GURPS After The End #7: “Mercy Killing”
With a rope around his neck they left him hanging– Thin Lizzy, “Freedom Song”
High on that old hanging tree
On her knees his wife was screaming
Lord have mercy, lord have mercy
In which our protagonists join the resistance and learn more than they wanted to about the invaders. Traveling in disguise. A side trip in the name of mercy. The roads of the Ancients, above and below the earth. A botany lesson from a fan. Gathering herbs. Dinner with a friendly hermit, vibrating cactus, and helpful visions. Conversations with living metal. A pearl beyond price.
- Doc Rizzo Von Frankenstein Van Helsing, Hardy Doc.
- Francisco, Fast Nomad.
- Nabisco, his horse.
- James Robert “Jimbob” Eternity, Blessed Trader.
- Spud, feral kid.
- Liberty Vargas, Pure Strain Human Tech.
- Rufus the Dog, Mutated Dog Hulk.
- Buck and Otto, big dogs.
- Vine, Sentient Plant Scavenger. AFK.
When we left off, Shady Shen had just revealed that he’s secretly working for the Mayor. Some months back, the two had had a falling out. Not enjoying his time in exile, Shen had come back begging for a place in town. He had been working for the Mayor for some weeks before the invaders came. Now he found himself acting as her representative, helping to organize the resistance. Such as it was.
As the Mayor’s representative, Shen could take delivery of the explosives from Alloy. Payment might take some time to be delivered, times being what they were, but all accounts would be settled in time. But, if Jimbob were interested in further work for the Mayor, Shen speculated he might be able to facilitate and set up a conversation.
Jimbob questioned how this could be, with the Mayor locked up in the jailhouse, miles away in Mt Hope. Shen agreed, it would take something exceptional. “Dewey,” he said, turning to his black-feathered bird-man minion, “bring out the gimp.”
Dewey exited, returning shortly with a twisted gargoyle of a mutant. Shen explained that the mutant had an amazing mental ability that could allow Jimbob to speak with the Mayor at a distance, if he were brave enough to try it. Puzzled but willing, Jimbob agreed. The mutant approached with a grin, lasciviously licked Jimbob’s hand…
… and Jimbob found his astral form flying across the landscape until he landed in the Mayor’s cell. They had a long conversation. The Mayor spoke well of the accomplishments of our protagonists. Jimbob offered whatever service they might be able to perform on her behalf. She explained that there was a long-shot mission that Jimbob and the other could undertake, if they were willing.
Years ago, the valley was populated when a hero named Rebecca led a group of people from the ruined town in the south into the safety of the valley. Rebecca’s descendants had been leaders ever since, all the way down to the Mayor herself. This much was common knowledge. But the Mayor knew more, from family stories.
Rebecca Coot had been one of a number of survivors of the End Times, who had been sheltered from the destruction in a great installation to the west. When disagreements erupted among the group, Rebecca had gathered her followers and left. The Mayor had heard from Gus about the “crab building” that Vine and Liberty had seen from the top of the tower. She believed that the “crab building” was the place that Rebecca had left behind. Having made it through the End Times, it was surely full of treasures of the Ancients. Perhaps one might find powerful weapons there, sufficient to drive the invaders out.
The problem, of course, was the radioactive wastelands between the valley and the installation. Few could survive the trip. But the Mayor had a plan. She knew that Rebecca’s people had made it past the radiation by traveling under the ground, using some kind of transportation of the Ancients called a “High Pair Loop”. (Something to do with poker? Who knows…) It had delivered them from the installation to the ruined city in the south of the valley.
Jimbob agreed to the mission, and the Mayor gave him directions to the entrance to the Loop. After some final pleasantries, Jimbob’s astral form was pulled violently back into his body. He politely excused himself to go outside and be sick, then returned to plot with Shen and Dewey. After working out the details, he returned to camp with the others and told them the news.
Shen had given more details on the invaders. They were dog-folk with powerful mutant powers, who called themselves “arks”. While they patrolled the entire valley, their main center of activity was Mt Hope. They were violent bullies at best, but they had a particular dislike of humans. They had a habit of cutting off the hands of those who got on their bad side.
In light of this, our protagonists decided to lay low for the next few days and stay off the roads while tending their wounded. While the injured healed, the others rigged a cover for the wagon. Liberty assembled an antlered mask to give Francisco the appearance of a mutant deer or the like. The plan was to keep their heads down and keep quiet, with Rufus driving the wagon, until they could get out of the valley.
On the second day of their convalescence, there was a rain of frogs. Rufus, Liberty, and many of the locals took advantage of the opportunity to stock up on frog meat. Doc made some progress towards taming Mike, his mutant roach “pet”; it learned to see him as a source of food, rather than food itself.
After three days of downtime, our protagonists piled in to the wagon and set off. After several hours of walking along the road that runs the length of the valley, they noticed a commotion as they neared the turn-off towards Mt Hope. They slowed to observe.
What they witnessed was an execution. A gang of huge dog-people dragged out a human prisoner. They each stood over seven feet tall and wore thick leather armor. Each was descended from a different breed of small dog: chihuahua, terrier, toy poodle, or the like. “We are the arks!” the leader announced to the crowd of locals who had been drawn to the scene. The others set up a chorus of “Ark! Ark!” in response.
The leader continued: “We are the arks! We bite the hand that feeds us! This one did not give proper respect! In the name of Big Rex!”
At that signal, to our protagonist’s horror, the underling arks brutally cut off both the prisoner’s hands and gave them to the leader. Satisfied, the leader held up his grisly trophies to show the crowd before tossing one to his followers to share and keeping the other for himself. The arks left, chewing in satisfaction.
“Doc,” Jimbob asked, “just for curiosity, how long do you reckon it would take a fellow to die from something like that?”
“You mean ordinarily,” Doc Rizzo responded, “or with the kind of tourniquet arrangement they put on that guy?”
Sobered, our protagonists discussed their next move. They didn’t want to leave the victim to die slowly, but they also didn’t want to join him. Finally, impatient with the delay, Francisco took off galloping up the road. Thinking quickly, Doc grabbed a stick and faked out Rufus so he took off running after Francisco for backup. Bystanders dove out of the way as Francisco approached at speed. He drew his rifle, put a bullet into the victim’s heart without slowing, wheeled Nabisco around and galloped back.
While the others watched this spectacle, Spud crawled to the driver’s seat and got the wagon moving again. Francisco and Nabisco ran off in a different direction to avoid suspicion, then caught up with the others further down the road.
Meanwhile, Rufus stayed behind, looking for that stick. He found one that was pretty good, before he smelled the arks coming back. Not wanting to meet them, he cut cross-country and also rejoined the group.
Their efforts to avoid pursuit seemed to work, because they made it to the edge of the ruins later than day without further incident. They chose to bed down for the night, then go looking for the High-Pair Loop at first light. After some searching, they found a camp site on the second floor of a mostly-ruined building, a comfortable spot with excellent views in all directions.
They appreciated those open sight lines later that night, when Liberty was on watch. She noticed movement nearby. Seeing one of the morlocks that infest the town, she quietly alerted the others. Everyone readied their weapons, knowing that if they were forced to shoot, the noise would likely draw others. The morlock crept closer… and closer… then scampered away in another direction, without noticing them, as something else drew its attention.
The next morning, the wastelanders went to look for the entrance to the High-Pair Loop. Francisco and Rufus argued over the route. After a couple of hours of wasted time, Liberty started comparing landmarks with her map, realized they were both wrong, and located the entrance.
It was a wide stone stairway leading to an underground tunnel. The entrance was wide and high enough to admit the wagon and a mounted rider, but the stairs would be rough on the wagon’s wheels. With little alternative, they decided to risk it anyway.
As it happened, the wagon made it almost all the way to the bottom of the stair before finally breaking down. It took several hours of sweat and foul language for Liberty to make repairs. At one point, Rufus had to lift the wagon on his back to free up the axle. “Call me Jack,” he said.
By the time the job was done, it was time for lunch. Our protagonists had a meal of land shark jerky and frog stew by the light of a flashlight. Just as they were finishing, though, they heard the distinctive sounds of flabby bare morlock feet on cold concrete, approaching from deeper in the tunnel. After a quick, whispered conversation, the wastelanders readied their weapons and Jimbob aimed the flashlight towards the sounds, valuing visibility over surprise.
Seeing the light, the morlocks paused, then charged. Doc took cover behind a column. Francisco attempted to flank the oncoming mutants, sticking close to the right-hand wall. Rufus left Buck and Otto to protect the wagon, then crept forward, hoping for a sneak attack. Liberty and Doc took a couple of shots into the darkness, to little effect.
Most of the morlocks tried to pile on to Francisco and Nabisco. The first one went down under the horse’s hooves, but its body tripped up Nabisco, who fell to the ground, knocked senseless. Francisco stood over his friend, wrestling with the morlocks until he could bring his rifle to bear, killing one. Another tried to attack but dropped its weapon.
Jimbob won a quick game of hide-and-seek, coming around behind one of the other mutants and shooting it in the back of the head. Rufus crippled another, nearly severing its leg with a swing from his katana.
The disarmed morlock, seeing the way the battle way going, turned to flee, leaving four of its brethren dead or dying behind it. The wastelanders put the wounded out of their misery. Liberty provided first aid to Doc, who had taken a couple of blows from a tire iron.
After a quick rest, our protagonists explored the High-Pair Loop. On the other side of the entrance area, they found various kiosks and side rooms before finally discovering the main tunnel. It had a pair of tracks leading in either direction. Liberty figured out which direction led towards the “crab building”, they got the wagon into the tunnel without any further damage, and started hiking.
They discovered that the tunnel had more than one lobby area, presumably other exits. Late in the afternoon, though, they came to a cave-in. Figuring that they must be pretty close to their destination, they retreated to the last lobby and searched for a way out. Finding a stairway like the one back in town, they sent Rufus and Francisco to scout ahead. They found that the stair emerged within sight of the building, at the bottom of the hill it stood on, next to the largest highway of the Ancients that anyone had ever seen.
Hearing voices on the surface, our protagonists were cautious. While Francisco warned the others, Rufus crawled forward to see what he could see. He followed the voices to the far side of the highway. Looking down the slope on the far side, he found their source.
First, a man armed with a rifle was standing with his back to Rufus. He was addressing his companion as “Zed”, urging him forward with threats and harsh language. Zed stood further on, wearing rags, with hands bound in front of him, clearly unwilling to perform whatever task was being asked of him. Beyond Zed, Rufus could see a patch of strange purple grass.
“If you’re quick, it won’t get you, Zed,” the armed man said. “But if you don’t try, I’ll just shoot you where you stand, and you’re not quick enough to dodge that.”
Warned by Francisco, the others approached quietly to watch. They saw Zed screw up his courage and turn towards the purple grass. He approached cautiously, then dove backwards. Pop! Pop! Pop! A series of small explosions appeared from thin air where Zed had stood a moment before. He scrambled away from the grass while his captor complained of his sloth.
After further encouragement, Zed made another run at the purple grass. This time, he wasn’t as quick. The tiny explosions caught him, and he fell, apparently dead.
The armed man cursed the luck. As he turned, he finally caught sight of our protagonists and cautiously raised his weapon. Jimbob stood up and introduced himself, laying on the charm. “Like from the radio?” the man asked, incredulous. A fan of the radio show!
He introduced himself as Hercules Lacroix, hunter and survivor. “And that used to be Zed,” he added, pointing at his dead companion. Jimbob expressed some confusion over the scene they had just witnessed, and Herc was glad to explain.
The purple grass was “gamma grass”, he told them, or “zeeth” in the language of the seer lizards, or “sleeth”. Rufus nodded, saying he had heard them called by another name. The sleeth were mutant lizard people with great mental powers, who lived a way down the highway. They smoked the dried gamma grass to gain visions of the future, and would pay a high price for it. The only problem was the natural defense of the gamma grass: it senses when an animal approaches, and teleports its seeds into the animal’s flesh. This explained the explosions. When an animal is killed by the seeds, it provides fertilizer for the next generation of gamma grass.
“Boss,” Rufus said, “I think I’m quick enough.”
While Rufus faded back out of Herc’s line of sight and limbered up, Jimbob and Doc distracted Herc, telling him that he didn’t look so good. He was displaying all the symptoms of Bernard Miller fever, they said. They had seen it back in town. As Herc started to sweat, they played a game of “good doc, bad doc” on him: it was lucky they had the cure (displayed the bottle of Doc Rizzo’s failed attempt at homebrew antibiotics), but too bad they only had the one bottle and couldn’t spare it, but it was their duty as men of science to… In the end, they bamboozled him firmly. He paid them a handful of rifle rounds for a bottle of useless – possible toxic – pills, and left to find a safe place to “recuperate”.
As soon as Herc was out of sight, Rufus sprinted towards the grass, katana at the ready. He dodged a barrage of teleported seeds, slashed through a bunch of the grass in a scythe-like manner, and rolled to safety on the far side of the gamma grass. On his return trip, he grabbed up the harvested grass. He also noticed that Zed’s body was already sprouting tiny purple blossoms. Gamma grass wastes no time, it seems.
Having secured the area, our protagonists found a good place to observe the “crab building” and settled down for the afternoon. They noticed something on the building’s roof that was bright with reflected sunlight, but couldn’t make out any details due to the glare. They observed that the sides of the hill were covered with low-lying vegetation. At one point, they saw an orange winged lion-thing fly ponderously off the roof, a creature they identified as a “yexil”, a fierce creature with laser eyes and an appetite for cloth. They wanted nothing to do with it.
Later in the evening, they saw a human figure walking along the road from the direction of the building. He wore a broad-brimmed straw hat and carried a long stick over his shoulder. They watched as he probed around the grass on the edge of the road, finally catching some small animal that he dispatched with a blow from his stick, and carried away back the way he came.
Curious, our protagonists followed the man, finding him cooking his dinner over a campfire in front of a lean-to built near a crossroads, where a side road turned off to go up the hill towards the building of the Ancients. They announced themselves and he greeted them eagerly, introducing himself as Hermon the Hermit and offering to share his dinner of crabbit. (But as host, he claimed the claws. Hospitality only goes so far.) Our protagonists accepted.
When asked, Hermon explained that he had lived there for years. He had never tried to get a closer look at the big building, because he had heard that the road up to the top of the hill was mined. The only other way up the hill would be to climb, but then one would need to watch out for the vibrating cactus. Not that they were poisonous or carnivorous or anything, but they could sting like the dickens.
Hermon also mentioned the sign on the road up the hill. When our protagonists took a look at the sign using binoculars, they could make out one word: “Mindkeep”.
Happy to have company, Hermon brought out a jug of moonshine. As the evening wore on, our protagonists talked themselves out of saving their gamma grass for trade with the sleeth, and instead decided to smoke it themselves.
Under the influence of the gamma grass, Doc saw a vision of Burt Reynolds, who imparted much wisdom. The only part that stuck in Doc Rizzo’s mind was the part where Burt said he didn’t think the road actually had any mines in it. “The mines are a lie,” he said. Doc agreed, saying he thought Hermon was trying to dissuade them from reaching the building of the Ancients for some reason.
The next morning dawned wet and stormy. Our protagonists decided to try the road up the hill. They left Buck and Otto to guard the wagon at Hermon’s. Despite the hermit’s shouted warnings, the road did not explode under their feet. Once again, Burt had steered them right.
It was a steep climb, with a couple of switchbacks. The vibrating cactus had grown right up to the edge of the pavement. As they climbed, Liberty noticed a couple of creatures lurking in ambush under cover of the cactus. They were like scorpions the size of a person, with humanoid hands and faces. Doc and Francisco intimidated the mutant bugs enough to avoid an attack while the group passed by.
On the top of the hill, they found a broad, flat, semi-paved area. On the right, they saw the foundations of the main building and its main entrance, guarded by a hulking robot with treads, its turret-like head swiveling from side to side. On the left, they saw a smaller one-story structure with a roll-up garage door. In the distance, on the far side of the big building, they could see a second smaller structure with scattered wreckage. Between the two smaller buildings, to the left of the main structure, there was a field with a few scattered trees and another robotic death machine, sitting motionless.
Perhaps they could walk right in the front door; one never knows until one tries, right? Remembering how Ray-Joe had taken to her, our protagonists sent Liberty to negotiate with the guardian robot. As she approached, she examined it: Treads; heavy armor, certainly heavy enough to take anything they could throw at it; almost certainly military; certainly heavily armed. As she approached, it challenged her, declaring that this area was off-limits to civilians. She backed off quickly when it started getting testy.
Doc tried to casually stroll around the robot. It did not care for that, and Doc, too, stepped back quickly after being given an ultimatum: “Retreat or face the consequences; you have five seconds to comply.”
Ok, so one does not simply walk into Mindkeep. Fair enough. Since the robot only seemed interested in defending the main entrance, they walked over to the nearby outbuildings. If nothing else, perhaps they could find shelter from the driving rain while pondering their next move.
As the group’s Pure Strain Human, Liberty led the way. She approached the garage door, which had a series of small, dirty windows. Peering into the gloomy inside of the building, she saw shelves, and tool boxes, and… and… and the best preserved ground vehicle of the Ancients that she had ever seen, a dusty but otherwise-pristine black van with a single red stripe.
Nabisco rolled an 18 on an attempt to kick, and knocked himself unconscious with the crit failure.
Standard award was 3 points. Cool Point also went to Francisco, for simply riding down the morlock when it got in front of him, and then valiantly defending his fallen mount.