Wednesday, December 23, 2020

WoAF - Game Session 16

So there they were, on the edge of the town of Panguitch.  Behind them, the zombie-man that they rushed passed in their Armored Ground Vehicle (AGV), was still flailing one arm in the air, and making horrible gurgling noises.  

Guns stared, wide-eye'd, at the half-pig, half-worm, that was wallowing its way across the mud flat next to them.  

To the south of them was a burned out barn house surrounded by wooden barricades, mostly broken.  Pita, glancing around, happened to be the first to notice that the building was changing color.  Like a long flowing blanket was covering the building turning it from wood to what looked like a writhing mass of grape jelly.  And like a river the purple flowed from the building across the ground.  Guns, seeing this, shouted "Back it up, back it up - I don't want to be purple!"

"I want to pet the creature," said Fred, staring out the rear window with a vague smile.

The shambling zombie came staggering up the road as fast as it could, also seeming to run away from the purple river.  It was flowing quickly, covering anything it came in contact with. It might have been a hundred feet wide.  Captain Samwise, eyeing the thing with increasing alarm, estimated that it would reach their location in about three minutes. He pulled out his binoculars and examined the smoothly rolling purple glinting river in detail.  Zooming in at maximum he discovered that the burbling gelatinous flow was actually a writhing mass of small plum colored ants with glinting razor sharp mandibles. Millions upon millions of plum colored ants with glinting razor sharp mandibles.

"Pita, get us out of here!" he shouted.

The shambling man came running up along side of the AGV.  Both Samwise and Guns noted that the Zombie was carrying a brown leather bound book in its left hand.  It looked like a journal, perhaps.  This was odd.

"I got to say, Captain," said Guns, "I'm kinda interested in this!"

"Yeah?" said Sam, glancing sideways.

"I give you permission, ... Sir", said Guns with a grin.

"I might be tempted, but not with a river of purple ants heading towards us, sorry", replied Sam as he gripped the dashboard of the AGV.  They were moving fast, and Pita wasn't taking prisoners.

"Permission to shoot the ants, sir?" requested Guns with a shout.

"Go ahead," cried the good Captain over the roar of the engine. The bullets strafed the ants, but it had no visible effect on their movement whatsoever.  

Meanwhile, the shambling man had reached the back of the AGV staggering forward with his right arm in the air, and making horrible gurgling sounds.  Linda threw three switches on her board triggering voltaic arcs... the rigged up radio equipment picked up the creature's sounds and dutifully recorded them into her ad-hoc magnetic receptors.

Pita swerved to the right and hit the gas hard.  The AGV lurched forward with a roar.  They left the shambling zombie behind and sped off down the road, heading North.  Linda climbed up into The Perch where Guns was located, and started getting in his way.  He tried to block her but she insisted.

"No," said Guns, "there ain't enough room up here for me and Ilene (his Springfield rifle) and any other woman!"

"Let her up," yelled Sam, to which Guns reluctantly relented and climbed down, with Ilene to give Linda room.

"Sir," called Linda from The Perch, "I think we should stop."

"What?!" everyone shouted in various pitches of surprise and dismay.

"I felt something touch my mind, Sir.  I wanted to see this thing.  Now that I'm looking at him - I am sure there's a real person in that decaying zombie body.  What I heard was a distinct cry for help."

"Uh, yeah, duh," yelled Guns up the turret ladder, "sometimes the universe just tells you stuff, ya know?"

"Oh I'm going to regret this," said Captain Samwise as he tapped Pita on the shoulder.  "Ok.  Stop here.  But be ready the moment I say move - you move."

The shambling creature was trying to make his way up to the AGV, while behind it they could see that the purple river was fast catching up with it.  Pita wanted to get within a 10' range so that he could try to use his Mind Reading power to tap the monster's mind.  

"Are you serious?" asked Sam incredulously.

"Yes, sir.  I got the same feeling as Linda, Sir."

Good Captain Samwise's expertise in Biohacking and his understanding of diseases told him that it was possible that the the creature, the Zombie, was infected with a disease that could have left its mind intact, despite its outward appearance.  That was possible.  Very distantly possible.  But possible.

"Monsters don't carry books," pointed out Guns.  "It's a well known fact, Sir."

Samwise really couldn't decide. The creature was oozing blood and vomiting green puss.  Other times the creature looked poignantly desperate and waved its arm in the air like it was hailing them. 

"Ok, you can get within 10' of this thing, but not within 5'.  You got that Pita?", demanded Samwise as he took the wheel.

Guns suited up into his heavy armored suit.  Sam drove backwards slowly while Pita made his way to the rear door of the AGV where he could get as close as possible to the thing.  Linda also climbed down and grabbed the Hazmat suits from the closet, and everyone geared up.  As they sped towards the shambling monster the purple river was steadily mounting up behind it, and already formed a three foot tall wave that sped towards the horrible thing like a giant wad of gelatin.  It shambled forward as fast as its disjointed legs could carry it, dripping pieces of flesh and vomiting a bloody green puss as it groaned and gurgled with great urgency.  A pitiful sight if ever there was one.

As they skidded to a stop in front of the creature, it stopped reached into its pocket and pulled out a pen and began scrawling into the book.  Pita activated his Mentarian Power of Mind Reading, and reached out to the creature's mind.  

"aaahggghhh... it hurts... it hurts... stop... stop... I need to tell you... something..." was what Pita heard within the mind of the creature.  Pita told the Captain.

"Ok, we can let him in, but only to the first airlock.  Not beyond," said Samwise definitively.

Guns, now in his Hazmat suit, prepared to open the door to the outer airlock, but has he did so, the creature held up the journal he'd been scrawling in.  

"Keep going!  Turn right!" was scrawled on the page in crude disjointed letters, and the zombie gabbed on with his free arm to a bar next to the door. 

Pita, who was also at the door, yelled to the Captain, "Floor it, Sir!  And turn right onto the side the road up ahead!"

And so the AGV roared down the road splashing a wall of water on both sides as the zombie clung to the vehicle, and when they got to Roller Mill Road, did a sideways drift and rumbled onto it.  The purple river was left behind as they crossed a short bridge over a foaming brook.  To the right there was a forest of enormous trees with dark colored bark, and thorny vines covering it.  Inside the forest was a thick fauna of hundreds of writhing plants, covered in six inch thorns, and thousands of brightly colored flowers blossoming and waving in the air. Patches of these writhing woodlands dotted the terrain on all sides.  Elsewhere there were wide patches of completely barren desert, entirely devoid of any life at all.  It was a bizarre and disturbing mix of terrains.  

The road wrapped around the edge of the writing forest, and ended at a turquoise colored pool.  The zombie held up his hand to indicate they should stop there, and so they did.  Once they stopped the zombie fell to the ground with a thud and a splat.  Goo ran freely from an open gash on its face. Guns prepared to bring a med kit, but the zombie waved his hand to indicate he should not come out, scrawled in the book and held it up.

"Contamination!  Stay inside."

Guns, through the window, watched as the zombie wrote again in the book, now more calmly.  Pita was still able to get impressions from the creature's mind, and he heard the words as they were being written onto the journal page.

"My name is Doctor Zachariah Mordesh of the 19th Division of the US Army", he was writing, and these words Pita could clearly hear in ringing out from his mind.  "This region is contaminated with Bio-War Virus named NL-5-Kz.  Stay inside your vehicle."

The AGV was hermetically sealed down with internal air filtration. Entering required going through the airlock, and decontamination pod.  Pita took up the mic at the door so he could speak to the shambling man through the external speaker which Linda had previously wired up when rigging the radio equipment.  While he could not speak into the man's mind, which would have required Telepathy, he could hear his thoughts.  This would do.

"I can read your thoughts, Doctor", he said into the mic, "so you do not have to write down your statements.  Is there anything we can do to help you with your ailments?"

The answer was a flat out No.  As it turns out, four years previously, Dr. Mordesh was the Chief Medical Officer sent to Panguitch by the 19th Division when Biological Warfare broke out near the township and began to devastate the region.  He was sent to investigate and report.  He came with a team, and for quite some time they'd been bunkered in Garfield Hospital, which they fortified against the virus.  They tried to help, but the virus was entirely out of control.  It caused either severe mutations, or necrotization of the flesh, including extreme brain damage.  Half of the victims turned into mindless Zombies, while the other half turned into bizarre mutations.  It depended on the genetics of the victim.

Unfortunately, after a very long and difficult period, a member of the team contracted the disease.  Then another.  Then several more.  Dr. Mordesh tried everything he could to save them. Their ends were gruesome.  Due to exhaustion, he made a mistake. There was an accident in the lab. Fortunately, if you can say that, he had previously inoculated himself with his own experimental vaccine.  It had the effect of protecting his brain from decay, even though the rest of his body has been severely impacted.  Very severely. Unfortunately, he explained, he would not live much longer.  He would inevitably succumb to the virus and transform into a mindlessness Zombie.  They would have to destroyed him at the last.  

He went on to explain that in the basement of the Garfield hospital there is a small community of un-infected survivors from the original team, and a handful of patients who have to various degrees recovered from the viral infection due to the experimental vaccines, some of which worked, to varying degrees, though many more failed.  Perhaps twenty people in total, men, women, and some children flashed vision-like through Pita's mind as he observed intently the Doctor's story.  Some were scientists working in a laboratory, others tending patients, or working machines, preparing food, or fixing equipment.

He also learned that the mutants would typically be transformed into bizarre animal hybrids.  All kinds of hybrids.  Even a Pig-Worm hybrid. And he also learned that the fauna around Panguitch was voraciously alive with a ferocious hunger for the flesh of animals. They could move and crawl and break through wooden walls, and given time even stone walls. The plants could hunt for their prey in frightful ways.  

But the worst of all were the insect mutations.  Thousands of varieties of hybrid insects had been spawned over the years.  The purple ants were one example. But the most dangerous acid spitting, flying shelled insects that were a combination of dragonfly, beetle, and wasp.  These they called the Dragonfly-Insectoids. They created huge colonies, so large they formed enormous mound-hives with millions upon millions of inhabitants. All of these mutations were a product of NL-5-Kz.

The Dr. revealed that originally the virus was in the air as a purple mist, but that dissipated over time and transformed. Now, the virus is spread via direct contact.  They never found out what the original source of the mist was, but they believed it had been a kind of plant that long since mutated into other ... things.  The insect virus is considered the most dangerous because the insects can travel far and wide, taking the virus with them everywhere.  Their reach was global.

Five minutes had gone by while Pita silently nodded his head, or said "Oh my", or "hmmm...", or "I see".  He would also periodically provide the team with quick recaps of what he had learned. At the end he asked Dr. Mordesh, "Do you want me to put you out of your misery?"

The answer was no.  The Doctor had several important matters to take care of, including the completion of two critical experiments, before he perished.  If the experiments were to prove successful he would have found a remedy to the Insect-variant of the virus.  In fact, he might even be able to unravel the DNA damage that had already been done, and help to return things more or less back to normal. By implanting a DNA Destroyer Sequence along with every viral replication, his sub-viral counter attack could potentially follow it around like a genetic assassin and take it out wherever it went, wiping out viral colonies that it came in contact with.  It was an ambitious, and dangerous plan.  If it went wrong, things could also become far worse.

"Is there anything we can do to help?", asked Pita, a bit dwarfed by the Doctor's astonishing plan.

"Yes, but I don't want you to risk your lives.  It is too dangerous.  You need to continue north, and go as quickly as possible," he urged Pita.

But Pita saw in his mind's eye that the scientist needed insect samples. Desperately.  And those samples needed to come from the great Insectoid Hive that he had pointed out earlier.  He was planning to walk to the mound himself to get a sample of the dragonfly DNA, though that was likely a suicide mission.  Still though, most of the Insectoids didn't care for Zombie flesh, so there was a chance he could make it. The success of his experiment could potentially unravel the virus, so he had to take the risk.

As for how the people were surviving, in Pita's mind's eye he saw that they had found ways to very carefully hunt for small game along the edges of the forests, which yielded them a continuous supply of meat, so long as they were careful not to get too close to the voracious fauna, or fall into any of its insidious traps.  There was no chance of growing food, however, as any plants that grew in the area transformed quickly into flesh eating plants.  But they had managed to survive in this manner, and in particular the kids had become adept at stealthily catching wildlife... most of which was frightful to look at, and dangerous to handle, but edible nonetheless.

What he also discovered from the mind of Dr. Mordesh is that the town of Panguitch was at war.  It was a killing zone.  The three factions were the surviving members of the 19th Division, the Zombies, and the Mutants.  There were tunnels, fortified houses, trenches, and supply lines.  That's why the Doctor didn't want the team to simply blunder forward into the town but lead them instead to the pond so he could explain the situation.  While inside the AGV they were most likely have been safe, but had they ventured outside along the way, they would have very likely to encounter serious trouble.  The kind that gets everyone killed.

He also found out that another victim of the virus' propensity to turn ordinary humans into bizarre animal hybrids happen to be that horribly awkward looking creature they saw earlier slithering its way across the mud waddle, the Pig-Worm. 

That, in fact, was his dear friend and fellow scientist, Dr. Rogers.

When they encountered him, Dr. Mordesh was trying to find Dr. Rogers. They had been separated by the sudden emergence of the purple ant column, and that was why Dr. Mordesh had been running down the middle of the road, and Dr. Rogers was slithering away through the mud waddle.  

As it happened, Dr. Rogers, just like Dr. Mordesh, had a fully functional mind.  And in fact, the mind within Dr. Rogers was a premium mind at that.  Dr. Mordesh was of the opinion that Rogers was the most brilliant scientist that he had ever met.  Or even heard of.  An Einstein level Bio-Chemical-Engineer.  Replete with strange and inexplicable mental powers.  

While Pita was perceiving all of this in rapport with Dr. Mordesh, from his vantagepoint at the rear AGV window, Guns happen to be gazing at a large pond covered with a thick mat of turquoise colored algae.  The center of the pond had begun to burble forth with a bubbling froth that was emitting a faint cloud of rose colored gas.  He scratched his chin.  Yep, no doubt about it.  There was a rosy colored mist coming up out of that pond.

"Um, folks... I think we should go.  Something is coming up out of that pond, over there," he said loudly as he made his way up the Perch ladder.  Linda, as she came down passed him a look. One of those looks.  He smiled, tried to ignore it, and hustled himself up to the Perch where he buckled himself into the machine gunner's chair.  He used the mechanical gears to turn the turret so he could keep two eyes on the pond.  

Below, there was some conversation as to how to proceed. They decided that the Doctor should get into the AGV trailer.  Unfortunately, the trailer itself was locked, and armored.  So Sam ordered Guns to go outside and let the Zombie Doctor into the trailer.  

"Shouldn't we drive away from the pond, first?" asked Guns, incredulously.  As the mist was floating on a breeze and heading in their direction, the Captain decided they should hustle away faster rather than slower after all.  The Doctor hung on to the steel bar near the door, which he grabbed onto as Pita revved the engine, and sped away down the road.

Behind them the pool began frothing, and a large mound of yellowish water began to form at the center, and out of froth emerged several pinkish colored tendrils with ochre suction cups along bottom sides.  The tendrils were laden with long bony spikes, and the entire effect was like a fang-shrouded octopus.  The tendrils writhed in the air as the AGV came screeching to a stop at what seemed a safe distance and Guns unbuckled, slid down the ladder, hustled himself through the airlock, ran to the rear where the Trailer door was, punched in the code "1, 2, 3, 4" and helped the Doctor scramble inside.  The rosy mist was rising off the pond like a soft cloud. Not wishing to take any chances, Guns hustled himself back to the airlock, slammed the door shut, and turned on the bio-cleansing system.  Pita hit the gas and off roared the AGV, a cloud of dust billowing up behind it.

They went back the way they had come, towards Panguitch over the bridge and back onto the main road.  They knew there was a mud wash on their right, but they couldn't see it through the writhing rambles. They sped along until they passed the brambles, and caught site of the Pig-Worm.  The purple ants were nowhere to be seen.  However, where they passed the land was stripped of all life and completely bare down to dirt.  

By this time Pita's connection with Dr. Mordesh had faded, and so he went back to driving the AGV.  The Captain, relieved, took the navigator's seat, and they surveyed the land around them.  The Pig-Worm was wallowing in the mud, apparently trying to make its way over to a patch of relatively dry land and brambles on the east side of the mud waddle. 

Concerned that the AGV could get stuck in the mud, they stopped about a hundred yards away along the road, and Sam, Guns and Pita stepped outside in their hazmat suits.  Their plan was to to circle the Pig-Worm and try to corral it into the trailer with Dr. Mordesh.  They weren't sure if the Pig-Worm would come willingly, or ... do something ... strange.  They decided not to take any chances, grabbed some rope, and their mesh-net.  Fred suggested a harpoon from his seat on the sofa, but this suggestion was not approved.  Guns, on the other hand, grabbed a couple of apples from the AGV pantry and got ready to wade through the mud to get to the Pig-Worm.

They approached the mud waddle and found that the water was six inches deep, and the mud about a foot below that, so going was going to be something of a slog.  Sam's plan to encircle the Pig-Worm, lasso it with ropes and the smart-mesh and drag it out of the mud seemed to him to be the most plausible.

"Sir, you ain't never lived out on a farm, have you?" asked Guns.  "Let me take care of this."

"Go ahead," conceded the good Captain.

He took an apple and tossed it into the mud waddle not far from the Pig-Worm, and called "Suuuuuwweeeee!  Suuuuuuuwweeeee!"  

The Pig-Worm turned and faced Guns and gazed at him with an expression that was hard to interpret.  Have you ever seen a pig with a look of sardonic bemusement?  Neither had they.

"Hey, Mr. Pig, we are trying to help your Doctor friend, you know?" said Guns.  "He wants us to get you and bring you back to do some science and stuff."

The Pig-Worm continued to gaze at Guns without moving.  As this was going on, Samwise used his Mentarian Power, finally, of Mind Reading.  His mind came in contact with the mind of the Pig-Worm.  This was, he discovered, in fact, a mind far, far more powerful than his own.  He practically reeled away in shock at the intensity and power of the Pig-Mind.

"A certain Dr. Mordesh sent us to find you," Sam said out loud, though in a quiet voice as he was aware that the Pig-Worm was fully capable of reading his own mind.

"Dr. Mordesh is my friend and fellow scientist," came the disembodied answer inside Captain Samwise's head, loud as a church bell.  "Where is he now?"

"He is in the trailer behind us," replied Samwise, though he realized that the Pig-Worm knew what he was going to say before he said it. "Dr. Mordesh told us of his experiments and the reason for them, and he needs us to help you to complete them," he continued to say out loud out of force of habit. "Gentlemen," he said to his companions, "I have made mental contact with Dr. Rogers.  We are reading minds now."

"Don't ... think ... of ... bacon!", repeated Guns over and over to himself in his head. "Damit... I'm thinking of ... bacon!  Bacon!  I just love bacon! Damnit! Shut up, brain!  Shut up!"  

Fortunately, it appeared that Dr. Rogers, the Pig-Worm, was attuned to the Captain's mind, and not Guns' at that moment, so no hell broke loose, and the two  continued to parley without unseemly interruption.  

"I am Dr. Rogers, a scientist of the 19th Division, US Army.  I am trapped within this mutant body, repugnant to you as it may be, but my mind is fully intact, for the same reason as Dr. Mordesh.  I can see through your mind that he is well.  I'm relieved.  I am crossing the mud waddle in the hope that I can get to the edge of the wooded area over there, and remain still for long enough, despite the danger, so that I might be able to encounter one of the Dragonfly-Insectoids that Dr. Mordesh described to your companion Pita.  If so, I may be able to mentally stun it, and bring it back to the lab. I should like to thank you for being kind enough to help us."

All of this was transmitted directly and instantly into the good Captain's mind in a single flash of insight, rather than as discrete sentences.  It was as if Sam simply had known these things all along.  Such was the power of Dr. Roger's mind. 

Captian Samwise reflected on Dr. Roger's plan.  He considered the nature of the Dragonfly-Insectoids in question.  Their venom, as he understood it, was extremely potent.  Their armored shells could withstand being pounded on by a rock. They ranged in size between a half inch and eight inches.  There were likely millions of them in the Mound-Hive. And they were likely not the only Insectoid species in the vicinity.  He shuddered.

Taking out his binoculars he scanned the edge of the wood brambles to see if he could spot any of the Insectoids, but he didn't see any.  The Mound-Hive was located about a mile or so north of their position, and over the tops of the brambles Samwise could see the top of the mound, which itself was covered with wooded brambles. 

One fact he considered in their favor was that they did not need to capture a living sample of the Insectoids in order for the scientists to extract the DNA sequence they needed. 

The Captain thought about all of this, and came to the conclusion that the AGV could well suffice to keep the crew out of harms way while they collected one or more samples, as there was no chance the creatures could gain entrance to the AGV once it has been hermetically sealed.  All they would need to do is run over some, and their DNA would be crushed into the tread.  They could drive off and collect the sample afterwards.

"I think we may be able to help you obtain your sample," said Samwise to the Pig-Worm.

"No," replied Dr. Rogers.  "I do not want you to put yourselves at risk.  We were sent with the 19th to take that risk.  It is what we signed up for.  But you are just passing through.  We can't ask you to take such a risk."

"We have the AGV," commented the Captain.

"You are forgetting something," said Dr. Rogers, perfectly aware of Sam's thoughts.  "There are many kinds of mutant insects flooding out from this region, and there are Bore Beetles in the area.  The same kind as you met in the south on your way here."

"Ah," replied Samwise.  The Bore Beetles could chew through stone and metal, he recalled.  He thought of the Acoustic Anti-Insect Shell.

"Yes, that's true," interjected Dr. Rogers into Sam's thoughts, "You do have such a device, but again, you are forgetting... it was destroyed by the EMP blast when you fought the Shadow King back in the desert south of Page," he added, showing that not only had he read the Captain's mind, but scanned his entire memory, and knew every detail with perfect clarity.

"On the other hand," he added, "we have the facilities here to repair your AGV, and provide you with any necessary supplies and equipment you may need."

And so a plan was formulated. 

At that moment Pita detected momentary Mind Scan attempting to penetrate into his thoughts, and warded it off by a lucky dodge of mental reflection.  He knew it was only luck that saved him.  The invasion attempt, he also knew, came from Pig-Worm.  Pita commented on this event to the Captain, quietly.  

"Please convey my apology to your friend," said Dr. Rogers into Sam's mind.  "It's just a habit I have to read the minds around me.  No offence intended.  Usually no one even notices.  I will try to remember to refrain from doing so again."

"Ah, ok, I will mention that to Pita. No worries, I think," said Samwise aloud, and went on to extend Dr. Roger's apology.

Back in the AGV, Fred happen to be chatting to Linda as they listened to the one sided conversation outside over the speakers.  

"You know, just thinking out loud here, but what if these are somehow rival scientists or something, and one of them happens to be evil?" asked Fred

"What do you think is going on?"

"I don't know," he replied hesitantly.

"Didn't Dr. Mordesh say that the Pig is a great scientist...? I had the impression they are friends," she added.

"Well, of course he would want us to think that," replied Fred.

"So... you think Dr. Mordesh is the evil one?"

"I'm not sure.  Dr. Mordesh could be trying to fool us. If we were like ... if the Pig was like evil and we ... and Dr. Mordesh was the good guy, but maybe trying to make it, that like he's afraid the Pig isn't going to mind control us or something and make it bad, and he doesn't want to take the chance.  Because he can protect himself from the Pig, but we can't." 

"So let me get this straight," said Linda, struggling.  "So you think Mordesh is evil, and that the pig is good, and that Mordesh doesn't want the pig to take over our minds because then we would act good, and Mordesh wouldn't want that?"

"Well, yeah, if that was the case then yes.  But what if the Pig is evil?"  

"Then wouldn't Mordesh have warned us about the pig?" asked Linda, trying to reason through the possibilities.

"Not if he had some kind of ulterior motive."

"What kind ulterior motive?"

"Maybe there's a rivalry, or something," answered Fred waving his finger in the air abstractly.

"But as far as I understand," replied Linda, "they're working together to find a solution to the virus problem, no?"

"So then they're both working together to fool us.  I get what you're saying.  I getchya," concluded Fred with a knowing nod of his head, and rubbing his chin sagely with two fingers.

The conversation went around in circles a few more times, but still lead to nothing conclusive. Finally, Fred laid his cards on the table and tried to force the issue.

"I just want to, you know, to know, that you are on the right... the right side... of history," said Fred.

"On the right side of history?  Can I kind of give you my assurance that I'm on the right side of history?  Would that do?" she asked, trying to keep Fred from spiraling off into the ozone.

"Are you against the Pig Menace?", he demanded, "That's what I want to know!"

"Ah!  The Pig Menace!  ... Are you against the 'Pig Menace'?", she countered.  "So you're against the pig, is that what you're saying? You're against the pig?"

"I'm against any menace," replied Fred defensively.

"Well, ok, I'm against any menace, too," Linda reassured him.

"Well, good. And I know, what when Guns gets himself in trouble out there, you'll do the right thing," said Fred.

"Yeah," she added, "I think you'll do the right thing, too."

"Yep.  Definitely!", he answered emphatically.

"Ok. Good. I'm glad we had this little talk," she said and went back to repairing some vacuum tube circuits on the radio apparatus.

Fred stalked away to snort a line of cocaine in preparation of the doom-storm to come.

Meanwhile outside, Captain Sam wanted to go back to the AGV and get out of the open.  The Pig-Worm was surprisingly agile in the mud.  He squealed and with its worm-tail he moved through the waters towards the AGV with surprising rapidity. He looked disturbingly like a large fat pink sperm cell.  Sam tried to erase that thought, but it just slipped out.  The Pig-Worm stopped, turned his head, and gave him that sardonic gaze.  And then went back to swimming merrily through the mud to the AGV.

Fred, seeing it coming through the window, snorted another line, and suddenly felt that something happened in his mind... it suddenly brightened up in a flash, and then went back to normal.  He had no idea what it was.  But he didn't like it one bit.  He decided that going forward he would create a set of Compartmentalization Zones in his mind in order to confuse and distract any would-be mind readers from knowing what he was really thinking.  The first two would be normal processes, one would be simply white noise, another all about bacon mixed in with Shakespearean insults.  This ought to do the trick, he thought, though in fact, it was far too late for anything like that.  His mind had already been completely scanned and analyzed by Dr. Rogers.  But his mind was now compartmentalized into Mental Zones, and he found it rather entertaining.

The crew members returned to the AGV, and they put Dr. Rogers in the trailer with Dr. Mordesh.  The two appeared to converse by mental means as they both stood still and nodded their heads occassionally.

"Ah so I see that things have been arranged, and we're ready to go.  This is good," conveyed Dr. Rogers to Captain Samwise on behalf of Dr. Mordesh.  "We appreciate your help."

Upon boarding the AGV, the team went through the usual decontamination ritual at the air lock.  Part of the process was manual because the AGV was severely damaged.  The UV lighting component was broken so they used extra anti-biological mist. Having both was obviously best, but under the circumstances Samwise felt that an extra dose of decon-mist was very likely not quite enough protection under the circumstances.  Everyone, including those inside the AGV, were wearing their Hazmat Suits.  But if any contamination got inside the AGV it would be nearly impossible to remove it after the fact.  They needed to find an effective way to decontaminate their suits.  They applied three applications of the mist.

"That will not be sufficient," said Dr. Rogers into the Captain's head.

"What would do it?" asked Samwise.

"We have a capable decontamination unit at the Hospital," said Dr. Rogers.

So the team mounted onto the AGV exterior by hanging on, with Guns having climbed up on top to the turret and tied the iron chain that was still there around his waist. Linda drove the AGV.  It wasn't exactly something she was well trained for, but she had driven one a number of times back at HQ in Tuscon.  She could manage.

They rumbled through overhanging forest, and as long as they kept moving at a fast enough clip, although the vines swayed towards them, they were not fast enough to catch hold of anyone. As they rolled through Dr. Rogers mentioned to Sam that they had an ointment that repels the plants, but it was hard to manufacture, rare, and so used quite sparingly.  But if they wanted some, they were welcome to what the Hospital could spare.  Which wouldn't be much.  Captain Samwise thanked him for the offer.

They entered the town of Panguitch.  The houses were fortified with spiked boards, barbed wire, and ditches.  No movement was seen, but they had a sense they were being watched.

"The most dangerous group, in fact, are the mutants," commented Dr. Rogers as they rolled along.  "They have mental powers, and can crush the weak minded, but they are afraid of me, so they won't be a problem so long as I'm here.  Mostly they pray on the Zombies by altering their sense of direction, or creating illusions for them to get snared by.  But it's a war of attrition because the Zombies are notoriously hard to kill.  Well, actually, they're already dead, so the best that can be done is to stall them, and if possible immobilize them with traps."

They turned a corner and rumbled down a main street, went a few desolate fortified blocks, saw no one, and arrived at Garfield Hospital without incident.  They rolled up into the parking lot.  Fred climbed up into the turret to man the machine gun, while the men outside prepared to enter the hospital with Dr. Mordesh and Dr. Rogers.  There were robotic machine gun nests positioned in a dozen places, covering all angles of approach with triple lines of fire.  There were ditches, thick walls of barbed wire, and metal barriers.  No one was getting into the Hospital easily.  Sam, Pita and Guns disembarked, opened the trailer, and Dr. Rogers and Mordesh lead the Team to the front gate.  The radio controlled Robot Soldiers stood down and let them pass.

As soon as they entered through the large steel double doors of the Hospital Lobby they encountered a highly sophisticated and extremely thorough decontamination process that involved a series of airlocked corridors and chambers. It took quite some time to get through all of the decontamination routines.  Some of them were rather unpleasant, but no one dwelled on that.  They soldiered through and made their way from station to station without comment.

After they had passed through the last the decontamination chamber everyone was given new decontaminated suits, and both of the Doctors were given hermetically sealed containment suits, due to their condition.  Dr. Roger's was shaped, and motorized, specifically for Pig-Worm.  He looked out at them from within a thick glass bubble on top of a wheeled contraption.  The containment suit looked quite sturdy, and had a something of an ominous look, in fact.

They were directed by the doctors down a long zig zagging corridor.  At the first portal they were joined by two armed guards, also wearing protective armor.  Down a side corridor they saw a large glass enclosed containment chamber in which were sealed and heavily armored cages.  Each of the cages had a zombie in it, rasping, raging, and trying its best to escape.  To no avail.  Those cages were built by no-nonsense military engineers to contain zombies.  And that they did quite well.  

They arrived at an armored elevator, with a mini-machine gun turret over the doors, which descended a long way down, though the elevator controls showed only five floors.  If there was more here than met the eye, none of the crew took notice of it.  It was good enough that they were getting help from eminent scientists working on a cure for the Insectoid Virus.  When they got to the third level down the doors slid silently open, and they emerged into a circular corridor lit by a combination of ultra-violet and orange lights which dotted the rim of the ceiling every five feet.  The walls were colored a bright yellow, and appeared to be plastic.  They came to doorway, also guarded, and were permitted entrance after the Doctors were scanned and verified.  Everyone was given a metallic pass-plate which had a black band on it.  If the band were to turn any color other than black, instructions would be provided and they would need to comply immediately.

In this section of the facility there were numerous laboratories, sparsely populated by small teams of scientists in hazmat suits.  Some of the scientists, in fact, were teenagers, and there was even one who could not have been more than twelve years old.  Observing the facility through the glass partitions it seemed as though hundreds of experiments were being conducted.  Androids could be seen working at stations, setting configurations, inspecting test tubes, cleaning, and transporting materials here and there.  It was a busy place.  Dr. Mordesh excused himself with a hand wave, and went to confer with several scientists on urgent matters.  Dr. Rogers continued on with the heroes and led them to a broad steel door, which slid silently open. Within was a dark room, but as the door opened lights switched in in a series, and the room became well illuminated.  There were rows of cabinets, bins, shelves, and stacks of equipment.

"Inside you will find all of the materials, tools and utilities necessary to refurbish your AGV up to all essential services and features," spoke Dr. Rogers into Captain Samwise's mind.

"Thank you," replied Samwise, aloud, so that Pita and Guns would know a conversation was being had.  They went inside and found every tool, circuit, device, and part they might need to repair the AGV.  

"It is no trouble," replied Dr. Rogers.  "You plan to help us on a dangerous mission, so it is the least we can do.  Please, take whatever you may need."

Delighted, Pita and Guns filled several crates, and put them on a motorized trolley.  

"There's more equipment at the air base, about two miles from here, as well. Between these two stores, if you want to, I am certain you can bring your AGV fully back on line in mint condition.  Maybe even add a perk or two," said Dr. Rogers as they walked next to the trolley towards the cafeteria.  

Samwise's scientific curiosity was deeply aroused by the facility, and he was wondering if he could look at the lab results thus far, and Dr. Rogers intuited to him that he certainly could, but there was a hesitation.  Samwise understood without being told that the experiments being conducted were quite a bit above his level of education and understanding, despite his scientific and bio-hacking skills.  In fact, his skills were effective for field work, but not really up to the level of what was being conducted on Level -3 of Garfield Hospital.  He felt sure he would learn a lot, even if he didn't understand everything off the top, so he planned on dong a little light reading over night.

Pita, who had more military experience than the others, noticed that the hospital's Automated Defensive System was the ADS-XL-7 model, which suggested that the 19th Regiment had sent some of its top tier military men to this theater along with the scientists.  He wondered if they happen to have the kind of resources that would allow him to fix Lexi, their all but destroyed Android.  He asked Dr. Rogers if that was possible.

Dr. Rogers brought them to another armored room.  Inside was everything Pita might need for the project.  He was overjoyed.

They went back up and conferred with the team.  It was decided that they could afford to spend the time to conduct repairs on the AGV and Lexi.  Pita started the conversation.  

"This is our best chance to get everything back up and running to the level we were at when we left Tuscon.  We may never got this opportunity again.  However, I should inform you, to effect all the repairs on Lexi and the AGV necessary will take me about a week.  But why not take the time to do it proper?  We're not in a rush.  As long as we're safe, we should avail ourselves of the Hospitality, so to say, if you know what I mean."

"While we work on repairs, I'd like to see Linda's equipment repaired so that we can communicate with Federation Command more quickly," said Sam.

"Well, the fact is," replied Linda, "no matter what repairs we do, and they are very welcome, Sir... but it won't improve our communications speed at all.  The atmosphere, sir, is the culprit here.  All those scintillating bands of radiation spiraling around the planet we see every night have all but eliminated our ability to conduct radio transmissions through the atmosphere, except on a line-of-sight basis.  And even that is spotty.  That's why we need to use the Ultra-Low Frequency Transmissions though the ground.  And that does take time.  So repairs would be helpful of course, as it would make the equipment obviously far more reliable that what I've been able to cobble together, but I can't do miracles, Sir."

"Understood," replied Sam, a bit disappointed.  "Still though, let's do the best we can with what we've got, eh?"

And so, the heroes began what would be a long night of hard work, and repairs were under way.  Lexi-B, to everyone's amazement, was not only fully repaired by the morning, but as it happened, one of the scientists, a young woman by the name of Janet Langly, a genius at AI, had been working on an experimental Positronic Brain, and Guns and Pita managed to talk her into installing one into Lexi-B.  

"It's for the mission," they said in unison.  She seemed hesitant.  "We might need some serious AI to get to that Insectoid Mound-Hive thing, and back again ... alive, you know.  With the ... Insectoid DNA.  Right?" 

Dr. Rogers spoke with Janet and recommended they try the Positronic Brain in Lexi-B.  There was some question as to whether or not a normal Proximatic Industrial Android could integrate such an advanced device.  

"It would make for definitive experimental conditions, wouldn't you agree Dr. Langly?" asked Dr. Rogers.  And so it was decided that the new Positronic Brain would be installed in Lexi-B.  And by 10:20 am, Lexi-B began to think for himself.

"Well, he'll probably kill us all," commented Guns, "but I guess that's all right, then, I suppose... you know, for science and shit."

"As long as it is good for machine-kind, all is well," said Lexi-B with a slight smile.

Someone laughed awkwardly.  

~~~~

And this is where we left the game for the night.  Fun times, foooo shizzle.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

WoAF - Game Session 15

And so we find our heroes hightailing it down Route 89 back the way they came.  Eastward they rumbled the Armored Ground Vehicle.  Good Captain Samwise considered their options.  If they head back all the way to Page, Arizona, they'd likely find the Paladins of the Golden Lion giving them an unfriendly welcome.  While Fred wanted desperately to head south back to Tuscon, there were really no good routes available for that, and in addition, the other members of the party decided that they wanted to complete the mission after all.

"This needs to stop," said Fred emphatically.  "Look, Captain, you almost just got shanked back there because we could not hear what you were saying because the audio equipment of the AGV is all busted.  We have all this information to deliver back to Federation Command.  We should go south, deliver the goods, re-equip, and then head back to Utah and do the mission."

"Well," started Samwise, "we're halfway -"

"No! We're halfway to nowhere!" interrupted Fred.

There was a fierce debate.  Guns suggested going back to Tuscon to get Rocket Jets to go to Tuscon.  There didn't seem a practical avenue to accomplish that. 

"The question is," said Sam, "has the team given up on the Mission?"

In the end, the answer was no.  And so when they came to Johnson Canyon Road, they cut a sharp left turn, and headed north.

They passed derelict burned out farmlands, and into a canyon valley that snaked along a windy little river. About 15 miles in the road turned westward.  They drove through the forested hills, and at one point they passed what looked like a small cluster of houses high up on the ridge of a cliff.  There showed no signs of life, so they continued westward into a region of ever thickening forest.  In the air there were orange sized dandelion puffs floating by the hundreds, then thousands. They passed a herd of deer that stared out at them from within the covert of a shadowy wood, several of which had eight legs and six eyes, and bizarrely shaped horns. Samwise noticed that all of the fauna in the region appeared to have been mutated.  Wherever the puffs landed, they began sprouting leaves and vines within a few minutes.  The number of these puffs increased steadily the further west they went.  It was not entirely comforting.  They secured the ventilation system and kept moving westward.

The road entered directly into a long wall of dark and gigantic forest.  The trees grew to the size of Sequoias, the tallest towering nearly 300 feet into the glowering sky.  The forest appeared to have grow up around a regular forest, whose thousands of oaks and pines formed a skeletal under-forest, dead, leafless and decomposing.  Amid the dead branches of the under-forest a murder of crows was seen flocking, cawing, and staring at the passing AGV with a strange intensity.  The giant trees seemed to crowd in on the road, and roots of those trees had begun to break through the road in certain spots.  From the high branches enormous vines draped down, crossing ominously above the road.  Guns thought they seemed to be moving sinuously, but it might just have been the shadowy light playing tricks with his eyes.  On the other hand, he also thought the vines could be sentient.  He wanted to shoot them.  The good Captain gave the order.

As the machine gun fire hit the enormous vines they shattered, and flocks of crows scattered cawing madly in all directions.  They continued forward cautiously. The vines grew thicker, and the trees closer.  It grew darker beneath the enormous cathedral of trees, until not a hint of sunlight could be detected.  It was nearly pitch black, and they travelled very slowly so as to not lose the road.  Guns swiveled the turret randomly picking targets in the foliage, but not firing at anything. 

Eventually, they came to a dark burbling stream crossing the road.  The water was about 3 feet deep and deep mud covered the banks.  Up the stream, about 50 feet or so, on the edge overlooking from a little cliff that hung over the stream bed, they saw the corner of an old dilapidated wooden house.  Guns aimed the machine gun at the house.  The porch was obscured by trees and deep shadows.

"For all we know, this house could be full of Tech," said Pita.  But no one wanted to find out.  And so they rumbled slowly past, wondering if 'old granny' had put out warm ginger cookies for them.  Yep.  No one wanted to find out.  They crossed the stream and kept going.

After a long slow drive, the forest began to thin out, and after some time the trees lessened in size and eventually they came to a river, the crossing of which allowed them to leave the forest behind.  Good riddance, they said.

The road snaked westward through the hills.  They spotted another cluster of lifeless buildings up on a hill, and passed by.  After a time they came to the town of Glendale.  

Captain Samwise stopped the vehicle, and they surveyed the town from a concealed position.  Glendale had activity.  Military activity.  Jeeps, tanks, troops, and there were occupied houses, and people on the streets.  It looked busy-busy down there.

"At this point in time, I do not really want to tangle with the U.S. Army.  I don't think we can assume a friendly response," said Samwise.  He was inclined to go off road.

Pita recommended they find a place to hide and do any necessary repairs on the AGV before heading off road. They plotted a course on the maps that Fred had been able to recover from Mech Base 12.  They headed up a backroad up towards a nearby lake that looked unoccupied.  The area around the lake was desolate.  They parked and Linda suggested that she could transmit to Federation Command using the Ultra-Low Frequency transmission.  It would take a minimum of four hours to transmit and receive any reply, which coincided roughly with the amount of time it might take to effect repairs.  

It was early evening, and would get dark in about an hour.  Guns thought that it might be better to do what they need to do during the day, rather than at night.  Linda, for her part, liked the spot because the terrain would help to transmit as the area around the lake was flat.  They decided to transmit for two hours, provide a time to recommend Federation Command to transmit their reply, and effect some repairs.  Fred and Sam suited up and stepped outside to work on the AGV.  

Guns wanted a half hour to stretch his legs and scout around a bit.  He donned the heavy armored suit, and took his trusty Springfield rifle, Ilene, and headed out for a half hour perimeter search.  He climbed up on a hill to the north, found a concealing spot, and with his binoculars took a look around.  He was able to see the military forces in the town from his position, and noted that there were no military forces north of the town.  All activity seemed clustered around the south side of Glendale.

Meanwhile, Pita took the time to take a look at the AGV's electronics to see if he could repair anything else.  Linda transmitted to Federation Command.  Samwise climbed up into the Perch to keep a lookout.

By the time the ULF transmission was complete, it was dark, but the moon was shining brightly, and there were no clouds.  High above, the sky was pierced by the never ending multi-colored coruscating bands of radiation in the upper atmosphere, making their characteristic high pitched twirping-hissing sounds.  Then they heard the sound of Thunder in the distance.  

Samwise decided to travel northward without lights, to try to avoid observation by the military.  As they drove the sounds of thunder grew fast and furious and the trees lit up with reflected flashes of light.  But no storm approached.  Guns swiveled the turret around in all directions, and to the south he saw what it was.  Over the horizon, beyond the mountains, perhaps 20 miles southward, massive explosions were lighting up the sky and creating a thunderous display.  It looked like a full scale war to the south west.

"Bombs bursting in mid-air, gave fruit to the night", intoned Guns somberly.

"Fruit to the night?", asked Samwise.

"I always wondered what kind of fruit that was," replied Guns thoughtfully, scratching his chin.

The team moved slowly forward, Pita guiding the AGV along a back road towards Golden Haven Ranch.  There was activity there, but not of a military nature.  They slowly passed by, trying not to draw attention.  They got back on 89 and headed north.  Sam was surprised it was that easy, but no one came out of the ranch house, and so they took their good luck and ran with it.

"If we stay on 89, we can almost make it all the way to the Salt Lake," said Sam, to Fred's intense annoyance.  They poured over the map carefully.  He recalled that originally Alt-X had recommended coming in from the west onto the Salt Lake Flats, so he looked for a route up 89 that would get them to the west side.  It was midnight.  The roads were desolate.  It would be about 100 miles before they intersected with Route 70.  Samwise estimated they would arrive there by the morning, if all went well.  Fred was no end of annoyed by these plans.

Behind them the explosions continued beyond the mountains.  

"Well, at least nothing is going on up here," said Samwise to the crew.

"Wanna see me tempt fate?  Thank goodness," replied Fred with a snicker, and popped a couple of pills and went to bed.  

They passed several empty and desolate towns, such as Gravel Pass, and Hatch, as the road snaked its way through hills.  They came to the intersection of Route 89 and Route 12.  It was about 3 in the morning.  

Guns was the first to spot the circle of crosses on the side of the road.  On it were chained skeletons.  A storm began to come in from the north west.  The wind picked up.  Scanning around with his binoculars by the flashes of lightning, Sam saw that every house nearby was covered in massive vines, through the doors and windows, and through holes in the rooves.  As the storm was approaching rapidly with wild flairs of lightning, the Captain decided to hunker down and bolt the AVG's pilons into the ground.  He directed Pita to a spot about 1500 feet to the west of the road on a flat area.  They talked about waking Fred up to handle the Retro-Tech required to drive the pilons into the ground, but he had drugged himself into a virtual coma and was snoring away in a deep slumber.  

Sam gave Fred a little kick, to which Fred flailed his arms, fell off the couch and smacked his face on the floor.  This woke him up.  The Captain directed him to use the manual override to drill down the pilons, and Fred shook himself, and prepared.  It would require going outside and manually running each pilon using the gear mechanisms.  He and Sam suited up, and went outside.  The winds had picked up to 70 to 80 mph, and a driving rain began to fall.  Enormous strikes of lightning began peppering the nearby hills.  They scrambled around the AGV, and a couple of times nearly got blown away by huge gusts of winds, but their tethers held and they managed to complete the job and scramble back inside.  

The storm flooded the area with a three foot deluge, and they found themselves bolted down in the middle of fast moving river.  By morning, however, the storm began to abate.  They remained hunkered down for a few hours to let the waters recede while Linda worked the ULF receptors, and at about noon she picked up a signal from Federation Command.  Her rig, full of vacuum tubes and sparking wires, managed to receive the message.

"GOOD JOB.  STOP. AQCUIRE ALLIES.  STOP. PROCEED TO BLACK WIND. STOP."

"Your dad would want us to bring you home safe and sound," stated Fred.

"I think my dad would want us to complete the Mission, actually," replied Linda.

There was another fierce debate about what they should do next.  At this point Fred had gained the support of Guns, who also began to think that they simply were no longer equipped to handle the kind of terrors they were inevitably going to face.  Linda, on the other hand, was determined to complete the mission, and Sam felt the same way.  Pita agreed to do whatever the Captain decided, though personally, he felt Fred and Guns were probably right.  They went back and forth on the question for quite a while, covering all possible pros and cons.

Eventually, the good Captain decided to forge ahead.  Fred popped a pill and went straight back to sleep.

They withdrew the pilons from the ground, and made their way to the road.  Passing the circle of skeletons they got very bad feeling.  Pita took a glance over, he couldn't help himself.  He noticed that every skeleton in the circle had its head turned towards him, and was staring at him with their dead and empty eye sockets.  A wave of hopelessness came over him like a tsunami.  It suddenly seemed to him that death is inevitable.  There was really just no point in fighting it.  There never had been.  As this feeling washed over him, he maintained just enough wit to activate his Mentarian Mind Shield.  Unfortunately, while he was able to see the attack in time to prevent it, his poor luck came into play once again, and the Mind Shield fizzled into nothingness before the inky darkness of the Rays of Un-Life that overwhelmed him.  And so, having lost control of his mind, he took his foot off the gas, put it on the break instead, ground the AGV to a sudden lurching halt, and threw the gear into park.  Without further ado he slumped over in his chair, and limply slid to the floor of the AGV waiting for the end to come and put them all out of their misery, forever.  Such is the spiritual wickedness that has engulfed the world after mankind's fateful decision to wage the Ultra-War. 

"Pita," yelled Guns, popping his head upside-down from the turret, "what's going on down there?  Why'd we stop? You ok?"

"It's just not worth it," moaned Pita from the floor, drool running down his cheek to the floor.

"You know when I'm feeling down, and I feel like the whole world's against me" said Guns encouragingly, "I take out good old Ilene and and shoot things until I feel better. What do you want me to shoot, man?  Name it!"

"You might as well just shoot me," said Pita in the most despairing voice any of them had ever heard.

"Captain, request permission to blow the shit out of those skeletons," said Guns, his voice trailing off as he eyed the crosses with furrowed brows, a sense of dread and doom overwhelming him. He imagined that they would all be on those horrible crosses soon.

Fred was dreaming.  It was a nightmare.  He was running through the fields, but he had no legs.  He looked down and saw his body was a poisonous snake writhing in the mud.  Skeletons on crosses were reaching out for him, and lifting him up, nailed him onto one of the crosses, their empty eyes staring at him with a terrifying gloom.  All around him in every direction was pitch black horror.  The horror of a universe dying.  He could not move.  He lay on the couch, drooling.

Samwise leapt over to Pita and tried to rouse him with a violent shake.  That however, only solicited a dismal groan from the poor miserable hero.  Sam jumped into the pilot's seat, grabbed the steering wheel, flipped the gear shift into 3rd, and slammed his foot on the gas.  This caused the AGV to lurch forward suddenly and descend into a muddy ditch, unfortunately.

Meanwhile, Linda had managed to spring into action, having activated her Mind Shield in time.  She ran over to Pita and used her Mentarian Power of Influence Emotions to try to rouse Pita from his despair.  With all of the mental energies she could put into it, it would last only two minutes at the most. With her best and most encouraging words, however, she was unable to rouse him. Sam was trying to get the AGV out of the ditch.  He revved the engine three times, turned the steering wheel wildly, and commanded the vehicle to move forward - to no avail.  It just slid around in the mud uselessly.

Guns, who was also being infected by waves of despair, decided to focus all of his attention on taking apart Ilene, cleaning each part carefully, and reassemble her with great and unerring care.  This actually worked wonders to keep him from becoming immobilized.  However, he wouldn't do anything at all but that.

"Pita, come back to me!" yelled Linda, throwing her arms around him, and putting everything she had into it.  When Pita heard her voice, he realized how beautiful she truly was, and this brought him back to his senses.  He grabbed her by the shoulders and kissed her.  The sense of being alive filled him, cleared his mind, and he immediately grabbed the wheel from Sam, pushing him out of the way, and floored the gas.  Pita, unlike Samwise, was an expert Pilot. At first the wheels slipped and slid sideways, drifting the massive vehicle leftwards about 10 feet.  But Pita also had The Gnack.  

"Common, baby," he cooed has he gave the dashboard a whack with his fist. The AVG engine roared, and slid to the right about 15 feet.  He stacked his skill of Insane Persistence on top over everything else, and tried one more time.  This time the AGV gained traction on the rock base beneath the mud, and suddenly the vehicle lurched out of the ditch.  

This all took about 45 seconds. Across the floodwater flats towards Route 89 they roared, and without a hitch Pita got the AGV back onto the road, flooded as it might have been.  They roared northward. The further away from the Skeleton circle they got, the more Fred's dream went from nightmare into bizarre drug induced fantasy.  Crushing the bones of the skeletons onto a mirror he happened to be sitting in front of, he proceeded to snort the white boney powder like a mad man.  All kinds of bizarre images were flashing through his incoherent.

Pita drove furiously, sweat pouring off his brow.  But before they could get entirely out of the range of the Skeletal Horror... the wondrous Influence Emotions wore off... it had been two minutes, and now he realized that it was all a dark ruse.  There was no way to escape the skeletons, and they were all doomed no matter what.  Even if they made it up the road, death would soon find them, encircle them, drown them, kill them, ransack their souls, and feed them to the Maw of Horror.  Despair covered him completely.  And so, he slid quietly back to the floor and laid down, drooling to himself incoherently.  The AGV came rolling to a halt. 

Meanwhile, Fred failed to snort enough of the skeletons, there being hundreds of them in his nightmare.  He began to see boney fingers protruding from his snake body.  The sky was bright pink and green, with dark holes in it leading beyond into a sky of infinite blackness.  There were no stars up there anymore.  He vomited. 

Sam leapt into the pilot seat and attempted to take control of the AGV.  Once again, a deficit of skill and luck lead the AGV to drift sideways, but this time Sam managed to gain control of the situation and kept the AGV on the road.  The vehicle churned through three feet of flood water.  They could mark the road only by the signs that stuck up out of the water at various tilts.

The all pervasive doom had Pita, Fred and even Guns in its horrendous grip one way or another.  Linda went around to each of them in turn to find out how they were doing, and try to provide comfort.  When she got to Fred her voice invaded his dream, and so he somehow managed to mumble "my bag... my bag".

She looked around and found a small bag on his belt, and intuiting that this was significant, she opened it.  Inside she found a number of bottles, carefully labelled.  Drugs of various kinds.  Lots of drugs.

She took the bag to Sam who was struggling to keep the rig on the road, and he listened as she listed the names.  Sam selected Sertraline IV, a powerful anti-depressant.  Linda gave one to Fred, who swallowed it in his sleep, and one to Pita.  Guns declined and stuck with assembling Ilene.  The effect of the drug was somewhat negligible, but it did help to some degree to keep Pita and Fred from the worst of the Despair. Their drooling lessened a bit, and Linda took this as a hopeful sign.

Eventually, however, Sam drove them far enough away, and by the time they arrived at the southern edge of Panguich, the influence of the skeletons had abated.  Although the sense of misery, loss and absolutely pointlessness still clung to them, they had mostly shaken off the worst of the effects.  After a few fits and starts, Fred, who woke up by then, took a few steps, fell, smacked his face on the floor, and then slowly, groggily stood up again.  He seemed more or less back to his usual self.  Pita, not to be second bested, also stood up, wiped the drool from his chin, smiled faintly, and took the wheel of the AGV.  He did not feel well at all.  But he could still drive.  However, Sam, seeing the look in Pita's eyes, said he could continue to drive for a while, and sent him back to recover.  He promptly turned and went to the back of the vehicle and laid down next to where Linda was sitting.  She put her arm around his shoulder and they sat quietly as the AGV rumbled along.

The weather was gloomy, clouds churning darkly in the sky, the cold winds howling.  The road turned west, and there ahead they caught a glimpse of the township of Panguich.  Biological assault was evident everywhere.  Tall spindly orange colored vines with unnaturally phosphorescent blue flowers clustered everywhere.  There in the mud to the right was a creature slithering towards a rocky mound protruding from the swirling waters.  The creature had the upper body of a pig with the lower body of a giant fat worm.  Near it a 40 pound toad sitting on a moldy purple tree stump belched a spray of green acid at the pig.  It squealed and slithered away.  Further ahead, on the road a man in a torn trench coat was staggering down the road.  He was missing the top part of his right thigh.  His face looked partially torn away.  He swayed his arms as he staggered towards the AGV.

Good Captain Samwise wished very much to skirt the town.  He didn't want to go towards the staggering man, and looked around for another way to go, but the road seemed the only path forward, as on both sides of them was a huge mud waddle which he thought the AGV would simply get stuck in.  The shambling man made bizarre gestures, and flailed his arms as he approached he uttered strange gurgling noises.  He appeared to be trying to intercept the AGV.  He did not look well at all.

"That's a zombie, isn't it?", asked Fred craning his head to get a view of it through the wind shield.  "I say we blow him up".

Sam ignored this and rolled the AGV past the creature.  The zombie tried to grab on to the side of the vehicle, possibly, or something.  It was hard to say because they lost sight of it as they rolled past, but they heard some banging sounds, and in their rear view mirror they could see the creature slashing around in the water, groaning horribly and making loud and bizarre guttural noises.

"Friendly," commented Sam.  "You know, I don't like the look of this town," he added thoughtfully.  "The welcoming committee hasn't impressed me as much as I had hoped."

"We could try to befriend them," said Pita, his head laying on Linda's lap.

"Well, that has worked like never before," replied Linda stroking his hair.

And so Captain Samwise rounded the bend and they took a first look out at the ruins of Panguich pensively.  It looked like a bio-war horror show.  What to do?  What to do?

And so we left things there for the night.

Fun times for the Heroes of Federation Command.


Thursday, October 29, 2020

WoAF - Game Session 14

In brief, our heroes decided at the last not to engage with the Lizard men after all.  Nope.  The team, lead by Guns who argued vociferously against joining forces with the Crusaders of the Golden Lion, and was backed by both Pita and Fred, for slightly different reasons, turned dead-set against the idea after all.  Captain Samwise conceded to their demands and reluctantly gave the bad news to Geoffrey.

"Go then," said Geoffrey from his horse, "but do not return.  You are not a man of your word.  You are no longer welcome here."

So, instead, they shoved off as persons non-grata under Geoffrey's disdainful gaze.  After all, as he had pointed out to Samwise, the Captain had already given his word.  But Samwise swallowed his pride and sacrificed his word of honor in order to abide by the wishes of his crew.  Whether or not this was an example of poor leadership would be something to be debated quietly among the crew members as they rolled off westward on Route 89.  Guns sang a particularly loud little ditty to get Samwise's mind off his troubles, and down the dusty desert road they went.

And so they came to the Bridge over the Colorado River at Glen Canyon Dam.  But once crossed they found a palpable gloom of dread descended upon them all.  It was as if they rode their Armored Ground Vehicle through a curtain of gloom.  And on the other side of the bridge they beheld a long line of crosses dangling with skeletons crossing the road for as far north and south as the eye could see like a great and starkly evil border line.  It didn't bode well. It didn't bode well at all.

After what seemed like a very long, rough and dusty ride they came to Big Water which they skirted past, despite seeing a large number of soldiers amassing on the far side of town.  Nope.  "Keep moving", the crew urged.  And so they moved on.

And finally they came to the town of Kanab.  And there was no moving on from there.  Crossing Route 89 was a gate with two machine gun toting guards, and on the side of the road a large gravel lot in which was a very stout looking white building bustling with soldiers.  Next to the building were three jeeps, one under repairs by a mechanic, and two XR7-5 Tanks mounted with Turbo Cannons, one idling at a distance of about 300 yards.  Troops could be seen throughout the building and on the grounds.  Beyond the crossing gate could be seen the town of Kanab, also bristling with troops and activity.  There was a lot going on in Kanab.

The guards commanded the AGV to stop, and so Captain Samwise went out to parley with them.  That grew a bit tense when the guards demanded to know what outfit the AGV was with, and so the Base Commander was summoned.  He emerged from the Base HQ with five men, also toting machine guns.  He was a burly warrior with a distinctly grizzled no nonsense approach, and he demanded to know where the good Captain and his troop came from.  When Samwise explained, the Base Captain dismissed Federation Command as some sort of fiction, and gave Samwise a choice:  they either join forces with the main army and head to the town of Saint George where "the major war is being waged", or relinquish possession of the AGV and spend the rest of their time in the brig under military arrest.  

Unfortunately, with all the electronics of the AGV having been blown out, and being unable to hear the conversation outside, though they could see the Captain arguing with the Base Commander through the window, the crew was forced to watch with baited breath.  They couldn't make a move without risking Captain Samwise being riddled with machine gun bullets.  So they sat tensely with looks of consternation on their faces.

At this point someone asked if Linda might be able to think of something to do.  She leaned out the door and called out loudly "Common guys, we're all on the same team here, right?" and emitted a little known Mentarian Power known as "Influence Emotions" with and extra portion of Chi ... just enough to tip the scale. It would only last a minute or so.

"Why who's that?" asked the Base Commander, leaning to the side a bit to see if he could catch sight of the source of that lovely sounding young voice.  The effect took hold, he was influenced positively, against his better judgement, and took a liking to Samwise and his crew after all.  And so he waved the party off, agreeing with the young lady that they're all on the same side... all of which was quite true of course.  And so Captain Samwise, realizing that there was absolutely no time to waste, hopped into the AGV as Pita floored the gas and drove away as fast as the lumbering machine could bear them back down the road from whence they came.  

And so there was laughter and sighs of relief as they fled eastward.

And that's where we left it for the night.  Fun times.

Friday, October 16, 2020

WoAF - Game Session 13


Tactical Combat


Having met with Geoffrey, his Paladins and the Cleric of the Crystal Light, the team from Tuscon decided to aid the Crusaders in ridding the land of the Lizardmen.  At least those that had invaded their territory as far north as Page, Arizona.  Having derived a tactical plan they boarded the Armored Ground Vehicle and went to war.

The battle was short, lasting only a few minutes.  There was a lot of gun fire, and the Lizardmen who had occupied the roof of a derelict Walmart managed to get in a few good licks, chased Geoffrey back down Haul Road by tossing a handful grenades down on his position, but in the end were overpowered and outclassed by the AGV's machine gun, and the Paladin's sheer verve of force.  

Having wiped out the first Squad of ten Lizardmen our heroes reconvened on the west side of the Walmart and surveyed the intervening desert. 1400 feet away was the ravine in which they'd previously encountered the Black Manticore.  They couldn't see the cave from where they stood, but they knew it was there, hidden in the folds of the canyon.  They spotted four other Lizardmen Squads, searching diligently among the rocks for their lost relic, the Chain of Thanatos, though that was a hopeless quest for them.  Geoffrey had already found it the earlier and with a great deal of effort managed to secure it in a vault beneath the township.  The party also learned that there is a Church of The Crystal Light that protected the town from the predations of evil, though the Manticore was so powerful it almost overcame them just the same.  The Lizardmen, however, will be thwarted by the barrier with ease, and hence they will not dare to enter the town.  Nevertheless, the Lord of the Paladins understood all too well that they presented a serious ongoing threat so long as they remain in the vicinity, especially given that their Lord is the Black Manticore himself.

Having killed the first Squad, the heroes conversed amongst themselves seeking a plan of attack that would be victorious over the remaining Squads.  Geoffrey formulated an audacious plan and presented it to them.  It was decided upon, though doubtless further debate will ensue before they launch at their foes.

And that is where we left it that evening.  And it was a lot to play, though not a lot to write about.


Friday, October 02, 2020

WoAF - Game Session 12

Pita was dreaming.  He was back in Seattle.  The year was 2027.  The city had already been rebuilt, several times, as it had come under severe attack before.  But this was an Inter-War period.  The suburbs had been consumed by the city, and every neighborhood was replete with at least one major military installation, a host of garrisons, and a small but efficient downtown district of gleaming steel towers, shops, parks with moto-causeways connecting the various Zones of Control.  These were the good old days... before the end.   Pita was passing a glowing animated ad on the wall of a local Nutrients & Body Care shop.  It was Elon Musk in a space suit, smiling, waving, and beneath his image the bold steel-blue letters spelled out "Proximatics Industrial, Inc".

Pita woke up in the dark cool shade of the AGV.  Light was coming in through the diamond-glass of "the Perch" where the 50 cal. machine gun was manned by Simon "Guns" Gunnison.  He rubbed his eyes, and was feeling a little nostalgic from the dream.  He remembered that particular day well.  He had a date with a pretty nice girl named Sally-Mae and was on his way to pick her up.  He never made the date.  His memory-dream left off moments before The Western Bombardment of 2027.  

It was just sunrise. Outside he heard the sound of crows cawing. He climbed up to peer out the from the turret.  There, about a football field distance from the old abandoned Mech Base 12 was a small forest of twenty-five very tall pine trees, a very dark green-black color, amid which an enormous murder of crows was cawing.  There must have been tens of thousands of them. The entire flock extended across the sky in a long thin line from the south to the north, and around the cluster of trees a broad wide cluster of crows was swirling, diving, circling and cawing.  They'd land on the branches, and instantly the pine needles would seem to arch themselves over in a cluster like fingers of a hand and grab them, surrounding them, and within moments there was a loud caw, crunching sounds and a minute later all that remained was a small bleached crow skeleton, which would fall in tatters to the ground with its feathers fluttering to winds. The crows seem to be irresistibly attracted to clusters of small dark berries that were on the branches of the trees. And at that point, Pita realized two things. One, the trees were swaying. The branches looked a bit like long arms swaying and reaching out towards the crows, almost as if they were gathering them into their folds. The other thing he realized was that the trees had definitely not been there the last time the party encamped at Mech Base 12.  Definitely not. And that was only three days ago.

Captain Samwise, observing all of this, manually swung the metal door of the AGV closed and battened down the hatch.  Hearing the screeching sound of the door closing a sub-division of crows wheeled through the air and landed on the AGV.  Pita scrambled up topside to observe them through the diamond-glass of the Perch where Gun's was still sleeping, his arm slung over the 50 cal. machine gun.  The birds, he observed, despite mad pecking at the surface of the AGV, did no appreciable damage other than to leave the occasional scuff mark. He got the distinct impression as he watched one hop along the top of the AGV to the turret and peck first at the glass, then at the rim around the glass, cocking its head and watching Pita's reactions, that these crows were intelligently inspecting the AGV with great care, searching diligently for weak points.  "Interesting", he murmured to himself.  At that point Linda came up the ladder to try to see what was going on.  Pita explained what he was seeing.  She seemed to want to climb up, so he climbed down to give her room.  However, once he was down, she appeared to lose interest in the turret after all.  He took her by the arm to the front of the AGV as he explained further about how the birds were moving, and what the sky looked like, and how its' amazing color couldn't compare to the color of her eyes.

Meanwhile Fred was investigating the coffee machine.  All of its electronics were burned out, but he managed to use his Retro-Tech skills to fix it well enough for it to brew a pot of acceptably robust coffee.  The enervating aroma filled the cabin, and it was good.

Samwise took a look around the area with his optical goggles in manual adjustment mode, which still worked well enough for this purpose. Like most equipment in the AGV, there was a hardware based underlying system, despite their having lost all of their electronics components in the EMP blast at the end of their last battle.  He spotted a series of shadowy figures dodging between the rocks on the far side of Highway 89. Lots of them. Eventually, as the sun rose higher, he identified them as Lizardmen. A large number of Lizardmen were moving fast in a long column northward like army ants. The team hunkered down in the AGV and stayed as still and quiet as they could. 

After about a two hours both the shadowy Lizardmen and the crows had passed to the north.  The team began to debate their next course of action. Captain Samwise was of the opinion that most team members felt that the AGV was no longer functional, and therefore they should call it a day, and head back to Kitt Peak.  

"Linda, send one more message on ULF telling them we are returning to base," said Captain Samwise.

"... in shame," she added.

"Well, ... in shame ... yes," admitted good Captain Samwise.

"Captain," inquired Guns from the Perch, "when they write down 'success' or 'failure' for this mission, is that for just you, or all of us?"

"Well, it's all of us, but you probably have a black mark on your record anyway, so it doesn't really matter.  And so far I haven't heard any objections to my rulings, so I'm continuing."

"Wait, we can object?", asked Guns enthusiastically.  "Well I object!"

"But I thought you were advocating we give up on this mission because the AGV is kind of wrecked and ..."

"Oh, no, sir.  I haven't given up on this mission.  I'm advocating we complete it.  I just think should stop visiting every tourist trap and taking a damn picture of the place, if you know what I mean," stated Guns emphatically. 

Only Fred completely disagreed. He very much wanted to head back to Kitt Peak and be done with the mission.  Pita seemed ambivalent and deferred to the Captain, while Linda raised her hand to vote for moving forward and completing, despite the damage they'd taken to the AGV.  "Common guys, we can do this," she said with conviction.  And so, it was decided to head back north to the town of Page, and from there on to the Salt Flats of Utah, which was their ultimate destination.  Their mission was to investigate a possible survival group at a secret scientific facility known only as Black Wind V, from which Alt-X reported observing distant, partially triangulated, garbled, and possibly random radio transmissions.  At that point Federation Command had not ventured further north than Tuscon, Arizona, and they thought that part of the country was likely completely desolate.  That proved to be quite wrong, as our heroes found out along the way.

At any rate, the AGV, repaired to some degree and certainly driving more smoothly, took off and turned north on Highway 89 once again.  They made it the same 500' as the last time, and there on the porch of the Navajo Trading Post was the old Indian smoking his pipe.  They stopped the AGV and Samwise got out to have a chat with him.  Guns, Pita and Linda joined him and the old post master offered them stew.  Once again, it was the best stew any of them had had in what felt like ages.  And though the Indian was not a talkative man, he conveyed what information was most important in a few words.  When asked if he had seen the Lizardmen and the crows, the old man replied "The army of the Shadow moves north.  War is brewing." And when they mentioned their battle with the Black Manticore outside of Page, the old man nodded and said, "It is strange. The Shadow Beast does not move beyond his territory lightly. Why did he battle with you?"  Samwise explained about the iron chain, known as "The Chain of Thanatos".  To this the old chief nodded again, "Yes, he wanted that badly enough."  They shared a rare shot of "fire water" that the old Indian had in store, and continued on their way.  Samwise, Pita and Linda all had a shot.  It was strong.  But afterwards they all felt stronger.  The Indian gave the Captain a small wooden totem as a gift.  "It will see you on your way, and bring you good luck.  The Kachina spoke to me.  The Kachina likes you.  She watches over you.  Beware of the shadow, and avoid the Great Canyon.  There is a war to the west."

"Are there fighters for the Light, like those we met in Page?"

"All who can fight, fight," replied the old Indian chief.

And so they departed, heading north in their AGV.  The old chief waved his hat, and went back to his porch to smoke his pipe.  Samwise hung the totem pole on the front window of the AGV, and off they went.  

It was a long, bumpy, hot and bone rattling journey.  Eventually, they came to Cameron, Arizona. There they found signs of a short, harsh battle, and small number of people who had managed to be clinging to on to life in that place were found dead, some half eaten, and there were tracks of Lizardmen everywhere.  They continued north on 89 to Bitter Springs, and all around that place there were the tracks of Lizardmen.  Guns got out of the AGV to take a snoop around, and determined that the Lizardmen had gone west along 89A over the Marble Canyon Bridge.  They estimated that there must have been over a thousand Lizardmen all told. A small brigade of about 50 appeared to have broken off from the main body and continued to 89 North, towards Page.

Just south of Page they came to a highway bridge spanning a 40' gully.  It was getting dark so they decided to head 10 miles off-road and camp out for the night.  It was uneventful, except on Linda's watch she noticed large silent flashes of light over the mountains to the west.  She didn't mention it as whatever it was posed on threat to them, but took a note on this in her journal.

In the morning they returned to the bridge, Guns got out to check the bridge out, and using Ilene's (his rifle) scope he located exactly what he had suspected he might find... thin trip wire linked to metal plates on the bridge, wired to a large amount of explosives spanning the underside of the structure.  Going over the bridge would have seriously ruined their day.  They decided to leave the explosives alone, and crossed the bridge safely by avoiding the metal plates.

Once on the other side they continued to the intersection of 89 and 98.  They went carefully over everything they knew to date, and added their conjectures in a long running conversation as they rolled along the desert road. They understood that the Lizardmen heading north are members of the Black Manticore's army.  That the Shadow Beast, as the Indian called him, had ventured beyond the range of its own territory in order to re-acquire the Chain of Thanatos.  And that there is a war going on to the west, which the Lizardmen are heading towards.  They also discussed the armaments of the Lizardmen, and Guns reminded them that six of them nearly took the party out when they encountered them south of Phoenix.   

Finally the arrived just south of Page, and stopped about 100 yards short of the intersection at 89 and 98 so Guns could take a good look. Through Ilene's scope he spotted a Lizardman crouching behind a rock.  Guns decided, to everyone's surprise, tried negotiating with it, but after three attempts and no progress, he gave up on diplomacy, climbed back into the AGV and asked Captain Samwise if he should blow the critter away with the machine gun.  A few moments later they were rifling the bloody corpse for loot and equipment. They got a sub-machine gun, three grenades, and a bag of ammunition.  

Guns commented, "Any you guys ever think we ought to team up with this folks?  They always got the good equipment and stuff, ya know?"

Taking a look a look around, he found tracks. Another Lizardman had been hiding behind the rock and escaped down a low lying gully path to the north and west.  Annoyed, but determined, they scanned the area carefully.  Using their binoculars and scope they spotted Lizardmen moving among the rocks about a mile to the north west of their location. Samwise suggested they were searching for the chain.  They were too far to be a threat, but too close for comfort.  Samwise scanned for the Knights but they didn't see any sign of them.  They figured it wouldn't take too long for the Lizardman runner to get over there and alert them, so they took off, heading east on 98.

They decided to drive into the town and visit the Knights, who called themselves the Golden Crusaders of Christ Lion.  Once they got to town, they rumbled up in their AGV to the Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints and parked the AGV.  Out came Geoffrey, the leader of the Crusaders, and two other Knights. Geoffrey welcomed them and Captain Samwise provided him with information about the Lizardmen.  They looked concerned and asked how many Lizardmen they'd seen.  

"About a thousand went west, and a detachment of around 50 is scouring the rocks over by were we fought the Shadow Beast," explained Samwise. "They must be looking for the Iron Chain," he added.

"They won't find it there," replied Geoffrey.  "We have it."

As it turned out, the blunt Priest of the Crystal Light had sensed the presence of some powerful evil out there in the desert, and so he and Geoffrey made a diligent search under the auspices of The Radiant Lion at noon the previous day, located the Iron Chain, and managed to secure it.  They brought it back and locked it away in a vault, despite its best efforts to escape.  Geoffrey didn't go into details, but the Chain took more than one life on its way into captivity.  Clearly the Lizardmen were none the wiser. 

They talked about the war in the west, and Geoffrey filled in some of the details for them.  The Shadow Beast has its lair in Las Vegas.  The war is being fought presently around a town named Saint George, roughly one hundred miles due west. He told them that the Crusaders have Paladins engaged in the war, and their allies are the "Mech Warriors" of Phoenix. As a good will offering Guns gave them the Lizardman grenades he's taken.  

The Crusaders planned to attack the Lizardmen. They have three Paladins in Golden Lion Platemail, and a squad of regular Knights on horseback, and a priest. He asked the good Captain if he cared to join the Holy Order of the Golden Lion. Samwise said that his team didn't wish to abandon their own mission.  

"You can do both," said Geoffrey without hesitation.

They decided to help the Crusaders assault the Lizardmen, and while the Crusaders got themselves prepared, our heroes drove over the airport to see what they could scavenge in the way of components and weapons.  They got lucky and found quite a bit of useful material with which they conducted further repairs on the AGV, including the power train, an old navigational computer, and an assortment of additional weaponry, including a small amount of jet fuel for some badass home made Movtov cocktails, flares, and a small plane propeller they cribbed from a wrecked cub plain on the runway. Guns even found an old iron chain in a hanger which he intends to use to mess with the Lizardmen's heads.

And so they got busy gearing up for the battle with the Lizardmen.  And that's where we left things this session.