The Breach (Part 9)Posted 5 months ago :: Last edited 4 months ago by NeonSlushie
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!”
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
CHECK THIS OUT!!!!!!!
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!
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.
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.”
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.
ALERT. UNKNOWN CONTAMINANT REPORTED. REMAIN IN YOUR CURRENT LOCATION AND AWAIT FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS. THIS IS NOT A TEST.
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.
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...
“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—“
Part 9 of (???), written by ScrapTeeth , Stardonyx , & Frouzon ! Art by ScrapTeeth & JollyMutt ! Stay tuned for more!
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