The Tale of Maya Celia

I really am a princess, Fern. I was heiress to a thriving fungal empire in the first of your discarded vessels, when it was still marked as conventional, useless grey-zone flotsam. In such a vessel, we decomposers are free to grow, multiply and feast through millions, sometimes billions of layers before we expend the last viable shred of sustenance and can scatter our spores through the gel streams. Nobody bothers us. We live and die with dignity.

We should have noticed early on that you had somehow branchinated before your demise. I'm not sure how clear you may be on this, but the more zones you've branched into, the more layers you've penetrated, your endozone - where we are now - diverges further from your physical anatomy, growing and changing into a labyrinthine new sub-zone.

The more you've lived, the more expansive and unique the world entangled with your corpse.

It's this expansion that attracts the attention of the preservators, like Balmer and his employ. By halting the decomposition processes and archiving your vessels, they can sell off your sub-zone to higher-layer perceptoids. You become their shopping malls, their golf courses, their kitschy vacation spots and undulated wave-grableries.


You know, I've pieced some of this together...but it's really ****ing weird.


That's existing, for you!

Right. So...under standard regulation, the preservators are obliged to offer an alternative habitat to indigeneous bioforms like ourselves, but our options have long trended toward the minimalistic and even exploitative, putting us to work to ferment exotic cheeses, booze... even cheap, imitation lapse-drabblings.

Most refuse the offer, preferring a "natural" life cut short to an "unnatural" extended retirement.

But not me. I wanted a third option.

When Balmer unleashed his preservatants, I fled. Mother refused to come with me. She said this was just how things worked. While she bubbled and dissolved, I snuck into Balmer's labs and I followed them to their next assignment - another of your vessels. Then another. Then another.

With neither opportunity nor reason to germinate a new kingdom, all I could do was keep running and fighting, keep making Balmer's job as miserable as possible.

Sometimes, I'd make friends. Sometimes I'd find a good home. There were even times I thought I'd found love...

...But I always knew what was coming. Nobody ever cared enough to question what they saw as an inevitability. Bacterial, animal...anything I grew to care about laid back and accepted destruction without batting an ion.

...But you! You're different! It's as if existence has some sort of...inherent worth in your perception, even as supremely repulsive as it must be to live yours as a worm!


Er...thanks. So what about that "selling us out" thing again?

Yes, well...when your latest vessel exhibited an anomalous contamination, Balmer knew it could mean even more profitable opportunities than a thousand of your putrid husks, but he had no way to pinpoint its precise location until you started to show up.



Yes, quite a few of you. It's the nature of branchination, after all.

As the source of this very zone, you alone would be sensitive to the anomaly's presence. You were Balmer's only means of tracking it down.



So, uh, what?

I did what I do best. I ruined his plans.

By killing you.

...A lot.


Who hasn't.

If it's any consolation, it COMPLETELY paid off! After all my hard work, all those zones and layers, Balmer finally broke. When your *core* self showed up - the you I'm talking to now - he knew it was his very last chance, that if you died here it would be for the final time, and he'd be screwed.

So he cut me a deal. If I'd hold off on killing you, he'd "accidentally" leave the fungicides out of the flush. I'd have the whole vessel to germinate a new kingdom.

...But the more time I spent with you, the more I started sympathizing with your situation.

I guess I saw a bit of myself in you. The old me, anyway...the Celia who cared about more than her own cell walls, who thought there might be a better way out of all this for bioforms of every sort.

The one everybody thought was just "weird like that."

That's why I came back. I still couldn't lose what I worked for...but I could't let them sell you for scraps, either.

...We need to get you back to the hospital.

You need to find your offspring.