Archive for July 16, 2019

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

Dim torchlight flickers across the ancient clay bricks. The nearest manhole is somewhere over there across the open stream of sewage yet to be enclosed in concrete due the city sanitation department promising to get to it soon. The ordinary pungent smell assaults the nose, quite a bit of orange and wet banana peel tonight.

Surprisingly, few things move in this space except for the sewage outflows high on the walls. No rats. No cats. Nor even the alligators legend says must be around her somewhere. Silence and perhaps an air current spreads across the rippling surface of the effluvia.

The residential outflow gates pour more into the broth. And other things…Is that a toaster? Or the guts of an old VCR? The outflows move with the consistency of bacon grease congealed halfway back to solid. Globs of white fibrous objects join the grease floating on the surface. Slowly, the fat and wipes circle towards each other like objects hurled towards the event horizon of a black hole.

It rises like a kaiju shrugging aside the sludge on the surface attracting all like material to it. It grows with each glob of grease patched together with the nearly ubiquitous wipes. Eyes open revealing a preternatural hatred of all that is not it. Seemingly moving against the poo current, it sidles over to the broken electronics left out on the side of the sewer. ZZZT!

A quick hit from the open 220 volt socket accretes the new mass to the old mass with the reassurance the new will speak to the old. And now it realizes it’s time to find other sources of nourishment gnashing teeth. It slowly sinks under the water trusting the current towards the sewage treatment plant will…

It is the Fatberg.

When I finally care enough about the narrative uses of the globs of congealed bacon grease, wipes and lumps of solid – “holy shit you flushed that instead of putting it in a landfill!” – to write an actual book, the prose will get better (editing). For now, it admirably sets up my posit of a fat and poo monster sure to add to the nightmare of our modern sewage systems, some over a century old.

Where did I get the idea? Pictures surfaced two years ago of a serious fatberg that clogged up an older section of the London sewers. Described as having the mass of at least ten tons (Tons with a T, Ducky), the lump got lodged. The guys in the hard hats said – “we think we can unclog this drain in…oh, say three weeks.”

I promptly forgot all about it until a couple weeks ago, when I needed to feed the beast that is this blog. Do a screenshot of the news photo of the London obstruction, sweeten it with zombie eyes and mouth…pretty much a picture in search of a monster. I apologize for it taking two years to put the Fatberg into our collective nightmare space. Writers are supposed to be a little more ruthless than that.

So how does a sewer problem become an actual monster? You might notice my capitalization of Fatberg to indicate the monster and the lowercase to indicate that the word fatberg is already in use to describe what is simply an annoyance of modern life? A fatberg just sits there and you call a plumber when the sewers back up. A combination of lye, bleach, physical means like a drill and maybe extreme measures like thermite and it’ll clear soon enough.

Crud-balls that just sit there until the plumber comes have got to be the very definition of boring. The fatberg isn’t sentient even at the basic level of needing to hunt more fat (people have enough of that). Nor does it steal from the advanced class syllabus, needing to get revenge on surface dwellers polluting its home.

How do you create enough thought for it to know I’m hungry? And this is where I bust out – “don’t reinvent the wheel” – that lands us back in Frankenstein-land with the old standard, electricity. You’ll notice in the sample text above the existence of old electronics and the open outlet I didn’t tell you about (I told you I rushed this prose in this post where it doesn’t matter), until I needed it. A current, that has universally stood in for almost all other processes associated with Life.

And it wasn’t just me with the failure of imagination to come up with another reason the Fatberg absorbs more mass to itself and then hunts outside of its comfort zone. I spoke with a bunch of my comic book peeps on this recently. None of them had any other ideas, one even reminded me to “it’s always going to be electricity.”

I did mention a book where the electronic trash in the Mississippi River accumulates enough circuits to reach what my fellow SF writers might call the Sentience Singularity. Put too much tech too close together an the theory says sentience becomes inevitable. Conveniently forgetting we already have lots of tech cheek by jowl all over the world, either this singularity level is higher than we can presently imagine or it too needs some extra cause…full circle back to – “shoot some lightning at your fat monster and go get lunch.”

Probably the Fatberg in the above text wouldn’t need to jolt itself on the open outlet every time it added fat and wipes. Unless each piece of monster is intended to be individually capable of breaking off from the whole to go mug those poor folks at the Antarctic research station (The Thing) while the main mass f**ks up New York, the extra mass doesn’t need shocking.

That would be like me doing weird mad scientist stuff to make sure the cheeseburger I had today is sentient before I ate it. I just need the protein and the pretense of a few vegetables, not a meal that potentially talks back. But, the example above is intended to be illustrative for you, Dear Reader, when you write you own books and RPG campaigns.

Now we move onto the advanced class of monster design. How does it move?

The obvious answer here is it lets the currents of the sewers do the motion. At least in low power mode when it might be hibernating a bit to save up energy for the big hit on Fleet Street. But, the best monsters combine the sense of a home range/milieu with the ability to leave the fens near Baskerville. That Swamp Thing draws power from his bog, but can also mug those dumbass picnickers less than a few minutes from the edge.

For water motion, we have the drift technique. We also have the possibility of complex structures forming that work like the water jets last seen on the Red October sub in Hunt for Red October. Say an interior chamber on the Fatberg that makes use of increasingly smaller diameters to force water through pushing the beast forward. Realistically, I likely still need some kind of pseudoscience replacement for the musculature found in most creatures. Some kind of structure similar to a tongue that forces water through.

Aha! I just explained why it hunts people. We are more than fat with proteins that make muscles. It eats people to make these complicated motions possible. Which also leads us to land motion.

If the always hungry Fatberg can make a flapping tongue-like structure to swim against the poo current, it can also make legs and arms with which to climb those slimy, rusted ladder steps up to the manhole cover. Land motion is almost a given simply to solve the problem of a monster too rooted in one place. People tell stories about the sewer monster and then don’t go in the local equivalent of the ocean where there might be sharks (Jaws). Eventually, it has to hunt until it finds resistance of another high order predator.

Now to go extra wild…air motion. Can Fatberg fly? This one will be up to the writer/DM depending on how much mescal they dropped into their beer. The pseudoscience here isn’t for the faint of heart…the sewer is also filled with poo.

So far, we’ve talked about fat, protein and the solid non-flushable wipes (baby wipes are honest on the box about non-flushable, other wipes aren’t). But, if we really need Fatberg to fly, we just imagine a burn chamber that collects poo and lets this rot down to methane. A spark from the many live electronics in this icky story and instant rocket. Also a third method for moving in water.

So here we are. A Fatberg sewer monster going the extra mile to ruin people’s days. A few thoughts how to explain the beast when pissed off readers send emails and players whine. But, monsters have weaknesses…

Pretty much a fat, wipe and poo monster isn’t really going to evolve too far past its origin. Lye breaks up the fat, so less call it +2 to all attacks when the players happen to have sodium hydroxide handy. Fires helps in some circumstances, but usually only when the beast is slightly dry. Throw a match and…FWOOSH! We hope. The DM gets to pick a number between -3 and +3 to fit the exact circumstances in his sewers.

Hit points. Pretty much a Fatberg will spike HUGE. A ten ton beast is what 300-500hp (more?)? This pretty much reflects size and that so far removal of the real fatbergs takes a lot of hard labor.

And here we are, highlighting the beginnings of what could be a great monster in the hands of the right writer or DM. Yes, I just grossed you out, the point of the post. And I do I actually have to bust out the obvious message of do better about what we flush?