The Heath of Polymer
rating: +5+x

Fielder dredges through the polymer and brass foliage with caution yet conviction. He hated traversing this meaningless expanse. Trudging through the amorphous landscape of loose electrical wire is fatiguing, and they tense up when you move too fast. The polymer cape he has to wear in order to protect his conductive parts looks dreadful on him. In his eager youth, Fielder's father told stories of inexperienced travelers diving head first into the expanse, only to trip over the first couple wires and get assimilated. If only he could thank his father for this. Fielder calls up his cartographic module to find his bearings.

The hut should be over this hill.

The hill is steep enough that he would have to climb with his hands, which is not something he feels comfortable doing. As he begins to walk around the hill, Fielder looks in disdain at the newly energised wires composing the hill. It had formed recently. The geographers back in Cathode had noted that the topography was becoming increasingly unpredictable, and that no cause has been found. It's very possible that he could be the last traveler capable of traversing this hellhole. Lucky him.




Fielder still found it bizarre that someone had settled down here, all alone. It's very possible that the inhabitant(s) of this hut never left the Heath, because it looked to be made of… "native materials".

To Fielder's dismay, the structure was coated wholly in lurid green wire coating. He activated his arithmetic module, circling the hut to get a measurement reading,

2.658 by 3.235 metres; rough estimate

The interior of the hut is composed of a worn copper, giving it a calmingly rustic feel. Fielder grunted, relishing in the pleasure of the conductive floor plating charging his body and CPU. The only light source in the room was a small overclocker in the corner giving off a pacifying warmth. The wall ahead is composed of a tumorous growth of wires blindly probing for the sky.

Fuck.

Whoever he was meant to find here was clearly long gone. His guide in Cathode was about to get quite the earful.

Suddenly, he hears a faint and tinny voice from behind him. He aligns his interior microphone, and unfurls a carefully crafted hearing aid to hone in on the sound. After some adjustment, he finds it.

Wait. Please.

He swivels on his heel to turn back to the mass. Two dimly lit 5mils diffused LEDs are attached to the mass. His GPU almost caps its clock rate figuring out how it missed them before. The LEDs flicker at him. He flickers back.

I… I can… I can tell you where your father is.

Fielder's opticals widened. "Hey, how the hell did you know about that?" He bellows.

I've… been here for a… for a while. First, you have to reconnect me.

"And if I do, you'll tell me where he is?"

Yes…

Fielder turned around and grabbed onto the a wire from outside. He tugged violently, then streels it to the back of the hut. The tumour's feelers flapped in a disconcerting excitement. He stopped just before them, for effect.

"You promise?"

Yes!

He brings the wire to a feeler. Just before it touches, it goes limp, refusing to splice. He looks at the tumour in consternation. Its LEDs are dead. Fielder clenches his fists and kicks a hole clean through the bronze wall. That's another lead down the drain, and yet another needless risk. Fielder activates a couple internal fans to cool off, then switches the overclocker off to preserve power for the next traveler. Hopefully, there won't be another.




Cathode will take at least a day's journey to reach. Fielder has just enough power packs to make the journey, so he'll have to ration them. On that note, it's about time he plugged himself in. He reaches for a power pack on his belt and removes the cap. Two burn marks on his thumb and index finger catch his opticals. But where did they come from? He'd wiped them down this morning, so it had to be recent. He must've mishandled a power pack. But… there's nowhere near enough voltage in those to leave a mark…

The cupric flooring beneath Fielder's feet rapidly peels away, pulling the walls with it. The heavy polymer tarp falls onto him, obscuring his view and pinning him to a strip of remnant copper. He feels like he's moving upwards. He heaves himself up, fighting the tarp. It pushes him back down. He decides to crawl along the copper. Once he reaches the edge of the tarp, he finds nothing more than copper debris peeling in half as it gets pulled below the foilage. He stands up and collects his thoughts. Fielder had never heard of a structure falling to the Heath before, and… why did he feel like he was moving up?

Because you are.

He looks up to see the thunder clouds quickly approaching. He is caught off guard as the ground starts writhing uncontrollably. Fielder is only just able to stay upright. An unbearable cackle emanates from and throughout the terrain, reminiscent of the sound of a Tesla coil discharge. Every part of it shakes Fielder to his core, and fills him with despair.

YOU REALLY THINK I'D BOW DOWN TO A CREATURE LIKE YOU? A GRIEVING TRANSIENT FROM CATHODE?

The writhing worsens. Any more of this and Fielder will be pulled under. He reluctantly unfurls his emergency thrusters, propelling him into the air with a blast. As he quickly ascends, he takes a moment to collect his thoughts. He puts a little more power into his internal fans, calming him down. He flies on his back to look at the clouds, opposed to the heckling hellscape below. Wait… the clouds

IT REALLY CRACKS ME UP, FIELDER. ALL THAT COMPUTING POWER, AND HERE YOU ARE FLYING THROUGH A THUNDERSTORM.




For the first time in his life, Fielder panics. He left his polymer cape under the tarp, which is surely in tatters under this mess. His only option is to dip further into the Heath. The ground was violently bubbling, with towers fifty stories tall rising and falling in sync with a cackling cacophony. He hesitantly eases further into the landscape. He swerves left and right to avoid getting hit by one of the pillars. Cathode couldn't be far now, he just had to hold on a little longer.

POOMPH.

A spire hits him square in the chest, leaving a sizable dent.

AHA, THERE YOU ARE! WAIT… OHHHHH, OF COURSE! FLYING DOWN HERE! THAT WAY YOU'RE NOT THE TALLEST… WELL I DO HAVE TO ADMIT, THAT SURE IS CLEVER!

On "CLEVER", two malformed hemispheres of wiring form around where Fielder was, then violently clasp down. He narrowly escapes it.

ARRGH, WHERE ARE YOU?! HANG ON, I'VE GOT AN IDEA.

The terrain plateaus again. Fielder feels exposed in the endless expanse. There seems to be nowhere to run. With no taller structure to hide underneath, he was surely about to be struck by lightning. At least he had a good run. He didn't get to see it all, but he's more than grateful for what he has seen. He angles towards the ground. Deconstruction down there will be less painful than a strike. He shuts his opticals and plays his favourite long-term memory files. From his first adventure to his last, then all the way back to his father teaching him how to install his first RAM stick. He wonders if his father would be proud or abhorrent of what his son had become. He hears a soft crackle approaching…

Cathode is in 600m. PULL UP.

Fielder instinctively pulls up, his thrusters slightly charring the heath.

FOUND YOU!

As Fielder flies away, he feels a mass crawl up his ankle. He grunts as it tenses, then slowly begins to pull him down.

GO ON FIELDER, ESCAPE IF YOU WANT. IT'S EITHER WIRE FOOD, OR… UH… CLOUD, FOOD? I- THE POINT IS, CATHODE ISN'T ANOTHER LIKE, TWO BILLION KILOMETRES AWAY. SO JUST… GIVE UP!

In that moment, Fielder recalled a file from his long-term memory. In his youth, when he first received his boosters. He went against his father's wishes that day, and turned them on and off in quick succession. He was scalded for leaving a charred hole in the floor.




Fielder fiddles with his right thruster till it blows right through the wires. Instead of a clean flyaway, he spins violently out of control. He deactivates his remaining left thruster, leaving him in freefall. He quickly reattaches the thruster to his back and reactivates it. He stabilises. Up ahead is the calming sight of two steel cylindrical towers: Cathode. But just as soon as it appeared, a giant wall of wires obscures it.

I DON'T KNOW WHERE YOU ARE, BUT I KNOW WHERE YOU'RE GOING!

The wall stretched far beyond the horizon line. Even if this thing does end, he's running low on fuel. It was too thick to pull his charring trick again, so he'd have to go above it. At this point, the ramifications of this do not cross Fielder's mind. He just wants out as quickly as possible. He steers himself above the barrier, juicing the last of his thrusters. Halfway across the wall now. The thruster has started to weaken. Fielder executes an arithmetic module request.

Crash landing in T-10 seconds.

Fielder decides to wait out the countdown.

Ten.

Nine.

Eight.

Seven.

Six.

Five.

Four.

Three.

Two.

Just before his thrusters die out, he rapidly toggles his thrusters. With a violent explosion, he blows himself over the wall into Cathode. Over Cathode, rather. By about a kilometre. Without a thruster.

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