical question. They knew he would. “Fine. Let’s see what we’ve got. Forgive me if I can’t contain my excitement over yet another mineral report from some lifeless rock…” 

Vas’an trailed off as they scanned the report, their eyes widening in disbelief. Kellworth grinned in triumph. 

“Well,” Vas’an said eventually. “Has this information been confirmed?”

“Oh yes! Within the last day, in fact. The analysts were just as surprised as you were.” Kellworth retrieved a small device from his pocket and fiddled with it as lines of text raced across its small screen. “Of course the call is yours to make, Vas, but it seems like we have approval to send a manned survey team to investigate these findings. That would be an excellent idea, don’t you think? I believe we already have about all we can get just from using the drones. If the majority of the detected biomass is too deep for our external sensors—‘ 

Vas’an detected the early signs of a Kellworth ramble and politely tuned him out in favor of contemplating the report before them. The issue was not one of importance, but resources. With the Twilight Carnival fast approaching, Vas'an knew they were short on time—most of the surveyors would want to take the time to attend. The team would have to work fast. On the other hand…

“This must be quite a discovery for ARC,” Vas’an said. “After all, you came down here yourself to hand-deliver this.” they sighed. “How can I say no?” 

Vas'an copied the data to the station computer and handed back the tablet to a beaming Kellworth. “Just please have this all wrapped up by the start of the Carnival, or you'll have to be the one to personally explain why everyone on he team is going to miss the ‘celebration.” 

Still grinning, Kellworth gathered up his things and started for the door. “You worry too much, Vas! It’s just some preliminary sample collecting. The rest can be scheduled for after the Carnival ends. It won’t be a problem, I promise!”

Part 2

Survey Team Report 3
Chief Nyara to ARC Liaison Kellworth

Base camp has been established and initial infrasound scans have mapped the subterranean features outlined in the original survey. Biomass readings align with projected values; this confirms the hypothesis that this is indeed some sort of fungal colony. The team is currently preparing to collect samples. Will update with any further developments.

Survey Team Report 6
Chief Nyara to ARC Liaison Kellworth

The chamber has been successfully accessed: see analysis attached below. We took all available steps to prevent outside contamination, so hopefully the data should be clean. Must note that if it wasn’t for that survey map, it is unlikely that the team could have located the chamber. Considering all measurable environmental conditions, this exoplanet should be sterile; it appears that somehow, a pocket of life-sustaining atmosphere was trapped under the planet’s crust.

ARC Liaison Kellworth to Chief Nyara

Thanks for the update, Chief! I’ve got to say, these readings are incredible. We’re seeing at least three species that don’t match ANYTHING in our fungi genetic records. I’ve attaching a list of the fungi species that we’d like physical samples of; after that, bring your team back in time for the Carnival, otherwise I’ll never hear the end of it from Vas. Thanks!


Forwarded Message: Survey Team Report 6
ARC Liaison Kellworth to Survey Coordinator Vas’an



Survey Coordinator Vas’an to ARC Liaison Kellworth

Very promising. Is this what you were so excited about this morning? I could hear you shrieking even from down the hallway and through a closed door.


Survey Team Report 7
Chief Nyara to ARC Liaison Kellworth

We were able to collect the requested samples. After collection, four samples began to emit an unidentified type of spore and were rated biohazardous; have placed them in containment according to standard procedures. Fortunately, the crew has maintained zero exposure. We will be departing to the Owai system shortly.

ARC Liaison Kellworth to Chief Nyara

Copy! Thanks again for all your hard work! We’re all super excited to see your findings (even Vas). See you soon!

Part 3

The cargo ship began to decelerate as it approached the waystation. At this reduced speed, the name painted on its ventral side was visible: INGE-339.

As far as ships go, the INGE was rather unassuming, its paint faded from countless flights to far-off stars. But the ship’s pilots treated this wear and tear as badges of honor: after all, each of these flights had been for missions of utmost importance, expeditions that helped catalog and map the sector. Although the INGE was small, it often carried valuable cargo. This journey was no exception—inside one of its isolation chambers was something that emanated a dull blue-green glow.

“Okay, okay, should I go for a sweetsap foam first? Isn’t it around the time of year when they do a harvest? Oh wait, what about a jewel berry slushie? Those are great. Have you had one before? I actually haven’t. I’ve just heard they’re great—”

“Ecci,” Finjin said firmly, with a clack of his mandibles for extra emphasis. 'I know you're excited to see the Carnival for the first time, but if you don’t focus and help us finish the handshake procedure...”

“Oh! Oh, right. Sorry…” her feathers ruffled in embarrassment, Ecci concentrated once again on the console. Her short talons clacked rhythmically across the keyboards and control panels. “Annnnnd—yes! We’re locked into the Owai system station. Translocation in 30 seconds standard.”

Finjin checked his own console. “Confirmed. Good work as always.”

“You really think so?” Ecci puffed out her chest in pride. “Thanks, Fin.”

She's a good kid, Finjin mused to himself. And an absolute prodigy of a pilot. If she could learn to stay focused, she would receive solo certification in no time.

Ecci, meanwhile, was quietly brimming with joy. It was like what they said back home: an Avian belongs in the sky…well, she thought. Space certainly counts.

There was a slight shudder through the hull of the INGE as it passed into the station’s superluminal field. Ecci glanced at her monitor. “Confirming connection with Owai station. Autopilot locked-in," she reported. “Looks like we’ll be there in about four hours standard. Wow, these new Lorentzian stations are amazing! I can’t believe they finally finished building them. Once I read an article about—”

Finjin had been on far too many flights to share in her starry-eyed excitement, and was privately looking forward to a quiet trip home and some time off for the Carnival. He considered reminding her again not to get distracted, then decided against it. Ecci had done extremely well, all things considered, and they were in the last leg of their journey. Let her chat if she wanted to—at this point, there was very little that could go wrong.

Part 4



Subject: Survey Craft ‘INGE-339' interdicted during transit to OWAI System Station 1
Assailants ambushed the unarmed craft during its transition to real space, issuing a demand for the crew to jettison the cargo. The surveyor team onboard recognized the intruders as Biopirates, who likely received word of the discovery and planned to fence the ship’s cargo. The crew of the INGE followed standard procedure, broadcasting a SOS over a secure channel and resisting the assailant’s demands while ensuring crew safety, understanding that it was of tantamount importance to avoid releasing an unknown biohazardous substance.

Of all nearby and available systems, the Owai System was deemed to have the fastest response time and a warden team was deployed to the broadcast position. Warden forces were able to repel and pursue the assailants, who evaded capture by retreating beyond Alurizian space. With only minor damage, the INGE was able to resume its transit and made a safe landing at ARC Harbor campus.

Part 5

Vas'an usually was difficult to read, but today everyone could tell that they were in a dark mood. Kellworth could practically feel the concern radiating off them as they stood by their office window, staring out at the darkened sky. Their usual focus was completely absent: even the piles of overdue survey reports couldn’t draw their attention.

Kellworth didn’t blame them. They knew Vas’an wasn’t alone in feeling some sort of strain at the news—a strain that could only be lifted upon the safe return of the INGE’s crew. After all, these are people we all know, he thought. Although he tried to stay positive for himself and for the others, at the end of the day it was oddly freeing to succumb to his concerns and watch the skies with Vas’an, waiting for the cargo ship to return.

“Look,” Vas’an said suddenly, breaking the silence. “Do you see that?”

Kellworth squinted: there were three shapes in the distance, descending through the sky. “Yes! I think that’s them. Let’s meet them at the landing pad, I’m sure the ground crew could use a hand—”

But Vas’an had already started for the door. Kellworth grabbed his bag and followed.


As the crafts descended, two of them broke off and veered back towards orbit—likely escorts meant to ensure the Igne would land safely in Harbor. Members of the ground crew were scurrying about, preparing for the landing—and to aid the INGE’s crew, if necessary. But thankfully, as the ship approached, Kellworth could see that the damage to the hull damage seemed largely superficial, aside from a rather large blast mark near the engines.

Vas’an had noticed it too. “Looks like they tried to kill the power to the engines,” they said darkly, their tail swishing. “By the looks of it, these poachers knew what they were doing. Fortunately for the crew, Survey ships are built with plenty of backups to avoid getting stranded in the middle of uncharted space.”

The rescue crew immediately took position as the INGE settled onto the landing pad. But as the cargo door slid open, there was a collective sigh of relief: the INGE’s crew emerged looking mostly unharmed, aside from some minor bumps and bruises.
With a clack of his mandibles, the captain stepped forward. “Captain Finjin of the AREZ INGE, delivering cargo and samples as ordered—"
Kellworth cut him off. “You’re unharmed! I can’t thank you and your team enough, oh please don’t worry about the cargo! I’ll take care of it from here, you all make sure to get yourselves to the medical bay for a check-up!” He hurried to follow as the porters, who had already collected the contents of the isolation chamber, moved towards the lab entrance.
Vas’an sighed faintly in relief. “And don’t worry about the follow-up trip,” they added, glancing at Finjin and the rest of the crew. “I think you’ve more than earned your holiday.”
“You hear that?” Finjin said kindly to a calm but quietly exhausted Ecci, and gave her an encouraging pat on the shoulder. “Let’s get to medical, kid. Then why don’t you tell me more about your plans for the Carnival?”

Part 6

As they had been instructed, the porter drones took the cargo down to the ARC labs; Kellworth followed close behind. Different sections of the ARC flashed by as they hurried past: the greenhouses, the genetics lab, and of course, the Xero Wing that housed the classrooms, playrooms and computer labs where young Xeros learned.

Kellworth glanced through one of the classroom windows and made eye contact with a serious-looking baby Xero. He smiled. They gave him an evaluating look, then very solemnly waved. Briefly distracted by this, Kellworth walked through a doorway and nearly ran into a figure in a white lab coat.

“Oh! Oops, I—hey, Doctor,” he greeted. Dr. Ero M’Taw had come out to meet him, seemingly in a hurry: another young Xero was clinging onto their tail, peeking out at Kellworth. “Sorry, didn’t see you there. Where’d you want us to put the samples?”

“Lab #3, Kellworth—please and thank you. I had it cleared out this morning in preparation for the delivery,” they said, relaxing at Kellworth’s easy smile. “Now it’s time for you to get to your classroom, small one,” they said firmly to the young Xero, who reluctantly released their grip and walked off.

“Are you teaching the kids this afternoon?”

“Not today. I found this one hiding under a desk,” Dr. M’Taw said. “They remained quite silent on how they'd gotten there, but I believe they sneaked out of the dormitories. I gave t hem a snack and an explanation on lab safety.” They shook their head disapprovingly, although there was a fond glint in their many eyes. “Have you had lunch yet? I recently heard of this wonderful little place that I think you’d—“

They were cut off mid-sentence by two things: the first was the shrill sound of an alarm.


The second was the cheerful jingle of Kellworth’s ringtone. He pulled out his pad and answered the call. “H-hello? Yes, I can hear you—uhh, yeah. Uh, what!? Hold on, Dr. M’Taw’s here, let me put you on speaker—“

Vas’an’s voice, urgent and controlled, came out through the pad’s speaker. “Yes, this is Vas'an. Preliminary medical exams revealed that the INGE’s crew came back covered in spores. Apparently there was a leak somewhere in the isolation chamber that they didn’t detect.”

“A leak!?” Kellworth said, taking in Dr. M’Taw’s startled expression. “Is the crew okay—“

“We’re tentatively classifying this as a Class 1A risk,” Vas’an said. “But we’re starting a lockdown to isolate any possible exposure, we can’t have any spores spreading to Harbor. Sit tight.”

Vas’an hung up. Kellworth pocketed his pad again, trying to collect his thoughts. “There must have been some micro-shrapnel damage or something from the attack,” he said out loud. “That could have broken through the isolation chamber…at least know we know how to track the spores.” But Dr. M’Taw still looked troubled. Kellworth’s heart sank a little.

“What is a Class 1A risk, anyways?” he asked. “I haven’t heard that classification before.”

Dr. M’Taw took a few seconds to answer, speaking very slowly and precisely. “It’s not common. The “1” indicates a low risk to the general population, even accounting for the spores’ dispersal through air. But an “A” indicates high risk of infection in immuno-compromised individuals. That includes the sick, the elderly…or the very young.”

With a vague feeling of dread, Kellworth followed Dr. M’Taw’s gaze to the doorway that the Xero had just walked through, to the wing of the ARC where the other young Xeros lived.

Part 7

—Personal Log Entry 1471 - Transcript—
Well, it looks like the rumors were true. There is a ship just in the middle of nowhere, and it’s a total mystery to me how or why it’s here: it’s got no registry number, no active transponder, and it doesn’t match any ship design I know. There are unusual organic readings within the craft, along with unknown energy signatures, but it does contain a habitable internal environment…curious. Well, maybe when Vas’an hears about this they’ll chew me out for being reckless, but what the Xeros told me has been right so far and we’ve come all this way…going to try and dock.
Although the ancient mechanisms creaked and protested, the massive door finally eased open with a groan. Behind it lay a large and dimly-lit room. Kellworth inhaled: the air was breathable but stale. That meant the active environmental processors were fairly old.
“Hello? Anyone home?” he called out, his voice echoing down the metallic hallway. No response. Behind Kellworth, the young Xero shifted uneasily and clutched his arm more tightly. They had been remarkably well-behaved so far, he thought, and pretty brave to boot.
Kellworth called out again. “My name is Kellworth. I heard that a biologist of great skill resides here, and we seek your services. If you’re there, could you answer us, please?”
A chill shot down Kellworth’s spine. The many-layered voice seemed to come from all directions, vibrating through the air oddly. The young Xero’s claws dug into his arm.
As the lights began to brighten, Kellworth’s eyes focused on an unsettling sight: an operating table with some sort creature sprawled across it, being poked and prodded at by various spindly robotic implements. For a moment Kellworth assumed that a dissection of some sort was being carried out: then, as were robotic arms retracted and the creature’s many marvelous eyes opened, he realized it was still alive.
“Gah!” he cried out in alarm, backpedaling and maneuvering himself between the creature and the young Xero behind him.

“My apologies. I should have made greater efforts to explain or perhaps censor my…work.” The strange creature moved off of the operating table. Their voice sounded less echoing and more solid, as if it was coming from the creature itself: catching a glimpse of many wall-mounted devices, Kellworth realized that their voice had previously been projected through an array of speakers.
“I was merely taking a moment to, how you say…evolve myself. Now this shape can vocalize in a way that will suit your comfort. You may call me the Curator. And you are Kellworth, you said?”
“Yes,” ‘Kellworth said,” taking a cautious step forward. “I sent you a message about—can you help?” Keeping a respectful distance, the Curator bent down for a closer look at the small Xero. Their darting eyes seemed to scan over the Xero’s fur and skin with pinpoint precision.

Then they reached out and poked one of the growths on the small Xero’s back. The Xero squeaked. The glow emitted a soft glow in response. The Curator drew back contemplatively. “Hmm, yes. Quite the predicament. Quite the predicament indeed. I suppose you’ve come to me in hopes that I can separate these two organisms? Perhaps I could help. But I will require as much data on this species as you possess. It is not known to me.”
With an alarmingly smooth motion, the Curator sprung up from their crouched position and began to pace. “No, it is not known. This species must be new to the system. How strange! At the very least, the fungi’s growth can be slowed or halted. Reversed? Perhaps not entirely. But—ah, you’re still here,” they said, catching sight of Kellworth again. “Your data! I need it, please.”
“Yes!” Kellworth said, snapping out of his daze: there was something about the sight of the Curator that was oddly mesmerizing. “I’ll transfer what we have and go get you the samples we collected—thank you, thank you! This is the first good news I’ve heard on this in—oh, I don’t know how long. What a relief!” he beamed down at the young Xero, who was still sticking close by him; they wanted to go home. “I’m so glad! I thought—well, I can’t help but feel it’s my fault that this little guy got into this mess,” he confessed.
And then it all came pouring out. “I know I couldn’t have predicted the biopirate attack and I didn’t make the breach itself, but maybe if I hadn’t rushed Vas’an—if the timing had been different—“
“Fault is irrelevant here,” said the Curator. “And blame cannot be placed on the shoulders of just one creature. Think! Your problem has a solution, and we shall find it.”
Something about the Curator’s odd, almost cheery self-assurance made Kellworth let out a sigh of relief—and wasn’t that a bit of a reversal of his usual role?
“You know what? I like your optimistic outlook. I’ll send a message when the samples are ready, but… I’d prefer it if you didn’t tell anyone I was here.’ Kellworth replied, a note of seriousness entering his usually light tone.
“As you wish!” said the Curator, blinking its many eyes. “And it is not optimistic. It is realistic. In this universe, there is nothing impossible. Only unknown.”
And for the first time since he stepped into this strange, uninviting ship, Kellworth felt hopeful.

Part 8

Calling all volunteers!

As I'm sure you have heard by now, there has been an outbreak of non-native fungal spores in Harbor and the timing could not be worse. To help contain the outbreak, we're recruiting individuals with with previous experience or interest in the following fields: foraging, fungus identification, or mycology.

While the initial contamination has been contained, the existing fruits must be collected before they are allowed to produce more spores and succeed our containment capacities. Please report to the address below and await further instructions.

Thank you for your interest and assistance. Together we can ensure that this outbreak does not become a full-fledged spread of an invasive species!

And hopefully, Kellworth thought as he finished typing up the notice and posted it to the Social Services board. The collected samples would provide enough data for that poor Xero's treatment as well...

Part 9

“After reviewing the provided samples,” the Curator announced, “I do believe there is a solution to our conundrum.”

Even after talking with the Curator for some time, Kellworth still found it difficult to understand them through whatever hacked-together encryption filtered their voice. But thankfully, there was no ambiguity in what they had just said. He perked up.

“Oh! How wonderful to hear! We haven’t been making much progress on our end other than just slowing the progression—well, and we prevented a weird fungus invasion, I suppose that certainly accounts for something. Even if—anyways! What was your solution?”

The Curator blinked slowly. “Ah, hmm. ARC’s inability to remove the fungal infection does not surprise me, as the fungi cannot be safely removed.”

“What?” Kellworth blurted out. He had not jumped through all of these hoops—locating the Curator’s ship, sneaking the young Xero out of containment, going behind Vas’an’s back—just for this, for nothing. “I thought you—you just said there was a solution! Don’t you get it!? This isn’t a game or a fun little experiment—“

“Calm yourself,” the Curator said. “And allow me to finish my explanation. The fungi cannot be safely removed, that is correct. However, there is still a solution.” They motioned to the corner of the lab, where a large cylindrical machine had been constructed: it extended from the floor to the ceiling, and its workings were beyond Kellworth’s ability to discern. “The reason why the fungi cannot be removed is because it has effectively become indistinguishable from the host’s tissue at the points of contact. As ARC likely discovered, the growth can be halted, but not surgically removed.”
“Okay, yes,” Kellworth said, nodding. Privately, he wondered once again about the Curator’s state of mind—forget sanity, was there even concern in there? Or just this strange scientific precision and laser-focused curiosity?
The Curator continued, either unaware of Kellworth’s uncertainty or tactfully ignoring it. “I have named this machine the Chrysalis. It works on a similar principle to the “Glitch Machine” as Xeros have dubbed it, but instead of simply modifying a specific type of tissue, its effect is applied to the entire organism.” They pointed to the center of the device: a transparent pod, large enough for a creature to climb into. “The Xero is in essence broken down into their base organic components. From there, we can input certain preset specifications to reassemble and effectively rebuild them.”
Kellworth took a little while to process this. “Hang on,” he said as it dawned on him. “Are you saying that we’re going to—melt down this Xero?” he sputtered. “Like—into goop?”
“That is what I meant when I specified that they would be broken down into their base organic components, yes.”
“And—“ Kellworth leaned forward, feeling a little crazed. “You’re absolutely, positively, one hundred percent super sure that you can put them back together afterwards, correct!?”
“Yes,” said the Curator calmly. “Do not look so shocked, Kellworth. This is a process that has been mastered by many organisms, and now it will be mastered by Xeros. I assure you that the neurological system remains intact during the process, so barring any major complications, the Xero’s memories and personality should be unaffected as well.”
Kellworth reached for a chair and sat down, suddenly feeling very tired. He had been advised that the Curator’s methods might seem a little…unusual but melting down a Xero? Melting?!
But what other option do we have? he thought bleakly. What else is left to try? At least the Curator was honest—maybe a little too direct for Kellworth’s stress levels, but honest.
And it isn’t up to me, he concluded. I’m not the one with alien mushrooms sprouting all over me. I did what I could to find answers. Now it’s time for Ghost to decide what they want to do…

Part 9 of (???), written by ScrapTeeth , Stardonyx , & Frouzon !  Art by ScrapTeeth & JollyMutt ! Stay tuned for more!


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