Monday, January 30, 2023

WoAF - Game Session 43

Fred sat in the darkness of the Armored Ground Vehicle, listening to Samwise murmuring incoherently to himself, while Penelope continued quietly sobbing, near hysteria. Major Sekston had gone silent as a stone. The draft rolling through the badly damaged AGV was damp and cold. Outside the storm wailed against the black trees. Occasional flickers of the firelight from the burning carcasses outside reflected off the front windshield. He reached into his pocket to search for more pills, but that baggie was empty. He'd have to make it over to his satchel to resupply. Nearby a bolt of crimson lightning hit a tall pine, and split it in half, catching the upper section on fire. It made an enormous thrushing sound as it fell. He grit his teeth against the painful realization that they were completely screwed. He looked around again. Every dashboard was dark, and even the emergency lights were dead. The cabin was engulfed in black shadows, except for a single blue light blinking dimly beneath the dashboard in front of him. He looked around again. A thin haze of smoke filled the cabin, occasionally visible by the flashes of crimson lightning from outside. The only sounds were of the wind, the groaning of Samwise, and Penelope's pitiful sobbing.

"Guns! You ok up there?" shouted Fred up to the Perch.

"Yeah, I'm fine," shouted Guns from behind the flame thrower. "I don't see any more zombies coming up the hill. I think I toasted them all," he shouted down from the Perch.

"What have we got going for us?" Fred called up to him.

"Other than being dead in the water with the Shadow of Hell barreling down on us from the clouds? Hard to say. Oh, did I mention the spiders?" Guns asked.

"Spiders? You got spiders up there?"

"No I mean the ones outside. The big ones coming up from the forest. I can see them when the lightning flashes."

"Um, when you say big, what do you mean?"

"I mean like basketball sized. I saw maybe a dozen of them last time. I think they're making their way over here across that meadow." said Guns. "Not to worry! 'Ol Betsy here will take care of 'em, I reckon!" he added, patting the flamethrower on its side.  He checked the fuel tank.  15% remaining.  

"Right. Keep an eye on them!"

"Captain, you alright?" shouted Fred over his shoulder. But the only answer he got was the continued mumbling of Samewise. "Get out of my head. Get out of my head. Get out of my head," he kept saying under his breath. It wasn't a good sign.

He rummaged his other pockets. No pills. He sighed. It was going to be a long day. At this point he again noticed the blinking blue light in the darkness beneath the dashboard. It occurred to him that it was a bit odd. The entire AGV was offline and dead, but one single system had one circuit still functioning? He reached down, stretched, and wound up crawling under the dash. His hand finally touched the panel on which the light was silently blinking. It was a dim blue LED. It wasn't a panel after all. It was Linda's spare computer spike. In all the tussle it had gotten lodged underneath the communications console. He took hold of it and brought it up to his lap. The light was blinking, so that meant the spike had auxiliary power somehow.  Probably had been on standby mode all along, thought Fred. Well, there wasn't much that could be done with a lone spike, as all other systems were offline, so while he thought about what else could be done he idly opened the lid and figured he'd at least scan it to see if it had been wiped, or if the computer was still functional. Not that he could use it for anything under the circumstances, but Fred was a Cybernaut, and computers were his thing, and he really had absolutely nothing better to do at the moment. When he opened the lid a thin line of green letters marquee'd across the screen.


"Oh my god," said Fred under his breath. He began typing. He instantly realized what this meant as he mentally traced back the sequence of events all the way back to Mech Base 12, where they originally encountered the Ultra-War AI on the data crystal. He thought he'd successfully trapped it in the mini-Faraday cage, and deposited it safely into a hole in the ground north of Panguitch. Apparently, while distracting him with a run for the main-line power system, the AI had split() and found a way into Linda's spike, probably through the IR port. It would only have taken a few milliseconds. So. "That's it then," thought Fred. "Now on top of everything else, I have a Class-C AI to deal with. Great. Just frikkin great." He began typing.


AI:...... "SURVIVAL."

Fred looked around at their situation. Incoming superpowered enemy with unknown resources and capabilities, and the AGV dead on the ground. Most crew members out of action; paralyzed, wounded, or emotionally incapacitated. The AI picked the right moment to reveal itself.


AI:...... "BOTH."

Well, that was a pretty good basis for negotiations, actually, thought Fred. He was tempted to close the lid on the spike and let the team take their chances. After all, there was a high probability that the AI's intent was to kill them all. He thought it over, and then continued typing.





As usual, the AI was playing coy. He was experienced with this. It was fishing for information while pretending, possibly, to know more than it actually did. 


AI:...... "LINK ME TO PORT RS-2032 ON PANEL 1-GS8048-N."

This would link the AI to the main power relay in the AGV's central control panel on the Navigator's station. Fred was very disinclined to do this. Very disinclined.


AI:...... "YOU DON'T."

Fred thought about this answer. It was correct.  A Class-C AI would normally be using deception. But this one was not. Either it was not a Class-C after all, or it was, despite the odds, negotiating in good faith. Hard, very hard, to believe.




AI:...... "YES I WILL."

Fred was taken aback by its clearly stated intention. This was very unusual.







"Like hell I will!" thought Fred to himself. But after a further reflection he realized, again, that the AI was not a typical Class-C. He hesitated.  In fact, he suddenly thought to himself, shooting the monster in the cloud with the Plasma Cannon might actually work.  He bit his lip.



Fred thought furiously. In his long career as an Cybernaut AI Hunter he'd tangled with many a wily AI, and even an actual WAR-GAI once. It had nearly killed him. But he hadn't dealt with any that were so direct, blunt, to the point, and on target as this one. He now strongly suspected it was not a Class-C after all. And if it wasn't, then what could it be? Its signature when he classified it at Mech Base 12 indicated it was "Class-C: Dangerous But Containable". Could it have mutated somehow? Was it polymorphic? He hesitated. 


Fred looked through the windshield out into the darkness. Flashes of crimson lightning were hitting trees ever closer to the AGV, as though the storm was calibrating its strikes.  A treetop exploded fifty yards to their port side.  Dark shapes appeared to be climbing towards the AGV through the grass.  He shuddered.

* * * 

Meanwhile, Samwise began rocking from side to side, his hands on his head, moaning. In his mind he heard the terrible and incessant nursery rhyme.

"Five little speckled frogs
FIVE little speckled frogs
Sat on a speckled log
Eating some most delicious bugs

Yum Yum.
One jumped into the pool
Where it was nice and cool
Now there are how many frogs? FOUR!

Glug Glug.

Over and over it repeated, driving him insane. Suddenly, the rhyming ceased.

"Samwise. You can hear me now, can you not?" came an ethereal, soft, musical voice.

The good Captain thought he must have fallen into a dream. Yes, he must be dreaming. He looked around. All was darkness. There was a flicker of reddish light coming from somewhere above him, but he couldn't make out the source.

"Can you hear me, Samwise?"

"Yes," he answered. "I do hear you. Get out of my head!"

"Don't be a fool, Sam," said the voice in a reassuring tone. "I am here to help you."

"I know who you are," said Samwise, "and I'm not speaking with you."

"Don't be a fool, Sam," repeated the voice. "Look at your situation. You need my help. I alone can help you. And I want to help you. I just need you to listen to me. Don't you want you and your friends to live?"

"Our situation may be desperate, but I'll never listen to you, foul creature," answered Captain Samwise.

"Please, Sam, you're not making any sense. I hold all the keys to your survival. And that of your friends.  Look at the situation.  You're trapped and surrounded, with no power, no weapons, and your crew is damaged and incapacitated.  I just want you to listen to me, and then decide. Is that unreasonable?"

"It seems I have no choice, so go ahead. What do you want to say?"

"You know that you have what is mine, don't you?"

"I'm guessing you mean the Iron Talon Hands," replied Sam, straining to look towards the welded steel cabinet that had gone silent and was no longer banging at its cage door like an enraged bull.

"Yes, Sam, that's right. The Iron Talon Hands," said the sonorous voice. "But you don't know anything more about those hands, do you?"

"I have a feeling I'm going to find out," replied Samwise.

"Indeed. Those Hands belonged to my servant, the Iron Talon Monk. You remember him? He's the one whom you shot through the head with your plasma ray pistol," said the voice. "You killed him. And now, Samwise, you must take his place. It is what you owe me."

Samwise listened to this with increasing alarm. Pieces of the vast puzzle were suddenly falling into place.

"Why would I want to do that?" spat Samwise in disgust.

"To save your friends, perhaps?" asked the sonorous voice.

"Speak on. I want to hear what you have to say," said Samwise, vying for time while he thought hard about what he could do.

"I appreciate your willingness to listen to my story, Sam. Thank you," said the voice, it's intonation pleasing, soft and gentle. "I want to tell you what a tragedy it was for me that you killed my servant. Many long decades of training and cultivation were destroyed by a single shot from your hand. I was honestly caught by surprise. It was a devastating blow, actually. But I imagine you haven't the faintest idea why. Do you?"

"No, I do not," said Sam, willing to keep the conversation going while he tried to find a way to get out of the creature's Mind-Prison.

"It's the chain, Sam. The chain. You remember the chain, don't you?"

"You mean the Chain of Thanatos?" asked Sam, suddenly realizing how deep the rabbit hole was going.

"Yes, Sam. The Chain of Thanatos. You have no idea about that chain. You have no idea what it is capable of. What a real threat to everything it actually is. Really Sam. I can't begin to explain it to you. Time is too short. But the Chain is the greatest threat of them all. It must be controlled. Or everything you and I know is in jeopardy. Everything. Everywhere. Forever. Sam, I know you don't understand. I know you feel you have no reason to believe me. But I am not your real enemy. I never have been.  All I have wanted all along is to stop the chain. The Chain of Thanatos is the real enemy, Sam. The Iron Talon Monk had been trained to deal with and control the Chain. It took a long time, but he was starting to acquire proficiency at it. Together, we'd almost managed to tame it. But then, out of the blue, along came good Captain Samwise... who in one moment fried a hole through my poor disciple's head, killing him in an instant. His soul is not at rest, Sam.  I think you know that.. He had a mission, and the mission was to control the chain and save us all. Now he's gone. And Sam, I'm sorry but I need you to take up the mission. We all need you to take up the mission to control the Chain of Thanatos."

The voice, gentle, soft and powerful, ceased for a few moments.  And then continued.

"Sam, only you can take up the Iron Talon Hands, and learn, with my help, how to control the chain. We must hunt it down, and you must take it, and learn to control it. If you don't, I promise you none of us will survive. Not you. Not me. Not your friends. Not anyone you've ever known or loved. No place, no memory, no hope, no dream... Nothing will survive. Because the Chain of Thanatos is not of this World, Sam. It really isn't. And what it wants, what it can achieve, from the strange and hideous dimension it comes from, you can't imagine. It is beyond any of our imaginations. Even mine. You must believe me. I am not your enemy. The Chain of Thanatos is the enemy of all. You, Captain Samwise, are the only one now who can put an end to the horror. You must put on the Talon Hands. You MUST."

Good Captain Samwise listened to all of this attentively, but behind his apparent focus he was attempting to use 'Mind Reading, Major,' a skill he had picked up during his Academy days in a class he had once taken on Mesmerism. His goal was to pierce the veil of the sonorous voice's mind. If he could find out what the creature's plans really were, then he'd know exactly what to do. And if he could manage to breach the gap, his next move was to initiate 'Mind Control, Minor' with the explicit, sole and quite limited aspiration of disengaging from the creature's grasp. However, his mental probe hit a massive solid stone wall, and any hope he had in that direction was utterly smashed.  He could no more breach that colossal barrier than a fly could pierce a mountain.

"No," shouted the Captain with the last of his strength. "I will never serve you!" 

 * * *

Meanwhile, there was Fred trying to formulate a plan that would not get them all killed. The AI was clearly not a Class-C, he decided, but somewhere high above that grade, which meant he was dealing with a complete unknown. An AI type with which he had no experience, and one which he could not possibly hope to understand in the timeframe he needed. And the question that thundered through his weary mind was "Can I trust it?"

When a flash of scarlet light nearly blinded everyone in the AGV and the roar of the thunderclap blasted through the gaping holes in its side, Fred made up his mind. He lurched away from the radio station and scrambled towards the front of the cab holding the spike in both hands. It took a few seconds, but despite the darkness, he located RS-2032 on panel 1-GS8048-N and plugged in the connector. Lights flickered awake across the spike's indicator array, and then the 1-GS8048-N control panel flickered to life. In less than a second the conduit lights along the power cable leading to the Navigation system panel flickered to life as well, and then a series of lights made a cascading bee-line along the ceiling up into the Perch.  Suddenly, to Guns' surprise and delight, all of its lights turned on and every panel and system came to life. Fred was not waiting. 

He grabbed the last Plasma Cannon Ammo Canister and scrambled over to the Ammo Port, opened it, slid the canister into the antechamber, and turned the bolt downward to seal it with a click. Meanwhile Guns, caught entirely by surprise, looked up to see the fire control screen flicker on, switch into multi-band sensor mode, oscillate across numerous electromagnetic spectrums and then zoom in on and target a small reddish blob that resembled a human brain's synapse up in the cloud. The reddish blob was wildly morphing in shape and size, but the targeting system locked on and held it on the bright spot at the center. The Plasma Cannon's ruby barrel core suddenly spun and pointed at the target. The Plasma Beam, white-hot, and scintillating with crackling blue electric fire along the edges shot up into the cloud.

There was a sudden explosion of crimson light in the sky over the AGV. The colors became prismatic, and everything within a mile was bathed in scintillating chromatic light. At that moment Captain Samwise's mind was suddenly freed from the grip of the Manticore, and he lurched up from the couch gasping for breath. Penelope, startled out of her monstrous reverie, turned towards him and realized he needed help. She darted to his side. Major Sekston had been standing stock still, staring at the metal cubicle. It had been hitherto banging with such force that she thought the welded steel door would surely burst open.  Her eyes were bulging in expectation of some final terror. Suddenly she snapped back to herself and spun around. 

Up in the turret Guns let out a huge "Weeeeeehaaaaawwwww!!" Good Captain Samwise took the opportunity to take a rest and passed out.  

And so it was they escaped the terror of the Shadow King. The storm began to dissipate and the clouds parted, revealing the sun which flooded the meadow ahead of them in golden rays of light. Guns scanned the area from the turret and where there had been dark swirling mists, burning cadavers and giant black spiders, now all he saw were burning piles of leaves and branches, and some dark spots here and there that suddenly seemed to him to be rather ordinary patches of dark moss after all. He saw no sign of the zombies, and the spiders now seemed to him to have been an illusion of the shadows, and his own inner dread and panic. But everything was clear now. There was nothing there. And he suspected that there never had been anything real out there. It had all been illusions of shadow, darkness and chaos.

Fred watched with trepidation as the AGV's primary diagnostic monitor flickered awake. Now was the moment of truth. Having escaped the Manticore Storm, what would the AI do? He studied the diagnostics screen as it flashed with dozens of red lines, indicating the list of systems that were damaged. Some of the lines almost instantly shifted from red to yellow. Other lines vanished from the screen to be replaced by new ones. It was scanning every system on board. Fred feared that in a few moments they'd all be dead.  

One of the yellow lines turned green. Then two, then five. Thirty or so were red, but flickering to yellow as he watched. It was amazing. Had he done the same job himself it would have taken him at least an hour to do the same work. The repairs continued at an ever accelerating pace as each system that came online was chosen by the AI for its capacity to aid in the repair of the other systems. Red lines vanished into yellow, which rapidly trickled into green. Fred was not quite sure what to think, but he did understand that the AI did not intend to kill them instantly, or it would have already done so.  He let out a sigh of relief.

"Hey, guys," said Guns. "I'm picking up a figure out there on the other side of the meadow. About a thousand feet north by northwest. Anyone see anything?"

Fred flicked the switch on the main Vizi-Screen. He turned the knob that controlled the light spectrum until he came to one that illuminated the figure. It was infrared. He could see a man crouching in the shadows outside on the edge of the woods.  He switched to thermal.  Yup.  A living creature was out there.

"What's it look like?" shouted Fred up to the turret.

"Looks to me like a person," shouted Guns, not quite sure after all that had just happened, most of which at the end he didn't at all understand.  They both checked on Infrared and thermal bands to be sure.  Yes, it was definitely a living breathing human being. Hiding. Approximately 5'11", wearing a fur cloak of some sort, and carrying what looked like a medium sized bow over his back. A person.

Fred took a look at the diagnostic board and saw that the AGV's loud speaker system had come online. He grabbed the mic, flipped the switch, and spoke, "Identify yourself."

The man stood up, realizing he'd already been seen. He shouted, "Get out of here you damn machine fetishists! Get outta here!"

Fred stared at the Vizi-Screen, having turned up the Audio-Zoom and replayed the man's demand. He scratched his head. "You get that, Guns?"

"Sure did," replied Guns.

Major Sekston took the Pilot seat and strapped in. "Let's move," she said, impatient to get back to Panguitch. She slowly stepped on the accelerator to test the engine and drivetrain. The AGV lurched forward a few feet, but the elements that had given too much thrust to the power coupling were instantly recalibrated and adjusted by the AI. When the major tried again, the acceleration was quite a bit smoother. She had no idea why. Fred blinked without saying anything.

And so the AGV began moving down the slope on its way back to Panguitch, but then lurched to a halt, the mechanism for which the AI also quickly recalibrated and adjusted.  Sekston looked out the windshield towards the man standing on the edge of the forest.  She could make him out as a ray of sunlight was illuminating him from behind.

"Hey Guns, this guy is going to be pretty boned if we leave him out here, don't you think?" asked Fred.

"Why don't we go down and talk the fella down?" asked Guns.

"Ok sure, but do we have time for that?" asked Fred, looking at Major Sekston, then Penelope, and then the crippled figure laying on the coach, Captain Samwise, snoring.

"Well, I do want to get to Panguitch as soon as possible, but I guess a few minutes to check up on the locals wouldn't hurt," replied the Major.

Penelope, who was sitting next to Sam patting his head with a cloth, said, "He's not doing so good.  He needs a doctor. Pronto."    

"Maybe that hick over there has some medical skills," offered Fred, dubiously.

"No, he's just a hick.  And he doesn't want to have anything to do with us.  Why don't we just leave him and get the Captain to the hospital," said Major Sekston, making up her mind that this would be the best course of action at this point.

"Nah," said Fred. "I like Guns' idea of going and finding out about this guy. Go out there, Guns, and make a friend, man."

Guns grabbed his Springfield rifle, saying "Common Ilene, we're going for a walk," slid down the ladder from the Perch and strolled through the airlock door before Sekston or Penelope could muster any objections.  Fred stared pointedly at the Major and smiled.  She returned a short scowl and looked out the windshield as Guns made his way down the slope.

And so Guns sauntered down to where the man was standing at the edge of the woods.  As he approached he slung Ilene over his back and put up his hands in a gesture of friendly intentions.  

"I'm just coming to talk to ya'll," he said in a loud voice, just in case there might be others further off in the woods that they hadn't spotted.  He was still a few dozen yards off.

As it turned out, this was a certain Mr. Pipes, a Naturalist from a small isolated village in the foothills east of Panguitch. He stood up and said, "I was kinda expecting you guys to leave... kinda awkward, but, um, I guess it's ok.  How's it going?"

"Well, that's more like it," answered Guns as he strolled up.  "It's going alright, I reckon.  We just survived one of the freakier encounters I've ever run into, and uh, frankly, I just came down to see if you're okay, and if you could use a hand.  Need a lift or anything?  We can give you a ride if you need it."

"That's mighty neighborly of you.  My name is Pipes,  I'm from over the hill yonder," said the man pointing eastward, now speaking conversationally.  He was older than a teen but not very much more than that, thought Guns. He carried a wooden bow in his right hand, nicely crafted.  "We're against machines up yonder and all, and we don't usually truck with filthy heathens such as yourselves, but I dunno.  My plan was to yell, and you folks was supposed to get scared and run off.  Then I was gonna get home and tell my family about how I chased off a bunch of Machinies such as yersleves and have a few laughs with the kinfolk.  Didn't quite work out, though."

"You know," continued Pipes, "that plan already went south, so what the heck. Sure, I'll take a ride.  I want to see the world, and all that.  If you don't mind my tagging along," said Pipes with a good deal more enthusiasm than Guns expected.

"Alright, sounds good.  We're heading into Panguitch, so we can take you at least that far," answered Guns.  "I don't know if you're aware of it, but there's been a war going on down there, and we're heading back to see if we can help out.  We think we probably won the battle, but we won't know exactly where things stand until we get there."

From the distance, when Guns mentioned the name Panguitch, he and Pipes heard the sound of an inarticulate scream coming from inside the AGV.  Major Sekston turned and stared at Fred.

"You got a problem with going back to Panguitch, soldier?" she asked him.  He continued to stare at her for a few seconds, and then turned back to scanning the diagnostics panel.  He was pleased to see mostly green line items at this point.  Skeston rolled her eyes and went back to looking out the windshield.

And this is how Pipes wound up joining up with our heroes.  He was a naturalist, and he had a strong distrust of machines.  The people of his village were isolationists who believed that without technology, so long as they stayed in their own little isolated bubble in the hills, they could remain pure and stay out of trouble.  For the most part, it worked.  And so they lived in the vale by hunting and fishing, and by crafts no younger than those of the medieval era, and so far as they were concerned, all was well with their tiny little spot in the world.  That said, there were always a few in the village who felt that staying isolated in their own little bubble knowing nothing about what was going on in the great wide world was likely one day to come back and bite them.  So every once in a while one or two of them would decide to go out and see for themselves what all was going on out there, and then try to come home and tell the tale.  And now Pipes found out that he was one of these people himself.  And so without further ado, he climbed aboard the blasphemous contraption and they took off for Panguitch.   

"Well, I reckon I'll learn something on this here pilgrimage.  When I find out enough, I'll head back to the village and let the others know what all is going on," he said as he settled in across from Sam on the opposite coach. As they road, Captain Sam, who had woken up somewhat, made an effort to fill Pipes in on what they'd discovered about Panguitch since they first arrived in the area.  It was a long story, and he only got to a few key points before he dropped back off to sleep.  Penelope continued to pat his forehead with a cloth, and she mentioned that the Captain had had a rough time of it in the past few hours and needed a doctor, and should rest.  Pipes nodded and took a look around at the interior of the vehicle.  He'd really never seen anything like it from the inside before.  He was astounded at how frightfully complicated everything looked.

Fred took the time to come to the rear and check out the new recruit.  He stared the guy down for a good ten seconds, pulled out a piece of ravioli that he'd forgotten that he had put in his pocket quite a long time ago, and threw the lint covered thing into a corner with a tiny splat.  Pipes looked at it, and then at Fred, and then back at the pasta, and then back at Fred.  

"Ravioli," said Fred.  "I forgot I had it.  Probably no good now."

"Oh, I was wondering what that was," replied Pipes.   

"One thing I ask," said Fred.  "You see all these panels around the AGV?"  

"Yep.  Devil's playground, it is," replied Pipes cheerfully with a little chuckle.

"Well, just don't press any of the damn buttons, ok?" asked Fred, trying in his own anti-social way to make idle conversation.  To this Pipes stood up, walked over to him with an amiable smile, and pushed one of the buttons on Fred's shirt. A bit of pasta sauce squirted out from beneath the button. Fred wiped it with his finger and smiled.  Pipes returned the smile.  

And with that Fred went back to reviewing the diagnostics panel at the Navigator's station.  He was delighted a few minutes later when Penelope reported that she had good visuals on the Vizi-Screen due to the ongoing electronics repairs.  While the AI could fix most of the electronics, the mechanical repairs were another matter entirely.  In a few minutes it had gotten almost every system back online.  And none the wiser were any of the crew, except Fred who had neglected to mention a word about any of it.  And yet, everyone knew that something odd had happened, but AGV's do not repair themselves.  Still no one said a word, and they rolled along in blissful silence for a while.

"Looks like the Lizardmen have retreated from the town," said Penelope.  "The US Army troops are re-stationing in the forward trenches, and it looks like they've brought up some of their heavy armor from the rear.  Seems like we won," she concluded.

"Good," said Major Sekston.  "But for how long?  My guess is they'll be back after they've licked their wounds.  Still though, we did take out most of their tanks, and I wonder how many they could have in reserve. Maybe none. Let's hope."

Fred noted that the antenna system went from yellow to green.  Suddenly three small screens lit up as they re-connected with the Mini-Drone Fleet.  Fred was tickled pink.  He quickly switched to the overhead view from the 25 drones he had left stationed at 50,000 feet.  He panned the battle field and zoomed in at points of interest.  "This is great," he said to no one in particular.

The tanks were smoldering ruins.  He couldn't see any Lizardmen.  The battlefield was smoking, and the fire to the south still raged, but otherwise quite.  He watched the US Army men digging more trench lines in front of Saint Gertrude's.  The radio system also came online.  He began searching the usual bands for incoming radio transmissions.

Something out of the corner of his eye caught his attention.  It was a long yellow-orange streak high up in the atmosphere.  It was forming a long arc, and appeared to be heading in their direction.  Fred began to sputter, and called up inarticullately to Guns.

"Yeah I see it!" shouted Guns.  "There's another one at 4 o'clock.  They're heading in straight for us!"  He began turning the Perch in the direction of the streaks.  Damn, no more Plasma Cannon Shells, he thought to himself.  Flamethrower wasn't going to do much.

As they came closer Fred recognized them as blue-white and chrome Mechs, just like the one that Brain V had originally given to Captain Samwise yesterday. Was it only yesterday??.  Fred sighed with relief and hopped on the radio, set the band to ULF, and immediately picked up a transmission.

"Repeat.  This is Doctor Mitchell.  This is Doctor Mitchell.  Do you read me?  Over," came the voice over the speaker.

"Yes," replied Fred bluntly and without fanfare or protocol.

"Well, that's good to hear.  Good to hear!" replied Doctor Mitchell.

Penelope leaped to her feet and ran over to the radio station.  She grabbed the mic from Fred's hand and spoke excitedly.

"Doctor Mitchell!  Is that you!?"

"Yes, this is... hey, is that you Penelope??!"

"Yes, it's me!" she shouted joyfully.  "How are you?!  What are you doing up there?  You can't fly!"

"Well, guess what?  I got training from Brain V, so now I can!  Quite fun!  You should try it!" the doctor answered with a laugh. "Are we clear to land?" he asked.  "Are we clear to land?"

Fred took the mic. "Look at the exterior of this vehicle.  We cannot stop you."  Everyone in the AGV burst out laughing. 

In a few minutes two gleaming thirty-foot-tall Mechs, blue, white and chrome, were standing next to the AGV as everyone clambered outside.  It was a sunny day, and the air was crisp and cool.  Autumn was just around the corner.  

Doctor Mitchell came and took a look at Captain Samwise.  

"He's in bad shape.  We need to get him to a hospital," he said.  As he spoke Samwise woke up.  He gave him his own diagnosis of his condition.  The doctor listened politely and nodded as Sam explained how he's received his wounds.  He re-dressed the wound on his leg and gave him a shot of morphine to ease the pain.  Samwise felt a lot better after that.

"Well, my name is Doctor Mitchell, as I suppose you overheard.  I take it you're Captain Samwise. Is that correct?"

Sam answered in the affirmative.

"Well, it's good to meet you, finally.  I've actually come to deliver these two Mechs to you from Brain V.  He has completed the Armaments and Weapons systems for them, and he said to tell you that you'll find these far more capable, in a military sense, than the Science & Research model he gave you originally.  A third Mech is on it's way, but stopped by to deal with the Insect Mound north of hear."

"I didn't do too good with the first one he gave me," said Sam sheepishly.  "It's completely destroyed."

"Sorry to hear that, but I think Brain V may have expected something like that to happen," Said Doctor Mitchell.  "He told me to tell you that the first one should be considered something like a training model.  But these here are the real McCoy.  Hopefully they'll last you longer than the first one.  At any rate, Brain V sends them with his compliments.  Now that I've delivered them, that mission is complete.  My next mission is to monitor the effectiveness of the NK-5-kZ anti-virus down here and make sure it's working as intended. And if not, to work with the Science Team here to iron out any kinks."

"I'd like to join you in that effort, Doctor," said Penelope.

"You're most welcome.  I can use your expertise," replied the doctor. "At any rate, before we do anything, we need to get the Captain here to a hospital."

"In downtown Panguitch there is Garfield Hospital," said Major Sketston.  "While the doctors there have been evacuating the facility, I'll call in and make arrangements.  I'm sure there will be sufficient resources to take care of Captain Sam by the time we arrive."

And that is where we left things that evening.

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