Friday, April 16, 2021

WoAF - Game Session 21

Major Sekston
Major Sekston
Once the team made it through Panguitch to Garfield Hospital, they found there was quite a bit of planning to be done.  It was a bit of a surprise that Dr. Rogers knew both Allen and Penelope Monroe, and it was revealed that he had been part of the very early planning phase of the Black Wind Facilities.  He'd met the two young scientists when they onboarded to the project, way back before the Ultra-War.  He had, subsequently lost contact with the project, having been assigned to other more pressing matters at the time, and then once the Ultra-War was in full gear there was little opportunity for him to find out anything at all about items that were not on his immediate task list.  The reunion was bitter sweet, however, as with the loss of her husband, Penelope's physical health and psyche had begun to deteriorate.  

Pita and Dr. Rogers took a psychic journey through Penelope's mind to see if they could find out what was going on, and discovered several of Brain V's Compulsions.  One was that she could only eat food from the Facility, and no other.  Thereby guaranteeing that if she, or the other scientists did manage to escape, they'd die of starvation.  Dr. Rogers was able to dissolve this compulsion, along with several others.  Nevertheless, Penelope's condition steadily worsened just the same.  Dr. Rogers was also able to put together a partial map of the Black Wind V facility based on what they saw in Penelope's mind.

Pita went to visit Major Sekston at the Panguitch Military Base.  She thought he came to join her team, but instead he explained the situation to Major Sekston.  She was impressed by the gravity of the situation and secured 24 hour clearance to pilot one of the Military Mechs up to the Salt Flats to take care of business.  She loads the Mech, nick named "Rhino I" with her last Thermobaric Missile, along with the usual ordinance.

Captain Samwise gets a telepathic message from Dr. Rogers.  They'd probably be better off doing a bit more planning, because as it is now, they're likely on the verge of blundering into a Doomsday Scenario.  

Friday, April 02, 2021

WoAF - Game Session 20

Down highway 93 they roared, full throttle, hoping to escape whatever it was that had woken up inside the gigantic Mind Shield surrounding the Black Wind V facility. They had to leave LexiB, their trusty Android with the experimental Positronic Brain behind.  No choice.  They fled.

The desert was just starting to illuminate by the light of dawn as they rounded Ferguson Mountain.  The great energy capturing array was inactive, but the gleaming white towers seemed poised for activation at any moment.  On Ferguson's north face a massive cloud of softly glowing aurora energies awaited harvesting.  Penelope explained that the energies were transmitted to the main facility via the "Beam Tunnel" that extended from the way station at the water spring to the Black Wind V Energy Accumulators 10 miles north.  No one asked what all of that fantastic aurora energy was needed for, and Penelope wouldn't have been able to answer even if they had.  She only knew a small part of the operations that touched on her own work in Climatology.  

They eased on through Ely, waved at the early morning residents who were busy preparing for the day, and rolled southward.  Captain Samwise definitely wanted to avoid Garrison, the town where they had encountered the Skeleton Circle.  That was some bad mojo down there, and he didn't have any desire to tangle with it.  They went through the Moriah gap and headed east on route 50.  They planned to go as far east as Hinkely and then cut south on 257.  It was out of the way, and an unknown path, but they figured it was very likely a safer route than through Garrison.

Along route 50 are some mountains.  They decided to get up on top of one and see if they could get a direct line of site on the Facility.  Perhaps they could poke a radio tunnel through to LexiB, who presumably was still in the desert watching Black Wind V and waiting for further orders.  And so when they arrived at King Top mountain, up through the tiny winding back road they went.  And it lead to a cave, where they stopped the AGV and setup shop.  

From that position they had a clear line of sight northward to the Black Wind V Facility out on the salt flats, about 118 miles.  Of course they couldn't see anything from that distance with their Vizi-Screens, but optical zooming quickly located the cluster of black buildings, and there Linda was able to locate LexiB, crouching in a small crevasse.  He was observing the Facility.  She set her parameters and selected a precise and narrow band for the radio tunnel.  The Tight-Beam Antenna was extended from the top of the AGV, and within a minute she was able to open the tunnel and voila.

"LexiB.  Come in LexiB.  This is AGV-1.  This is AVG-1.  Over."

"This is LexiB. Over."

"What is your status? Over?"

"I'm very happy to hear from you," said LexiB with some emotion in his voice.  It was something to be considered peculiar as Androids were programmed for emotional responses, but they never sounded real.  This sounded real.  It was the experimental Positronic Brian.  It gave him what seemed to be real thoughts, and real feelings.  At least that's how everyone, including LexiB perceived it.

He informed them that a brigade of drones had emerged from the facility and headed south across the desert, presumably to find the the young woman who fled the facility earlier.  He was presently observing from a safe location.

Meanwhile, the cave peaked Sam's interest.  There were strange markings on the ground around the cave entrance.  He could not identify them, though sometimes they looked like bear paw tracks, while other times... he couldn't tell what.  They could peer about 20 feet into the cave, but at that point it curved away to the east and began sloping downward, so beyond that they could not see.  

Sam and Pita decided to go exploring.  They donned their armored suits, grabbed some caving gear, and stepped outside.  They went in about 10 feet or so, and Pita switched on his Ray-Gloves, which emitted a bright beam of light from the palms. The floor of of the cave was a combination of rock, dirt, sand, and bracken, through which a path or two could be discerned.  Various areas the cave were covered in thick sheets of webbing, sometimes along the walls, sometimes draped between stalactite columns.  Pita took a shot with his Lewiston, and the bright orange beam evaporated a smoking hole through one wall of webbing, but didn't catch it on fire, or do much it otherwise, other than burning a four inch deep hole in the rock wall behind it.  As the Lewiston blasts beams as plasma bullets, he decided it wouldn't be practical to try to burn down the webbing with it. He inched forward across the rocky ground with care.  The hole in the wall slowly dimmed from bright yellow slag, to red molten rock, and eventually cooled to blackness.

Meanwhile Sam got on the horn with Guns and informed him that they could use his hunting skills to help identify the tracks.  Guns dutifully left the turret to Fred, against everyone's better judgement, suited up in heavy armor, and stepped outside.  He looked the tracks over carefully, and after a few moments he told the Captain what he thought.

"These here, sir, are man-bear-spider tracks... Well, now, that I've cleared that up for you, I think I'll be heading back to the turret," and prepared to return to the relative safety of the AGV.

"Don't you worry, Gun's," said Pita, "I got your back," as he covered Guns while pointing his Lewiston in various directions around the cave.  

On the walls, hidden partially behind the webs, Pita spotted petroglyphs which seemed to be composed of bear-spiders and human shapes with their arms raised in the air.  Guns tried to encourage them to head back to the AGV, but that that moment they heard moaning coming from in deeper in the cave.  They all stopped to listen.  Yes, there was definitely moaning sounds coming from around the bend of the cave.  But there were plenty of webs everywhere.  Pita tried using the heat from his Ray-Gloves to burn the webbing, but that wasn't working out so great either.  And so Guns went to fetch the blow torch and the old flame thrower from the AGV.  The moaning sound was heard again.  The stopped to listen.  Yep.  Definitely moaning sounds.

Sam requested that Fred use the Vizi-Screen to take an infrared scan of the cave to look for any heat signatures, but other than the three crew members the only bright spot was the hole in the wall made by the Lewiston.  

As Guns came back with the implements of fire, Sam positioned them so that he and Pita would have cross fire covering the pathway from the darkness at the rear of the cave while Guns ignited the hand torch.

"Hey, hey, is anyone down there?" shouted Guns into the cave.

"Uuuuuggguuuuu", came from beyond the curve of the wall.

"One moan for no, two moans for yes," shouted Guns.

"Uuuuuuggguuuuu... Uuuuuuggguuuuu"

"Yep, there's someone back there, sir", announced Guns.

The blow torch cleared a path through the webs as they moved forward slowly and in unison.  They got to the bend and as Pita shined his Ray-Glove down towards the far end of the tunnel.  There he glimpsed a monstrous bear with gigantic spider legs and spider eyes as it vanished beyond their line of site further into the cave.

"My God, there really is a Bear-Spider-Man-Thing," said Sam.  Gun's held up his arm to indicate they should all stop, which they did.  He looked carefully in every direction, and knelt down to study the ground carefully.  After a few moments he stood up.

"The area looks clear of traps, sir," he said with conviction.

Sam, relieved, took the lead.  He walked past Guns about three or four feet when a patch of bracken gave way and he promptly vanished downward into a deep pit filled with sharpened bone spikes, each one tipped with a shiny greenish dew.  Fortunately his armored suit was sturdy and the bone spikes snapped and splintered instead of piercing his delicate flesh.  He was more annoyed than anything else. 

Pita and Guns slung their weapons into firing position and stared down the long dark tunnel waiting for the monstrosity to spring out at them.  Nothing.

"You ok, Captain?", the inquired.

"Yes, yes, I'm fine.  Just fine," replied Sam.  He tried extricating himself from the pit, but found that he was stuck in a thick carpet of webbing which covered the bottom of the pit and the walls up to about five feet.  He turned his Ray-Gloves to the maximum 2600 lumens and tried using them to burn through the webbing.  The gloves were incredibly bright. However, even after slowly freeing one arm, he wound up getting stuck again as soon as he turned to try to burn the webbing off another area.  It looked like this was going to be a time consuming process.  So Guns decided it would probably be faster if they just burned the webbing with the torch. 

As Guns was climbing down into the hole, Linda squawked through the Com.

"Captain, come in.  Captain, can you read me?" she queried.

"I'm here," said Sam, uncomfortably.

"Sir, I have LexiB on the Com.  He is reporting that a number of drones have emerged from the facility and moving in his direction.  What do you want me to tell him?"

"Tell him to Continue avoiding them but keep out of sight," commanded Sam.

Meanwhile Guns thought better of attempting to light the webbing with the flame thrower when he realized that the body armor that Sam was wearing wouldn't likely be all that fire resistant.  He sent Pita back to get a fire extinguisher.  Guns also wanted to get Fred down there as well, but Sam decided it would be better for Fred to stay on the machine gun.  They squabbled about what to do until they realized that the armor was acid resistant.

"I have a number of jars of hydrochloric acid in my bio-lab," said Sam.  "Maybe we should try that." 

Pita ran back and grabbed a jar of acid and a jug of water to mix it with.  As he was running back, he watched as the bear-spider creature was leaping through the darkness at Guns.  The monstrous thing was a brown bear with an eight-eye'd Portia spider head and legs.  It landed full square on his chest and bowled him backwards to the ground.  As soon as it did so it tried to penetrate his neck armor with its slathering fangs, but no luck.  Space Armor II is not a trifle.  One of its fangs broke off. 

At that point Pita had already scrambled over to the Captain and passed him the acid jar and jug.  At Sam's insistence he leapt out of the hole and sought for a way to help Guns.  Meanwhile, in the turret, Fred was watching all of this with an increasingly nervous trigger finger on the machine gun. Sweat began trickling down his forehead.  

The acid was very instrumental in boiling off the webbing from Sam's suit, and so he was busy in the hole spraying acid all over himself.  The armor he was wearing was specifically designed to repel acid.  And it did.  

Guns from underneath the monster, leveraged Ilene, his Springfield rifle, and with all his strength he managed to heave the monster back a bit in order to get some space.  He pointed his rifle at the guts of the creature and fired.  Blam!  There was a splatter of blood and the creature convulsed in pain, but it was not anywhere near dead.  It reared up on its enormous spider legs and at that moment Pita shot with his Lewiston.  A blazing ray of plasma energy punched a sizzling hole right through the monster's furry shoulder.  The spider-bear reared up on it's legs, looking especially frightful. And then the machine gun let loose.  Fred was having none of this.  Ratta-tatta-tatta-tat!  The bear was riddled with .50 caliber rounds until it's limbs were blown off, and so it collapsed to the floor of the cave, dead.

Sam climbed out of the hole, and looking around for more spider-bears, seeing none, he said, "Ok, let's regroup and do what we came here for."

So they formed up again, and carefully proceeded forward around the corner, and with this slipped out of line of sight of Fred in the AGV.  "Oh well", he said to himself, and mopped some sweat from his brow. 

On the wall of the cave there was a large lump of webbing, from which emitted a moaning sound.  They cut it open with a blow torch, and out fell a young man, about 20 years of age, with long tangled hair, a ragged beard and a generally pale and famished look.  

"Thank you," the young bedraggled fellow said.  

He was clearly a member of the Cave People whom they had encountered earlier when they passed through Ely.  These people were all Americans who had decided, in the aftermath of the Ultra-War, to forsake all technology, and so they lived in the style of Neanderthals.  They did this in the belief that technology itself was the cause of the Ultra-War, and use of it was a death knell for all life on the planet.  Their creed forbid them to use any equipment more sophisticated than stone tools.  And so their lives were more likely than not to be solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.  But they chose their own stoic way and preferred that to contributing to what they considered to be the bane of all life - technological advancement.

Pita ushered the unfortunate fellow out of the cave.  Sam took samples of the bone spikes with the greenish venom, and plopped them into a plastic tube.

"Any more of you people back there?" shouted Guns.  There was no sound. 

"Sir, I think that's all of 'em.  We should go before more of them critters come up out of that there tunnel, ya know?"

And so they reconvened at the AGV.  The young fellow was deeply wounded, poisoned, and malnourished.  Sam ran a medical diagnostic, and it seemed unlikely he wouldn't survive for long without treatment.  Sam ran another diagnostic on the bone venom, and using his biogenic lab he set about manufacturing an antidote.  They gave the young man food and water.  By the time he was finished eating, Sam's antidote was ready, and he gave him an injection.  He then set about patching his wounds with bandages.  The young fellow looked a lot better at that point, and his prognosis improved considerably.

"Sir," squawked Linda over the Com.  "LexiB says he's been surrounded by drones.  They are demanding he return to the facility with them."

"Has he identified what weaponry they have?"

"LexiB does not recognize their weaponry", she reported.

"What do you think his chances of escape would be if he runs for it?", queried Sam.

"25%, he says.  I can see his video feed, and they look ... um ... very sophisticated, sir," said LexiB.

They debated.  Finally, Sam told him to comply with their demands but not to reveal anything about the Federation. He asked Fred if there was a chance they could hack into LexiB's memory banks.  

"Oh, that's a Positronic Brain, there, Cap.  I wouldn't know the first thing about how to hack into something like that.  It would take me days just to set up the equipment to get started.  But then again, those folks at Black Wind have technologies we've never seen before... so it's hard to say," answered Fred.

"Shall I prepare to use my Self-Destruct mechanism?" inquired LexiB thoughtfully.

"Only if you wind up being dissected for information."

"Any further instructions, sir?"

"Just be careful, and don't reveal any critical information," replied Sam.

"In that case I shall be off to my doom, sir.  May I say it's been a pleasure working with you, and I've had a wonderful experience with my Positronic Brain.  I want to thank you for all you've done for me."

And so the six hovering drones surrounding LexiB turned to face the facility and began moving forward.

"They are going to dissect every node in that Positronic Brain down to the byte-bit," stated Penelope from the couch.

"What do you mean?" asked Sam.

"There is no way that Brian isn't going to vivisect your android to discover it's secrets.  No way at all.  He'll do it as coldly and scientifically as can be imagined.  There will be nothing left of the thing when he's done, and whatever information is inside of it will have been absorbed.  Believe it."

"New command, LexiB.  Run for it," commanded Sam.

LexiB dashed off into the desert.  The drones had no problem keeping up with him and keeping their circle around him.  

"The drones will use an EMP to disable him in a moment," said Penelope.

"LexiB, I'm sorry my friend, but I'm going to have to ask you to Self-Destruct".

Good bye my friend, it's hard to die was playing in the background somewhere.

And so, LexiB wound down.  The sensor arrays, the lights, the video feed all faded to black.  The last they saw was the video feed going sideways and then a white line to black just before his head hit the ground.

"Hm.  I was expecting an explosion," commented Pita, disappointed.

"So was I, so was I," agreed Captain Samwise.

"Wow.  So what now?", asked Linda, dismayed.  

They went out to talk with the caveman.  His name was "Thag".  It turned out he lived on Cave Mountain, just east of Ely, about 60 miles away.  He said that they often hunt out that far because game is sometimes scarce around Ely.  Occasionally, someone gets snared by a monster, but they take it as the cost of living primitive and accept their fate without too much fanfare.  

"I can make it back to my people because of your help.  I am deeply grateful.  My people will not forget your names", he said as he dug into a pouch at his side and handed Captain Samwise a sea shell.  And with that the stoic young cave person hobbled off down the road back towards Cave Mountain.  If he made it it would take him a few days to get there. 

And with this they loaded up the AGV and continued on their way.  

Sam felt sorry about LexiB.  

"His anti-climactic death will not be in vain," said Pita trying to console his Captain.  "Instead of going out in a blaze of glory, taking out the drones, he went out with a wheeze," he commented to himself as he began scanning LexiB's archived video footage.  The drones were seen turning away and heading back to the facility as the lights went out.  He freeze-framed and zoomed in on one of the drone units.  It was a very sophisticated looking device.  It was gleaming white, with a smooth, almost glassy, surface.  Only a small glass dome on top containing flickering green and yellow lights gave an indication that it was even a machine.  There were no visible propellers providing lift, and it hovered without any interference from the air.  Perfect stability.  Very sophisticated.  

They decided to cut due south over a salt flat, heading from just east of King Top directly to Milford. From there they picked up 21 east and shortly arrived in Panguitch.  It was about 4pm.  The Mind Shield that Pita had been maintaining was beginning to wear off.  Linda suggested activating her own Mind Shield so that Penelope's protective shielding would remain uninterrupted, even for a second, and give Pita a rest.

"Do you two think you can be effected by Brian this far away?" asked Sam incredulously, "Or are you just being extra cautious?"

"Whatever Brian's capabilities, they are, um, enormous.  Of course, as long as that Mind Shield is up, nothing is going to get in, or out, of it.  No thoughts can penetrate through a Mind Shield, no matter what," explained Linda.  "But still, better to not take a chance.  After all, we have no idea how far he could reach if he took down his Mind Shield for moment.  Here?  Timbuktu?  The Moon?  We have no idea.  Let's not chance it."

The town looked a little bit different.  Some of the barricades had been removed, or had openings where there had been barbed wire and bars everywhere.  A man with an eye missing, scorch marks, and staggering emerged from a burned out building.  Pita drove around him, and they kept going.  The man was seen flailing one arm around, and coughing up a greenish phlegm which splattered the road in front of him.  Yeah, they kept moving.

They drove along the main street to the still heavily fortified Garfield Hospital.  The hospital welcomed them back via radio with open arms.  They went through the security barriers and Doctor Rogers emerged to welcome them personally.  In fact, he looked quite different than the last time they saw him.  He was a lot closer to human looking than he was before.  There were still pigish elements, and he was in a wheelchair, but he now had two legs.  Without further ado, they parked the AGV and entered the hospital.  

"Wow, Doctor.  I didn't expect such fast results!" exclaimed the good Captain.

"Yes, it's going extremely well, thanks to your and your team's help. The anti-virus seems to be working well. Of course, I'm recovering at an extraordinary rate, but I'm using my psychic powers to facilitate the effect, and not everyone can do that.  But still things have been going very well indeed.  Some parts of the town are recovering.  We are optimistic that our strategy is going to work.  Anyway, come in, come in.  Let's talk over dinner, and I want to find out how things have been for you.  Did you complete your mission?"

When Penelope stepped out of the AGV and was seen by Doctor Rogers, he said, "Weeeeelll, if it isn't Doctor Penelope Monroe."

"Do I know you?" she asked.

"Yes, but you don't recognize me. How is Allen, by the way?"

She looked crestfallen at this question, so he moved on quickly and said, "I'm Doctor Rogers."

She gasped.  "Doctor Rogers?!  Oh my God... what ... happened ...?"  

The doctor insisted on everyone going inside and having a meal so everything could be discussed.  Everyone agreed, except Fred, who remained in the AGV to keep a guard on it. And so they ate a hospital meal, spartan style at best, and caught up on everything.  

As it turned out, Dr. Rogers had been stationed at the Black Wind V facility in its very earliest phases of development, long before Brian had been created.  He was then called on to work in the 19th Division, and lost touch with the top secret laboratory.  But he had met the young Penelope at that time, and her soon-to-be husband Allen Monroe, already a renown scientist.  

The team gave an account of everything that happened on their journey northward.  It was a fantastic story.  And Dr. Rogers was particularly fascinated by the enormity of the Mind Shield, and what that implied about Brian's level of Mental Strength.  "Completely off the charts," he remarked.

Unfortunately, they found out, Doctor Mordesh was the first volunteer for the Anti-Virus, but it didn't go well.  He had a negative reaction and was in bad condition.  He was being held in a confinement tank, and his memory was completely corrupted.  He was being treated, but the issues with the anti-virus had affected him in unique ways.  What they learned from that, however, was instrumental in recalibrating the formula, and now the anti-virus was working much better, with a 78% efficacy. 

Doctor Rogers was also very interested in the Skeletons on the crosses that they ran into at Garrison.  This was gone over in detail.  He was mystified as to what force they could possibly be projecting to cause the depression and anxiety effect that was apparently their primary attack.  And even what in the world they could be.  Zombies could be understood scientifically.  But seemingly animated skeletons without any muscle tissue was far harder to explain.  Dr. Rogers wondered how the NL-5-Kz Virus could possibly cause that.  Or was it unrelated?  He had no idea.  And was deeply mystified. 

He also explained a bit more about the history of the Black Wind V facilities.  There were five such facilities created in various locations around the world.  Their purpose was to mitigate and control global warming.  At first they had tried creating super advanced AI to run the facilities, but that turned out to be futile.  No matter how much processing power they gave the AI, they could not keep up with the billions of variables needed to safely guide the Atmospheric Transmographer, the device that Penelope had created to guide atmospheric changes. And errors were potentially catastrophic. So they switched tacks and started work on a new Brain-Driven model.  And this required the creation of artificial super-brains. Dr. Rogers participated in the early phase of the planning.  There were to be five such brains, and each one would run its own facility.  They were created at the same time, and were considered siblings.  Brian was Brain V.  And at first things went well. The facilities, operating in complete secrecy, did manage to improve the atmospheric conditions, and even unraveled a major super-hurricane that was bearing down on Taiwan at one point.

Unfortunately, during the war, for unknown reasons, it seemed the project caused a series of weather catastrophes, and so the program was officially shut down.  This however did not stop the scientists, who believed whole heartedly in the mission, from continuing their research under alternate funding and organizational frameworks.  So things got messy, and eventually all information about the programs went oblique.  And at that point Dr. Rogers had no way of learning how things were going.  But he always suspected that the Black Wind Project was still operational, though he had no proof of that.  And so he moved on to focus on other things.  Such as on NL-5-Kz, the greatest threat to the biosphere the world has ever seen.

As it turned out, Pelelope was kept in the dark regarding the full scope of the project, as were all but the lead scientist of the Black Wind project, Dr. Nerudo.  So she couldn't contribute more information than she already had.  She had never even seen Brian, and had no idea what he looked like.  

"Well," said Dr. Rogers finally, "Whatever we're going to do, we need to do it quickly.  My Mental Powers are diminishing now that the anti-virus has been working to re-draft my DNA.  I'm down from L-8 to L-7 now, and I expect I will return to my original L-6 by the time my original DNA is fully restored.  So we had better plan this out and take action immediately.  Whatever powers Brian has, they're going to more than dwarf ours, of that we can be sure."

"Based on your understanding, what L level would Brian be?", asked Sam.

"I'm going to guess he is at least an L-9, or L-10.  Perhaps even L-11", replied Dr. Rogers thoughtfully.  "The scale is logarithmic, so an L-10 is unfathomable, but an L-11... completely beyond comprehension."  

"Something that Penelope mentioned was that Brian needs to sleep 4 hours a day, like clockwork.  This is something we need to do while he's inactive," said Sam.

"Good thing you came back.  Had you tried to tangle with Brian on your own, I'm pretty sure we'd never have heard of you again."

"I have an idea," piped in Guns.  "Why don't we roll you around in some radioactive gunk, so as to get your L-8 powers back again, you know?"

Everyone had a good laugh at this suggestion, but Dr. Rogers took it seriously.  However, it was unlikely that could be done safely, and the idea was dropped.  

"If we're going to do something, catching him while he's sleeping is clearly a good idea," said Dr. Rogers.

"As for the Black Wind droids... those look pretty advanced.  Any idea how we can deal with that?" asked Sam.

"Brian appears to have developed technologies far in advance of ours.  That shouldn't be too surprising.  The Super Brains can outpace the best Super AI we were able to develop. They are not to be compared with normal human intelligence at all.  We can't predict how or what Brian may think. Or what his plans actually are.  Think of a chess master whose mind can reach thousands of moves in advance."

"What are we going to do?" asked Linda.  "Brian's powers are bound to completely dwarf ours.  I'm tested at L-6, and while that's better than most Mentarians I've met, I'm probably close to my highest potential at that.  I can't imagine how to combat something like a Super Brain."

"Well, one thought I have," replied the Doctor, is to reapply the NL-5-Kz to myself.  It's a horrible idea.  But it might work.  On the other hand it might not.  It could turn me into a newt.  Or worse, leave me stuck as a Pig-Worm for the rest of my life.  Or something worse.  NL-5-Kz is very tricky because it has a variable component that makes the results very difficult to predict.  And if you haven't guessed already, being a Pig-Worm is not exactly the most pleasant thing in the world."

There was a silence for a minute or so.

"Well," said Guns walking around behind Pita, "what if you had someone who already had them Mental Powers around, and you gave him some of that there K5 goop?"

"Ok," interjected Sam quickly, "we appreciate any assistance you can give us, Doctor, and if you want to come with us that would be -"

"Actually," interrupted Dr. Rogers, "I'm curious to hear what Pita has to say about that suggestion Guns just made."  

"I'd consider it, but what's the chance of my being able to get back to normal after that?" asked Pita.

"Well, that's the point, isn't it?  You'd be better than normal," interjected Guns.  "Like a Super-Pita.  That's pretty special, don't you think?"

"If I could get back to normal I'd think about it," said Pita.

"Damn," retorted Guns.  "I thought you was a hero.  My whole illusion is shattered."

"The chances of unwinding the virus are not that bad," replied the doctor. "We're still working out the details. But we never know exactly what effect the virus will actually have.  50% of the time it will turn you into a zombie.  The other half get turned into variable-form Mutants with augmented Mental Powers."

"Well, I can't deprive the world of Pita," said the hero.  

"We have no way to know in advance what the effect will be.  Zombie or Mutant.  And what effect that will have if you do get the Mutant variant.  And then what L-Level you'd be afterwards."

"I haven't had my L-Level tested.  So I'm not even sure what it is," said Pita.  And so Dr. Rogers agreed to give him the L-Level test.  It was grueling, and in the end Pita lay face down on the table, sweat pouring off of him.  As it was Pita measured at L-6.  

"L-6," said Pita.

"If you get the Mutant Variant," said Dr. Rogers, you can use your Mental Power to try to augment your L-Level.  And if Linda and I both support you in this, then we might be able to boost you as well.

"Oh that sounds good," replied Pita.

"One thing.  If anything goes wrong, the process could fry your brain," added Dr. Rogers pensively.  

"Oh.  So I could wind up like Fred," quipped Pita in reply.

There were a few smiles around the room.  

"I heard that," said Fred over the Comm.

"Ok.  Well I am a hero.  If there is even a chance that I can become even more of a hero, then I am willing to take it."

"Very good.  I think we should take a break and think this over.  Give it some thought and if you have any questions we can discuss it."

"Yeah, ok.  That's a good idea," answered Pita, looking relieved.  There were questions that would probably come to mind if he just stepped back and thought this over carefully.  Lots of risks.  But then ... it could be the one thing that makes a difference in dealing with Brian.  A very hard choice indeed.

And that's where we left it that night.