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.