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|Life in Cold Blood|
This article contains content which may be considered disturbing or inappropriate to some users.
Reason: Dead bodies.
Zinc Processing FacilityEdit
“Mlakking place is smelly in here. You know this dump always creeped me out.”
Plumes of dirty steam rose into the air, hissing as they escaped from the tarnished silver piping in the walls. The tunnels and corridors spread in every direction, adorned only with metal rails and grating. It was silent aside from the constant, echoing breath of steam. The bowels of the factories were always sinister-looking places, and this one was no exception. Nox was particularly annoyed that he had to come back here. When he had first left, he was glad to get away from the soot and the steam.
“I know that perfectly well, Nox,” Delance replied, walking alongside him with a flashlight. “Believe me, I wouldn’t have come here either if I didn’t have to.”
The security scopes in the factory maintenance tunnels had detected some sort of “disturbance”. That was the entirety of the situation – at least, the situation they were briefed about. The staff had apparently panicked that there had been a disturbance, and so the Watch had been called in. As usual, Delance and Nox had been the ones deployed. It never failed. As soon as they were ready to check out for the day, something came up.
Nox looked around. “Back when I was a factory miner we never got told about this,” he sighed. “That makes me all the more uneasy if they had been reporting this stuff behind our backs.”
“You’ve been in the maintenance tunnels before?” Delance shone his flashlight at his accomplice.
“Once or twice. The bots usually do all the work, but I got called into a certain station and the only way to it was through the tunnels. Once the day was over it was an experience I never wanted to repeat for the rest of my life.” Nox shrugged. “Well, you can see how that turned out now.”
They kept walking, shining their flashlights at the walls. Nox vaguely remembered that the cooled storage areas were located somewhere around here – it was getting slightly colder as they walked, and eventually their hot breath formed a cloud into the air as they exhaled.
Delance snorted. “We’re not even getting paid for the extra hours here. Scope probably picked up a couple of gallipests.” A sudden rush of steam sounded from behind them, making them both jump. Delance sighed, and wiped his brow. “Let’s check the next batch of tunnels and get the hell out of here.”
“Couldn’t agree with you more.”
The two continued to search for a short while – although it was more like killing time – before there was a distinct skittering, scuffling sound from below. Nox stopped, turning his head. “You hear that?” he whispered.
“Of course I hear ‘it’. The steampipes are cranking away all the time down here.”
And then Delance heard it too: the scuffling and scratching, coming from under the metal grating they stood upon. He looked down at the floor, turned his ears toward the sound, listened. “Probably just a gallipest looking for its next meal,” he finally said, although there was a tone of uneasiness in his voice. “That, or probably a bot at work.”
There was a period of silence. Neither Nox nor Delance spoke, and the sound was gone. Only the constant hiss of steam filled the air.
But then, there was a faint puffing sound, like someone breathing slowly in and out. And it was oddly subdued – very odd indeed.
Nox turned to look at Delance, and simply shook his head.
I don’t think so, he mouthed.
And then there was a voice. It was distant and muffled by intricately interwoven machinery, but it could be made out to be a voice nonetheless. It was soft at first, but then became progressively louder and repetitive, like somebody stuttering. Or perhaps laughing.
The two Drakons looked at each other. “Mlakking freak!” Nox hissed. “The guy scared me out of my mlakking skin.” He straightened up. “If we were called out late by some sorry joker hiding in the maintenance ducts...”
“Do you want me to fish him out?” Delance asked.
“Nah. I’d like to deal with this if you don’t mind.” Nox cracked his knuckes, and started trying to open the nearby hatch inside the floor grating. “Alright son, you’re very funny. Now get your sorry little face up here and...”
“Nox.” Delance quickly put his hand on Nox’s shoulder.
“What,” Nox said, turning around, and then he froze mid-turn, because the voice was back. From what they could tell, it was starting to shout.
And then, in a curious moment when the entire area was silent, a harsh, screeching snarl erupted from below the grating, followed by a panicked scream.
Delance pulled out his pistol and shot the lock of the hatch, throwing the door open before the smoke had time to clear. He and Nox jumped down into one of the ducts that trailed beneath the walkways. They ran for a short distance until, after they briefly glimpsed a fluttering in the shadows, they turned a corner and found a dead end.
Once they reached it, it was only a second or two before Nox first reacted, but it seemed like he had ample time for it all to sink in. The corridor was typical-looking; packed with wires, steampipes, and mechanical devices. On the left, there was an open electrical box with a silver key still inserted into the door latch. Some wires inside the box had been pulled loose, implying that someone had been doing electrical work inside. The floor, however, seemed oddly wet. It steamed too, but not from the pipes that were present throughout the tunnels. There was also a Drakon, dressed in overalls and fitted with a keychain: a maintenance worker – or at least it was once a maintenance worker. The body lay on the floor, its mouth locked into an eternal shout, its torso chewed open, scarlet blood dripping down onto the floor and steaming up in the cool air. The walls were also drenched with the stuff.
“Mlakk,” Nox breathed softly.
Delance turned, pulling out his pistol, searching for the killer. But the corridor in the next direction led to a dead end too. There was nowhere to have gone.
Reluctantly, he returned to Nox, who was still just standing there, staring at the mangled carcass laying on the floor. “Call Commands,” Nox said, weakly. “Tell ‘em that this mlakking ‘disturbance’ just got real.”
Delance nodded, and flipped open his card comms. “Gamma Delance here,” he said into the device. “Get the Ministry on the line. You’re not going to like this.”
The golden leaves parted as the wind strode amongst the autumn trees, scattering flares of yellow and red across the forest floor. The soft breeze continued amongst the towering greytrees, following the path of a trickling stream that bubbled and chuckled gently in its bed. The sun hung low in the sky, its beams soft and dusty between old trunks, coloring all they touched but fading slowly away. An ever-familiar nighttime chorus of creatures started singing as dusk descended upon the landscape and the familiar form of the moon rose to take the sun’s place. The songs of thousands came chirping from the tree canopies, squeaking from under the leaf litter, and croaking from the flowing brook. Bathed in the soft moonlight, the forest became alive.
A green, feathered flying creature made a coughing sound from one of the high branches of a greytree, then swooped down to the leaves and grabbed something that squirmed and squeaked between its talons. After securing its prey, it leapt back up into the trees with a satisfied grunt. Another of its kind sidestepped precariously along the bough towards it, and then began to nuzzle the first, begging for a portion. It was nudged away, and then began an aerial chase, calling from behind the other for just one piece.
A pair of binoculars moved in the shadows. Normally these were secretive animals, and it was rare to even glimpse one, let alone observe complex behavior like this. The Drakon version of a smile spread across his face, giving way to a short laugh.
Kleon Harmo lowered his head, and made a couple of notes. If the first night was yielding such spectacle as this, he could only imagine what wonders he would see in the coming weeks.
So far, the venture had been rather quiet. He and Tomar had arrived at about noontime to set up the blinds, but had seen nothing besides a migrating flock of lekfeathers, which was hardly an interesting sight this time of year. But Kleon knew very well that patience was key, and that it would eventually pay off – like it was doing now.
Kleon Harmo was, quite simply, the most distinguished man in his field. Officially, he was a professor of biology and ecology at the Board of International Sciences, an institution highly regarded across all of Szenaria. He seldom taught however, as he spent his time traveling to exotic locations in search of miraculous lifeforms and amazing landscapes. This made him quite renowned among both his colleagues and indeed most people who had a grasp of intellect at all. Throughout the years, he had found numerous new species and occasionally assisted in the field of medicine to help create cures and vaccines from the skin and secretions of little-known creatures. He was also known as the most eccentric individual in science.
“Hey Kleon, seen anything?” Came the whisper from the other hide.
“A most wonderful breeding pair of Emerald Perrins. And in very excellent condition, if I may say so,” Kleon whispered back. “Why, it is even a first for me, despite all my adventures.”
“Uh, okay. I can’t see anything over here. Are they still in sight?”
“Indeed. I do believe that they are sharing the meat of a freshly slain leaf crawler.”
The phone rang. The name that flashed upon the screen was ‘Dr Chedra’.
Kleon sighed, and picked it up. “Many apologies, but I must ask you to postpone this call.” he whispered. “This is hardly the time to be chattering with each other.”
“‘fraid it can’t wait, Kleon. A man from the Ministry has come around, and wants to talk.”
“How soon shall I be required?”
“As soon as you can get here. He’s very anxious to chat.”
Kleon gave another deep sigh. “Very well. I shall be there promptly.” He hung up, and turned to his associate nearby. “I’m afraid the equipment shall have to be repacked, and we must depart soon,” he said. “There’s business to be done.”
- The title is a deliberate nod to Attenborough, for reasons that will become apparent in later chapters.
- The story came into being when User:Holbenilord and I just dittied out a quick little scene in a forest one day, which is now the first section of the second chapter. So technically, that bit is co-written. Also I credit Holben as beta-reader.