Friday, April 16, 2021

WoAF - 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.  

Saturday, February 20, 2021

WoAF - Game Session 18

And so, the team repaired their heavily damaged Armored Ground Vehicle at the airport just north of Panguitch, UT.  Pita received his Mech Training from Captain Sekston, and took a spin around the area with Guns, who used the Mech loud speakers to alert the Zombies and Mutants of Panguitch that a vaccine for the virus was on the way and that they could stop fighting.  Whether or not that had any effect on the trench warfare of the town was not evident from the air.  

In the morning Captain Samwise and the crew rolled out of Panguitch and headed north on 89, and then west on route 20.  Once they passed the airport they drove into the desert and built a double faraday cage.  Fred took the data crystal that they had liberated from Mech Base 12 and fought a quick and decisive battle against the dangerous bit of AI on the disk.  He wanted to retrieve any pertinent information that might be useful for the scientists, or anyone else for that matter.  He gingerly linked the disk to his new computer spike (a specialized hacking tool used by Cybernauts for just this purpose), and flipped the switch on his neural-net.  This kicked his mind into Virtual-Space, at which point his mental reactions were operating at micro-millisecond speeds, enabling him to match wits with the AI.  He won the conflict more easily than he expected, in fact, and within 750 milliseconds he had retrieved two map files and a data file that keyed the maps.  He immediately disengaged before the raging AI could make another move.  His mind was intact.  He was pleased.

The maps revealed what Mech Base 12 had been monitoring in the west.  A vast war centering on Las Vegas and extending in a 200 mile radius was being waged by the Red Force, and the Green Force, and the maps showed the disposition and locations of all of the major groups involved.  They surmised that the Red Force must be the Lizardman army, lead by the Shadow King, an ancient Manticore nightmare come to life sometime after the Ultra-War.  The Green Force represented the remnants of the US Army which appeared to be focusing its attack around the town of Saint George.  They transmitted the maps and their findings to the Garfield Hospital Scientists, and Linda gave them specifications for an Ultra-Low Frequency Transmission Station, and the frequencies they could use to communicate with Federation Command.  All of this done, they dug a hole in the desert, marked it, and plopped the old faraday cage with the original spike and the data crystal into it, and covered it over with rocks and dirt.  The AI would not be going anywhere soon.

They cut north on highway 15, and then west on route 21.  They passed through the ruins of Minersville and Milford.  They stayed inside the hermitically sealed AGV with their body suits on, and drove straight through.  The land became increasingly barren, and along route 20 nothing living could be seen at all, not even insects.  Lexi-B conducted mutli-frequency scans, and not even microbes were found alive along certain stretches of the highway.  It was rough country, and the hard dusty ride took a couple of hours.  

They came to the town of Garrison, where they encountered the third site of crucified skeletons just south of the town.  Several members of the crew were sent into paroxysms of despair, but fast thinking and immediate action allowed them to escape driving in reverse over the crest of the hill so that they could get out of visual range of the skeletons.  They decided to route around and went off road north to route 50 and took that east, bypassing Garrison and Baker entirely, and then wound their way along that road to Ely.  Once they went over the pass between Mount Moriah and Windy Peak they found some patches of flora, and once through the gap south of Cave Mountain the flora and fauna returned to normal.  They drove north to Ely and there they discovered two communities living side by side.  The first were the Pioneers who had rebuilt the town in the fashion of the old west, and said that they rejected all modern technology, as they saw the Ultra-War being the inevitable result of High Tech.  Further out, on Cave Mountain, lived the Naturalists, who sent a small group to sniff out the strangers.  These people would not even brook any tech above that of cavemen, and for the same reasons as the Pioneers, only having taken a more radical position on the matter.  In either case, both communities live peaceably.  The people of Ely were friendly and welcoming, and offered the Team food and sustenance.  

Captain Samwise decided not to tarry there long, and so they made their way north towards the Salt Flats along route 93.  They finally arrived at the area where Alt-X believed the original radio transmissions had triangulated on.  The mysterious Black Wind V facility could be seen in the distance using the Vizi-Screens.  From a distance it looked like a mere speck in the vast white expanse of the desert.  Just a tiny cluster of buildings and nothing more.

As the AGV edged slowly north, they came upon a cluster of dead trees that were laying prone across the highway.  As they approached the trees began to move, and then lumber horizontally towards the AGV with their branches being used as arms and legs.  It was a bizarre thing to see.  and Samwise sensed that they could in fact be quite dangerous.  Some of the tree-creatures were up to 70' long, and many were at least 50'.  They must have weighed hundreds of tons each.  Guns took some shots at one, but though the branches splintered, the tree kept moving towards them.  Even the splinters continued to move towards them. Captain Samwise, never one to pass up a science opportunity, suited up, and ran outside to collect a sample.  This was easier said than done, as even the smallest splinter had great strength and writhed slowly in his metal tweezers trying to get at his hand.  He dropped it and it began to bore into the asphalt of the road.  Grabbing it with the tongs again he plopped it into a metal box, and took it aboard.  With this he decided it would be a good idea to stay as far way from the tree-creatures as possible.


As they backed the AGV away, Guns spotted a thin white tower of metal on a hill due east of their position at about 4 miles.  It was located on top of a rocky outcropping.  It positively gleamed with whiteness.  As they watched, the tower unfurled a large metallic disk, and from another tower about five miles south, there emitted a bluish beam of energy which struck the dish, and was absorbed.  The beam persisted for 45 seconds, and then the dish then furled itself up, and sealed itself away within the top of the tower again.  

They used the Vizi-Screens to carefully survey the area and found another tower linked to a gigantic 2000' wide metal net that had been slung between two canyon walls, and appeared to be collecting energy off of what looked like and aurora hovering over the north face of Ferguson Mountain.  They found this entire construction mystifying, as they had never seen or heard of anything like it.  It seemed that energy was being siphoned off the mountain by the metallic net and then beamed north to the collection dish.

At this time it was about 6pm and the sun was getting low.  Linda picked up sounds on the desert and zoomed in on the audio.  It turned out to be a man staggering across the salt flats southward towards the tower.  Zooming in with their Vizi-Screens they saw that the man was ragged, tattered and staggering.  The good Captain sent Lexi-B on a rocket bike to go fetch the man with water and a medical kit.  When the android arrived he helped the man on to the bike.  The Team listened through Lexi-B's audio and found that the man was exhausted and speaking gibberish.  Lexi-B gave him water and flew him back to the AGV.  They tried in vain to question the man, but he appeared to have gone insane ... with fear.  Linda and Pita tried to read his mind, but as soon as they touched it, he convulsed, frothed at the mouth and with a final spasm died.

They looted the body.  On his person they found what Fred identified as a highly sophisticated Pass-Key.  It was jet black, and unblemished with a single scratch and no markings, other than what looked like a spot for a finger print scan.  They decided to follow the man's lead and head towards the north tower as it appeared from his tracks that it was his intended destination.  The tower was lodged on the westernmost rocks of the Salt Springs Management Area, east of which appeared to be a wild life refuge on the edge of the vast white plane of the salt flats.

Fred was nominated to lead Pita and Linda into the tower, if possible.  First, good Captain Samwise surgically removed the dead man's hand so that they could use it to gain access with the card, as Fred understood that without the biometrics of the hand the card would not function.  The tower appeared to be made of a white metal that none of them could identify.  When Fred tried to scratch it to take a sample for analysis, he found that he was entirely unable to do so.  The metal was harder than diamond.  The three were able to gain access using the Key-Pass card, with the hand, and once inside they found a highly complex and sophisticated control room.  The panels were entirely unfamiliar to any of them.  They discovered a round doorway at the bottom of a small flight of stairs, and using the Pass-Key they opened the doorway into a tunnel stretching off in darkness to the north.  The controls of the tower appeared to be completely self-automated.  Having used the Pass-Key it seemed that they triggered no alarms, and so after recording their findings they returned to the AGV.

Meanwhile, the lumbering tree-creatures had made their way along the dirt road and were heading slowly but steadily towards the AVG.  The Team geared up and went off road north to get back onto Route 93 and drove north.  The tree-creatures were powerful, but slow moving.  It was easy to outdistance them.

At this point Pita and Linda, having discussed the dead man's mental state, decided it might be prudent for them to put on their Mind Shields.  They did so, and immediately sensed the presence of another Mind Shield - one of enormous size and strength, forming a huge dome in the desert, and covering the Black Wind facility.

Captain Samwise sent Lexi-B north on a rocket bike to the Wendover Airport in order to test whether or not the gigantic Mind Shield would cause an issue.  Lexi-B did not encounter any resistance, and found the Airport to be completely empty, and devoid of signs of human habitation.  He flew back to the AGV and made his report.  

Samwise felt that the next logical step would be for Lexi-B and he to take a rocket bike together through the Mind Shield and see what might happen.  This was discussed back and forth by the members of the crew for quite some time.  At this point it was about 3am, and the desert was dimly illuminated by a thin sliver of the moon.  Where the tree-creatures were was anyone's guess.  Why the man died so suddenly when his mind was probed was a mystery.  What technologies were in play at the towers was unknown.  There was a lot to discuss.

And that is where we left things for the day.  Fun times.  :)

Friday, January 22, 2021

WoAF - Game Session 17

Having spent the night deep in the bowels of the Garfield Hospital, the party began the day with a rapid repair of essential components of the Armored Ground Vehicle, parked outside in the heavily defended front lot. Samwise contemplated Lexi-B's new personality, having been upgraded with a new and experimental Positronic Brain. Interestingly, he thought, Lexi's personality seemed to resemble Pita's. Which made sense, as Pita, who worked on the upgrade, was the first person who the Positronic Brain encountered, and it is likely that its initial personality building protocols drew from the first available source. Interesting.

The AGV was now equipped with an ultraviolit decontamination entrance pod, which meant that they were ready to head to the airport in order to repair the AGV's Accoustic Insect Shell. From there Samwise planned to head north to the Great Insect Mound in order to retrieve a sample of one of the mutant Dragonflies. With this the scientists of the 19th Division would finally have all of the necessary material required for a complete analysis of the NL-5-Kz virus. With that, in theory, they ought to be able to execute the Rogers-Mordesh plan, which involved creating a new sub-virus that would attach itself to the NL-5-Kz, and replicate along side of it, but craftily undo all of the DNA mutations caused by the virus as it created them. It would also replicate itself into every new version of the NL-5-Kz, thus propagating as far and as wide as the virus itself. This brilliant plan, should it work, would mitigate and eventually end the threat of the Mutant Insectoids, which had already spread as far south as Phoenix, Arizona, and possibly a great deal further. If it didn't work, then the last remnants of humanity might be facing a final annihilation from the billions of mutant insects being spawned from the tiny town of Panguitch, Utah.

The airport was not far. Only a few miles north along River Lane. Doctor Rogers expressed a willingness to join them on this mission, and so he was placed in the rear AGV trailer on blanket with cushions, and with that Pita revved the engines, and off they went.

"So Lexi", asked Guns, "...what's your opinion of killing all humans?"

"Is that a joke?", asked Lexi with a wry look on his face.

"Nope. That there was a leeegitimate question," replied Guns earnestly.

"Ah," said Lexi with a smile, "I thought that was a joke."

"Did ya'all see that? Lexi smiled!" announced Guns to the group. "Clearly a threat to mankind." Everyone had a laugh, as the AGV rumbled toward the airport.

"Say, Fred, do you still still have that data crystal sitting in the cabinet with the spike?" asked Lexi out of the blue.

"I don't know," he responded suddenly on edge, "why do you ask?"

"Well, the last time I checked the data crystal had a virulent WAR-GAI on it, no?"

"Well, yeah. So? What do you think we should do about it?"

"I would recommend thinking carefully about that," replied Lexi.

And with that Fred sauntered to the sealed cabinet, unlocked the steel door, took the crystal out of the Faraday Cage, looked over its sleek green-black exterior, and handed it to Lexi.

"Here, you take care of it," said Fred nonchalantly.  Lexi backed away from it.

"What the hell are you doing!?" barked Samwise. "Put that back in the cabinet and seal it!"

Lexi stared impassively at Fred, as if his point was already well made, and that somehow everyone on board understood what his point was. This annoyed Fred even more, as he intuitively grasped that he had just fallen into Lexi's first rhetorical psych-trap, and had already made a critical mistake. Removing the data crystal from the Faraday Cage could potentially have released it into the AGV's electronics... had the AGV any electronics left for it to escape into. However, the AGV's entire onboard computer system had been obliterated by the EMP strike the week before, and the risk was actually rather low. The only real target could have been Lexi himself. And Lexi, certainly no dope with his new Positronic Brain, had already sealed every port on his exterior before engaging Fred on the topic. So the only risk was the possibility that it could leap into Linda's hardwired vacuum tube radio equipment, or into the semi-repaired communications or navigation system. None of these had a higher than .0229% probability, and as Lexi's analysis had included that possibility he had been specifically watching for any indication that such an event might have take place. No such indication was evident, and Lexi was satisfied that the probability of the WAR-GAI having escaped was below his alert threshold. Fred put the data crystal back in the cage and sealed the steel door.

"You could say that there is a hiiigh probability that the WAR-GAI on that data crystal is likely to bite you in the butt one day, Fred," stated Lexi trying out a bit of the hillbilly drawl that he picked up from Guns.

"Maybe we should drop it off with the scientists at the Hospital," commented Fred to Captain Samwise.

"Might be safer," added Lexi, letting the sentence trail off for added significance.

"You'd like that wouldn't you?" accused Fred.

"Why not?" asked Lexi, not quite understanding what Fred was getting at. This was a classic trick of the Cybernauts that worked to confuse AI. To suddenly state an entirely unsupported accusation with enough invective to cause the AI to have to wrestle with the concept in order to spend energy cycles to refute it. It served to slow the AI down, and buy time.

"Because I don't trust those guys! Maybe that's why? Listen Lexi, why don't you stick to working on AGV repairs and leave the AI to me, ok? That's my job."

"Ok whatever you say, boss," replied Lexi sat down in a rear seat, and buckled himself in, as he turned to examine one of the damaged control panels. 

And so after a bumpy 20 minute ride they arrived at Panguitch Airport. It was small with one air strip and seven squat sturdy buildings and a number of military vehicles. On the far end of the tarmac stood two Mechs, both in good looking condition, and of the same model, the famous AT-28P. These tank-like Mechs were used heavily during the Ultra-War for close quarters fighting. They were slow, and due to their weight didn't fly higher than 20 meters, but were fierce on firepower and heavily armored.

Greeting the AGV was a man in a Hazmat suit with a clipboard. They rolled up to his position, and prepared to disembark. Linda, Guns and Fred stayed in the vehicle to run diagnostics and keep watch on things. Fred had a slight concern that having moved the data crystal out of the Faraday Cage could, possibly, have allowed it to escape, though he thought the chances of that were low.  For one thing, there were all still alive. Still, running diagnostics wouldn't do any harm. Pita and Captain Samwise suited up and prepared to head out and greet the man with the clipboard. He had been joined by a woman, also in a hazmat suit. Her rank of Captain was clearly designated on her shoulder pad. The man was identifiable as a Lieutenant.

Stepping outside, Samwise and Pita walked forward to greet the two officers.

"Captain Samwise, I presume," greeted the woman pleasantly.

"Yes," he replied, "And you would be?"

"My name is Captain Sekston. I've been notified by Central Command that you are here to pick up equipment for repairs. I'm instructed to give you any assistance you may need. Is Doctor Rogers with you as well?"

"Yes he's in the van," said Samwise, and they got to work. The Lieutenant was instructed to provide the team with whatever they need, and so they began by asking about replacement parts for the Acoustic Insect Shell. As it turned out, they had four spare units available and so a complete replacement was made in short order. Doctor Rogers elected to remain in the van, and mentioned that all Samwise would need to do to get his help would be to reach out to him with his thoughts.

Meanwhile, Pita took a stroll down the tarmac towards the Mechs. The soldiers there informed him that they couldn't provide a tour of the Mechs without the Captain's approval. It occurred to Pita that their mini-phones had been fried by the EMP as well, and a replacement set would be helpful as well. And so he took another stroll back down the tarmac to find Captain Sekston and ask her if he could get a tour. Meeting with her was no problem, and after a short conversation he secured a tour of the Mechs for after the mission. She was interested in his piloting ability, and though he had no particular experience with piloting the AT-28P, with a few hours of virtual training he should be up to speed quickly enough. It was agreed that upon their return from the Insect Mount Mission he would take the course, and get the tour. He could tell that she was in fact hoping he might sign on as a pilot with her outfit, though he didn't say anything about that.

Since the AGV had been seriously damaged installing the Acoustic Insect Shell was not as simple as would normally be the case, but the Lieutenant was an electronics expert, and so two hours later the Acoustic Insect Shell was fully installed. They tested it, and it was working as anticipated, forming an acoustic shell around the AGV that few insects could possibly penetrate. They also acquired six new Mini-Phones.

"Sir," said Lexi, "just to let you know, the more electronics you add to the AGV, the greater the risk from the WAR-GAI.  Those mini-phones, for example..."

"Thank you Lexi, I appreciate the warning," interjected Captain Samwise. "I will keep that under advisement."

"Lieutenant, would there happen to be any personal Acoustic Insect Shell units available in case we need to step outside of the AVG?", asked Captain Samwise. And so they received six of those as well. He also inquired about getting a SmartNet, and so they acquired one of those as well.

After two hours they were ready to embark on Mission: Insectoid Capture. Off in the distance they could see the mound towering above the tree line. The mound was about two miles north, and rose a towering 100 feet in the air along the edges, like a wall, and rising to a height at the center of 1000 feet. It had a cone shaped appearance. Around the mound they could see what looked like a hazy cloud. Captain Samwise thought it was a mist, but Doctor Rogers corrected him.

"That is a cloud of insects", he said into Samwise's mind.

"Ah. Hm. Dang," mentally replied the good Captain. From his point of view the AGV was potentially vulnerable to insects. For one thing, during the battle with the Black Manticore Pita had inadvertently seared a hole through the floor of the AGV with his Lewiston Beam Rifle. They spent an hour armoring up the hole in the AGV, and effecting any other precautions. 

Pita and Guns happen to notice a dark grey line forming along the north east horizon, and the wind began to pick up.

"Storm incoming, Captain," said Pita. The clouds were flashing with iridescent light, but that didn't mean it would be an actual Radiation Storm, which blasted out bolts of radioactive lightning, but likely it would be severe just the same. Outside soldiers could be seen scrambling to secure materials and equipment.

"Linda, see if you can raise the Base Captain and ask if we can get a spot to hunker down with them."

Using the vacuum tube rig, which she affectionately called Nelly, she raised Captain Sekston, and requested a hanger. They were directed to Hanger 4, and they secured themselves within. The bunkers were solid, and well protected against such storms, as violent as they could be. Inside were supplies, including a refrigerator.

"Lexi, see if you can go raid the fridge over there," commanded Samwise.

"Sure thing," said Lexi. He returned with the entire 100lb refrigerator under his arm. And so they had enough food for a couple of days. The red warning light flashed above the solid steel door for as long as the storm lasted, which in this case was only about a half hour. The steel doors slid opened. Outside a flood of water about three inches deep was washing past the base, filled with tree limbs and dead animals. As Pita drove the AGV out of the bunker, Samwise noticed that the tree limbs that were in the water had green leaves... which very quickly turned brown and died. He took note of this, but it did not surprise him. He reflected on the fact that there was a very stark distinction in this region between the living areas of land, and dead areas of land. In the green areas the fauna and flora were ferociously alive, with even the plant life having a powerful animus. But on the lands that were dead, it was a completely lifeless desert, where upon even insects were scoured clean.

Without further ado, they buckled in and set out.  Pita drove the AGV northward past the end of the tarmac onto the Airport Road. Samwise decided to head off-road, moving straight northward through the desert, and staying clear of the green-lands. Watching them with his binoculars he could see the writhing masses of life within. Strange animals with bizarre features were spotted amid the shadows of plants that writhed with a hunger for flesh. Fierce birds flew over the jungles, while hundreds of insects would gather on one unfortunate animal or another and within minutes pick it clean to the bones. It was a horrifying sight and one that begged the question... which was more terrifying, the living green-lands, or the dead-lands?  

They past a series of tank tread tracks that could be seen through the inch or so of water. Soon they passed a series of destroyed vehicles. Several jeeps, tanks, and a mech, each riddled with irregular shaped holes and covered by vines and writing torn bushes, laying in various positions of demise. Ahead they saw the Great Insect Mound about a thousand feet to the north. Insect swarms emerged from the far side of the cone. Two distinct clouds made long arcs through the air in unison like a single mass. One was tinted blue, and other tinted black. The black cloud made a wide arc and then began a long descending path towards the AGV. A fierce tactical battle ensued. The cloud of Bore Beetles attempted to penetrate the AGV's defenses, and the Captain and crew doing everything in their power to prevent them.

At first Samwise held the Acoustic Shell at medium intensity, but a significant number of Bore Beetles were able to penetrate the shell and land with distinctive sounding thuds on the AGV. The Captain raised the power level of the Shell to maximum intensity, and this stopped the infiltrators. However, it wasn't long before the Bore Beetles changed tactics and began forming drill shaped structures in flight, the outer portion of which would be shattered by the vibrations of the Shell, but on each attack a handful of the inner portion of beetles would manage survive long enough to get through. These survivors would then latch on to the hull of the AGV and using their ultra-hard mandibles and acid saliva, bore holes into the hull. It was at this point that Sam and Pita geared up in hazmat suits, put on their personal Acoustic Shells and stepped outside to clean off the surface of the AGV by walking around it and climbing up on the sides. Some of the Beetles had drilled themselves a half inch or more into the hull in before the two heroes located and destroyed them.

Doctor Rogers reported that he was under the distinct impression that some powerful mentality was controlling the insects, but what it was, or even where it was, he could not discern. He continued to make every effort to do so, but whatever it was had been too elusive for him to trace. There was, he said, something out there, somewhere.

Fred constructed a make-shift flame thrower and Guns geared up and stepped outside to use it. With it he lit up thousands of Bore Beetles, and this caused them to make a temporary retreat. After a while they gathered force again, and continued with their relentless assault. Fighting the Bore Beetles was gritty and grim. Fifty of them had managed to make their way through the water, attached themselves to the bottom of the AGV and were boring up, but Samwise discovered them before they managed to emerge inside the AGV. Once inside, the crew would have had little chance of survival. Fortunately for our heroes it didn't come to that.

Once they figured out that they could walk around outside the AGV between the outer Acoustic Shell and the hull with their own persona Shells on maximum power, they worked on using the SmartNet to capture their pray.  To this end they stalked the rim of the jungle looking for Dragonflies, and finally, a handful of the little monsters were found and captured. With this achievement, they backed away from the cloud of Bore Beetles, turned tail, and fled south back to the base. After a mile or so, the Bore Beetles gave up the chase and returned to the Great Mound.

Having succeeded in their mission, the party celebrated at the base. And all was good, and everyone was happy enough to be back at the base. The last thing to do was to transport the Dragonflies and Doctor Rogers back to Garfield Hospital. That done, the mission was complete.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

WoAF - Game Session 16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yeah?" said Sam, glancing sideways.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Are you serious?" asked Sam incredulously.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Contamination!  Stay inside."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Go ahead," conceded the good Captain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"We have the AGV," commented the Captain.

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

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

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

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

And so a plan was formulated. 

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

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

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

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

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

"What do you think is going on?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What kind ulterior motive?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yep.  Definitely!", he answered emphatically.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What would do it?" asked Samwise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Someone laughed awkwardly.  

~~~~

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