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.

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