Sunday, January 23, 2022

WoAF - Game Session 28

Having successfully warded off all of the skull spiders, Linda and Pita stared out at the raging radiation storm from the entrance of the cave.  They were still a bit shaken up by the frightful encounter, and decided that would likely be best to continue on towards Black Diamond Mountain.  After all, they had no guarantee that the cave wasn't crawling with hordes of the skull spiders in the tunnels below.  

As Pita stepped outside into the fierce rain-drenched winds, he focused the full power of his mind on a spot in the sky just above where he judged its center to be.  A brilliant crimson lightning bolt flickered down and struck the peak of a nearby hill, shattering an enormous bolder into smoke streaming shards.  He let all his thoughts and fears go and focused on that spot until he began to feel merged with it.  His goal was to align his will with the storm and guide it away further to the west.  This was a very special, very high level Mentarian Power that he had recently acquired, but had not yet used.  As he concentrated he felt the storm center in his consciousness, and he felt his hands gain synchronicity with the great winds of which the storm was composed.  He began to flow his inner self with the titanic forces of the storm, feeling its power course through him. When he felt as though he and the storm had merged into one, he began attempting to nudge it westward.  But his concentration was distracted for a moment, and while his effort was not entirely in vain, and there would come good of it, the effect was not exactly as potent or clear as he had intended. He soon lost touch with the storm's center, but he could tell that it's course had changed slightly. Nevertheless he walked back into the cave somewhat disappointed.

"The storm should move westward soon, and I think it will dissipate after a while.  I'm not sure.  Once we gain some distance we should have clear weather for a few days, I think."

She didn't know how he would know such a thing, but the way he said it made her have confidence, and so she believed him.  They geared up their gear, hopped on their Rocket Bikes and took the dangerous jump into the sky.  At first it was quite rough, as they were buffeted wildly as they ascended, but once they gained 1200 feet, the sky above suddenly opened into a crystal clear blue.  Below they could see the dense dark gray cloud swirling, and at is center scarlet flashes flickered ominously.  Indeed Pita's radar showed the storm had begun to move west, and was already beginning to dissipate, albeit considerably more slowly than Pita had hoped.  However, he felt confident that from that point forward they were bound to have clear weather, and that was a consoling thought.

The two flew their Rocket Bikes north west along the route that was mapped on their Nav-Screens.  Black Diamond Mountain was about a eighty miles north west.  They'd be there in no time as the bikes were very fast, especially at that altitude.  However, once they had gone about 50 miles a thin dotted red line appeared on their screens about 10 miles ahead and nearly parallel to their course.  The line read "Restricted Airspace - No Trespassing".

"That's odd," commented Pita mentally to Linda.

"Indeed, it is.  How can there be a Restricted Airspace this far west?  There's nobody out this far.  Hell, Federation Command until recently didn't think anyone could even be alive further north than Phoenix.  Maybe it's a glitch?"

"Strange.  Lieutenant Brisbane, you still listening in?" asked Pita into the ethers.

"Yes, I'm here," replied the Lieutenant instantly.  

"What do you make of it, dad?" asked Linda.

"Do you get a reading on the source?" asked the stalwart Lieutenant.

"Hold on, let me check," answered Pita as he flipped a switch.  "Yes, ... interesting.  It says the source is Proximatics Industrial, Inc."

"Well now, that is interesting," replied the Lieutenant.  "Proximatics Industrial way out there in the middle of nowhere, and yet not a peep from Mr. Musk on that?  Strange.  I wonder what it could be.  And yes, Linda, perhaps it is a glitch."

"Could be, sir.  Do you want us to investigate?" asked Pita.

"Given Proximiatics Industrial is a privately owned corporation, we don't really have a direct interest in their proprietary affairs.  But let's just say I'd be mighty curious to know what they're up to.  Unofficially, of course.   So I'll have to leave it entirely to your discretion, you two," answered the Lieutenant.

"Ok," replied Pita.  "I think we should continue on to our main objective at this point, and circle back around to this mystery afterwards," knowing as he did how anxious Linda was to arrive at her destination. And so they continued north west on towards Black Diamond Mountain.

After a short while they passed the edges of the storm below, and came down on a patch of desert road, very much in the middle of nowhere.  A dilapidated and peeling metal sign read "101 North".  It was hot enough so that the air caused heat waves above the floor of the desert.  Linda scanned in all directions with her binoculars.  She saw nothing but desolate hills, and the white sands stretching out for miles to the west.

"Part of my dream was in this salt flat somewhere," she said.  "I have a feeling that something waits for me out there.  But I'm... afraid to find out what it is." 

"I'm with you, wherever you go.  I've got your six. You're the best view in the desert right now, anyway," he added sheepishly.

She put her hand on his cheek and smiled.  "Thank you, Pita," she replied making him blush.

They got back on their Rocket Bikes and sped northward along 101 at 160 mph. Pita kept a continuous lookout for anything on the horizon, flashing his binoculars around every few minutes.  After they'd gone about 40 miles or so Linda stopped and pointed up into the sky at a low angle. Pita stopped behind her and followed her finger and in the sky.  He spotted what looked like a dark tear-drop shaped object with a very thin plasma trail tracing a long straight line behind it.  It was distinctly tear-drop shaped.

"I've never seen anything like that," he said.  "What do you think it is?" 

"I've never seen anything like it either.  It's extremely high up, I think."

Pita spot checked his radar, and the object was too far away for them to pick up.  Very high indeed.  It was barely noticeable except for the plasma trail, which glowed a faint iridescent purple against the dark blue sky.  Barely visible at all.  In fact Pita was amazed that she's spotted it at all.  He'd likely never have noticed it.

"Let's keep going, and I'll keep an eye on it.  If it looks like it's coming our way, I'll let you know," said Pita.

They continued northward along 101 for another 20 miles until Linda stopped, again in the middle of nowhere.  Pita came up and stopped next to her.  She pointed to a barely noticeable dirt track that ran straight west out into the desert. He checked his Vizi-screen and noted it's location as 39.94135542202808, -115.87300300611828.  Yup, just as he thought.  The middle of absolutely nowhere.  His map showed nothing at all at their location, nor anything in the vicinity.  He scratched his head, and took a swig of water from the canteen and passed it over to her.  She took a swig, and splashed some water on her face and neck.

The track was barely discernable, but formed a rough line of somewhat discolored dirt heading off into the distance due west.  When they scoped out the line with their binoculars on full magnification, but they saw nothing out there.  In fact, it appeared that the track simply ended at a distant spot in the middle of the desert, but they couldn't be sure.  Maybe it continued on but the track was hidden by a rise in the elevation of the desert floor?  Could be.

"I think I remember this place in my dream," she said, sounding a bit unsure.  "This intersection.  But I don't see anything at all out there, do you?"

"Nothing at all," replied Pita putting his binoculars down with a raised eyebrow.  "Shall we?"

And so they sped westward towards the center of the desert.  The road went straight for quite a ways, then curved north and then curved again to the west, but aside from the curves the track itself was perfectly straight.  Definitely man made.  They passed a rough patch of ground with black sand and rocks, but there was nothing to see there.  

After another stretch they finally arrived at the end of the road.  And there they found another rough patch of land that had flat some gray stone blocks scattered around in vaguely discernable patterns, such as a circle here, and a partial square there, maybe a triangle over there, all forming a large rectangle that spanned 180' by 360'.  

The rectangular area was spotted with dark green bristle bushes, while a number of the flat stones were laid in the ground so that their tops were above the sand line by only an inch or two.  The stones and vegetation seemed to form patterns in the ground.  Some circles, and squares, maybe a triangle?  Perhaps there were buildings here once long ago.  The entire structure seemed rather out of place.  Who would ever have come here to build anything?  Or why would there be only flag stones remaining?  Linda, however, noticed something that she was about to remark on, when something else caught her eye.  What she was going to point to was a half horse hoof print in the sand next to one of the flag stones.  But what she spotted just then seemed far more interesting.

Just beyond the rectangle of stones was a small tree with yellow flowers, seemingly very much out of place in the middle of the barren salt flat.  The branches waved a bit in the slight breeze.  The color of the flowers and the bark of the tree tended to blend in against the sand and yellowish hue of the distant hills, and so it was in fact quite difficult to see it at first. Linda got off her rocket bike and began walking towards it.  The tree looked very withered, and very old.

"Do you know what kind of tree this is?" asked Pita as he dismounted and followed her until they were both standing in the tree's thin shadow.

"Yes, it's a Hawthorn tree," she said. "I've seen this tree before.  It was in my dream.  It was also on the card that the old man at the house in Panguitch withdrew from the tarot deck.  The one that nearly pulled us, and the entire town, into itself."

As he had not seen that bizarre event with his own eyes, he said nothing.  On a whim, he reached out to pull off a flower, planning to give it to her as a gift.

A voice spoke.  A male voice.  A deep resonant male voice. It came from behind them.

"Don't touch that tree."  

Pita and Linda whirled around to see, quite close by, a 6'6" man with a gaunt face, wearing a black robe and silver sash.  He had long silky white hair that draped down past his shoulders.  In his forehead was an embedded black gemstone that seemed to be glowing ever so slightly, and ever so darkly with a dim shadowy radiance.  Behind him by about 30', was a jet black space ship that had silently landed on the desert floor just outside the rectangle.  The ship was so black that it was impossible to see any details, except for its silhouette, which was distinctly tear-drop shaped.

His eyes conveyed a noble yet quietly sinister look.  He walked slowly towards them.  Pita grew tense as he sized him up.  The man stopped ten feet in front of Pita, who stood between the man and Linda.  He looked towards Linda and stated as a matter of fact, "I don't believe in coincidence."

It sounded to Pita by his intonation that he had answered a question that she had silently asked.

"I am Zord-Iak," he replied as if he'd been asked.  That name... range a very distant bell in Pita's mind.  So distant that he could not for the life of him remember where or when he'd heard it before.


Meanwhile, a hundred miles southeast, just north of Panguitch, Fred was staring out the AGV windscreen at the enormous cloud of giant mosquitoes that had descended on their location.  The pulsating green light from their eyes had receded, and he felt his mind had begun to clear to some degree.  He'd just given Captain Samwise a jab in the arm, and expected him to wake up from the knockout gas momentarily.  He gave him slap on the face to facilitate the process.  

Samwise, groggy but glad to find that he was still among the living, took the hit and opened his eyes slowly.  

"Hark and a'vast ye lumbering snot-whistle!  We're under attack, Captain!" shouted Fred at the top of his lungs.  He starred down at Sam fiercely, glanced up at the massive cloud of mosquitos outside, looked past them for an instant to spot the incoming ship, and took the opportunity to slap the good Captain again.

"Ok! I'm up, I'm up," grumbled Sam through a foggy haze as he tried to catch his bearings.  His eyes cleared and he took stock of the situation. The pulsating greenish light of the mosquitos swarm was almost gone as they had been pushed out 240' by the Acoustic Anti-Insect Shell.  He took a look behind him, but Guns was not to be seen.  He looked at Fred, who gave a nod with his head up towards the turret where Guns was still quite knocked out (and tied up for good measure, because Fred was pretty thorough when it came to this sort of thing). The best news as far as Sam was concerned, of course, was that he felt in control of his mind again.  The mosquitoes had been pushed far enough away that their hypnosis was tremendously weakened.  And this time, even if they did get closer somehow, he knew what they were up against, and it'd be quite a bit less likely for them to fall into any such Happy Trances again.  He hoped.

The radio was squawking. Lieutenant Kerrington was on the other end requesting confirmation that the team in the AGV was ok.  

"This is Captain Samwise", he spoke slowly into the microphone.  "We're ok in here right now.  But I have to warn you, do not allow that mosquito swarm to get anywhere near you.  That pulsing light you see coming off the swarm is hypnotic in nature, and, well, just steer clear of the swarm at all cost.  Over."

"Roger that, Captain.  Will do," replied the Lieutenant.  They chatted in staccato briefly to catch up, and then Sam went back to work.

Sam hopped back into the driver's seat and began backing up the AGV southward along route 89 trying to get out from under the swarm.  The mosquitoes, however, had other ides, and stayed 240' distant, just beyond the reach of the acoustic shell, but kept pace with him as he rolled back in reverse.  And so the tunnel of swarming mosquitoes surrounding the AGV and still threatened to surround it completely.  The jeeps that were further south along the road also backed up as they saw the swarm following the AGV.  The Lieutenant planned to keep at least 1200' between the lead jeep and the swarm, for certain.  

Meanwhile, the red flashing radar indicator caught Sam's eye.  He glanced at the screen.  Yes, there was a red blip flying in at 2000 mph on a low curving trajectory from the north.  That's mighty fast.  According to the Trajectory Tracking System the object would intersect with their position in 2 minutes 45 seconds.  Sam peered at it through the thick glass window of the AGV.  he could see it intermittently between the mosquitoes as a distant white dot with a long thin plasma tail behind it.  

"This is Captain Samwise of Federation Command.  Unidentified Vessel, come in.  Unidentified vessel, come in," spoke Sam into the microphone, while switching frequencies on the radio board.  But to no avail.  It was likely, he thought, that their listening frequencies were not going to be on the lucky guess band he was operating on at the moment.  Had Linda been there she would have known how to execute a broad band broadcast, which took a bit of technical savvy, but she was occupied elsewhere at the moment.

"Fred try to zoom in on the Vizi-Screen to see what this thing looks like," ordered Sam.  Fred was already on it, and was zoomed in at 80x.  In between the large brown mosquito blobs that were intervening in his zoomed in view, the could make out the object.  Fred landed a targeting lock on it so they could track it.  He focused the zoom.  And there it was.  It was one of the Mechs from the Black Wind V Facility, cruising in towards their position at Mach 2.6.

"Huh," said Sam finally.  "That is not what we were hoping for."

The cloud of mosquitoes was piling up around the AGV forming a darkening sphere.  He thought about the weapons they might be able to deploy.  There was the flame thrower.  The knockout grenades.  And the Nerve Gas Bomb.  The last option was one that tempted him.  But the nerve gas could potentially kill people if the wind blew it in their direction.  And there was no guarantee that the wind direction wouldn't shift.  He checked the Acoustic Insect Shell, taking note that it was on power level 7.  That was quite sufficient for shattering their wings and frying them mid-air.  He had Fred tuned the radio in on the Panguitch frequencies, and caught the war chatter.  Things were getting quite intense at that point.  

"Fred, put this message through on all Panguitch frequencies and send it out on  the Repeater for the next 10 minutes:  'Warning!  Incoming Mech from Black Wind Facility'," ordered Sam.  Fred got right on it.

Sam rubbed his chin, wondering if the insects were being controlled by some greater intelligence.  It seemed plausible from their behavior, which seemed far more intelligent than one would expect from the average mosquito.  He wanted to try to make contact with whatever, hypothetically, was controlling the swarm.  Maybe he could reason with it.  Or find out its motives.  Or change its mind.  And to this end he wanted to use his Mind Reading skill.  Unfortunately, due to his limitations in this area, he would need to get within 20 feet of a mosquito in order to make such contact.  He looked outside at the ever darkening cloud.  It was still 240' away.  Irksome.  He considered that he could, possibly, step outside and go get close to them.  The entire mosquito cloud had by then swarmed around the AGV forming a thickening shell, in the form of a tunnel that hugged route 89 like a sleeve.  It was becoming difficult to see beyond the cloud.  He decided against chancing a jaunt outside.  Too risky.

Sam reached over to the Navigator controls and flipped the Plasma Cannon power switch.  A low hum began as a blue Charging Indicator light came to life with a single blue bar.  The next bar began to glow blue a few seconds later.  It would be fully charged in 30 seconds. The cloud, he could see, barely, had formed two independent masses.  The larger one was centered on the AGV, while the lesser cloud began moving south towards the line of jeeps.

"Fred, I think we're going to use the Nerve Gas Bomb.  Set the fuse to 10 seconds.  You're going to throw it out the hatch, and we'll lower the Acoustic Shield to try to raw the mosquitoes in and hope the gas takes them out."  Fred made his way to the metal chest in which the bomb was housed.

As Sam was waiting the few seconds it would take Fred to prep the bomb, ahead on 89 at the far end of the tunnel of mosquitoes, he spotted something disturbing. Up from the ground in the center of the road, some rocks began to push upward and roll over.  Out from a hole emerged a small dark gray mass.  It grew larger as he stared incredulously at it.  He knew instantly what this was and he didn't like it one bit.  Bore beetles.  They'd encountered these beetles before, and they had the uncanny ability to bore through stone, and even metal, and, when they got their ire up, the Acoustic Insect Shield, though at great sacrifice to their numbers.  What started out as a dinner plate sized mass, was now the size of a large dog.  He glared at it incredulously. 

"Fred, you got that Nerve Gas Bomb ready?" called Sam over his shoulder tensely.  He wished he still had some of the poison they used to ward off the insects when they'd gone on the expedition to the Great Insect Mound earlier.  But that was not to be.  It had been all but used up during their earlier fight with the insect horde.

"We've got Bore Beetles," said Sam, trying to keep a calm voice.  

"Oh darn," replied Fred anxiously as he lugged the chest across the floor.

"We have a Flame thrower.  That should help.  We have the acoustic shell, but we can't reduce the size least we invite another round of hypnotic pulsation.  This feels, I dare say, rather a bit like a coordinated attack," said Sam.  Fred grunted in agreement.

The red blinking radar blip indicated they had less than 30 seconds before the Black Wind Mech was due to intersect their position.  Fred had set the bomb's timer to 10 seconds and had hauled it over to the AGV airlock hatch.  The plan was to hurl it out the door and in 10 seconds it would explode, and 5 seconds later they'd respond to the incoming Mech.  Sam held his fingers tensely on the Plasma Cannon controls.  

"Fred, I think we're going to die, but this is what we're going to do.  On my mark, open the hatch, hurl the bomb, and close the hatch.  I will reduce the Acoustic Shell diameter, and hermetically seal the Mech and deploy the blast shields.  I will then switch back over to the Plasma Cannon controls and, well, let's hope for the best," said Sam with no great sense of conviction. 

"What if we just get captured by the Mech," said Fred.

"That could well happen, but it doesn't look like 'Capture' is on their flight agenda," replied Sam as he gave Fred the signal.

Fred opened the inner airlock hatch.  He dragged the bomb into the airlock bay, opened the outer door, and without any mishap, pressed the Start-Timer, and tossed the bomb outside.  About 30 meaty looking mosquitoes, some of them fist-sized, had been hovering near the door.  They must have been among those that were already so close to the AGV as to slip inside the Acoustic Insect Shell before they first turned it on, and so had been left inside its perimeter.  Very annoying, thought Fred. Very highly annoying indeed. Their eyes pulsated with an eerie green light. He glanced away, lest he find himself overcome by a hypnotic desire to go outside and joyfully lay down for them to feast on him.

He reached over to press the Door button.  However, as soon as the door had opened the mosquitoes instantly buzzed through the air directly towards Fred and were upon him before before he could react.

Although there were 30 mosquitoes outside the door, only six of them were in range to level their attack.  Except for his leather vest he was not wearing any armor. Fortunately, Fred was rather wiry and quick, and so he set about dodging the incoming attacks by ducking inside while slamming the Close Door button.  And as it happened two of the mosquitoes, in their zeal to get at those rich and throbbing veins in Fred's neck, slammed into each other in mid-attack and went spiraling into the metal sides of the AGV, no doubt greatly frustrated.  Another two couldn't get to him quite in time.  The door slid shut.  One mosquito got squished inside the door as it slammed shut, but one had managed to get inside.  Fred could hear the loud buzzing of its wings and see it by it's heinously pulsating green eyes.  He took a quick glance towards the inner airlock door.  It was closed as per the normal protocol. He looked at the mosquito.  It was the size of a small rat and its eyes pulsed brightly as it approached his neck.  He took his hat and grabbed from inside the rim a handful of 'hathash', a combination of dust, lint, little bits of grit,  and hurled it at the mosquito with a deft flick of his fingers.  The small cloud of debris sailed over its antenna.  It veered erratically away and spun into tight aerial circle.  In a moment it had landed upside down on the metal grate at Fred's feet, its legs wiggling in the air, and its antennae twitching frenetically.  Fred wrapped his hat around his fist and gave his knuckles a good spit for luck.  And with a fast and decisive punch, he smashed it into the grate. There was a dull thud, and the mosquito wings broke, and both antenna bent, and two of its little legs snapped off.  He pounded it again for good measure.  This time he splattered the hellish little creature into the grate, crushing its body so that it divided into several rectangular masses.  Its eyes dimmed to a dull gray hue, and Fred knew it was definitely dead.  He scrambled inside the inner airlock door and slammed it shut.

Sam, meanwhile, deployed the blast shields and pulled in the Acoustic Shell diameter to 10 feet, and lowered the Power Level to 1.  He hit the Lock Down switch which hermetically sealed the vessel and deployed the blast doors.  He slammed the breaks and stopped the AGV, leapt into the navigator seat, and acquired the targeting controls of the Plasma Cannon which he had left in position for fast adjustment.  However, he wasn't quite fast enough.  

As the Acoustic Shell shrank in diameter, he noted with annoyance that the insects did not come any closer to the AGV.  In fact, one of the masses was well on it's way towards the column of jeeps and the convoy of refugees who had positioned themselves some 800' to the south.  He saw a flash blue of light from the Nerve Gas Bomb which exploded next to the AGV.  The nerve gas was invisible, so he couldn't track it, but he hoped it would go where it would do some good, and not waft over the caravan.  Around the AGV a sudden rain of dark brown mosquitoes fell to the ground, causing an entire segment of the tunnel to collapse from the air.  He guessed about 60% of the tunnel had been affected, which was quite a bit more than he had hoped.  But it still wasn't enough.  40% of the mosquitoes still numbered in the tens of thousands.  And the second mass was halfway to the caravan as it was, their greedy horrible eyes pulsating eagerly.

Sam was focused, however, on the incoming silver-white Mech which was now in visible range.  It's speed was such that the air around it had turned into a white moisture shockwave cone.  It did not slow down. It was flying 15 feet horizontally above the ground straight down 89, directly towards them.  Just as it roared overhead it cut a sharp vertical curve straight up and flew at blinding speed into the upper atmosphere.  There was an enormous BOOM as the shock wave hit the AGV.  And this caused every insect in the entire horde to shatter into a trillion tiny insect parts.  Even the bore beetles could not withstands the force of the shockwave. Suddenly there was not an insect to be seen at all.  Just a cloud of grey-brown particles slowly falling to the ground.

Sam could have taken a potshot with the Plasma Cannon at that moment, as the targeting computer had not lost contact with it.  But he was in shock. He had no idea what just happened.  He was expecting to die under a withering barrage of plasma beams, or bombs, or sonic hammers, or radiation beams, or ... something!  Instead, the Mech appeared to have saved their lives.  He didn't know what to think. He took his finger off the firing trigger.  Sam got on the radio and wanted an update from Lieutenant Kerrington.  

"Lt. Kerrington.  What the hell just happened!?"

"I don't know.  I really don't know," replied Kerrington, equally perplexed.

"It's coming around for another pass, Captain," added the Lieutenant after a moment's pause.

"What?!? It is??" Sam nearly shouted.  He checked his radar and sure enough the Mech had spun around in the upper atmosphere and was bee-lining it for their position at Mach 2.

"Hold position.  Hold position," ordered Sam, not knowing what to expect.  His finger was on the Plasma Cannon trigger, and the Mech was locked on.  He could have taken the shot.  But he chose not to.  It began another low run, but this time it dropped speed as it came.  2000mph, 1000mph, 500mph, 150mph and only a quarter mile away.  Sam had a perfect shot at that moment, had he only pulled the trigger.

"Do not open fire, Lieutenant," ordered Sam again. "I want to find out its intentions." 

The Mech landed 90 feet in front of the AGV.  As the steam wafted off its smooth white and silver exterior, a hatch silently slid open.  Out stepped Penelope Monroe, and then behind her Dr. Rogers.  They walked towards the AGV with smiles and out raised hands. Sam stared at them incredulously.  Fred, who also saw them coming, and leapt up the ladder into the turret, pushed the unconscious Guns to the side, and manned the flame thrower.  There was absolutely no way that they were going to trust two people who had just come down south from Brain V, whether they saved their lives from the insect swarm or not.  Sam was fully aware that this could easily be some horrible trick on the part of Brain V, and he was ready.  But then again, there was absolutely no evidence at all that Penelope and Rogers were anything but... well, their friends.  The two of them were smiling happily and waving their hands at the locked down AGV as they walked towards it.

Sam stared at the Vizi-Screen watching them with squinting eyes, more perplexed than he'd ever been in his short, eventful life.

And that's were we left things this game.

Friday, January 07, 2022

WoAF - Game Session 27

Having returned to the warehouse warren with the supply of Acoustic Insect Shields, Captain Samwise surveyed the road ahead.  It was getting hot, and the wet air was shimmering over Route 89.  He stared north.  A cloud of insects had moved over the road and were swarming in by the hundreds of thousands from the great insect mount.  He ordered the soldiers to mount the Shields on the jeeps.  The long line of refugees lined up along side the jeeps clustering around them so that as many could stay under the shields as possible.  The caravan began to slowly move north, the AGV leading in the vanguard.  Samwise kept a careful watch on the cloud with his binoculars.  It was composed of mosquitoes, some as large as a man's fist, and most the size of a finger.  

"Captain, are you seeing what I'm seeing?" asked a lieutenant from the forward jeep. "I'm at 1200 magnification.  Copy?"

Samwise zoomed in and took a closer look.  He noted that the collective mass of mosquitoes had formed a massive column over the road, spanning it lengthwise for about a half mile, forming a kind of tunnel through which the road passed.  But more surprising was the fact that the eyes of the creatures glowed, and pulsated with a greenish light.  And that they all pulsated in unison, such that the entire cloud created a pulsing pale green light in its shadow.  This was something the good Captain had never seen before.

Meanwhile, Fred was on the radio rig, having taken over for Linda who was away on some sort of secret mission with Pita.  Over the static he heard the voices of military men engaged in fierce firefights and running battles.  This fight was taking place just south of the town they were fleeing, Panguitch, Utah.  From what he could tell the Lizardmen forces had moved up with artillery, while the 2nd Army's brigades were trying to occupy the southern sector of the town and dig in.  It didn't sound like it was going well for the forces of men, and occasionally there were screams and the audio would suddenly clip off. Fred flipped frequencies with one hand as he stubbed out a cigarette on the sole of his shoe.  

Guns was up in the Perch wiping the sweat from his eyes as he swapped out the machine gun for the flame thrower.  He expected a wall of fire would be a heck of a lot more effective against insects than bullets.  He aimed to find out. 

They drove up slowly about a quarter mile.  Sam stopped the column and took the AGV ahead alone.  They came within 25' of the mosquito cloud.  It hovered over the road, the tunnel quite apparent, the green glow pulsating rhythmically. Sam stopped the AGV there.  Something about the pulsating light bothered him.  He felt he saw some sort of undulating pattern in the pulsing.  It became more clear the closer they got.  Having never encountered anything like this before he wasn't at all sure what to do.  He looked out the windshield and noticed suddenly that the cloud had begun moving towards them, but he didn't recollect exactly when it had started to move.  His hands were sweating.  In fact he found his entire body was sweating, though he had no sense of heat in the AGV.  Fred also noticed that he felt unusually upbeat.  Like he was on the beginning edge of a really mellow stoner-high.  He noticed his heart rate was increasing, despite the unnaturally calm disposition of his mental state, given the circumstances.  The swarm was now 20' away, at the very edge of the Acoustic Shield.  They seemed to be staying just far enough away to avoid the shield, and began engulfing the vehicle within the tunnel.

The good Captain's thoughts had become rather slow. He reached down to turn the dial of the Acoustic Shield.  He wanted to increase the radius but found that his hand simply wouldn't land on the dial the way he expected.  He looked down.  Sweat dripped from his palm.  The control panel wavered in front of his eyes, a greenish haze enveloping the the dashboard.  

"We're being hypnotized," he thought... slowly.

Fred sat up.  He suddenly had a really good idea.  It was stuffy in the AGV, and it occurred to him just then that it would be much nicer to be outside in the open air.  He looked towards the inner airlock door.  He felt a strong urge to go to the door and open it and go outside. Realizing that something was very wrong with all of this, he slid his mind into one of the other two Mental-Zones he had set up for himself when he first met Dr. Rogers.  At the time he wanted to create mental honey-traps to thwart unwanted visitors.  One Static, and one ongoing insults, with the third compartment containing his normal mind. He forced the pulsating sense of euphoria to drift into his Shakespearean Insults Zone, and so he was being buffeted by endless strings of bizarrely phrased affronts.

"Thou soulless beef-witted scut... scutt... scutt... scutt!" he thought loudly, the words echoing away into darkness.  "Thou craven guts-griping horn-beast... beast... beast... beast!"

This Mental-Zone was probably better than the alternative, which was the Full-Throttle Total-Static Zone that would have likely crushed any thoughts he might have had at all.  And so, in between appalling affronts to his dignity, he plotted his next course of action.   The euphoria, on the other hand, was being rapidly whittled away by the corrosive effect of the insults, which was fortunate as with it also diminished his urge to step outside into the open air.

Guns, feeling quite groovy himself, and suddenly discovering a strong hankering for a stroll, climbed down the ladder from the Perch, and made a fast little bee-line for the airlock.  Once outside he was sure he'd feel positively delightful. He was quite enthusiastic about it.  No sense in wasting time.  Just open the door and enjoy the fresh air!

Fred, seeing Gun's on the way to the door, tore off his leopard speedos and threw them at Gun's feet in an attempt to entangle his legs, and then threw himself onto the big man.  He was trying his best, in the friendliest way possible, to prohibit him from gaining access to the door.  This worked, to some degree, and Guns, being in a fine and happy mood, took it lightly and laughed as he continued to try to dance his way around his little friend.  He had every intention in the world of going outside to enjoy the beautiful sunshine, as soon as he could get this silly octopus off of him. Fred, for his part, was trying to hang on for dear life, but he realized it was only a matter of moments before Guns would push him off.  Guns was a hefty fellow, and strong like an ox.

Sam was also trying to break out of the happy little fog he found himself in, but to no avail.  He stared helplessly as Fred attempted to grapple with Guns in front of the airlock.  He turned his attention back to the Acoustic Insect Shield and tried to maximize the radius setting again, but that didn't go so well.  His fingers felt very clumsy, like wads of soft clay at the ends of cotton candy hands, and so instead of turning it up as he intended, he accidently turned it to the lowest setting.  Not quite off, but so low that the mosquito swarm now hovered in a darkening mass just outside the steel-glass windows of the AGV.  The wavering green glow of their rhythmically pulsating eyes filling the cabin.

"Captain Samwise, thou tottering onion-eye'd whore-master!", burst out Fred from across the compartment, "Assemble the gas of nerves that kills those who breath it, and set it at the flying demons out yonder window! Thou pragging tardy-gaited flirt-gill, have at it before we're all sucked dry to the bone!  Let them smack of my break-wind after a mushroom salsa!"

Samwise raised an eyebrow slowly, trying to take in that long winded instruction.  He thought it over, and eventually came to the conclusion that he didn't have the coordination to execute such a maneuver.  It was a dilemma.  If he failed to get the nerve gas tank outside then he could inadvertently kill them all.  That would be a bad thing, he concluded finally, and rested a bit.

Suddenly the radio blared through the static. "AGV.  Come in.  AGV Come in.  This is Lt. Karrington.  Is everything ok in there?  Over."

Fred was still trying to hold on the Guns but the big fellow was making quite good progress extricating himself from his grip as he guffawed frivolously and reached for the door panel. 

In desperation, convinced that their only chance lay in pushing the mosquito swarm as far away from the AGV as possible, Sam again lunged at the control panel.  But his luck was even worse than the last time and he managed to turn off the Acoustic Shield instead.  He glared furiously at his playdoh fingers as the mosquito swarm landed full contact all over the AGV.  The windshield turned black, and now all that could be seen inside was by the glowing green pulsations.  The sense of euphoria at the idea of going outside was becoming overwhelming. All of them felt that the fresh clean air outside, with the glorious sunshine and cool breeze would be so wonderful to enjoy... it was such a lovely day out, and so stuffy and horrid inside!  

Fred pulled out a Knockout Grenade from his backpack.  He contemplated pulling the pin and knocking them all out.  After all, that surely would be better than opening the door.  The pulsing green light filled the cabin.  It was getting harder to concentrate by the second.  Fred let go of Guns and reached into his backpack and pulled out his gas mask and put it on.  

"Guns, Thou dankish rough-hewn haggard!" he exclaimed as he donned the mask.  "Sam, that befouled pimple-rogue has eyes for Ilene!" he yelled at Guns.  "You shouldn't leave her alone in your perch with him, you bat-fowling witless fleck!"

"Oh gosh that's true!" laughed Guns with delight, and turned to head back up the ladder to get his favorite Springfield rifle.  "Ilene will like it outside a whole lot, on account of it's such a nice day!  She sure will!  Ilene I'm coming for ya!"

As Guns ascended Fred sat down at the radio console, pulled the pin, braced himself behind the steel casing, and tossed the grenade into the stairwell.  There was a very loud bang which made everyone's ears ring violently.  Knockout gas filled the cabin.  Sam and Guns both passed out within seconds.

Fred swiveled around and got on the radio.  "Hey thou paunchy puke-stocking wagtail!  Fred here!  We're surrounded by winged blood-knaves and my greasy giglits have dropped!  Don't approach, ill-bred bugbear!  The danger is is too great!"

Fred listened to the confusion on the other side of the line.  He looked around for something to restrain Guns with.  He figured they'd be out for at least an hour.  He found the Smart Rope and trussed up Guns with it.  He then went to the front control panel where Samwise was slumped over, and turned on the Acoustic Insect Shield. Thousands of mosquitoes were instantly fried, or buzzed upward into the air. He turned the radius up and began pushing the swarm away.  He stopped.  He went back to the smallest radius and lowest intensity.  He tried luring them in and blasting them but they didn't respond the way he expected.  It seemed to him that for insects these mosquitoes were smarter than the average bugs.  The swarm acted in unison, and intelligently. He turned the power to maximum with a 50' radius. Many a mosquito shattered and fried along the perimeter of the sonic sphere that day.  As the Shield pushed outward he he felt the mental effect of their pulsation lessen.  He pushed it to 75'.  The influence lessened again.  He continued to increase the radius until he reached the maximum of 240 feet.  The effect was still noticeable, but not nearly as strong as the bulk of the cloud was enormous and still formed a tunnel over the road ahead.

On the radar he saw a red blip suddenly appear.  He checked the readings and calibrated the controls.  There was something large flying in from the north at 2000 mph.  He looked out the window but it was hard to see through the mosquito cloud.  He caught a brief glimpse of a gleaming shape in the sky, coming in on a long low curved arc, but he couldn't make out what it was.  He switched to the Vizi-screen, locked the targeting computer on it, and slid the magnification to 80x.  Now he could see it, though intermittently between the mosquito bodies.  It was one of Brain V's Mechs from the Black Wind V Facility.  It was on track to arrive in 2 minutes 43 seconds at its current speed.  He looked around.  He needed to wake up his friends.  He found Sam's stash of Modafinil II syringes in his shoulder bag and gave Sam a jab.  Within a few moments his eyes opened and he roused himself. 

"Hark and avast, ye lumbering snot whistle!  We're under attack, Captain!" announced Fred to Sam.  


Meanwhile, far off in space, speeding in zig-zag patterns over the moon, UFO #01 had successfully caused untold mayhem down below.  Jacob gave Vallnam an awkward, yet heartfelt high five.  The two considered their next course of action.

Through the bronze rimmed porthole they could see Mare Frigoris.  Beneath it, they knew from prior experience, was the secret Nazi fortress, Eisenhelm.  In the fortress the two heroes had managed to ignite a civil war using copious amounts of psychic trickery, as per their Mentarian powers.  After several furious rounds of brainstorming, they decided to use Jacob's newly minted skill, speaking German, to contact the base by Radio, and pretend to be members of one of the warring factions of Nazis.  He would do his best to intimidate them and take a few more whacks at the hornets nest.

"Achtung!" shouted Jacob into the microphone.  The radio was still set to the same frequency as when he contacted the Nazi radio officer earlier.  That guy they'd managed to influence to kill his commanding officer.  He was already dead, but someone else had taken his place at the controls.

"Comrads!  Now is the time to rise up and show the world the true face of Facism!  The Commander is dead.  Now is the time to strike!  Do not hesitate!"

"What is your security code!?" squawked the terse response over the speakers.

"We don't answer to you, fool!  You will be swept under the tide!" snapped Jacob  into the mic.  He then gave a big grin and wink to Vallnam who responded with a hearty thumbs up and snicker.

"Who is this?!" demanded the officer on the other side of the radio.

"I am your doom!" responded Jacob grimly and switched channels.

For the next ten minutes he scanned frequencies but none responded. He eventually landed back on the original channel.

"Have you learned of the death of your false leader?!" sneered Jacob.  There was a long string of curses in German as a reply.

"Now you understand how powerful we are!" crooned Jacob insidiously, goading the officer into vein popping fury.

"You putrid piece of refuse!  I am going to destroy you!" shouted the officer, having slipped beyond the point of no return.  Jacob and Vallnam had the impression the man was frothing at the mouth and slamming the furniture with his fists.

"At the end of the day, you will be dead, and I'll be alive," stated Jacob matter of factly.

"You will die very soon!  I am going to execute... Plan Delta-Z!" shouted the officer.  

"That Base will be your tomb!" rejoined Jacob with a mocking laugh and flipped off the mic.  He flipped furiously through the thin brass plates of the UFO's schematics looking for any reference to Delta-Z.  None.

Meanwhile, Vallnam noticed sixty red blinking dots suddenly appeared on the UFO's radar screen.  He tapped Jacob on the shoulder.  "Um, check this out," he said pointing to the screen.  Jacob took a look.  He handed Vallnam the schematics.  "Look for Delta-Z, and see if you can find anything."

He glared at the radar.  It appeared that the sixty red blinking dots were located on the surface of the moon, in and around Eisenhelm.  He flipped a switch and turned a dial which caused the radar screen to alter its readout into a Vizi-screen mode which he could direct with controls.  He zoomed in on the location of several of the blips and saw that they were large rectangular openings in the surface of the moon. 

"Looks like they've pulled out the big guns, Vallnam," said Jacob.  "Oh my.  It looks like they're going to launch their nuclear arsenal at Earth."

"Yes, that could be a problem.  My question though is why would they be attacking the Earth, when their conflict is internal?"

"It could be their last gasp - the old 'We're taking you with us' option," replied Jacob.

"Yeah, that could be," said Vallnam thoughtfully.  They both were trying to think of what they might be able to do to forestall the threat, but it seemed like a runaway train at this point, and neither of them could contrive what to do.

As they watched the Vizi-screen, they observed that the dark rectangles had completed their opening sequence, and now began emerging gigantic humanoid robots.  They were dull grey metallic behemoths that looked to be the size of an apartment building, with dome heads and glowing crimson dots for eyes.  On their arms were assortments of auxiliary accoutrements: missile mounts, laser batteries, and cones with sparkling orange surfaces that made them distinctly nervous.  Jacob zoomed out and scanned the entire scene.  Indeed sixty of the of the behemoths were emerging around Mare Frigoris.  As soon as they made egress the robots launched into space on bright flaming rockets.

"Well, I doubt they're going to use the Robots on themselves, so they're either going to send them after us, or they're going to send them to Earth," said Jacob.  "Man the weapons!  Prepare for battle!" shouted Jacob.

"Do they even know where we are?"

"What they know is that their stolen UFO has returned to the moon after all, and that we've been stealthily lurking in space over Eisenhelm causing all kinds of chaos for them.  Flying Robots could be just the thing. On the other hand, as far as we know, maybe they're going to send the Robot Army to Earth for a final hurrah before they implode into full scale civil war down there."

"Looks like we're about to find out what Plan Delta-Z is after all," said Vallnam as he put the schematics back on the loop poles.  "Damn."

And that is where we left things that game.