If you’d like some background on The Plant, a free solitaire roleplaying game from Bully Pulpit Games, you can check out my previous post.
The game begins.
This post contains numerous excerpts and spoilers from The Plant. If you plan on playing the game, do that first!
The front doors are bolted shut, and the windows are too high to reach. There deserted yard offers no items for leverage. When they left this place, they took care to cover their tracks.
You circle the plant, probing its grey, unyielding façade for a crack, an opening. You find it at the back of the building: the seam of some kind of access tunnel, rusted shut. With graceless hands, you pry it open.
The strong, musty smell of industrial gunk long shut in hits your nose. You inspect the tunnel. It’s narrow, but you could probably squeeze in.
This is the crawlspace, a claustrophobic access corridor filled with animal droppings and asbestos. Amid the ductwork are gaping, ragged holes where fans, bag houses, dust collectors and changeover dampers were once affixed, now presenting a deadly hazard to the unwary.The Plant by Jason Morningstar
It is the past. You spend a good amount of time above the factory floor, in cramped crawlspaces filled with metallic dust. Amid the ductwork are high temperature dust collectors and changeover dampers, enormous slowly-spinning fans, and bag houses with rotary valves. The roar of the plant is muffled down here. It is almost peaceful.
You look down and see your partner, the love of your life.
Who is your partner talking to, and about what?
She’s left her safety goggles, is the first thing you notice. She’s hurtling along the factory floor, chasing after the plant director. It sounds like the continuation of an argument.
“You know we don’t have enough personnel yet, and the new protocols — “
Ah, yes. This argument. The new system. They’ve been arguing about it for a long time, and you’ve kept vigil over enough late nights to know that she’s had nothing on her mind these days. Plans called up for review, meetings barged into, personnel reassigned, and throughout all that, the director’s impatience, the threat of his displeasure.
She has always been a force, and this was no different. It terrifies you to think that this is the day you might finally see her overcome.
Area: Trunk Room
The tight corners of the crawlspace give way to a wider space, and you emerge to find yourself surrounded by tangles of rusted pipes.
You sigh as you think of your daughter. How far will you have to go?
This is the trunk room. Both gas and water pipes of every dimension wend through this space, all of them lifeless and broken. A burst pipe long ago flooded the space, and a greasy black water line is visible at knee height on the walls. A jagged hole in the floor provides a view into the inky blackness of what was once a water well. Incongruous piles of shingles are stacked behind the door.
Draw, read, and discard a detail card.
Drawn card: Taste of warm blood
Why does the item on the card make you whoop with delight, eager to press on and take care of business?
As you make your way to the door opposite, your foot catches on the edge of the water well. You pitch forward, knocking into overhanging pipes halfway through a yelp of surprise. Warm blood blooms on your tongue. You pick yourself up and wipe your cut lip with the back of your hand.
A laugh escapes you. And why not? It’s funny. You spent God knows how many years working here, enough to make a life of it, and now all of this. It’s ridiculous.
Area: Coil Room
You burst into the coil room. You recognize the presses lined up along the wall in front of you. What you don’t remember is the giant hole in the ceiling. The crumpled remains of the heater you did know peek out from under the debris.
This is the coil room. A bank of cylindrical extrusion presses stand like sentinels in the dust. The paraphernalia used to coil copper wire – control stands, take-up coilers, and long trolleys – have been torn apart, the more club-like pieces used to beat the electrical billet heater until it collapsed, taking large chunks of ceiling with it.
It’s a long time ago. The plant is buzzing with energy. Copper wire of all gauges snake everywhere – through a bank of cylindrical extrusion presses, down to control stands and into take-up coilers, and onto trolleys. The coiling line is a blur of activity as workers stamp, cut, bundle, and haul copper wire.
Yeah, the good old days. That was a long time ago.
Remember that thing in the last room? The last thing you experienced? Remember how easily you described and explained what happened? You were lying to yourself. Actual events were much, much worse. Ten times worse, horror show freak show worse. Come to grips with that and be honest with yourself at last. Keep it together. Do it for her.
You stare at the heater a beat too long. You’ve had your fair share of peeking in this place.
The engineer, out from behind one of the consoles late at night, catching you on the way out to mumble about maybe talking to her about rechecking the new protocols.
The plant director, warily from behind the glass of his office window, the day before the new system had gone live.
Her, finally, from behind all the plans she had been reviewing and the papers she had been signing — because she hadn’t been blocking them, had she?
No, but it had been nice to pretend, for a while, and occasionally, still.
Area: Furnace Room
This is the furnace room. The massive annealing furnace squats on an iron trestle, with long-frozen hydraulic lifts poised like fat legs on either side. The walls are studded with support machinery – a huge oil pump, a 200-kilowatt inductor with its guts ripped out, and a rusting stand for cooling water three stories tall. Someone has dragged a shopping cart and a rotten canvas tarp in here.
It’s quite a few years ago. The massive annealing furnace squats on an even more massive iron trestle, with long-frozen hydraulic lifts poised like fat legs on either side. The walls are studded with support machinery – a huge oil pump, a 200-kilowatt inductor, and a stand for cooling water three stories tall. The room is filled with the sharp metallic tang of liquefied copper and the air is astonishingly hot.
Your foreman just came in and told you that you were going to be a father. How did you take the news?
You should have hated the furnace room. You did, for a long time, whenever you had to come in here. Until that day the foreman had burst in, curiosity and wonder and joy on his face, and thanked you for making him an uncle. He’d been in the break room when his sister had come in, fresh from the director’s office, and told him the news.
You didn’t even wonder why he was the one telling you. Of course your wife couldn’t be in there, especially then. Of course your child would not be exposed to extreme temperatures. That part of family life, that protectiveness, has always come easy to you, even if following through has not.
Drawn card: Down
How do you get down there?
Draw another card.
You skirt around the pump, the inductor, the furnace, and emerge into a long corridor. It leads to a staircase heading down, and you press on.
Area: Spin-Block Room
This is the spin-block room. A pair of ominous-looking round cages, once yellow but now consumed with rust, hang from the ceiling, far enough off the floor that vandals could not reach them. The hydraulic machinery to raise and lower the spin-block cages has been removed, leaving only shadowy impressions on the walls, and stranding the cages forever.
Draw, read, and discard a detail card.
Drawn card: Threadbare jacket
Why does the item on the card make you break down and cry?
You look up at the rusty cages. If pressed, the most that you can say is that this is a part of the plant you’re unfamiliar with. You wonder how long the cages have been there, what they’ve been used for. This level had borne most of the renovations when they’d installed the new system; that much you can remember.
In the corner of your eye, you spot a bundle in the far corner of the room. Your chest constricts. Darting under the cages, you snatch up the bundle and shake it out, hold it up to the light. You’d recognize that threadbare jacket anywhere.
Drawn card: Down
How do you get down there?
Draw another card.
You scrub your face dry and sling the jacket over one shoulder. So she is here, or has been here. You scour every inch of the other rooms on the floor, but there’s nothing, no other trace. You shoulder your way past the heavy door of the last room and collapse against the wall, exhausted.
A light blinks somewhere to your right. You look over. The elevator appears to be working, somehow. With nowhere else to go, you amble over and press the button to go down.
Area: Control Room
This is the control room. Banks of electrical equipment here have been forced open and gutted, their contents sold for scrap. At one end is an overturned metal desk, its contents now covering the floor in moldy paper pulp. A mummified rat peeks out of a waxed paper cup. You remember it in better times…
It is many years ago. The plant is spotlessly clean, brilliantly lit, and humming with power and purpose. Here in the control room, solid-looking electrical cabinets line the walls, and banks of instruments monitor the furnace, upcasting, and coiling workspace machinery. At one end is a battered metal desk with a telephone and paperwork on it. In its own way it is weirdly cheerful and realer than real. You remember it like it was yesterday. And then it all falls apart around you.
She’s been here, that much is obvious. You can feel her nearby and it makes you relax for a moment. What happened before – that nonsense in the last room of the plant – couldn’t have happened, right? You have a dramatic disposition and tend to spin out tales for yourself. You imagined the whole thing. You must have.
You eye the desiccated rat and wince. Somehow it casts your thoughts back to those cages, to what could have been kept in them. They had been too big for rats, but a good size for —
You shake your head and focus instead on inspecting the rest of the control room. She was here, too. As her mother had been, part of you thinks, but you push the thought away.
Area: Break Room
This level of the plant, you’re more familiar with. They’d put almost everything truly important down here — for safety, you’d assumed, the way it was only natural for bunkers and vaults to be placed underground. In any case, anyone who’s been here for long enough to need supplies would only go to one place.
This is the break room. Faded safety and health posters vie for space with creeping mold and crudely scrawled graffiti on the walls. The hall even used to have a tree in it, growing in an enormous planter. Ornamental brickwork serves as a ladder of sorts, making this room easy to get to. It’s obviously been a popular shooting gallery – needles and syringes form a toxic constellation across the cracked linoleum floor.
You used to spend a lot of time here. You used to eat lunch here every day. The hall even used to have a tree in it, growing in an enormous planter. People would gather there to smoke, and you’d watch them.
You ate alone after people found out about what happened.
And you were always watching. Scanning the yellow, exhausted faces huddled around that miserable tree. Every day, you’d look, knowing eventually you’d catch a glimpse again.
Who were you looking for?
Calling it the break room was underselling it a bit. As dreary as any underground space was bound to be, the plant had tried to make this one impressive, at least. The facility had grown by that point, anyway, and the break room had been designed to hold as many of them as it could.
You wander through the hall, and your memories fill in the long tables, the planters, that one corner where they had put an honest-to-goodness tree that somehow stayed alive for so, so long.
After the accident, that tree had been the only thing you’d even come to the break room for.
Technically the incident had just been a power surge, a result of the new system, understandable.
Technically nobody had been hurt.
Technically your conflicted feelings over it were only natural, because you had rushed over straight from the hospital, your shock wrestling with the joy of having just witnessed the birth of your child.
Technically, technically, technically.
You’d spent every day since then watching the people involved, searching for some sign of the people they’d been before the accident, before they’d started looking at you with those hollowed eyes.
Drawn card: Down
You spy a faint opening in the wall, right behind where the tree used to be. The jacket slips from your shoulder as you run, but it doesn’t matter. Hope and apprehension drive you forward, erasing everything but the possibility of what you might find behind that wall.
You know what crawlspace doors look like. You push this one wide open, and you fall to your knees. The softest, smallest sigh leaves your bloodied mouth.
You find her in the last place you look – the furthest corner of the plant, as far from her life as it was possible for her to get.
As far from you.
Jammed in a corner, as if, even in her last moments, she was still trying to find more distance.
She looks so small.
You pick her up gently, cradle her in your arms as you make your way back. Past the tree, kept impossibly alive for so, so long. Past the control room, brushing dust off her mother’s plans and papers as you go. Up through the elevator, skipping the levels you have always skipped. Out through the front doors this time, and across the deserted yard.
When you’d left this place, you’d taken care to cover the tracks.
You should never have told her.