Sunday, October 2, 2011

Pathologic: Day Four, by the end of which the Haruspicus may find a friend and a half-dead enemy

(or, in which the best-laid plans of mice and men perish in a cataclysm of WTF)

The morning of the fourth day has come.

Infected in the past 24 hours: 40 people
Died in the past 24 hours: 59 people
Gone missing: 15 people
Number of dead at the moment: 236 people
Number of infected: 63 people

The anxiety of the Powers is growing. Less than nine days remain.

Since the beginning of the game, I've been periodically receiving notes containing death threats from one Stakh Rubin, a close friend and collaborator of my late father. Even after the Bachelor cleared my name at the end of Day One, Rubin alone was unconvinced. If anything, he became angrier. I know who you really are, his notes said, and I will kill you for what you've done.

I would be more worried except that I know that the Bachelor has been working closely with Rubin to fight the Plague, and I'm content to let sleeping dogs lie. As long as Rubin continues to help us work toward a cure and remains ignorant of my whereabouts at any given time, he can hate me all he wants. Of course, by now I should know that nothing in Pathologic is ever so simple; the dawn of Day Four brings a message from the Bachelor saying that Rubin has disappeared along with the latest Plague research, and guess who gets the joy of hunting him down.

I'm not happy about this, but one look at the town convinces me that we need that research. As expected, the Sand Plague has burnt itself out in the Tanners District from yesterday, but it's metastasized to other neighborhoods, including the warehouse district where Notkin lives. On top of that, medical supplies are scarcer than ever—a teenage girl on the street informs me that Fat Vlad has been stockpiling the town's antibiotics and immunity boosters and distributing them among the patrol guards, leaving nothing for any of the other citizens. Looting is increasingly common, and civilization is beginning to fray at the edges. Ragged-looking people are starting to appear on the streets: hungry, penniless, out of medicine and hope.

Before doing anything else, I check on Notkin to make sure he's okay. Navigating the streets in the warehouse district is significantly more hair raising than it was in the Tanners District, with plenty of narrow dead ends in which the infected can corner me. A plague cloud explodes upward when I accidentally step on a bloody pile of rags, worsening the infection in my bloodstream. It's not very far to Notkin's lair, but it takes me forever to find a safe route to his door.

Fortunately, Notkin is fine. In fact, he's back to his old posturing, bloodthirsty self again, working himself into a froth over the actions of looters. He wants me to kill a few, just to teach them a lesson about pillaging. I briefly wonder what exactly I'm doing, acting as a hitman for a high schooler, but then forget about it. It's not as if the looters don't have it coming to them.

On my way out the door, Notkin calls after to me to check on a boy named Spichka, who's holed up somewhere on the north side of town. Recognizing the name of another of my Adherents, I make a mental note, tie my handkerchief over my face, and plunge back into the green haze outside.

That green haze has sickened into a yellowish sepia color in the plague-ravaged Tanners District. All the infected people who were wandering around yesterday have succumbed to the Plague, and now the only living things wandering the streets are the knife-wielding bandits (no longer confined to nighttime, apparently) and swarms of rats. These latter are especially annoying; I have to waste a precious bullet just to scare off the pack that is chasing me through the neighborhood. My goal is to clear out those looters, talk to Spichka, and get out as fast as I can. The empty streets and eerily pristine interiors of the former plague houses give me the creeps.

First, the looters. These guys are scary. I've just gotten to the point where the bandits don't bother me anymore—they're slow and easy to outmaneuver now that I'm used to their tricks. Looters, on the other hand, are found only indoors, which gives them plenty of small rooms and blind corners to use as hiding places. And they are fast. When one pops out of an adjoining bedroom to attack me, I barely have time to draw my weapon before he's in my face, raining blows on me. I die a few times before I figure out how to react effectively. As it turns out, they may be good at punchin', but I'm better at shooting them in the face with a shotgun.

Gah! What is wrong with your eyes?
Next, I visit Spichka. He's actually kind of an annoying twerp, which might explain why he's been kicked out of the Dualsouls by Notkin. The more likely explanation, however, is that Spichka is seemingly the only one to see clearly that the conflict between Notkin and the bandits will end in tears if it keeps escalating. He directs me to a storehouse in the east, where the bandits keep a supply of weapons. If I clean it out, the gang war may cool off by a few degrees. I do as he says and get rewarded with increased reputation and a shiny new gun. I'm building quite an arsenal here.

I'm trooping back to the southern warehouses to inform Notkin of my success with the looters when I remember that I still have to figure out the Rubin thing. I pull out my map and discover that his secret hideout is right on my way. Feeling rather confident after my success as a vigilante, I decide to stop by and set him straight.

This is what a plague victim looks like underneath the rags.
I enter the warehouse with my shotgun drawn, ready to defend myself at a moment's notice. But it's quiet inside. The only sound is the soft, piteous moaning of two men on the floor, apparently in the final stages of infection, their bodies covered in bloody blotches. Rubin stands near the back of the room, with a body laid out on an improvised operating table beside him. He makes no aggressive movements in my direction and even starts up a conversation as I come closer. To my surprise, he's apologizing for his belligerence. He was always great friends with my father, he says, and in his grief he did some irrational things. I briefly consider taking him to task for his behavior but eventually decide to let bygones be bygones. We're both on the same side, after all, and any friend of my father is a friend of mine. Besides, I'm dying to know who that is on the table.

Body? What body? I—oh, THAT body.
Rubin has just finished dissecting the former mayor, Simon Kain, which he technically was not supposed to do. This is why he had to disappear suddenly without telling the Bachelor. The people in charge of the quarantine aren't happy with him for making off with the corpse of their revered leader, and they have set every guard in town on his trail. It was worth the risk though, Rubin says, for the discovery that he has just made: Simon Kain was partially immune to the Sand Plague. Not completely immune—there were no antibodies in his blood—but at least able to stave off the late stages of infection without the aid of medication. Rubin theorizes that natives of the area, of whom Kain was one, have some sort of natural immunity. If so, their internal organs are extremely valuable.

That's where I come in. Rubin is a skilled anatomist, but he's not the heir of Isidor Burakh and he doesn't have the confidence of the steppe people as I do. However, Rubin warns me that being associated with him will make me a target for the town guards too. Catherina Saburov, a prophetess of sorts, has been seeing visions of me, and she's been telling people that I will "drown the town in blood" and "let the rivers of blood flow." Rubin tells me to watch my back.

It's not great news, but at this point I'm not terribly surprised. This is Pathologic, after all. I'm mostly just relieved that I didn't have to have a shootout with the vengeful lunatic I presumed Rubin to be. I step over the dying men on the floor and exit the warehouse.

As soon as I set foot outside, I'm surrounded and attacked by a mob of guards. I gun one down and try to break through their ring, but one of them lands a blow and the screen goes black. I sigh and prepare to reload from the death screen.

The death screen never comes. Instead, a bell tolls, and I wake up in a jail cell with guards patrolling outside. Scowling, I hammer keys on the keyboard, pulling up my inventory screen. All of my weapons are gone. A message flashes up on the screen, informing me that it is 2:30 pm on Day Five, and I realize that I've missed my rendezvous with Notkin. My heart starts thumping as I notice that my health is low and my reputation back down to zero. This cannot be happening. Another message comes onscreen:

"You will not be able to defeat this enemy. Less than eight days remain."

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