M Drive – The Sludge, Part II

Continued from Part I, here.

The entity blinked, and nearly went insane.

For a moment, the universe, all of that lovely sensory input, simply vanished.  The entity was cut off, back in its prison outside of reality!  It had been thrown back out, rejected, trapped once again in its indeterminate and everlasting hell!

When the entity opened its eyes again, it was screaming.

“Oy!  Sconner, what the blazes!  You in there, boyo?”

These words bloomed inside a previously blank mind, automatically translated from the pulses transversing the air.  The entity ceased screaming, instead paying attention to the photonic inputs.

Concrete below, a hard floor covered in a spiderweb of cracks.  Above, a roof of wooden slats, some looking half rotten with age.  Girders crossed the space, the exposed skeleton of the building.  And standing in front of it, a sapient, a creature with four limbs, a flat face, and a concerned expression on its face.

“By gods, what was that thing?” the other sapient asked.  Its lips moved, producing the sound waves that crossed the air to be interpreted by the small trumpets of tissue on either side of the entity’s new flesh-clad shell.  “One second, it’s sludge on the ground, next one it looks like it soaked into you, right through the skin!  You feel okay?”

Ah.  An inner respiratory sack provided the flow of air, shaped to control vibration by muscular cords at the narrow neck.  Simple enough.  “Yeah, I’m all right,” Sconner replied, reaching up and rubbing one hand slowly over his hair.  “Stuff felt nasty, but seems to be gone now.  Must have drained away.”

Memories, stored information cleverly tucked into the pattern of connections between bioelectric signal generators.  Easy enough to read.  The other man was named Clancy, in his late forties and divorced.  He spent most of his time complaining about his ex-wife, when he wasn’t helping Sconner haul around the bundles of newspaper.  The entity didn’t know what most of this meant, but it was engraved in the structure of its new shell.

Right now, Clancy still looked apprehensive.  “Drained away, you say?” he repeated.  “Dunno, boyo – looked like it soaked right into you, it did!  Maybe we ought to drop you at the sawbones, get you checked over.  No one knows what’s in all these warehouses, but it could be something dangerous.  Don’t want to see you killed.”

Sconner shook his head.  “Really, it’s nothing,” he insisted.  “I feel fine.”

“You sure?”  Clancy squinted at his younger shift partner.  Was it just him, or was the fellow not blinking nearly as much as he ought to be doing?

“Yeah,” came the reply.  “In fact, I feel… hungry.”

The man didn’t seem quite right.  But for Clancy, a man who had spent years settling into his groove and was reluctant to leave it, this didn’t seem to be worth the questioning.  “Well, we’ll hit up the diner on our way into the city,” he decided.  “Here, let’s get the last of these reams all loaded up into the truck, and we’ll be on our way.”

Not waiting for an answer, Clancy bent over to scoop up one of the heavy stacks of bundled newsprint.  Lift with your legs, the doc kept on telling him, but it just felt more natural to use his back.  Even if it sometimes wheezed a little.  Sucking in air, Clancy pulled upright.

When he turned towards the truck, Sconner was only a few inches away from him.

“Hungry,” Sconner repeated, right into Clancy’s wide eyes.

A moment later, the bundle of papers hit the floor.  But Clancy didn’t.

The entity didn’t waste a single bite.

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