After The End #4: “Candygram”

by mshrm

“He’s a killer – he’ll rip out your heart
On a one way track and you’re not coming back
‘Cause the killer’s on the attack”

– Accept, “Fast As A Shark”

An early start and an uncomfortable lunch. A manifesto, gently delivered. What to do when the crops are coming right at you. Sky-weasels, houses in the air, and wholesale jerky production. The rolling wounded. A desperate standoff, at least on one side. “That was not only a dolphin!”

Who’s Who

  • Doc Rizzo Von Frankenstein Van Helsing, Hardy Doc.
  • Francisco, Fast Nomad.
    • Nabisco, his horse.
  • James Robert “Jimbob” Eternity, Blessed Trader.
  • Liberty Vargas, Pure Strain Human Tech.
  • Rufus the Dog, Mutated Dog Hulk.
    • Buck and Otto, big dogs.
  • Vine, Sentient Plant Scavenger. AFK.

What Happened

Last session, our protagonists were waiting for the weather to clear so they could leave the valley to journey to the town of Alloy, where they expected to pick up and return with cargo on the Mayor’s behalf. Over the course of the evening, Vine started acting in an unusual manner, become more and more sluggish until they finally rooted in an out-of-the-way corner and spread their leaves. They seemed to go into a deep sleep and their skin took on a bark-like appearance. They didn’t seem to be in any distress, so the others shrugged and chalked it up to the weird life cycles of sentient plants.

At the crack of dawn, their guide, young Gus, arrived at their camp, bearing hot mugs of something close enough to coffee to pass. The strong winds had died down, the weather was clear and almost suspiciously calm, and he was eager to get on the road. He indicated his “travelling hat” – a battered top hat – and showed them his “travelling stick” – a short baton with a blown light bulb affixed to the end for decorative purposes – to demonstrate how eager he was.

Gus had made arrangements with a friend to store the party’s excess gear, leaving the wagon empty for the cargo on the return trip. Our protagonists got themselves organized efficiently, with Liberty supervising the unpacking and repacking of the wagon. The extra gear was stored in Gus’ friend’s home, and the caravan took to the road.

The first leg of the journey took them through the settled farmland in the center of the valley. Just outside Mt Hope, they followed the old road of the Ancients north for several miles. Between the excellent road and the fine weather, they made excellent time and arrived in Newtown just in time for an early lunch.

In contrast to Mt Hope’s relative affluence, Newtown was a shantytown even by wastelander standards. It would be generous to describe any of its structures as “permanent”. Most of the locals appeared to live in tents and the like. A common cookfire appeared to represent the local hospitality. Jimbob, Rufus, and Francisco (still mounted, obviously) went ahead to accompany Gus and negotiate for lunch, leaving the dogs to guard the wagon while Liberty listened to Doc Rizzo’s ramblings.

As they approached the fire, Jimbob and Francisco noticed a certain coldness in the eyes of the locals. Again in contrast to Mt Hope, the people of Newtown seemed to be almost all mutated humanoid animals. The few humans they saw appeared to be more mutated than was fashionable on the other side of the valley. (In the interest of diplomacy, Jimbob struggled to hide his acute interest. He won’t admit it, being a man of faith, but he has a bit of thing for mutants.)

For his part, Rufus was oblivious to all the social tension, but keenly aware of what was roasting over the fire. His sensitive noses told him it was some variety of venison, which was good enough for him. He trotted directly up to the cat-person tending the roast, and gave ’em the eyes.

Seeing this, the cat-person glanced over at a figure relaxing some distance away. This was a tall dog-man, wearing a long coat and hat, with a rifle of some kind slung over his back. He gave a nod. The cat-person sliced a generous portion of meat onto a plate and put it before Rufus. “On the house.”

Seeing the obvious power dynamic around here, Jimbob went to introduce himself to the dog-man, who gave his name as Cordozar. They had a pleasant conversation, as Jimbob planted the seeds of future friendship. He mentioned that they were working for the Mayor, but only on a contract basis. Cordozar claimed to be flattered, but denied it, when Jimbob referred to him as a community leader. Nevertheless, he agreed they would be happy to offer every courtesy to anyone doing the Mayor’s work.

Meanwhile, back at the fire, a fox approached Rufus as he licked his plate clean. She stood about two feet tall, was dressed better than the other locals, and was wearing a pair of mirrored sunglasses. Clearly, she was more affluent than most of the village. She introduced herself as Joan, and Rufus shyly gave his name.

Their conversation was pleasant enough, but hampered a bit by Rufus’ political naivete. Joan mentioned how much she admired the way he handled his human underlings. With an “aw, shucks” demeanor, he explained that he wasn’t in charge, he just does what “the boss” tells him. When Rufus inquired as to her position, Joan laughed and described herself as the Mayor’s “loyal political opposition”.

Joan questioned Rufus as to his own political beliefs, finding that he basically has none. She asked him how he would feel about a world where the animals manage things and the humans step down, in light of the terrible job the humans had done thus far. The phrase “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” was bandied about. Rufus contributed the occasional “Gawrsh!” and agreed, that all sounded great, but he would have to run it by the boss first. Before taking her leave, Joan mentioned that she looked forward to talking more in the future.

Gus arranged for lunch on the Mayor’s tab, which they took back to the wagon to eat. While the others were preparing to start the afternoon march, Jimbob went back to address the locals, in hopes of cultivating a friendly reputation. He recommended that they tune in to his regularly-broadcast radio show. Crickets. The crowd stared at him blankly for a moment, with hunger in their eyes, then one small opossum child thoughtfully said “We ain’t got no radio…” Dismayed, Jimbob quickly bid them good day and rejoined the others.

Gus directed them west, heading towards more rugged, forested terrain. The dirt road they had been following petered out, and they found themselves crossing plowed fields. Curious, Jimbob asked Gus what kind of crops they grew around here. Gus replied, they grew triffids around here. “What’s a triffid?” Jimbob asked… only to be interrupted by the thunder of dozens of root-balls pounding the ground as a herd of the carnivorous plants came stampeding out of the north!

With the wild triffid, of course, the main concern in such a situation would be the plants’ venomous whip-like stings, but these were domesticated triffids, which had been docked. Therefore, the main danger was that of trampling; while they weren’t remarkably speedy, each triffid stood over seven feet tall and must have weighed more than a large man. Rufus and Francisco burst into action, charging directly at the oncoming herd, barking and shouting in an effort to turn the herd. Their efforts were barely successful, diverting the panicking plants enough that the placid ox could pull the wagon out of harm’s way. Liberty pulled out a Molotov and stood ready to deter any stragglers with fire, but didn’t need to use it. As the dust and noise of the herd’s passage died down, Gus climbed down from the tree where he had taken refuge.

After a moment to catch their breath, our protagonists marched on. Fascinated by the majestic plants, Jimbob inquired further. Gus explained that triffids are not a food crop, but are mainly pressed for their useful oil. Their strong fibers are a secondary product, and are used to make rope. Gus commented that they likely have some triffid-fiber rope in their equipment without even knowing it.

Gus was forced to put a quick end to his triffid-rearing monologue as the road entirely vanished and he had to attend to navigation. He remarked that the real wilderness part of the trip was starting, as they needed to follow Loop Creek to Deep Water. He led them to the edge of the cultivated fields, through a break in the trees, through a depression in the earth that brought them to the banks of a stream carrying a scant trickle of water at this point in the heat of summer. They followed the stream for a few yards until Gus pointed out a sandy spot with a game trail. After one hard push up that hillside, they found themselves on an overgrown dirt road. It was little more than a pair of wagon wheel ruts, but it was a road.

The party followed this crude trail in a more-or-less north-westerly direction, as it roughly followed the course of the creek. While they marched, Jimbob crawled into the back of the wagon and started fooling with the party’s radios, as is his way. On this occasion, he noticed a whisper of a broadcast: just a repeating pattern of beats, lost in static, but repeating in a loop. As the afternoon wore on, he worked obsessively to improve the signal. Finally, his efforts were rewarded. He was briefly able to make out the words of the broadcast: “… 144, Mindkeep. 233, Wintermute. 377, Skynet….”

While Jimbob was immersed in the radios, the party had been travelling. They came to an area where the dirt road had diverged a bit from the stream and followed the ridgeline of the nearby hills. That stretch of road was wide open and gratifyingly free of brush. The sky was shining, birds were croaking, it was a lovely afternoon for a walk. Of course, that couldn’t last.

A person burst out of the forest and ran up the road towards them. From her maroon mohawk hairstyle to her scuffed boots, she was dressed like a raider, but unarmed. “Run!” she screamed, gesturing wildly at them. “Run while you still can!”

Then the earth beneath her feet burst open, exposing a blunt snout full of teeth. The raider exploded in a gout of blood as a twenty-foot long land shark closed its mouth on her and shook her unmercifully.

Our protagonists stared in disbelief. A… land shark? A twenty-foot long land shark?

By the time they had recovered their wits, the shark had finished its meal. It sniffed the air and began to move slowly in the party’s direction. Francisco thought that it seemed less hungry (having just eaten) and more curious about Nabisco. (“I’m curious how horse tastes!” being likely.) Aiming to buy the others time, Francisco and Nabisco moved to kite the land shark, luring it to snap at Nabisco’s heels only for them to scramble out of its reach at the last moment.

The rest of the party took full advantage of the time this gained them. Liberty and Doc drew their weapons and aimed at the beast. Having upgraded Francisco’s musket to a bolt action rifle, Liberty had claimed the shotgun as her own. Rufus drew his katana and stalked the shark, looking for an opening to attack its flank.

At Rufus’ direction, Buck and Otto stood between the shark and the wagon. Under his own strategic direction, Gus dropped off the back of the wagon and quickly found a tree to climb.

Distracted by the radio and on his hands and knees in the back of the wagon, it took Jimbob a moment to understand the situation. Once he did, he tossed the radios to the side and began searching for something in the stored gear.

When Liberty and Doc Rizzo started firing, their initial attacks did little damage, but did distract the shark from playing a deadly game of keep-away with Francisco and Nabisco. It turned their way. While Liberty maintained her position in the wagon, bracing her shotgun on the back of the seat, Doc dropped to the ground and approached the shark (hoping to reduce range penalties), firing his pistol steadily as he went.

Finally enraged, the land shark turned to put a stop to the thing that was tormenting it. It charged full-speed at Doc Rizzo, snapping at him and narrowly missing. Doc Rizzo grabbed the shark’s fin, thinking to climb aboard and ride it. Inexplicably dressed in a shark costume, Burt Reynolds leaned over and asked if Doc Rizzo really thought this was a wise idea – remember, Doc is haunted by either the ghost of Burt Reynolds or the delusion of the ghost of Burt Reynolds – but Doc Rizzo responded that sometimes the fun outweighs the wise.

This philosophy came under challenge when the irritated land shark shook Doc Rizzo off its back and sunk its teeth into his torso!

While this was undeniably bad news for Doc Rizzo, it did give the others the opening they needed. Rufus rushed in, stabbing. Liberty unloaded two barrels of buckshot into the land shark’s side. Francisco plunged into the melee, trying to distract the shark from its prey by tossing rations in front of its nose.

Just as everybody crowded up around the mutant fish-beast, Jimbob finally found what he was looking for. He came up from the back of the wagon, shouting for everybody to back away, with a lit stick of dynamite in his hand.

As it happened, though, everybody was too busy to back away. The shark ground away at Doc, trapped in its mouth. Doc tried to hit the land shark’s nose with his pistol butt, but between the violent shaking and the agonizing pain, he wasn’t able to make it happen. Rufus didn’t quite go berzerk, but he was definitely target-focused, stabbing away at the mutant fish, delivering wounded that would have been fatal to any creature less stubborn. Jimbob finally flung the dynamite towards the shark’s tail, hoping that the distance and the bulk of the shark’s body would protect his friends from the blast.

As it happened, that’s pretty much how it worked out. The shark took the blast, Rufus was somewhat shaken by it, and the others escaped unscathed. But even that wasn’t enough to kill the thing! It continued to thrash in a frenzy until Francisco leaned over, planted the barrel of his rifle behind the beast’s eye, and put a bullet through its brain.

Everyone crowded around to see how bad off Doc Rizzo was. Liberty hauled over their new crash kit, hoping he wouldn’t be dead by the time she got there. Of course, this is Doc Rizzo, so by the time she got there, he was cussing and complaining that she didn’t think to bring something to drink as well. He sat right there in the middle of the dirt road next to the shuddering remains of the land shark and sewed up his own wounds – pausing once to accept that drink and demanding that somebody save that shark fin as a trophy – before getting up, staggering to the wagon, and passing out.

Clearly, that was the end of the marching day. The party cast around for a snug nearby campsite while Francisco got down to the work of butchering the shark. By dark, they had several hundred pounds of shark jerky drying over smouldering campfires. They spent the next day recuperating and processing jerky.

On this afternoon, the party witnessed a striking event. First, they heard a strange repetitive “putt-putt-putt” noise approaching from the distance. Looking around, they found the source: an air car, like the Ancients used to use! It seemed to be struggling and chugging a bit, not sailing serenely about in defiance of gravity like one would expect, but it was undeniably airborne!

Even as the party started to ask Francisco if he thought he could shoot that bird down, they were interrupted by an earth-shaking roar. The forest parted on a hillside a mile or so away, and a gigantic beast flapped laboriously into the air. It was shaped something like a weasel, but with wings, and at least fifty feet long!

Choosing discretion, our protagonists kept their heads down and watched, wide-eyed. The monster flew after the air car. Finding their speed insufficient to escape the creature, the air car turned to face it. For several minutes, the air car and sky weasel engaged in a dogfight. The party could hear the sound of gun fire, but the sky weasel didn’t seem much troubled by it. Finally, it grabbed the air air in its front paws, shook it violently, dug in its claws, and opened the air car like a clam. It briefly nosed the interior (slurp!) then threw the car’s wreckage down, perhaps a half-mile distant, before flying away.

Dumbfounded, the party stood in silence for a moment, watching the sky weasel vanish in the distance. “I thought those were just stories,” Jimbob said.

“They tell kids to get in before dark or the sky weasel will get ’em,” Doc Rizzo remarked.

They considered this for a moment, then Jimbob turned to Liberty, the party’s cartographer. “Mark down where that car landed. For on the way back.”

It took two hours for the birds to start croaking again.

Late that night, the dogs became alert and started barking at something up the road from the way they had come. Upon investigation, they discovered Billy-Bob Bull and Chastity. Billy-Bob had clearly left town in a rush, as he was wearing only his long underwear and a pair of boots. Chastity was dressed, at least, but they both showed signs of hard travel. Our protagonists invited them into camp and asked them their story.

In a word, invasion! Raiders had come across the bridge to the north into the valley, they said. The raiders had blown through the Mayor’s forces and come south, ravaging the landscape as they went. Billy-Bob and Chastity had only been able to escape because they were warned by refugees fleeing south ahead of the invasion. The party invited them to come along for the rest of the journey, an offer they gratefully accepted.

The next day was rainy with thunderstorms. Their campsite was comfortable, Doc Rizzo was still sorely wounded, and travel would be slow in the weather, so they elected to spend another day resting. With the rain and all able-bodied members helping, it wasn’t difficult to collect enough water for the whole group, and of course, they had all the shark meat they could hope to eat.

Chastity was too shy to even speak, but bonded with Liberty over gadgeteering. She proudly showed Liberty her scratch-built sidearm. It had the largest magazine Liberty had seen on a weapon that wasn’t mounted.

As everybody talked around camp, Gus opened up and shared his life’s dream. He hopes to someday go down the river to Char-Town and loot the military installation that he’s heard is there. Char-Town was hit hard back during The End, he explained. Almost burnt up, and lousy with radiation… but that meant it hadn’t ever been thoroughly scavenged.

On this day, Liberty and Rufus finally recovered all of their hit points. They had been suffering lingering pains from the beatings they received at the hands of the morlock some days before, but hadn’t had a chance to rest before now.

Acting as his own patient, Doc Rizzo estimated that he would need a couple of weeks of bed rest before being back on his feet. The party became nervous at the thought of spending that long in the wilderness. Deciding that it would be more prudent to press on now, then rest in town, they resolved to continue the march the next day.

While the thunderstorms had cleared up, the next day was still rainy. The muddy road made travel slow. After a couple of hours’ slog, Gus tried to cheer everyone up by telling them they were approaching something impressive to see. When questioned, he said it was a home of one of the Ancients. Mac had always told him, an Ancient lived there, and his name was Ray-Joe ‘Tenner.

While the party was skeptical, when they finally saw the thing, they were impressed. It was the tallest standing structure that any of them had seen, standing 5, 6, maybe 700 feet tall. The base stood some distance away from the road, but they could see that it only covered a square footprint about ten feet on a side. Almost the entire thing was just a skeleton of mossy struts, but at the very top, there was a small square house, with windows on all sides. “That’s where Ray-Joe lives,” Gus confidently asserted.

If Vine were there, maybe he could climb up and find out, but none of them were up to the job. (Doc offered to give it a try, from his pallet in the back of the wagon, but was roundly ignored.) Noting it as yet another mystery for another day, they moved on.

Not far past that, they found another section of paved road left over from the Ancients, which made for quicker travel, but later in the afternoon, they came to a section that had been washed out by floods. The dirt track took them through a place where the Ancients had found a hill inconvenient, so they had just cut directly through it.

“None should have such power,” Rufus muttered, looking upon the bare rock walls on either side of the road. The Ancients had left hundreds of overlapping messages, sigils, and runes painted on the rock face, for whatever reason.

Then the leaden silence was broken by a human voice, giving the time-honored greeting of the wastelands highwayman: “Hey, m-f-ers!”

They looked up, seeing an unusually skinny and scruffy raider standing at the cliff’s edge perhaps twenty feet above them. He advised them to give up their wagon and their animals, and they would be allowed to go free. The sharp-eyed among our protagonists noted that the bundle he held close to his chest in both hands was actually a black powder grenade. Clearly, his plan was to drop the grenade on them if they resisted.

Jimbob engaged the raider in bamboozling conversation, broadly claiming to be surrendering but laying down enough distraction to allow the others to lay hands on weapons and get into position. Satisfied that they were giving up, the raider whistled, summoning a small crowd of more hungry-looking raiders from hiding further up the road.

That’s when our protagonists burst into action. Rufus had taken a moment to scope out a path up the cliff, and sprinted up it, drawing his katana as he went. The raider pulled the pin on his grenade just in time for Rufus to amputate the arm holding the grenade at the elbow.

Meanwhile, a second would-be grenadier had appeared at the cliff edge. Francisco put a round through their center of mass, killing them immediately.

Doc Rizzo raised up enough to wave at the raiders down the road, looking ragged. “Yoo-hoo! You don’t want these guys, I’m their prisoner, and look how bad they’ve treated me!”

Gus and Billy-Bob retreated, and the dogs formed a line to stand between the party and the approaching raiders, but Chastity advanced. Showing no regard for range penalties, human life, or the price of ammunition, she pointed her weapon in the general direction of the raiders and unloaded. Her sidearm proved to be a sort of black powder Uzi. When its magazine was empty and the clouds of smoke cleared, the crowd of raiders simply weren’t there. It wasn’t clear if they had simply broke and ran, or if some had been hit and they had taken their wounded with them, but either way, the road was clear.

Meanwhile, Liberty put a shotgun blast into the dis-armed grenadier, who fell next to his own armed grenade. Rufus lept to safety as the grenade exploded. A quick, brutal fight, that netted them three useable black powder grenades and a board with a nail in it.

Liberty looked over the grenades, noting they were all of similar distinctive manufacture. She declared them to be the work of the “Ironmonger”, a legendary arms dealer providing weaponry to the local raiders.

The day wore on with more miserable, wet hiking. Gus urged them to keep going, as they were almost there. The party stayed on the march until after sunset, when they finally came within sight of their destination.

As they came over the ridge, they could see the glowing river spread out below them. The road descended to the edge of the river, where they could see a small settlement. The road was barred by a pole gate and a couple of guards. “Deep Water,” Gus pointed out.

Somewhat further down the river and on the far side, they could see a larger, more built-up town. Remarkably, it was lit by electric light! Dim, buzzing, sparking, yellow light… but electric! Gus indicated that town. “Alloy,” he said.

To be continued

GM Notes

Vine’s sudden need to take root was due to a missing player. When Vine returns, they’ll have spent a bunch of hoarded experience points and blossomed.

Jimbob tried to roll Propaganda before leaving Newtown to talk up his radio show, but crit failed. He was trying to communicate “We’re good people, we’re entertaining!” but what he actually communicated was “We have valuable gear.”

After the land shark was done with him, Doc Rizzo fell to -31 hit points… and never lost consciousness until after the action was over and he voluntarily lay down for a rest.

Jimbob used his Serendipity to get a top-notch campsite for recuperation after the land shark attack.

Liberty got a crit success on the Armoury roll to check out the grenades, and got more information than I had bargained for.

Experience

Standard award was 3 points. Cool Point was a split decision, going to Francisco and Rufus for their brave charge to head off the stampeding triffid herd. (As well as a variety of other “action hero” moments for both of them.) The party also voted to award a rare “Bonus” Point, to Doc Rizzo, for wrestling (and being mauled by) a land shark.

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