Sunday, May 15, 2022

WoAF - Game Session 32

Good Captain Samwise dragged his ruined leg behind him as he climbed painfully upward through the brambles towards the tank that overhung the ledge some 200 feet above him.  It was going to be a long hard haul, but he was determined to fight to the last breath.

Below him, Fred, the Cybernaut on his Mission Team, was frantically piloting the AGV trying to find a way to stay out of the line of fire of the tanks that would soon crest the southern ridge.  The AGV was billowing smoke, the plate armor on the port side was blasted to smithereens, and the ringing in his ears was incredibly loud.  He decided the best course was to ram forward and stay under the disabled tank's turret.  He twisted the throttle hard and the great metal beast lurched ahead, bouncing over the rocks until he came to a halt at the base of the ridge.  He looked up diagonally at Sam through the grit and grime of the window plates.  His Captain took no notice of him at all, but continued his slow agonizing crawl up the side of the slope with single-minded focus.  Fred considered whether or not he was a lost cause and thought about driving off, leaving Captain Samwise to his fate. After all, as far as he could tell, the good Captain planned to take on the tank at the top of the ridge, and the Lizardmen coming up through the woods, with his bare hands, and that was just crazy.  He watched through squinting eyes as Samwise used his free left arm to haul himself over a log.  He glanced at the Micro-Drone Monitor.  The eight Lizardmen were approaching the ridgeline and would soon have direct line of sight on Sam's position.  Ah well.  He was a nice guy while he lasted, thought Fred.  

"Shall I put him out of his misery?" asked Guns from the turret.

Fred looked up the slope towards the underbelly of the tank above them.  The tank had been disabled earlier by a single shot from their Plasma Cannon, its port side tread melted into a fused mass of smoking metal.  It was stuck there perched on the edge of the cliff and wasn't going to move anywhere ever again.  But its cannon as far as he knew was still fully operational.  And the only place that was not within its range of fire happen to be directly below it, which was exactly where they were.

"What about taking a shot at the tank?" asked Fred.

"Well, we only have four Plasma Bolts remaining," said Guns thoughtfully.

"Yeah, but do you think we're ever going to get a better shot than this?"  

"No," replied Guns simply, "but it's already disabled, so... it's not going anywhere."

"Ok, let's wait for the other tanks to come up.  We'll hit them as they crest the ridge."

"Check the overview Monitor.  The Rhino is coming south on Route 98.  She's shucking and jiving on a zigzag at top speed.  The Delta-Zs are coming up onto the west slope of the ridge.  You see that?"

Fred took a look.  Yes, there were five tanks coming along the ridge line towards them.  Three on the north ridge, one of which was the one directly above them, while two that had veered south were coming up along the steeper southern slope.  Either way, there were going to be four more tanks on them in a few minutes.  He also saw eight small red blinking dots along the top of the ridge that represented the positions of the Lizardmen infantry.  Poor Captain Sam.  Well it would be over quickly, so there was that.

Guns got busy in the turret swapping out the machine gun for the M32-A flamethrower.  During the Ultra-War the M32-A achieved renown as the most feared weapon in the ground forces arsenal.  It poured out a long narrow stream of flaming napalm onto targets up to 300 yards away.  The kit was easy enough to swap out, taking only 20 seconds.  He connected the fuel line, strapped in and got ready to rumble.

As Sam dragged himself through the brambles the Lizardmen fanned out forming a line of eight across 200 feet at the top of the ridge.  Just as they were cresting the top Fred used his Drone-Glove to take control of 16 Mini-Drones from the aerial cloud.  Down from the cloud they swooped in AI unison.  He watched their Cam-Views on the Drone-Monitor as they flew in.  From above the Lizardmen looked like dark green blots against the darker brown rocks, but as they came flying in he got a brief close-in glimpse. It was enough to see they wore dark green armor, some with black leather banded vests lined with brass studs, carrying machine guns, missile launchers, and short curved swords in dark red scabbards at their sides.  They were a terrifying mix of human and reptile, probably crocodile.  They had a strange grimace that was hard to interpret, but looked either like a derisive scowl, or mocking grin, one could not say. As the drones came in the Lizardmen squatted down and shielded themselves with their arms.  The momentary distraction was worth the time it cost them.

Guns targeted the flamethrower and pulled the trigger.  Out launched the long narrow stream of liquid hell, burning a smoking arc through the sky that landed along the top of the ridge above Sam, igniting everything it touched.  He held the trigger down as he pivoted the turret slowly so that the line of flame made a graceful arc that followed the ridge line from north to south, covering about 300 feet in billowing flames.  There were spurts of machine gun fire, but soon the Lizardmen could be heard screaming, and then there was just the roar and crackle of the forest fire.  Sam took a moment to look up at the blazing pine forest and nodded with approval.  He then returned his attention to dragging himself upward.  He had made it to a spot about thirty feet below the tank.  He wiped the dirt, sweat and blood from his face, and continued the climb, his leg causing acute pain every time he dragged it over an obstacle.

Fred reversed the AGV and nestled into the base of the cliff.  As he still had a batch of Drones at 1000 feet, he watched the Drone-Monitor overhead view, tracking the two tanks as they maneuvered into position along the ridgeline to the south.  They had excellent angle of fire, he thought.  Meanwhile the other two tanks coming up the northern ridge stopped at the bright red-yellow line that was the edge of the wall of fire that now consumed that area. Fred watched with satisfaction as they made their way back down the north ridge slope.  As it happens tanks do not like to sit in blazing fires as there's a fair chance that oil or fuel on them will ignite and make its way inside. And given how much Lizardmen hate fire, they tend to back away from it, as do most sensible people.  And so Fred and Guns had only two tanks to contend with instead of four.  Guns remounted the machine gun to the turret in the minute or so they had waited in case any of the Lizardmen happen to have fire shielding.

The two tanks lurched onto the top of the southern ridge and fired immediately. The first RH120 cannon punched a hole in the starboard side of the AGV, blasting through the plate armor.  There was a huge shower of sparks and flying metal.  The shockwave dampeners inside the AGV absorbed a good deal of the blast, but still, it blew Fred and Guns into the walls and knocked them nearly senseless.  The second shot also hit, but glanced off the hull with another shower of sparks.  Sam watched this with some considerable dismay.  He could see Guns inside the dome of the turret.  He looked like he was alive.  Fred was nowhere to be seen.  

"Guns!  Fire!" yelled Fred hoarsely from a crouching position next to the pilot's seat.  He lurched the AGV in reverse towards the tanks by four yards and stopped.  He then deployed another drone-swarm towards the tanks hoping to distract their gunners.  Guns let loose with the machine gun.  Bullets pelted the front of the lead tank, ricocheting off its hull harmlessly. They had no appreciable effect at all.  Inside the Lizardmen smirked with their horrible grins.

"No good!  Fire the Plasma Cannon!" yelled Guns.  Fred fumbled with the controls, his ears still ringing loudly, and his senses blurred.  He aimed the Plasma Cannon and pulled the trigger.  There was a TZZZZT sound, and nothing happened.  Fred looked at the control panel.  A thin waft of grey smoke came up from the dashboard.  He cursed out loud, grabbed the electronics kit that was in the side cubby and lunged for the grill below the dashboard, yanking it off with his bare hands.  He shimmied himself into the crawlspace, flashlight in his mouth, and got to work.  The shell that hit the AGV a few moments earlier had shorted the Plasma Cannon's wiring.  Fortunately, Fred was something of an electronics expert.  He scanned the primary components and nothing looked damaged.  He found the short.  Two lead wires had gotten knocked out of their housing.  While Fred worked, Guns disconnected the machine gun and had begun reconnecting the flamethrower.  

Good Captain Samwise was near the end of his tether, but had finally made it to just below the disabled tank.  He had just enough wherewithal to use his Mind Reading power.  He reached up and searched the tank for conscious thought and found one.  There was a Gunner sitting at the edge of his seat staring at a monitor viciously urging the AGV to move forward just another few feet so he could get an angle of fire on it with his RH120.  The mental state of the creature was what one might expect from a human-crocodile.  Brutal, savage and expressly uncouth.  Sam looked back down at the AGV.  It looked to be nearly destroyed, smoke pouring out of the starboard side, windows shattered, the armor plating charred and mangled.  Fred, he thought, was likely dead or dying inside, and Guns seemed to be bumbling around in the turret, probably incoherent, and ranting like a madman as usual.  He looked up at the tank, now only 25 feet above him.  He turned his gaze to the south and watched as the two tanks on the ridge fired at the AGV again, but due to the clouds of smoke wafting past them they had poor visuals and so both shots ricocheted off the AGV without doing more damage.  

Sam reached into his inner jacket pocket and removed the glassy dark blue pistol he had retrieved from Mech V before he abandoned it.  He hefted it in his hand and studied it with his good eye.  It was lightweight, and smaller than a Lewiston Beam Pistol, but had the characteristic three disk-shaped focusing rings that typically signified a ray gun.  He had no idea what Brain V might have concocted, but he was pretty sure that whatever it was, it was going to be top notch quality.  He put it back in his pocket and returned to climbing.  As he did, he went over in his head the schematics of the tank above him. He'd studied every type of tank in military training, so many years ago, and had a pretty good memory for technical material.  The fuel tanks, lines, ammunition compartments, electronics, and layout were reviewed in detail.  He knew what that tank was capable of, and where its major components were located.  A modified Pre-Ultra-War M1-Abrams TM-5.  Solid stuff.  

"I want to get onto the left side of the tank," thought Sam to himself.  He looked up.  There was fire billowing next to the tank on the left side.

"I do not want to get onto the left side of the tank," he second-thoughted to himself.  He pulled himself up towards the right side treads and heaved himself up over the edge of the ridge.  He found himself in a cluster of large jutting rocks along the right side of the tank. There was smoke, choking and blinding, but no fire there.  He climbed up onto the tread.  His left leg was useless, so with a grimace and a great deal of pain, he pulled himself up.  

Sam used Mind Reading again to see if he could tell if any other Lizardmen were still alive in the tank.  He really couldn't tell.  The beast he was connected to had a very tight focus on his objective, which was to blast the AGV to oblivion at the moment of first opportunity.  Other than guttural cursing at the AGV trying to get it to move into his field of fire there was nothing.  But the AGV did not move and he was pissed.  With an incredible effort Captain Sam pulled himself up onto the right side of the tank, and stopped there to rest a moment.

Meanwhile, at the foot of the cliff, the AGV was being fired upon by the two south ridge tanks. One shell hit and blasted another hole in the side of the tank.  Knocked sidewise by the shockwave, Fred fell unconscious.  Guns was up in the semi-protected turret, and just barely managed to remain conscious.  He pulled the trigger on the flamethrower.  The tanks were about 500 feet south, right on the ridge line.  He aimed high, got a nice arc of flaming hell onto the ridge where the tanks were located.  In a moment that entire area of the ridge erupted in a blazing conflagration and was engulfed in black smoke and flame.  Guns slumped forward onto the controls, exhausted, and suffering from shock.

Sam, crawled along the tank tread, considering his options for disabling the main gun.  He thought about trying to get a rock into the tube of the cannon.  That would certainly do the trick, but would be very hard for him to do in his current condition.  The other option was to try to mechanically disable the gun from the outside.  That was probably not going to work, either.  Sam looked at the tank gunner's window and had an idea.  He slipped on his 2700 Lumen Gloves.  These gloves have on their palms thousands of embedded LEDs, which when activated would create an flood light.  He took his hand and slipped it over the window and maxed out the power.  It was definitely bright.  But not bright enough.  Or maybe the gunner was looking the other way, or wearing sun shields, or whatever.  Inside he picked up the mental waves of the Lizardman.  It said, in its barbarous reptilian language, but whose intent was quite clear to Sam's observing mind, "What the hell!?!"   The gunner than called out to someone deeper inside, and announced, "There's somebody on the f*cking tank flashing lights at me!"

Sam pulled himself onto the tread again and was trying to make his way towards the turret when he heard the screeching sound of the hatch's hinges opening.  He reached into his jacket pocket and took out the nice sleek dark glassy blue ray gun and pointed it at the hatch.  He was prepared to pull the trigger as soon as the creature emerged.  However, the Tank Commander was no slouch, and knew what was what when there was an opponent on the tank.  He sprang up suddenly and whipped his machine gun forward.  Unfortunately for him, he inexplicably fumbled the move.  The gun got stuck on the hatch chain work, and he couldn't quite pull it around far enough.  He fired, but the bullets whistled past Sam's right side and then over his head.  The Commander struggled to get his muzzle pointing at the bedraggled looking human clinging to his tank.  At this, Good Captain Samwise aimed the nice little ray gun at the monstrous Lizardman Commander and pulled the slim blue trigger. Nothing happened.  No sound. No beam.  Still though, the Commander lurched upward, his reptilian eyes rolling wildly in his head, and froth suddenly began spewing out of his mouth, along with a huge gurgling wads of slime, puss and blood.  It looked like his insides had suddenly been squeezed out through his toothy jaws.  With a hideous gurgling cry he fell face first over the hatch and died horribly, flailing around in his own innards. 

Samwise stared admiringly at the little glassy blue gun and wondered what in the world Brain V had given him.  He took a few moments to listen in on the gunner's brain, but all he could discern was incoherent cursing.  He looked up at the Commander.  He wanted his machine gun.  As much as he would liked to have leapt up to the turret, the pain in his leg, and the rest of his body, had suddenly come to to the fore again.  He struggled up to the top.  From inside he heard guttural shouting.  He managed to get to the Commander and yanked the gun out of his dead clutching claws.

Down in the AGV Fred was still passed out.  Guns on the other hand was bleary eyed, and struggling, but was at least still awake.  The tanks, Guns noted with considerable relief, began a hasty retreat backwards.  Again, Lizardmen and fire just don't mix.  Guns watched the tanks back away out of sight.  He glanced at the Monitor and watched the blinking green rectangles that signified the other tanks as all four of them made their way back down the west side of the ridge.  He checked the Plasma Cannon controls.  A red light flashed "Warning: System Failure", but still, there were four bolts remaining.  He wiped the grime from his forehead, clambered down the turret ladder and made his way through the wreckage towards Fred.  

"Hey, Fred.  You ok?" he asked listlessly.  No answer.  He reached down and yanked Fred out from the utility duct under the main controls.  He leaned over and looked at his old buddy.  Poor lad was far away in dreamland.  But alive.  Guns slapped him several times.  Fred awoke with a start.  Guns grunted, and said, "Ok.  You owe me one.  Now do your job!"  He turned and staggered back up into the turret.

Fred shook the shock from his limbs, ignored the splitting headache and body pains and crawled back into the service duct. Within a few minutes the Plasma Cannon was back online.  He pulled himself out and slung himself into pilot's seat.  He scanned the Drone Monitor.  The Lizardmen ground troop blips were all gone.  They'd been fried to crisps in the ever expanding blaze across the pine forest above them.  The tank blips retreated down the western slope.

* * *

Meanwhile, very far away on the north pole of the moon, Jacob and Vallnam poured over the map of Eisenhelm, the ultra-secret Nazi base that was now in the process of a massive self-destruct sequence known as Delta-Z.  There was a sudden shudder throughout the workshop they were in, accompanied by a low pitched thunder.  Several items fell off their neat white shelves and crashed on the ground.  Above them, they knew, the giant Nuclear Missile Robots were boring enormous molten holes downward into the base.  All the technicians were certain that everyone was going to die quite soon. 

Vallnam thought about his darling beautiful Moon Princess, Ling.  She was careening at that moment across the moonscape on her rocket bike, and would presumably be there soon.  Her mission would be to get to Sub Level 3, locate the control room for the giant Nuclear Missile Robots, and enter the Self-Destruct Codes before the main fleet that was presently en route to Earth could destroy the last remnants of humanity.  He admired her tremendously for her pluck, wit and charm, and sincerely felt that whatever mystical being was ruling over the cosmos had brought them together.  As was his habit, though he didn't realize it, he stared off into space with a vacant smile as he contemplated these things.

Jacob asked the technicians what was in the Science Centers that he spotted on the map.  They didn't actually know.  The technician class were not privy to the secrets of the Nazi Scientists, of course.  They repaired equipment, maintained the facilities and did the manual labor, but as to what exactly the Scientists were working on, that was kept an absolute secret from everyone except the Nazi High Command.  In fact everything that was done within Eisenhelm was done under strictest secrecy, the penalties for breach thereof being worse than death as everyone knew.  No one ever even considered asking such questions.

He looked around the group of sixteen technicians for any that looked like fighters.  Some of them were elderly, some were younger, but none of them were in particularly good shape, half being doughnut-bellied, the other half gaunt to the point of being sickly.  And, of course, technicians were not trained for strenuous physical labor, let alone combat.  None of them had any weapons training at all, he discovered, and in fact were quite afraid of military equipment in general.  It had been bred into the technician class from an early age to to hate and fear weapons of any kind.  This way they could never rebel, and would serve their function in Eisenhelm with the absolute obedience expected of them.  

Jacob explained that they needed to take whomever was most capable down into the airless tunnels to find a way out, and since they only had eleven space suits, some of them would have to remain behind.  They all accepted this with the fatalistic nods of those who fully understood the utter futility of any other course of action. Asking a few additional questions, however, he found that there was a Staff Operations Center that likely had spare space suits.  He planned to get some of the technicians there, grab the suits and send them back to rescue the others.  Meanwhile the rest of them would forge ahead to their destination, which would be Hanger B to the east.  This plan was met with surprise and enthusiastic support. He picked out eleven of the most capable of the sixteen. They clambered into their green space suits and got ready to head down into the tunnels.

They exited the airlock into the lava tube, and climbed down the fifty foot ladder to the dirt floor.  It was dark and airless, but there were artificial lights along the ceiling in various places so there was just enough light to get a general idea of the terrain.  The tube itself looked as if a giant worm had worked its way through the ground leaving behind a relatively smooth tube about sixty feet in diameter.  These tubes were made by lava flows once upon a time when the moon had been geologically active.  But that was billions of years ago.  The lave tubes were an ancient remnant of those bygone days.

They entered the tunnel along a bend so it extended both north and east.  It was too dark to see more than a few hundred feet, beyond which the tunnels vanished into a hazy black gloom.  About 1200 feet to the east they saw lights attached to the trestlework of a gray metal tower that clung to the side of the tube.  It had what looked like a pillbox at its top.  It was a blocky metal construct with thin narrow windows, and two gimbled machine gun turrets on the bottom.  The windows were illuminated by a dark red light, but they didn't see anyone inside.  All was silent.

As the last of the technicians made it to the tunnel floor, they crept as a group along the rocks that clustered along the sides of the tunnel to get a better view.  Whether anyone was in the lookout post or not, they didn't wish to be seen.  Jacob took a long careful look with his Night Vision to see if he could discern anything in the room, and lo -- after a few moments he caught a sight of a figure moving.  Then another.  The angle of observation happened to be perfect from where he was standing.  He could even see a surprising level of detail, even at that distance.  The guards, he thought, looked nervous and edgy.  They were a bit gaunt and a bit grizzled. They appeared to be arguing.

"There's two guards up there," he informed the group, in German, through the Comm on a frequency that Hans had selected.  The technicians were appropriately terrified.

"What are the odds that these guys would be amenable to joining us?" asked Jacob.

"No. No," replied Hans.

"Yeah," said Jacob.  "They only post the true believers down here, eh?"

"There are nothing but true believers," answered Hans.

Jacob eye'd Vallnam.  He looked him up and down.  Vallnam looked Jacob up and down in return. 

"How's your sneaking ability?" asked Jacob.

"Why, what do you have in mind?"

"Why don't you sneak over there, climb up the ladder, and toss a Knockout Gas Grenade up in there?"

"Hmmm... What if I used the flamethrower?  Or wait... I brought the Thermobaric Grenade with me.  It's ko'd but..."

"You took the Thermobaric Grenade?!" exclaimed Jacob.

"Well yeah.  It'd make a great souvenir, I thought.  On the other hand, I still feel some mystic mojo, I think.  Maybe I can pull another mental trick on these two?"

There was static on the radio.  "Come in Vallnam.  Come in Jacob.  Come in Vallnam. Come in Jacob. Over."

It was the delightful voice of Ling.  Vallnam was overjoyed.  Jacob, being a pretty good friend after all, hustled over to the technicians and began to give them an impromptu pep talk so Vallnam could speak in private with her for a few moments.

"Are you alright?" he asked.

"Yes, I'm just outside the base now.  From where I am standing I can see one of the giant robots is beaming its way into the main hanger.  It's lumbering its way inside now... I'm glad to hear your voice.  Are you both ok?"

"Great.  Yes, we're both here.  You need to get inside," he answered.  "Where are you, exactly?"  

She gave her coordinates.  She was on the ridge of the Eisenhelm crater due west of their position, about a quarter mile.  She landed at the same spot they'd seen the Nuclear Missile Robot land earlier, across from the Hanger bay.  

"I have my rocket bike. Where do I need to go?"

They discussed it briefly, and looked the map over again.  As it turned out there was a secret exit from the tunnels.  The technicians explained that this was an emergency exit in case of fire, or poison gas leak, or some experiment run amok (as happened regularly though no one was supposed to say anything about that) , or any other such calamity.  As it happened it required a secret code and was designed to be opened from the inside, not the outside.  During the exchange with Hans they also ascertained that the technicians firmly believed their situation was literally and entirely hopeless.  The Delta-Z plan was also known among them variously as "The Great Suicide" or "The Final Doom".  Its purpose was to ensure that if the Nazis could not win the war and rule over the whole Earth, then no one else would be allowed to rule it either.  And so, 50 massive Nuclear Missile Robots would be sent to earth to destroy all of the main cities, each with fifty 500 Megaton Cobalt Bombs.  This would put the entire earth into a nuclear winter that would take 10,000 years to recover from, according to the rumors.  The Moon Base was to be melted down into slag by the ten remaining Nuclear Missile Robots, and their bombs detonated as the Nazi's final "Fuck You" to the human race.  The entire plan for Eisenhelm had been Hitler's brain child, of course.

"So, there's no escape plan for you people?" asked Jacob and Vallnam simultaneously.

"Escape?" asked Hans.  "Escape to where?  Even if we get out of Eisenhelm, that leaves us on the surface of the Moon.  There's not much to do there but either starve or freeze to death.  Or worse," he added ominously at the end.  The other technicians nodded, and looked around fearfully.  It was a common superstition among all of the Nazi's that hideous an secretive aliens had been on the moon when they arrived in 1943, and were the ultimate cause of the many accidents and calamities that had beset them the entire ninety years they were there, which had whittled down their numbers from an original 5000 to the present and rapidly declining 1200.  None of them mentioned this, not even Hans. It was a superstition so dire and so fraught with agonizing terror that none of them could bear to speak of it on fear of going instantly insane... exactly as the Modroni intended.

"Well, why not escape back to Earth?" asked Vallnam.

"How?  We don't have enough ships to get us back to Earth," replied Hans despairing of any such plans.

"Why not?  You have the UFO's don't you?"

"Only a few of them are functional.  Thirteen at most and five of them are being repaired.  Rumor has it one was stolen, but that's impossible.  It must have crashed during a test run.  At any rate five launched a mission to retrieve it, but they have not returned to base yet.  So even with ten ships only 100 could make it to Earth at the absolute most.  Even if all the UFO's were functional, at best less than 300 of the 1200 could make it back to Earth.  And even if they could make it, it makes no difference... the Earth is going to be annihilated in a few hours by the Atomraketenschiffe (their name for the Nuclear Missile Robots).  No, friends, Delta-Z means the death of everyone.  Everywhere.  There is no escape.  No escape at all, for anyone, I'm afraid," he concluded with a finality of despair that was hard to shake.

"Well, look," replied Jacob affirmatively.  "We can stop this.  Maybe.  But one thing is for sure, if we don't try then everyone is definitely going to die.  So, since we're going to all die anyway, probably, why not try our best to live?  What have we to lose?"

This little speech motivated the technicians to make the effort.  They stood up, and got ready to make a move.  Jacob grabbed the map and looked at Area 8.  There was a military base there but it had long been abandoned, apparently. There was a hanger there.  The technicians said there were UFO's in there but they needed to be repaired.  Such repairs would take time, and parts, and luck. 

"But we can do that," said Hans affirmatively, "We are technicians.  We can fix anything if given the chance!"

There was a rumble through the ground that they all felt.  Dust fell from the roof of the tunnel in long draping curtains.

"We still need to get Ling into the base," said Vallnam, looking around nervously as he spoke.

"Well, we can't do anything until we take out the guard tower."

"Right," said Vallnam.  "I'll just sneak over with the flamethrower and charcoal broil them."

"Wait," said Hans, holding him back.  "There's machine guns up in the nest, you know.  You see those ball turrets on the underside?  You can't get within 300 feet without them riddling you with bullets."

"Ah, the flamethrower range is only 150 feet, so yep.  That won't do.  No sir."

Vallnam examined the tower.  There was trestlework with an enclosed ladder within a 5 foot diameter tube going up to the bottom of the pillbox where was a hatch.

"If the hatch isn't open we'll need to find a way to get these guys to come out," he conjectured.  At this point he needed better eyes on the prize.  He slung the flamethrower over his back and began sneaking along the edge of the tunnel, moving from rock to rock staying in the shadows as much as possible.

"Vallnam, what's going on in there?" asked Ling anxiously as she sat on her rocket bike outside the hanger door observing the chaos within.

"Ah, well, it's kinda complicated down here.  There's a secret exit but you can only open it from the inside.  There's a guard supposedly stationed there, if he's still alive, and still at his post.  You might be able to do something like, oh, knock on the door and get him to come out maybe?  Knock him out and get inside that way,  possibly?"

"Ok.  I got it," said Jacob. "We can meet at Hanger 8. There's going to be a hanger door there."

"Right," replied Ling, "but it looks like these giant robots are boring down into the base with immense plasma beams that are going to turn the whole place into a pool of lava soon.  I don't know how much time we have."

"Good point," said Jacob.  

"I know this sounds crazy, and maybe it is, but I'm going follow the path you two took through the hanger," she decided.  "Any other plan is going to take too long."

"I'm ok with this," answered Jacob confident in her abilities.  Vallnam stared at him incredulously.  The last time they saw the hanger there had been giant Nuclear Missile Robot beaming the hell out of the place.  He presumed it was still there.  And yet, there seemed no better plan.

"When I get inside, how do I find you guys?" she queried.  They gave her instructions on how to wind through the maze in the hanger, and the workshops below, which with all the smoke and chaos were too confusing.  Then she remembered a little trick she'd learned at the Academy.  She linked her Micro-Mini-Phone to Vallnam's using the FC Team Code, and said, "Never mind, I have your coordinates." 

She scanned the little 3D map that the device had made of their descent into Eisenhelm and could see the route they'd taken.  Now she knew exactly where to go.  She revved the engines of her rocket bike and dropped down over the edge of the cliff at a colossal speed into the shadows of the crater.  Across the ragged grey terrain she blazed, orange plasma jet streaming brightly behind her.

Meanwhile, Vallnam had made his way closer to the Tower.  He wondered if there were video cams pointing in their direction.  Chances are there were, he thought, and Hans confirmed his suspicions.  He clung to the shadows like a cat. Eventually he found himself below the ladder looking up at the pillbox.  The guards inside had been arguing heatedly, and had not noticed the stealthy team lurking in the tunnel.

He considered hitting them with a Narcoleptic Beam.  Given all of the psychic warfare he and Jacob had performed in the past few hours, which had ignited the previously well-run, top of the line, Ultra-Secret Nazi Moon-Fortress into absolute pandemonium and literal Delta-Z meltdown, he was feeling a bit low on energy, but mighty proud of himself just the same.  With his remaining mystical strength he prepared to reach upward with a Narcoleptic Beam, adding a small amount of extra umph to cover the distance.  It ought to hit one of the guards and knock him into a dreamless sleep for a few hours.  

"On second thought," thought Vallnam, "it might be better to use Psychic Persuasion to get one of them to come outside.  Hmmm... Hmmmm..."

"Can I get radio contact with the pillbox?" he asked Hans over the Comm.

"Yah, we can do that. Hold on, let me check the frequency.  PillBox C3-A1, hmm... yes, here it is.  302.382.929."

Vallnam realized at this moment just how taken in he and Jacob had been by the Technician's group.  It seemed to him that the singular act of Jacob in trying to save Franz's life, and feeling genuine remorse when he died, was what did the trick originally, and Hans had convinced all the others with the sincerity of his account of that event.  And so, now that they had locked their minds on the idea that Jacob and Vallnam were trustworthy friends, they gave them their complete obedience.  This, and the fact that the Nazi soldiers and scientists were unbearably cruel to the technicians, and what an incredible difference it made to be treated like human beings for the first time in any of their miserable lives.  The bond was complete.  Vallnam knew he could trust these technicians implicitly.

He patched into the pillbox frequency.  Fortunately for him, despite the 90 years of rigorous discipline  that held Eisenhelm together, few of the Nazis actually liked each other, and each one was constantly plotting ways to backstab his compatriots to gain ascension in the social ranks.  Their system was designed to foster that behavior, and the Nazis adhered to it religiously.  Consequently, the two guards now confronted with a true calamity, had broken all protocol and were vehemently arguing with each other instead of paying attention. Vallnam flipped the mic switch.

"Achtung!", he shouted viciously.  Both soldiers snapped to attention and stared at their speaker in alarm.  He gave brief staccato account of the devastation happening to Eisenhelm,  

"You must get out!  Get out!" he concluded with a hysterical cry, sending up all the Power of Persuasion that he had available in his psychic arsenal. While 'Psychic Persuasion' was only capable of influencing one person at a time, he hoped the other would see his comrade flee down the ladder and follow suit.  He held the flamethrower at the ready.

Hearing this, one of the two soldiers panicked, leapt out of his seat, threw the hatch open and began scrambling down the long ladder.  

"Klaus!  What are you doing!?! Come back!  Klaus!!" shouted the other.  His comrade, however, was thoroughly freaked out and probably never even heard him.  Suddenly there were three muzzle flashes from inside the pillbox.  Blood splattered through the helmet of the descending Nazi, and then he lost his grip and fell the remaining forty five feet to the ground with a dull thud.  Of course, we should note, on the moon the gravity is 1/6th that of earth, and so he sailed downward at what seemed like a fairly leisurely pace, and at the end a forty foot fall is more like a dropping five feet.  However, it was the bullet holes through his helmet and the explosive decompression in his space suit that did him in.  And so he lay on the dirt floor of Eisenhelm, crumpled up like a rag doll.  

Vallnam, seeing how successful that was, decided to try again.  He lofted up another Persuasive command, "Get out!"

The second soldier was much more stoic and in control of himself than his young, now dead, apprentice.  He slammed the hatch shut, and hunkered down in the machine gun nest.  He began firing up the controls and turned on the tunnel radar screen.  While all this had been going on, Jacob and the rest of the technician team had slunk along the walls to the base of the tower and joined Vallnam.

Meanwhile, Ling had jetted through the shadows of the crater to the hanger door.  As she approached at a frightening speed, she cut the plasma-engine, darted through the thirty foot molten-edged hole in the doorway, spun the bike ninety degrees beneath her and let it graze along the floor in a shower of sparks as she leapt with a tumbling roll into the hanger.  Due to the light gravity she was able to execute this maneuver without duress, and her tumbling roll landed her on her feet.  She came sliding to a halt on two feet and a hand, the other hand with Lewston raised for combat.  The rocket bike crashed into the leg of the Giant Robot on the far side of the hanger.  As the monolithic machine had been facing the interior, it didn't see her come in.  From its singular glowing eye slit a bright orange-red beam was melting a hole through the far wall into the main corridor behind the hanger.  Air came rushing out forming a blast wave into the hanger bay.  The rocket bike exploded, but the robot took no notice, its beam continuing to broil through whatever obstacles were before it.  She scrambled and darted through shadows toward the corner stairway, dodging burning equipment and sparking cables as she went.  Soon she stopped in front of the heavy steel door that led into the stairwell and found it locked.  No problem.  She switched a setting on her Lewiston to Torch-Mode and melted through the primary bolt in a few seconds.  She then went to work on the door's hinges until the entire slab of solid steel came crashing inward to the hanger floor. Stepping daintily to the side as it thudded to the ground, she then made a cat-like leap into the stairwell, taking a quick glance over her shoulder as she vanished into the shadows.  The robot continued boring a wide molten hole into the next corridor and took no notice of her at all.  Onto the stairs she leapt, and down she ran until she got to Sub Level C-3, following the map on her Micro-Mini-Phone.  Then she stopped for a moment and checked herself.  She remembered that this was Eisenhelm!  It was full of German Ultra-Nazis.  She took a moment to compose her mind, and with the help of a special Mentarian Power that allowed her to temporarily comprehend foreign languages, she rehearsed several German phrases in her to check her quality.  "Ja, gut!" she said, and dashed down the next flight of stairs.

"Good!  I have arrived!" she announced in impeccable German as she pushed the workshop door open.  There were a handful of rather surprised technicians, but they recognized the purple bubble suit as one of Jacob's "Special Team", and so they quickly directed her to the exit that led down into the tunnels without the slightest hesitation.  She slid down the ladder and landed on the tunnel floor, Lewiston in hand, ready for for anything.  Up ahead she saw the purple suits of Jacob and Vallnam grouped with the technicians in their green space suits.  She ran to where they were, clinging to the shadows as she went.

"Wow!  That was fast!" said Jacob surprised to see her so soon.

"No time to waste," said she.

Vallnam stood stock still, his arms outstretched towards her, waiting for her to accept his embrace.  She looked at him through her purple bubble suit helmet, the purple tint accenting him into an even more lurid color of purple.  His enormous puppy-eyes expression, slightly quivering lip, and awkward posture were at once adorable, and at the same time oddly juxtaposed for this particular time and place.  She looked at him coolly.  

"Seriously?" she asked. 

"Well, yeah," he said, the last wisp of hope escaping his lips. Wasn't gonna happen.  His recovery was swift, however.  "Oh, oh," he said, slightly stammering, and gesturing amusingly, "it's just great to see you're ok!"

"Um, guys," commented Jacob from behind a rock, "We need to get moving.  Nazis, you know.  Machinegun tower.  Giant Robot Beam Rays. Molten lava.  Nuclear annihilation of planet Earth.  That kind of thing, ja?"

* * * 

Far away, just north of Panguitch, Utah, Bruin Hilda had been promoted to Captain, and sat in the forward jeep surveying the road ahead with binoculars.  She had been given command of the refugee caravan.  Her mission was to get the people out of the region and find refuge somewhere north.  They were transporting precious and fragile technical equipment that the Doctors of Panguitch needed to analyze the NL-5-Kz Virus, and produce the vital serum that could unravel its terrible effects.

She scanned the giant insect mound about two miles northeast of the road.  She didn't see any insects there at all, whereas previously it had been constantly surrounded by huge swarms of mutant dragonflies.  Which was surprising.  But perhaps not.  When Mech V flew over them at Mach 2 at about 200 feet off the ground, the shock wave of that sonic boom might well have destroyed all the insect swarms.  Perhaps. Then again, they did know that many of the insects were subterranean, like the Bore Beetles they'd encountered earlier, and likely the purple ant swarm as well.  They would have to watch carefully, but the task at hand was to get away from the war zone that was engulfing Panguitch, and get the doctors and the townspeople someplace safe.

She gave the order and the caravan began to move north.  They travelled at walking speed as they only had seven jeeps, two buses, and a large number of wheeled carts, and so most of the refugees were on foot.  Women, children, men; all of the bedraggled citizens of Panguitch marched doggedly forward.  Many of them were just recently recovered from the NL-5-Kz, and their mutations were not necessarily fully reversed.  As such not all of them were entirely in their right minds, or physically all that capable.  They needed supervision.  And that happened to be Bruin Hilda's forte.

The ground was still muddy from the recent torrential storm that had swept across the area.  They made their way north slowly but steadily, but it was a slog, and the children especially had a hard time.  After a few hours they made it up to the intersection where due east could be seen the insect mound.  It towered above the terrain like a gigantic lopsided green dome.  Bruin Hilda was watching the mound with acute attention through her binoculars.  She zoomed in to the point where she could see the leaves on the vines.  There was an incredible diversity of fauna and flora, and all of it wildly vibrant, and voracious.  The entire mound seethed with activity as animals and plants rapidly devoured one another, procreated, and spawned new generations at a rate that was utterly shocking.  She turned up the audio on the Vizi-Screen so she could listen in.  It was positively frightening.  Constant crashing, crackling, screeching, screaming. The life cycle the entire biosphere pinpointed on that one location and running on maximum overdrive.  And yet, unlike at any time previously, there was not an insect to be seen.  Fascinating as it was unnerving.  

Lieutenant Kerrington tapped her shoulder.  Up ahead on the road about 150 yards north there were driving up on several tall dirt mounds, roughly 12 feet high, and eight feet in diameter.  Two were on the east side of the road, while three were on the road itself.  They were spaced about 30 feet apart, and appeared to be made of dirt.  They looked like giant ant or termite colony mounds.  Captain Bruin Hilda halted the caravan and scanned the mounds in minute detail. Nothing was moving on any of them.  

As it happened, Bruin Hilda had a special skill called Sense of Perception. With it she could sense into areas unseen, such as through a wall or under the ground,  and feel whether or not there was any living thing there. She reached out with her sense, but perceived nothing at all.  Somehow she felt that she was missing something.  She tried again.  Still, she sensed nothing.  They looked like mounds of dirt.  Nothing special, except that there were five of them clustered together and three poking out of the asphalt on the road, which struck everyone as suspicious.  Bruin Hilda didn't like the look of it.  She brought up the map, and examined it carefully, pointing out to Lt. Kerrington various possible alternate routes.  He mentioned that no one had gone this far north in quite some time for fear of passing too close to the insect mound, so he was not sure what the state of the side roads would be.  

"Have you seen mounds like these before?" asked Bruin Hilda.

"Well, we've had a lot of encounters with insects around here since the start of the NL-5-Kz virus, but I haven't seen mounds like these before, no," replied Lt Kerrington as he scrutinized one of them with high zoom.  Nothing moved.  Maybe they're empty, he thought.

"What other things have left the main mound and attacked the town so far?"

"Well, it's been an ongoing medley of every sort of bizarre mutation you can imagine; insect, animal and plant life.  The virus takes whatever DNA it comes in contact with, amps it to the max, and then runs rampant with it, or so I'm told," said the Lieutenant.  

Bruin  Hilda didn't quite trust the Acoustic Shells to protect everyone from whatever might be inside those mounds.  The Shells, for one thing, only protected from aerial assaults.  Anything coming up from below would still be a problem.  She went over the inventory of weapons and armors with the Lieutenant.  Each of the jeeps had a mounted machine gun, and the soldiers had in their inventory five rocket launchers, twenty personal plasma shields, and eight Lewiston Plasma-Beam Rifles.  The townsfolk had a wide variety of handheld melee weapons, such as clubs, knives, and assorted farm equipment.

"Let's fire a rocket at one, and see what happens, shall we?" ordered Bruin Hilda. 

The Lieutenant took a man and went to the side with a rocket launcher.  From 150 yards it was an easy shot.  The rocket hit the mound, exploded with a flash of fire, dirt was blasted high into the air, and when the smoke cleared there was a crater.  Bruin Hilda scoped it out with her Binoculars.  Nothing moved.  Lt. Kerrington confirmed the observation.  Nothing was alive in the crater that he could see.

There were four mounds remaining and three rockets in her jeep.  She wanted to save the rockets.  She asked the Lieutenant to shoot one of the mounds with the Plasma Rifles.  Four of the soldiers lined up, took aim, and on the word "Fire!" they let loose the long narrow coruscating orange beams of plasma energy.  They pierced the mound like red hot pokers through a column of butter.  However, this time a creature suddenly emerged from the top of the mound writhing horribly, and towering some eight feet over the top of the mound.  Bright orange beams burned lines straight through its disgusting corpulent body.  It looked like a mind wrecking combination of giant earthworm, beetle and multi-trunked elephant, with a pair of short sharp tusks on the side of its head.  From several of the wormlike proboscises there spewed bright yellow-green streams of fluid fifty feet into the air. Whatever that fluid landed on caught on fire and burned, turning whatever it touched into a bubbling dark gray char in a matter of moments.  The soldiers beamed the creature down mercilessly and there it died, horribly gurgling in its flaming acidic juices.  

"Ewwww," said Bruin Hilda.

And so they beamed down the other mounds until there was nothing left alive in any of them.  There had been a veritable colony of these creatures of various sizes within but now there were none.  Everyone heaved a sigh of relief.  They geared up, mounted their jeeps, and began to move the caravan forward.  Wherever the burbling acid was still broiling on the road they covered it with piles of dirt to safeguard their passage, and without further ado they were on their way north.  

And that was where we left things this game.