Saturday, April 30, 2022

WoAF - Game Session 31

Once again we find our heroes having split the party three ways from Sunday.  

Far, far away, Jacob and Vallnam were crouching at the hanger bay entrance of Eisenhelm, the ultra secret Nazi base situated beneath a starkly shadowed crater somewhere in Mare Frigoris at the north pole of the moon. Beyond, in the outer darkness were the last dying embers the wreckage that had been their stolen Nazi UFO. Nothing but the fading orange glow could be seen in those pitch black shadows about a half mile to the south west.  Vallnam's attention however was focused entirely on the giant Nuclear Missile Robot that had landed at the edge of the crater a quarter mile to the west.  It was scanning the wreckage with a bright beam of light.  

Now that they had unlocked the hanger door, Jacob craned his neck around from the shadows to take a quick glance inside the hanger bay.  There were red lights flashing, broken glass and metal shards everywhere, and sparks shooting out of a number of computer banks nearby and the constant muzzle flashes and ratta-tat-tat of machine guns firing. A haze of smoke filled the enormous chamber, but was quickly being sucked out into the vacuum of space as the enormous hanger door continued to open.  Stately rows of disk shaped UFOs were half concealed by shadows, but Jacob quickly counted thirteen of them.  Suspended from the ceiling of the hanger was the control tower. Suspended through a shattered window was a dead body, while smeared against the broken glass could be seen the bloody corpse of the Commandant.  Jacob remembered with satisfaction how he had ushered  the vicious Nazi along to his demise utilizing his Mentarian Psychic Jujitsu before crash landing their ship on the lunar surface.  The third officer in the control tower couldn't be seen, but was likely dead at the feet of the Commandant.  Jacob briefly wondered if he might have escaped somehow, but it was a moot point.  If they encountered him again, they'd finish the job then.  Jacob checked his pistol and made sure the safety was off.

Nearby, about twenty yards inside the hanger, a Technician in a dark green Nazi spacesuit who had been sucked along the hanger floor by the sudden torrent of wind, was scrambling, trying to pull himself onto the metal leg of one of the UFOs.  The last of the machineguns could be heard firing in the distance as the factions of Nazi officers and troops who had been battling one were busy retreating into the interior of the complex. Jacob watched as the Technician, unarmed, but with a tools satchel at this side, pulled himself along with some difficulty to gain his footing.  He began walking himself along the trestle work towards the interior of the hanger.

Our heroes briefly debated their next course of action.  Vallnam could, he suggested, use a Mentarian Power known as Narcoleptic Beam to put the Technician to sleep, but he was, after their long fought Psychic Combat, feeling rather low on energy, and decided it would be wiser to conserve as much as possible for whatever might lay ahead.   

"Should we bum rush him?" asked Jacob.

"Well, I do have a flame thrower," offered Vallnam.  "I also have a knockout gas grenade, and, oh yeah, I have one more Thermobaric Grenade!"

"Oh sure, let's just blow the hell-- well, anyway, that's a bit of overkill, I think."

"Yeah, hehe.  I also have a Springfield Rifle," Vallnam added, patting the wooden butt that was extended above his shoulder.  "You can always count on your trusty ol'reliable, the Springfield."

Jacob scrambled inside, using the door frame as a brace against the gusting wind.  He remembered vividly watching one of the Nazi Officers who got caught in the vortex a few moments earlier.  He was unceremoniously sucked outside and thrown far out into the darkness of the crater, dying near-instantly from frostbite and the shock of the violent decompression.  He wasn't keen on following him outside and so he edged along using whatever he could get his hands on to brace himself against the wind.  Fortunately his pressure suit, that purplish colored, living, quasi-intelligent thing that protected him from the elements in a dozen different ways, had footware that gripped most surfaces regardless of how slick they might be.  He made his way after the Technician with some difficulty at first, but quickly gained speed and was on his way to catching up with him.  

Vallnam remained behind for a few seconds, watching the giant robot on the rim of the crater.  It formed an ominous silhouette against the black starry sky, barely visible, except for the lights on its gigantic body frame, it's dark red insignia, and the yellow-orange glow from its vizor.   He could see it was scanning the crater in the direction of the smoldering ship.  It was undoubtedly looking to see if there had been any survivors.  If it caught sight of their footprints, it would know there were two.  Vallnam scrambled inside, following behind Jacob at a distance, dodging behind sparking computer cabinets as he went in order to remain unseen.

Jacob followed the Technician as he made his way back towards the interior of the hanger.  Suddenly the sound of the still-opening hanger door stopped with a resounding "Klang", and there was absolute silence, except for the howling of the wind as it escaped out into space.  Then with another "Klang" the hanger door began to close, slowly, grudgingly.  Someone in the interior of the base must have regained control of the hanger's operational system, thought Jacob as he followed behind the Technician and caught up with him after a short sprint.  

"Kamrade!", he shouted to the Technician in reasonably good German.  "Hey wait up!"  The Technician stopped, still holding on to to a metal bar.

"Thank goodness you're ok!"  shouted Jacob over the howling wind.  "If we hurry we still have time!"

The Technician turned around and looked at Jacob.  His face was hidden behind the dark green glass of his helmet, but Jacob sensed that the man was surprised to see him.  After all, none of them had ever seen such a suit as he was wearing.  It would certainly seem very out of place in Eisenhelm.  But the man seemed to accept it after a moment and waved for Jacob to follow him. He then turned around and pointed to the spaceship he had been heading for, and waved again for Jacob to follow him.  Curious, Jacob followed him while Vallnam picked his way through the broken equipment along the edge of the hanger, following them at a distance.  He noted that the great metal door was almost completely shut and so wind near the door had picked up in intensity.  He scrambled forward, holding on to whatever was heavy enough to keep him from getting sucked outside.

Vallnam spoke into his helmet mic.  "Jacob, why don't I get into one of these ships?  We can use it, no?"

"Isn't that what I'm trying to do?"

"Well, why don't I do so as well?"

"Because we both need to be in the same ship," explained Jacob. "Without a crew of at least two, we can't fly the damn thing.  Besides, even if we do fly out of here, those giant robots outside... um... can we even get past them?  They zorched our last ship pretty fast, you know."

"Well, that's true.  On the other hand the ships have Auto-Pilot Robots.  We could each take one ship, and have the Auto-Pilot Robots handle flight while we man the weapons.  Or vice versa.  We won't be able to navigate, but we could have the them just fly us in circles while we attack the base.  That would at least distract the enemy while Ling infiltrates inside to find the command console for the Nuclear  Missile-bots.  If she can make it, then she can initiate their self-destruct sequence and we save earth," offered Vallnam.  

"That's all good, and possible.  Indeed.  Possible.  But really, those Robots zorched us out pretty easily.  I don't know.  That sounds like a pretty big risk."  

"Ok, but if I get in one of the ships now, at least I can use the weapons array to take out the other ships in the hanger.  At least they wouldn't be able to use those against us later, no?" asked Vallnam.

"Good point.  But let me just talk to the Technician first and see what we can find out.  Then we'll decide," said Jacob.

"Go for it," concluded Vallnam as he positioned himself near one of the UFO entrances.

The Technician had made a dash for the UFO he'd originally been working on before our heroes opened the hanger door.  Its Nazi insignia was painted in red and dark maroon circles four times on the underbelly near the rim of the hull.  Jacob followed behind him.  The Technician bent over and disappeared behind some of the equipment there, and Jacob skidded to a halt.  He proceeded forward very cautiously, his pistol at the ready.  But the Tech was bending over the other Technician they'd seen him with originally.  That man was on the ground in a pool of blood.  The Technician looked up a Jacob.  The man on the ground was moving slowly, his hands grasping and ungrasping in the air.  His suit was punctured in three places along the torso, blood splatter everywhere.

"Can you help him?" asked the Technician.  

"Ja," replied Jacob.  "You guys realize what's been going on, Ja?"

"Ja, they're all fighting!"

"Ja, they figured things out," added Jacob.  "It's finally happened."

The Technician pointed to the man on the ground.  Jacob took out one of the medical kits they'd grabbed from their UFO before it self-destructed.  He cut open the suit around the wounds.  It was bad.  Jacob knew first aid was not going to do much for him.  Not even close.  He wasn't likely to last more than a few minutes.  

As he worked on the wounds, dabbing and swabbing, he spoke about the fighting trying to cajole some information out of the Technician, but he only replied with short nods, and the occasional staccato "Ja".  In fact, it seemed the Technician had no knowledge of, or even interest in the battle.  Jacob got the impression the man considered it absolutely beyond his realm of concerns.  Which was odd, because the entire base was in a state of civil war.

"Franz," he said passionately holding the wounded Technician's arm as Jacob worked, "Franz, hang in their Franz!  Hang in there!  You can make it it!  He will help you!"

Franz stared vaguely as his eyes began to glaze over.  He tried to smile at his friend, but grimaced instead.  

"We have to stick together!" said Jacob.

"Ja." replied the Technician.  "We have to stick together," he repeated absently.  "Franz, hang in there! Franz!"

And then, with a final spasm, Franz gave up the ghost.  "Franz!" cried Jacob and the Technician together.  Jacob cradled him in his arms, truly stricken by the fact of the man's death.  It was as if it suddenly became clear to him that of all the people in Eisenhelm, of all the ruthless, diabolical, wicked and fiendish Nazi devils on the base for the past 90 years, it was the lowly Technicians alone who had retained their humanity, and were, probably as a consequence of their ongoing oppression for so long, truly good hearted people.  Jacob, felt a spasm of real remorse to have Franz die in his arms.  The Technician grieved to the core of his being, sobbing deeply.  Jacob put his arm on his shoulder to console him.

Meanwhile Vallnam had been making his way gingerly forward amid the wreckage.  He didn't want to make himself known, unless necessary, as he didn't want to alarm the Technicians.  Behind him he began to notice the sound of a loud hum.  He turned around.  The hum grew louder.  He noticed that there was a shimmer over a circular area of the hanger door, about ten feet in diameter.  It began to turn a dim red color.  Then orange.  Then yellow and it began peeling off slag metal.  Waves of super heated air were shimmering all around it.

"Um... Jacob.  I think we got to get the hell out of here.  Now!"

Jacob took his hand from the Technician's shoulder and said, "They must answer for this." 

"Ja," replied the Technician.

"Are you prepared to do what is necessary?" asked Jacob in his sternest tone.  But the Technician simply blinked and looked confused by the question.  

"What is necessary?" 

"Ja.  For justice.  For vengeance.  For Franz," answered Jacob grimly.

"Vengeance? For Franz? Aaggghh.  Franz!!  Aggghh...", he cried out weakly, looking more depressed than angry.  It didn't seem that the Technician was capable of the emotions that Jacob was trying to evoke.  The Technicians simply had no warrior instincts at all.  The Technician it seemed was the proverbial nice guy.  Wouldn't hurt a fly if it landed on him.

Vallnam interrupted over the Comm.  "It looks like someone, or something, is boring a large molten hole through the hanger door with a beam weapon.  A large beam weapon.  Either it's one of the giant robots, or another UFO.  Either way, we don't have long before the hanger door melts through.  30 seconds maybe.  Tops."

Jacob looked at the Technician solemnly.  "We don't have much time.  We need to get out of here.  We need to live so we can save others from the fate that Franz has suffered."


"We can't stay here. We can't fight the Robots.  You have to take us further into the base."

"Alright. Come with me!"  

Jacob waved Vallnam forward, and then took off after the Technician who had bolted towards the north west corner of the hanger.  They scrambled over broken equipment and bodies, dashed around electrical equipment spewing showers of sparks, and through clouds of smoke until they came to an area of towering computer banks, through which they ran until they stopped in front of a small, heavily braced steel door at the very far corner of the hanger, shrouded in shadow.  Meanwhile, Vallnam, who was running a good sixty feet behind them, could see the wavering yellowish light from the molten door reflecting off of equipment as he ran.  He began to feel waves of heat at his back.  It was not good.  Suddenly a loud buzzing sound and electrical crackling came from behind him.  There was an explosion as the door suddenly ruptured.  Equipment and glass went flying, skidding across the polished floor around him.  Vallnam ran like hell.

The Technician frantically pressed buttons on a metallic keypad next to the door.  It made a series of clicking noises, and then slid open silently.  

"Quickly!" shouted the Technician.  "Inside!"  Jacob leapt through, and was followed immediately by the Technician who began to shut the door behind him.  But he was prevented by Jacob who held the door with his strong right arm.  "Wait, there is another!  He's with us!" he shouted.

Vallnam ran to the door and when he got there he spun around, and hurled his Thermobaric Grenade as hard as he could over the equipment towards the hanger door, and then turned to dodge inside, planning to slam the door shut behind them.  He could see the hanger door was melting and the blazing beam was now busy melting through ships and equipment alike.  The only thing that saved them was that they were not on the direct line of the beam itself.  Shimmering waves of heat were igniting everything flammable within 20 feet of the beam's edges.  The floor beneath it began to boil into molten slag.  Fortunately the beam was being directed to the south east side of the hanger, rather than the north.  Otherwise they would have been instantly incinerated.

Jacob shoved the Technician further into the room, which in fact turned out to be a stairwell descending and ascending up and down into inky darkness, "Go!  Save yourself!  I will take care of the door!" he shouted.  The Technician ran to the stairs and then stopped and turned around to wait. If things went south, they'd all die together.

Vallnam had hurled the grenade with all of his strength.  But unfortunately, he hurled it at just the wrong angle, and against improbable odds it hit a metal plate that suddenly fell from the ceiling, and so the Thermobaric Grenade bounced off of it... and came tinking along the floor - tink-tink-tink-tink!  As it happened the grenade was tinking directly towards the open doorway.  Jacob, thinking fast, threw the satchel he was holding at the grenade, but it flew over it uselessly.  It didn't seem that there would have enough time to gain entrance to the stairwell before the grenade made it through.  He looked at the bouncing Thermobaric Grenade, sighed, and resigned himself - he was going to leap onto it, grab it, and run with it towards the hanger door in the hopes that he could at least take out the giant robot as it entered the hanger chamber.  At the last second he changed his frantic mind and leapt through the door into the stairwell... the Thermobaric Grenade bouncing gleefully through the doorway behind him.  

 * * * 

Meanwhile, back on Earth, good Captain Samwise was lying on his side, in the cockpit of Brain V's Ultra-Science Mech, now a ruined pile of wreckage.  Sam was badly wounded, and nearly swooning from pain and blood loss.  Through the shattered window he could see that Penelope had landed on the road about a mile to the East with her parachute intact.  He wiped the blood from his forehead with his arm and tried to extricate himself from the belts that held him securely in the commander's chair.  There was no chance of jettisoning at that angle as it would simply rocket his chair directly into the ground in front of the ship.  He'd have to climb out, if he could manage it.  On the radio he heard Fred from the AGV shouting, "Hang in there Captain! We're on the way!" 

The Lizardmen in their tanks were on their way, too, and would likely be in position to fire on the Mech within five minutes.  There were canyons to work their way through, and so it was likely they'd arrive in two groups, one above the Mech to the north, and another group, moving more slowly due to the steepness of the incline, would likely arrive directly East of his position.  He looked around for a medical kit.  In fact he believed he knew where it was likely to be.  He crawled his way along the oddly tilted wall, and made it to the white metallic cabinet in which he expected such things as a medical kit would be located.  When he got to it, he slid the panel open and indeed inside was a medical kit, and a rather nice looking dark blue glass bodied beam pistol of a make and model that only Brain V could have designed.  It was in a drawer on an inside panel.  "For Emergencies" read the label above the panel. It was as sleek and dangerous looking as Mech V had been pristine and elegant.  He took the Med-Kit, hefted the sleek blue-glass pistol once or twice, and took it too.

Then he climbed painfully up to where Penelope's ejector seat had rocketed from the Mech a few minutes earlier.  There was an opening where the seat had been, and he climbed outside.  He slid down Mech V's smooth white metal casing to the ground.  He looked around.  There was debris all around. Across the flat valley floor it was sand and rock to the east, and a tall ridge to the west, snaking north and south from his position.  He saw the road on which Penelope was making her way north.  The ridge rose up about one hundred feet along slopes which were covered with a sparse forest of pine trees and a good deal of underbrush.  He thought he could likely hide there and remain unseen from above, at least for a while.  He contacted Fred on his Comm.

"Fred, come in, Fred.  Do you read me?"

"Yes Sir!  We're on our way!"

"Ok, pick me up just north of the Mech, about 300'.  We'll then swing around and get Penelope who's making her way north along the road west of my position."

"Roger that!" said Fred, and he slammed on the gas, roaring the AGV full throttle to 80 mph.  They headed south, first over some scrub land towards the road that followed the valley southward, having decided to avoid the upper ridge road. 

"Captain Samwise," Squawked the radio.  "Captain Samwise, this is Major Sekston.  Can you read me? Over."

"Yes, Major, I read you," replied Samwise.  "We've been hit.  Mech V is destroyed.  I'm wounded, but heading north on foot.  My men in the AGV will pick me up in 4 minutes."

"I saw.  I'm on my way to take on the tank column," she replied.  "I have line of sight on the lead tanks now.  I'll keep you informed as to their movements."

"Very good, Major.  Thank you!"

Fred launched the AGV's phalanx of mini-drones into the air.  He knew that the Lizardmen were likely to already have their own mini-drones up there somewhere, but they'd be very hard to spot.  Just like his would be for them.  He was reasonably certain they had used mini-drones to target Mech V when they took it down.  The AGV Drone-Swarm took to the sky.  Each one was shaped like a little  dragonfly with electronic eyes and ears.  He sent fifty drones due south towards Mech V so he could keep tabs on that area.  Another 25 were sent south-west to try to get a bead on the exact location of the tanks, which were not in line of site of the AGV.  Fred was taking the low road along the valley floor to avoid direct fire.  He controlled the groups of drones with a controller-glove as he drove the AGV with the his other hand.  He sent the remaining drones high, about a quarter mile, and fanned them into a wide array in order to gain visibility on the entire Lizardman force, and mitigate the chances of their being shot out of the air.  Meanwhile in the Perch, Guns was calibrating the Plasma Cannon and prepping it for mid-range fire.  The system's AI took in his instructions without a qualm, all target vectors and emitters were aligned with their targeting controllers.  He was ready. The AGE lurched downward as Fred departed the east road at the point where a depression dropped down off the road onto the desert floor.  They bounced over a series of dry stream beds, and launched due south across the desert, leaving a long cloud of dust behind them.

Captain Samwise appraised his medical condition as desperate, but he was not mortally wounded, and in no mood to give up fighting.  He hustled over the rocky terrain with some difficulty and entered a grove of pine trees.  He hid in the bushes and tended to his leg.  The med kit had all the first aid equipment he could ask for, and so he began dressing the wound. Above, over the crest of the hill, he heard a loud explosion.  

"Captain, that was the Rhino.  Major Sekston hit one of the three tanks still on Route 89 with an Anti-Tank Guided Missile.  It's hobbled but not out of commission.  All three are firing on her position now, but she's pretty damn good with that Mech, Sir.  She just ducked down below the hill line - almost got hit by the 105, but ... oh damn, I lost sight of her... hold on - I can see on the drone-screen that she's moving laterally, probably angling for another shot.  Yup!  There she goes."

And so Fred gave Sam a blow-by-blow account of the battle on the other side of the ridgeline as he sped the AGV to Sam's location.  Up in the Perch, Guns took control of two mini-drones and tried flying them down the cannon barrel of one of the tanks, but it was too windy, and the AGV was bouncing too much - he couldn't finesse it.  "Damnit," he grumbled under his breath.  

Further southeast, Fred watched Penelope scrambling north, dodging from cover to cover as she made her way north back toward Panguitch, staying just east of the road.  He switched views over to the mini-drone aerial overhead.  Of the eight tanks, one of which was burning, five had left the Route 89 and were heading to the ridgeline from which they would be able to fire on Mech V.  But they had canyons and steep slopes to overcome.  It would take them a few minutes.  Two of the tanks had taken the southern route through a small canyon, while the other three had taken a northern route that was a bit straighter and had a slightly easier incline.  That group of three would likely arrive at the crest of the ridge first.  He calculated that the AGV was approximately 2 minutes out from where Sam was hiding.  Fred plotted a path to curve around the south of the wreckage of Mech V and wheel around so that has he approached Sam's position the AGV would be facing the ridgeline where he expected the leading tanks to show up.  Fred relayed this information to Captain Samwise.  

As the AGV cleared the wreckage he spotted the first of the tanks arriving on the top of the ridge.  Guns fired the Plasma Cannon, but the shot missed and sizzled over the top of the tank.  A flash of light and smoke from the tank's cannon showed that it fired immediately.  Within a second the AGV jolted as the shell glanced off its right flank armor, causing a huge shower of sparks and smoke.  Guns took another shot with the Plasma Cannon as Fred slammed the breaks on the AGV and geared into reverse.  The bright yellow-orange beam grazed the tank's treads, melting and fusing them into place.  It wasn't going to go anywhere, but from where it was it had a commanding view of the entire desert plane on his side of the ridge.  Fred eyed the drone-screen to see what the two tanks behind it would do.  One continued up, while the other stopped and out clambered a squad of Lizardmen who began ascending the ridge slope through the pine trees.  They'd have a bead on Sam's position in a minute or so.

Due to angles of fire that the Plasma Cannon's gimbaled mounting allowed, Fred decided his best tactic would be to risk taking another shot from the tank, and drive directly below it.   From the base of the ridge he could get a shot directly upward, and from there the tank's angle of fire was such that it could not return fire.  It would be a sitting duck.  So long as he could make it to that position without getting blasted to pieces.  He counted that he'd already taken four shots with the Plasma Cannon, which meant they only had four shots remaining.  They'd have to make them count.  

Meanwhile Samwise craned his neck around the cover he was hiding in to glance at the tank above his position.  The smoke from the treads told him it wasn't going to move anytime soon, but he could see the machine gun turrets, which meant if they spotted him, they'd have line of sight on his position.  He ducked back behind cover.  He guessed that the Lizardmen who exited the third tank were on their way to make repairs on the treads of their lead tank (this was not in fact the case, as they were fanning out to get a bead on Sam's position which they had already spotted using their own drones a few minutes previously).

He decided to climb upward through the woods towards the ridge line.  He wanted to intercept the Lizardmen and try to pick them off one at a time.  He figured he could probably catch them by surprise.  If so, then he hoped to force the other tank to stop its ascent towards the crest of the ridge, which he hoped would give Fred a chance to get the AGV a bead on the damaged tank's underbelly and take it out with the Plasma Cannon.

[GM's Note:  they had picked one of a number of possible tactics and chose based on gut instinct in the heat of battle.  However, there were other options.  It was known that the AGV's Plasma Cannon had far greater range than the Tank's shells.  They could have taken the more distant route along the east road and hid on the far side of that ridge line, and taken carefully aimed shots with the Plasma Cannon at the tanks as they crested the hill from a safer distance.  While this would have likely maximized their chances of preventing the tanks from getting line of site on Sam's position, it would have left him vulnerable to being pinned down by Lizardmen ground troops.  So it was a toss up.  Which  tactic would have served best is hard to tell.  There were risks to either plan, though from a purely clinical perspective they had a higher chance of more people surviving had they kept their distance, but might have sacrificed Sam in doing so.  On the other hand if the AGV gets destroyed by any of the five tanks they will all likely die.  A tough choice to be sure, but having made their decision they went for it with gusto.]

Good Captain Samwise slowly made his way up the side of the ridge, dragging his wounded right leg painfully behind him as he struggled through the undergrowth up the slope.  Fortunately, the tank above him was situated at an angle where its cannon could not fire on Sam's position, and while there was a machine gun, apparently the gunner there had not seen him, or was occupied dealing with the damage the AGV had inflicted on the tank, or maybe he was even dead.  No way for him to know. And so he clambered through the thickets as quickly as he could... which was in fact, quite slowly. 

* * * 

Meanwhile, 24,000 feet below an unremarkable salt flat in Utah, Pita and Linda stood in silence before the Queen of the underworld city of Lemuria.  The magnificent beauty sat majestically upon her ruby throne, gazing at them with a glimmer of amusement in her keen, imperious eyes.  The great cavernous and beautifully ornate city was visible through the enormous crystal windows that encompassed the throne room.  Then the Queen adopted an expression of curiosity mixed with no small amount of disdain.  Then she smiled vaguely. She stared first at Linda, and then at Pita.  Back and forth her eyes cast their imperious gaze over them, assessing their every move and expression.

"Welcome to the kingdom of Lemuria," said she in highly accented English, speaking slowly, with pauses between each word.

Pita bowed demurely.  "Thank you for having us, your Majesty."

"It is extremely rare for us to allow Over-Worlders to enter our domain.  You are our guests.  You are welcome," she said looking directly into Linda's crystal blue eyes.  "You must be tired from your long journey.  Please.  I will set before you food for you to enjoy, and rooms for you to relax within and refresh yourselves."

"Thank you, your majesty," answered Linda bowing gracefully.

"When you have refreshed yourselves then we will speak again," said the Queen and she waved her hand theatrically to the Captain of the Guard.  He bowed low, and gestured for the couple to follow him.

They were led to sumptuous chambers in which were all manner of beautiful furnishings, food, clothing, and a breathtaking view of the city.  There was a dining room, a kitchen, a bath, two luxuriously caparisoned bedrooms, and an large stately main room into which they had just entered.  Following behind them servants in pastel colored robes wheeled in small tables with dishes of food.  All of the dishes were vegetarian, made from a wide variety of mushrooms, tubers, and other vegetables.  After the dishes had been transferred to the main table in the central room, the servants, and the Captain of the Guard, turned, bowed, and then left the room, closing the doors behind him with a gentle whoosh.  

"I could get used to this," remarked Pita, whistling through his teeth in amazement.  

"Wow," said Linda, "get a load of this place."

(Somewhere on the moon, at this very moment, Jacob was pitifully cradling a dying Nazi Technician in his arms, amid the smoke, chaos and wreckage of the drear and dreadful fortress, Eisenhelm, facing almost certain incineration from the baleful gazes of the giant Nuclear Missile-Bots.  Had he only known the disparity of fates between himself and that of his compatriots back on Earth!)

Linda walked to one of the gorgeously carved stone tables, long and wide, upon which were three large flat platters, made of gleaming gold trimmed with gemstones, upon which were loaves of what looked like bread.  She looked around the room at the burbling circular fountain in the center, the deep and lush carpets, the exquisite draperies, and delightful statuary.  On the far side of the room Pita stepped out onto the marble balcony, its pillars and railing made of highly polished blue banded jasper, and capped with smoothly fashioned serendibite which formed curiously interlocking geometric designs. The city was lit by long beams of gently colored lights that ascended upward and disappeared into the dark hazy vaults of the enormous cavern.

The helmets that they were wearing could not be removed, Pita found.  He took some time to examine his in one of the tall mirrors that graced the bath.  It was very curiously crafted.  The helmet itself was made of shining silvery metal, smooth yet ornately etched with elegant swirling patterns. Over the top was a smooth ridge  that formed a stately crest, reminiscent he thought of a Spartan helm, though far more efficient and compact.  The face plate, he discovered, was not actually glass at all, but a kind of crystal clear force field.  It kept the air in (or out), but allowed him to touch his face if he moved his fingers through it slowly.  He felt a tingling sensation over his hand as he did so.  Along the jawline where several buttons, and he examined the compact cylinders that he took to be miniature gas tanks.  The helmets, aside from being life saving at a lung-crushing depth of 24,000 feet, were works of art - like everything else they beheld in the fabulous city, a fantastical mix of utility and design.

He returned to the balcony where he found Linda still admiring the view. She lifted a silver pitcher and sniffed at the liquid.  Water, she thought.  Pita took a glance over the edge of the balcony as Linda walked up to join him.  There was a vertical drop of perhaps a thousand feet or more, down into a distant roaring river that snaked its way along the cliffs of the canyon bottom, white foam frothing over enormous rocks which they could see by the dim green lights that illuminated those nether realms.  They returned their gaze to the astonishingly vibrant city.  Huge curving towers capped by onion shaped glistening opal turrets, enormous shaded archways, long narrow bridges lined with graceful parapets, wide and gracious stairways made of glinting pale green amazonite, ramparts of glinting quartzite, and numerous tall slender temples made of iridescent ammolite, all dotting the landscape with scintillating elegance.  The sheer opulence of the city was utterly breathtaking. 

"Did your vision show you anything of this?" asked Pita.

"No, not at all. I'm as surprised as you are," said Linda awestruck.

"You know, they've been quite hospitable, thus far," replied Pita. "I think we should go along with them and see where this leads," he concluded without any particular sense of apprehension.

"Yes, I agree.  And you know, we've had a long journey.  I think I'd like to take a bath, and relax for a change."

"I think I could use a shower by now, too," said Pita sniffing at himself.  And so they took their time, relaxed, bathed, nibbled at the strange tasting breads, drank liberally of the pure clear goblets of scented water, and donned the luxurious apparel they found available in the bureaus.  

They decided to take a stroll into the city, but that was not allowed just then.  While the doors to their chambers were not locked, there were two guards outside who halted them before they could walk father out than a few steps.  They could not, it seemed, speak English, but one of the guards spoke something into a small broach on his lapel and in a few moments the Captain of the Guard returned.

"May I help you?" asked the Captain.

"We were wondering if we can stroll around?"

"The Queen requests that you remain here for the time being," replied the Captain in the stilted and highly accented English that Pita took to be the Lemurian accent.

"And therefore so we shall," replied Pita without hesitation.  "I could use a nap, frankly."

And so they rested in their chambers for the remainder of the day.  Later that evening, signified in Lemuria by the changing of the tone of lights in the city, they were summoned to dinner by the Queen.  They wore the finest apparel in their closets.  They looked magnificent, the two of them, as they strolled behind their escorts.  All who saw them stopped and stared at the handsome couple.

[GM's note:  In fact, part of the fascination was their good looks, but moreover, the fact that they wore Over-World helmets signified that these were rare strangers indeed.]

To the Great Dining Hall they were escorted, and when they arrived they were greeted with a salutation, and lifted crystal goblets by all of the noble denizens who rose to greet them upon their arrival.  Every eye was upon them.  A salutation in Lemurian was intoned with great solemnness. Pita gave his best chest-out-chin-up-shining-tooth grin, and he and Linda bowed in return.

They were escorted to the presence of the Queen on her dais overlooking the hall.  The Queen raised her glass and toasted the two.  "Welcome," said she.  They raised their goblets and returned the toast with warm "thank you"s.  And then everyone sat down, and so the feast began.  The sumptuousness of it, and the chamber in which they sat, can not be described in a way to do it justice, so I will forego on attempting it.  Let it be said that the two of them had never imagined such splendor was possible.

The Queen questioned Linda as they ate.  She asked about her life in the upper world.  And Linda gave honest, albeit curtailed replies.  

"What is it like for you in the upper world?" she asked Pita.  

"It is a rough world to live in," he answered bluntly, but honestly.

"Indeed. Your race has finally managed destroy the upper world, hasn't it?"  asked  the Queen with some disdain.  "You Over-Worlders have been insane since the beginning.  It is no surprise at all that you have annihilated your civilization and put an end to ninety-four percent of the surface world's animal life. This is why we have had nothing to do with your people for so many ages.  Your people are mad.  Here in Lemuria our people are peaceful and quite superior in every way.  We have been at peace for ages.  We have long ago put an end to strife and conflict among us.  And this is why, in fact, it is so exceptionally rare for your people to find your way to our city. It is almost a singularly unique occurrence.  We have kept our city a perfect secret from your race for many ages.  I alone, however, have watched your people from afar and observed your madness and insanity.  I do not allow my people to witness the madness your people have proliferated, lest it somehow tinge their souls, and bring unhappiness to us.  And yet now, after all this time, here you are.  What do you think of Lemuria?" she asked Pita, gazing at him intently with her crystal clear blue eyes.

"I think it's beautiful," he said.

"Indeed.  We have made it so over many thousands of years.  I am curious about what brings you here.  Can you tell me?"

"A vision, that she has had," said Pita gesturing towards Linda.

"Yes, I had a vision.  The vision brought me here.  To the desert.  To the Hawthorn tree," she said.

"Yes the sacred Hawthorn tree has brought you here to me.  Don't you wonder why?"

The two guests nodded in the affirmative.  

"Perhaps in time we shall find out why," said the Queen with a smile and a gesture of aloofness. "In the meantime you are welcome here.  You are free to partake in our society.  However should you break any of our laws, or the madness of your kind become in any way apparent in you, I shall be forced to take drastic action.  So my advice to you is to learn from our people, the calmness, serenity and peacefulness of Lemuria so that you may reside here in peace with us. What do you say to this?"

"Thank you for your hospitality, and we shall err on the side of caution, and try not to step on your laws."

"You are wise.  Wiser than others of your kind," remarked the Queen.

Pita smiled.

"There are many mysteries here," she continued. "Some may shock you. Please try to remain calm."

She looked at Linda.

"How do you feel about Lemuria?"

"Well, I feel strangely at home."

"Do you not miss the upper world?"

Linda thought about this for a while. 

"Yes, and no.  Half of me does, and yet half of me doesn't seem to at all."

"I feel you will do well here.  After some time, once you've been here long enough you will acclimate to our atmosphere and will no longer need to wear those helmets.  But it will take time.  Please be patient."

At this the Queen introduced the couple to the Nobles of Lemuria.  One at a time there were greetings, toasts and salutations, but conversation, of course, was not really possible.  

After a time Pita noted that around the hall there were boxy metallic robots doing manual labor of various kinds.  One of the Nobles with whom he was trying to converse commanded a robot to bring more food to the table.  The robot obeyed without hesitation, moving with its awkward, yet powerful limbs.  Pita noticed that each robot carried a sword that was sheathed along its spine.  None of the swords were withdrawn, but they were certainly noticeable enough.

"As you become acclimated to our climate you will be acclimated to the ways of our people, too," the Queen was saying.  "To assist you in this, I have assigned a teacher for you.  Please be acquainted with Sir Ratheror, Chief Royal Scholar of Lemuria."

"Greetings young Over-Worlders," said the eminent elder in Lemurian English. "I have been honored with the task of teaching you our language, ways, and laws.  It will be my pleasure to serve you in this capacity for the duration of your stay in Lemuria.  Welcome, and be at peace."

They bowed to him and thanked him.

And with this, the two began their residence in the great underworld city of Lemuria.  

* * * 

Meanwhile, back on the moon, Vallnam and Jacob watched helplessly as the Thermobaric Grenade bounced across the threshold into the stairwell with them.  There was nothing to do but wait for the end.  And so they waited.  And waited.  And the end didn't come.  As it turned out, this particular Thermobaric Grenade had a faulty ignition switch.  And so it simply didn't explode.  It rolled across the floor and came to a stop at the top of the stairs.  Jacob chalked this up to a little known Mentarian Power of his, known only as "The Glitch".  It was rumored to cause mechanical and electronic devises to randomly fail in the presence of someone with the power.  He always considered himself just that kind of someone.  After nearly passing out, and in a puddle of sweat, Vallnam crossed the little stairwell and picked up the Thermobaric dud.  

"Well, I think I'll just keep this as a little souvenir of our adventure, then," he said and plopped it into his knapsack.  

And with that the door was sealed behind them, and the three men hustled themselves down the stairs until they arrived at Sub-Level 3.  There they entered into a small chamber that served as an entranceway into the warren of workshops that the Technicians spent most of their days toiling in.  The air smelled like grease, sweat and an odd mix of chemicals.  It was brightly lit, and had clean white surfaces for the tables, and there was a lot of equipment and tools all around, on shelves neatly arranged.  There were several Technicians in the room, looking around nervously.  When the door opened and our heroes came through with Franz's Tech-brother, (his name was Hans, but he had not yet mentioned this), the Technicians leapt to their feet.  They'd never seen anyone dressed like Jacob and Vallnam in their purple-bubble space suits before, and given everything that was going on at the base, they nearly jumped out of their skins with surprise.  But Hans quickly explained that Jacob had tried to save Franz, and when Franz died in his arms, Jacob suffered as much grief and sorrow as he himself had.  He stated that these men were "Good People" with such conviction and sincerity that the others took him at his word and assumed that they must have been part of some secret and hitherto unknown Technical Squadron.  They huddled around as Jacob and Vallnam asked them questions about the base, and explained that they all needed to stick together in order to escape.

However, there was one hitch.  There was nowhere to escape to.  The base would soon be melted down by the Delta-Z Robot Force, explained the Technicians.  It was hopeless to think one could escape, they stated with blunt and factual despair.  Where could they go?  The moon was not exactly hospitable.  Jacob, however, insisted that they not give up hope, and so long as they were still alive there was a chance.  They agreed and agreed to help him make plans, despite their conviction that there was really no chance of survival whatsoever.

First, they explained that Eisenhelm was an underground cluster of complexes, with scientific, operational, and military centers, and that it extended outward through the lava tube tunnel system that linked the various sectors together.  They gave Jacob a map of the complex.  

As it happened there was another hanger bay located in Section 8. It had an assemblage of UFOs in it, though the Technicians explained that they were all in various states of disrepair, and none of them could actually fly at that time.  As it happens, there had been over the years a slow but steady degradation of capabilities in the base as the Nazi factions spent most of their time and effort on political intrigues. Nevertheless, Section 8 was about a mile eastward through the tunnels.  If they could make it to the Hanger they might be able to salvage one or more of the UFOs there, if they were lucky.  

However, there was a problem.  There were 16 Technicians, but only 11 space suits.  The tunnels between the complexes were devoid of air.  Some of them would not be able to make it.  One of them pointed to Section 4 on the map.  There was a still functional Staff Operations Center there, in which spare space suits were kept.  Some of them could go there, get the suits and bring them back, while the others made their way to Hanger B.  Since this seemed like the best plan they could come up with, they decided to go for it.

As they debated, all in German, of course, Jacob began to actually like these men.  While they were members of the never-to-be-sufficiently-hated Nazi Regime, it was nevertheless the case that these people were sincere, honest, and good natured.  It was probably likely, he thought, that this was due to the many years of oppression they must have endured under the rule of Nazi Military and Science Officers.  After this kind of oppression for so long, it may have simply driven out the "Will To Power" that dominated the minds of their Nazi superiors.  Whether they were harsh and unrelenting Military Officers, or cold blooded Nazi Scientists, it made little difference... the Technicians were all treated as inferior servants,  there only to do the bidding of whomever happen to be ordering them about at the moment.  It had been a miserable slave's life for them.  And so Jacob decided he really would like to save these people if he could.

And so they took a few of the younger and more energetic Technicians, suited them up, and climbed down through the hatchway into the Lava Tunnel.  It was enormous.  At least 60' high, and in some places up to 100' wide.  They could see by the dim lighting of overhead lamps that clung to the roof of the tunnel in sporadic lines, but much of the tunnels were shrouded in darkness.  The ground was hard packed dirt and stone, covered with tire treads.  They headed east towards Section 8, sticking close to the walls, and hoping not to be seen.

And that is where we ended the game this evening.

Thursday, April 07, 2022

On Story vs Games in RPGs

You can create a story. You can play a game of chance. But once you are playing a game of chance it is unlikely that you will get the story you want or expect. Because that's the nature of dice. They roll random. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. Law of physics and stuff.

Stories, however, the good ones, the one's our players want, are about heroes who overcome desperate odds to achieve incredible victory. In most stories, the one's players imagine they will emulate, heroes take chances, desperate, terrible risks, at each step of their journey.

But there's a 1 in 20 chance the shot will be a critical hit to the forehead and save the girl from the sorcerer with the dagger at her throat. In the Story the shot hits, the sorcerer's forehead explodes, the girl is saved, and the hero is redeemed. Ahhhh, so great! Fun stuff!

But when you roll the 1d20, that only happens 1 time in 20. All the other times the shot misses, the sorcerer stabs the girl and she dies. The hero glares in numb disbelief at the 8 on the d20. There are groans. The player slumps over. It's done. It was all a gigantic waste. She's dead - the quest is over - romance defeated - and so the despair rises from the ruins like a black cloud and covers the world, and the players all sing "My hero has failed, has failed has failed. And that wasn't fun, no no no. Oh great Gamemaster - you suck, you suck, you suck, you suck, all the live long day. You suck, you suck, you suck, you suck, oh doo dah day!"

How did it come to this?

It's all because over the years the players have been infected with an idea that causes them to believe that RPGs are Story Games, and their heroes are "supposed to win". It's a story after all, and in stories the heroes win. The mantra has been for years that GMs are there to fulfill the wishes of the players who want to be heroes - because "that's fun". The other side of the mantra has been "failing is not fun". So if the players fail, it's not fun, and you suck, oh GM. That's been the mantra circulating the tables for years now. And it's had an impact on player expectations. With perfectly predictable results.

But, in fact, this has all been complete nonsense the entire time, imo.

There are stories. And in them the heroes indeed win - against all odds. That's what makes them fun. Absolutely. Yes. You can read them. You can watch them on TV and in the movies. You can write them if you like.

But then there are games of chance, like Role Playing Games. And rolling dice requires taking a chance that you will fail. As soon as you let the die fall to the table there's a chance of failure. And the greater the risk, the greater odds you will fail. But the greater the sense of achievement when your risk pays off in your favor. So for the GAME to be exciting the risks have to be high. But when the risks are high - in the real world of physics where the dice are being rolled - there's usually a far greater amount of fail than there is success (unless every risk is 50% chance of success - or more). That's physics for ya. Dice = Risk = Failures. But people these days' don't want that. They want the Fantasy of Winning - all the time. Every time. And when they fail, they say "That wasn't fun, now was it". Because they've been trained to say that. Their minds have been infected with an unrealistic expectation.

The original RPG, on the other hand, before the corruption insinuated itself into the gestalt, were played with a completely different expectation. "We're gonna die horribly in that damn dungeon." That was the expectation because when you played D&D, original D&D, by Gygaxian 1st Edition rules - guess what? 98% of the time you died. In the one night. By the end of the session your characters were dead. Because the idea that the game is about risk was simply understood. Players didn't bemoan their losses. What did players in those days do when their character where killed in horrible gruesome ways? Rolled new ones. And played again. And again. And again. Because it was fun. The exploration was fun. The danger was fun. The risk was fun. The getting your character jacked up and torn in half by a invisible six arm cave troll was crazy freakin fun. It was the world against the players, and the world was filled with terrible deadly evil monsters, traps, and gruesome mayhem. Yes - that was all part of the fun. In the early days.

But now... well, GMs are expected to buffer for the players. To pad for the players. To pamper the players. To "let the wookie win". Because when they win, that's fun, and when they lose, that's not fun. Because "story".

Players have been fed ideas and expectations that have spoiled the game for them.

My advice: When you want to play a game, be ready to win OR lose. And for GM's, stop pampering your players. Let them die, for Jimminy's sake! And guess what - after they loose a few times, and then take the shot - it's actually terrifically satisfying. Because they took the risk, knowing they could actually lose, and did it anyway - and won. And that's actually fun.

Friday, April 01, 2022

WoAF - Game Session 30

And so, our heroes had once again split the party into 3 neatly divided groups and each was pit against dangers beyond ordinary comprehension. Far off in the distance, beyond their perception, a poem was being recited in vast the recesses of infinite space with sardonic, and utterly alien, amusement.

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Linda and Pita stood next to their Rocket Bikes.  Their negotiations with the Captain of the mysterious helmeted horsemen had come to a conclusion.  It was decided by the higher authority, with whom the Captain had briefly spoken by Broach-Radio, that our young heroes were to be invited to a speak with whomever  it was that had been on the other end of the transmission.  Linda had been determined to stand her ground, speaking of the urgency of the dream that had lead her and Pita to that desolate location, but now she wondered if her brazen demand had been too reckless after all.  Pita stood quietly waiting for her to decide.  She looked at him with a bit of consternation, hoping he would decide for her, but his goal was simply to assist her in her quest, not take over the lead.  And so finally, after biting her lip until it hurt, she decided.

"We will go with you," she said to the Captain.  He nodded.

"Before we go with you," said Pita to the Captain, "my lady wishes to stand next to the tree for a brief meditation, if that would be permissible. She wishes to commune with her dream in the tree's august presence."

"It is the Sacred Tree," said the Captain sternly.  "None may touch it and live."

"She will not touch it," assured Pita.

"Then it is permissible," replied the Captain.

The horsemen had a spare horse which they gave to Pita, indicating that the Rocket Bikes ought not to re-enter the desert area that they claimed as their territory.  After negotiating the assurance that two men would stay to guard their bikes, he swept Linda up onto the saddle and the two of them rode together.  Neither of them were unhappy with this arrangement.  And so they rode the two miles back down the long straight road to where the Hawthorn tree was blooming in the middle of the salt flats.  

Pita noted to himself how oddly antiquated, and yet simultaneously sophisticated the technology the horsemen carried was.  The radio-broach was a fascinating mix  of miniaturization and beautifully wrought artistry.  The helmets the horsemen all wore were fitted with internal breathing apparatus that was compact enough to fit in a small casing along the jawline of the helmet, including the gas tanks, which were no larger than a pinky.  The silver capes they wore also appeared to have the property of making them nearly invisible at various angles, and also seemed to  selectively absorb, or amplify, whatever sounds were within a few feet of them.  Thus, when riding they could make the sound of their horses hooves as loud as thunder, or, just as easily muffle them to the point where you'd hardly hear them if they passed within five feet at full gallop.  How the capes were able to do this was completely a mystery to him.

It didn't take long for them to get to the plaza in the desert where the Hawthorn tree stood blooming with yellow flowers.  

"I remember in my dream this moment.  We were both on a horse, looking at this tree.  And over there is Black Diamond Mountain," she said pointing to a peak in the distance.  She also nodded to where the obsidian space ship had landed and mentioned in a whisper that the ship was in her dream, too.  Although they hadn't seen it leave, the ship was not there.   

Linda walked to the tree, and stared at it.  After a few minutes of watching her stare at the tree, she seemed to fall into a trance.  Pita waited a few more minutes.  He didn't wish to disturb her meditation, but he was growing increasingly concerned that something might be going wrong.

"Have you ever seen anyone interact with the tree this way before?" he asked the Captain.

"It is the Sacred Tree," he replied as though everyone ought to know that strange things happening around it were to be expected.  "The Sacred Tree of the Desert," he added conclusively.

"What makes it Sacred?"

The Captain seemed nonplussed at this question, as though it ought to be obvious.  

"Let me elaborate.  Is it sacred because there's a spirit within it?  Because it provides a certain fruit?  Because it's pretty?  Why is it sacred for you?"

"It is sacred because the Gods will it so," replied the Captain.

"The Gods?  Hmmm." said Pita. "Is there a text that speaks of the will of the Gods?"

"The Sacred Text," said the Captain.

"Is there only one or by chance do you have these sacred text on you?"

"No.  I do not have the Sacred Text on me.  That would be forbidden.  None may touch the sacred text.  Only the High Priest may read the Sacred Text."

"Will we have a chance to speak with the High Priest?" asked Pita.

"I do not know," answered the Captain.

"Is there a way for you to reach the High Priest from here with your communication device?"

But the Captain changed the subject.

"Your lady... is she well?"

"Well, normally she is, but now I'm not entirely sure," replied Pita glancing over at her.  "The tree seems to be affecting her in a way that makes me think she is spiritually connecting to it.  That's why I'm asking if there is a way for you to get in touch with your High Priest.  It would be good if he could discern if the tree is speaking to my lady."

The Captain thought this was an important question.  He rode off a short distance and spoke into his Radio.  When he returned he said "She is not to remain near the tree.  You must bring her away."

Pita walked to where she was standing.  Her hair was blowing lightly in the wind.  Her eyes were glazed over and she stared at the tree as though she were entirely entranced.  Pita reached out one finger to tap her on the shoulder, and the instant his finger made contact he found himself standing in another space, with Linda, and the Tree.

He could see the surrounding landscape, but it seemed incredibly different.  It was as if all the colors of everything had been inverted.  The tree was occupying 90% of the region.  It felt like the stars in the sky felt much closer than usual.  And the horsemen felt much further away than possible.  When he stared carefully at anything it looked more or less normal.  But the overall impression was that the space in which he had entered was entirely alien, as though two universes were merging in that one spot.  Linda began to turn towards him.  Pita looked around carefully to try to find anything of significance that he could describe to the Captain that would reveal that he had entered into the Sacred Space of the tree.  He wanted to find a symbol of some kind that the High Priest would be likely to recognize as significant.

Pita looked around.  About a quarter mile to the south east, thirty feet in the air, he saw the obsidian teardrop shaped ship, floating.  "Ah," he said to himself, "so the ship phased away into this realm.  Interesting."  The ship was stationary.  In fact, if anything in the entire realm was stationary, it was that ship.  

He looked around towards the tree and saw a raven descending upon it.  The Raven looked very tiny, and yet at the same time enormous.  Was it very far away?  Or was it so vast that it was landing on the tree, and covering the entire earth with its wings?  He couldn't tell.  But whatever it was, the Raven was descending onto the tree.  Linda turned towards him slowly.  Her eyes were two luminescent pearls, glowing brightly.  

He lifted his finger gently off her shoulder.  And suddenly he was back among the horsemen in the desert, and Linda was staring at the tree, and there was no Raven, and the sky was bright blue emptiness.  

"Captain, we were just in a world of opposite colors.  There was an obsidian ship off in the distance," he said pointing to where it had been.  He explained about the gigantic tree.  And the tiny and giant Raven.  

When Pita mentioned the ship the Captain scowled, and flipped to buttons on his helmet and looked in that direction.  He barked some orders and the horsemen all leapt onto their horses and rode to where the Captain was.  Linda woke up from the trance and took Pita by the arm.

"Are you ok?"  

"I don't know," said she. 

"Do your remember anything?"


"And you remember my being there with you?"

She nodded yes.

"Did you see anything after I left you?"

She nodded yes.

"Can you tell me what it was?" 

She nodded no.  Pita had the impression that whatever she had seen had been something which could not easily explain.

Meanwhile the horsemen had formed a crescent line in front of the Captain facing towards the south east.  The Captain flipped another button along the lower jawline of his helmet and the vizor glowed a dimly with a purplish hue.  

"You said there is a ship there, but I don't see anything.  Are you sure?"

"We saw the ship in the other Realm. We also saw a giant Raven, but you didn't see that either."

"I know not of such things.  You speak mysteries.  But I don't like it.  We had better go now."

"I think you're right," replied Pita.  "Do you still want to go, Linda?"

"Yes," she said emphatically.  

They mounted the horse and followed the horsemen as they rode fast and hard due north.  At some point, after about 20 minutes, all of a sudden the horsemen descended downward out of view.  It was very dusty, and the lighting was poor, but Pita rode after them.  There was a kind of a blur, as they seemed to descend into the sand, and then they found themselves in a long broad tunnel.  It was lit by long softly glowing lights high up along the cavernous ceiling.  The horsemen had stopped and were dismounting.  The Captain came over to where they were.

"You must never reveal the entrance to our secret cavern," he said.

"You have my word," replied Pita solemnly.

The Captain turned and went to a column of metal along the wall.  On it was a triangular chrome panel, below which were dials and buttons.  He flipped two buttons and turned the dial.  The chrome panel turned a soft colored pastel blue, then dark grey, and then a soft white.  A woman came into view on the screen.  She was beautiful, with thin red lips, high cheek bones, icy blue eyes and an imperious gaze.  She spoke to the Captain in a language that Linda and Pita did not recognize.  He flipped the two switches, turned the dial, and the screen transformed again into a blank sheet of chrome. 

"You are to come with me," said the Captain, and turned on his heel and headed towards a circular metal tube along a farther wall past the horse stables.  They followed with great curiosity, and no small amount of trepidation.  The Captain turned a lever on the cylinder and a door silently slid open.  Inside was a circular room.  He stepped in and they followed.  Two of the horsemen entered the room as well.  The Captain pressed a button on a round panel that stood on a pedestal to the left of the entrance and the door slid shut.  Above the door was a circular disk upon which was a black arrow pointing from the center to the very top of the circle.  Along its rim were small lines and numbers ascending from zero to negative 24,000.  It looked like a clock, except with one hand instead of two.  The Captain turned the dial on the control panel and with a sudden falling feeling they were descending far more rapidly than what either Linda or Pita had ever experienced short of free fall after parachuting out of a plane.  The dial above the door moved as they descended.  When it was half way around the circuit the Captain and the Horsemen removed their helmets with sighs of relief.  They were handsome clean shaven men.

Meanwhile Pita and Linda had noticed that it was growing increasingly difficult for them to breath.  The air pressure had been increasing steadily on the way down, and perhaps it's composition as well.  Pita was not sure, but he soon felt he was likely to swoon.  

"You will need these," said the Captain as he handed both Linda and Pita two helmets.  "Without them you will find yourselves unable to breath."  They donned the helmets, which clicked as they formed a seal around their necks.  The Captain clicked a small button on the bottom of the jaw line, and there was a whoosh of air, and Pita found that he could then breath normally.

They continued to descend for another few minutes.  The motion stopped as the disk above the door came full circle and landed on the -24,000.  The door opened and the horsemen stepped outside, followed by the Captain.  Pita and Linda followed them out onto what could only be described as a magnificent plaza overlooking an enormous cavern-city.  There were thousands of beautiful, rectangular buildings made of gigantic stones, all carved with complex geometric designs. Dozens of beams of light ascended into the air from various locations around the city, vanishing upward into the misty vaults of the cavern, causing regions of the ceiling to glow softly before fading into darkness above.  All around the city were silver and gold domed buildings nestled among ornately patterned spires, fabulously wide marble stairways ascending beneath tall graceful archways. And all around one could see bewitching statutes, and delightful works of art dotted every grotto along the wide and spacious avenues.  Even the roads themselves were made of precious stones such as lapis lazuli, polished amethyst, and bricks of gold, laid out in luxuriously delightful patterns.  And everywhere were people.  Thousands upon thousands of enchantingly dressed people, adorned with jewels, carrying small wands with lights.  None of these people took the least notice of the two awestruck strangers.

Linda whistled through her teeth.  This was not expected.  Pita, with his usual nonchalance, took it all in stride as if he'd been there many times before, and took Linda by the arm as they walked. 

They were lead along one of the many wide avenues, along a ledge road that overlooked a vast dark chasm from the bottom of which could be heard the distant but continuous roar of many waters, up a long flight of stairs towards a grand central building that rose above all others and upon which was a glass dome at the very pinnacle.  The stairway was attended by a thousand warriors standing at attention, five hundred on either side.  Few people walked these stairs, though those that did were especially refined, wearing diamond tiaras, emerald bracelets, and other equally exquisite accoutrements.  And up the long flight of stairs they went.

Through the main archway of the great building and then along several tall wide inner corridors, through a vast courtyard, and up another wide flight of pure marble stairs.  Finally they arrived at an enormous set of golden doors, covered with designs, and geometric patterns.  Besides the doors were eighty giant armored warriors, and heavily armed with giant axes.  It was Linda who first noticed that the grand warriors were not human, but were in fact robots.  When the Captain passed through the archway he waved his right arm and one of his bracelets glowed, and with that the Robot Warriors stood aside and saluted with their axes.

At the far end of the long tall chamber into which they stepped was a dais of emerald and sapphires upon which was a throne made of polished diamonds and rubies such that it veritably glowed with a redish hue.  And upon the throne sad the imperious beauty.

It took some time for them to cross the long hall, and as they did they passed courtiers and scholars, musicians and dancers, poets, and scientists, diplomats and governors, all vying for a moment of attention from their wondrous queen.

But the Captain of the Queen's Guard walked passed them all without looking at any.  And behind him his two Lieutenants, and behind them Linda and Pita, arm in arm.

When they arrived at the throne, the Captained kneeled on one knee with his hand over his heart, and spoke with the Queen in their mysterious language.  His tone was such that Pita ascertained that he had announced his return with his... prisoners?  

Meanwhile, far out in space, speeding dangerously over the surface of the moon in their stolen Nazi UFO, droplets of molten steel dripping off its badly damaged bottom surface, we find our heroes, Vallnam and Jacob.

"Brace for impact Mr. Vallnam!"

The ship sailed downward into a rocky canyon, bouncing and skidding along the heavily cratered bottom, coming to a jarring halt as it slammed into the canyon wall some seven thousand feet from where it first impacted.  The two men opened their eyes.

"We're not dead!" announced Jacob.

"Indeed, we're not!" replied Vallnam greatly relieved.

The interior of the ship was largely shattered.  There were broken vacuum tubes flaring and spewing out sparks in all directions while choking smoke was beginning to fill the cabin. Most of the control panels broken and knocked out of position by the impact, while some of them were on fire.  Fortunately, the gentlemen were wearing specially designed purple translucent organic space suits that they'd received from their entirely forgotten Modroni allies.  These suits not only made it possible for them to breath, but safeguarded them from all forms of mishaps, including the vacuum of space, poison gas, radiation, electrical discharge, minor impacts, and a number of other hazards.

Gathering their wits, they reaffirmed their Mission.  They planned to enter Eisenhelm, the secret Nazi Moon base, and create as much havoc there as possible. Their goal was to distract attention from Ling's imminent arrival.  Her Mission would be to enter the base, make her way to Sub-Level 3, find room DZ-A1, locate Control Panel DZ-17, and enter the Self-Destruct Code into the keypad.  That would cause all of the Nuclear Missile Robots on their way to a rendezvous with earth to self-destruct en route.  This was the only way that they could think of to stop that terrific force from finishing off humanity once and for all. Although Ling considered it a likely suicide mission, she felt it had to be done for the sake of humanity.  "If I die then at least I shall die as a hero!", she had said to her Modroni vassals as she climbed aboard her rocket bike and blasted off towards distant Mare Frigoris. 

Meanwhile, thick smoke was filling the interior.  Equipment was sparking.  Flames were starting to billow out from the ventilation shafts.  They glanced around for supplies they could carry out with them.  Jacob had a feeling that they didn't have time to be selective.  He grabbed a few med kits, and a couple of Lugars from the weapons cache and shoved them into a satchel.  

As Jacob was attending to that Vallnam decided to flip the Auto-Pilot switch.  They'd not activated it before.  He flipped the switch and a panel opened on the far side of the room.  Out stepped Robbie the Robot, with his domed head, brain-lights flashing and gears spinning with a clikity-clack sound. 

"Was sind Ihre Bestellungen?" it queried with mechanical intonation.  Fortunately, Jacob had learned a bit of German and understood it had asked ("What are your orders?").  He gazed it it with some trepidation, but at this point his fears were a moot point.  The situation couldn't get much worse.

"What's this?!" shouted Jacob to Vallnam over crackling sparks and roar of flames.

"I felt there is something telling me to activate the robot.  I don't know why, but it seemed like a good idea," shouted Vallnam.

"Do you have access codes to the hanger doors?" shouted Jacob to the Robot.  

"Yes.  I have the access code to the hanger doors," came the staccato reply.

"Oh that's fantastic.  Let's go for a walk then!", he exclaimed cheerfully.

At this moment they noticed that the ship began to vibrate, and an ominously loud hum began to emit an steadily increasing pitch.  

"Um, I think we'd better get a move on, boys," said Jacob, and they made a dash for the door.  

"The ship will self destruct in 3 minutes and 20 seconds," said Robbie in his metallic, evenly modulated tone as though he were giving the local weather report.

They skidded to a halt at the door.  Robbie operated the safety latch controls, un-wound the fly-wheel mechanism that locked the 4-way bolted door, and it slowly slid open.  There was an airlock chamber.  They went through and Robbie manned the controls that worked the gangway, which began to extend downward to the moon's rocky surface.  They dispensed with formalities and ordered Robbie to open the outer lock immediately.  There was no time to waste. They ran pell-mell down the steel gangway and leapt forward into the shadows.  Down into a crevasse the size of a an ocean liner they descended, moon-fall speed.  After a moment they hit dirt.  The leap wasn't as far down as they thought.

There's no atmosphere on the moon, and this has two effects due to the fact that atmosphere scatters light.  The first is that shadows are pitch black, and nothing at all can be seen in them whatsoever, unless you shine a line into them.  And two, distances, as well as geological sizes, are incredibly difficult to gage by looking.  And so our heroes flicked on their XL-2000 Ray Gloves (which have light emitting diodes on their palms) and made for the far end of the crater as fast as they could manage.  Which was really quite difficult.  It's not easy to immediately get used to the 1/6th gravity on the moon, and for the first few hundred yards or so the two of them were careening up into the air, and landing sideways, or upside down and scrambling to regain their orientation.  However, they also quickly discovered that they could make very good distance by running and jumping, and after the 400 yard line they'd gotten reasonably good at it.  

Behind them the ship had begun to vibrate such that it would lift itself off the ground and grind silently into the cliff wall before wobbling back to the moon surface like a spinning dinner plate.

"That's a nuclear engine in there, isn't it?" asked Vallnam over his suit's microphone.

"No. According to the schematics it's something called a Red Mercury Plasma-Vortex Engine... which sounds quite a lot worse, frankly!"  He reflected on the amount of energy stored in a machine that can gain speed up to 24,000 mph, and pivot on a dime in any direction, while maintaining an internal Stasis Field.  That would be a LOT of energy, he was pretty sure.

The two of them ran even more pell-mell after that, bounding high into the air, and landing dozens of feet further along with each bound.  But no matter how fast they scrambled it felt like it was not nearly fast enough.  Meanwhile, Robbie was having quite a bit of trouble navigating on his treads.  He was designed for smooth polished corridor floors, not the rugged lunar surface. He was not keeping up, but he was making progress.

Jacob stopped, and turned around.  Robbie was quite a bit behind them.  He spoke his crude German into the mic.  

"Robot - does the ship come with a moon buggie?"

"The ship does not contain an external vehicle," replied Robbie with the serenity of one who has no emotional attachment to existence.  

"Oh fantastic.  I would have felt like a complete A-hole about now if the ship had a moon buggie."

Jacob stopped again.  He turned around and watched Robbie for a few seconds.  The Robot was moving quite a bit slower than he'd hoped.  It was pretty far behind them.  In fact, he thought it was possible that Robbie was going to get obliterated by the inevitable blast of the ship.  He spoke to the mic again.

"Robot - can you tell me the access code to the hanger door?"

"Hanger Door Access Code:  1 - 3 - 5 - 7 - 9 - 0"

Beyond Robbie, Jacob watched with some alarm as the ship flipped a dozen feet above the ground and wobbled onto its side before crashing magnificently into the canyon wall creating an enormous billowing cloud of moon dust.  Bright rays of light could be seen emitting from the diamond-glass port holes.  He turned around and leapt as far as he could, panting with the effort.  Vallnam had gained some distance in the meantime and was heading towards an outcropping of large boulders.

"The vessel will self destruct in 1 minute and 20 seconds," announced Robbie with perfect disinterest.

They ran, leapt, careened through the air for the next minute and 15 seconds.  At the end they made a mad leap behind a massive rock that seemed like the best place to shield themselves from the immediate blast.  A moment later the canyon illuminated with a brilliant blue-white light for one full second.  For several seconds after that shards of molten metal sprayed in every direction, hitting the canyon walls with millions of brightly glowing pea sized slugs.   The great and ancient crater walls withered and crumbled inward all around from the barrage, raising an enormous broiling cloud of moon dust. Since there is no air on the moon, however, there was no shock wave.  Once the cloud of shrapnel finished its spray of molten destruction, nothing further happened beyond the canyon walls collapsing into avalanches of smoke and rubble.  

Jacob took a peek around the side of the boulder, a section of which had been shorn away on the rear side by the withering barrage.  Robbie had been obliterated, the only thing remaining of him being the left treadwheel upon which he rolled.  Jacob gave him the Company Salute, and turned to see what else was around.  They waited for a a few minutes to let the dust settle, which it did slowly and gracefully like a gigantic sheet falling to back down to the airless ground.  

They got up and made their way forward.  Along a small rill they climbed upward using the lowest setting on their ray gloves.  They figured that there was a good chance that the explosion caught the attention of the Nazis and they didn't wish to let it be known that they survived the blast.  Better to be thought completely incinerated by it.  And so they crept along slowly through the blackest of shadows.  

After a minute or so one of the mighty Nuclear Missile Robots flew overhead, its rocket jets blazing a plasma trail behind it.  They clutched deeper into the shadows and hoped they had not been spotted.  Another Robot Mech flew over from another direction.  They were clearly investigating the explosion.  Beams of light emanated from their foreheads, scanning into the darkness near where the Nazi ship had been.  However the Nuclear Missile Robots flew past and then vanished from sight.  They waited another minute and continued edging upwards slowly towards the rim of the canyon wall.  

After some hiking they scrambled to the top of an outcropping and got their first view of the Hanger Door.  They'd seen it before, but from inside the long forgotten Modroni ship when they first arrived at Eisenhelm no more than 23 hours previously.  From down below and at this angle it looked truly massive at 50 feet wide and 25 feet tall.  Enough for the Nazi UFOs to egress through.  As it was concealed by an overhang of rock no light from the sun could land on its surface, and so it was only by the dim light of their Ray Gloves that they could see it.  And yet, that was enough.  Its polished metallic surface was a dull gray color.  On its face was emblazoned an enormous eagle holding a gigantic metallic Swastika.  They both felt a chill run down their spines.  Inside they knew there was a hot war going on.  And their job was to get inside and, infiltrate, and create as much mayhem as they could while they waited for Ling's arrival from Aristarchus Crater, half way across the moon.  She would arrive, she had said, in 75 minutes, and at this point Jacob's watch indicated that some 24 minutes had passed.  It was going to be a long wait.  But in the meantime, they could gain entrance to Eisenhelm and create mischief.

On the wall of the canyon next to the hanger door was the metal keypad.  The heroes made their way to it, stood with their backs to the canyon wall next to the door's seam, as Jacob typed in the code: 1-3-5-7-9-0.  He remarked to himself that although it had only been a day since they had stolen the Nazi UFO from the base, it felt like years had passed.  He'd never expected to be here of all places again.

The door shuttered and then began to slide open.  An enormous gust of air began to blow out of the hanger.  They saw flashes of light reflected off the metal of the hanger door.  Jacob, who was closer, took a quick glance around the corner to get a bead on what was inside.  He spotted people wearing Nazi military uniforms running, dodging and shooting at one another.  The control tower hung suspended  from the ceiling 60 feet above the floor with shattered windows, and billowing smoke, while down below a machine gun was cracking out fire from an open double door at the far end of the hanger.  There looked to be about fifteen combatants total.  He noticed three technicians in space suits, not sealed, who were doing electrical work on one of the UFO under-carriages.  The gust of wind forced him to pull his head back almost immediately, and he watched as a giant cloud of moon dust began to billow out away from the entranceway into the darkness of the moonscape.  Most of the lights inside had been destroyed in the fighting, but a number of red alarm lights were still flashing in rows along the ceiling, no doubt caused by the hanger door unexpectedly opening.  The hanger itself was, Jacob surmised, the airlock to the facility.  And one could imagine that there were likely few things on the moon as desperately precious as air.  Inside was chaos.  Vallnam and Jacob exchanged approving glances.  After all, they had caused this fiasco, and it gratified them greatly to see how things were panning out.  

The gust of wind from the hanger carried in it all kinds of debris, anything that was light enough to be carried off came blowing out.  An officer who had been too close to the entrance was caught by surprise and carried out into the darkness of the canyon, his uniform inadequate protection from the vacuum of space. He died almost instantly with a blood curdling scream that no one ever heard.  After a few seconds the hanger door stopped opening, leaving a five foot gap.  Someone in the control room must have stopped the door from opening any further. In a moment it began to close again.

As Vallnam waited for Jacob to leap inside, he saw one of the giant Nuclear Missile Robots landing on its retro-jets at the top of the canyon wall opposite the hanger door, perhaps a quarter mile away.  He watched it studiously. It seemed too far away to be an immediate threat.  And while he and Jacob were still concealed by the darkness he expected that they'd not been noticed.

Jacob watched as the vast UFO Hanger cleared out.  The fighting inside had stopped momentarily and most of the combatants had fled through the doorways to the interior of the base.  He presumed that two factions had both tried to escape the base in the UFOs, but got caught in a fire fight instead.  The inner doors slammed shut leaving the hanger in relative silence.  The battle, he thought, must be raging along the inner corridors.  

It was time to make a move.  The men braced, held their breath, and got ready to bolt inside before the door shut completely.

Far far away, back on Earth, plucky Captain Samwise sat in the turret of the AGV peering into the distance through military binoculars.  He zoomed in on the column of tanks rumbling up Route 143 from the south.  The tanks were blazoned with maroon and gold colored insignia - the Manticore!  And above that, stenciled in, the word "DELTA-Z", the true ominousness of which was lost on him.  

He shifted his angle of observation northward until he spotted The Rhino, Major Sekston's Mech, which at the moment had just lifted itself above the hill-line and launched a BGM-71 TOW Missile.  An explosion took out a armored unit 740' to the west.  The sturdy little Mil-Mech dodged back down and and began side straddling to another spot a hundred feet south.    

"Good job, Major," he said to himself.  He continued to scan the area, spotting  several squadrons of Lizardmen infantry dodging through the underbrush towards an entrenchment whose insignia identified them as 7th Division.  The Lizardmen were lightly armored, agile, and armed with machine guns and bandoleers of grenades.  As soon as the 7th Division began firing on their location, the Lizardmen dodged into gullies and vanished from view.  Smoke could be seen coming from Saint Gertrude's Catholic Church, and that seemed to be the crux-point of the battle.  The church had been hastily fortified with barricades and barbed wire, and formed the lead point of the trenchworks that spanned along the southern edge of the town from west to east.

Captain Samwise checked the AGV weapons roster. 50-cal Machine Gun with  flame thrower re-mount.  He glanced at the Plasma Cannon readout.  It was fully charged and ready to fire.  It could be fired a maximum of 8 times before requiring a 6 hour recharge cycle, but it's range was virtually infinite.  He considered Mech V, which according to Dr. Rogers was equipped with "Phasers".  It didn't have a any other weaponry, however, as Brain V was apparently not nearly so interested in military conquest as they'd originally assumed.  Rogers explained that the Mech V series was designed to provide defenses for the Black Wind V facility, but was intended mostly to be used as mobile scientific research and analysis laboratories.  They were, however, very well armored with a Hyper-Alloy Hull, and a Force Field, and it was also extremely fast.  Offensively, however, it was not necessarily so great.  Of course Samwise didn't really know what to expect from Phasers.  He'd never seen them in action. In fact no one had, other than a few scientists at Black Wind V, and Brain V who invented them.  What he did know was that the Mech V was limited to 8 Bursts of the Phasers before requiring a recharge cycle.

He gave Fred and Guns command of the AGV with instructions to use the Plasma Cannon against the lead tank of the approaching column. If this didn't stop them in their tracks then supporting fire from The Rhino should kick in, otherwise Major Sekston should focus on the incoming squadrons of Lizardmen.  Meanwhile, he  and Penelope would take Mech V and flank the tank column by flying low along the canyon that runs parallel to route 143. If the lead tank could be taken out quickly then the column would be pinned down on the road and Mech V could nail the others with Phasers from its concealed location to the East.  Everyone thought this was a good plan.  

Captain Samwise got on the horn and apprised Major Sekston of the plan.  At that point she was still conducting operations on W 300 street, but she'd have no foreseeable problem getting down to the designated location west of Saint Gertrudes.  She wished him good luck, said be ready with support if necessary, and in the meantime would continue to suppress the Lizardman Infantry assault coming in from the west. The good Captain wished Fred and Guns good hunting, and climbed aboard Mech V with Penelope.  

What a fine vessel it was!  Made of unknown Titanium Alloys the eternal hull was a dull matt white with chrome trim, and light blue insignia.  Inside it was roomy, yet efficiently designed so that any station could function as an independent unit, and so anyone could potentially take over operations for anyone else at a moment's notice.  The ship was shaped in the form of a giant robot with a head, torso, arms and legs, but it could, he found out, transform into other shapes if necessary or desired.  No transformation was necessary or desired.  They strapped in and launched.  Penelope piloted while Samwise took command of the weapons console.  It looked easy to operate, with targeting and fire controls designed for ease of use, and efficiency.  Brain V was no slacker.

Mech V flew low to the ground to remain concealed within the canyon.  Guns, from the AGV turret, fired the Plasma Cannon at the lead tank.  It was a decisive hit.  The yellow-orange beam burned a 5" hole through the tank's hull in a matter of seconds, and partially melted the 104mm cannon when it grazed it momentarily.  The tank veered off the road, and rolled down into a ditch.  The hatch opened and black smoke came billowing out.  A Lizard man, completely on fire, threw his arms into the air, and slumped over the edge of the hole.

Having gained position with Mech V, Samwise took the next shot.  He had never practiced ranged weapons, and so his targeting was off.  The Phaser Beam shot over the the top of the second tank in the column. A hill in the distance erupted with a blazing explosion when the Phaser intersected with it.  As this happened the tanks came to a halt and began pivoting their turrets to return fire.  There were eight tanks remaining.  There was a barrage of tank fire focused on the AGV.  The entire area was blanketed under smoke.  Samwise got on the radio and tried to get in touch with the AGV, but the radio equipment was damaged and he could only hear Gun's voice through heavy static.  At least Gun's was alive.

Samwise ordered Penelope to maintain the same distance from the tanks but fly up out of the canyon.  His plan was to draw the tanks fire away from the AGV.  They flew up 100 feet above the rim of the canyon and fired the Plasma Beam.  Unfortunately, Samwise unlucky and nervous, and he lost his grip on the firing controls.  His second shot also missed, accidentally burning through a local farmer's barn, scorching it to cinders in 250 milliseconds.  Guns took another shot with the Plasma Cannon, but this one missed.  Fred piloted the AGV south at 80 mph, crossing an open field in order to get line of sight on the next tank in the column.  

"Find cover!" shouted Guns from the turret.  There was a house near by, but it  getting into position behind it meant not being able to return fire.  Instead Fred took a zig-zag course towards the tank column, about 1.2 miles south west.  Guns took another shot with the Plasma Cannon, this time taking his time with the targeting controls.  The coruscating beam hit the tank across the front right side, burning into the hull like a hot knife cutting into a bar of butter.  The tank smashed into the tank in front of it and came to a sudden jerking halt.  The hatch never opened.  

Samwise took another shot.  Apparently the controls were not quite as easy to use as he originally thought.  It required patience and practice to get the targeting to lock onto the target correctly. The Phaser beam blazed uselessly into the ground behind the tank, creating a massive flaming ditch.

4 tanks took a bead on Mech V.  They fired.  Two shells clipped it in the leg and one glanced off the hull, sending it spiraling through the air.  Penelope was a good pilot and managed to stabilize using a combination of retros and pulser rockets.  She landed on the other side of the hills out of line of sight from the tanks.  She released a cluster of micro drones, which began sending live feeds to the Visi-Screens.  The tanks had split up and were going off road in the direction of Mech V.  It would take them about three minutes to make their way ove the terrain to get a line of fire.  Two of the tanks moved northward towards the AGV.  Two of the tanks remained on the road heading north towards the church.

Samwise looked at the flashing red lights across all of the control panels. Mech V was badly damaged.  It could fly, but navigation would be perilous.  On a positive note, the repair droids had already begun to repair damaged systems.  It would take another 10 minutes for the droids to repair the navigation controls.  They could move roughly along the ground at that point, or try to fly, but at risk of crashing, and / or being attacked by their pursuers.  At that moment another panel began beeping, and a red light flashed its warning.  A missile had been launched by one of the tanks.  Samwise guessed that they were using a drone for siting. He wondered if they could take out the drone fast enough, they might evade the missile, but the chances of spotting it were very low, and there was a good chance that the drone, having already painted the target, was no longer necessary.  He considered flying into the air and igniting maximum thrusters.  The speed of Mech V was such that it would be possible for them to out distance the missile, whose range was 120 miles.  Unfortunately, they were incredibly unlucky.  Penelope couldn't get the Mech off the ground.  The angle was just wrong, and Mech V took a considerable amount of additional damage as the mech dragged along he ground.  The missile was inbound and it would impact in 5 seconds.  Samwise considered jettisoning the craft, but it was on the ground with his cockpit such that ejection would be lethal.  He decided to fire the Plasma Beam at the missile.  The beam vanished into space without contacting.  There was a moment's pause and then a huge explosion against the side of Mech V.  

Penelope had ejected a moment before and so her pilot's seat had launched into the air and her parachute deployed.  She was on her way back to the ground.  Behind her the explosion's shock wave sent her reeling.  The cockpit shielding was insufficient to protect Samwise entirely.  The blast wave, metal fragments, glass and debris blew through the cabin, hitting him with a good deal of damage.  But he was not dead.  

Gasping for air, blood splattered all over his suit, he looked down.  He was relieved to see he hadn't lost any limbs.  Fortunately for him, Samwise had  acquired particularly good medical skills.  He took appropriate action to perform immediate first aid on himself.  It took a minute or so, and afterwards he felt able to make his way out of the mech and scramble away.  

Seeing what had happened, Fred slammed on the gas and high tailed it due south to try to rescue Captain Samwise before the tanks could make their way through the canyons to gain line of sight on his position.  It was a rough ride over open terrain, but this was in fact what the AGV was built for and excelled at.  As the AGV took off south, Major Sekston was also rocketing south along Route 143 in The Rhino towards the tank column.  

Meanwhile Penelope's parachute carried her down wind and she landed safely on Route 89.  She detached the chute and began running north back towards Panguitch.