The Kitty: From Wives To Wormholes!
I recalled something my mother had talked to me about after a day of hanging with the local brats, throwing Earth tomatoes at a neighboring farm’s livestock of Horndune cattle. She was quite fuming that day, especially since my actions tended to wrap around the image of her and the relatives. Still, despite this, I could never recall any moment in time where she’d be punishing to a real extent. Scary when mad, yes, but I either figured it never occurred to her that I deserved punishment, or she did but couldn’t bring herself to do so. She’d have her ways to bring me in line, but actual punishment was never one and I never got to learn why.
Instead she lectured me about the nature of laws. There was a time where she herself was a brat, and like many brats from the country, she and her friends tended to hitchhike on a transport carrier delivering produce to enjoy the occasional day of reverent anarchy, being a general nuisance to the local population, vandalizing places, stealing “souvenirs” and trinkets they could never have living on the farmland.
Thinking back, it was something that could’ve gotten them all killed, especially if The Chromon were involved, and it was by some dumb luck that it never did. Nevertheless, her steadfast nature kept it going, even as her parents caught wind on her activities and responded in ways you’d expect parents to react.
Inherently, rules and laws are imaginary constructs, made by the mind to trick the mind into finding structure and order to the world. They don’t actually exist, and there was a point in her life where she viewed this as a hindrance. If rules and laws don’t truly exist, people willingly limit their lives by the prison of perception and not by nature, and those who reinforce them were somehow slaves to a non-existent master.
“If laws actually existed, even animals would have societies and follow universally accepted laws just as they stalk, attack, and eat prey,” she stated to me.
Of course, through time and events, age and consequences, her outlook on laws changed. I can say that she experienced much in her life, including witnessing or even causing utter destruction and death in war. The day she started to change her view on laws was never exactly explained to me, only that something happened that seemingly “aged her soul” by at least several years, and would remain on her mind like a parasite, though for some reason, she never wanted to forget any of it.
“Thing is, %#*, there’s a reason why we need laws — why we must follow them. Laws may not be something we can see or touch, but we created them because we can’t control ourselves otherwise, set boundaries, to understand right or wrong. We champion freedom because of the ability to choose who we wish to be as our naturalistic right, but it is also something we take for granted. When you have a world without rules —without laws— more often than not, we take that world and abuse it. I’ve seen this; the aftermath of such a power we all wield, power we don’t all deserve. Laws are meant to bring a semblance of order, and that order is how societies are created. But when laws aren’t there or, better yet, when laws fail us, we might as well be animals, savagely hunting and eating our prey… or be prey ourselves. Only then it is right to protect and enforce them, because trust me, #*%, rarely anything good comes when order falls.”
In the twilight of our time together, I speculated what exact event happened to make her go from a farm brat to who she would become in my eyes. If she could only see me now, making my way through this large, dark sewer pipe, on a missing persons case gone completely off-the-rocker. Would she chastise me for everything I’ve chosen leading up to this point? Determine that laws have, indeed, failed me? Or that they’ve failed because I wanted them to?
Emerging from the end of this pipe, my mind could only shove this train of thought to the rear coach as I looked around the environment and the stench kicked me out of my mind and back to reality.
The sewers were somewhere between being a grand architectural masterwork and a grand labyrinth of filth. The grimy crevices along the precise curvatures of the multifarious tunnel networks seemingly formed micro-societies for contaminants of such a variety I couldn’t identify, the sublime layout of its brick and super concrete construction painted with muck that could make for fine-art to suckers with more cash than sense, the dynamism of its walkways leading down a path of worse smells that almost fried my brain with the overload.
Turning a corner led me to my first canal and boy was it pleasant; took in a nice view of a literal waterfall of sewerage and lord-knows-what pouring down to a chasm far below, imagining the potential an axe-murderer could have with hiding a body in a place like this. How the canals of this sewer manage to hold the entire planet’s “melting pot” was beyond me or anyone else. I never considered myself to be a real detective, but I doubt I’d be able to figure that out if I was.
The rushing of the canal beside me was like a river monster that compelled me to vomit, every molecule within a corruption to living itself. The thought was unsettling, made me expect some creep to come out and push me in, shiver in disgust. I wouldn’t dare light a match or a cigarette; the gaseous air may well be flammable with the number of species you can find in this nightmarish canal.
Halls upon halls worth of possibilities, yet no obvious clue on where to actually go. Approaching a guardrail, I looked down to the lower floor where an even larger canal branched into three different directions. Relying on intuition was gonna get me nowhere.
Thinking back to what Corr had said about the cargo transport, it being a mobile flatbed was the first detail of relevance. Two possibilities: Wheel-based or thruster-based. The former and my chances of tracking it down was slimmer than my behind, but if the latter, I had an ace up my sleeve if it worked at all.
I navigated my phone’s feature set in search for something in particular. It was modified by The Professor a couple of months back during a hunt for a bounty that escaped prison, adding heat-tracing and noise detection modifications to the sensor modules; things that would otherwise be exclusive to cybernetic eyes and neural augments were here on my phone.
I’d be able to reveal the remnants of heat-trails, detect low-frequency noises on different wavelengths, slicing through the muck rushing and splashing like a fat kid on a trampoline on a planet with heightened gravity. Anything like the sounds of footsteps, chatter, or other unknown noises of origin could, theoretically, find its way through this loud, filthy dungeon.
Upon activation, the flashlight of my phone turned to a bright violet, enrapturing the path ahead in its colored glow, and with it, the sign of a lingering haze just below the guardrail. The heat detection indicator appeared on screen, and upon pointing the violet light toward the pathways below, a discovery was found. Along a grimy concrete walkway, orange prints lit up like Mars on a nightclub dance-floor, smeared lines moving toward a certain direction, a trail from thrusters spraying their jet flames to the ground.
Bingo! A lead, one that made me hop over the guardrail and fall four-stories-down. Good thing I had the time to perfect my landing; my left leg reached out toward the surface, bending it upon touching the ground as if it were a spring, my right leg touching down soon after. Before long, I finally completed my landing in a ducked position before standing upright once more like nothing happened, all smooth and majestic even though there were stairs nearby that I could’ve used instead. Made it a mission to do “cool things” in front of a non-existent camera, including the kind of landings you’d see on a picture show.
The orange marks were in front of me now — I just had to follow them, of which they headed into yet another tunnel near a network of large rusted pipes. I began my step just as the liquid sewerage began to rush just a little harder from the local canal, splashing some of its contents on the path ahead to create a little puddle. I dreaded the safety of my boots; the cleaning bill was racking higher and higher. Alas, a simple hop over the puddle was managed, but the regret of not bringing a mask was something I could never hop over.
The humidity was climbing with each step. My forehead turned into a dispenser of liquid bullets, sweating uncontrollably as it got into my eyes, the air heavier and hotter. Interestingly, the longer I walked through the tunnel network, the more I noticed more and more of these fluorescent mushrooms, emitting their light-blue glow as I followed the trail of heat marks. Kinda like a garden growing around here, on the walls, the ceiling, and patches of the ground. The violet light of the heat-tracer made these mushrooms turn orange as well, if not a somewhat unsightly red. Whatever microscopic organisms these things contained were likely eating radiation for breakfast, lunch, and dinner simultaneously and probably hid a chock full of death spores for all I knew, though this was only a theory. Probably smart to avoid stepping or nudging these glowing fungal pests.
Then I noticed something even stranger about these mushrooms. Upon skirting around a bend and avoiding hitting my head on a pipe, my eye caught wind of a minute detail the heat-tracer initially failed to capture; these mushrooms were connected by veins coming from within the ground.
Veins? In super concrete? Be one thing if these fungi were grown independently from mold, rooted out from actual dirt soil, or even from weaker concrete. These mushrooms weren’t independent at all, but connected to a root that managed to extend through the absolute artificiality of this super concrete.
Increasing the intensity of the violet rays of the heat-tracer confirmed this phenomena; the roots emanated a brand new trail on the ground alongside the one I was following.
Curiosity got the better of me, and soon enough I started paying more attention to the veins as the heat-trail gradually blurred out of relevance, which should’ve clued me in that this was entirely elaborate.
Going by more canals and spires, all tall, moist, and slimy from humidity and airborne contaminants, the next chamber ahead split off into four different tunnel directions. More noteworthy was that the veins were filling more of the space through each area I traversed, concealing the heat-trails like camouflage. Whatever these mushrooms were connected to was getting closer as the veins completely took over the heat-tracer’s scanning.
Hypothesis? An attempt by the militia to cover their tracks by throwing off investigation teams. Even the technology of The Amaron System’s local military, though a cut above the average, could never stand up to what the broader galaxy could bring to the table, tracking tech included. The Hathgora likely took a bet that the heat-tracing capabilities of investigation battalions would be lost trying to separate the heat signatures of the mobile flatbed and the radiated mushroom network, and they’d be right; their tech was nothing special in that field. What they didn’t bet on, however, was someone like me, or rather, someone like The Professor, whose tech was anything but average (or entirely legal).
At this point, all there really was to do was follow the glowing mushrooms to their origin and cross my fingers that the rest would be completely obvious. Scanning each of the tunnels, it determined that the third, the one at my 10-o’clock, was the most potent of radiated veins and I chose to follow it.
I took the time to ponder around my mind again as I continued the journey down this mushroom infested maze. Favor for a favor, eh? Corr wanted me to essentially commit micro-genocide with her demand. I admitted to turning down requests and jobs involving killing for the sake of it, yes, and I wasn’t about to stop all because some cracked-up hag threatened me; wasn’t a guarantee, never said it was, not with how hard to bust the Hathgora are, legendary in their fighting prowess, mighty in their stubbornness. Plenty have tried to wipe them out or enslave them; some of those same plenty can usually be found in a history book and only a history book.
Getting to Mr. Movak and attempting to fulfill Corr’s wishes were gonna intersect once I found them, so really, was I really about to kill them for the sake of it? Part of me, the part that wanted this night to be over with, said no, don’t be ridiculous! You’re gonna fight them for a good cause, a selfless cause, a cause that’ll get you good fuel and a decent enough pay! Not good pay, probably not a justified pay, but a decent chunk of change! Get yourself some nice smokes, stuff your face at the diner, buy a new coat even! Enjoy it while it lasts, my dear! You’ll forget about all of this in a month.
Maybe if I told myself that very same thing over and over, I wouldn’t feel so put off having to engage in yet another inevitable gunfight. Better yet, maybe they’ll shoot first! Then shooting them back will be just dandy; might even like it! Like it? Maybe I’ll love it! I can shoot people all day! Kill all day! Who do I need to kill?! Who needs to be shot?! I can shoot them for you! I want to shoot everybody! I want to shoot her! I want to shoot him! I want to shoot you! I want to kill Celine! Her husband too! I want to kill! Kill! I want to—
I slapped myself swiftly, hard. Then I slapped myself again, and again, and again, intense, forceful, a freight train to my cheeks they were. Wasn’t quite the refresher I needed though, so like a maniac, I slammed my head against a nearby pipe, over and over, not too softly, but not too hard, my hat falling off, dropping my phone, and collapsing to the floor like a drunkard after a good few slams.
I felt disoriented, my head throbbed in pain, I might’ve even left a dent on the pipe I slammed my head against for all I could perceive. Decided to lay on the floor for a beat, let the sheer feeling of mania and drowsiness pass, as it always did if given the time.
It started again. Impulsive and mindless; the thoughts I tried to avoid like a curse upon my being. As if having an angel on my left shoulder, I managed to recognize it, how wrong it was, and took the only measure I could follow in this time and place, to “recalibrate” my mind. Groaning in pain, I tried what I could not to pass out and clumsily began to get back on my feet, clenching the wall for support while wobbling upwards before leaning against it, panting heavily, trying to calm myself, reorient my senses.
It was a curse all right. If this was a good approximation of what it felt like for an Andromensch to have their personality A.I. hacked into, I send much of my empathy to those unfortunate artificial souls. But I wasn’t an android of any kind, so I only had myself to blame for this, my first bout of “that” in several months.
Well, at least it was over, and though I needed a drink —a glass of scotch preferably— I refocused on the task at hand, ignoring the migraine that always followed. I picked my hat up, placed it on my head, and once again held my phone after checking it for any damage (there wasn’t any). Time to get back on track I suppose, down this glowing mushroom tunnel.
There were nothing but glowing veins all throughout the super concrete and brick of this corridor I entered. Turning a corner, the heat-tracer made this whole space look as if there was no concrete or brick, but a path made entirely of these glowing veins among the humid air and awful stench. With this many glowing mushrooms and fluorescent mold, if I had a Geiger counter, what would it say? Did I even want the answer?
Well, I was about to get an answer — not to the question of how radiated the space was, but to where these roots were coming from. It was a right bend under leaky pipes extending down a path that seemed to take an eternity, twisting at an uneven degree as to feel like you were standing on a light slope. The eggheads responsible for this architectural brilliance were probably dead by now, but if they weren’t, I’d push them over and see them tumble down the sloped decline they thought was a good idea.
Whatever the case, the latest surprise would come shortly at the end of this bend as I now found myself in, quite possibility, the biggest room the sewer had to offer… and the most mysterious, but in the least subtle way imaginable.
I found the source of the glowing mushroom infestation at the center of this grand hall of bricks, piping, and interestingly enough, limestone and granite pillars. It was a space fit to be a throne room for, what I sarcastically assumed, a lizard kingdom with a giant glowing mushroom sticking out from the ground and seeping its roots into nearly every direction.
“If there is a god, he must’ve been buzzed when he made you.”
That was all I could say. What else could I say? I just found the alpha mushroom; the king of the mushrooms. The sight of its light-blue glowed splendor was enough to blind me to the fact that the heat of this large room was almost enough to rival the spa resort I visited on Jupiter long ago.
Was this even the work of a god at all? Or did this place, the living quarters for this outrageous specimen, once belong to a mad scientist from an ancient bygone civilization who got bored one day? How else would explain the design of this whole area if not for the fact that a society existed here then died off? This thing couldn’t be natural nor new.
Then it clicked: This was the perfect place to hide your tracks. After all, who’d try to follow you after seeing this mushroom god, let alone think you’d be hiding somewhere near it? This planet tends to hold numerous methods smugglers use to stay within the blindspots. Unless these militia goons were incorporeal spirits, hidden passages were one of its tricks, like children hiding in pillow forts. Just like pillow forts, it’s easy to know where the children are hiding if you know where to look.
I calibrated the noise detector to track frequencies so high and so low that not even a hound could hear it. There were many ambient noises down here, so I crossed my fingers The Professor managed to pull out another rabbit from his unpredictable magic hat of a brain. Upon activation, the sensors began to spike all over the place; the hertz were hurting… yeah, a nonsensical, terrible joke.
Moving the phone around the room caused the indicator to roam wildly, from above, below, right, to the left. I walked around the space, around the giant radiant Goliath, daring me to bow and pledge my servitude, treading carefully to not step on any of its roots.
This space really was like an abandoned throne room, more so than I previously thought, with sub-rooms connecting from the main hall that extended to a spacious, box-like area that couldn’t be mistaken to have once been a mess hall, filled with even more mushrooms.
Unlike previously, where it was nothing but the small fry until coming across the giga-fungi in the previous room, there were all sorts of sizes here, small ones, ones the size of bushes or a small car, ones the size of small trees, in patterns that formed walkways of sorts, like I just entered a theme park — a sort of “Mushroomland.”
A surprising thing happened: The noise detector began to stabilize to even lower frequencies. The Easter egg hunt just had another break and I wasn’t gonna let up. Walking down one of the routes provided by this glowing mushroom forest, I followed the indicator’s reading as it told me that a rogue series of frequencies were finally detected. I locked on to these frequencies just as I encountered a wall made of stone bricks at the other end of the room.
A peculiar wall, the portion I stared at, lacked many of the conditional deficiencies I’ve seen on other brick walls prior. No cracks, splits, dust, grime, or mold… except for one brick. This brick, this single odd man out, had a lonely spot of mold on its surface and it didn’t belong. The mold around here glowed in conjunction with its mushroom brethren; this did not. This mold was dark, as hollow in sight as my patience. Nothing special about it really. It was only regular mold, which made it the most obvious thing in the whole room.
I touched the brick this mold called its home and, immediately, something was off. It was wobbly, like a poorly implemented button on a remote and just as noticeable. I leaned my head up to it and shook it around, my eyes closed as my ears took over, hearing the subtle rattles and squeaks with each movement, which wasn’t exactly normal for a brick in a wall supposedly held by super concrete. The conclusion became clear: This brick was tied to a mechanism.
I applied a fair amount of force to it, pressing it in with my entire hand and, sure enough, the big toy in front of me did its thing. With rumblings, skids, crackles, and rapid bangs, this portion of the wall began to depress itself inwards on what was now revealed to be a track, sliding to the right as it showed me its secret: Yet another dimly lit hallway, albeit free from the glowing swarm that had pervaded at least half of the trek down in this slimy, hot, labyrinthine gutter hole.
This was one secret passage out of a billion, which wouldn’t surprise me if there really was that many. Sure enough, the frequency reading had stabilized completely and getting a stronger lock as I pointed the phone into the hall. Of course, one could say I had the glowing mushrooms to thank, as much as I wanted to get as far away from them as possible.
Turning off the heat-tracing and noise detection functions, my flashlight turned back to normal as I started down this newly discovered passage that, no doubt, had surprises and Hathgora waiting for me.
Time to face my possible death; must be my birthday…