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?"


"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.