A meanie comes and drops Xavier a note - a note it is doubtful that the meanie can read, given that where possible, KissThisThen has written it in Linean terms. Assuming that Xavier can interpret what multiple terms for mushrooms mean, they might find themselves down in the Fungus Farm. A place of cool darkness, dust free (mostly) and...safe.
Xavier squints at the note for a bit. The chemit is not that up on mushrooms, but the style of linnean terms is a hint. The choice address it to Phallus Indusiatus and the general... mychological focus of it all made quite clear the sender and his likely location. They don't bother with gloves and leave the head wrap loose, exposing their face. They come quickly, endlessly curious about KTT's doings. Their first guess proves happily correct and so they are soon in the cool dark standing by the former war kid, blushing rather, "Wind's a bit high. It's good to be down here out of the dust." They duck their head, "I got your note."
"Ah, good, I wanted to show you something," says KissThisThen. He is holding up an old glass jar, which has been almost entirely filled with a fruiting substrate, the mycellium having burst into glowing mushrooms which shed a very faint amount of light "Honestly, with that storm out there, I don't think anyone should be anywhere else than down near the caves here. Radiation finds it hard to penetrate so far. Mycoremediation of heavy metals is one thing, but radiation is a more difficult nut to crack. Though I came across rumours of it..." A shake of his head, and he says "Good, good. I wasn't sure how to subtlely contact you -" That was subtle? Well. Loud if you know terminology, not so much afterwards "-but here we are. I thought you might like to see some of my specific experiments."
Xavier's eyes go wide, "Oh wow, that's really pretty! What are the properties?" They lean close to study it, blushing harder, "I would like to see your experiments, yes." They take a breath, "Um... About the other night. It was nice having you to visit. If you... wanted to visit again, I could maybe get a pad? So you'd be more comfortable? I could stow it under the bed, so it would be no bother."
"That would be good. My joints are a mess," says KissThisThen, reaching up to pull the metal shield further off the jar to try to shed a little more febrile light "It's not related to disease, I can't make you sick." He has clearly said _that_ before. And now he smiles quietly, and he offers Xavier the jar "As for properties, not edible. Will not kill you. Will make you a little sick. Not good for the stomach." He watches Xavier blush, enigmatically. Down here there is the occasional faint sound and he says "The thing that helps is cool - and heat. Whatever isn't normal. Come on. Back here, past the storage rooms. Follow me." And he takes out a second jar - Xavier's glows faint green, his glows faint purple.
Xavier peers into the jar, not minding that they are almost touching with uncovered hands the Chemist takes it, "I remember. It was from the beatings. I'm not sick or ill either and I'm not scared of catching anything. I liked talking to you. Like that. And the foot thing was really nice." They glance sideways at KTT, "I meant everything I said, even though my head was pretty twisted. I'm not upset about anything. Just, um, embarrassed. I was too out of it to think about what effects my behavior might have on you." They trot after the Reaper, "Do you ever sleep down here? For the cool? Ooooo! Purple!"
"I don't mind twisted heads," says KissThisThen, in his quiet, sober voice "You should not be embarrassed. I don't...I don't tend to get upset at things like that, at least not in the way that a lot of other people do. Trust me. You're fine, Ransom." And then he says "Yes. Quite a lot. But I can wake up almost unable to move. It still feels good going down here." He starts to lead Xavier across towards the back "There aren't any other Savvy here right now. Did I hear right before - sorry, it's very hard for me to pick up things. But. You're a _Professor_, aren't you? I should be calling you that?" They are now no longer walking on a quiet sandy clean floor, but bare rock.
Xavier says, “Not... Not Veiled Lady?" They giggle, "Professor Veiled Lady would be weird." They speak up, "I'm a Professor, yes. I'm really, really good at chemistry and I like teaching, and there is a good chance I'll be a live a long time if I'm careful in the lab and with chemicals generally. It was a sensible choice, but I don't want you to call me by my title. I... really do want to be friends. We are certainly colleagues despite the differences in focus and methodology. Ransom's fine. Or, or mushroom things, or Xavier or X." They peer around curiously in the dim light. "I love these mushrooms. So pretty and useful. Less wasteful than fire, if dimmer."”
"I am absolutely not a...Professor," says KissThisThen as he holds the glass up "I can't. Erm. Teaching _is_ part of it. I can't. Really focus enough to do it. I get distracted. I talk to myself. Really. It's no longer for me." They are now away from the mushroom beds "The radiation is very light down here. Almost none of it. Safe. So it's fine. Here, see?" At the end of the area there is limestone. And an odd noise. Droplets. Drip. Drip. Water running down rock and collecting slowly in a pool "Ransom."
Xavier smiles and says, "I know you aren't a professor, but you are wicked bright and your research is essential. We're peer of the mind. Titles have nothing to do with it and I... Um, like the way you blurt out what you think. It's endearing... what's that noise?" They peer at the water as it drips and pools, but no better to touch things without asking, "The water, is it safe?"
"Not for drinking - that is. It can cause calcium deposits. It's too rich. If we drank it, too often, we'd get. Blocked up, internally, and die. Especially you," says KissThisThen, looking at the water "Less so females. It's harder on males. But it's absolutely fine for bathing in. No one really comes here. This is the source of the damp for the mushrooms. Everyone finds it creepy back here." There is a cave cricket on the wall, an incredibly long thing with massive antennae "Some of the powdered ground here seems to stop tomatoes getting rot. Some of it kills other things. There are glow worms, further down. It's damp, and cold. And if we had to? We could probably all retreat here. The planet is healing."
Xavier peers closer, the greenish glow of the mushrooms tinting their skin, but they are careful not to get it on their skin. "That part is delicate and easily damaged in all sorts of ways." They drift over to study the insect, "It's not creepy. It's part of nature and so beautiful in it's way." They blink slowly at KTT, their eyes looking black in theis light, "I hope so. That it's healing, I mean. We have hurt it so." They step closer, one soft ungloved fingertip touching his bare wrist, "I wish there were a way to heal your joints. I'm sorry you must hurt as you do, every day."
"I don't even know if those crickets have ever lived on the surface. Maybe, for them, this is the same it's ever been - forever and ever, just living down here." KissThisThen says "Yes. It is, it's just, something about the male part of the reproductive system has problems with calcium load. Never mind. It doesn't matter right now." He adds "There are worms too. Which are interesting. I know we eat mostly mealworms and crickets, but there are other things here. I wonder if we can get mammals back. Mice, maybe, are somewhere." And then he nods "It is healing. Mushrooms can, eventually, break down everything." A long pause, and he looks down at his wrist, and then he says "Me, ah, too. Drugs help a bit. Skidmarxxx sometimes gives me his water ration to heat up and bathe in. Do you...like it? Here?"
Xavier says, “I'd like to see your... um bestiary. Of worms and things. I like the thought that somewhere their are things alive that have nothing to do with what humans need or want. Ecosystem." They look at KTT in sudden, fierce delight, "Are you saying there is a healthy ecosystem down here?" They blush, but lift their chin a little and add... a second finger tip. They say firmly, "I like it here very much. Maybe once I buy the pad we could bring it down here. You and me and Kitten and we could sit on it and look for glow worms and, um, things. If you wanted...? I mean, I have. Things I could trade. When your joints are bad... a hot bath? It's a lot of water for SKID, or, or, I have water and fire in the lab. Maybe warm water in cloths? Laid on the joints?" They take a deep breath and look down at their hand, "I came here from the Lab. I'm as sober as I get." They glance up to see KissThis' reaction. "I don;t work messed up. Not after that sample took me wrong that time. It's too dangerous even if I feel like I'm all right, so I never do it. I'm sober."”
"I'm saying that it's not been seriously affected by toxins, but the rest, I'm not sure," admits KissThisThen "Maybe there are other elements of a lifecycle that aren't happening - like, say, nymphs hatching and flying out, and...who knows. But I don't think it's bad. I think even if we all died, life would eventually come back from this. Partly because we've farmed mushrooms above - it's stabilized the temperature." And he says "Oh! Yes. That would be very interesting. I would like that." He adds "Actually, heated things work well. Doesn't have to be wet. It helps. We all get aches and pains. I could show you all the glow worms. See, if they're here, other insects must be too, because they're hunters." He looks at Xavier's hand, then hesitantly puts his over the top of it, cautiously, carefully "Oh, no, I don't mean work like that. I mean. Just. I don't know. I like to take them sometimes and go out and look at the stars. Or down here. And feel the cold rocks."
Xavier they smile at Kiss this, "That's so incredibly reassuring. It really is. That something will last even if we don't. That there's enough left to start over." They freeze for a moment, startled by the touch, but they don't pull away, and when they remember to breath they giggle little, "I know most people... but you understand." They duck their head, "I meant... The other night I was really messed up and now I'm not and it's, um, on purpose. What I'm doing and not because I'm so messed up all sorts of things don't matter Though I really like looking at the stars like that too and I think it would be fun down here too if our heads were twisted right." They take another careful breath, "Did you mean it? About me being like a mushroom? Because I keep thinking about it."
"Oh there is for that." And then KissThisThen flicks water at Xavier with his free hand, and he says "Ah! I see what you mean." He pauses, and he says "Drugs make me feel a bit more confidant too, you know? Life is kind of complex and hard. Or that is what I feel. Yes. We could be here - or on top of the tower. Though not during the storm! So maybe just back here." And then he nods "Oh yes," he says "There are far more fungal species than mammal. Really...your. Combination. Is honestly the biologically more common one. It's just unusual in mammals. Maybe we're becoming more like mycelium?" He looks thoughtful "Survivors. It'll take a long time. Decades. Centuries before we get it right, I suppose. But you could be the first prototype."
Xavier giggles at the flicked water. "Mycelium...." They sigh, "But I can't pass traits on because I haven't any seeds. Or spores. I'm a dead end, not an advantage, but I think I like the idea of being like mycelium, of being that kind of resilient and being... one of many." They gaze around them, jar head high to see if they can spot more life. "I really like it down here. You are a lucky man to work surrounded by this beauty." Another finger joins the other two on his wrist, less hesitant, "Beautiful sports. Strange growths. Ecosystem..."
"That's why I said prototype," says KissThisThen "Nothing gets it right the first time. No creature. No object. We all move very slowly towards the eventual Green. It will be thousands of years. But we will eventually get there. One of many, as you said. Eventually." He does not smile - at all very often. He is quite serious. Is there other life? It might take someone with eyes to see it - the tiny remnants of insect frass, the hint of fish in some of the deeper pools "I know," he says "I am! Lucky, I mean. I honestly did like the theory of the Green, but I didn't really...feel like it was for me, until I came down here. And saw that it would spread out, slowly." He adds "I'm not fixing to hurt you, Ransom. For one, you're probably a bit tougher than me. For two, it's just...not my. Style. I do think you're interesting. You should show me your lab sometime."
Xavier leans in, not quite touching lips to ear, "I know you won't hurt me. I feel safe with you. In a different way from Kitten. But still safe. I will show you my lab. You could bring samples maybe? To look at under the scope?" They blush to the edges of the wrap, "I think you're interesting too."
KissThisThen goes quiet. His dark eyes are wide, but then he says "Good?" He likes the idea, but is not quite sure how to show it. Showing anything is bad "Is this flirting?" he mutters, and then he says "...it is! Right, I think I know what's...do I?" A shake of his head, and he nudges Xavier suddenly "Wh...why are you worried about holding hands? I'm sorry. I was born Fortunate. It makes it a bit different understanding the various. Ways?"
Xavier giggles and looks down, "It is definitely flirting. Also good." They take a breath, "It's not a savvy thing. It's a me being, um, different thing. Remember what I said the other night about, um, touch being really intense for me unless I'm, um, using chemicals to counter act it? Every touch, even small ones is very intimate for me. When I'm high I can do, um, all sorts of things, but sober... Kitten's different. Special, but even that first time, I was coming down by the time anything happened, but it made it easier. now I can handle... anything. With Kitten. It's still really really intense with other people. Even someone brushing against me in the market. The gloves and things help." Their eyes flicker back and forth across the Reaper's face, "I really like you. I just need time. I think. I'm trying. You wanted me to want....cuddling sober. And I want that too. I just... baby steps, okay?"
"Oh," says KissThisThen, a little mystified "It is _good_ you are not Fortunate. You would be super miserable. I never minded. But for me it was a job?" He shrugs "And then anyway, I'm better off like this. I see what you mean. We don't even have to do anything, you know." He says, suddenly "We don't. I...checked with Cinder, and you were right. He doesn't like me...like me. I mean, he likes me. He just doesn't like me like me. And I didn't make him feel bad. We can just. Take tiny steps. I'm patient. You have to be, as a gardener."
Xavier nods emphatically, "I think they were intending me for Fortunate when they, uh, bread me. Then they were going to train me for savvy and, um, use my blood and, um, seeds, because I'm clean, but I was... the right raw material for science and it would be wasteful not to use all of me? Only I'm not clean and I haven't seeds. I'd have been terrible at siring and worse at doing... what fortunates do. It would have killed me, I think. I'd have gone over the side. It's not... um, the parts? I wasn't sure what parts kitten had until later, but it wouldn't have mattered. I just... it's like mostly I don't feel anything like that for other people. I didn't think I could and it, um, startled me? To want Kitten like that? And to maybe..." They slide the forth fingertip under KTT's covering hand. "You're special maybe too, I think. Not the same, but still good. And I might maybe like you like you. Maybe. But it's okay if you don't feel that way about me." They nod, a little sad, "I'm sorry about Cinder. I wouldn't have said anything if I weren't pretty sure I'm right. I hated... making you sad like that, but it seemed better to know?"
"It's not your fault - or his," says KissThisThen "And it's kind of weird for them, Fortunate, I mean. They're supposed to make _everyone_ feel sexy." He chews on the side of his mouth, and then he says "Yeah, I never sired anyone. I was going to - wanted to be a Breeder. But it doesn't matter. I don't honestly think about my parts, and so forth that much. It's just not. You know, hugely important." He shakes his head, and he smiles. Very rare "I know. I'm a genius when it comes to mushrooms. Weird, right? If I wasn't sick, I'd...be stuck doing the wrong job. It makes you think." He adds "I like you. But I'm okay to be slow. It's fine. As long as you aren't upset if I have like. Weird relationships with Skidmarxxx. And maybe Kitten? It's not really a big formal thing. I don't even get it -" He lifts his head "I should get back to work. I'm on duty."
Xavier delicately they clasp that wrist for two heart beats, then pull away, "Kitten belongs to Kitten. They are free. I love them and they come home to me pretty often, but even if I minded they couldn't not... be with other people. and i don't mind. I don't think I can? I can't imagine laying claim to the glassware in the lab as mine and mine alone, let alone a person. People need to be free and love... doesn't feel like love to me if it's selfish. I want kitten to be happy. Sex is something that makes them happy. If sex with you makes them happy and sex with them makes you happy, then it's good. I only mind about Skidmarxx if he hurts you or does something to you without asking. savvy share." They duck their head, "I should check on the storm. And think about buying a pad."
"Savvy share," murmurs KissThisThen. And he guides them both out.