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.

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