|Southbridge - click image to embiggen|
This is part 4 of my current play of Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead, continuing directly from part 3. But if you want to start at the beginning, or you want information on how to install the game or tips for beginners on playing it, check out the links here.
It continued to rain off and on all fall, so I stayed close. But when the first of winter dawned bright and sunny, I headed south, looking for a way around the town (still trying to get to that school).
Where the road had led south out of town was now a huge crater filled with rubble, and the nearby river had backed up in there, creating a nasty-looking swamp. It looked lifeless in the bright winter light, but still not something I could easily traverse with my baggage cart.
To the east was a suburb, thick with houses - and zombies. So I went back to my hotel room to see if I could work my way across town from there. Ultimately, that worked fine, though I came face-to-face with a shocker zombie when I opened the door of a restaurant one night.
Luckily, it was at night, so it couldn't see me, and I was able to take it down with my throwing axes. I'd seen these creatures before, but only at a distance, so I wasn't entirely sure of their capabilities. They were always surrounded by the crackle and glow of static electricity, and I'd seen one send a bolt of lightning a surprising distance. (Sure enough, when I butchered this one, it turned out to have a bionic installed.)
There was a flat, open area in the middle of town there - not a park, but what looked to be empty ground developers had put together for a future project. That was a real help to me, as I was trying to find a way across town without bumping into zombies every two seconds. To the east of that was an apartment tower - still apart from the rest of the town - which I was able to clear and have available as an emergency bolthole. South of that, outside of town a ways, was the school.
As it turned out, it wasn't a college, but apparently a combination high school and middle school. It was big, and packed with zombies - the vast majority of them just kids. Well, what had been kids, at least. These had been older children than those near the swing sets in the park, but still just kids.
I had a hard time there. It wasn't that they were hard to kill - they were even easier than the ordinary zombies - but it just broke my heart.
Eventually, I got over it. Yeah, the whole thing was incredibly tragic, but it had been over and done with long before I got there. Nothing I could do would change anything. Those kids had already died. Their corpses were still moving, true, but they could no longer feel pain. They could no longer feel anything. I was on cleanup duty, nothing more.
As I say, I got over it. I cleared the whole school, and by the end of it, I was hardly feeling anything at all.
There weren't any houses especially close by, and a school still seemed a likely place for survivors to go - for the same reason I went there - so I built a fireplace and a bed in an interior classroom. I tried to clean up the place, too, so those hypothetical survivors wouldn't have to go through what I did.
I stayed there a little while, reading through the library books - mostly rather elementary texts, but still useful - and exploring the city nearby. At one point, I stumbled across a huge pack of zombie dogs. Now, these creatures weren't a big problem singly anymore, but I was glad I could stand in a doorway to fight off a whole pack of them. I wouldn't have wanted to be surrounded on open ground!
At another point, I encountered a horror the size of six men, with arms as wide as a trash can. Honestly, it was like the Incredible Hulk of zombies. It was fast, too, so it was on me before I could do much to slow it down.
Luckily, I dodged its attack - I don't know if I'd have survived getting hit by the thing - and chopped it down to size with my machete. It all happened too quickly for me to get scared, but I'm not ashamed to tell you that I shook for awhile afterwards.
I also encountered a zombie which had the unmistakeable gleam of intelligence in its eyes. It was still hostile - and still very dead - but there was more there than even with those 'scientist' zombies I'd encountered. It wasn't human anymore, whatever it was, and it terrified the hell out of me!
This one I encountered in a house, when I opened the door to a back room, so I could rush forward and decapitate it before it could really respond at all. But what would I have done, otherwise? My recent experiences were convincing me that I needed a ranged attack - something better than just throwing stuff.
I figured I had two options, basically. A rifle would work well, except that the more powerful rifles would be noisy, even with a suppressor. And ammunition might be a problem. Still, with a bayonet, a rifle would work well enough as a melee weapon, too - at least against lesser creatures, so I could save ammo.
A bow, on the other hand, would be quiet. And I was pretty sure I could make arrows - a bow, too, for that matter - since I'd learned a lot about such things in the past year. I'd have to carry a separate melee weapon, but that wasn't really a downside, since I'd come to rely on such weapons and felt more comfortable with one as backup, at least.
So I decided to go with archery, at least on a trial basis. I studied awhile at the school, then returned to my hotel room, where I crafted a fine bow - eventually - and some decent arrows. And then I practiced awhile.
By mid-winter, I thought I had the basics down. After all, I'd still have my melee weapons with me. (In fact, I'd taken the opportunity to forge a sword - in the Japanese style, according to the instructions I'd found - which was deadlier than anything I'd wielded before.) And the weather had surprised me by being clear and sunny most of the time.
So I thought I'd head to the northeast, to that second school shown on my map. I still thought that schools were a likely location to find other survivors, and a library would always be helpful. Worse come to worst, I could still clear out the school, so if survivors did show up, they wouldn't have to go through all that.
So that's what I did. I loaded up my luggage cart with spare gear, so I could easily establish a base, once I got there. And I stopped at my hideouts along the way, checking on things and picking up other useful items. Nothing had changed at my evac shelter. Well, that was both good and bad, I suppose.
The trip was uneventful, though I did spot some weird kind of walking fungus just before I got there. The school, unfortunately, was much like the last one. I went ahead and cleared it of zombies, then built a secure and reasonably comfortable base inside, both for me and for whoever might come afterwards. (Hope springs eternal.)
The library there was in good shape, but there wasn't much I hadn't already read (or, at least, collected, planning to read later). There were some houses to the north and a sewage treatment plant to the east. I checked out the latter, but didn't bother trying to bypass a locked security door.
Instead, I went back to that science lab nearby - the first I'd entered, months previously, in the forest northeast of the evac shelter. I built a little base there, too, disassembling the furniture in a storage room to make space for me and my equipment. I figured it was time to see what was underground.
|North of Southbridge|
It varied between mundane and horrifying. There weren't many zombies underground, although there was the occasional automated turret I had to watch out for. There weren't any people, either - and few corpses - though I found lots of living quarters, with clothes and other supplies scattered around.
I didn't try to hack into the computers - yes, some of the computers were still running - but I still discovered more than I wanted to about the experiments going on there. OK, they were developing bionics, of course. Installing machine components to enhance human capabilities was hardly revolutionary - I'd regularly been finding such things in zombies, too - although the variety there was certainly impressive.
Much more unsettling were the cloning labs and the mutagenic experimentation. There were vats filled with mutated limbs, and I discovered research journals which described deliberate attempts to manipulate the human body biologically - and some of the mutagens they'd developed, as well.
These weren't really mutations, not as a biologist would define the term. (Whether or not their creations would breed true was frightening, but undetermined.) No, these were ways of manipulating an adult human body to cause it to change in a deliberate, but usually bizarre, manner.
There were purifying agents, too, which would apparently undo such changes - some of them, at least - but there seemed to be far less research attention paid to that. Instead, the scientists there seem to have gone completely off the rails in attempting to create stranger and stranger alterations in the basic human form. (And whom had they used as test subjects? That wasn't mentioned at all.)
I suppose this was another military project - what wasn't, these days? - or had started that way, at least. But once they'd begun, maybe it had devolved into a contest, with each researcher trying to outdo the others in outlandish. Who in the world could have thought this was a good idea?
Yet, as bizarre and as frightening at that was, it was far from the most bizarre, the most frightening of what I discovered down there (and I haven't even looked everywhere, not yet).
At one point, I heard voices coming from a room to the south. Survivors? At last? I thought I heard gunfire, too, so I was afraid that human beings were under attack. But what I discovered paralyzed me with fright - literally.
Thank god these... nightmares were still enclosed in their individual cages, I hoped securely. When they saw me, they beat against the glass walls separating us, and my heart nearly stopped. I suppose those walls have held them for at least a year now (and how had they survived so long? - clearly, they weren't of natural origin), so I'd have no reason to expect them to break out now. But that didn't do much to settle my nerves, and it still doesn't.
How can I describe creatures I don't even want to think about? 'Bizarre' doesn't even begin to describe them. One, which looked like a cross between a fungus and a crab - in pink, with a head like the inside of a fish - was the creature I'd heard speaking English. But no two sentences connected in any meaningful way. It was all just insane babbling.
Another, like a fat man with a cow's head, constantly dribbling milk from slack lips, paralyzed me in my tracks, when I saw it. Incongruously, it was wearing nothing but a pair of tighty whities. Of course, everything about these creatures was incongruous, and that was certainly no source of amusement - then or now.
There were six of them, each stranger than the rest. (No, that doesn't make sense, but nothing about these creatures made sense.) Some seemed to have no connection to anything on Earth, but others were such a hodgepodge of Earth-like features, they didn't seem completely alien, either. No, that's not right. They were alien - incredibly alien - but it was as if they'd been molded into some bizarre amalgamation when they'd arrived in our universe.
Yes, I was convinced that these... things weren't even of our own dimension. Zombies looked homey - almost as cuddly as kittens - compared to these living nightmares. If I'd been a religious man, I would have thought them demons from the pit of Hell. These creatures made my blood freeze. I wanted to slit my own throat just to get away from them.
Instead, I left - as soon as my legs would work again. I closed the door behind me - as if that would do any good - and I went back upstairs. And now, between bouts of the shakes and periods of paralyzing, immobilizing fear, I'm trying to think.
Previously, I'd assumed that zombies had been the result of an experiment by the military which had escaped their control. Those giant insects, too. Well, we'd had previous experience with such things, so that seemed reasonable.
The blobs, though... the blobs were harder to imagine as a creation of human scientists - possible, maybe, but I don't know how. But these things? There was no way in hell that human beings had created these things.
Yes, scientists had been researching both electromechanical and biological methods of changing human beings. But what if they hadn't created a zombie virus? What if they had, instead, opened a door to another plane, another dimension, another reality? What if they'd accidentally let something truly alien enter our universe?
All of these things - the zombies, the giant insects, the blobs, that weird fungal creature I'd seen - all of them could ultimately stem from the same source, the same source as those terrifying things downstairs. I don't know why they were all different, but why would I? Maybe the computers downstairs would tell me something, if I could learn enough about hacking computers to bypass their passwords (and I were brave enough to go down those stairs again).
But I was sure of one thing. That portal I'd seen? The rumors I'd heard about such things, the rumors which had caused me to run away in panic the minute I'd seen it? These creatures had been the basis of those rumors, I was sure of it. Rumors couldn't prepare me for the reality, because they were far worse in person than I could have ever imagined, but this was the source of the terror which seeped into even the vague rumors I'd heard. I was sure of that.
So now what? Undoubtedly, that portal wasn't the only source of such terrors. For this kind of damage, there had to be more portals on the face of the Earth than just one, in an ordinary grocery store in one small town in America. But it was the portal I knew about. And what had been emerging from it? What was still emerging from it?
I was just paralyzed with indecision. What to do, what to do, what to do?
Note: You can find my other posts about computer games - including more posts about this one - here.