Wednesday, February 3, 2021

A Time To (Fungal) Bloom

With the information from Eliza, they now had a map into one of the nearly-impossible-to-navigate areas of the galaxy: the Black Zone. However, NOA needed some time to compute the jump, and a helpful side quest popped up - a 25 year old distress call.

The planet wasn't too far away, and they were able to get to it in a day's travel. Nix, Rodney, and two other crew members, Deege (a hypochondriac Comms officer) and Elise (a cyborg engineer). Down on the planet, they found two landing sites: the wreck of the ship in distress, the Suzie Maze, and one of its emergency escape pods, about two miles distant. The crew decided to head over to the escape pod first.

While the planet had a decent atmosphere and gravity, the makeup of the air made it rather denser than that of Earth, which meant the crew had to wear EVA suits. Rodney, unwilling to part with his armor, stuck with punching the air into his own lungs, his breathing a little more labored than most.

The closer they got to the ship, the more strange, tan and purple plants grew. They seemed soft, and somewhat vine-like...

Not far from the pod, the encountered three strange people - humanoid, wearing shredded EVA suits, and very, very angry. Nix bounced up, as the three attacked the humans; Rodney shrugged it off, Elise managed to tank the blow, but Deege came dangerously close to getting knocked out of the fight! Thankfully, the creatures didn't get much more chance to fight; Nix took out the one going after Deege with his sonic shotgun, Elise gunned another through the head with her SMG, and Rodney gleefully splatted the third. Then took out the unconscious one for good measure.

At the pod, Elise headed inside. She realized the cyberjack in her arm was... not exactly accessible, but hoping the air wouldn't be too bad, she popped off her helmet, coughed at the dust floating around, and hacked into the black box. It gave up its information easily, revealing that 25 years ago, it had left the Suzie Maze in atmosphere, and landed here. After 24 hours, the door was opened, and it had been broadcasting the signal ever since. Elise turned it off, and pulled her EVA suit back on... though not without suffering a fatigue from something that really irritated her lungs.

Outside, battle was joined! The crew spotted two dog-like creatures; they attacked immediately, hammer-splatting one, and spraying the other down with the SMG. Then, a huge creature stepped out of the brush; ugly, disfigured, with one huge arm and an extra thin appendage with claws at the end, it launched a crazed attack on Rodney, but only managed to hand out a couple love taps before being taken out. And then its body started to expand, and the crew dove for cover, just before it exploded in a puff of what they later learned was spores!

They headed back to the shuttle, and had their pilot land them close to the wreck. Deege, grossed out by the spores, dust, and general bloodshed, stayed behind to take a quick shower (in his EVA suit, of course). Elise, meanwhile, cut the arm off her EVA suit and patched it air-tight against her metal arm, so her cyberjack would be accessible.

The crater was a loss; Rodney dug through it, but didn't find anything of use. Whatever was in there was incinerated. Elise, with the help of Nix, broke into the bridge, which seemed to have survived a bit better - these old freighters were designed to drop cargo and air-brake in case of structural failure, so the bridge survived with an intact seal. Breaking the seal revealed a horrifying sight - what looked like a human, stuck to the wall, with fungus growing out of every pore and orifice!

Elise hacked into the ship. It seems that the ship was hauling live dirt, likely from Earth, for growing; however, they stopped off at a rogue planet to pad their payload with some dust, hoping to make some extra money from the extra weight. Unfortunately, the dust was infected with some kind of fungus, not terribly unlike the Cordyceps fungus - a strange plant that rewires the brains of ants to spread.

Or in this case, the brains of whatever creature it infects - such as the humans aboard the Suzie Maze, and some of the animals of the planet it crashed on.

Luckily, both Elise (who was infected in the pod) and Rodney (who was infected because he refused to wear a sealed suit) were able to shake off the effects of the virus, with the help of medication derived from the Shifting Horizon's earlier interaction with the fungus. And, a nice bath in some medi-gel got the last of Deege's wounds healed, too, so the crew is ready for action!

Next up: Who is this Eliza? And what does she have to do with the Entity?

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