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 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 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 two miles 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 that 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 Synth 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.  He smiled wryly to himself.

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 occasionally.

"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 feel no pain, require no rest, and are notoriously hard to kill.  The best that can be done usually is to stall them, and if possible immobilize them with traps, or create barriers that they simply can not surmount."

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 decontamination chamber everyone was given new cloths, 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, with a greenish light illuminating the inside of the glass dome.

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 for sure.  

They arrived at an armored elevator, with a mini-machine gun turret over the doors.  It 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 forming the inside of a donut shaped corridor.  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.  They were at least all perfectly normal humans.  

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 our 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.  The two were utterly delighted.

"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."

Pita and Guns merrily 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 in sub-basement 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 weel 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 tried 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 at length, and they discussed the matter extensively.  Finally they agreed to 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.  And what the effect might be, Dr. Langly could not say for certain. Risks were involved.  But in the end, they concluded that the potential benefits were worth the risk.

"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 for the first time.  He stood up, looked around, and set his eyes squarely on Pita.  

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

"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.