Thursday, May 13, 2021

WoAF - Game Session 22

And so ... we find our heroes rolling North on Route 93 in their Armored Ground Vehicle (AGV), while Pita Piloted the "Rhino" Mech along side at an attitude of 15 to 20 feet.  They were on tight beam communication via their wrist Comms, but as soon as they passed through the Ferguson Gap Captain Sam ordered them to go to Radio Silence.  As they made their way up onto the edge of the Bonneville Salt Flats Captain Samwise reviewed the situation, and briefed them on The Plan. 

"As you know, we have reason to believe that there are 18 scientists being held captive by the gigantic Super-Brain, known as "Brian", inside the Black Wind V Facility.  We have three objectives.  One rescue the hostages.  Two, capture as much information as possible from the facility's computer system.  Three, neutralize the Super-Brain, whether that means killing it or something else, it needs to be neutralized as a threat.  Because there are only three people in our group who can create Mind Shields, they should be split up into three teams."

It was generally understood by the team that the Super-Brain had super mental powers, but that it sleeps between 1am and 5am.  Therefore, this was to be a stealth mission, and the goal would be to get in, and get out before Brian would wake up in the morning.  They also knew that there was a 10 mile diameter Massive Mind Shield around the Facility.  The way Mind Shields work is that no mental powers or thoughts can penetrate through a shield, either from the inside or the outside.  It neutralizes all mental energies.  Lastly, they had Penelope who was familiar with the workings of the Facility, had security access to it, and its computer systems, which she knew quite well, and mentioned that she had voice  activated command-control of the Drones, which she herself had been instrumental in designing.  With all of this having been discussed previously, Sam skirted over these details without mentioning them again.

"Team A:  Since Pita, one of the Mentarians, and Major Sekston are in the Mech, they should cause diversions.  At random times they will do fly byes over the base and get security focused on them.  Their goal is to be a diversion, without getting caught.  At 30 minutes before the Brain is due to wake up from his nightly nap, I want you to deploy the Thermobaric Bomb and light the place up.  This means dropping the bomb down the shaft where it should fall approximately 200 feet and blow the entire facility to smithereens."

At this point Dr. Rogers raised an eyebrow.  After all, this seemed to contradict the original mission plan that they had discussed earlier in several key points, namely on the issue of stealth.  But, he kept his reservations to himself, and decided he might try mentioning something only if he thought there were a chance his suggestions might prove useful.  (Note:  Dr. Rogers is an NPC),  

The good Captain continued the briefing.

"Team B:  The main job is going to be composed of Linda with her Mentarian Powers and Mind Shield, with Fred, our friendly neighborhood Cybernaut.  They are going to hack the computer center and get as much information onto a data crystal as possible in the given timeframe, and then get out."

"Team C:  Dr. Rogers, Simon ("Guns"), and myself are going to rescue the hostages," he concluded.

"The one thing left to be decided is whether Teams B and C should enter the Facility through the Beam Tunnel which leads into the lowest level of the Facility, or if Team B will go through the tunnel while Team C heads overland to the side entrance and descend from there one level to the living quarters."

"Any questions?", asked Captain Samwise confidently.

"Nope," said Guns.

"Not really," said Fred.

"Sounds like a well oiled plan to me," said Pita.

Dr. Rogers stared at the team.  Where were the details of the plan?  What decision was made in regards to Team B and C?  Nothing was forthcoming.  It appeared they were simply going to wing it.  

It was midnight.  Linda was scanning the environment via visual and audio looking for any indication that their approach had been detected.  Sam went ahead and generated random time table for the Mech attacks and beamed them over to Pita who logged them into the Rhino's computer system.  Guns was up in the turret cleaning his Springfield rifle, whom he affectionately named Ilene.  Fred hunkered down and began prepping his trusty Computer Spike for the mission.  Everything was Go. 

Fred went over their inventory in detail:

"Ok, we've got light armor, heavy armor, flame thrower, knock out gas grenades, beam rifle, fire axe, nerve gas bombs, thermobaric grenades, gas masks, computer hacking tools.  Frag Grenades, Adaptive Combat Rifles, 9mm Acid Slugs, a Construction Drone, Cybernetic Goggles, Electronics Tool Kits, 2600 Lumen Flashlights, two Gernies, knockout gas tank, Wake-Up Injections (10 doses), telescopic pole, and of course, the fuzzy dice."

Nothing was said about how they actually planned to use any of these items.  They rolled up slowly as the Salt Flats came into view in the distance.  A long flat stretch of white sand lay before them as far as the eye could see eastward.  The sands seemed to shimmer silver by the light of the moon.

Meanwhile, Dr. Rogers was looking pensive, sitting in his wheelchair, fidgeting with his strap-in buckles.

"What's going on?" asked Sam.

"Yeah, nice to have to legs.  It's a good deal," he said, trying to smile. "But to be honest, given my condition I'm not sure how useful I will be helping you egress the scientists from the facility," he said, trying to get a feel to how receptive Captain Samwise might be to his suggestions.

"Well, we need you to help us try to remove the Compulsions from the scientists brains."


Dr. Rogers concern was that Team C was the one that required most physical activity of the three, and he'd be not only unlikely to be able to help in any physical situation requiring movement, but he might even wind up being a liability.  He was of a mind that he and Linda might be better of swapping places, as he could easily protect Fred, and that piece of the mission required little or no physical exertion, and Linda would be better able to assist the scientists moving out of the complex.  The removal of compulsions could most likely wait until they were at a safe distance, and it was an arduous job that took considerable time and effort at any rate.  This idea wasn't expressed overtly, however, as he didn't wish to buck Captain Sam's authority and make matters worse by raising an overt objection.  He just looked pensive, but got himself geared up for whatever may come.  It seemed in any case that the Captain had already squarely made up his mind on this particular point, and so Dr. Rogers thought better of making any further suggestions.

As they drove north on 93, just before they entered Ferguson's Pass, Fred took Captain Samwise aside.

"Hey, boss, what are we going to do about the girl?", he said quietly, making a nod over to Penelope who was quietly sitting on the couch at the rear of the AGV.  She wasn't looking so happy.  Since she found out her husband Allen had been killed, she seemed to have lost the will to live.  Dr. Rogers had mentioned this to Captain Sam earlier, but nothing had been done to help her through her grief and trauma, and she was languishing.

"Yeah, she seems to be losing it," admitted Sam.

"Yeah, she sure is," replied Fred.  "She had nothing but glowing praise for brain-baby, if you recall.  Can we trust her?"

"I don't believe she's going to betray us, intentionally, but maybe we have to give her a sedative to put her to sleep for a while," replied the good Captain.

"I wouldn't contend with you on that at all," replied Fred, glancing at the girl suspiciously.

"Yeah, I don't think she is going to be able to join us on the Mission, so we might want to let her sleep through it," reflected Sam.

"And restrain her," added Fred.

"Penelope has all of the knowledge of the facility.  None of you know anything about the Facility," mentioned Dr. Rogers telepathically to Sam. 

"Yes, she has knowledge, that's true.  And she's already shared her knowledge of the layout of the facility," thought Samwise in reply.  "I would love to bring her with us, if you think it's safe for her to come along, and if you can help her along the way."

Dr. Rogers answered that he thought it would be a good idea to bring her and repeated all of the benefits she brought to the table.  

"Of course, this is your mission, not mine," he continued.  "I'm just offering an observation for your consideration."

Sam went over to Penelope and got down on one knee so he could look at her eye to eye.

"How you doing?"

"I'm ok," she said.

"We're getting ready to head into Black Wind V.  We need to get the scientists out, and I need to know if you can help."

"Yes, I can help," she answered.  She understood quite well how much their mission's success would depend on her knowledge and abilities within the complex.  She was willing to help because her loss of her husband and escape from the Facility had opened her eyes to the fact that the scientists there were actually Brian's prisoners, induced into a zombie-like state that left them only capable of working on their projects, not living their lives.  She wanted to follow her husband's lead and become free again.  And she wanted the same for her fellow scientists.  

"Ok, I'm putting all my trust in you, Penelope.  This is not just for you, this is to help the goal of your husband who tried to escape earlier."

She smiled faintly and nodded in ascent.

Sam went to Linda and told her to give Penelope a sleeping pill with a drink.

Linda asked if that was an Order.  He said it was.  Sam could tell that Linda was not happy with this idea.  In fact she really didn't want to slip the girl a micky on moral grounds.  However, Sam reiterated that it was an Order.  So Linda went over and gave Penelope a drink which she surreptitiously laced with a knock-out drug she obtained from Fred, who was more than happy to provide it.  Penelope quickly fell into a deep dreamless sleep.

"Ok, let's chain her to something," said Fred.

Everyone looked at him incredulously.  

"No, I'm serious.  We need to restrain her.  What if the Super-Brain controls her like a puppet while she's sleeping.  No chances here. You just went through the trouble of covertly drugging her.  Now take the precaution of chaining her to the goddamn couch."

"So you got those fuzzy handcuffs in all that inventory, then, eh?" asked Guns, with a wry grin.  It was hard to laugh at that under the circumstances, but they tried.

And at that point Captain drew the line and said that they would not be restraining the sleeping girl.  Fred thought this was the absolute height of stupidity, but none of the others agreed.  She was asleep and would be out for a long time.  No need to restrain her, they thought.  And besides, Sam added, if for whatever reason, none of them came back alive from the mission, it wouldn't do to have her chained to the inside of the AGV where she would subsequently starve to death.  Everyone agreed that made sense.  Except Fred.  He was adamant that they chain her up really good and if she didn't make it, that's just too damn bad for her.

Dr. Roger's pointed out that as soon as the three Teams move beyond 60 feet of Penelope she will be outside of their Mind Shields for the first time since her escape.  And that is how Brian might gain hold of her.  Whereas had they brought her along, she would have been fully protected from the Super-Brain under one of the three Mind Shields.  

"Well," retorted Fred, "if she's handcuffed and she's restrained, I mean tied down, then the worst thing that can happen is she bites her tongue off and she bleeds to death.  Oh well."

"Maybe maybe not," said Dr. Rogers in reply. "That might not be the worst thing that could happen."

"Enlighten us, oh Swami," answered Fred sarcastically.

"Well, I should think the first thing that the Super-Brain would do is read her mind, and find out exactly what your plans are."

There was a long pause.  

"That's... true... I suppose," said Fred finally. 

They knew that the massive Mind Shield that Brian was maintaining around the the Black Wind V Facility was 10 miles in diameter.  They were 30 miles south at the moment.  What they couldn't know for sure is whether or not that massive shield might ever come down, should Brain V wish it.  In fact, they really knew next to nothing about the Great Brain's capabilities.  This lack of specific knowledge was quite germane to the topic, but none of them seemed to think it worth consideration.  Dr. Rogers left off speaking again.

"So ok.  We should tie her up and dump her.  We can pick her up on the way back,"  offered Fred.  Dr. Rogers noted to himself that this certainly didn't address the issue but to his surprise none of the others seemed to notice that.  He turned his wheel chair away and stared out the AGV window toward the north with furrowed eyebrows.

"I'm going to take the risk," said Sam, "and not restrain her.  We'll bring her into the Energy Transmission Station.  But we're not going to restrain her like that."

Dr. Rogers
It seemed to Dr. Rogers that the Federation Command Team were rushing in without insufficient forethought, and little actual planning.  When they did have a rational idea, they seemed to immediately forget it again as if it had never even been stated.  For example, the fact that Penelope could have controlled the drones and told them how to maneuver around the facility, and get the access to the places they might need to go was all completely forgotten by Fred, and then subsequently by everyone else.  It was almost as if the point hadn't even been raised. 

He would have suspected that perhaps the Great Brain had infiltrated their minds and was manipulating their thoughts, but he was quite sure this was not possible so long as the three Mentarians retained their Mind Shields, which they had.  No mental vibrations could pass through a Mind Shield. That was simply impossible. No, this had to be simply a case of humans not thinking.  It wasn't that uncommon, and in fact, the world had been utterly devastated as a byproduct of exactly this tendency. He grew more despondent.

Sam took the time to remind the good Doctor that he still had Allen Monroe's dead hand in a pickle jar that they could presumably use to gain entrance to the Facility by using his hand holding the Key Pass badge again... but Rogers speculated that the chance of that still working were actually quite low.  After all, having lost contact with the now dead Monroe, the Super-Brain would most certainly have terminated Monroe's Key Pass' activation codes.  It wouldn't have taken even a mediocre brain to figure that out.  Dr. Rogers sighed and made a hand-wavy gesture to indicate he had heard enough.

He began wishing he had simply mind wiped the Federation Command Team as soon as they arrived in Panguitch, and sent them back to Tucson before they could do serious damage to the world's future.  None of them seemed to understand the actual gravity of the situation, nor the perils involved, not just to themselves, but to all of humanity, should this encounter go poorly.  

Rogers might have Mind Wiped them then and there, given how things appeared to be going, but he decided against it.  Sometimes, after all, fate and destiny are cards that simply must be played out.  He knew that well.  His own life had been proof enough of it.  So he let it ride, and waited anxiously to see what would happen.

"Your Captainship, sir," piped up Guns from the turret, "seems to me like aren't you kind of betting the whole farm on the idea that the big brain ain't gonna get up in the middle of the night for a glass of warm milk, ain't'cha?"

That, Rogers thought, the most salient point made thus far by anyone on the team.  They were assuming that just because Brian has a habit of sleeping from 1am to 5am every day that he is somehow compelled to do so.  What if he was waiting for their return, in the knowledge that they had Penelope with them, and that she might provide incentive enough to cause them to do so?  This is a Super-Brain after all.  It would be easily able to anticipate thousands of possible outcomes, likely and unlikely, assign them probabilities and derive the most likely course of action the team might take.  They were also assuming, he noted, that the Brain would under no circumstances lower his Mind Shield.  This might be a fatal assumption.

High up in the cloudless sky the moon shone brightly over the desert.

"Everyone is safer," Fred was stating emphatically, "if we just dump her on the side of the road."

Sam wouldn't hear of it.  It was one thing to have slipped her a micky, but entirely another to simply throw her to the side of the road like so much raw meat for the tree monsters to devour.  He was willing to put her inside the Energy Transmission Station and let her sleep off the drugs there, but nothing else would befall her if he could help it.

At this point Linda, who had been diligently scanning the Vizi-Screen, noticed a fast flashing strobe-light suddenly became visible above the Black Wind V Facility across the desert flats.  She zoomed in with a spectral scan, and discerned that it was a spherical object on top of a narrow metallic pole above the tallest of the three buildings there.  She alerted the Captain, and they all took a look.

They thought it might have to do with the Weather Control system that they supposed was operating at the facility.  They didn't see any change in the weather,  however, though they did notice that the aurora-glow hovering over the north face of Ferguson Mountain was considerably brighter than the last time they saw it.  

"Well, it could just be an indication that the Brain is not planning on going to sleep," said Fred.  And that, thought Rogers, was the first sensible point he had made thus far.  All too soon to be forgotten... which it was, almost immediately.

"True," said Sam.  They continued rumbling northward in 93.

"Sir," said Linda, "I'm picking up the tree walkers about 15 miles north.  There are nine of them.  They appear to be moving down 93 in our direction."

Sam had her zoom in on the location where they had left Allen's body... the one that had been transformed into a skeleton on a tree-cross.  It was still there.  It might have struck them as strange that the monster trees would turn a skeleton into a cross similar to the one's they'd seen in the circles down south, but no such thought passed through any of their minds.  Perhaps for the best, actually.  Such a realization might have only complicated their already complicated-enough lives.  They rolled on.

Sam decided to head to the Energy Transmission Station.  They were still about 15 miles south of it as they passed through Ferguson Gap between Mount Ferguson and White Horse Mountain.  

The good Captain realized that the thirty miles they still had to go meant that they would not get to the facility at 1pm, but instead would get there closer to 1:15, or 1:30 depending on how long they took to deal with the Energy Station.  And they didn't know how long it would take to travel through the Beam Tunnel to get to the Facility.  If they had to walk it would take about 6 hours.  That would put them there at somewhere between 6 and 7am.  

Dr. Rogers twiddled his thumbs.  He wondered why they didn't simply stop before they actually entered the desert and spend a few days reconnoitering the area, observing any activity, and perhaps waiting the Super-Brain out.  If Brian was planning to stay awake all night to wait for them, it might do so a few nights in a row, maybe even a week, but eventually, it would get too tired to say awake... and that would have been a far more ideal time to strike.  They could have worked out the details of their plan, and made observations as to activities in the desert, the functioning of the operations at the Facility and Power Stations, and noted any peculiarities or potential surprises.  After all, it didn't seem like there was any pressing reason to blunder forward in a rush whatsoever.  The scientists had all been there for decades.  Another few days or so wouldn't likely make a single wit of difference.  But these musings weren't germane.  They were going to leap forward into the darkness just the same.  And who knows?  Sometimes that works, he reminded himself.

They drove towards the Energy Transmission Station, while up ahead on route 93 the tree walkers had gathered themselves into a formidable looking formation.  They were making their way to the intersection of the road that lead to the Station.  Captain Samwise considered their options.  They could avoid the tree walkers by off-roading it, but around that area the landscape was rough with lots of rivulets, gullies and small canyons.  It would probably be a slow haul and cause them to miss their very tight time window.  The fastest way would be to take the road.  Even at the risk of encountering the tree monsters.

Sam floored the gas, and roared the AGV north.  They made the intersection just before the tree walkers got to it, and with a fast dusty skid turned onto the eastward dirt road that lead to the Station.  Sam managed to miss the few of them that were in the lead of the pack by mere inches.  A few of their branches grazed the side of the AGV as it roared by.  As they passed, they shuttered at the sight of Allen's skeleton fixed to the tree-cross. But there was nothing to be done about the bones of Allen Monroe.  They and roared past and eastward to the Energy Transmission Station.  It was perhaps a mercy to Penelope that she was not awake to see that after all.

And so the calamities began to mount up.  Dr. Rogers fully expected to die soon.  Perhaps it was the sight of Allen's skeleton on the tree-cross that did it to him.  He wiped the copious amount of sweat from his forehead with a tissue. 

After a few miles the AGV came to a roaring halt just outside the Energy Transmission Station.  Captain Samwise checked his watch: 1:03 am.  He looked over the area.  The gleaming power station was set on a ridge surrounded by sand.  On the far side of the station was a cliff the descended down into a series of small compact marshes that surrounded the outcropping.  The marshes had been there forever, and were a stark change from the flat white sands.  Teaming in those marshes were all manner of living creatures.  Mostly insects, and lizards, along with some rather bizarre combinations of the two.  But no one in the AGV knew anything about that.  They were focused on the mission.  And the mission was to get inside the Energy Staion.

When they rolled up a cloud of mosquitoes ascended the heights and surrounded the AGV.  It was a massive swarm, and the little buggers looked hungry.  They covered the windshield.  Samwise flipped a switch on the control panel and the Anti-Insect Acoustic Shield went up.  "Tzzzzzt.  tzzzzzt.  tzzzzzt." sounds could be heard over the audio.  The team all suited up in their armor and prepared to enter the station.  

Meanwhile, Sam carried the sleeping Penelope with the intent of deposit her inside for safe keeping while they completed The Mission.  They used Allen Monroe's dead hand to open the door with his Pass Key.  That worked.  Sam was in the lead with Penelope, while Guns, and Linda followed behind.  Further back Fred approached as cautiously as possible, while Dr. Rogers stayed in the AGV and watched the action on the Vizi-Screen with an expression of fatalistic ennui as he watched Samwise carrying the limp form of Penelope forward into danger.  He was resolved to let things play out as they would.  

As the white metallic door slid open they saw the main room where the control panels were.  It was dark inside, being only lit by the flickering lights of the computer systems. Five dinner plate sized drones, smooth and sleek with their white metallic hulls were hovering in a circle in the center of the room.  They were perfectly silent, and no means of propulsion was visible.

Sam pulled away instantly and pivoted himself against the wall next do the door, still outside.  Gun's and Linda began a fire fight.  It didn't go well. As soon as Sam was out of the way Guns took a shot at the closest drone with his rifle.  The bullet hit, but merely ricocheted off the metallic surface, not leaving so much as a scratch.  Linda fired a her Lewiston Beam Pistol.  The bolt of blazing plasma burned a tiny black hole into the shell of one.  It began to spin around in the air, slowly wobbling from side to side.  Fred was eyeing the door panel, and prepared to hack into it.  With that he could potentially gain control of the computer systems inside, and perhaps even the drones.  

The Captain had believed that the drones levitated by the power of the Super-Brain's Telekinetic capacity, but the fact that they were beyond its massive Mind Shield suggested that this could not be so after all.  He was disappointed.  He had hoped that they'd be able to disable the drones with their own Mind Shields.  But that was not the case after all.  Penelope could have told them that, but she was sleeping in Sam's arms.

Sam thought about giving her a jab of the Wake-Up Serum, but decided against it.  For one thing, all hell was breaking loose from within the station as the drones began shooting plasma bolts through the doorway.  Guns was wearing his Armored Space Suit, and had flipped on his Plasma Shield for good measure.  A blazing blue-green bolt glanced off his Plasma Shield, hitting the door frame with a shower of orange sparks.  Linda on the other hand relied on her quick reflexes.  Fortunately, the Plasma Bolt missed her.  Two of the drones hovered to the center of the room and started shooting beams of light at the control panels while the others maintained their positions facing the door.

The door began to slide closed.  Thinking fast, Guns flung his machine gun into the doorway to try to jam the door open so they could take pot shots inside.  The door slid shut with such force that the machine stock snapped off and went flying thirty feet out onto the sands.  It did manage to maintain a five inch gap at the door, however.  Sam motioned for Fred to come to the door and hack into the system using the door panel.  

Once connected to the door panel, Fred flipped on his Neural-Net and entered the Hyper-Mind.  It is an ultra-fast universe of magno-bytes and electrons in which a million things can happen in the space of a millisecond. The odds were not high, however.  This was a highly sophisticated system and largely unknown to the Cybernaut.  These were systems designed by the Super-Brain.  One would expect that they'd be cleverly trapped, or misleading, or ultra-secure and unhackable.  He had only one brief experience with these systems, and only a vague understanding of how they operated.  But with the speed of the Neural-Net he scanned his options. There were a variety of devices and systems in range of his attack.  He went to work.  

Sam gently laid Penelope by the side of the building, and took out his Lewiston.  

"The Lewiston's do damage to them, sir," said Linda, "but not as much as I hoped."

They all got ready to level volleys of plasma fire into the station as soon as Fred gained control of the door.  But despite the speed of the Neural-Net, Fred's attack was filled with specialty moves, sudden twists, and unknown mazes that had to be traversed.  In fact it took him a few seconds to operate.

Meanwhile, out on the desert, Pita was flying Rhino towards the Black Wind V Facility, getting ready to launch his first barrage of weapons fire at the appointed time that Captain Samwise had set.  However, something caught his attention on the Vizi-Screen.  The lumbering tree monsters were on the road heading towards the Energy Station.  Since they were on radio silence he too his own initiative and as he flew over the monstrous trees, weighing in at 20 to 70 tons each, he shouted to Major Sekston, "Let'em have it with the flame thrower, Major!"

FOOOOM!  In one pass they lit half the trees on fire.  With a quick aerial pivot Pita positioned them for another pass, this time coming in low. The trees suddenly flung their branches and a cloud of thumb sized splinters hurtled towards the Mech.  But Rhino's armor was far too thick for that, and they shattered into slivers as they hit the hull.  A thousand tiny "Pings" echoed inside.  Another blast with the flame thrower and every tree was on fire.

"Ok!" shouted the Major up the ladder.

With that Pita landed the burly Mech, put its giant metal fists on its hips, and gave out a hearty laugh at the burning trees over the loud speakers.  He then launched into the air and flew back towards Way Point #1 on his list.  As they flew he called down to the Major.

"What do you think about that strobe light at the facility?"

"I don't know, but my guess is its a kind of Photonic Radar.  If it is, then it's likely tracking everything within light range, covering the entire desert."

"Well, we've already started our first distraction!" said Pita.  He planned to get within the one mile targeting range of Rhino's missile battery so he could take out the strobe light.  

"I don't recall you mentioning anything about a Photonic Radar," said the Major up the ladder as she recalibrated her weapons controls.

"Yeah, well, they weren't there until," he replied.

"You realize that suggests they are prepared for us, don't you?"

"Yes, that's a good point, but we're prepared for them, too, ya know?" answered Pita with a laugh.

At that moment the Alert Board began flashing red on Rhino's main sensor panel.

"I'm picking up incoming bogies from the north.  Four," said the Major.

Pita saw the blips about 15 miles north, just inside the perimeter of the Wendover Airport. Zooming in with his Vizi-Screen, he saw the airport's tarmac, strewn with the ruins of fighter jets. Out from black patches in the ground emerged four sleek, globular looking machines that resembled Mechs, though they were much smoother, and made of polished white metal. They looked like gigantic versions of the drones they had seen earlier. The four machines were flying in formation and were arcing through the dark night sky towards them. As he watched as they quickly picked up speed. They were coming in fast. Very fast.

Pita broke radio silence. "Captain, we're in ... frikkin trouble here... We've got some kind of Ultra-Mechs coming at us.  We're not going to be able to handle all of them.  We're still about 15 miles out."

"What details do you have on the mechs?"

They quickly exchanged the details of their current situations and agreed a retreat was in order.  Pita floored the thrusters, making a short circular arc in the air, and burned a long scorch mark on the salt flat as he high tailed it back to the Energy Station.  It would take him a minute or so to get back there.  Hearing all of this on the Comm, Guns took a dash for the AGV, leapt up into the turret and flipped on the targeting system.

Meanwhile, Fred was hacking his little heart out.  He connected with the control panel that the drones were currently operating with their light beams.  That took approximately 27 seconds, an infinity of time in Hyper-Mind.  He was hoping the control panel would allow him to shut the drones down, but he found that it only managed the Energy Station.  It ran things related to the Beam Tunnel operations: cooling systems, doors, refrigeration units, and so forth.  But the drones were independent units.  The control panel, he found, did not control the drones, but rather the drones controlled the control panel.  

Fred sent in commands to open the outer door on Sam's command.  He and Linda were prepared to spin into action and fire their Lewiston's into the room.  But the Drones were ready for them.  Four scorching blue-white plasma beams shot through the doorway as Sam and Linda spun into view with their guns ready to fire.  One beam hit Sam in the shoulder, burning a narrow hole through his armor and agonizingly through his arm.  Another beam glanced his helmet creating a massive spray of sparks.  At the same time Linda managed to dodge one beam and deflect the other with her Plasma Shield.  The two heroes spun back out of the doorway to get out of the line of fire.  They decided a frontal assault was not going to work, so Sam leaned over and grabbed Penelope in his good arm and picked her up.  Linda was prepared to run and cover their rear with her Plasma Shield.   

Pita still was about 30 seconds away.  "We've got incoming!" he shouted over the comm.   

Guns buckled himself in, flipped the next switch on the sighting display and prepared for battle.  "Sir, let's move the AGV out a click and take potshots through the door of the Energy Station."

At this point Sam was tempted to have Pita launch the Thermobaric Bomb from the Mech to take out the Energy Station completely.  He thought it would at least cripple the Black Wind facility, which was better than nothing. He was pretty sure that there was no way their slow hunky Mech was going to be able to take on the four Ultra-Mechs speeding fast towards them.  

As an alternative he also considered using their beam weapons to gun down the drones inside the Energy Station and dodging inside.  Once inside Fred could hack through to get them into the Beam Tunnel.  But it was a good 15 miles from the Energy Station to the Black Wind Facility.  

They could possibly get into the service tunnel that follows along side the Beam Tunnel and hack the Tram that Penelope had described to them during the debriefing back in Panguitch, but they didn't know the exact layout and had only gotten a map of the main Facility, not the Energy Station.    

They began to debate over the Comms about what to do.  Fred wanted to try to figure out how they could get the Thermobaric Bomb to the Black Wind Facility via the Tram, but there was a problem.  He couldn't figure out how to get back out alive.  After all, the Mechs could easily destroy the AGV while they were in transit to the Facility, which would effectively cut off any hope of escape.  (Not to mention that the Thermobaric Bomb would most likely destroy a fairly large portion of the tunnel once it detonated, and that would likely put an end to them then and there.)  They were not interested in a suicide mission.  So that plan was abandoned.  They began debating another plan.

Guns, realizing the team had begun to lose focus on the fact that they had about 10 more seconds before the Ultra-Mechs arrived decided to take action.  He jumped down from the turret and ran to the pilot's seat and revved the engines to life.  He began pulling away from the Power Station at a slow enough speed to let the team jump in through the still open hatch.  Fred, seeing this, yanked the cable of his Spike out of the door panel and ran for the AGV, leaping inside.  Sam, lumbering behind them under the weight of the sleeping Penelope, came up from the rear.  Guns slowed down a bit, and Sam managed to haul Penelope into the AGV as well.  Several plasma beams shot out through the Energy Station doorway, but Linda's Plasma Shield was just good enough to deflect the shots.

Meanwhile Pita cut an arc through the air to face the door of the Energy Station while Major Sekston armed a battery of heavy missiles.

"Use the Thermobaric Bomb!" shouted Sam.  But Major Sekston, who knew something about combat tactics and strategy saw that as a  complete waste of their one and only remaining Thermobric Bomb, the most powerful weapon in their entire arsenal, and so she negated that command.  After all, Rhino was her Mech, on loan, and she was most certainly not a subordinate to good Captain Samwise.  She armed the battery of heavy missiles.  Pita was in agreement with this decision.  After all, the Thermobaric Bomb was their only hope to take out the Black Wind Facility.  Even Fred agreed that normal missiles would take out the Power Station on their own.  But Sam continued to try to insist on the use of the Big Bomb.  

"Captain, it is my recommendation," said Pita, "that we do not use the Thermobaric Bomb, our most powerful weapon, on a small facility far from our main objective.  The Heavy Missiles will take out the Energy Station without a problem.  I guarantee it."  Finally Samwise relented and conceded the point.

The AGV roared down the road at top speed, raising a cloud of dust.  The drones inside the Energy Station were taking shots at the rear of the AGV, but it's anti-Plasma shield deflected them with relative ease, just receiving scorch marks along the hull.  Meanwhile the drones began using their light beams to remove the machine gun from the door so they could seal it shut.  As soon as Pita saw them move the machine gun he shouted into the Comm, "Going Hot!  Major, fire Missiles!"  

Five missiles launched, but due to the timing, erratic flight path and rushed reaction four missiles hit around the door and exploded harmlessly against the white metallic exterior... but one made it through and vanished inside.  There was a momentary pause, and then an enormous explosion.  The AGV shaken and inside everyone got thrown around.  The Mech, hit by the shock wave, got hurled to the ground, but Pita's piloting skill was such that he managed to land sideways on his treads without more than minor damage.  

The Energy Station was a blazing ruin, with enormous flames and a huge billow of black smoke lofting skyward.  If the Super-Brain had been sleeping, this at least would have woken it up.  Beyond the smoke they could see the four Ultra-Mechs speeding towards them in a long tight arc.  They would be on them in a few seconds.  Pita punched in a computation to pivot and fire the second battery of heavy missiles at the incoming threat.  And at that moment things went south.

Dr. Rogers, who had been gritting his teeth painfully for some time now, suddenly looked up with alarm and stared in the direction of the Black Wind Facility.  Something changed 30 miles away that made his blood suddenly turn cold with fear.

"The Mind Shield is down," he said.

"You mean the giant Mind Shield?", asked Pita nervously glancing in that direction. 

"Yes," said Rogers, "that one."

At that moment he stood up in his wheel chair, his eye's bulging, and rolling back in his head.  Pita felt something hurling towards him through the mental ethers, and tried to throw a Mental Evasion, but it was putting up a little cocktail umbrella against a meteor strike.  A mental force in the shape of a massive spear of enormous power blasted his Mind Shield to tiny smithereens, and in the next instant his mind went absolutely black.  The Mech lurched to halt on the battle field.

Guns, watching Linda and Dr. Rogers both rear up, grab their heads in their hands and then drop like sacks of rice to the ground decided it was time for them to make their get-away.  He gunned the AGV full throttle and with a massive roar of the engines the vehicle hurtled down the road.  Fred scrambled up into the gun turret.  Captain Samwise ran to Linda to see if he could help her, but she and the doctor were both completely catatonic, eyes wide open, unmoving.  He couldn't do anything to snap them out of it.  

Fred glanced at the Visi-Screen to catch site of the Ultra-Mechs coming in hot on a low arc.  They had about 3 seconds before the missile barrages were likely to begin.

"Come in Major Sekston!" shouted Fred into the Comm.

"What's going on!?" returned the battle hardened Major from the Rhino.  "Pita has passed out.  I'm making my way up to the pilot's seat!"  

"Yeah, all of our Mentarians got blasted here," yelled Fred.  "We need to get the hell out of here.  We're heading to Ferguson Pass!  Follow us!"  The Major launched the Mech into the air and followed behind the AGV as it rumbled full speed south on 93.  But it was too late.

Hovering over the the road ahead of them a shimmering translucent image suddenly appeared.  Around it was a dark green haze within which there floated a 50' tall brain with two eye sockets burning with a fierce yellow light from the shadows of the frontal lobes.  It was a sight of sheer madness and horror.  Fred fired the Plasma Cannon directly into it, but the beams passed through it without making any contact whatsoever.  Fred spit on the windshield out of sheer frustration.  The Super-Brain fired two red beams of Mental Power through the wall of the AGV, piercing directly through Dr. Rogers body.  He vanished without a trace.



And then they heard the voice.  They all heard it.  It resounded with incredibly deep vibrations into their minds at an inconceivable volume, making their skin crawl.  

"You Are Mine!"

Fred, Guns and the Major succumbed instantly.  The power of the Super-Brain was so vast, so intense, so wise, so infinite, that they knew without the slightest equivocation that it *knew* everything about them in a single flash of a glance.  Their minds, their history, their personalities, their best dreams and darkest fears... it knew them completely and wholly.  Not the slightest thought or memory could possibly be hidden from this all consuming presence.  It knew their darkest  most intimate secrets.  And what they sensed was that this entity shared that darkness with them.  It was a thing of such intense malignancy, such horrific evil that they shuddered uncontrollably to the core of their beings.  It was the worst thing they'd ever seen.  They also felt, at the same time, that it was the most awe inspiring thing they could possibly imagine.  And in this they felt that this was the one entity, finally, after an entire lifetime of rudderless wandering, that truly commanded their respect and was worthy of their complete and utter devotion.

"Finally," thought Guns out loud, "true leadership!"

Gun's slammed on the breaks, turned the AGV around and said with enthusiasm, "We're heading home!  Whoohoo!"

Sam, however, was able,  somehow, with the last shred of his own will power intact for but a moment, resist the massive siren call.  And in that all too brief moment he saw another vision hovering off to the side of the road.   As the image of the towering great and mighty brain shimmered out of existence, he saw another image appear on the road in its place.  No one else saw it except Sam.  Shining there in the glow of invisible moon rays was the shimmering visage of Linda, her clear silvery-blue eyes shining outward forming a softly glowing halo around her.  Her face held the look of deep concern.  Her lips were moving.  The drone and buzz of Brian's voice still reverberated throughout his being. 

And so, the sun set below the edge of the horizon as hour heroes were driven by a newly loyal and devoted Simon "Guns" Gunnison to the Black Wind Facility where they were taken control of by Brain V.  

And that is how things turned out for our heroes of the Black Wind V Mission from Tucson, Arizona.  





Friday, April 16, 2021

WoAF - Game Session 21

Major Sekston
Major Sekston
Once the team made it through Panguitch to Garfield Hospital, they found there was quite a bit of planning to be done.  It was a bit of a surprise that Dr. Rogers knew both Allen and Penelope Monroe, and it was revealed that he had been part of the very early planning phase of the Black Wind Facilities.  He'd met the two young scientists when they onboarded to the project, way back before the Ultra-War.  He had, subsequently lost contact with the project, having been assigned to other more pressing matters at the time, and then once the Ultra-War was in full gear there was little opportunity for him to find out anything at all about items that were not on his immediate task list.  The reunion was bitter sweet, however, as with the loss of her husband, Penelope's physical health and psyche had begun to deteriorate.  

Pita and Dr. Rogers took a psychic journey through Penelope's mind to see if they could find out what was going on, and discovered several of Brain V's Compulsions.  One was that she could only eat food from the Facility, and no other.  Thereby guaranteeing that if she, or the other scientists did manage to escape, they'd die of starvation.  Dr. Rogers was able to dissolve this compulsion, along with several others.  Nevertheless, Penelope's condition steadily worsened just the same.  Dr. Rogers was also able to put together a partial map of the Black Wind V facility based on what they saw in Penelope's mind.

Pita went to visit Major Sekston at the Panguitch Military Base.  She thought he came to join her team, but instead he explained the situation to Major Sekston.  She was impressed by the gravity of the situation and secured 24 hour clearance to pilot one of the Military Mechs up to the Salt Flats to take care of business.  She loads the Mech, nick named "Rhino I" with her last Thermobaric Missile, along with the usual ordinance.

Captain Samwise gets a telepathic message from Dr. Rogers.  They'd probably be better off doing a bit more planning, because as it is now, they're likely on the verge of blundering into a Doomsday Scenario.  


Friday, April 02, 2021

WoAF - Game Session 20

Down highway 93 they roared, full throttle, hoping to escape whatever it was that had woken up inside the gigantic Mind Shield surrounding the Black Wind V facility. They had to leave LexiB, their trusty Android with the experimental Positronic Brain behind.  No choice.  They fled.

The desert was just starting to illuminate by the light of dawn as they rounded Ferguson Mountain.  The great energy capturing array was inactive, but the gleaming white towers seemed poised for activation at any moment.  On Ferguson's north face a massive cloud of softly glowing aurora energies awaited harvesting.  Penelope explained that the energies were transmitted to the main facility via the "Beam Tunnel" that extended from the way station at the water spring to the Black Wind V Energy Accumulators 10 miles north.  No one asked what all of that fantastic aurora energy was needed for, and Penelope wouldn't have been able to answer even if they had.  She only knew a small part of the operations that touched on her own work in Climatology.  

They eased on through Ely, waved at the early morning residents who were busy preparing for the day, and rolled southward.  Captain Samwise definitely wanted to avoid Garrison, the town where they had encountered the Skeleton Circle.  That was some bad mojo down there, and he didn't have any desire to tangle with it.  They went through the Moriah gap and headed east on route 50.  They planned to go as far east as Hinkely and then cut south on 257.  It was out of the way, and an unknown path, but they figured it was very likely a safer route than through Garrison.

Along route 50 are some mountains.  They decided to get up on top of one and see if they could get a direct line of site on the Facility.  Perhaps they could poke a radio tunnel through to LexiB, who presumably was still in the desert watching Black Wind V and waiting for further orders.  And so when they arrived at King Top mountain, up through the tiny winding back road they went.  And it lead to a cave, where they stopped the AGV and setup shop.  

From that position they had a clear line of sight northward to the Black Wind V Facility out on the salt flats, about 118 miles.  Of course they couldn't see anything from that distance with their Vizi-Screens, but optical zooming quickly located the cluster of black buildings, and there Linda was able to locate LexiB, crouching in a small crevasse.  He was observing the Facility.  She set her parameters and selected a precise and narrow band for the radio tunnel.  The Tight-Beam Antenna was extended from the top of the AGV, and within a minute she was able to open the tunnel and voila.

"LexiB.  Come in LexiB.  This is AGV-1.  This is AVG-1.  Over."

"This is LexiB. Over."

"What is your status? Over?"

"I'm very happy to hear from you," said LexiB with some emotion in his voice.  It was something to be considered peculiar as Androids were programmed for emotional responses, but they never sounded real.  This sounded real.  It was the experimental Positronic Brian.  It gave him what seemed to be real thoughts, and real feelings.  At least that's how everyone, including LexiB perceived it.

He informed them that a brigade of drones had emerged from the facility and headed south across the desert, presumably to find the the young woman who fled the facility earlier.  He was presently observing from a safe location.

Meanwhile, the cave peaked Sam's interest.  There were strange markings on the ground around the cave entrance.  He could not identify them, though sometimes they looked like bear paw tracks, while other times... he couldn't tell what.  They could peer about 20 feet into the cave, but at that point it curved away to the east and began sloping downward, so beyond that they could not see.  

Sam and Pita decided to go exploring.  They donned their armored suits, grabbed some caving gear, and stepped outside.  They went in about 10 feet or so, and Pita switched on his Ray-Gloves, which emitted a bright beam of light from the palms. The floor of of the cave was a combination of rock, dirt, sand, and bracken, through which a path or two could be discerned.  Various areas the cave were covered in thick sheets of webbing, sometimes along the walls, sometimes draped between stalactite columns.  Pita took a shot with his Lewiston, and the bright orange beam evaporated a smoking hole through one wall of webbing, but didn't catch it on fire, or do much it otherwise, other than burning a four inch deep hole in the rock wall behind it.  As the Lewiston blasts beams as plasma bullets, he decided it wouldn't be practical to try to burn down the webbing with it. He inched forward across the rocky ground with care.  The hole in the wall slowly dimmed from bright yellow slag, to red molten rock, and eventually cooled to blackness.

Meanwhile Sam got on the horn with Guns and informed him that they could use his hunting skills to help identify the tracks.  Guns dutifully left the turret to Fred, against everyone's better judgement, suited up in heavy armor, and stepped outside.  He looked the tracks over carefully, and after a few moments he told the Captain what he thought.

"These here, sir, are man-bear-spider tracks... Well, now, that I've cleared that up for you, I think I'll be heading back to the turret," and prepared to return to the relative safety of the AGV.

"Don't you worry, Gun's," said Pita, "I got your back," as he covered Guns while pointing his Lewiston in various directions around the cave.  

On the walls, hidden partially behind the webs, Pita spotted petroglyphs which seemed to be composed of bear-spiders and human shapes with their arms raised in the air.  Guns tried to encourage them to head back to the AGV, but that that moment they heard moaning coming from in deeper in the cave.  They all stopped to listen.  Yes, there was definitely moaning sounds coming from around the bend of the cave.  But there were plenty of webs everywhere.  Pita tried using the heat from his Ray-Gloves to burn the webbing, but that wasn't working out so great either.  And so Guns went to fetch the blow torch and the old flame thrower from the AGV.  The moaning sound was heard again.  The stopped to listen.  Yep.  Definitely moaning sounds.

Sam requested that Fred use the Vizi-Screen to take an infrared scan of the cave to look for any heat signatures, but other than the three crew members the only bright spot was the hole in the wall made by the Lewiston.  

As Guns came back with the implements of fire, Sam positioned them so that he and Pita would have cross fire covering the pathway from the darkness at the rear of the cave while Guns ignited the hand torch.

"Hey, hey, is anyone down there?" shouted Guns into the cave.

"Uuuuuggguuuuu", came from beyond the curve of the wall.

"One moan for no, two moans for yes," shouted Guns.

"Uuuuuuggguuuuu... Uuuuuuggguuuuu"

"Yep, there's someone back there, sir", announced Guns.

The blow torch cleared a path through the webs as they moved forward slowly and in unison.  They got to the bend and as Pita shined his Ray-Glove down towards the far end of the tunnel.  There he glimpsed a monstrous bear with gigantic spider legs and spider eyes as it vanished beyond their line of site further into the cave.

"My God, there really is a Bear-Spider-Man-Thing," said Sam.  Gun's held up his arm to indicate they should all stop, which they did.  He looked carefully in every direction, and knelt down to study the ground carefully.  After a few moments he stood up.

"The area looks clear of traps, sir," he said with conviction.

Sam, relieved, took the lead.  He walked past Guns about three or four feet when a patch of bracken gave way and he promptly vanished downward into a deep pit filled with sharpened bone spikes, each one tipped with a shiny greenish dew.  Fortunately his armored suit was sturdy and the bone spikes snapped and splintered instead of piercing his delicate flesh.  He was more annoyed than anything else. 

Pita and Guns slung their weapons into firing position and stared down the long dark tunnel waiting for the monstrosity to spring out at them.  Nothing.

"You ok, Captain?", the inquired.

"Yes, yes, I'm fine.  Just fine," replied Sam.  He tried extricating himself from the pit, but found that he was stuck in a thick carpet of webbing which covered the bottom of the pit and the walls up to about five feet.  He turned his Ray-Gloves to the maximum 2600 lumens and tried using them to burn through the webbing.  The gloves were incredibly bright. However, even after slowly freeing one arm, he wound up getting stuck again as soon as he turned to try to burn the webbing off another area.  It looked like this was going to be a time consuming process.  So Guns decided it would probably be faster if they just burned the webbing with the torch. 

As Guns was climbing down into the hole, Linda squawked through the Com.

"Captain, come in.  Captain, can you read me?" she queried.

"I'm here," said Sam, uncomfortably.

"Sir, I have LexiB on the Com.  He is reporting that a number of drones have emerged from the facility and moving in his direction.  What do you want me to tell him?"

"Tell him to Continue avoiding them but keep out of sight," commanded Sam.

Meanwhile Guns thought better of attempting to light the webbing with the flame thrower when he realized that the body armor that Sam was wearing wouldn't likely be all that fire resistant.  He sent Pita back to get a fire extinguisher.  Guns also wanted to get Fred down there as well, but Sam decided it would be better for Fred to stay on the machine gun.  They squabbled about what to do until they realized that the armor was acid resistant.

"I have a number of jars of hydrochloric acid in my bio-lab," said Sam.  "Maybe we should try that." 

Pita ran back and grabbed a jar of acid and a jug of water to mix it with.  As he was running back, he watched as the bear-spider creature was leaping through the darkness at Guns.  The monstrous thing was a brown bear with an eight-eye'd Portia spider head and legs.  It landed full square on his chest and bowled him backwards to the ground.  As soon as it did so it tried to penetrate his neck armor with its slathering fangs, but no luck.  Space Armor II is not a trifle.  One of its fangs broke off. 

At that point Pita had already scrambled over to the Captain and passed him the acid jar and jug.  At Sam's insistence he leapt out of the hole and sought for a way to help Guns.  Meanwhile, in the turret, Fred was watching all of this with an increasingly nervous trigger finger on the machine gun. Sweat began trickling down his forehead.  

The acid was very instrumental in boiling off the webbing from Sam's suit, and so he was busy in the hole spraying acid all over himself.  The armor he was wearing was specifically designed to repel acid.  And it did.  

Guns from underneath the monster, leveraged Ilene, his Springfield rifle, and with all his strength he managed to heave the monster back a bit in order to get some space.  He pointed his rifle at the guts of the creature and fired.  Blam!  There was a splatter of blood and the creature convulsed in pain, but it was not anywhere near dead.  It reared up on its enormous spider legs and at that moment Pita shot with his Lewiston.  A blazing ray of plasma energy punched a sizzling hole right through the monster's furry shoulder.  The spider-bear reared up on it's legs, looking especially frightful. And then the machine gun let loose.  Fred was having none of this.  Ratta-tatta-tatta-tat!  The bear was riddled with .50 caliber rounds until it's limbs were blown off, and so it collapsed to the floor of the cave, dead.

Sam climbed out of the hole, and looking around for more spider-bears, seeing none, he said, "Ok, let's regroup and do what we came here for."

So they formed up again, and carefully proceeded forward around the corner, and with this slipped out of line of sight of Fred in the AGV.  "Oh well", he said to himself, and mopped some sweat from his brow. 

On the wall of the cave there was a large lump of webbing, from which emitted a moaning sound.  They cut it open with a blow torch, and out fell a young man, about 20 years of age, with long tangled hair, a ragged beard and a generally pale and famished look.  

"Thank you," the young bedraggled fellow said.  

He was clearly a member of the Cave People whom they had encountered earlier when they passed through Ely.  These people were all Americans who had decided, in the aftermath of the Ultra-War, to forsake all technology, and so they lived in the style of Neanderthals.  They did this in the belief that technology itself was the cause of the Ultra-War, and use of it was a death knell for all life on the planet.  Their creed forbid them to use any equipment more sophisticated than stone tools.  And so their lives were more likely than not to be solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.  But they chose their own stoic way and preferred that to contributing to what they considered to be the bane of all life - technological advancement.

Pita ushered the unfortunate fellow out of the cave.  Sam took samples of the bone spikes with the greenish venom, and plopped them into a plastic tube.

"Any more of you people back there?" shouted Guns.  There was no sound. 

"Sir, I think that's all of 'em.  We should go before more of them critters come up out of that there tunnel, ya know?"

And so they reconvened at the AGV.  The young fellow was deeply wounded, poisoned, and malnourished.  Sam ran a medical diagnostic, and it seemed unlikely he wouldn't survive for long without treatment.  Sam ran another diagnostic on the bone venom, and using his biogenic lab he set about manufacturing an antidote.  They gave the young man food and water.  By the time he was finished eating, Sam's antidote was ready, and he gave him an injection.  He then set about patching his wounds with bandages.  The young fellow looked a lot better at that point, and his prognosis improved considerably.

"Sir," squawked Linda over the Com.  "LexiB says he's been surrounded by drones.  They are demanding he return to the facility with them."

"Has he identified what weaponry they have?"

"LexiB does not recognize their weaponry", she reported.

"What do you think his chances of escape would be if he runs for it?", queried Sam.

"25%, he says.  I can see his video feed, and they look ... um ... very sophisticated, sir," said LexiB.

They debated.  Finally, Sam told him to comply with their demands but not to reveal anything about the Federation. He asked Fred if there was a chance they could hack into LexiB's memory banks.  

"Oh, that's a Positronic Brain, there, Cap.  I wouldn't know the first thing about how to hack into something like that.  It would take me days just to set up the equipment to get started.  But then again, those folks at Black Wind have technologies we've never seen before... so it's hard to say," answered Fred.

"Shall I prepare to use my Self-Destruct mechanism?" inquired LexiB thoughtfully.

"Only if you wind up being dissected for information."

"Any further instructions, sir?"

"Just be careful, and don't reveal any critical information," replied Sam.

"In that case I shall be off to my doom, sir.  May I say it's been a pleasure working with you, and I've had a wonderful experience with my Positronic Brain.  I want to thank you for all you've done for me."

And so the six hovering drones surrounding LexiB turned to face the facility and began moving forward.

"They are going to dissect every node in that Positronic Brain down to the byte-bit," stated Penelope from the couch.

"What do you mean?" asked Sam.

"There is no way that Brian isn't going to vivisect your android to discover it's secrets.  No way at all.  He'll do it as coldly and scientifically as can be imagined.  There will be nothing left of the thing when he's done, and whatever information is inside of it will have been absorbed.  Believe it."

"New command, LexiB.  Run for it," commanded Sam.

LexiB dashed off into the desert.  The drones had no problem keeping up with him and keeping their circle around him.  

"The drones will use an EMP to disable him in a moment," said Penelope.

"LexiB, I'm sorry my friend, but I'm going to have to ask you to Self-Destruct".

Good bye my friend, it's hard to die was playing in the background somewhere.

And so, LexiB wound down.  The sensor arrays, the lights, the video feed all faded to black.  The last they saw was the video feed going sideways and then a white line to black just before his head hit the ground.

"Hm.  I was expecting an explosion," commented Pita, disappointed.

"So was I, so was I," agreed Captain Samwise.

"Wow.  So what now?", asked Linda, dismayed.  

They went out to talk with the caveman.  His name was "Thag".  It turned out he lived on Cave Mountain, just east of Ely, about 60 miles away.  He said that they often hunt out that far because game is sometimes scarce around Ely.  Occasionally, someone gets snared by a monster, but they take it as the cost of living primitive and accept their fate without too much fanfare.  

"I can make it back to my people because of your help.  I am deeply grateful.  My people will not forget your names", he said as he dug into a pouch at his side and handed Captain Samwise a sea shell.  And with that the stoic young cave person hobbled off down the road back towards Cave Mountain.  If he made it it would take him a few days to get there. 

And with this they loaded up the AGV and continued on their way.  

Sam felt sorry about LexiB.  

"His anti-climactic death will not be in vain," said Pita trying to console his Captain.  "Instead of going out in a blaze of glory, taking out the drones, he went out with a wheeze," he commented to himself as he began scanning LexiB's archived video footage.  The drones were seen turning away and heading back to the facility as the lights went out.  He freeze-framed and zoomed in on one of the drone units.  It was a very sophisticated looking device.  It was gleaming white, with a smooth, almost glassy, surface.  Only a small glass dome on top containing flickering green and yellow lights gave an indication that it was even a machine.  There were no visible propellers providing lift, and it hovered without any interference from the air.  Perfect stability.  Very sophisticated.  

They decided to cut due south over a salt flat, heading from just east of King Top directly to Milford. From there they picked up 21 east and shortly arrived in Panguitch.  It was about 4pm.  The Mind Shield that Pita had been maintaining was beginning to wear off.  Linda suggested activating her own Mind Shield so that Penelope's protective shielding would remain uninterrupted, even for a second, and give Pita a rest.

"Do you two think you can be effected by Brian this far away?" asked Sam incredulously, "Or are you just being extra cautious?"

"Whatever Brian's capabilities, they are, um, enormous.  Of course, as long as that Mind Shield is up, nothing is going to get in, or out, of it.  No thoughts can penetrate through a Mind Shield, no matter what," explained Linda.  "But still, better to not take a chance.  After all, we have no idea how far he could reach if he took down his Mind Shield for moment.  Here?  Timbuktu?  The Moon?  We have no idea.  Let's not chance it."

The town looked a little bit different.  Some of the barricades had been removed, or had openings where there had been barbed wire and bars everywhere.  A man with an eye missing, scorch marks, and staggering emerged from a burned out building.  Pita drove around him, and they kept going.  The man was seen flailing one arm around, and coughing up a greenish phlegm which splattered the road in front of him.  Yeah, they kept moving.

They drove along the main street to the still heavily fortified Garfield Hospital.  The hospital welcomed them back via radio with open arms.  They went through the security barriers and Doctor Rogers emerged to welcome them personally.  In fact, he looked quite different than the last time they saw him.  He was a lot closer to human looking than he was before.  There were still pigish elements, and he was in a wheelchair, but he now had two legs.  Without further ado, they parked the AGV and entered the hospital.  

"Wow, Doctor.  I didn't expect such fast results!" exclaimed the good Captain.

"Yes, it's going extremely well, thanks to your and your team's help. The anti-virus seems to be working well. Of course, I'm recovering at an extraordinary rate, but I'm using my psychic powers to facilitate the effect, and not everyone can do that.  But still things have been going very well indeed.  Some parts of the town are recovering.  We are optimistic that our strategy is going to work.  Anyway, come in, come in.  Let's talk over dinner, and I want to find out how things have been for you.  Did you complete your mission?"

When Penelope stepped out of the AGV and was seen by Doctor Rogers, he said, "Weeeeelll, if it isn't Doctor Penelope Monroe."

"Do I know you?" she asked.

"Yes, but you don't recognize me. How is Allen, by the way?"

She looked crestfallen at this question, so he moved on quickly and said, "I'm Doctor Rogers."

She gasped.  "Doctor Rogers?!  Oh my God... what ... happened ...?"  

The doctor insisted on everyone going inside and having a meal so everything could be discussed.  Everyone agreed, except Fred, who remained in the AGV to keep a guard on it. And so they ate a hospital meal, spartan style at best, and caught up on everything.  

As it turned out, Dr. Rogers had been stationed at the Black Wind V facility in its very earliest phases of development, long before Brian had been created.  He was then called on to work in the 19th Division, and lost touch with the top secret laboratory.  But he had met the young Penelope at that time, and her soon-to-be husband Allen Monroe, already a renown scientist.  

The team gave an account of everything that happened on their journey northward.  It was a fantastic story.  And Dr. Rogers was particularly fascinated by the enormity of the Mind Shield, and what that implied about Brian's level of Mental Strength.  "Completely off the charts," he remarked.

Unfortunately, they found out, Doctor Mordesh was the first volunteer for the Anti-Virus, but it didn't go well.  He had a negative reaction and was in bad condition.  He was being held in a confinement tank, and his memory was completely corrupted.  He was being treated, but the issues with the anti-virus had affected him in unique ways.  What they learned from that, however, was instrumental in recalibrating the formula, and now the anti-virus was working much better, with a 78% efficacy. 

Doctor Rogers was also very interested in the Skeletons on the crosses that they ran into at Garrison.  This was gone over in detail.  He was mystified as to what force they could possibly be projecting to cause the depression and anxiety effect that was apparently their primary attack.  And even what in the world they could be.  Zombies could be understood scientifically.  But seemingly animated skeletons without any muscle tissue was far harder to explain.  Dr. Rogers wondered how the NL-5-Kz Virus could possibly cause that.  Or was it unrelated?  He had no idea.  And was deeply mystified. 

He also explained a bit more about the history of the Black Wind V facilities.  There were five such facilities created in various locations around the world.  Their purpose was to mitigate and control global warming.  At first they had tried creating super advanced AI to run the facilities, but that turned out to be futile.  No matter how much processing power they gave the AI, they could not keep up with the billions of variables needed to safely guide the Atmospheric Transmographer, the device that Penelope had created to guide atmospheric changes. And errors were potentially catastrophic. So they switched tacks and started work on a new Brain-Driven model.  And this required the creation of artificial super-brains. Dr. Rogers participated in the early phase of the planning.  There were to be five such brains, and each one would run its own facility.  They were created at the same time, and were considered siblings.  Brian was Brain V.  And at first things went well. The facilities, operating in complete secrecy, did manage to improve the atmospheric conditions, and even unraveled a major super-hurricane that was bearing down on Taiwan at one point.

Unfortunately, during the war, for unknown reasons, it seemed the project caused a series of weather catastrophes, and so the program was officially shut down.  This however did not stop the scientists, who believed whole heartedly in the mission, from continuing their research under alternate funding and organizational frameworks.  So things got messy, and eventually all information about the programs went oblique.  And at that point Dr. Rogers had no way of learning how things were going.  But he always suspected that the Black Wind Project was still operational, though he had no proof of that.  And so he moved on to focus on other things.  Such as on NL-5-Kz, the greatest threat to the biosphere the world has ever seen.

As it turned out, Pelelope was kept in the dark regarding the full scope of the project, as were all but the lead scientist of the Black Wind project, Dr. Nerudo.  So she couldn't contribute more information than she already had.  She had never even seen Brian, and had no idea what he looked like.  

"Well," said Dr. Rogers finally, "Whatever we're going to do, we need to do it quickly.  My Mental Powers are diminishing now that the anti-virus has been working to re-draft my DNA.  I'm down from L-8 to L-7 now, and I expect I will return to my original L-6 by the time my original DNA is fully restored.  So we had better plan this out and take action immediately.  Whatever powers Brian has, they're going to more than dwarf ours, of that we can be sure."

"Based on your understanding, what L level would Brian be?", asked Sam.

"I'm going to guess he is at least an L-9, or L-10.  Perhaps even L-11", replied Dr. Rogers thoughtfully.  "The scale is logarithmic, so an L-10 is unfathomable, but an L-11... completely beyond comprehension."  

"Something that Penelope mentioned was that Brian needs to sleep 4 hours a day, like clockwork.  This is something we need to do while he's inactive," said Sam.

"Good thing you came back.  Had you tried to tangle with Brian on your own, I'm pretty sure we'd never have heard of you again."

"I have an idea," piped in Guns.  "Why don't we roll you around in some radioactive gunk, so as to get your L-8 powers back again, you know?"

Everyone had a good laugh at this suggestion, but Dr. Rogers took it seriously.  However, it was unlikely that could be done safely, and the idea was dropped.  

"If we're going to do something, catching him while he's sleeping is clearly a good idea," said Dr. Rogers.

"As for the Black Wind droids... those look pretty advanced.  Any idea how we can deal with that?" asked Sam.

"Brian appears to have developed technologies far in advance of ours.  That shouldn't be too surprising.  The Super Brains can outpace the best Super AI we were able to develop. They are not to be compared with normal human intelligence at all.  We can't predict how or what Brian may think. Or what his plans actually are.  Think of a chess master whose mind can reach thousands of moves in advance."

"What are we going to do?" asked Linda.  "Brian's powers are bound to completely dwarf ours.  I'm tested at L-6, and while that's better than most Mentarians I've met, I'm probably close to my highest potential at that.  I can't imagine how to combat something like a Super Brain."

"Well, one thought I have," replied the Doctor, is to reapply the NL-5-Kz to myself.  It's a horrible idea.  But it might work.  On the other hand it might not.  It could turn me into a newt.  Or worse, leave me stuck as a Pig-Worm for the rest of my life.  Or something worse.  NL-5-Kz is very tricky because it has a variable component that makes the results very difficult to predict.  And if you haven't guessed already, being a Pig-Worm is not exactly the most pleasant thing in the world."

There was a silence for a minute or so.

"Well," said Guns walking around behind Pita, "what if you had someone who already had them Mental Powers around, and you gave him some of that there K5 goop?"

"Ok," interjected Sam quickly, "we appreciate any assistance you can give us, Doctor, and if you want to come with us that would be -"

"Actually," interrupted Dr. Rogers, "I'm curious to hear what Pita has to say about that suggestion Guns just made."  

"I'd consider it, but what's the chance of my being able to get back to normal after that?" asked Pita.

"Well, that's the point, isn't it?  You'd be better than normal," interjected Guns.  "Like a Super-Pita.  That's pretty special, don't you think?"

"If I could get back to normal I'd think about it," said Pita.

"Damn," retorted Guns.  "I thought you was a hero.  My whole illusion is shattered."

"The chances of unwinding the virus are not that bad," replied the doctor. "We're still working out the details. But we never know exactly what effect the virus will actually have.  50% of the time it will turn you into a zombie.  The other half get turned into variable-form Mutants with augmented Mental Powers."

"Well, I can't deprive the world of Pita," said the hero.  

"We have no way to know in advance what the effect will be.  Zombie or Mutant.  And what effect that will have if you do get the Mutant variant.  And then what L-Level you'd be afterwards."

"I haven't had my L-Level tested.  So I'm not even sure what it is," said Pita.  And so Dr. Rogers agreed to give him the L-Level test.  It was grueling, and in the end Pita lay face down on the table, sweat pouring off of him.  As it was Pita measured at L-6.  

"L-6," said Pita.

"If you get the Mutant Variant," said Dr. Rogers, you can use your Mental Power to try to augment your L-Level.  And if Linda and I both support you in this, then we might be able to boost you as well.

"Oh that sounds good," replied Pita.

"One thing.  If anything goes wrong, the process could fry your brain," added Dr. Rogers pensively.  

"Oh.  So I could wind up like Fred," quipped Pita in reply.

There were a few smiles around the room.  

"I heard that," said Fred over the Comm.

"Ok.  Well I am a hero.  If there is even a chance that I can become even more of a hero, then I am willing to take it."

"Very good.  I think we should take a break and think this over.  Give it some thought and if you have any questions we can discuss it."

"Yeah, ok.  That's a good idea," answered Pita, looking relieved.  There were questions that would probably come to mind if he just stepped back and thought this over carefully.  Lots of risks.  But then ... it could be the one thing that makes a difference in dealing with Brian.  A very hard choice indeed.

And that's where we left it that night.





Sunday, March 07, 2021

WoAF - Game Session 19


A sliver of moon crescent hung over the western horizon.  The air above was clear of clouds, but the ever present iridescent radiation nevertheless spanned the sky like a bizarre crackling rainbow-colored river of aurora-energies. It was cold and still, and nothing moved.  Off in the distance, Guns noted the flashes of light to the far south that indicated the war around Saint George was still raging.  He squeezed the machine gun grip pensively as he watched.  At least some small part of him wished he could see what was going on down there.

Meanwhile, good Captain Samwise got suited up and readied himself to leap through the mysterious 10 mile diameter Wall of Mental Force that surrounded the Black Wind Facility. His crew's commentary, however, gave him second thoughts.  Maybe it would be wiser not to leap into a zone of unknown mental force after all, especially given what they saw happen to the miserable wretch that died gurgling incoherently and frothing at the mouth whom they found staggering away from the Facility through the desert earlier.  Yeah, maybe leaping in blindly, even with Lexi-B, wasn't such a great idea.  So they thought some more, and Guns offered up a simple, yet effective sounding tactic.

"Why don't we just send Lexi-B in to scout around first.  We can watch everything through his eyes, and Linda can be listening on audio.  If he looks around and it all seems cool and stuff, well then we can take it from there.  Ya know?"

And this seemed like a good plan.  And so that's what they did.  Samwise decided it would be best to keep a low profile, and so Lexi-B didn't take the rocket bike the five miles east across the flat white sands to the facility.  Instead, he walked.  Being an Android, that was no problem for him.  And meanwhile, our heroes could stay safe and snug inside the AGV watching carefully every thing Lexi-B saw. 

After a little over an hour Lexi-B had made it close enough to the facility to slow down and make careful observations.  His Positronic brain was sparkling with the intensity of his calculations.  He found that he could stealthily move along a long dried out rivulet without being in direct line of sight, and would poke his head up every twenty feet or so.   The Black Wind V facility had a large glass encased entrance that appeared to be a lobby, attached to which were a number of oddly angled buildings of different sizes, most of them jet black or dark steel gray with chrome trimmings, and none of them had windows of any kind.  Lexi-B spotted a single door on the side of one of the buildings as he slowly circled around the perimeter of the complex.  Along the east side, barely discernable at the angle he was viewing it, was an enormous circular chrome grate, 200 feet in diameter.  Lexi-B scanned the complex on all wavelengths from infrared to ultra violet, and paused to observe. From the massive grate issued a stream of hot air that could be seen with clarity only in infrared.  It was hot gas.  He conducted a spectral analysis.  It was definitely emitting a gas fused with compounds that would require a more detailed analysis to determine.  He moved on.

Lexi-B also took careful readings of the door that was along the wall of one of the buildings.  He zoomed in on that and at high magnification he noted that there was a KeyPass reader along the portal rim.  He surmised that the PassKey they had taken from man they'd encountered earlier, the one who died, could feasibly work on this door.  This was duly noted by the crew, and Lexi-B continued walking.

Captain Samwise asked Lexi-B to scan the entire area on all frequencies, and at the ultra-high end of the spectrum, far above ultra-violet, he postulated an array of enormous plasma-like filaments, completely invisible in normal light, extending from the ground beneath the facility high up into the atmosphere, linking to the mental force dome that surrounded the entire area.  It was approximately ten miles in diameter, and extended five miles upward into the sky, pushing the upper part of the dome almost outside the atmosphere of the planet.  The amount of power required to generate such a field must have been absolutely enormous.  Lexi-B had never encountered anything like it.  The energy of the dome was at such a high frequency, and of such an ethereal nature, that one would not be able to detect it with any normal sensing devices.  It was his positronic brain that allowed him to infer its existence through subtle anomalies in the electromagnetic spectrum that he could detect, and based on that, build a theoretical model of the phenomenon.  It was that model that he projected back to the AGV's Vizi-Screens.  Samwise and the others watched in awe as the image of the enormous dome with writhing tendrils of plasma passed over their plates.

A women with auburn hair wearing a white lab coat appeared inside the lobby.  It was dimly lit by a few overhead lights.  She was fretting over something.  Samwise had Lexi-B zoom in with his telescopic eyes.  He did so, and they watched as she paced the floor of the lobby for about ten minutes, looking around the room, and towards the rear, frequently.  Meanwhile, Linda was listening on every band of audio as well, but all they could make out was that the woman seemed very anxious and was breathing erratically.  They did not get the impression, however, that it had anything to do with Lexi-B's presence out in the desert.  She never even looked in his direction.

After another minute, the woman walked briskly to the glass doorway and slid her PassKey over the mechanism and then spent another minute nervously dancing her fingers over the numeric pad and staring intently at the output on the small screen just above her fingers.  Finally the glass door slid silently open.  She looked behind her one last time, and dashed through the door out into the night air, her lab coat catching the wind and fluttering behind her.  She stopped and slipped a pair of goggles over her eyes,  and off she went, dashing out into the desert pell-mell as if running for her life.  Every few yards she would pause momentarily, scan the ground, and then dash forward into the darkness.

"Lexi-B, follow her," instructed Samwise through the mic.  The Android stealthily paced behind her at a steady 200' distance.  

Samwise used the Vizi-Screen to scan the desert for the gigantic lumbering monster-trees they'd encountered the day before.  Nowhere in sight.

"Who wants to take a rocket bike out to intercept her?"

"I'll go," volunteered Pita.  "But Captain, what do you want me to do when I catch up with her?" he queried as he hopped on the bike and ignited the plasma engines.

"Well, don't grab her, but interact with her, and see what's going on," replied Samwise.

Pita summoned from his reserves of Mentarian power and activated his Mind Shield.  It formed a circular globe of mental force around him at a diameter of about 50 feet, through which no mental frequencies could penetrate, either in or out.  Again he sensed the massive size of the Mind Shield surrounding the Black Wind Facility out in the desert.  His was barely a marble next to it by comparison.  He slid along the side of the great wall of mental force, careful not to let the rocket bike get close enough for the two mental shields to come in contact, but in fact, the woman was deep inside the dome, and so he had no choice.  Through the wall of the massive Mind Shield he blazed, on the hope that his own shield would protect him and keep his presence undetected by whatever was maintaining that colossal force into which he had just slid through.  But Mind Shields are such that no mental frequencies can pass through them, and so in fact, he felt no difference within the dome as outside of it.  In a long wide arc the rocket bike streaked with a long hot trail of iridescent plasma across the indigo blue sky. Below him the white sands of the Salt Flats stretching off into the distance. Outlined on his Visi-Screen in thermal-vision, he spotted the woman running across the desert southward.  He landed in a long gentle arc about twenty feet ahead of her.  

She skid to a stop and glared at him in extreme surprise, gasping for air from her exertion.  She glanced around quickly in every direction looking for an escape route.

"Don't worry, Ma'am.  I'm not going to hurt you," said Pita politely.

"Who are you, and where do you come from?" she gasped.

"My name is Pita Tochristor, and I've come to rescue you.  Are you alright?"

"No, I'm not alright.  And yes, I need help.  Can you get me out of here?", she demanded sharply as she glanced wildly in all directions, and then gazed back towards the Black Wind Facility.  She clearly didn't trust Pita, but there was something out there that she trusted far less.

And with that Pita invited her onto the rocket bike and blasted off into the sky, a blazing trail of fiery orange plasma arcing away behind them.  Pita began to head north, but the women demanded that they head south instead.  Her mannerisms were hard-edged, and he didn't feel he could necessarily trust her, regardless of the situation, but she seemed to know what she was wanted, and Pita sensed that she may have had good reason not to want to head north.  So southward they went.

It was 4:13 AM and the light of the oncoming dawn was a faintly discernable magenta glow over the far rim of the world.  Pita rocketed south towards the Salt Springs area, which is where they had discovered the metallic white Energy Emission Tower.  The area appeared as a dark patch along the edge of the white sands.  It was composed of clefts in a large rock outcropping, several burbling fresh water springs, and what you might call voracious plant life that had sprung up around the water source there.  The tower itself could be seen glinting by the slim crescent light of the moon.  Further to the south could be seen Mount Ferguson, with its strange blanket of aurora-energy undulating over the entire north face of the mountain.

"What do you know about the Mind Shield that surrounds the complex you came from?"

She looked momentarily puzzled, but after a brief pause answered, "I can't tell you very much.  It's all top secret.  Ultra-Secret. All I can tell you is that you don't belong here."

"By whose order?" he asked impatiently.

"I can't tell you that either," she replied hesitantly, "because you'll never have heard of the authorization body."

"How do you know?", he asked.

"Trust me, I know."

"Have we met before?" asked Pita.

"I don't believe so," she said, looking at him more carefully for the first time.

"So how can you discern whether I'd know or not?  You don't know who I am," he said pointedly.

"Because nobody knows," she answered with finality.

"Well, you know," he said.

"Of course, the people at the Facility know," she snapped.

"Well, look, I can take you back to the Facility and leave you where I found you, if that's what you want.  It's no problem.  But if you want my help, I need more information than that.  For all I know you could stab me in the back, take my rocket bike and leave me to die.  I've gone out of my way to help you, and now you're being very shady with me.  And I don't think that's very nice, considering I'm a person who is saving you."

"You were in the military, weren't you?"

"10-4"

"If your commander told you to keep something secret, you'd do that, wouldn't you?"

"But there's no United States anymore.  I don't know who you are or what you are, or what you're dealing with.  I'm just looking to help you.  I just want to know what your organization is," he said.

Finally realizing that her options were extremely limited, and she was desperate, she let down her guard and confided in him.  She spoke in a staccato tempo, earnestly, and sincerely.

"Before the Ultra-War there formed a highly classified global order of scientists who initiated a series of Ultra-Secret programs. Their goal, our goal, is, frankly, to save the world from itself.  The models showed definitively that Global Warming had already passed the tipping point by 1986, and the inner circle of scientists knew that there was really no time to wait for the political order to come to any sort of agreement on a solution.  The Black Wind facilities were architected, and built entirely in secret, hidden off in remote and desolate places around the world, by Labyrinth. The project recruited young scientists, such as myself, who understood the dire consequences of failure for the future, and were devoted to the mission on humanitarian grounds. I have been working on the project ever since."

"I have heard of Black Wind V, by the way," said Pita nonchalantly, recollecting all that Alt-X and Federation Command had briefed them on regarding the Facility, what little non-redacted information there was.   But still, he had heard the name, and a few tidbits about the nature of the thing at least.

"Well... that's... surprising," she said with a raised eyebrow.  "Anyway, none of that matters now.  I am looking for my husband.  I need your help to find him.  Can we scout around the tower down there?" she asked, pointing toward the metallic tower glinting about 2 miles south.

"Your husband?"  

"Yes, he went, um, crazy, and fled the Facility sometime yesterday or earlier today.  I'm not sure what time.  Have you seen him?"

"Yes, we did see someone yesterday at around 3:30 PM making his way through the desert.  We spotted him, and went to help, but by the time we got to him, he was frothing at the mouth, talking gibberish, and ... I'm sorry, but ... he passed away before we could help him."

Her reaction was one of stoic intensity, but nevertheless her eyes looked heartbroken all the same.  After a moment she swooned and nearly fell off the bike.  Pita secured her with a firm grip and tried to console her, but she was unable to respond.  He decided to bring her back to the AGV, and hoped that Linda might help to console her.  The rocket bike traced a long graceful arc back north.

Meanwhile, Sam and the crew were watching the rocket bike from the AGV as it blazed its orange trail through the sky. Sam had ordered Lexi-B to continue to scan the facility, and Linda was keeping tabs on his observations.  Pita came in low and hot, landed the bike within a few feet of the vehicle and hoped off.  He took the swooning woman by the arm and led her through the contamination airlock and into the AGV.  

"Welcome aboard, Ma'am," said Captain Samwise.

Linda immediately came over and helped the woman to a couch.  She looked flustered, disoriented, and grief stricken.  It seemed the poor woman had taken all she could.  Linda and Pita decided that it would be prudent to give her a sedative, of which Fred had a rather abundant supply.  They inquired gently about her situation, and with the help of Linda's hypnotic abilities found out some portion of the woman's story.

Her name was Dr. Penelope Monroe, PhD of climatology and related sciences.  She was a scientist working at the Black Wind V Facility for some time before the Ultra-War broke out.  Due to the ultra secrecy of the mission, she, nor any of the scientists working there, had left the base since their induction.  For her that was over 20 years.  While that was obviously a very long time, she didn't seem to feel that way.  It was apparent that her conviction that the mission was worthy of her personal sacrifice at that level was sincere.  They were out to save the world, in secret, because most people were simply too ignorant to save it, or even allow it to be saved.  Hence the creation of the secret order of scientists, known only as The Labyrinth.  This organization was apparently connected to some of the most powerful governmental agencies of the pre-war era.  While there she met and married her husband, Dr. Allen Monroe, PhD of advanced artificial-neural science.  The goal of the Black Wind facilities, of which there were several globally, was to geo-engineer the earth's atmosphere in order to prevent a runway Global Warming effect.

About two weeks prior her husband became disturbed, began behaving oddly, and seemed to be suffering from some kind of anxiety disorder.  He mentioned having done some clandestine thing, of which he would not speak.  The prior day, at some point, he vanished from his office, and Penelope was unable to find him.  Having searched everywhere that she could access she determined that he must have fled the facility.  She verified this by a careful examination of the entries embedded in the access logs of the KeyPass System.  While he had deep-obfuscated the data, she understood its implications, and that is when she decided she had to follow him out into the desert and try to bring him back.

They also found out that the Labyrinth's Lead Scientist was named Dr. Nerudo.  He had a good deal to do with the architecting of the Black Wind V project, and many others.  However, recently, in the past few years, his leadership had been supplanted by someone named Brian.  As she explained it Brian was an organic artificial intelligence, one of several, that had been created to run the delicate operations of the Facility.  This was necessary because those operations were so delicate, and the consequences of getting them wrong so catastrophic, that no other solution was feasible. Only an organic mind of sufficient sensitivity and power could intuit the vast number of variables necessary to keep the Facility operating in a way that would benefit rather than destabilize the atmosphere.  They had originally tried harnessing machine intelligence for the task, but regardless of the the resources they eventually gave it, the AI could not keep pace, and it's models all ended in disaster.  The Facility, she explained, had been protected for decades by the most powerful agencies in the world, including the US Army 19th Division which was stationed in the region to keep intruders away, and so its secrecy and mission had been maintained - until now.  This conversation was the first breach of security in all of that time.  And that was likely to be bad news, one way or another.

Then, at some point during the Ultra-War certain events overwhelmed the Facility's communications network and there was an information blackout.  Things started to go quite wrong, and at some point, Brian suddenly became "angry".  It was at this juncture that everything at the Facility changed.  Even the top scientists were put on lockdown and confined to quarters.  Information was severely constrained at every level.  None of the scientists were allowed to engage in conversations on any topic other than those specifically project related.  Everyone fell under a kind of mental blanket that at once focused their minds on their work, and excluded thoughts of anything else.  Almost.  Penelope was deeply in love with Allen, and he with her.  The two of them managed to maintain at least a semblance of their normal lives during the wee hours of the morning, when Brian slept.  Even a super intelligence like Brian's required a daily rest interval of four hours.

The conversation ended there, and Penelope suddenly looked startled.  Her eyes opened wide, and she said, "He is waking up."

"Time to go," snapped Sam, and they locked down the AGV and sped southward.  They had decided that their only hope was to contact Dr. Rogers at the Garfield Hospital and try to get his help.  The AGV roared south along route 93 at 5:03 AM, the first rays of the sun glinting off a third white metal tower high up on peak of Mount Ferguson, its shimmering blanket of greenish aurora-energies undulating along the north face in a translucent cloud. 

And that's where we left our heroes that game.