The Let's Play Archive

The Manhole

by Bacter

Part 6

So it was down to this. I had all the fireflies I needed, and I was standing by the lamp. The damned vine was here too, but I guess I should have expected that. The light breeze from earlier was blowing more strongly - the weather felt threatening.

I watched as the vine grew and spread. Already it was curling around the house. I had no idea how to stop it. There was only one thing I could do - I released my fireflies towards the lamp.

The wind picked up further, now whistling past my ears.

The vine was spreading quickly - and where it grew, it was sending out what looked like small pieces of ash or soot. They were moving too quickly, and against the wind, though. They flew just like my fireflies did.

Oh, who was I kidding. This vine had followed me here easily enough, who's to say it wouldn't follow me to wherever I went? I was only here because I had tried and failed to attack the damn thing! I wouldn't do nothing now!

I had... well, not much. I could remember things, but that didn't seem helpful right now. I noticed the vine covering the house, but also diverting from its path towards the lamp.

I reached out with my mind, and was shocked by the power I felt coming from it! Maybe the vine wanted to extinguish the lamp? Maybe it just grew towards power? Well, I could use power too. Time to fight.

I felt the old familiar surge of anger, as I tried to focus my mind, trying to figure out some way to use the power. This was so frustrating! How would I even know if I managed to make something wor-

Oh, ok.

My body was blown into ash instantly, but at least it looked like the vine was blown away too.

The world was fading fast. And if I hadn't learned how to remember, that would have been that. As it was, well, that's what I did.

I remembered...

Ah, yeah. Back here again.

Well, the vine was at least not growing through the manhole yet! Maybe... maybe I could do something to stop it! I reached out to touch the manhole, and-


I pounded on the manhole, which felt warm to the touch and disturbingly wriggly, but otherwise impassive. I had thought when it was growing towards me that it was sentient, and maybe trying to deal with me as a threat, but I guess it was just moving towards the lamp. Sentient or no, it was frustrating that the vine didn't seem to notice me at all.

I still had no idea how I was going to deal with this thing. I tried out my new skill - I was able to remember how things were...

...but that just sent me back here. This was as early as I could remember, after all. And, right on cue...

the vine erupted again.

Well, I still hadn't found the roots. Nowhere to go but down!

The ground around the manhole was much greener than the surrounding desert, and looking down I saw... was that an ocean?

I slid down the remaining vine and hit the island, the shock taking me to my knees.

As I blinked and regained my balance a... turtle talked to me.

A crooked grin crossed my face.

It did me good to see a friendly face! I suddenly realized how long it'd been since I talked to someone. I wasn't sure that Monsieur Turtle was going to be good company, but hey, at least he seemed sentient!

Ambling down to the waterside, I tried to look into the depths, but couldn't see much of anything.

I took a deep breath and dove in after him.

Ha! This was pretty cool! The water was cool and clear, and I saw a sunken ship.

I clamored back onto the island, took a huge gulp of air, and swam down again.

I swam closer, and thought I saw something moving by the anchor.

It was something.... in the sand?

Oh! I swam away, startled, but then swam back.

It was... just a pair of eyes? I dug my finger into the hole, trying to root whatever it was up. I think I was still hoping to talk to someone, and everything more evolved than a plant seemed to be sentient around here.

I dug in further, using both my hands to dig. I couldn't find whatever it was.

I decided to reach out with my mind, and I found something there. A little ball of thoughts - but they were turned inward. I couldn't really make much sense of them, but I get an overwhelming sense of lethargy.

That was... more than I expected from a little guy like this. I wasn't sure if it was possible to get a more in-depth kind of information out of another being's mind, buuuut...

I decided to try an experiment. I had hold of his mind with mine, and while I couldn't really make much sense of what he was thinking, beyond some emotions, I COULD try to remember what he did!

The world darkened, and shrunk. I felt numbness come over my limbs, and tried to move them with a struggle. I felt myself stop breathing, barely felt sand and grime on my cheek as I sunk to the bottom of the sea and brushed the ground.

My last conscious thought was I think I made a huge mistake.


Author's note: Free game! Download it if you like explorey stuff!

Suggested listening: Death on a snowfield!

Logbook: I'm writing a logbook because something very special happened. I wouldn't be able to express my feelings right now. I have a splitting headache and I think I've lost my memory. Could this log help me keep it in mind.

When I came to, I was... someone else. But it wasn't like in California. I don't know if I was getting better with experience or what, but I was conscious both of MYSELF, the myself who, for all I knew, might be lying on the ocean floor, and THIS chump.

I... have to admit, I felt a bit of contempt for him. I mean I'm sure it's scary to wake up with your memory gone (join the club, buddy), but I didn't see how writing in this journal was going to help things. And he "thinks" he's lost his memory? I was PRETTY SURE that I'd lost mine. What a putz.

I'm Chris Freeman, and this is probably the only thing I still have in mind. I'm surrounded by mountains in freezing weather. I really don't know what lead me here.

I found, somewhat to my surprise, that I was running the show, or at least that I could. I tugged upward, and we jumped. I pushed forward, and we ran. He could manage himself without my interference, but it seemed like he just sat around and blinked in puzzlement. That irritated me more, so I kept us running, due east.

He came up with another revelation once we cleared a large boulder in our way - Chris Freeman. The name didn't really mean anything to me.

The mountain grew steep, but I kept pressing us on, clamoring over ice and rock with our bare hands. I had a vague sense of urgency. Again, for all I knew, I was drowning on the seafloor! I'm afraid he got pretty scraped up, climbing that hill, but that wasn't my concern, nor was his little mental whimpering.

We reached a cave. I let him take a break, collapsing on the floor, panting and nursing his palms. I felt a twinge of sympathy, but then, I'm sure without me he would have just frozen to death back where he was, staring around mutely trying to think of his own name. I was good for him.

Once he'd had enough rest (by my estimation, not his) I decided to explore the cave.

I finally found shelter. I'm in a cave, it's dark. I'm not sure I want to explore in there, but I don't really have the choice. NB, my headache is gone, but I still can't remember anything.

Unbelievable. HE found shelter? I mean yes, it might be hard to really understand what was going on for him, but surely he must realize HE didn't do all of this. He had stopped whimpering at least, but he did start humming tunelessly, rubbing his hands together, as I moved us further east through the cave, hopping over chasms. He looked down, startled, before we hopped the first one. I was fairly sure he'd have just pitched right in. A real winner, this one.

I wondered if I could get back to my body and get to safety if this one got... broken. So I nudged us a little during the next jump.

Huh. Guess not. I was startled to feel our body slamming into the cave floor. I hadn't felt the scrapes and bruises from climbing the mountain, so I figured that no pain this guy was in would bother me. It wasn't quite true. I'm sure it was nothing like the agony that he felt, but it was unpleasant enough.

AND, I wasn't gone yet. I waited in that cave floor until he stopped breathing. I have to admit, it was kind of chilling. I felt... kind of wrong about it. But I didn't ask to get teleported into his body, and he has some free will at least, so if he'd been paying attention he probably could have stopped me.

And hey, now that he was dead, I was his only hope! I remembered where we were before, and pushed us eastward. His body didn't seem any worse for wear but he was quieter, and wasn't humming to himself. I wondered what he remembered.

I just risked my life in this cave just to find myself in this striking cold. Nothing in the horizon, where am I?

I heard him muttering to himself, and read what he wrote in his journal. He was certainly unsettled since the fall in the cave. I let him collect himself a bit longer than I had before, before urging us on east. There HAD to be something to do here. Some lesson I had to learn, and he was my vessel.

At least, that was my best guess for now.

I'm frozen to death. I don't think I'd survive very long outside. I need help. NB: I still don't understand what I'm doing here. I feel like I'm dreaming.

I could relate to that feeling. What I COULDN'T relate to was realizing that I was helpless, and not wanting to DO something about it. He seemed too lost in thought to accomplish anything useful, so I sent us eastward, leaping over ravines and scrambling through snow.

I'm alone and I'm losing hope little by little

Oh pull yourself together! I was VERY certain that I was necessary to the survival of this guy. Nothing that had happened to me had made any kind of sense, but I pressed on, I kept TRYING. This sad sack was giving up at every turn.

Hm. Dead end. Have to drop down into the hole I saw back there. I didn't think it was too deep, and if it was, well... I could fix that.

It was a tricky act, finding the right path. I pressed and squeezed him through tight spaces, and from his rapid breathing I think he might not have been enjoying it, but from his perspective, I bet he thought he was finding untapped reserves of courage or something.

I never thought I'd be able to risk my life this way. This cave makes me dizzy. Maybe I'm going to die here.

For the first time I tried to communicate. I couldn't speak, and I couldn't make him speak, but I tried to THINK at him

Hey! Can you hear me? I won't let you die, but you can't stay here! Keep going! It does nobody any good if you die here!

Nothing. Figures.

I could feel a cold drip. I must have been near the surface, but I snaked my way back down. I admit, even my heart jumped a little every time I launched myself into the black dark, but my feet always found purchase.

We hit the cave floor, slipped, and landed hard. I was back on his feet in a second though, and we moved stiffly east.

I plunge more and more into the cave that is starting to freak me out. I must be the first man to get into this place, or else the others didn't make it alive...

Yeah, if they're anything like you they wouldn't. Not without a guardian angel at least. Not without me.

I smelled something new - fresh air! I pushed us up, saw the first glimpse of light then... out!

We slid down the snowy ridge, bumping a little on the rocky ground. He seemed to be taking more of an interest in controlling things, and I didn't have to push us the whole way. I DID have to make us jump off the cliff, and he screamed a little. If I had eyes, I'd have rolled them.

I might make it. I have to be brave. Even if fear comes over me, I must get down from these cliffs. I might find help at the foot of the mountain... it's the price to pay. NB: Don't look down.

We-hell! Look who is growing a spine! Maybe all my prodding was doing him some good. I heard him whisper something else

I don't know if you're out there, maybe you're just me, but if not, thanks.

I could have shed a tear in pride as he half-fell down the sheer cliff wall.

Made it! He collapsed at the bottom, wheezing. I let him have his time to recover. We were that much closer to finding out whatever was so pressing and important - I was fairly sure I wasn't put here randomly. Heck, maybe this was HIS story, and I was just here to help him along!

What I saw went beyond all my hopes. I'm on an iron-made bridge, above some solar panels. They are not there by chance, they must power some devices. I might be saved.

I couldn't help but feel a little disappointed at how quickly he threw away whatever sense of independence and adventure he'd picked up for the possibility of being "saved" by other people. Regardless, he was taking full control, and sprinting across the bridge. I had to admit, it was some impressive architecture.

This place was truly massive. What was it for? Why would it be up here in the mountains? Did it have anything to do with the guy I was riding around with? He seemed to know his way.

It's unbelievable, I'm standing right in front of... my laboratory. It's all clear now! Yes, I remember now; this is where I work.

In fact, I urged us further east (as was sort of my habit by this point), and he actually shook his head and said "no, that's a dead end" out loud. That was the closest to actual communication we've had so far, so I guess that was a cause for enthusiasm.

We descended down some beautiful stairs, cut from granite into the cliff face, into a starkly modern common room. He was running by this point, pushing us into...

Nobody here... yet I don't think I was the only one to work in such a big laboratory. Also, I don't remember very well, what was the point of my research? I should soon find out...

Aaaand that sympathy was fast evaporating. A real Sherlock Holmes, this one. Well, this looked like some kind of high-tech lab. Gleaming, polished surfaces. Massive, curving, modern-art sculptures.

We continued up the stairs. I felt a curious sense of dread.

And entering a massive room, I saw... nothing. A great shimmering, pitch-black nothing. It was like something casting a shadow over the room. I felt our skin prickle. I felt a pull towards it.

He was afraid, I could sense it. I knew he wanted to leave. He murmured No, let's go back, no, no. but THAT'S no attitude to take! Not when we've come this far!

I couldn't make anything out of the various monitors and readouts, and he wasn't saying anything. Well, if this was a stupid idea I could just bring us back!

I felt a certain sense of amusement, I admit, as I took control of us and launched us through the shadow.


Suggested listening: Ruined World (eternal derelict)

Chris lay still for a very long time, and I didn't force us up. He finally stood, and reached for his notebook.

What I'm currently writing is not fiction. I'm Chris Freeman, a physicist, and I think I have managed to create a wormhole of Kerr-Neuman.

A wormhole, huh? Well I guess that would explain why we were teleported. I thought those things killed you though. Sphaghettified you into a string of atoms. Well, I guess it didn't. Onward!

My memory is coming back. I've worked for a long time on black holes in the field of theoretical physics. I don't know why anymore, nor how I built this temporal gate, but one thing is sure; I'm the living proof that such a thing is possible because I've journeyed through time!

Through time! I'd been assuming we were just moved spatially. Huh. Well, I guess he would know. I wasn't sure what lesson we were supposed to take from this, though. I sure couldn't re-build the thing. Why show me this? Why was I here?

My headache is back and even stronger, but the important thing is that my memory is coming back. This constant rain is oppressive, let's hope I find help..."

I admit I was curious as to where we were, but I felt that our spirits were being lifted. The rain was bad, I admit, but it was a lot better than the snow and wind. Chris was whistling again and even talking a little, just sort of chatting off-hand to me.

We were going to get help and then find his family. I didn't get the idea that he was attached, so I guess that means his missed his parents.

Well, either we'd find them together, or I'd find whatever it was I was supposed to see, and then take my leave of him, and he'd find her later.

I smelled something acrid. It smelled sort of like... gas? Maybe? I heard a hum from up ahead, and thought I saw some smoke. Well, that was good! Smoke meant civilization. I think Chris sensed it too, because he picked up the pace. He jumped off a ledge and landed unsteadily, slipping and falling.

This wasn't rock...


This... Chris hadn't said anything. The streets were deserted. The buildings were wrecked.

I'm currently in a totally devastated town. I've not seen such a thing in my life. What could have generated such a mess? NB: There is no trace of life... not even... bodies.

My guess was that Chris wanted to go back to prevent some catastrophe. Maybe he was trying to save his parents. Well, it didn't work out.

I have no words to describe this apocalyptic scene. A tower fell down. I have to find a way to go around this obstacle. I don't really know what to think. Am I in hell?

Speaking of hell, why the hell was I here? At least I'd been able to make sense of things when I had pushed Chris TOWARDS something. This was... such a waste.

What was there to fight for? Why climb over the tower? There must be some survivors on the outside of the city!
I felt anger burning up inside of me. There HAD to be a reason I was brought here! Some of the anger must have fueled Chris too, because he moved with a sudden burst of energy towards the skyscraper.

The main thing...

...was not to give in.

We climbed I don't know how many stairs. We cut ourselves on steel girders, and we slipped to our deaths more than once, each time I brought us back.

I knew for sure Chris remembered them, because we didn't make the same mistake twice. With both of us working at it, we managed to scale the skyscraper.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This section alone makes the game almost not worth playing. Separating what you can and can't jump on is very difficult when the difference between foreground and background is one shade. You will die PLENTY on this part.

We reached the top and VAULTED into thin air. I've never been more frightened, so I can only imagine how Chris felt. Anger at whatever caused this, fury at pointlessness kept us going.

Everything seems to have been shocked by an immeasurable force. I don't dare imagine what could have happened here. I'm petrified by this lifeless sight.

An attack? An accident? A disaster?

I felt Chris slow. Why?

No point denying the obvious. I'm doomed to stay alone in this lifeless place. Nothing's left. What can I expect? Nobody can rescue me now...

You still want RESCUED? We need to rescue the OTHERS, Chris! If it was just Chris controlling our body, we would have slumped to the ground. I couldn't control him blubbering, but I could sure as hell control our body. We had to find his family! We had to find the survivors!

I don't understand. I have the impression I've known these places. And what if I was in the future? What if I was... after the end of the world?

Oh. I hadn't thought of that. Maybe Chris had catapulted us forward, instead of backward. It didn't explain why we initially woke up in the mountains, or where everybody in his lab was, but it would maybe explain where we were now.

And it might have explained what happened to the city, if our little black hole had... done what? I didn't know enough about physics to know. Destroyed the city? The planet? No time! Keep going!

Making Chris's legs move was like wading through molasses. I'd SHOW him that there was a point to this.

I'm alone and weakened. But I have to fight to the death, there might be a solution. There is always a solution...

In front of us, another maze of caverns.

But I felt heavy. I didn't feel like going in them. Neither did Chris. We wanted to get a different vantage point on the city.

Doubling back, we climbed up ruined steps.

We sat a long time, Chris and I. We looked out over the ruined city. We didn't find any survivors, we didn't find any TRACE of survivors. His theory was that he'd transported us into the future, past the end of the world. I didn't have a theory. I was looking for lessons.

Our body was pretty badly broken. I'm pretty sure we sprained an ankle, not to mention uncountable cuts, bruises, and other damage. It wasn't clear that we'd even be able to make it through the caves.

Chris wanted to find his family, and I wanted to get back to my body, to get out of the ocean, if that's where I was.

I... I think I know why it didn't work in the cave. We were at odds then, Chris and I were. We wanted different things. I wanted to leave, to end him, and he wanted to stay.

We couldn't leave, divided.

But maybe the lesson I was teaching him, the point to me being here, was to show him how to abandon a useless pursuit. Maybe this was the very hard lesson that things with no reward don't need to be pursued!

I swear to you, I SWEAR, that I had no part in doing what happened next.

but I

didn't stop it


Not much time before we hit.

Was this the right thing? I had veto power over this. I could force us onward.

In other words, I could hold out, keep up hope, forge onwards! I knew better than him before, and this seemed pretty unbalanced!

I could stay.

Or, I could accept that this was the lesson I was brought here to learn! Chris seemed to be at peace, and I REALLY needed to get back to my body. He was cut, he was bruised, and he was drained. He wanted to get to his family, and if I believed that he would find them this way, it would be pointless cruelty to keep him going. He'd frustrated me, but maybe I needed to give him the same agency I gave myself, to trust his decisions.

In other words, I could respect his choice, let him go on his way as I went on mine. I could trust him.

I could go.

So? Stay or go?