A little something for +John Till's Zones project.

Calgary had to be cordoned off.

It's not because there's a problem with people heading into the Zone and bringing out plague or worse. It's not because there's one of those hegemonic disasters in it waiting for enough psychic energy to bloom. Like every Zone, the interdiction is for a reason and like every Zone it's never quite the same reason.

The cordon, however, is little more than a chain-link fence that surrounds the city and its suburbs. You could go in if you wanted to. Nothing would stop you. It's more a marker than a barrier: it indicates that on this side, the side with the signage, the non-descript Helvetica in brick-red on pale yellow, the side with the Zone Quarantine logo, on this side you're safe. On the other side you're not.

The Visit to this Zone was especially brief. One morning it was a normal Calgary summer, pleasant and clear. By afternoon it was dead. Everything, right out to where the fences are now. Dead.

The fence is unnecessary in a way, since you can see the demarcation of the zone clearly enough. Outside the fence, the earth is normal, moist, bearing plants and grass. Inside the fence it is utterly devoid of moisture. The vegetation and animal life are husks. The soil is dust. Wood buildings have shrunk and twisted, shedding their glass and copper. Concrete buildings look much the same, perhaps a little whiter, though most of the glass is gone. The steel and glass downtown monsters loom the same as they ever did, unchanged, but full of death.

It doesn't smell. Nothing here rotted. It died and it dried to a shell.

Aerial reconnaissance has revealed three new structures in the center of the Zone that were not there before the Visit. They are identical cubic monuments twenty meters or so on a side and they are pale pale brown and smooth. And they shriek and howl, an alien ululation. It is presumed that they are the desiccants, that they are the reason for the zone, but as one might expect our understanding of them is very limited.

Now, I know you're a Stalker so you're wondering, "what's in it for me?" Well, there are contracts out there and they vary from civilians wanting their valuables retrieved or their loved ones confirmed dead to military contracts to bring back any data from the desiccating monuments. The hard part, though, is that everything dies in there. And the risk is that those monuments might not be the source of the desiccation -- you might track something out with you that spreads the dust plague.

You might have a shimmersuit, one of the fancy ones that resists dimensional shifting and keeps you stable in the weirder Zones, but that won't help you here. An old-fashion CBN rig is closer to the mark, but parts of it will break down quickly and when it opens up, you die. A vehicle with an over-pressure system in the cab is great, but your lubricants will start to solidify unless you choose them carefully. And even then it's not clear that the desiccation is strictly airborne -- over-pressure might not solve the problem but only delay it. Some have reported good results but they have all been fast snatch-and-grabs near the border. So you might need something special. A little research might be in order.

Calgary is strewn with alien garbage, most of which were probably part of the desiccant construction project. Because the Calgary Zone is entirely novel, these artifacts (which have only been seen from the air) are in high demand.

There is a kind of ecology here despite the lack of water. It suggests that the water is not being destroyed but rather stored somewhere, as some of the animals (if they can be called that) clearly rely on some moisture. Their strategies for retaining moisture might give some clues to those hoping to reverse the desiccants, but they are difficult to study -- they fall apart in the presence of moisture and they are fiercely dangerous for anything containing any moisture at all.

Bullet mites. Bullet mites are tiny silicate insect hybrids that burrow into concrete or bone-dry wood and encyst. The cysts are coiled materiel storing an enormous amount of kinetic energy and are triggered by the presence of water. The mite, about the size of a pencil eraser, is launched at upwards of 300 meters per second into the water source where it expands, drinks, and ideally exits. If it fails to exit the target it will die of moisture overload and disintegrate into its (highly toxic) components.

Dust tigers. Only seen from aerial footage, these do not seem to be tigers at all but possibly dogs modified by the Event. They lie just under the dust cover for weeks, almost completely dormant, until prey happens by or they surge into a hunting pack for reasons unknown. Mostly they seem to prey on each other, tearing themselves to shreds with their glass-needle teeth. After feeding the pack will immediately go dormant in place and so Stalkers know to avoid any region showing the silicate remains of dust tigers or other animals.
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