Thursday, May 13, 2021

WoAF - Game Session 22

And so ... we find our heroes rolling North on Route 93 in their Armored Ground Vehicle (AGV), while Pita Piloted the "Rhino" Mech along side at an attitude of 15 to 20 feet.  They were on tight beam communication via their wrist Comms, but as soon as they passed through the Ferguson Gap Captain Sam ordered them to go to Radio Silence.  As they made their way up onto the edge of the Bonneville Salt Flats Captain Samwise reviewed the situation, and briefed them on The Plan. 

"As you know, we have reason to believe that there are 18 scientists being held captive by the gigantic Super-Brain, known as "Brian", inside the Black Wind V Facility.  We have three objectives.  One rescue the hostages.  Two, capture as much information as possible from the facility's computer system.  Three, neutralize the Super-Brain, whether that means killing it or something else, it needs to be neutralized as a threat.  Because there are only three people in our group who can create Mind Shields, they should be split up into three teams."

It was generally understood by the team that the Super-Brain had super mental powers, but that it sleeps between 1am and 5am.  Therefore, this was to be a stealth mission, and the goal would be to get in, and get out before Brian would wake up in the morning.  They also knew that there was a 10 mile diameter Massive Mind Shield around the Facility.  The way Mind Shields work is that no mental powers or thoughts can penetrate through a shield, either from the inside or the outside.  It neutralizes all mental energies.  Lastly, they had Penelope who was familiar with the workings of the Facility, had security access to it, and its computer systems, which she knew quite well, and mentioned that she had voice  activated command-control of the Drones, which she herself had been instrumental in designing.  With all of this having been discussed previously, Sam skirted over these details without mentioning them again.

"Team A:  Since Pita, one of the Mentarians, and Major Sekston are in the Mech, they should cause diversions.  At random times they will do fly byes over the base and get security focused on them.  Their goal is to be a diversion, without getting caught.  At 30 minutes before the Brain is due to wake up from his nightly nap, I want you to deploy the Thermobaric Bomb and light the place up.  This means dropping the bomb down the shaft where it should fall approximately 200 feet and blow the entire facility to smithereens."

At this point Dr. Rogers raised an eyebrow.  After all, this seemed to contradict the original mission plan that they had discussed earlier in several key points, namely on the issue of stealth.  But, he kept his reservations to himself, and decided he might try mentioning something only if he thought there were a chance his suggestions might prove useful.  (Note:  Dr. Rogers is an NPC),  

The good Captain continued the briefing.

"Team B:  The main job is going to be composed of Linda with her Mentarian Powers and Mind Shield, with Fred, our friendly neighborhood Cybernaut.  They are going to hack the computer center and get as much information onto a data crystal as possible in the given timeframe, and then get out."

"Team C:  Dr. Rogers, Simon ("Guns"), and myself are going to rescue the hostages," he concluded.

"The one thing left to be decided is whether Teams B and C should enter the Facility through the Beam Tunnel which leads into the lowest level of the Facility, or if Team B will go through the tunnel while Team C heads overland to the side entrance and descend from there one level to the living quarters."

"Any questions?", asked Captain Samwise confidently.

"Nope," said Guns.

"Not really," said Fred.

"Sounds like a well oiled plan to me," said Pita.

Dr. Rogers stared at the team.  Where were the details of the plan?  What decision was made in regards to Team B and C?  Nothing was forthcoming.  It appeared they were simply going to wing it.  

It was midnight.  Linda was scanning the environment via visual and audio looking for any indication that their approach had been detected.  Sam went ahead and generated random time table for the Mech attacks and beamed them over to Pita who logged them into the Rhino's computer system.  Guns was up in the turret cleaning his Springfield rifle, whom he affectionately named Ilene.  Fred hunkered down and began prepping his trusty Computer Spike for the mission.  Everything was Go. 

Fred went over their inventory in detail:

"Ok, we've got light armor, heavy armor, flame thrower, knock out gas grenades, beam rifle, fire axe, nerve gas bombs, thermobaric grenades, gas masks, computer hacking tools.  Frag Grenades, Adaptive Combat Rifles, 9mm Acid Slugs, a Construction Drone, Cybernetic Goggles, Electronics Tool Kits, 2600 Lumen Flashlights, two Gernies, knockout gas tank, Wake-Up Injections (10 doses), telescopic pole, and of course, the fuzzy dice."

Nothing was said about how they actually planned to use any of these items.  They rolled up slowly as the Salt Flats came into view in the distance.  A long flat stretch of white sand lay before them as far as the eye could see eastward.  The sands seemed to shimmer silver by the light of the moon.

Meanwhile, Dr. Rogers was looking pensive, sitting in his wheelchair, fidgeting with his strap-in buckles.

"What's going on?" asked Sam.

"Yeah, nice to have to legs.  It's a good deal," he said, trying to smile. "But to be honest, given my condition I'm not sure how useful I will be helping you egress the scientists from the facility," he said, trying to get a feel to how receptive Captain Samwise might be to his suggestions.

"Well, we need you to help us try to remove the Compulsions from the scientists brains."

Dr. Rogers concern was that Team C was the one that required most physical activity of the three, and he'd be not only unlikely to be able to help in any physical situation requiring movement, but he might even wind up being a liability.  He was of a mind that he and Linda might be better of swapping places, as he could easily protect Fred, and that piece of the mission required little or no physical exertion, and Linda would be better able to assist the scientists moving out of the complex.  The removal of compulsions could most likely wait until they were at a safe distance, and it was an arduous job that took considerable time and effort at any rate.  This idea wasn't expressed overtly, however, as he didn't wish to buck Captain Sam's authority and make matters worse by raising an overt objection.  He just looked pensive, but got himself geared up for whatever may come.  It seemed in any case that the Captain had already squarely made up his mind on this particular point, and so Dr. Rogers thought better of making any further suggestions.

As they drove north on 93, just before they entered Ferguson's Pass, Fred took Captain Samwise aside.

"Hey, boss, what are we going to do about the girl?", he said quietly, making a nod over to Penelope who was quietly sitting on the couch at the rear of the AGV.  She wasn't looking so happy.  Since she found out her husband Allen had been killed, she seemed to have lost the will to live.  Dr. Rogers had mentioned this to Captain Sam earlier, but nothing had been done to help her through her grief and trauma, and she was languishing.

"Yeah, she seems to be losing it," admitted Sam.

"Yeah, she sure is," replied Fred.  "She had nothing but glowing praise for brain-baby, if you recall.  Can we trust her?"

"I don't believe she's going to betray us, intentionally, but maybe we have to give her a sedative to put her to sleep for a while," replied the good Captain.

"I wouldn't contend with you on that at all," replied Fred, glancing at the girl suspiciously.

"Yeah, I don't think she is going to be able to join us on the Mission, so we might want to let her sleep through it," reflected Sam.

"And restrain her," added Fred.

"Penelope has all of the knowledge of the facility.  None of you know anything about the Facility," mentioned Dr. Rogers telepathically to Sam. 

"Yes, she has knowledge, that's true.  And she's already shared her knowledge of the layout of the facility," thought Samwise in reply.  "I would love to bring her with us, if you think it's safe for her to come along, and if you can help her along the way."

Dr. Rogers answered that he thought it would be a good idea to bring her and repeated all of the benefits she brought to the table.  

"Of course, this is your mission, not mine," he continued.  "I'm just offering an observation for your consideration."

Sam went over to Penelope and got down on one knee so he could look at her eye to eye.

"How you doing?"

"I'm ok," she said.

"We're getting ready to head into Black Wind V.  We need to get the scientists out, and I need to know if you can help."

"Yes, I can help," she answered.  She understood quite well how much their mission's success would depend on her knowledge and abilities within the complex.  She was willing to help because her loss of her husband and escape from the Facility had opened her eyes to the fact that the scientists there were actually Brian's prisoners, induced into a zombie-like state that left them only capable of working on their projects, not living their lives.  She wanted to follow her husband's lead and become free again.  And she wanted the same for her fellow scientists.  

"Ok, I'm putting all my trust in you, Penelope.  This is not just for you, this is to help the goal of your husband who tried to escape earlier."

She smiled faintly and nodded in ascent.

Sam went to Linda and told her to give Penelope a sleeping pill with a drink.

Linda asked if that was an Order.  He said it was.  Sam could tell that Linda was not happy with this idea.  In fact she really didn't want to slip the girl a micky on moral grounds.  However, Sam reiterated that it was an Order.  So Linda went over and gave Penelope a drink which she surreptitiously laced with a knock-out drug she obtained from Fred, who was more than happy to provide it.  Penelope quickly fell into a deep dreamless sleep.

"Ok, let's chain her to something," said Fred.

Everyone looked at him incredulously.  

"No, I'm serious.  We need to restrain her.  What if the Super-Brain controls her like a puppet while she's sleeping.  No chances here. You just went through the trouble of covertly drugging her.  Now take the precaution of chaining her to the goddamn couch."

"So you got those fuzzy handcuffs in all that inventory, then, eh?" asked Guns, with a wry grin.  It was hard to laugh at that under the circumstances, but they tried.

And at that point Captain drew the line and said that they would not be restraining the sleeping girl.  Fred thought this was the absolute height of stupidity, but none of the others agreed.  She was asleep and would be out for a long time.  No need to restrain her, they thought.  And besides, Sam added, if for whatever reason, none of them came back alive from the mission, it wouldn't do to have her chained to the inside of the AGV where she would subsequently starve to death.  Everyone agreed that made sense.  Except Fred.  He was adamant that they chain her up really good and if she didn't make it, that's just too damn bad for her.

Dr. Roger's pointed out that as soon as the three Teams move beyond 60 feet of Penelope she will be outside of their Mind Shields for the first time since her escape.  And that is how Brian might gain hold of her.  Whereas had they brought her along, she would have been fully protected from the Super-Brain under one of the three Mind Shields.  

"Well," retorted Fred, "if she's handcuffed and she's restrained, I mean tied down, then the worst thing that can happen is she bites her tongue off and she bleeds to death.  Oh well."

"Maybe maybe not," said Dr. Rogers in reply. "That might not be the worst thing that could happen."

"Enlighten us, oh Swami," answered Fred sarcastically.

"Well, I should think the first thing that the Super-Brain would do is read her mind, and find out exactly what your plans are."

There was a long pause.  

"That's... true... I suppose," said Fred finally. 

They knew that the massive Mind Shield that Brian was maintaining around the the Black Wind V Facility was 10 miles in diameter.  They were 30 miles south at the moment.  What they couldn't know for sure is whether or not that massive shield might ever come down, should Brain V wish it.  In fact, they really knew next to nothing about the Great Brain's capabilities.  This lack of specific knowledge was quite germane to the topic, but none of them seemed to think it worth consideration.  Dr. Rogers left off speaking again.

"So ok.  We should tie her up and dump her.  We can pick her up on the way back,"  offered Fred.  Dr. Rogers noted to himself that this certainly didn't address the issue but to his surprise none of the others seemed to notice that.  He turned his wheel chair away and stared out the AGV window toward the north with furrowed eyebrows.

"I'm going to take the risk," said Sam, "and not restrain her.  We'll bring her into the Energy Transmission Station.  But we're not going to restrain her like that."

Dr. Rogers
It seemed to Dr. Rogers that the Federation Command Team were rushing in without insufficient forethought, and little actual planning.  When they did have a rational idea, they seemed to immediately forget it again as if it had never even been stated.  For example, the fact that Penelope could have controlled the drones and told them how to maneuver around the facility, and get the access to the places they might need to go was all completely forgotten by Fred, and then subsequently by everyone else.  It was almost as if the point hadn't even been raised. 

He would have suspected that perhaps the Great Brain had infiltrated their minds and was manipulating their thoughts, but he was quite sure this was not possible so long as the three Mentarians retained their Mind Shields, which they had.  No mental vibrations could pass through a Mind Shield. That was simply impossible. No, this had to be simply a case of humans not thinking.  It wasn't that uncommon, and in fact, the world had been utterly devastated as a byproduct of exactly this tendency. He grew more despondent.

Sam took the time to remind the good Doctor that he still had Allen Monroe's dead hand in a pickle jar that they could presumably use to gain entrance to the Facility by using his hand holding the Key Pass badge again... but Rogers speculated that the chance of that still working were actually quite low.  After all, having lost contact with the now dead Monroe, the Super-Brain would most certainly have terminated Monroe's Key Pass' activation codes.  It wouldn't have taken even a mediocre brain to figure that out.  Dr. Rogers sighed and made a hand-wavy gesture to indicate he had heard enough.

He began wishing he had simply mind wiped the Federation Command Team as soon as they arrived in Panguitch, and sent them back to Tucson before they could do serious damage to the world's future.  None of them seemed to understand the actual gravity of the situation, nor the perils involved, not just to themselves, but to all of humanity, should this encounter go poorly.  

Rogers might have Mind Wiped them then and there, given how things appeared to be going, but he decided against it.  Sometimes, after all, fate and destiny are cards that simply must be played out.  He knew that well.  His own life had been proof enough of it.  So he let it ride, and waited anxiously to see what would happen.

"Your Captainship, sir," piped up Guns from the turret, "seems to me like aren't you kind of betting the whole farm on the idea that the big brain ain't gonna get up in the middle of the night for a glass of warm milk, ain't'cha?"

That, Rogers thought, the most salient point made thus far by anyone on the team.  They were assuming that just because Brian has a habit of sleeping from 1am to 5am every day that he is somehow compelled to do so.  What if he was waiting for their return, in the knowledge that they had Penelope with them, and that she might provide incentive enough to cause them to do so?  This is a Super-Brain after all.  It would be easily able to anticipate thousands of possible outcomes, likely and unlikely, assign them probabilities and derive the most likely course of action the team might take.  They were also assuming, he noted, that the Brain would under no circumstances lower his Mind Shield.  This might be a fatal assumption.

High up in the cloudless sky the moon shone brightly over the desert.

"Everyone is safer," Fred was stating emphatically, "if we just dump her on the side of the road."

Sam wouldn't hear of it.  It was one thing to have slipped her a micky, but entirely another to simply throw her to the side of the road like so much raw meat for the tree monsters to devour.  He was willing to put her inside the Energy Transmission Station and let her sleep off the drugs there, but nothing else would befall her if he could help it.

At this point Linda, who had been diligently scanning the Vizi-Screen, noticed a fast flashing strobe-light suddenly became visible above the Black Wind V Facility across the desert flats.  She zoomed in with a spectral scan, and discerned that it was a spherical object on top of a narrow metallic pole above the tallest of the three buildings there.  She alerted the Captain, and they all took a look.

They thought it might have to do with the Weather Control system that they supposed was operating at the facility.  They didn't see any change in the weather,  however, though they did notice that the aurora-glow hovering over the north face of Ferguson Mountain was considerably brighter than the last time they saw it.  

"Well, it could just be an indication that the Brain is not planning on going to sleep," said Fred.  And that, thought Rogers, was the first sensible point he had made thus far.  All too soon to be forgotten... which it was, almost immediately.

"True," said Sam.  They continued rumbling northward in 93.

"Sir," said Linda, "I'm picking up the tree walkers about 15 miles north.  There are nine of them.  They appear to be moving down 93 in our direction."

Sam had her zoom in on the location where they had left Allen's body... the one that had been transformed into a skeleton on a tree-cross.  It was still there.  It might have struck them as strange that the monster trees would turn a skeleton into a cross similar to the one's they'd seen in the circles down south, but no such thought passed through any of their minds.  Perhaps for the best, actually.  Such a realization might have only complicated their already complicated-enough lives.  They rolled on.

Sam decided to head to the Energy Transmission Station.  They were still about 15 miles south of it as they passed through Ferguson Gap between Mount Ferguson and White Horse Mountain.  

The good Captain realized that the thirty miles they still had to go meant that they would not get to the facility at 1pm, but instead would get there closer to 1:15, or 1:30 depending on how long they took to deal with the Energy Station.  And they didn't know how long it would take to travel through the Beam Tunnel to get to the Facility.  If they had to walk it would take about 6 hours.  That would put them there at somewhere between 6 and 7am.  

Dr. Rogers twiddled his thumbs.  He wondered why they didn't simply stop before they actually entered the desert and spend a few days reconnoitering the area, observing any activity, and perhaps waiting the Super-Brain out.  If Brian was planning to stay awake all night to wait for them, it might do so a few nights in a row, maybe even a week, but eventually, it would get too tired to say awake... and that would have been a far more ideal time to strike.  They could have worked out the details of their plan, and made observations as to activities in the desert, the functioning of the operations at the Facility and Power Stations, and noted any peculiarities or potential surprises.  After all, it didn't seem like there was any pressing reason to blunder forward in a rush whatsoever.  The scientists had all been there for decades.  Another few days or so wouldn't likely make a single wit of difference.  But these musings weren't germane.  They were going to leap forward into the darkness just the same.  And who knows?  Sometimes that works, he reminded himself.

They drove towards the Energy Transmission Station, while up ahead on route 93 the tree walkers had gathered themselves into a formidable looking formation.  They were making their way to the intersection of the road that lead to the Station.  Captain Samwise considered their options.  They could avoid the tree walkers by off-roading it, but around that area the landscape was rough with lots of rivulets, gullies and small canyons.  It would probably be a slow haul and cause them to miss their very tight time window.  The fastest way would be to take the road.  Even at the risk of encountering the tree monsters.

Sam floored the gas, and roared the AGV north.  They made the intersection just before the tree walkers got to it, and with a fast dusty skid turned onto the eastward dirt road that lead to the Station.  Sam managed to miss the few of them that were in the lead of the pack by mere inches.  A few of their branches grazed the side of the AGV as it roared by.  As they passed, they shuttered at the sight of Allen's skeleton fixed to the tree-cross. But there was nothing to be done about the bones of Allen Monroe.  They and roared past and eastward to the Energy Transmission Station.  It was perhaps a mercy to Penelope that she was not awake to see that after all.

And so the calamities began to mount up.  Dr. Rogers fully expected to die soon.  Perhaps it was the sight of Allen's skeleton on the tree-cross that did it to him.  He wiped the copious amount of sweat from his forehead with a tissue. 

After a few miles the AGV came to a roaring halt just outside the Energy Transmission Station.  Captain Samwise checked his watch: 1:03 am.  He looked over the area.  The gleaming power station was set on a ridge surrounded by sand.  On the far side of the station was a cliff the descended down into a series of small compact marshes that surrounded the outcropping.  The marshes had been there forever, and were a stark change from the flat white sands.  Teaming in those marshes were all manner of living creatures.  Mostly insects, and lizards, along with some rather bizarre combinations of the two.  But no one in the AGV knew anything about that.  They were focused on the mission.  And the mission was to get inside the Energy Staion.

When they rolled up a cloud of mosquitoes ascended the heights and surrounded the AGV.  It was a massive swarm, and the little buggers looked hungry.  They covered the windshield.  Samwise flipped a switch on the control panel and the Anti-Insect Acoustic Shield went up.  "Tzzzzzt.  tzzzzzt.  tzzzzzt." sounds could be heard over the audio.  The team all suited up in their armor and prepared to enter the station.  

Meanwhile, Sam carried the sleeping Penelope with the intent of deposit her inside for safe keeping while they completed The Mission.  They used Allen Monroe's dead hand to open the door with his Pass Key.  That worked.  Sam was in the lead with Penelope, while Guns, and Linda followed behind.  Further back Fred approached as cautiously as possible, while Dr. Rogers stayed in the AGV and watched the action on the Vizi-Screen with an expression of fatalistic ennui as he watched Samwise carrying the limp form of Penelope forward into danger.  He was resolved to let things play out as they would.  

As the white metallic door slid open they saw the main room where the control panels were.  It was dark inside, being only lit by the flickering lights of the computer systems. Five dinner plate sized drones, smooth and sleek with their white metallic hulls were hovering in a circle in the center of the room.  They were perfectly silent, and no means of propulsion was visible.

Sam pulled away instantly and pivoted himself against the wall next do the door, still outside.  Gun's and Linda began a fire fight.  It didn't go well. As soon as Sam was out of the way Guns took a shot at the closest drone with his rifle.  The bullet hit, but merely ricocheted off the metallic surface, not leaving so much as a scratch.  Linda fired a her Lewiston Beam Pistol.  The bolt of blazing plasma burned a tiny black hole into the shell of one.  It began to spin around in the air, slowly wobbling from side to side.  Fred was eyeing the door panel, and prepared to hack into it.  With that he could potentially gain control of the computer systems inside, and perhaps even the drones.  

The Captain had believed that the drones levitated by the power of the Super-Brain's Telekinetic capacity, but the fact that they were beyond its massive Mind Shield suggested that this could not be so after all.  He was disappointed.  He had hoped that they'd be able to disable the drones with their own Mind Shields.  But that was not the case after all.  Penelope could have told them that, but she was sleeping in Sam's arms.

Sam thought about giving her a jab of the Wake-Up Serum, but decided against it.  For one thing, all hell was breaking loose from within the station as the drones began shooting plasma bolts through the doorway.  Guns was wearing his Armored Space Suit, and had flipped on his Plasma Shield for good measure.  A blazing blue-green bolt glanced off his Plasma Shield, hitting the door frame with a shower of orange sparks.  Linda on the other hand relied on her quick reflexes.  Fortunately, the Plasma Bolt missed her.  Two of the drones hovered to the center of the room and started shooting beams of light at the control panels while the others maintained their positions facing the door.

The door began to slide closed.  Thinking fast, Guns flung his machine gun into the doorway to try to jam the door open so they could take pot shots inside.  The door slid shut with such force that the machine stock snapped off and went flying thirty feet out onto the sands.  It did manage to maintain a five inch gap at the door, however.  Sam motioned for Fred to come to the door and hack into the system using the door panel.  

Once connected to the door panel, Fred flipped on his Neural-Net and entered the Hyper-Mind.  It is an ultra-fast universe of magno-bytes and electrons in which a million things can happen in the space of a millisecond. The odds were not high, however.  This was a highly sophisticated system and largely unknown to the Cybernaut.  These were systems designed by the Super-Brain.  One would expect that they'd be cleverly trapped, or misleading, or ultra-secure and unhackable.  He had only one brief experience with these systems, and only a vague understanding of how they operated.  But with the speed of the Neural-Net he scanned his options. There were a variety of devices and systems in range of his attack.  He went to work.  

Sam gently laid Penelope by the side of the building, and took out his Lewiston.  

"The Lewiston's do damage to them, sir," said Linda, "but not as much as I hoped."

They all got ready to level volleys of plasma fire into the station as soon as Fred gained control of the door.  But despite the speed of the Neural-Net, Fred's attack was filled with specialty moves, sudden twists, and unknown mazes that had to be traversed.  In fact it took him a few seconds to operate.

Meanwhile, out on the desert, Pita was flying Rhino towards the Black Wind V Facility, getting ready to launch his first barrage of weapons fire at the appointed time that Captain Samwise had set.  However, something caught his attention on the Vizi-Screen.  The lumbering tree monsters were on the road heading towards the Energy Station.  Since they were on radio silence he too his own initiative and as he flew over the monstrous trees, weighing in at 20 to 70 tons each, he shouted to Major Sekston, "Let'em have it with the flame thrower, Major!"

FOOOOM!  In one pass they lit half the trees on fire.  With a quick aerial pivot Pita positioned them for another pass, this time coming in low. The trees suddenly flung their branches and a cloud of thumb sized splinters hurtled towards the Mech.  But Rhino's armor was far too thick for that, and they shattered into slivers as they hit the hull.  A thousand tiny "Pings" echoed inside.  Another blast with the flame thrower and every tree was on fire.

"Ok!" shouted the Major up the ladder.

With that Pita landed the burly Mech, put its giant metal fists on its hips, and gave out a hearty laugh at the burning trees over the loud speakers.  He then launched into the air and flew back towards Way Point #1 on his list.  As they flew he called down to the Major.

"What do you think about that strobe light at the facility?"

"I don't know, but my guess is its a kind of Photonic Radar.  If it is, then it's likely tracking everything within light range, covering the entire desert."

"Well, we've already started our first distraction!" said Pita.  He planned to get within the one mile targeting range of Rhino's missile battery so he could take out the strobe light.  

"I don't recall you mentioning anything about a Photonic Radar," said the Major up the ladder as she recalibrated her weapons controls.

"Yeah, well, they weren't there until," he replied.

"You realize that suggests they are prepared for us, don't you?"

"Yes, that's a good point, but we're prepared for them, too, ya know?" answered Pita with a laugh.

At that moment the Alert Board began flashing red on Rhino's main sensor panel.

"I'm picking up incoming bogies from the north.  Four," said the Major.

Pita saw the blips about 15 miles north, just inside the perimeter of the Wendover Airport. Zooming in with his Vizi-Screen, he saw the airport's tarmac, strewn with the ruins of fighter jets. Out from black patches in the ground emerged four sleek, globular looking machines that resembled Mechs, though they were much smoother, and made of polished white metal. They looked like gigantic versions of the drones they had seen earlier. The four machines were flying in formation and were arcing through the dark night sky towards them. As he watched as they quickly picked up speed. They were coming in fast. Very fast.

Pita broke radio silence. "Captain, we're in ... frikkin trouble here... We've got some kind of Ultra-Mechs coming at us.  We're not going to be able to handle all of them.  We're still about 15 miles out."

"What details do you have on the mechs?"

They quickly exchanged the details of their current situations and agreed a retreat was in order.  Pita floored the thrusters, making a short circular arc in the air, and burned a long scorch mark on the salt flat as he high tailed it back to the Energy Station.  It would take him a minute or so to get back there.  Hearing all of this on the Comm, Guns took a dash for the AGV, leapt up into the turret and flipped on the targeting system.

Meanwhile, Fred was hacking his little heart out.  He connected with the control panel that the drones were currently operating with their light beams.  That took approximately 27 seconds, an infinity of time in Hyper-Mind.  He was hoping the control panel would allow him to shut the drones down, but he found that it only managed the Energy Station.  It ran things related to the Beam Tunnel operations: cooling systems, doors, refrigeration units, and so forth.  But the drones were independent units.  The control panel, he found, did not control the drones, but rather the drones controlled the control panel.  

Fred sent in commands to open the outer door on Sam's command.  He and Linda were prepared to spin into action and fire their Lewiston's into the room.  But the Drones were ready for them.  Four scorching blue-white plasma beams shot through the doorway as Sam and Linda spun into view with their guns ready to fire.  One beam hit Sam in the shoulder, burning a narrow hole through his armor and agonizingly through his arm.  Another beam glanced his helmet creating a massive spray of sparks.  At the same time Linda managed to dodge one beam and deflect the other with her Plasma Shield.  The two heroes spun back out of the doorway to get out of the line of fire.  They decided a frontal assault was not going to work, so Sam leaned over and grabbed Penelope in his good arm and picked her up.  Linda was prepared to run and cover their rear with her Plasma Shield.   

Pita still was about 30 seconds away.  "We've got incoming!" he shouted over the comm.   

Guns buckled himself in, flipped the next switch on the sighting display and prepared for battle.  "Sir, let's move the AGV out a click and take potshots through the door of the Energy Station."

At this point Sam was tempted to have Pita launch the Thermobaric Bomb from the Mech to take out the Energy Station completely.  He thought it would at least cripple the Black Wind facility, which was better than nothing. He was pretty sure that there was no way their slow hunky Mech was going to be able to take on the four Ultra-Mechs speeding fast towards them.  

As an alternative he also considered using their beam weapons to gun down the drones inside the Energy Station and dodging inside.  Once inside Fred could hack through to get them into the Beam Tunnel.  But it was a good 15 miles from the Energy Station to the Black Wind Facility.  

They could possibly get into the service tunnel that follows along side the Beam Tunnel and hack the Tram that Penelope had described to them during the debriefing back in Panguitch, but they didn't know the exact layout and had only gotten a map of the main Facility, not the Energy Station.    

They began to debate over the Comms about what to do.  Fred wanted to try to figure out how they could get the Thermobaric Bomb to the Black Wind Facility via the Tram, but there was a problem.  He couldn't figure out how to get back out alive.  After all, the Mechs could easily destroy the AGV while they were in transit to the Facility, which would effectively cut off any hope of escape.  (Not to mention that the Thermobaric Bomb would most likely destroy a fairly large portion of the tunnel once it detonated, and that would likely put an end to them then and there.)  They were not interested in a suicide mission.  So that plan was abandoned.  They began debating another plan.

Guns, realizing the team had begun to lose focus on the fact that they had about 10 more seconds before the Ultra-Mechs arrived decided to take action.  He jumped down from the turret and ran to the pilot's seat and revved the engines to life.  He began pulling away from the Power Station at a slow enough speed to let the team jump in through the still open hatch.  Fred, seeing this, yanked the cable of his Spike out of the door panel and ran for the AGV, leaping inside.  Sam, lumbering behind them under the weight of the sleeping Penelope, came up from the rear.  Guns slowed down a bit, and Sam managed to haul Penelope into the AGV as well.  Several plasma beams shot out through the Energy Station doorway, but Linda's Plasma Shield was just good enough to deflect the shots.

Meanwhile Pita cut an arc through the air to face the door of the Energy Station while Major Sekston armed a battery of heavy missiles.

"Use the Thermobaric Bomb!" shouted Sam.  But Major Sekston, who knew something about combat tactics and strategy saw that as a  complete waste of their one and only remaining Thermobric Bomb, the most powerful weapon in their entire arsenal, and so she negated that command.  After all, Rhino was her Mech, on loan, and she was most certainly not a subordinate to good Captain Samwise.  She armed the battery of heavy missiles.  Pita was in agreement with this decision.  After all, the Thermobaric Bomb was their only hope to take out the Black Wind Facility.  Even Fred agreed that normal missiles would take out the Power Station on their own.  But Sam continued to try to insist on the use of the Big Bomb.  

"Captain, it is my recommendation," said Pita, "that we do not use the Thermobaric Bomb, our most powerful weapon, on a small facility far from our main objective.  The Heavy Missiles will take out the Energy Station without a problem.  I guarantee it."  Finally Samwise relented and conceded the point.

The AGV roared down the road at top speed, raising a cloud of dust.  The drones inside the Energy Station were taking shots at the rear of the AGV, but it's anti-Plasma shield deflected them with relative ease, just receiving scorch marks along the hull.  Meanwhile the drones began using their light beams to remove the machine gun from the door so they could seal it shut.  As soon as Pita saw them move the machine gun he shouted into the Comm, "Going Hot!  Major, fire Missiles!"  

Five missiles launched, but due to the timing, erratic flight path and rushed reaction four missiles hit around the door and exploded harmlessly against the white metallic exterior... but one made it through and vanished inside.  There was a momentary pause, and then an enormous explosion.  The AGV shaken and inside everyone got thrown around.  The Mech, hit by the shock wave, got hurled to the ground, but Pita's piloting skill was such that he managed to land sideways on his treads without more than minor damage.  

The Energy Station was a blazing ruin, with enormous flames and a huge billow of black smoke lofting skyward.  If the Super-Brain had been sleeping, this at least would have woken it up.  Beyond the smoke they could see the four Ultra-Mechs speeding towards them in a long tight arc.  They would be on them in a few seconds.  Pita punched in a computation to pivot and fire the second battery of heavy missiles at the incoming threat.  And at that moment things went south.

Dr. Rogers, who had been gritting his teeth painfully for some time now, suddenly looked up with alarm and stared in the direction of the Black Wind Facility.  Something changed 30 miles away that made his blood suddenly turn cold with fear.

"The Mind Shield is down," he said.

"You mean the giant Mind Shield?", asked Pita nervously glancing in that direction. 

"Yes," said Rogers, "that one."

At that moment he stood up in his wheel chair, his eye's bulging, and rolling back in his head.  Pita felt something hurling towards him through the mental ethers, and tried to throw a Mental Evasion, but it was putting up a little cocktail umbrella against a meteor strike.  A mental force in the shape of a massive spear of enormous power blasted his Mind Shield to tiny smithereens, and in the next instant his mind went absolutely black.  The Mech lurched to halt on the battle field.

Guns, watching Linda and Dr. Rogers both rear up, grab their heads in their hands and then drop like sacks of rice to the ground decided it was time for them to make their get-away.  He gunned the AGV full throttle and with a massive roar of the engines the vehicle hurtled down the road.  Fred scrambled up into the gun turret.  Captain Samwise ran to Linda to see if he could help her, but she and the doctor were both completely catatonic, eyes wide open, unmoving.  He couldn't do anything to snap them out of it.  

Fred glanced at the Visi-Screen to catch site of the Ultra-Mechs coming in hot on a low arc.  They had about 3 seconds before the missile barrages were likely to begin.

"Come in Major Sekston!" shouted Fred into the Comm.

"What's going on!?" returned the battle hardened Major from the Rhino.  "Pita has passed out.  I'm making my way up to the pilot's seat!"  

"Yeah, all of our Mentarians got blasted here," yelled Fred.  "We need to get the hell out of here.  We're heading to Ferguson Pass!  Follow us!"  The Major launched the Mech into the air and followed behind the AGV as it rumbled full speed south on 93.  But it was too late.

Hovering over the the road ahead of them a shimmering translucent image suddenly appeared.  Around it was a dark green haze within which there floated a 50' tall brain with two eye sockets burning with a fierce yellow light from the shadows of the frontal lobes.  It was a sight of sheer madness and horror.  Fred fired the Plasma Cannon directly into it, but the beams passed through it without making any contact whatsoever.  Fred spit on the windshield out of sheer frustration.  The Super-Brain fired two red beams of Mental Power through the wall of the AGV, piercing directly through Dr. Rogers body.  He vanished without a trace.

And then they heard the voice.  They all heard it.  It resounded with incredibly deep vibrations into their minds at an inconceivable volume, making their skin crawl.  

"You Are Mine!"

Fred, Guns and the Major succumbed instantly.  The power of the Super-Brain was so vast, so intense, so wise, so infinite, that they knew without the slightest equivocation that it *knew* everything about them in a single flash of a glance.  Their minds, their history, their personalities, their best dreams and darkest fears... it knew them completely and wholly.  Not the slightest thought or memory could possibly be hidden from this all consuming presence.  It knew their darkest  most intimate secrets.  And what they sensed was that this entity shared that darkness with them.  It was a thing of such intense malignancy, such horrific evil that they shuddered uncontrollably to the core of their beings.  It was the worst thing they'd ever seen.  They also felt, at the same time, that it was the most awe inspiring thing they could possibly imagine.  And in this they felt that this was the one entity, finally, after an entire lifetime of rudderless wandering, that truly commanded their respect and was worthy of their complete and utter devotion.

"Finally," thought Guns out loud, "true leadership!"

Gun's slammed on the breaks, turned the AGV around and said with enthusiasm, "We're heading home!  Whoohoo!"

Sam, however, was able,  somehow, with the last shred of his own will power intact for but a moment, resist the massive siren call.  And in that all too brief moment he saw another vision hovering off to the side of the road.   As the image of the towering great and mighty brain shimmered out of existence, he saw another image appear on the road in its place.  No one else saw it except Sam.  Shining there in the glow of invisible moon rays was the shimmering visage of Linda, her clear silvery-blue eyes shining outward forming a softly glowing halo around her.  Her face held the look of deep concern.  Her lips were moving.  The drone and buzz of Brian's voice still reverberated throughout his being. 

And so, the sun set below the edge of the horizon as hour heroes were driven by a newly loyal and devoted Simon "Guns" Gunnison to the Black Wind Facility where they were taken control of by Brain V.  

And that is how things turned out for our heroes of the Black Wind V Mission from Tucson, Arizona.