Monday, July 27, 2020

WoAF - Game Session 9

Mech Base 012
It was just at sunset as the team geared up to leave the abandoned and desolate Mech Base 012.  They'd disabled the two towering Mechs by removing the Power-Couplings and Fred had obtained as much archive materials from the base's data vault as he felt he could reasonably make use of.  100 Terabytes should give them a pretty good idea of what this tiny military outpost was doing way out here in the middle of the Painted Desert. And so they rolled out into the twilight, heading north on route 89.

But they didn't roll very far. Maybe about 500', or so.  There, along the side of the road, they found the old Navajo Trading Post.  On the porch sat a figure wearing on old weather beaten cowboy hat, and poncho, eating out of a wooden bowl.  He looked up without an particular expression of shock or fear as the giant Armored Ground Vehicle pulled up in front of his tiny shack.  From a loud speaker, Guns had Linda play a little cheerful sounding musical tune.  The man on the porch put down his wooden bowl, reached into his poncho, and pulled out a pipe, and a match, and lighting the pipe, took a long puff of smoke.

Captain Samwise went to the mic and made a little greeting speech, saying they came in peace and whatnot.  The old man slowly stood up, his bones clearly creaking under his own weight, and waved at them.

And so Samwise and Pita suited up, and went out to greet the old man, entirely against, it might be added, Guns' every objection.  He'd become pretty darn dead-set against "side quests".  Always was, actually, but now he felt compelled to express himself in no uncertain terms.  But it made no difference.  The good Captain and Pita stepped out into the night air in order to greet the old timer in person.

As it happened the old man, unsurprisingly perhaps, turned out to be an elder Native American.  He seemed very casual, as if nothing ever phased him.  He looked at the two men approaching without much expression, except in his eyes, which gazed deeply into their own.

He asked them if they wanted some stew.  They took him up on the offer.  It was a really terrific stew.  He spoke to them darkly about being warriors.  And he said, "In a world where death is the hunter, there is no time for regrets or doubt. There is only time for decisions"*.  He asked Pita if he was a warrior, and Pita said he was always ready for death.  The old man said he had the right spirit.  He didn't seem as sure about Captain Samwise.

"How come you are so willing to trust us?" asked Pita, suspiciously.

"If I resisted you, what chance would I have?" replied the old man serenely.

"So you are giving in to us out of fear," concluded Pita.

"Not fear.  I have no fear of death.  It is always near.  It is sitting here with us.  My death sits next to me.  Your death sits next to you.  Why should I be afraid?" replied the old man.

The old man asked them how many graves did they count at the base.  They hadn't counted.  The old man asked how many children they had seen.  They asked him if he was friends with the children, and he said that he helped them now and then, and added that he had seen how the team had helped the children and so he offered them food because they were good people.

The old man asked again, how many graves were at the base, and Samwise realized the connection.  He asked the old man if there were any survivors of the massacre.

"One," said the old man.  "The children do not know it."

"What's his name?" asked Pita.

"He calls himself Maloy," replied the old man.

Pita commed over to Linda to see if they could find any records of a "Maloy" in the base archives that Fred had taken.  "Indeed", she replied shortly, "there is a record of a Lt. James Maloy.  He had a sterling service record.  It says he was bright, efficient, and an excellent adjunct to the Commander."

"Where is this Maloy?" asked Samwise.

"I can take you to him," replied the old man.  And so they trekked far out into the darkening desert along paths illuminated by the last dying light of the sun.  The AGV followed at a discrete distance behind them. After two miles they came to a small round hut in a circular gully.  Inside was a round room, and on a bed on the far side lay a figure.  Samwise and Pita went inside.  It was lit dimly by a single candle.  They found a man laying on a cot, sweltering in the heat.  He looked ill.  His skin was gray and puss oozed from his right eye.

"He's been like this since he came back from his meeting with the old shadow of darkness.  He is not right in the head," said the old man.  "He's too sick to kill.  He's too sick live.  I take care of him.  But he is not right in the head.  You will see."

He had the same illness that Billy had picked up after he had "heard the call" of the Black Lion, the nightmare beast whose lair was in Las Vegas, and its hunting range some 200 miles round about that accursed city.  Had either Samwise or Ptia taken a close look and thought more deeply about it, they might have noticed a passing resemblance between Lieutenant Maloy and Billy.

"Is this James Maloy?  Lieutenant James Maloy?" asked Captain Samwise.  The man looked over with a jaundiced gaze, fearful, haunted and hostile.  He was not right in his head at all.  He grimaced at the sound of his name, and snarled back in reply, "Who are you?"

"My name is Sam.  Me and my friends are coming up through this territory.  We stumbled upon your base.  We were wondering if you can tell us what happened?"

He struggled to get himself up on one elbow, and he said, "I've been chosen.  Chosen to bring people to justice.  For people to die.  They must be brought to justice."

"Justice, ah?  For what crimes?  What crimes did they commit that called for justice?"

"They will not obey the master of the desert.  They must die.  You all must die.  You all will die."

"Who is this desert master you speak of?  This lion that everyone fears?"

"The Shadow of the Dark," replied Maloy.  "You must obey him.  You must follow him.  Go south to the fiery mountain and you will meet him.  Take me with you to meet him.  We will meet him together."

Samwise turned to the old man.  He was looking at the ground.

"You know what he's talking about?" asked Sam.

"He wants you to take him to the mountain of fire, south."

Behind the old man, about 100 feet up on an outcropping of rock, Samwise saw a strange looking figure, barely visible in the dark, and yet distinct enough by the moonlight for him to make out the contorts of his body, and the markings of his strange cloths, and bizarre head.  Samwise went out of the hut to see more clearly, and passed next to the old man.  "Who is that there?", he asked pointing upward to the outcropping.

"It is Kachina," said the old man without looking.

"Who is Kachina?" asked Samwise.

"Kachina of the old earth," came the solemn reply.  As he looked the figure became more ethereal and shadowy, and eventually he could no longer make it out in the darkness at all.

"Did you see that, Pita?"

"No, sir," replied Pita.

"You didn't see the figure on the outcropping?"

"I was looking but I didn't see anything, sir.  Have you been spending a little too much time with Fred, perhaps?" asked Pita scratching his head, a bit bewildered.

"Kachina," spoke the old man, "is Protector of the Land.  Of my people.  Of the innocent children. He is my protector. And yours. Sometimes he comes when I bring food to Maloy."

Captain Samwise turned around and went back into the hut to speak with Maloy.  "I don't know what poison you got from the south, but no one is going to take you there to spread the poison further".

"Then why did you come here?  What do you want?" snarled Maloy, growing rapidly more paranoid and hostile.  He lurching his hand to his chest suddenly. "You won't get it!  I won't give it to you!" sputtered Maloy manically, clutching something in his tightened fist.

"I don't want whatever poison you've got.  I don't want it," said Samwise.

"You're lying!" rasped Maloy, "You can't have it!  It's mine!"

"What's he yammering about?" asked Samwise of the old man who had come to stand by the door.

"I do not know. It is some secret he holds. He does not show it to me."

"You know, Maloy, I don't want whatever your judge is offering.  You can keep it."  And with that, he turned and went back outside.  He heard behind him Maloy suddenly break down and start quietly crying, as if he knew he had done some terrible thing, but was helpless and terrified like a child.

Samwise decided then he didn't want anything to do with the crazy man.  He didn't want it. He started walking back to the AGV.

Pita followed behind him, watching wearily in every direction, glancing behind him repeatedly. Unluckly, he was looking the wrong way at the exact moment Maloy emerged at the door of the hut, pistol in hand.  But something, the slightest of sounds, caught his attention.  Was it the sound of Maloy's boot scraping lintel of the door?  Was it the faint voice of the Kachina that warned him?  Who knows?  But at that moment he caught sight of Maloy taking aim at the back of the Captain's head.

Dropping instantly to one knee he took the shot with his Lewiston. The crimson beam lanced out and instantly scorched a hole through the Lieutenant's right shoulder.  He spun backwards and fell to the ground inside the hut, his pistol skittering out of his hand across the dirt floor.  Pita waited to see if he was immobile. There was no appreciable movement. Maloy was still breathing, but unable to drag himself further than a few inches towards his gun, his breath rasping and flashes of pain causing him to gasp with every move.

When it became clear Maloy was not a danger, Pita ran over to him to see if he could apply first aid to the fallen man.  Captain Samwise walked back to the hut.  After a brief attempt at resuscitation, which Maloy resisted, the once excellent officer died in Pita's arms.  After a pause, and a meaningful glance at the Captain, who gave the nod, he pried open Maloy's cold dead fingers and found therein a military grade Data Crystal.  A bit worn, and covered in grit, but intact, and apparently still powered.

"What in the world could be on this thing that made you kill your entire Mech Team, and then try to kill us, too?" asked Samwise rhetorically. He took the small black and chrome stick, and walked down the path back to the AGV.  The old man had begun dancing in a circle around the hut, chanting a Native American song that they couldn't understand. A burial hymn of the ancestors, perhaps.

Captain Samwise tossed the Data Crystal over to Fred to have him take a look.  He mounted his Computer Spike... but on second thought, he decided to ask Linda if she would allow him to use her spare field computer.  Just in case.  The thing is, some of those military grade Data Crystals could be boobietrapped.  And this one sure was.  The AI slipped out from the portable via a wireless port, and at one point Fred lost it in the network. Fortunately, Linda has "The Knack" and so just before it bored its way into the AGV's main memory she gave it a whack. Somehow, as The Knack took effect, the AI wound up skipping a memory register and glitching-out for a microsecond, and this was just enough signal for Fred to latch on to and track it, hack it, and finally contain it. He trapped it on a sealed side-memory unit just two bytes shy of the Mainline Memory Bus. With the AI contained, the entire crew ran diagnostics up and down the wazzu, on the portables, on the Spike, and the entire AVG's electrical, memory, data, and computational systems. In the end, after several tense hours, Fred was satisfied that he'd indeed contained the beast. One thing he knew for sure - that AI could have easily killed them all had it gained access to the Main Memory Bus. And so he took the Data Crystal and the memory board and locked them safely away in a lock box.  Fred was drenched in sweat by that point. Military Grade AIs are nerve wracking. No two ways about it.

And so they drove north on Route 89, making their way towards Marble Canyon, where they planned to cross over the bridge there on their way to Ely, and then to Route 80 where they would come onto the Salt Lake from the West.

The journey lasted most of the night, and into the wee hours.  When they arrived at Marble Canyon they came to a bridge.  It spanned a 200 foot drop down into the dark waters far below.  They drove up to the bridge, but as they did, Guns was the first to see, by the light of the moon, that a large 100 foot circle stood off on north side of the road.  And in that circle were about 50 crucifixes, each with a skeleton hanging on it, crucified.

Captain Samwise, who was taking a rest at the time, dreamed he was outside the AGV and gliding towards the circle, and all the skeletons on their crosses held their hands out towards him.  Before he entered the circle he woke up in a cold sweat. Realizing it was a nightmare he took some solace, until he saw the skeletons hanging from their crosses in the moonlight.

"What the hell is that?!" he demanded.  But of course, no one knew. They quickly moved down the road towards the bridge.  And as soon as they passed the Circle of Crucifixes, everyone noticed that the night got palpably darker, and the air turned cold enough to chill them to their bones.  Linda put on a sweater.  It didn't help.  They asked LexiB what the temperature in the AGV was, and he reported "72.4 degrees, sir."

When they came to the bridge they stopped the AGV and took a look.  One span had collapsed, only part of it dangling precariously from the far canyon wall.
They were not at all sure that the remaining span could sustain the weight of the AGV.  It looked less than stable. They sent LexiB out to investigate, and so he walked across the bridge, and then brakiated along the bottom while inspecting every mechanical and structural detail with every scanner at his disposal.

"I believe there is a 66.6% chance that the AGV will make it across the bridge safely, sir", reported LexiB.

The odds didn't appeal to Captain Samwise.  And the night was too dark, and too cold.  He didn't like the sense of the place at all.  And so he decided to turn around and head down the road back to the intersection at Bitter Springs and take 89A up to the town of Page, instead.  There they would find the Glen Canyon Dam, and another bridge spanning the river there.  Maybe that one would do.  Guns said more than once that he thought it a waste of time, since every bridge in the area would have suffered the same uncertain fate as this one.  But Samwise thought it best to go see for themselves.

Guns then suggested that they take their Rocket Bikes the rest of the way up to Salt Lake.  He presented the idea that since they had four bikes they could leave LexiB with the AGV and as the bikes could handle two people, it would be no problem for them to fly up there, see what there was to see and get back in time for breakfast.  However, LexiB, doing the math, determined that they didn't happen to have enough Crystalline Batteries for them to make the trip, and even if they took two bikes instead of four, they'd still wind up with too few Power Units to make their way back to Kitt Peak after they completed their Mission.  Rocket Bikes run on Plasma Jets.  They take a lot of juice.  Much more than the AGV pound for pound.  But they are fast.  Very fast.  1200 mph fast, at full throttle.

It was about dawn when they arrived on the outskirts of Page.  A few lights could be seen in the town.  And that said a lot.  So they stopped there to survey before proceeding forwards.  Probably a wise choice.  Probably.

And that's where we left things.

* - If you recognize the source of the quote, you get a little "Aha, you know these things!", reward.  Keep it to yourself.  It'll last longer that way, and leave my players blissfully clueless on the topic.  At least for a while.  :)

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