Get out of Jail Free -- A Marguerite Maida Story (Major SN/BZ spoilers! Read at your own risk!)

coffeelementalcoffeelemental Beyond the Wall Join Date: 2019-01-22 Member: 249199Members Posts: 6 Fully active user
Content warning: some obscenity, because Maida.


Holy hell. I’m alive.

Marguerite allowed herself to float up to the cavern ceiling while she tried to catch her breath. Her body was painted red and she had no idea how much was hers and how much was the dragon’s; it’d finally given up and shaken her loose, unwilling to deal with such troublesome prey.

Unfortunately – but perhaps not unexpectedly – it had dragged her down to hell with it. Magma glowed on all horizons, her depth meter was far too high, and her oxygen meter was far too low. For a moment, she realized she might have been properly fucked.

But Marguerite had one superpower, and that was luck. Oh, she never won at gambling, video games, or dating, but her luck showed up when it counted. When she should have run her snowfox off a cliff on Columbia Nova, she rolled into a snowbank instead; the fox was totalled, but she got out alive. When she should have lost an arm on Avalon 7, she got away with a sprained hand. And when she got shot – well, that had been many times by now, but in particular that drunk asshole from Mars came to mind – it always seemed to hit her in the “hero zone”, otherwise known as the shoulder.

So today was no different. Here she was, bleeding out, roasting alive, and suffocating, when what should she see out of the corner of her eye but the tell-tale puke-green glow of an alien structure jutting out of the nearby mountain. She would have laughed if there wasn’t an oxygen mask in her mouth.

Not today, she thought, and began to swim.

The passage wound down into the heart of the mountain, where a single giant cube hung suspended over a molten pool. Marguerite made it through the doorway right as her oxygen ran out, and fell gasping to the ground. She tore off her rebreather and threw it at the wall in frustration. Paul could have gone to hell for all she cared, but she’d lost Bart now and that poor kid couldn’t fight his way through a roll of toilet paper.

Before she moved, Marguerite patted herself down. The green boils on her skin were getting larger – that was always fun. More importantly, there was a gash on her arm that needed sealing and that wasn’t happening right now. Her gaze drifted back to the rippling magma outside and she heaved a resigned sigh. What was more pain at this point?

Marguerite waited until her oxygen tank had finished refilling using the local air and then dove back outside. She swam as far down as she could stand, broke loose a slab of rock that glowed with heat, and pressed it into her arm. Her ensuing scream was lost in a cloud of bubbles, and by the time she made it back to the alien facility, she was all out of fight. She fell to the floor and to a fitful sleep.

Her dreams had been haunted since she was a kid – first by her family, then by a classmate, then by the growing corpse piles she’d left over the years. Tonight, however, the face that emerged at her from the gloom of her dreams looked almost like an insect. It spoke with a gentle, feminine voice:

You are close. Come deeper. Find me. I have what you seek.

The voice fogged her mind even when she woke again, with a fresh imprint of the veined floor in her cheek. Marguerite rubbed at it idly, unsure of how she felt other than hungry and tired. Bart had mentioned something about hallucinations, hadn’t he? Was her fever now that bad?

Marguerite finally dragged herself up off the floor. If she was lucky, this would be one of those alien facilities that had some fish samples still in it. She ambled down the hall, limping on a twisted ankle, only to discover with dismay that she was in a power facility instead of a lab. Well, no – by the looks of things it was THE power facility, the heart of all installations on the planet. She’d find no food or water here.

But once again, her luck held out. There was an ion cube on the floor and an arc gate nearby. She couldn’t believe it.

I’m gonna pay for this somehow, she thought, turning the cube over in her hands. Its surface was prickly and splinter-inducing, the way unpolished fiberglass was. I must have a monster of a bad time headed my way once I’m out of here.

But out of here she was. She threw the cube one-handed into its receptacle and happily marched through the gate. So long, hell.

It spat her out into a metal cavern on the other end. Marguerite blinked, feeling diminished by the sheer size of it. She shuffled out of the gate room and realized she’d been transported to an enormous facility of some kind, likely where the majority of the power was flowing. She followed a nearby ramp up and found a single-button terminal glowing with the same nuclear flow she had seen down in the power plant. It was a very shiny, tempting button. Marguerite pressed it and it bit her.

Every obscenity in every language she knew came flying out her mouth. The console sounded like it was swearing at her in turn. She kicked it and went back down the hall.

The facility refused to end. It jutted on and around, detoured into some sort of weapons storage area (she gazed longingly at a gilded rifle on display, but couldn’t figure out how to get to it), and dead-ended in an Olympic-sized moonpool. A nearby lift slingshotted her up to a whole other floor, where she got to wander aimlessly again until at last a square of light greeted her at the far end of the hallway. There, a purple key tablet rested beside an open door. It smiled upon white sands, warm sun, and most importantly, a sparse grove of bulb trees.

Marguerite should have been happy. She should have been relieved. Instead she felt a strange sense of foreboding. Fate didn’t just hand out get-out-of-jail-free cards, and yet here she was.

I am really, really gonna pay for this.

She tried not to think too hard about it. What was most important for her now was to rehydrate, heal up, and find Bart.

She didn’t have any weapons anymore, so she chipped at rocks until she had a suitably sharp flake and proceeded to gut the nearest bulb for its succulent water. When the local crabs decided to pester her they got stabbed as well, and she derived some small enjoyment from watching their eyes pop into jelly. The damn things were inedible it wasn’t like they had a purpose anyway. Marguerite pried the legs from their bodies and fastened them to a fallen branch in order to fashion a crude spear.

With the spear she could fish, and fish she did. The shallows were full of peepers, and once again she had to wonder about this planet and its weird affinity for freakishly giant eyes. Unfortunately without a fabricator, she was left to down her new catch raw. She never did like sashimi.

But as she stood out in the shallows stabbing at fish, a glimmer below caught her eye. Marguerite leaned over the island shelf and realized another alien key tablet had sunken to an outcropping just beneath her. She jabbed her spear into the sand and dove for the relic, realizing it was a design she’d never seen before – blue. A pretty blue. The same blue as the dream-bug-lady’s eyes…

Deeper. Where was ‘deeper’, anyway? How much deeper did she have to go? How was she supposed to survive in that hellpit without a PRAWN suit?

Don’t have any answers for me now, do ya, dreambug? she thought bitterly.

Still, the rarity of the tablet prompted her to keep it. She placed it with the other one for now and decided to keep exploring.

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  • coffeelementalcoffeelemental Beyond the Wall Join Date: 2019-01-22 Member: 249199Members Posts: 6 Fully active user
    The facility she had emerged from was evidently an enormous tower, and if Marguerite knew anything when she saw it, it was a gun. She wasn’t sure how it fired but she was absolutely certain that she was staring at the culprit behind the Degassi’s destruction. Perhaps that hungry little button down below was the means of deactivating it, but so long as it was feeling stabby she had no real means of operating anything. Tech was Bart’s thing. God damn, she needed to find Bart.

    Instead Marguerite wandered up a nearby path and found it wound up and around into the nearby mountain. There she was forced to feel her way through darkened caves, where more crabs volunteered for disembowelment. That was good. She wouldn’t get lost now because she could navigate by the corpses of dead fucking crabs.

    At last, however, she reached the peak and was treated to a breathtaking view. It was mostly ocean, of course, but she had expected that. What she wasn’t expecting was a pale smudge wrapped in mist on the far horizon. Marguerite squinted at it – its shape looked familiar.

    “Is that…our goddamn island?” she asked aloud.

    It had to be. It was the only other chunk of dry land they’d ever found. That island meant their old base, and the old base meant a fabricator.

    But how was she going to get to it?

    The wind shifted, carrying with it a familiar bellow from somewhere down below. Marguerite couldn’t help a wicked grin. She had an idea.


    ***


    The reaper heaved one final roar as it fell dead onto the sand. The weight of its body dragged it back down into the deeps, but it had served its purpose anyway. Marguerite pulled herself up out of the shallows and dusted her hands off. She’d gotten pretty good at wrangling leviathans, if she did say so herself.

    It was nice to see their island dry for a change. The fact that they’d landed during monsoon season was more typical of her usual type of luck, and sure enough a landslide had smothered their base in their absence. Bart’s garden was still thriving, however, and something about that brought her joy. He’d tended it so carefully, speaking to the plants as he cared for them. Marguerite had called him crazy and he told her there was a surprising amount of evidence that speaking to plants helped them grow. Well, he’d been right about the stalker teeth, so she started talking to the plants with him, and they sure as hell grew. She reached out to caress the leaves of a marblemellon, praying that he was safe.

    I’m coming, kid. I’ll protect you. I promise.

    Incredibly, the base was still receiving some power from its solar panels, enough to feed the fabricator. Marguerite had her work cut out for her, to be sure, but so long as the fabricator held out she could at least cobble together a PRAWN. She spent the night feasting on the garden, but made sure to replant the seeds and speak to the plants to encourage them. Once she was certain they’d been properly motivated, she crawled into the remains of the base and fell asleep on the floor.

    The dreambug came to her again that night, beckoning her to the deeps once more but again offering no further explanation. Marguerite awoke desperate for a cigarette but had to settle for healthy fruit instead. Feeling refreshed, at least, she then set to work. The first day she hauled scraps down from the two observatories in order to salvage some titanium; the next she went and decimated Bart’s offshore growbed because she needed every scrap of silicone and acid she could get. There’d be no way to regrow this one, so she defabricated both the planter and the platform it sat on. And so passed the days, each one spent gathering a new material she needed and hunting fish so that she didn’t have to hurt the garden. Eventually she was forced to build a seamoth to return hell and get kyanite, and the entire situation set her back by two weeks. Those gate cubes ran out eventually, and she didn’t know how much time she had left on the one she’d thrown in. Worse, her fever was burning and it was getting harder and harder to think. She spent more days coughing now, each fit wetter than the last. Her entire body ached, and the need to sleep was overwhelming. Screw the arc gate – she was running out of time.

    But at last, she had it: a rechargeable, fully upgraded, invincible PRAWN suit, armed with her staple drill and grapple canon. It felt good to finally be getting somewhere for once. Marguerite went to bed, content that she could set out the next day.

    That night, the dreambug’s message was different. She reached for Marguerite across the void and made some sort of chortling noise that somehow managed to sound concerned.

    There is little time. You must find me, quickly.

    Marguerite woke that morning in order to cough up blood.

    Maybe she really was hallucinating. Maybe she was crazy for doing this. If Bart had taught her anything, however, it was how to quash her cynicism. She skipped breakfast and climbed straight into her PRAWN, leaping from the edge of the island without a second thought. It was a long walk back to the gun island and she was done with wasting time. When she reached the facility, she snapped the purple tablet in half and powered the barrier door back on. As dangerous as this gun was, she didn’t want to risk anyone else finding it.

    Once back in the power plant, she retraced her steps and found that her old nemesis had returned, patrolling the waters with her scrap of metal still lodged within his neck. Marguerite was sorely tempted to finish what she started now that she had a PRAWN suit, but some illogical instinct told her the dream was more important. That dragon wasn’t going anywhere, and she could always come back to bag him once Bart was safe.

    Instead, she carefully jetted her way down the mountain, keeping the dragon in her peripherals all the while. The obsidian plain abruptly dropped into a crater, and Marguerite wasted no time hopping in. If she needed to go ‘deeper’, then she was going to push her damn PRAWN to its physical limits.

    The crater had surprisingly cooled and solidified, but it opened into a pure lava lake beneath. As tough as the PRAWN was, Marguerite wasn’t certain she could literally walk through lava in it, so instead she skirted what solid stone there was and at last came to another enormous facility resting on molten shores. For a moment all she could do was stand and stare. This was it. She could go no deeper.

    It was a white-knuckle effort to cross the lava pool. Marguerite was forced to jump from one conduit to another, marvelling at how indestructible the alien alloys were. She stumbled into the only opening in the facility she could see and found herself confronting a lock that required a blue tablet.

    You have got to be kidding me.


    Once was random. Twice was coincidence. Three times was a pattern. Perhaps she truly was being guided after all. Marguerite inserted the tablet and made her way inside.
    JAZZYFORSUBNAUTICA
  • coffeelementalcoffeelemental Beyond the Wall Join Date: 2019-01-22 Member: 249199Members Posts: 6 Fully active user
    She hated what she found on the other end. It wasn’t the harsh geometric architecture, the anemic lighting, or even the dead leviathan fetus curled up in one of the rooms – it was the lone sword sitting in a display case in the lobby, its hilt shaped like the head of a horse. Such an artifact could have only been made by human hands, and that meant that whatever had set up shop on this planet had been watching for a very long time. Whatever they were, whoever they were, Marguerite hoped to never meet them.

    The rest of the facility was a whole network of arcgates leading to god-knew-where and a fabricator made specifically for ion cubes. Marguerite realized she could drill the raw output to pieces and loaded her PRAWN up with as many as she could. If Bart could figure out how to tap into their power, they’d never have to worry about energy again.

    At last, however, she ventured into the only room she’d yet to explore. At first it simply looked like another oversized moonpool, but something about it felt somehow familiar. She leapt in and drifted onto a platform suspended above what was apparently a giant, immaculately terraformed tank. Puzzled, Marguerite moved to hop off the platform only to have an enormous creature emerge in front of her, hooking its flippers over the edge. Marguerite brandished her drill on instinct, only to find herself staring into the blue eyes of her dreambug. It wasn’t a bug at all, she realized – actually it looked sort of like a sea turtle – but it was possibly the gentlest creature she had ever seen. Simply being near it filled Marguerite with a warm sense of reassurance.

    You have made it, the dreambug said. Are you here to play?

    “H-how are you doin’ that?” Marguerite managed.

    You hear me. This is good. The dreambug’s eyes scrunched up in evident pleasure. The others could not hear me. I speak to your friend as well, but I seem to frighten him.

    “Friend. Who? Bart?” Marguerite leaned forward so fast she accidentally struck her head on the windshield. “He’s alive? He’s safe? Where is he?”

    The young one has built a nest in the shallows. He craves sunlight, as do I. The dreambug slunk away. Marguerite followed her desperately. We have been here so long. I know I shall never see the sun again, but my young can yet do so.

    “Slow down, slow down. What are you talkin’ about? Did the others…capture you? What for?”

    We can cure their illness, and yours. But they denied us our freedom, so I did not give it to them. So said, the dreambug turned and presented Marguerite with a clutch of five gigantic eggs.

    She’s a mother, Marguerite realized, her eyes going wide.

    Marguerite hated kids. Baby animals were only marginally better. But something about this creature – the way it was sort of inbetween, the way it had suffered so unjustly – managed to bite through the armor on her hardened heart. She left the PRAWN in order to touch the eggs, finding them astoundingly hard beneath her fingertips. She may as well have been caressing metal. She couldn’t talk with her rebreather on, however, so she returned to the PRAWN and looked up at the dreambug.

    “So you’re saying if we can free your young, you can cure us?”

    Indeed. The dreambug ‘sat’ on a nearby dune. It was an awkward action, for her trunk of a body ended in a splay of tentacles that only wound up jumbling everywhere. My young cannot hatch until they feel the time is right. To do that, we must seed the waters properly.

    Marguerite shook her head. “Bart…we need Bart. This is his thing, he…he can help your kids, he can get you out of here. Please, if you cure anyone, just cure Bart. Give me the cure and I’ll bring him back here to you, I swear it. Once I tell him about you I won’t be able to stop him from coming even if I tried.”

    Somehow she could sense the dreambug’s amusement, could feel it as though it were her own. I am old. I fear I am no longer capable of providing the cure myself. For that you will need the aid of my young. I have been able to distribute a weaker cure among the peepers here. They swim into the world and bring it to the planet, and so the planet survives. If you consume these creatures, they should keep the worst at bay until you can return.

    Marguerite blinked and glanced around the tank. She’d been too distracted to notice before, but sure enough the tank was buzzing with peepers, each one shivering with a trail of golden glitter.

    “Wh…So we just gotta eat those things?”

    They will not cure you, the dreambug said, gently. But they will keep you alive.

    “Ok…ok…I’ve gotta get some to Bart, then. I’ll find which portal dumps me out closest to the shallows…you know where in the shallows he is?”

    I sense him near the crater edge, just shy of where the hunters roam.

    “Good! Perfect. Perfect! Oh lady, you don’t have a clue how grateful I am. We’re gonna get you out of here, just sit tight. And if you need a treat…I dunno, like a boneshark or something, just say the word. I’ll hook you up.”

    The dreambug bled amusement again. We are not carnivores in the traditional sense, but the gesture is appreciated.

    “Er…what do you eat?”

    The small things.

    “Like…what, prawns? Krill? Oh, like whales! Alright, perfect. When I come back, I’m comin’ with the biggest bucket of krill you’ve ever seen. You can count on it.”

    She could sense the seabug’s confusion, but also got the sense that the seabug was willing to take her word on it.

    Marguerite left the PRAWN again, dumped out the ion cubes, and instead filled her cargo with as many glitter-peepers as she could find. Afterwards, she felt the need to swim up to the dreambug and place a hand upon her muzzle. The dreambug offered a sort of chortling sound to her and lidded her eyes.

    I mean it. We’re coming back for you, Marguerite thought.

    I know, the dreambug replied. We will wait.
  • coffeelementalcoffeelemental Beyond the Wall Join Date: 2019-01-22 Member: 249199Members Posts: 6 Fully active user
    So began the long trek back to the shallows, an area that none of them had ever really explored. Marguerite snacked on raw peeper along the way, assuming that fresh was the most effective way to consume it. Sure enough, her nausea faded, her mind cleared, and she could swear that the boils on her hands had receded somewhat. Perhaps she only wanted to believe it. Oh hell, she had to believe it now – it was all that was keeping her going.

    Unfortunately, the shallows proved to be much larger than she had assumed, and it was full of rocky outcroppings that made PRAWN navigation frustrating at best. Everything looked the same to her, and she had no reference points to navigate by. Marguerite wandered for hours before realizing that she’d been going in circles the entire time. She tried to mentally contact the dreambug, to no avail.

    The next two days passed in such a manner, with each hour spent lost increasing her blood pressure threefold. Marguerite took out her anger on the local fauna, especially when it came to strangling bladderfish for their water. On the fourth day, however, she stumbled across a landmark she’d yet to see: a circular volcanic vent, rhythmically vomiting heat. Marguerite immediately jumped in so her PRAWN could recharge, and tried to memorize the local landmarks when she was done.

    And there, just in the distance, she caught a flicker of fluorescent light. Marguerite drew closer and saw the telltale white of an Alterra habitat. She’d found Bart at last.

    She jetted as fast as she could, and ran when the momentum wore out. For a time it felt as though the habitat got no closer no matter how much she moved, the way such things did in dreams. At last, however, she made it to the hatch and parked her PRAWN outside. She didn’t want to scare Bart, but it wasn’t as though habitats came with a doorbell, so Marguerite simply let herself in.

    “Welcome aboard, captain,” the habitat said. Marguerite blinked. The solo greeting? Was Bart not home?

    Then she removed her rebreather, and was blindsided by the smell.

    She knew that odor far too well. It was always present in her life. This time, however, she didn’t want to believe it. She refused. She ambled on shaky legs through Bart’s lab, where a fish dissection had been abandoned partway through, and found him curled up on his bed in the next room. The floor was a hazardous mess of water bottles and bloody vomit. Bart didn’t move.

    Unbidden tears robbed her of her vision. Marguerite sat down at Bart’s bedside and turned him over. Despite the chaos in his room, he looked as though he had at least gone peacefully – fallen asleep, most likely, and never got back up.

    She broke down, sobbing into his chest. This was her fault – she’d killed the one person in her life who had ever shown her any kindness in her eagerness to make him happy.

    “I found your cure,” she choked out. “You were right. It’s in the fish. The living fish. And I…”

    And all she could do was destroy everything she touched.

    Hours later, when she had at last composed herself somewhat, Marguerite took Bart’s body out into the ocean and laid him down in the sand. Her instinct was to burn bodies, especially infected bodies, but Bart had always gone on about how beautiful the planet was, how remarkable it was that all things were so intricately connected. He loved life, in every sense of the word, and she knew he’d be happiest becoming a part of the planet. And so, she left him to the fish, and now she was alone.

    Marguerite couldn’t bear to stay in the base any longer, so she left that night and camped out on a rocky pillar that just managed to clear the water. She sat and stared at the waves until the sun came up again, tempted to throw herself in and join them. What did she do now? What was the point? Even if she was somehow able to help the dreambug and cure herself, she’d still be trapped on the planet; even if she found some way to deactivate the gun, she had no escape craft. The only respite she had now was that her exile meant she’d never have to face a single lawsuit once she got back to civilized space. No fines, no prison time…and no one to return home to anyway.

    It would have been so easy to just stop eating the damn peepers. She could have wasted away and joined Bart in nourishing his beloved planet. She wanted to. God, how she wanted to. But he wouldn’t have wanted that for her.

    And so, Marguerite resolved to live – if not for herself, if not for Bart, then simply out of pure spite. But she could no longer stand the sight of this crater. All the sudden the things that had fascinated her, excited her, left her filling ill. She didn’t want to think about the Torgals anymore, or about money, Mongolia, Alterra, whoever. All she had left was herself, and that was all she was going to look after anymore.

    She spent some time catching fresh peepers and bladderfish, packing them with ample water around her fabricator, and then squeezed back into her PRAWN. She looked out over the crater edge, where the land abruptly plummeted into the void – and jumped. This was the direction she was going to take, and she wasn’t going to change it. With luck, something would kill her; if not, she’d wind up somewhere new sooner or later.


    THE END
  • JAZZYFORSUBNAUTICAJAZZYFORSUBNAUTICA Join Date: 2018-05-01 Member: 240453Members Posts: 48 Advanced user
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