6-4 If You Make a Smoke Pun, It’s Immediately Stoner Humor
Cauliflower gritted her teeth as she glared into the pursuing fog bank. Even now, it extended itself to coil around the cars behind them. The way it moved felt uncomfortable. Unnatural, certainly. She couldn’t afford to think about that now, though. She reaffirmed her grip on her binoculars and pressed them up against her eyes. Her vision immediately became an intense globe of swirling white The view wasn’t what it was about, though.
She gathered herself. Tried to funnel her very being into device in her hands. She tried to feel out the amorphous block of fog in front of her. It was hard. Too hard. The monster’s presence itself felt so diffuse. Like it was a hair’s breadth away from not existing at all.
For a second, the voices of her colleagues pulled at her attention. Behind her, they were talking about something. Probably something unimportant. She tried to press on, they needed to find the core. The volatile mass of crystal which pulled this thing together.
She reached out, but every time she did, she grasped nothing. Whatever she wanted flowed away from her. Like trying to remember a dream. After her sixth attempt, she let her binoculars fall to her chest and slumped her shoulders in exhaustion. She was starting to feel strange, tired and unfocused. Of course, she was no closer to finding anything.
Cauliflower bit her lip and stared down the fog again. She couldn’t help getting frustrated. With slimes, even the big ones, it wasn’t this difficult. They might slip and slide all over the place, seeping wherever they wanted, but at least they had a defined volume. With this thing, it’s like size isn’t a consideration. It expands and contracts as it likes. Having a set density was for chumps, apparently.
As Cauliflower continued to raise her hackles over the monster’s imagined derision, the cars behind her started filing themselves into some sort of order. When the disorganized mercenaries finally fixed their posture, the smaller of the two vehicles gave out a hiss. Then, it turned into a roar and a column of flames was shot out towards the approaching mist.
The ghost’s reaction was immediate. As soon as the orange burst struck it, the fog receded at a speed that shouldn’t be possible for an earthbound cloud. It quickly took up position at the extreme edge of what their floodlights could reach, but it clearly didn’t flee. It kept in pursuit at a steady distance.
Seeing that they were just wasting fuel, whoever was running the flamethrower let up and stared at the barely visible fog. Almost a minute passed like that, then the ghost started to advance again. Almost as quickly as it’d retreated, the fog was back on them. Then the flamethrower let out another burst, sending the ghost backpedaling again. Like this, the cycle was established. Whenever there was no flame, the fog advanced, forcing the flamethrower to spit out again. It seemed like it’d continue like that forever. At least, until the flamethrower really did exhaust its fuel.
Cauliflower looked over that exchange curiously. At least that proved the thing had the same weakness as it’s lesser cousins. Though, unlike a slime, it was fast enough to escape the flames. If they had dozens of flamethrowers, then maybe they could box it in. If they went back to town, they might be able to find enough for that, but if the monster followed them all the way there… Even if they could avoid the criminal charges, that’d be the end of their careers. Cauliflower was still young, she didn’t have three decades worth of livelihood saved up. That’d have to be the last resort.
As she was dwelling over that, something pulled at her consciousness. A light, but insistent, feeling. Taking out the small flashlight she’d stashed in her pocket, she shined it into the darkened landscape to her left. It took her no time at all to recognize what she saw, a field of swirling white.
Hurriedly, Cauliflower spun around to shine her light down the opposite side finding the same result. Then she shouted, “It’s trying to enclose us!”
As the rest of the team moved to look at Cauliflower’s discovery, the Captain quickly tore the radio receiver from it’s cradle and yelled into it, “Check the right and left!”
A little delayed from the Captain’s scream, the flamethrower pivoted and fired. With a few good bursts, the fog was pushed out of sight, but that didn’t mean it was gone. The enclosure had simply grown wider.
“This isn’t a solution. We need something more permanent,” Edge complained, voicing everyone’s concerns. Well, mostly everyone’s. The Newbie still seemed distracted by something in the mist.
“It’s really hard to outdrive something that’s almost completely gaseous,” Knot complained from the front seat. “What, am I supposed to squeeze into a cave or something? I’m pretty sure it wins that contest.”
“Yes, you’ve done very well keeping your foot on the gas,” Lotus responded snidely. “But this isn’t a problem with a driving solution.”
“If you think it’s so easy, then you try it sometimes,” Knot grumbled irritably.
As Cauliflower, alongside the rest of the rover, tried to think of something vaguely tactical, she was interrupted by a loud thump followed by what sounded like a wood beam being torn to pieces.
Her mind filled with the thoughts of fresh enemies that somehow escaped her notice, Cauliflower turned back towards the sound. There, she found something so unexpected that her brain stopped processing for a second. Behind them, the large truck was currently tied, via a thick, sturdy cable, to one of the sparse trees that dotted the mountainside. As she watched, the last few fibers keeping the tree intact gave up fighting the truck’s momentum. With a final, resolute crack, most of the all tree was broken away from its roots and began bumping and grinding its way behind the truck. As it did, a huge pillar of brown dust was shaken up in its wake.
“What the hell is that?” Lotus asked, audibly in awe at the absurdity of the sight.
As if resurrected by her voice, the rest of the rover was jolted from their stunned silence. Then the Captain reaffirmed his grip on the radio and barked into it, “What’s going on? Did you just harpoon a tree?”
“Standard procedure,” A loud, male voice reported back through the radio. “It’ll give us dust to reduce visibility and cover our retreat.”
“Visibility is all about vision,” Champ responded, flailing his arms in frustrated shock. “If it doesn’t have a body, it doesn’t have eyes.”
“You have no idea what senses it uses,” a female voice echoed Champ’s complaints over the radio. “All you did was prevent us from seeing what’s chasing us.”
At that point, the bitter argument over the radio faded from Cauliflower’s perception as she, once again, threw herself into her binoculars. Now that their vision was blocked, she was the only way to track the ghost.
Remembering what she’d felt before, it didn’t take long for Cauliflower to grasp that subtle, effervescent air. She still couldn’t pinpoint anything within the cloud, but she could at least feel out it’s borders.
As soon as she had, she immediately second guessed that statement. She honed her mind and tried to go deeper, feel more. No matter what she did, nothing changed, however. She could still feel the tendrils reaching along their flanks to encircle them, but everything immediately to their rear was gone. Completely clear.
“The ghost isn’t in the dust cloud,” she finally reported when she couldn’t do anything else to disprove her senses. “Like, not at all. No trace of it.”
At Cauliflower’s report, the rover fell into a contemplative silence. That was only broken by Edge’s voice. “Slimes can’t immediately integrate new liquids into their body.” As he spoke, it sounded like he was as much reasoning to himself as the others. “If they mix in too much, they lose cohesion. That’s why the oil break around the spawning pools works.”
“it isn’t any different for ghosts?” Cauliflower asked, a bit skeptical. Dragging a tree behind you was such a dumb strategy, she couldn’t stomach it being the right one.
“I see no reason why it would,” Edge responded with a shrug.
Another silence fell over the car as everyone processed what Edge had just said. Then, the Captain spoke slowly. “Smoke. Pop smoke. If we throw it on either sides of our path,”
“Right, right, right,” Champ responded excitedly, already reaching under his seat to procure the desired cannisters. After handing a few to Lotus and Edge, he pulled the pin from one and threw it off the right side.
As the cannister began to hiss and spit out a massive cloud of grey smoke, Cauliflower held up her binoculars again and tried to confirm the results. Just as they’d expected, as the smoke cloud expanded, the ghost seemed to retreat. When she was satisfied of that, she moved away from the gunner position and grabbed some smoke grenades of her own.
As the four of them busied themselves producing smoke clouds, the Captain reported the plan to the other cars. Before long, they’d created enough billows of smoke to fumigate the mountainside. It couldn’t help feeling like a waste, but eventually they were able to get out in front of the fog and circle back around.
As they headed for higher ground, in the hopes that a vista and the sunrise might give them new hopes, Cauliflower stared into the sky and expanded her mind. She knew she’d be exhausted by the time the morning came, but she couldn’t let it sneak up on them again. The next time, it might take someone important.