Tuesday, November 23, 2021

WoAF - Game Session 26

So there they were, roughly a thousand refugees hunkered down north of Panguitch, Utah, watching the thunder storm through thick glass windows from within the six fortified warehouses they were holed up in while the storm passed.  A dark gray tornado touched down about 1500 feet to the south, shredded a dozen or so trees and splintered an old barn before dissipating and vanishing into the sea-green clouds swirling monstrously above.  Sam hopped on the radio from inside the AGV.

"This is Captain Samwise from Federation Command.  Airport HQ, can you read me? Over."

[Static]"This is Airport HQ.  Roger that, Captain.  You're coming in poorly.  The storm is causing ionic interference.  I can barely hear you. Over," came the reply through heavy static.

"We're holding up in the warehouses at the intersection of Airport Road and 89, waiting for the storm to pass over before heading north.  Over."

[Static]"Copy. How can we help?  Over."

"We want to send a jeep over to pick up any Acoustic Insect Shields that you might be able to spare. Over."

[Static]"Acoustic Insect Shields" [Static] "... available and ready for you.  Over."

And with that the radio communications fritzed out.  One of the problems with Radiation Storms is that they tended to eliminate radio Comms in the area. Samwise decided to wait the storm out before taking a chance on traveling the two miles east to the airport.  In the meantime, he ordered Bruin Hilda to go with him through the warehouses and help anyone who might need medical attention.   The two of them geared up in survival armor.  The storm was so severe that they would need to tether themselves with ropes, drive the AGV to the hatch-lock doors of each warehouse, and try to leap the gap to get inside.

Bruin Hilda
As the AGV rolled up on the closest warehouse Captain Samwise switched frequencies on the radio and contacted the military leader within the shelter.  At this short range the Comms were still working.  He found out that there were a few injured people inside, in particular one fellow who had been badly gouged on a jagged iron railing while crossing a ditch on the way out of town.  

When the AGV rolled up on its massive treads in front of the opposing hatchway, they gave the "Go" signal and the warehouse hatch swung open on its heavy metal hinges.  Bruin Hilda, buffeted by rain drenched winds as she perched at the edge of the AGV hatch, checked her tether and took the leap.  A sudden gust swept her through the air, slamming her into the warehouse wall.  She slid down and impacted the ground a heavy grunt, mud splattering everywhere.  She scrambled  to her feet against the wind and began pulling herself along the rope.  A brawny arm emerged from the hatchway and pulled her inside.  She was soaked head to toe and covered in mud.  She thanked the soldier who helped her in, shook the cold rain off, and looked behind her at the open hatchway.  One down, one more to go.  Captain Samwise, seeing what happened, went to the AGV equipment stack, pulled out a Smart Rope, turned it on and tethered himself to it.  Consequently, he had no problem making it into the warehouse.  

Once inside they were taken through the warren-like corridors until the came to the makeshift infirmary. There they found the injured man. His leg had a deep gouge from the knee to the upper thigh. Bruin Hilda laid her hands on the leg and focused her Mentarian Healing power on the his leg.  At the time he was passed out, so no conversation was to be had.  The healing went well.  While nothing appeared to happen on the surface, Bruin Hilda knew that the healing process would be greatly augmented and would be far more rapid than it would have been otherwise.  The man woke up, opened his eyes, and smiled at Bruin Hilda.  

"You'll be ok, sir," she said quietly.  

The man's color came back to him, and the pain that he had been feeling had been greatly lessened.  Sam dressed the wound and applied bandages. To his amazement the wound already looked better.  His admiration for Bruin Hilda increased notably at that moment.  When they finished helping him they moved on to the next patient.  In a short while they'd administered medical healing to everyone who needed it and then moved on to the next warehouse.  They planned to cover the six warehouses that afternoon while the storm passed overhead.

~ ~ ~

A hundred miles to the north or so, Linda and Pita were holed up in their makeshift tarp-tent, also weathering the storm.  Their situation was both better and worse.  This far north the storm was considerably less severe.  On the other hand, their accommodations where far less secure than in the AGV.  Water was leaking in, and the wind rattled the tarps wildly.  Nevertheless, they were safe enough where they were.  Unfortunately, it was also the case that the storm was heading slowly northward towards them and so they realized they would have to find better shelter soon.  While they were discussing things, it seemed the storm had abated a bit.  Pita took a look outside and noted that a gap in the storm had opened up, and so they might have a half hour or so to look for better accommodations.  He took a look around with his binoculars and found that up on the hill above the gully there looked to be a small cave entrance.  They quickly disencamped, leapt on their Rocket Bikes, and flew a tight arc up the hill about 800', and landed the bikes on a ledge outside the cave.  It had a 15' entrance that was covered by an overhang, and then further in was a 5' tunnel that went about 8' and then opened into another small cave, about 20' long and 9' high, and 15' wide.  Enough for the two of them to sit in, and maybe even start a small fire if they could find dry wood.

They hauled the Rocket Bikes into the enclosure and settled in.  Pita looked around for drying kindling.  The cave had accumulated bracken over thee years and so after a few minutes they had a small but serviceable fire going in the inner cave.  It wasn't long before the storm tore through the region with unusual ferocity, blasting bolts of irradiated lightning powerful enough to split boulders, the two heroes chatted amiably in the flickering firelight.

As they went over Linda's recurring dream one more time, Pita stood up slowly.  Perhaps something caught his attention out of the corner of his eye, or perhaps he just needed to stretch his legs.  Linda didn't know.  But he looked towards the back of the cave and so she stopped talking.

"Say, you feel like taking a little look around this place?" he asked.  "Never know.  Might be something interesting back there," he added pointing towards the flickering shadows.

She stood up and pulled out her Lewiston Beam Pistol. "Sure.  Let's go," she said with a nonchalance that made him think "Now that's why I love this girl".  

They were equipped with XL-2600 flashlights. He adjusted his for 200 Lumens, which was quite enough for the inside of the cave.  He and Linda walked slowly forward, until the got to a small outcropping of rock jutting up from the ground near the back of the cave.  As he stepped forward he saw a skull on the ground just beyond the outcropping.  Beyond it was a dark three foot wide hole that descended vertically into another tunnel.  He put the beam of light on it.  It was a human skull.  It moved.

"Eeeee-eeeeee," he squealed and jumped back suddenly, nearly dropping the flashlight. Linda, never phased for a moment, took a shot at it with her Lewiston.  The crimson-orange beam blazed a nickel sized hole through the forehead of the skull, with a glowing hole in the rock four inches deep beneath it.  Long crab-like legs had emerged from the bottom of the skull and now curled up in a death spasm.  They backed away slowly, shining their flashlights in every direction casting dancing shadows everywhere.

"Pita, the bikes," yelled Linda pointing.  Pita spun around and saw three Skull-Spiders on the bikes, two small, one quite large.  The two smaller ones were crawling up the side of a bike, while the larger had crawled over the top of the other bike and was creeping slowly and carefully along the saddle.

He only had a clear shot on the large one.  The others were on the side of the bike, and shooting them would have burned a hole right through the machine's vitals.  Nope, can't have that, thought Pita.  He got down on one knee and aimed carefully, and for a brief moment a scorching beam sizzled brightly through the eye socket of the skull and out the other side.  The skull flipped up into the air, the spider legs curling inside of it, and then fell to the ground with a crunch, rolled out the cave and disappeared into a torrential brook gushing just outside the entrance. Pita and Linda very carefully inched forward towards the bikes, with Linda scanning the walls and ceiling and Pita keeping his light focused on the other two Skull-Spiders.  He tried to get to a spot from which he could pick them off without damaging the bike.  

Outside the wind was howling, and off some distance Pita could see through the gray darkness that a tornado had touched down, perhaps a quarter of a mile away.  A lightning strike landed blindingly near with an ear splitting clap of thunder.  The wind was so loud in the outer cave they would have had to resort to shouting, had they not been linked Telepathically.  At this point Pita wondered if the Skull-Spiders could jump, and judging by the stout black-orange legs that protruded out from under them, he figured they could.  He did not want to get anywhere near them.  However, having tried to circle around to get a clear shot, the creatures had moved over the bike's gears so that a clear shot was not possible.  He took out his broadsword, gulped down his fear, and inched forward.  

Suddenly a beam of blazing plasma shot past his shoulder, and Pita heard the sound of its ionizing crackle as it bored a molten hole in the cave wall.

"Got it!", shouted Linda.  He glanced over his shoulder.  A Skull-Spider was rolling across the cave floor behind him.  "Keep going!" she said calmly into his mind.  "You got this."

And so Pita crept forward towards the bike.  One of the spiders had turned its skull towards him so that it looked like a dismembered skull staring at him as he approached it.  Behind the black eye-holes he could see the glinting of the spider's many eyes.  It lowered itself into a crouching position as he came closer.  Pita lifted his broadsword in front of him and slowly inched forward. Suddenly the monstrous thing leapt with the skull's mouth flying straight at him, the creatures fangs extruding horribly where a set of human teeth used to be.  Pita, in a sudden spasm of panic, slapped it out of the air with his flailing arms as he staggered backwards. Since he was wearing a suit with armored skin the spider's powerful legs could not get a grip on his arm, though it surely tried.  It fell to the ground and scuttled quickly towards the shadows when Linda fried a hole through it with her Lewiston.  It curled up and died right there.

The third one, meanwhile, had vanished from view.  They turned their flashlights in every direction, but didn't see it. "Damnit!" cried Pita.  "I really, really hated these things."

"Linda, shield your eyes!" he ordered Telepathically. 

"Got it!" she instantly replied, and flipped the switch. 

Flipping on his suit's Eye Shielding to "Opacity 0", as well, he turned up his XL-2600 to Turbo-Lumens!  An eye blistering 2,600 Lumens of absolutely blinding light drenched the cave.  He waved the flashlight in every direction, walking with one arm out towards the rear of the cave, and after a good 40 seconds, turned it back down to 200 lumens and, lowering his eye shields, took a look around.  He saw Linda had crouched down in a corner and covered her eyes with both arms as well as used her helmet's eye shielding.  The blinding tactic worked.  The remaining Skull-Spiders were crawling around the floor and walls.  Two had been hiding in cracks in the ceiling, and were slowly distending themselves on webs and so were dangling in the middle of the air, reaching out with their long legs looking for the ground.  Pita walked around skewering them one at time with his broadsword and pitched them outside into the darkness where the furious winds swept them up into the sky and carried their double dead carcasses far, far away.  "Not nearly far enough," he thought.  "I completely agree," responded Linda.

~ ~ ~

Meanwhile and elsewhere, Samwise and Bruin Hilda had finished with their medical patrol.  Everyone who needed to get medical help had received it.  As the storm was abating at this point, the good Captain ordered Guns to commander a jeep so that they could get to the airport and pick up the Acoustic Insect Shields.  They had no problem securing one, and took off through the driving rain.  The Airport Road was straight for most of the two miles, until they got to the final bend that curved south at the airport tarmac.  As they were approaching the curve, on the north side, they saw a large mass, dark brown and gray, like a huge lump, moving ponderously through the jungle-flora towards the road.  Their impression was that the mass was about ten maybe fifteen feet tall, and maybe twenty to thirty feet long.  It had the appearance of an enormous slug.  Looking at the direction it was heading, he figured it would reach the airport within a twenty minutes or so.  If they drove fast enough they could pass by it before it got on the road.

"Captain?  You seeing what I'm seeing?" asked Guns.

"Yep.  I see it.  Why don't you step on it, and I'll get in contact with the base," he said as he brought up the radio.  "Captain Samwise to Airport Base.  Samwise to Airport Base.  Come in Airport Base.  Over."  Gun's hit the gas and they sped through the rain at a good 80 mph.

"This is Airport Base.  Over."

"Hello.  We're in a jeep on Airport Road heading to you now.  It's raining pretty hard, so I'm not 100% sure what we're seeing, but be advised - it looks like there is some sort of giant brown grey mass that is heading towards the airport from the north.  I estimate it is 15' high and about 25' long.  It looks similar to the mass of purple ants we saw on our first entrance to Panguitch. Over."

There was static on the radio, and then the sound of clattering and Sam thought he heard the Lieutenant on the other end gasp and say "Oh my god!"  As he had experience dealing with this Lieutenant before, he guessed the skittish young man had panicked and dropped his mic.

"Come in Airport Base.  Come in Airport Base.  Over."

"I'm sorry.  I'm sorry.  I dropped my mic," said the panicky Lieutenant.  "Did you say there's a giant mass of ants heading to the airport?!"

"It's difficult to confirm, but yes, I think that's what we're seeing.  Or something similar.  We're too far away to say for certain," answered the good Captain with as steady and reassuring a voice as he could.

"Oh my god!" sputtered from the radio speaker.  Contact was broken again.  Sam and Guns looked at each other, and shared a bit of eyerolling.  After a few moments another voice came over the radio speaker.

"Come in, Come in.  This is Major Sekston.  Who am I speaking with?  Over."

"Hello, Major, this is Captain Samwise of Federation Command.  What happened over there?  Over."

"My Lieutenant here is having a little trouble speaking at the moment.  Can you repeat your message? Over."

Samwise repeated his earlier message.  Major Sekston responded by confirming their ETA, and the ETA of the mass, and then signed off.  Guns floored it, and they got to the tarmac ahead of the mass.  They skidded to a stop in front of Major Sekston's HQ.  Samwise and Guns leapt out, ran through the rain and dashed inside.  They found the base was abuzz with activity.  Soldiers were manning vehicles, and equipment, and forming up a squad of jeeps hastily on the tarmac.   

"Hello, Major," said Sam with a salute when he saw her.

"Good to see you two made it," she replied with her salute.

"What is that thing?" said Sam as he observed the huge mass arriving on the north end of the tarmac through his binoculars.  It rose up to a height of about 25', and then began sliding down the black strip of asphalt towards them.

"Your guess was not far off.  These are a mutant combination of ant and beetle, and quite voracious carnivores.  We call this "The Brown Horde".  You'll see in a few minutes how we handle this kind of threat, Captain.  Just stand back and watch.

One of the jeeps drove halfway up the tarmac toward the mass, which had flattened out into a low wide slug shape again.  They threw several deer carcasses onto the center of the tarmac, and then sped back as fast as their jeep would go.  Six other jeeps were being fitted with Vehicle-Mounted Acoustic Insect Shields.   As soon as this was done they drove in a steady semi-circle formation up the tarmac.  The insect mound had reached the deer carcasses and formed a massive undulating bubble over them.  While the insects devoured the deer flesh the jeeps formed a circle around the horde. 

"Steady, steady.  On my mark," the Major was ordering through her radio Comm.  "Steady.  Everyone in position.  We can't have any gaps.  Jeep 5, line up.  Ok.  Steady.  Wait for it..."  

As they watched the mass of insects appeared to have finished its meal.  It began forming into the slug shape again.

"Now!" yelled the Major into her mic.

Every jeep flipped on their Acoustic Insect Shield, forming a large overlapping set of sonic bubbles that forms a continuous circle around the mass.  

"Maximum power!" cried Sekston.

All along the perimeter of the insect sphere they saw the thumb sized bugs begin to blast apart under the high-intensity vibrations of the sonic shells.  Chitin, antenna,  multifaceted eyes, legs, and mandibles all exploded and shattered into clouds of gray brown fragments.

"Ok, easy does it... close the circle.  1 mile per hour.  Easy... easy."

And with this the acoustic shells closed in, shrinking the perimeter and blasting the bugs into oblivion.  The entire operation took about ten minutes, and in the end, all that was left of the insect horde was a long gray-brown stain in the water covering the tarmac.  Not a single insect escaped the trap.

"And that, Captain, is how we handle bugs around here," said Major Sekston with satisfaction.

"Very impressive," answered Samwise, "very impressive, indeed."

Sam and Guns loaded up their jeep with six sets of Vehicle Mounted Acoustic Insect Shields and twenty personal units, which is all the Major could spare.  they mounted one of the units on the jeep. While the personal units had a diameter Shield of 60', the Vehicle mounted Shields had a diameter of 240'.  With these Sam felt a lot more confident that they'd be able to get all of the refugees past the giant Insect Mound when the time came.

They discussed the incoming war at Panguitch with the Major.

"Someone has to stay behind and protect the Hospital," the Major said tersely.  "I still have one Daisy Buster, and a handful of thermobaric shells. If things go well the armies will hold off from entering Panguitch and fight their war on the south side.  But if not, then it's going to come down to a fight.  One that we can't afford to lose. After all the Hospital is of critical importance to eradicating the virus, which ultimately threatens everyone, everywhere."

"Understood," said Sam.  "Good luck, Major.  We hope things down here will end favorably.  In the meantime, we'll try to get the refugees north of the Insect Mound.  Chances are, since there's nothing of strategic value north of Panguitch, the armies won't head any further north.  If they can be kept south of Panguitch, that of course would be even better."

"Yes, it would," she agreed.  And with final salutes, Sam and Guns mounted up in the Jeep and drove back to the warehouses post haste.  The weather was clearing steadily, and so they made good time on the return.  

~ ~ ~

And while all this was happening, somewhere in space, not all that far from the Moon, Jacob was piloting their stolen Nazi-UFO towards their intended destination:  Eisenhelm - the ultra-secret Moon-Nazi base beneath Mare Frigoris.  They had sailed invisibly passed their four pursuers at 48,000mph three hours earlier.  The moon had gotten much larger on their screens, and the view through the diamond-glass port hole began to fill with the brightness of the lunar surface.  Jacob and Vallnam had been keeping themselves occupied by doing light calisthenics, and thought hard about what might be useful to do while they were on route to their target.

Vallnam happen to be one of the few Western Warlocks that survived the Ultra-War, and in his travels he had acquired a tarot deck, which he was idly shuffling at the navigation console.  Whenever he was at an important cross roads in life he would take out the deck and do a reading to see if the cards had anything to tell him.  He decided he would do a reading for Jacob, and so he had taken out the deck and was shuffling the cards.  He knew Jacob didn't believe in such things.

"Jacob," he said, "I am going to give you a Tarot reading."

"Um, ok, I guess," said Jacob, having nothing better to do.  Vallnam had him touch the top of the deck, and then shuffled them again.  He had Jacob draw a card and lay it down on a smooth section of the control consol.  At the top of the card it read "LUNA". It was the Card of the Moon.  Jacob raised an eyebrow.  "Mm.  Well, that's like prescient and stuff," he said with a hint of sarcasm.

"Draw another card," said Vallnam.  Jacob drew a second card and laid it down face up.  "GORUND", read the card.  On it was a fiery image, showing the destruction of the Tower of Babel, the devil, and pandemonium.  Mars showed itself prominently at the top of the lower circle above Ares.  "War," said Vallnam.

"Draw one more card," he said.   Jacob drew a last card.  "MINVAR", the High Priestess of Virgo, Goddess who protects the Earth.

"The Moon Princess," they both said in the same breath.  They looked at each other in silence, and then stared down at the three images for a little while.

"The cards speak for themselves," said Vallnam, finally.  

"Indeed, they do," replied Jacob, rubbing his chin thoughtfully.  They said no more about it, but instead began planning their attack in earnest.  They had one hour of space flight before reaching the moon.  It was time to throw the Stealth Mode switch "Off" and attract some attention.

"You ready for this?" asked Jacob.

"Oh yeah," replied Vallnam strapping himself in at the weapons station.  Jacob flipped the switch, and almost immediately a red light began blinking on the Vizi-Screen.  He calibrated quickly and located the blinking light at Eisenhelm.

"They have noticed us," he reported to Vallnam.

"Yep," I reckon so.  Static suddenly erupted over the radio.  Someone was barking at them harshly in German.  They couldn't understand what he was saying.  Whatever it was, it sounded harsh.

Thus they made contact with their unwitting foe.  After all, the Moon-Nazis had absolutely no way of knowing who stole the ship, and had of course assumed it was someone among their own factions who was plotting a power grab, or some other (and typical) villainy.  Vallnam quietly focused his consciousness on a single point and using his Warlock powers reached out across the vast gulf of space to the mind of the German behind the barking voice.  While he didn't speak German, he could form a mental bond with him just the same.  And he did so.  The bond, having been created, linked their minds, and Vallnam sought to overpower the mind of his opponent with a single, decisive, and highly destructive suggestion.

"You want to kill your commanding officer," he intoned into the German Radio Operator's mind.  As it happened, by pure luck, this particular radio operator in fact had an unusual loathing for his commanding officer, a certain Captain Gunter Kruger, a man of incredible arrogance, deception and cruelty, under whom he had been chaffing for quite some time.  Furthermore, he coveted the Captain's position, and suddenly realized that all he needed to do was shoot him, and everything would suddenly go his way in life. And as it was, at that moment Captain Gunter was standing directly in front of him at a distance of 9 feet, staring at the Vizi-Screen upon which he tracked a mysterious red blinking dot.

"Funker, befehle dem Schiff, in Hanger 2 zu landen!" he barked at the middle aged radio Operator without turning around.  The operator stood up and drew his Luger P08 and fired a single shot, which was heard by our heroes over the radio as a distinct "Pow!"

Jacob and Vallnam looked at each other.  Vallnam smiled.  Over the radio they heard some commotion, shouting, and then the connection was broken with a loud "Zzzztak!"

"Well, that settles that," said Vallnam.

Meanwhile, four flashing red lights appeared on the Vizi-Screen.  Jacob calibrated quickly and, as they expected, it was the four other Nazi UFOs, heading in their direction.  Jacob, understood from the schematics plate that the blinking red lights on the Vizi-Screen signified sources that were actively scanning their ship.  The four ships were however very distant, being still within one hour of Earth, and would require at least 7 hours to return to the moon.  And as it happened, having discovered that their prey was not on Earth anymore, but heading directly towards Eisenhelm, they had already executed the required maneuvers and were heading as fast as possible back towards the moon.  

"Lovely," said Jacob.  "Let's assault the base," he added cheerfully.

"Well," Vallnam replied, "there is the matter of all those UFOs that Bruin Hilda saw in the hanger when she stole this ship.  I think she said there were 18 of them, yes?  So that means there's likely 13 still in the hanger."

"True, but she also said that most, if not all of them, were covered in dust, except this one, which suggests that it was the only one likely to be in serviceable condition," said Jacob, scanning Eisenhelm minutely for any signs of activity.

"True enough, though it's been about 17 hours since we stole this ship.  So it's possible, if not likely, they've been jacking up their fleet in the meantime.  Maybe those other four were the only ones that were prepped and ready to fly at the time they followed us.  Otherwise, I don't see why they wouldn't have sent more," he added. 

"Oh.  Yeah.  That's a lot of ships.  Hmmm... less than ideal.  We had better hit them hard and fast, and take the initiative," said Jacob.

"We are still an hour away," said Vallnam.

"We could go back into Stealth Mode, I suppose," maybe that'll confuse them all.  He flipped the switch, to "On".  The red blinking blips all vanished. 

Unfortunately, the problem with flying in Stealth Mode was that they could not ping outward to see if they picked up any signals from incoming craft.  They decided to fly for ten minutes and then flipped the Stealth Mode back "Off".  In a few moments, the blinking red lights appeared back on the Vizi-Screen again.  They did not see any additional ships in the sky.  Just Eisenhelm and the four behind them.

"That's a good sign," said Jacob.  "Maybe they only have so many crews.  Or they're setting a trap.  Or they haven't had time to mobilize.  Either way, we seem to be doing good.  We're still too far out at the moment to do anything.  We can switch in and out of Stealth Mode every 15 minutes.  And we can zig-zag along the line on the way in to keep them off our track.  Fortunately, the red-mercury plasma engine allows the ship to pivot on a dime, so zig-zags we can do!"

"Let's keep an irregular zig-zag pattern," suggested Vallnam.  That was agreed.  They went another 20 minutes, zig-zagging at random as they went.  The trick was that they had to change course only while out of Stealth Mode, as they had be travelling at a steady velocity to flip it "On".  But they felt that was but a minor inconvenience, and they rolled with it.

On their screens the moon was now looming large.  They could see the dark edges of Mare Frigoris along the rim of shadow at the north pole of the moon.  In those shadows, deep in a canyon rift, was the secret Nazi Moon base that had been built there in 1943, and had been continuously operated and manned by an army of Moon-Nazis ever since.  In that base were perhaps 800 German loyalists who had devoted their lives to the cause of bringing the world under the control of their famous, albeit dead and generally despised, leader.  They had built an underground city there, and had every conceivable amenity, including subterranean agro-farms, laboratories, barracks, recreational facilities, and a massive arsenal of nuclear warheads aimed at Earth. Oh yeah. That.  And quite a bit more.  All waiting for the glorious day when His Imperial Lordship should finally resurface from his hiding place on Earth and transmit the long awaited order "Vernichte unsere Feinde mit totaler nuklearer Zerstörung!".  The Order that never came.  The order that would never come.

How the Germans managed to survive for so long on the moon, alone, and completely cut off from Earth, in absolute blackest secrecy, was a matter of very careful planning at the beginning.  They had imported fanatically loyal and perfectly conditioned pure German men and women, along with the necessary food, equipment, knowledge, and instructions so the Germans meticulously  procreated their way to population stability over the following 80 years, and the Germans running the base at this time were mostly of the 3rd Moon Generation, frantically loyal, and voraciously eager for victory.  Why they were very much like a hive of Screwtapes and Wormwoods.  And the even more secretive, even more cunning, even more cold, even more ruthless Modroni saw to it that it would remain that way.  And so it did.  After all, absolutely nothing at all could be allowed to stand in the way of the Modroni's mission.

Vallnam had another trick up his sleeve.  One of his powers was Clairvoyance, which allowed him to see into distant places so long as he had something to touch that would link him to that place.  And as it happened the place he wanted to see was inside the hanger from whence this very ship came from.  And so he touched the panel in front of him and focused his mind on the Hanger Bay in Eisenhelm.

For a few moments he drifted in darkness, wandering through space-time, drifting. However, it wasn't long before his mind emerged inside Hanger 2.  Vallnam saw a scene of commotion and chaos.  People were running.  There was shouting.  Someone looked like he was barking orders; a Commander holding a pistol.  There was a crowd of people at the main door of the hanger pointing guns into an inner tunnel.  There were short bursts of gunfire.  Ground crews, in teams of five, were frantically connecting conduits to the ships, while others were scrambling towards the ships in flight suits.  Everywhere were crisp Nazi salutes, and cries of "Hail Hitler!"  Some were pointing guns towards the inner hanger.  The Commander was climbing a steel ladder into the control room where two officers were manning the panels. They had sweat pouring down their faces, their lips taught, their hands shaking.  The Commander stood behind them and began to bark orders.

From his trance-like state, Vallnam described the scene he was seeing to Jacob.  Jacob slowly nodded with great satisfaction. It appeared that their first salvo was a spectacular success.  The base was in chaos.  What luck!

"Why don't you persuade the Commander to open the Air Lock doors to the outside?  That will blow the air out of the hanger.  I suppose that ought to mess them up something awful, don't you think?"

"Commander.  Your teams are ready to depart.  The enemy is near.  Open the airlock now, Commander," intoned Vallnam into the German's Officer's mind. "Open the airlocks!"

Unfortunately, the commander had a far more powerful mind than the Radio Operator.  He would not be so easily persuaded.  Vallnam knew that he had one shot at this, and if it failed he would not be able to try again.  So he bit his lip, clenched his fists and focused all of his might into the command, forcing it down the Commander's throat into his heart of hearts.  And as luck would have it, the command took root.  

It would seem that the Commander had long since become a jaded husk of his former vainglory, and as an older 2nd Generation Moon-Nazi, he had become tired, so very tired, of the constant low level warfare that was part and parcel of the culture of Eisenhelm.  He'd been backstabbed one too many times, and backstabbed one too many of his betters to gain position and power, and he'd lost one too many lovers to The Grand Power Play that dominated the social life of Eisnehelm's residents.  He was tired.  And so at that moment, for no reason that anyone there would ever understand, he walked to the control panel and silently began turning the dials and flipping the switches to open the airlock.  RED WARNING LIGHTS began flashing throughout the hanger complex.  

The Officers who had been at the controls leapt out of their seats, horrified, and began grappling with him.  He was not an especially strong man, and the two of them looked like they may have had enough of what it takes to stop him.

Vallnam, although by now quite low on mystic power, decided to throw one more gimcrack into the punch bowl.  He reached out with his mind to one of the men grappling the Commander.  The connection failed.  His power fading, he tried the other one.  He barely managed to make contact in the commotion, but the man's mind was weak, and  so he was not too difficult to overcome.  Another lucky shot.  The suggestion took root hard and fast.  

"Shoot the traitorous dog fighting your Commander!  Shoot him now!" Vallnam shouted into the man's mind. The man, stunned by this sudden revelation, let go of his Commander and stepped back. Out came the Luger P08.  Pow!  One shot, in the back.  His fellow Officer, someone whom he'd known for years, but not gotten along with all that well, but nonetheless didn't intensely despise, raised his arms in the air with cringing fingers clawing at nothing, and then with a final gasp fell down dead.  The Commander, now free, returned to the console and began finishing the job.  He reached his hand out to open the airlock.  The remaining Officer lifted the Luger and shot again.  The Commander went down on one knee.  A red splat of blood began to spread across his chest.  He reached for the Airlock control switch.  Another shot, and the Commander fell over, his hand running down the control panel leaving a streak of blood as his finger slid past the Open Airlock Switch without having the strength to actually flip it.  The Airlocks remained closed.

With blood spreading across the control room floor, and realizing that he just killed a fellow Officer who had turned out to be a treasonous viper, and then his Commander who had gone insane and was trying to suicide the base, the last standing Officer in the control room was overwhelmed by madness - guilt, fear and horror took out the last vestige of reason he had and he at last succumbed to the insanity that followed.  His final act was to pull the trigger and put an end to his  own agony.

The Modroni who had been observing all of this from afar nodded with a cold  scientific satisfaction.  The miniscule amount of psychic assistance he had provided at the two crucial moments had gone completely undetected by anyone.  Things were progressing according to plan.  He took note of the position of the space ship, the Nazi forces in the base, the four inbound ships, and motioned to the other Modroni to proceed with Plan B-5.

And that is where we left things that game.

Monday, November 15, 2021

WoAF - Game Session 25

Onboard the stolen Moon-Nazi UFO, Jacob and Vallnam were at the controls, the former piloting, the latter navigating.  Their organic-pressure suits absorbed the sweat that would have otherwise drenched them as they attempted to teach themselves how to maneuver the craft.  As they drove the ship towards Kitt Peak, they were still debating what course of action, among the many possibilities, would be best, given the fact that in approximately 8 hours four more Nazi UFOs, manned by actual hostile Moon-Nazis, were due to arrive at Earth.  And that was not a good thing.  Given the speed at which they could travel, and the enormously destructive weapons they possessed, a 4:1 fight would likely see them dead, and lay waste to large swaths of the planet in the process.  They needed a strategic response.  The options they debated with the team were, one, fly their stolen ship to Tibet where the ancient Mentarian Temple of the Sun was located, and hope that the Grand Masters would be there and could and would overwhelm the Nazis.  Or, two, fly the ship over Las Vegas and hope that the Shadow King there would engage in a war against them.  Or, three, fly the ship to the Black Wind V facility and hope that Brain V might deign to vaporize their minds.  Or four, fly the ship back to the moon and give it back to the Nazis in the hope that they would be nice about it all and leave Earth alone. None of these plans seemed completely sound and so there was a hot debate about each one over the Telepathic link that was being maintained between all the members of the team. As the conversation continued, far to the north, still in Panguitch, Sam, Guns, Linda and Fred were manning the AGV and had finally arrived safely at Garfield Hospital.  Linda and Pita were planning to meet in Panguitch and take Rocket Bikes to the northwest in order to hopefully find an answer to the meaning of the strange reoccurring dreams she'd been having since first leaving on the Black Wind V mission.  

"The problem," Jacob was saying, "is that we don't want the Nazis to come to Earth at all. Despite the fact that they'd have 4:1 odds, with presumably more experienced pilots, they'd also have to notice that Earth is a wreck, and a juicy target for conquest.  They'd have no problem dominating Federation Command with four of these ships.  And besides, we know that there's another, hmm... let's see... well, at least thirteen ships still on the base where we commandeered this one.  So our best bet, it seems, would be to haul ourselves into space and try to draw them away from Earth.  Though of course, we're likely to get destroyed shortly after making contact.  I mean of course I expect we could potentially take out one of their ships, maybe two if we're really lucky... but even if two of them survive, they'll still be in a fine position to take a gander at Earth and find out how vulnerable we are.  Damnit."

"We could take the UFO to Tibet. The Grand Masters of the Mentarian Order in the Golden Temple have the best chance of taking them on, I should think," commented Pita.  "At the very least, it ought to catch them by surprise.  I'd place my bets on the Mentarians being able to handle them.  The Shadow King, on the other hand, would probably try to incorporate them into his own forces. And Brain V, well... who knows what the hell he would do!?  That's a total toss up."

"That may be so, but remember, the Nazi's may have prior knowledge of the Golden Temple," pointed out Lieutenant Brisbane.

"Um, what?", said everyone in unison.

"Well, it isn't common knowledge, but during WWII the Nazis sent expeditions to Tibet in search of a route to the so-called "Inner Earth".  They were hoping to find a path to ancient secret cities such as Shamballah, Agartha, and Shangri La.  In fact, at the end of the war there were found among the ruins in Berlin the bodies of a number of Tibetan Monks who were believed to be from the Golden Temple."

"Wait.  Are you telling us that the Nazi's infiltrated the Mentarian Order and took it over?!" asked Jabob incredulously.

"Hail Hydra?!" queried Pita with a laugh.

"That's not clear.  In fact I strongly suspect it may have been the other way around.  The Tibetans may have infiltrated the Nazis, and perhaps once they found out what their leader was really trying to do, maybe they attempted to mitigate the damage.  It was rumored among a few people at the time that the Tibetans in some way influenced Hitler's poorest decisions towards the end, and may have been instrumental in ending the war by influencing Hitler to corner himself.  Remember, that war was really touch and go, and had Hitler played his cards well, which at first seemed assured, the outcome would have been very different.  New York might have been renamed New Berlin, and the Third Reich may have had a shot at at thousand years.  But I'm afraid there's no way for us to know that now.  No one found out the answer to that at the time, and then the Ultra-War obliterated any chance we might have had of figuring that out. The point, though, is that we can't count on the Nazi's knowing nothing about the Golden Temple.  They may know all about it, and be quite aware of what the Grand Masters can accomplish."

"Ah. But still, that doesn't preclude swinging the UFO over there.  The Mentarian Grand Masters are still a force to be reckoned with.  And it may be our best chance of getting the Nazis back out of the picture," commented Samwise.

They then discussed the option of flying the UFO over Las Vegas in the hopes that the Shadow King would take the Nazis down.  To facilitate this Jacob proposed that Lt. Brisbane, who spoke fluent German, might be able to convince the Nazis flying the UFOs that they must attack the Shadow King's forces.  In the process of discussing this the team recounted everything they knew about the Shadow King, that he was some kind of ancient inhuman creature, like a Manticore, rumored to have been awoken from its ages long slumber beneath the earth by the Ultra-War.  He commands an army of Lizardmen, and has the Power of Domination over the minds of people in the region, such as the sinister Mayor Mutmaw of Seligman, Arizona, and his crew of brutal posse-men. And then three was the matter of the Talon Fisted Monk, and the Chain of Thanatos.  These details peaked Brisbane's interest, as well as the fact that it was the Golden Crusaders who seemed able to ward off and actually fight the monster.  In the end they concluded that trying to influence the minds of the Nazis by having Lt. Brisbane pretend to be Hitler was more likely to fail than not, as the Shadow King, whom Jacob kept calling "Satan", would probably be capable of overwhelming their minds in any case.  The thought of the Shadow King getting his hands on the UFO's was too great a risk.

And so the debate when on.  

Meanwhile, Lt. Brisbane had been invited aboard the UFO by Jacob.  As he boarded the antique, and yet strangely advanced vessel he whistled through his teeth. Since the ship had been lodged at the secret Nazi Moon-Base (Eisenhelm) for several decades, unknown pathogens were a statistical possibility, and so Brisbane came aboard wearing a Level 4 Hazmat Suit.  Vallnam gave him a tour of the ship, and he was duly impressed.  Jacob pointed him to the brass Schematics Plate that was lodged under the Pilot's Control Station.  Since he was fluent in German he had no problem translating it into English.  He took images of every detail of the ship, paying special attention to the Schematics Plate.  It had to be imaged from several angles as there was a 3D component to the plate's design.  When finished he stood up and admired the ship approvingly.

"Fascinating," he said with satisfaction.  "I notice several things of interest.  One, Stealth Mode can be activated while in flight, though it requires maintaining a steady velocity, which effectively makes the ship internally stationary.  To answer your earlier question, once activated. no, not even the other ships can see it as there are no sensors that exist onboard to detect it.  I think it is theoretically impossible for anyone to detect the ship, at least using the laws of physics that we know of.  The second thing, and since you never mentioned it I'll assume you simply don't know, is that there is an automatic pilot aboard the ship named 'Selbststeuerung', which translates, roughly, as 'Robot-Pilot'.  You activate it by flipping these two switches here," he said pointing to a couple of small red flip switches on the overcrowded dashboard. Jacob took a mental note.  

"Well, that is all very interesting," said Jacob enthusiastically.  Having the ability to go into Stealth Mode during flight, so long as they maintained a steady velocity was good to know.  And having a Robot-Pilot was ... well ... they weren't sure if that was such a good thing to try.  Who knows what devious tricks a Nazi-Robot might have up its sleeve.  They decided that was to be used only in case of extreme emergency as a last resort... if then even.

With the additional options revealed, the team debated the plan further.  They tentatively leaned towards the idea that the best option would be to take the UFO up and out of Earth's atmosphere, head at full blast to the moon, flip the stealth mode on as soon as they're at steady velocity, and hope that the incoming UFOs don't notice them.  Those four were still 8 hours away and still very close to the Moon.  Brisbane suggested that they might be able to execute the orbital maneuver on the far side of the planet, and thereby hide their intentions from the four incoming Nazi ships.  Once in Stealth Mode they'd cruise towards the Moon, and once beyond the halfway point, they'd switch off the Stealth Mode to attract the Nazi's attention.  If all went well they would realize they'd been tricked and turn around to chase them all the way back to the Moon.  Linda suggested that if they waited an hour or two after the Midpoint, they'd have that much time ahead of their pursuers to wreak whatever havoc on the Eisenhelm they could.  All of this met with the general approval of the team.  And so they saluted as Lt. Brisbane departed the vessel with two hearty handshakes and a salute, and they said their good byes.  It was not at all clear they would ever be seen on Earth again.

As this was taking place, a couple of hundred miles due north, the township of Hatch, just south of Panguitch, was beginning to suffer under a barrage of heavy artillery as the two encroaching armies battled it out while staggering in enormous lines northward along the valley passes.  All hell was breaking loose along those two massive columns of warriors.  The southern flank were composed of Lizard Men manning tanks and heavy equipment.  To the north was thin but determined line of humans with a motley assortment of weapons and armor, fighting tooth and nail for every inch of ground they lost. The air was torn by a cacophony of exploding ordinance. 

The people of Hatch had frantically gathered their goods and already fled northward along Route 89 heading towards the momentary safety of Panguitch.  The town itself was taking a lot of collateral damage from stray shells, but there were few people left behind to witness it.  Building and houses, roads, farmsteads and offices were indiscriminately blown to smithereens as artillery landed amid the fleeing troops as they dashed in zig zag patterns northward along 89.  Behind them the battalions of heavily armed Lizardmen rampaged forward, gaining ground with every barrage.  The sounds of the battle could be heard from Panguitch.  And it was making the people there mighty nervous.

Bruin Hilda was was piloting the Heavy Mech, known as "The Rhino", south along Route 93, and had just passed the town of Ely.  As advised earlier by Jacob, she had been keeping a deliberately slow pace, about 10 mph.  They had decided to avoid Garrison, given that the horrors of the Skeleton Circle were still lingering as nightmarish memories in the her and Pita's minds.  Instead of taking the southern route, they went East, along 50 East.  However, once news about the battle going on south of Panguitch came via their Telepathic link to the others, Bruin Hilda stepped on the gas and planned to arrive in Panguitch in 45 minutes, instead of eight hours. 

Samwise, Guns, Linda and Fred were stationed with the AGV at Garfield Hospital in downtown Panguitch.  They were surprised and relieved to find out that the Antiviral Medicine was working to bring a sizeable percent of patients in the town back from the brink, and restore many of them, more or less, back to normal.  So their earlier mission to the Great Insect Mound had born good fruit after all. This was a huge victory, as there was now reason to hope that the spread of the virus could not only be stopped, but actually reversed.  However, the Antivirus was not yet perfect, as some patients, including their friend Dr. Mordesh, were not responding to treatment, and in some cases were even made worse by it.  Doctor Mordesh, for example, had to be sealed in a glass cage, having gone full-Zombie as a result of the first test of the Antiviral medicine.  They looked on in horror at his completely altered visage.  "It's horrible," said Sam as he watched Dr. Mordesh rage blindly at nothing through the one way glass, his restraints nearly tearing free from their bolts.

Throughout Panguitch, nervous survivors of the viral plague, those who could at that point think straight and follow instructions, were busy gathering belongings and piling personal goods on carts and other makeshift vehicles preparing to flee  the incoming armies.  The people who had suffered the Zombie-Mutation were less capable than the Animal-Mutants, the former being barely able to understand what was going on, while the latter had achieved a far higher level of intelligence than normal, but like Charlie from "Flowers for Algernon", had been cast back down to earthly spheres of intellect. Many among them with forlorn, slightly animalistic faces piled their pitiful belongings onto their rain drenched carts and prepared for departure.  

Samwise and the others observed these things from within the hospital.   Guns was staring at one of the screens through which a high magnification camera had zoomed in on a street corner.  He saw frightened people in various states of disarray trying to assemble the courage to run away.  It was a pitiful sight.  

"You know, Captain," he said to Sam, "we ought to be down there helping them folk, don't ya think?"

"Yes, I think you're right," replied the good Captain.  However, as they passed one of the Hospital offices, they heard a heated debate.  Sam stopped at the door and listened in for a few moments before stepping quietly into the room.  Guns followed behind him, checking the time on his micro-mini phone.  It was getting on towards later afternoon.

There was a fierce debate among the doctors in the room. Some thought they ought to be preparing to flee Panguitch, while others were determined to stay. Dr. Rigby, who had taken over the command when Dr. Rogers left with the Black Wind V Team, had been put in charge of the Antiviral Development Group.  That team insisted that they had to stay.  For one thing they were still working on perfecting the medication.  It was a tedious and error prone process, and at this point they still had a 21.5% failure rate, and a 11.8% mortality rate, which was completely unacceptable, and even dangerous.  In some cases the patients had amplified effects effects as a result of the Antivirus, leading them to dreadful states of deformity, and creating what Rigby termed "Super-Mutants".  This was definitely not a good thing.  The virus work had to be completed.  Everyone was completely positive about that.

Unfortunately, the equipment they needed was either too heavy, or far too delicate to move easily.  They were compelled to stay to complete the work, despite the incoming military forces which were likely to overrun the town soon, and possibly destroy it.  

"We think we are close to a solution," said Dr. Rigby, "but it will take a few more days.  We must try to to hold out, and hope that the destruction above doesn't derail our work.  We have generators on Sub-Zone 5 that should have enough fuel for two weeks.  We have enough food to last.  The only question is how severe will the fighting be.  And can we find a way to obscure our presence so we don't attract any attention while we work."  They planned to work in Sub-Zone 4, about 300 feet below the hospital.  If only they could isolate a reliable cure for the virus before it was too late!  

The other group, lead by a Military leader named Dr. Hamilton, were insisting that everyone leave because the knowledge of how to effect the cure, the formulas, and the technical expertise could not be replaced, but somehow or other the equipment could.  They were certain given the size and ferocity of the armies involved that the hospital would be overrun and destroyed, and all of the value of their research over the past several years would be destroyed with it.  They wanted to escape with the data, and the expertise and live to recoup their losses another day.

The debate went back and forth without resolution, and so Samwise decided to interrupt.  

"Doctors and Officers," said Sam in a raised voice, "on behalf of Federation Command, may I please interrupt your debate?  I think I may be able to help you find a way clear of your dilemma, if you'll give me a chance."  

He positioned himself as arbiter of the debate and listened again carefully to both sides, giving each representative a chance to speak, and clarify their views. Both sides made very good points, and the variable that set them apart was an unknown... how severe would the fighting over Pangutich be?  In the end he devised a recommendation.  A few of the doctors who would be willing to risk their lives for the mission should stay to continue the research.  They should migrate as much of their equipment as possible to Sub Zone 5, and work there under strict Code Silence protocols.  The rest, and those doctors on Rigby's team who could reconstitute the research elsewhere, were copy all relevant documentation and and leave with Doctor Hamilton's team heading north.  This would give them collectively their best chance of finding a cure. Dr. Rigby and Dr. Hamilton both agreed, as did the rest of the doctors, and so everyone got busy with preparations.  

Now Sam, Linda and Guns headed out into the town to help the refugees.  They didn't think there would be much danger involved as yet, as the military forces were still south a ways, and most of the residents of the town at this point were recovered, while those that had an adverse reaction to the Antiviral Medicine were being held in Sub Zone 2 of the hospital.  They passed Fred in the parking lot as he leaned against the AGV smoking something foul smelling.  He said he'd stay and watch over the AGV, and jutted his chin out in a show of determination.  No one tried to dissuade him.  And so they casually saluted as they exited the compound through the fortified gateway.  They noticed that the wind had picked up and the sky was getting dark.  In a few minutes they heard peels of thunder.  A storm was coming in, and people might have trouble, so they made their way into the town at a brisk pace to look for people to assist.

The town's people were in various states of disarray.  The ex-Zombies were wandering around lost looking for the most part.  They weren't violent, but they didn't quite know what to do, or where to go, or what to bring with them.  Their brains were still in something of a fog. One old woman in torn blue overalls held a broken doll in her hand as she trundled along the street with a few others of her kind.  On the other hand, they saw people with animal characteristics, not nearly as severe as the last time they were in town, looking slightly less lost, and collecting bundles of belongings and loading them on cards and wagons.

As they passed a small pale blue house along a side street they saw an elderly man with a young girl sitting on the porch looking at a small table.  He had a deck of cards in his hand and he was placing a card on the table.  They weren't sure why the two of them were doing this, as it seemed they ought to be getting prepared for the journey ahead, not playing cards.  The wind kicked up a notch as they passed, and a gust blew a branch that whirled past Linda's head.  The girl on the porch, she noticed, had catlike features, and the old man looked like he'd recently been a beagle, or a dog of that sort not long ago.  They didn't appear to be preparing to leave.

"Aren't you two getting ready to evacuate with the others?" asked Sam as he walked up the bared wire enclosed path to the house.  The they ignored him, and continued to focus on the cards that had been laid out on the table.  A bead of sweat fell from the man's forehead and landed on the table.

As Sam walked towards them he noticed that the wind was wild everywhere, but was strangely still around these two people.  Everywhere else the winds were howling, kicking up leaves and branches, and sending debris flying... but on this porch... not a whisper of wind could be seen.  He looked down at the table.  There were Tarot cards laid out in a circular pattern.  He'd just placed a card in the center of the circle.  The two of them stared with gaping eyes at the card.

"Sir," said Sam, "you must prepare to leave Panguitch." 

But the man acted as if he didn't even hear Sam.  Guns followed close behind him peering at the table from over Sam's shoulder.  Sam looked down at the table, and saw the card that had just fallen from the man's hands.  On it were images that caught his eye.  It was a strange image.  A scorpion at the top of a circle, a black horse on which rode the a cowled figure carrying a scythe.  People fleeing from a fire, having the look of zombies. A starry, starry sky filled by a pale moon... at the top the word Death was crowned by another word "OBITUS". Although he tried to avert his eyes, he was drawn in. He looked ever more intensely at the image... it almost seemed to be moving, in the sky of the card he saw a black raven flying, and in the distance a volcano was erupting.  He saw a tree with yellow flowers swaying in the foreground, while a zombie wearing a bishop's miter and vestments was giving a silent and unholy malediction.  He became lost in the scene and began to feel he was part of it, as if it was all around him, as the vision of the card swelled outward and encompassed him, the porch, the town, and the whole world.  He lost all sense of time, and would have fainted away in a despair of horror had he been able... but he was suspended, held in place by some timeless nameless force, empty of all hope, of all light, of all life... it was just as he had felt outside of Garrison that day when they rolled up on the Skeleton Circle.  Unholy Despair engulfed him.  Guns had already fallen deeply into the card and was entirely consumed by its vision. His face was ashen, his eyes sunken in, his lungs collapsing with a gasp and a sigh.  

Linda, fell under the influence of the Death Card, too.  But her reaction was less severe than the others, perhaps because she was further away from the card, or perhaps her Mentarian habits had conditioned her to maintain at least some control over her own mind at all times.  Or perhaps she was just lucky. It's hard to say.

"Sam?  ...Sam, are you ok?" asked Linda in a whisper that conveyed the fear she felt.  "Guns, are you ok?  Is everything ok?"  Her voice sounded very far off, and Sam could have easily forgotten all about her.

Sam struggled to push out words through his lips. "I'm seeing Death on the card... Death.... Death... It is all Death, isn't it, Linda?"

Meanwhile, Pita was still Telepathically linked to Linda on a private line of thought that the two of them had been sharing for some time.  He noticed that her presence had suddenly fallen off, and her mind became very quiet.  He boosted the Telepathy with an extra effort.  

"Linda! Are you ok?  What's going on over there!? Snap out of it!" he demanded.  She explained distantly what she was seeing around her, and the call of the card, and the vision of death as it engulfed her.  "The others can't move.  Guns has completely fallen into it... he looks like he's about to die, or perhaps he's died already, I don't know.  There's an old man and a girl... they're both entranced as if the card is holding them suspended in space..." 

"Can you shoot the card?" asked Pita.

"I don't know... is that a good idea?... what will happen if I shoot the card?... there's a void in the wind around the porch Pita... it's howling everywhere else but here..." she said as her mind began to fade away.

"Linda1  Listen to me!  Turn on your Mind Shield," ordered Pita, but though she tried, she couldn't manage it. It was too hard to resist the lure of death's terrible pale call.  He thought furiously about what to do.  Her skills were diverse, but her will power was subsiding fast.  Soon she'd fall away into the black nothingness before her.  He remembered she'd complained about having selected one annoying skill she had spent way too much time practicing at the Academy.   It was called "The Glitch".  It paired with "The Knack" but had the opposite effect.  When used it would cause small processes, computers, engines, or mechanisms to fail for seemingly no reason.  She had mentioned how useless it had turned out to be since no one wants things to fail, of course, they want them to succeed, she'd said ruefully a the time.  He smiled as he remembered her pouting about it.

He summoned up an extra dose of Telepathic energy and yelled, "Linda, use the Glitch!"

With the the last ounce of energy she had to devote to anything at all, she lifted her little fist and brought it down feebly on the table summoning "The Glitch".  The Queen of Hearts must have been looking over her in that moment, because as luck would have it, she tripped on the step as she tried to pound the table, and her stagger gave her fist an extra force, which thereby caused the table to bounce, and the cards all flipped up into the air, and off the top of the deck another card fell face up directly on top of the Death card.  On it was a Golden Shining Lion within the face of the sun, and a young boy on a white horse holding up a goblet of wine.  At the top of the card was written the name "ELDRICK".  It landed over the Card of Death... and suddenly the silence was broken.  The porch was instantly engulfed in a whirlwind of such force that the the cards, and the table itself, got swept up into it, and birds were shrieking and cawing frantically as they were pulled upward in it's great spiral, clouds parted in great dark silhouettes, and in a long stream the cards vanished swirling upward into the heavens and disappeared.  There was a flash of light and a clap of thunder! The old man and the girl both fell to the ground, gasping in amazement, as the party members stumbled backwards down the porch steps, and fell onto the ground.  A tree next to the house had been struck by lightning and caught fire.  Everyone scrambled to their feet looking around in amazement.  No one was hurt.  

"My goodness," said the old man to the girl, "my goodness!  My goodness!  We must go!  We must go now!  Hurry Alissa! Get your things!  We must go with the others and escape this town!  Hurry!  Hurry!  Get your things!" To Sam, Guns and Linda he said "Thank you!  Thank you!  Thank you!" as he ran inside.  "We will be coming soon!  Thank you!  Thank you!" and as the man dodged inside the wind slammed the door shut behind him.  And that was the last they ever saw of the dog man and the cat girl.

... Not far away, to the north of Panguitch, Bruin Hilda piloted "The Rhino" past the Great Insect Mound.  It was about two miles east of their position on 89.  Pita zoomed in with his Vizi-Screen and saw that it was swarming with vast clouds of insects.  Billions, maybe trillions of them.  All around the mound was a vast array of vivacious flora and voracious fauna.  Creatures were born, lived and died within days instead of years, birthing, devouring, and dying so suddenly that evolution itself seemed alive with purpose there.  Even the vines writhed as they ensnared animals, and with their thorns drank their blood.  It seemed that every form of life was intent on devouring one another, and by rapid frenetic reproduction, creating one horrifically virulent generation after another, each slightly different, more virulent than the last.  Pita looked away from the dizzying spectacle.  Fortunately, the boundary of the crazy fauna was a desert floor that was so toxic that no living thing could wander across it for long without perishing into dust.  Such was the nature of the Eco-Weapons that had been used around Panquitch during the Ultra-War... 

Bruin Hilda wanted to avoid the mound.  She decided to stay steady on 89, and then cut east on Airport Road about two more miles south.  She flew steadily at an altitude of 15 feet and kept focused on the road.  They wound their way to the military base at airport.  Soldiers came running out.  "The Rhino" was their last operational Mech, and on it was their last Thermobaric bomb, code named "Daisy Buster".  And more importantly to everyone was the fact that their Major Sekston was aboard.

"Alright people," blared Bruin Hilda over the loud speaker.  "We're coming down. We have Major Sekston knocked out in the back.  We had to give her a sedative, which was a dose of Rohypnol.  Give us a few minutes to open the hatch."

As Pita exited down through the hatch carrying Major Sekston by the feet, he glanced around.  All of the soldiers surrounding the Mech had their pistols drawn and were pointing them at him.  He remained calm and continued carrying her down the ladder.  It was a bit awkward.

"Gentlemen," he said, "instead of pointing your guns at us, why don't you help me get her down?  I could use a hand here."

"Oh no," responded the young Lieutenant who had been temporarily put in charge of the Base while the Major was off on the mission.  "We got some very strange radio messages about the Major from someone we do not know, just before you arrived, and you're going to proceed to carry her out nice and slow.  Then we're going to find out exactly what's going on here."

"We're already carrying her out nice and slow," responded Pita, annoyed by the insinuation.

"Keep going, just like that," answered the Lieutenant. "No sudden moves."

Pita continued to carry her down by the legs with Bruin Hilda carrying her by her upper torso.  Getting down the vertical ladder was something of a challenge, especially with all of those guns pointed at them.  But they managed, and when the soldiers had put the Major on a stretcher, Bruin Hilda provided the medical information involved with the dosage of the drug, what the remedy drug and dose would be, and tried to calm the Lieutenant down.

"We got some very strange messages, and you need to explain them to us.  We were told that the Major, and you, may be compromised, and we need to know exactly what does that mean?" said the Lieutenant through grit teeth, his gun pointed at Bruin Hilda's head.

"Well, you understand the abilities that Dr. Rogers has.  We were out there facing a creature that has even stronger abilities than Dr. Rogers."

The Lieutenant looked at her doubtfully.  "That's not possible," he said.

"That's the reason that Dr. Rogers volunteered to join the mission," Bruin Hilda continued. "In our time there, it effected some of our members, including Major Sekston.  It seems to have released it's control over them for reasons that are not entirely clear.  It appears to have freed everyone, but at the time I had to sedate her in order to prevent her from harming herself or other members of our team.  She was, shall I say, devoted to the creature in a way that made our departure from it problematic.  Sedation was our only option at that point.  I'm sorry," she concluded, "but we had no other choice."

The soldiers looked scared.  And skeptical.  They didn't necessarily believe the story.  Bruin Hilda went on to reiterate which drug and what dose would be required to revive the Major quickly, and went on to say that large scale military forces were heading towards Panguitch and that there really was no time to waste.  In fact, in the distance to the south large earth shaking explosions could occasionally be heard.  The threat was real, and imminent. They all knew that.

The soldiers were looking very tense.  "You soldiers have this base to attend to and protect. We're leaving Major Sekston with you.  We must to return to the Hospital and rejoin our own team.  There's not a lot of time."

From the point of view of the Soldiers, however, there was no way to know if Bruin Hilda was compromised by whatever the strange being was, or whether or not her entire story was simply a fabrication.  They'd met Pita previously, and Major Sekston had taken a liking to him, that was clear.  But ultimately he was also a stranger, from a military structure that they had never heard of either.  Nothing about this situation was clear to them.

"We're going to need to detain you until we can verify your story," said the Lieutenant. Bruin Hilda accepted the fact that they had never seen her before, and though they did know Pita, they didn't know her, and since she was the one who appeared to be in charge, and they were not going to simply take the word of a stranger.  Aside from that, she reasoned that both she and Pita were members of Federation Command, which was an organization none of them had ever heard of before, seeing as how the Panguitch community was so far off the beaten track.  All of that, and the fact that numerous guns were trained on her and Pita, she acquiesced to his demand and agreed to remain put.

And so they revived Major Sektson with the counter-sedative.  It took about ten minutes.  When she came around the Major was confused.  She didn't remember much about what happened while she was under the influence of Brain V.  She only remembered vague dreamlike sequences, but above all she remembered her sense of undying devotion to the great Master-Mind.  She felt a sudden pang of loss, and in her heart she wanted to return to Brain V.

"Who's this?" she asked of Pita, pointing to Bruin Hilda.  She remembered nothing of their fight in the cockpit of "The Rhino", which was fortunate for everyone.  

"I can vouch for her.  She's a compatriot of mine.  We've been on a number of missions together.  We're both officers in Federation Command," he explained, keeping a steady tone, and trying to sound like things were really quite normal and that there was nothing to be concerned about.  

"Where is Doctor Rogers?" she asked. 

He then told her the sordid tale of how they lost Dr. Rogers and Penelope in the desert outside of the Energy Station near the Black Wind V facility.  Major Sekston instantly decided that she needed to go and find Dr. Rogers.  Bruin Hilda offered the advice that she should catch up on what's been happening around Panguitch first.  Controlling her impulse to jump into "The Rhino" and fly north to Brain V, she agreed.  Getting more information about the current status was important. She was shortly informed of the incoming military forces and that snapped her out of her revere.  She began ordering her men to take a variety of preliminary actions.  "Pita, we still have our Daisy Buster, don't we?" she asked.

"Yes, we do," he replied.

"Good," she replied emphatically.  "We're going to need it."

"Are we free to go, Major?" asked Bruin Hilda.  

"Yes, go ahead.  Stay in touch.  And thank you.  Keep us informed as to your progress.  And by the way, I will find Doctor Rogers."

"I understand," said Bruin Hilda, and with that she and Pita turned and walked down the tarmac towards the hanger where they had left their Rocket Bikes.

They grabbed two and blazed an arc through the sky over to downtown Panguitch.  They landed in the Hospital courtyard next to the AGV, where they found Fred, blowing smoke rings. They didn't last long. He gazed at them absently and said "Welcome back".  They exchanged pleasantries briefly, and then Bruin Hilda left to join Sam and Guns in town helping refugees prepare for the march north.  

Linda rendezvoused with Pita, and the two of them, as previously agreed, hopped on the two Rocket Bikes.  

"You ready for this?" she asked.

"I was born ready," he answered, and with that they blazed a long golden-yellow plasma trail into the sky heading northwest to parts unknown.  Her target was a place called Diamond Mountain. She pulled it up on her Vizi-Screen.  It was a place that she'd only ever seen in the reoccurring dream.  As it was the only clue she had, that is where she was heading.  And Pita was right behind her.

Meanwhile, as they sped out of the Earth's atmosphere, Jacob consulted the brass schematics plate and flipped a green switch, two yellow switches and rotated a ornately scored thin metallic wheel.  With this he flew the craft at low orbit around the dark side of the Earth, and set their path towards Eisenhelm.  He then rotated a glass ball, with rods of bronze holding it above an array of brightly illuminated vaccum tubes, and suddenly they were accelerated to 10,000 mph.  This was probably as fast as he could accelerate the ship without the internal stasis field  collapsing, and them being smashed against the walls and turned into people-soup.  Fortunately the organic pressure suits they'd obtained on the Moon also helped to keep them from experiencing horrific G-Forces, and between the two, they found that their ride was not entirely comfortable, but far from lethal.  He accelerated to 24,000 mph and flipped the Stealth Mode switch just as they slid out of the Earth's shadow.  

Four hours later, the Squadron of four Nazi UFOs slid silently past them at 48,000 mph, approximately 12 miles away along the same trajectory, only heading the direction towards Earth.  So far so good.  Though Vallnam could see them on his Vizi-Screen as distinctly illuminated green blips, they travelled far too fast, and were far too distant for them to see through the diamond-glass port hole.  Jacob paced back and forth nervously staring out into the blackness of space.  There was no indication that they had been detected, and so in Stealth Mode they continued on toward the moon.  In another three hours they planned to turn off the Stealth Mode, which they hoped would attract the Nazi's attention and cause the Squadron to reverse course, abandon Earth and follow them to Eisenhelm whereupon they planned to mount as devastating an attack as they could devise.  They spent most of their time discussing what their plan of attack would be.

...Meanwhile, back in Panguitch, storm clouds had been gathering east of the town all day, and were gaining strength rapidly.  The winds were up to 60 to 80 mph gusts.  The caravan of refugees were moving as quickly as possible northward, but the going was hard.  Every ten minutes or so a squall of rain would cause them to have to halt on the road and try to find temporary shelter.  But within a few minutes the rain would stop, and they'd continue moving.  

Sam's main concern was not the weather, however.  Through is binoculars he watched the Giant Insect Mound with growing concern.  It was alive with huge writhing swarms of insects, now billowing in long strands in the wind.  Not far up the road he could see clouds of mosquitoes had been moving from east to west,  propelled by the wind into undulating clouds that would disperse and then converge back in on themselves.  Zooming in he noted that the mosquitoes were unusually large.  Some as big as his fist.  He wasn't happy about that.  But at the the moment another ferocious rain squall hit, and this one was sustained for about a half hour.  There was no sign that the weather was going to improve.  In fact, it looked like it was about to get quite a bit worse.

They decided to hunker down in a number of fortified warehouses that were at the intersection of 89 and Airport road.  There were some eight hundred refugees in the forward group, and another thousand or so in the rear.  Although good Captain Samwise was hoping to make it further north than a just few miles, under the circumstances he ordered the military personnel to get the people into shelter.  They quickly filed into the warehouses, sealed the metal doors, and settled in for a long wait.  The storm became violent with lightning, sustained winds at 90 mph, and gusts up to 130 mph.  The team parked the AGV in an alcove next to one of the warehouses and remained inside the AGV watching the sky pensively.

Linda and Pita, now flying at an altitude of 2000 feet, observed the storm coming in from several directions.  Though they were on their Rocket Bikes and might have taken a chance to fly over the storm, the wind gusts at their altitude was getting treacherous.  A sudden gust of over 70mph at 2000 feet was enough to convince them to land and take shelter.  They had made it about 100 miles from Panguitch and were passing over the Burbank Hills just southeast of Garrison, Utah.  They looked for a spot to land.  As they didn't see any caves immediately they landed in a gully, grabbed some tarps from the Rocket Bike kit and constructed a makeshift lean-to.  As soon as the next break in the storm occurred they planned to search up slope to see if they could find a cave.  At the moment the wind and rain made it too hard to see, and exploring was not a practical option. There should be many caves in these hills, they thought but finding one would have to wait.  They curled up in their enclosure, as wind and rain buffeted the tarps mercilessly, and discussed the strange events that had occurred in the town just earlier.  

"You know, Pita, that Tarot Card, really drew me in.  It felt very much like what we experienced when we encountered the Skeleton Circles.  I'm sure there's a relationship.  But this time it was different in a way I can't put my finger on.  Stronger, perhaps.  I felt like I was falling into an abyss of death, and yet at the same time it felt ... familiar.  Like I'd been there before. Or there was someone waiting for me there.  It was horrible.  The strangest thing, though, was that on the card there was an image of a tree with yellow flowers.  It was, I believe, a witch hazel tree."

"Witch hazel, eh?", repeated Pita absently as she rested her head on his shoulder.  

"Yes.  But the strangest thing about it is that this same tree is also in the dreams I've been having.  And I have no idea why."

And as the two of them hid under the tarps the sky grew ever darker and the wind began to howl through the canyons with wild abandon. 

And that is where we left it that night.