GURPS After The End #8: “Access”

by mshrm

With parts made in Japan

I am the modern man

– Styx, “Mr Roboto”

The battle for the van. Hostile rocks and hoop snakes. A welfare check and a dinner invitation, a rare hot bath and an unscheduled checkup. Hackles raised. Conversations with a crazy Coot. The benign countenance of the colonel. The biggest map anyone has ever seen. Unidentified flying objects, both ancient and fresh. Online.

Who’s Who

  • 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.

What Happened

When we left our protagonists, they were peering through the dusty windows of a garage door at a surprisingly well-preserved van. While Liberty examined the door, Vine came trudging up the driveway to report that Doc Rizzo’s bug had gotten loose and was causing havoc back at Hermon the Hermit’s place. Francisco volunteered to gallop back and see what he could do to assist. Jimbob had a quick discussion with Francisco, giving him one of the gang’s small radios and trading rifles.

Liberty concluded that the door probably wasn’t trapped. She tried to pull the door open, but it was too solidly rusted shut. Rufus and Vine traded her places. One heave, and the door rolled up with a shower of grit and a loud rumble. Immediately, several “piles of debris” jumped to their feet and shambled out of the shadowy interior of the garage. Vine identified them as “burrowing rocks”, a sort of mutant crab with a stone-like shell.

Our protagonists drew their weapons and fired, to little effect. The rocks were more shell than meat. Liberty put two shots from her shotgun directly into one at close range, causing no actual injury but knocking it down. Jimbob shot one dead center with Francisco’s rifle, barely chipping its shell.

The rocks quickly revealed another mutant power, unleashing thunderous cries that had Liberty deafened and reeling. The wastelanders fell back with the rocks in pursuit.

The rocks proved to be sturdy, mostly ignoring firearms and even stabbing blows from Rufus’ katana, but slow and stupid. Jimbob taunted them and ran away, drawing them out of the garage where they could be engaged from all sides, and dropping a stick of dynamite that knocked one of the rocks off its feet. Vine ran back and forth to a nearby ruined car, yanking off jagged chunks of metal to fling at the rocks, which they ignored. (Vine didn’t want to risk picking up rocks to throw, for fear of throwing one of the mutant crab-things’ babies at them.) Liberty unloaded her shotgun completely before switching to her backup revolver.

Rufus discovered that, despite their rocky shells, he could slice through the burrowing rocks’ limbs with a strong enough slice. While they shambled after Jimbob, Rufus stalked them from behind, crippling their legs. It didn’t take long before the rocks were crawling away in defeat.

Our protagonists stood victorious, somewhat battered, and quite tired from all their exertions. Rufus, especially, was panting. At one point or another, Rufus, Jimbob, and Liberty had all taken a punch or two. They took refuge inside the garage, closing the door behind them. Rufus found a pile of rags, turned in a tight circle twice, lay down, and commenced snoring. Doc performed first aid on Rufus (briefly waking him) and Jimbob. Vine wandered off, lost in their own weird thoughts.

As for Liberty, she couldn’t resist closely examining the van. It was astonishingly well preserved, all things considered, but it would take some work before it could be driven. All four tires were flat, the fuel tank was bone dry, the battery hadn’t held a charge in generations, and the keys were missing. The mechanical problems could be sorted, but the fuel was a problem: the van was configured to use the favored fuel of the Ancients, the fabled guzzolene, the making of which was a secret of the Before Times. Liberty could rework the engine to burn ethanol – Doc attested that the secret of high-proof alcohol was well known in the wastelands – but it would take time, parts, and hard work. Bottom line, Liberty felt like she could get it running (!!) but it would be a matter of days, at least.

At this point, our protagonist’s attention was drawn outside. Liberty heard a commotion near the doors to the big building, while Rufus and Jimbob caught a whiff of ozone. Peeking through the garage door windows, they observed a figure approaching at high speed. It looked like a metal hula hoop rolling on its side, faster than a horse could run. Liberty identified it as a snakebot, built for light security duty, usually armed. After a quick conference with the others, she stepped outside to parlay.

The snakebot skidded to a halt, staring at Liberty with red, glowing visual sensors. “Bidi-bidi-bidi,” it said. Liberty waved a greeting. The snakebot turned away, rolled up into a hoop again, and sped back to the big building. With a shrug, Liberty returned to the garage.

Having rested and patched up, our protagonists turned their attention to the rest of the garage. They discovered a hole dug in the floor under the rear of the van, apparently the burrowing rocks’ favored entrance. They also scrounged up a collection of tools for the van that Liberty could make serviceable with some repairs.

The wastelanders were interrupted twice during these chores. First, a Guardian-model security robot came out from the big building. Again, Liberty stepped outside to meet it, while the others lurked inside the garage keeping watch. The robot greeted her respectfully, calling her “citizen”, and asking if she were in need of assistance, or if she had been having any trouble (glare at Jimbob and Rufus) with ruffians or dangerous wild animals? Liberty assured the robot that she was fine, and it returned to base.

Some time later, two Guardian-model robots came out. One had clearly received more programming in cyborg-human relations. It made small talk with Liberty, mentioning that it had been some time since they had seen “another” human. It invited her to come have dinner with “the master”.

This raised some eyebrows, obviously, but there was no way curiosity would allow a refusal. Liberty agreed, but asked if pets might be allowed? The robots traded “bidi-bidi” sounds for a while, then consented. So, Liberty and Rufus went with the robots. Jimbob and Doc stayed in the garage, drinking rotgut whiskey and playing chess on a board drawn in dust on the floor, using pieces improvised from corroded tools and car parts of the Ancients.

The robots escorted Liberty and Rufus over to the big building, where the patrolling military robot allowed them to pass without comment. Inside, they found a platform with a shaft ascending upwards, and a metal stairway, lit by flickering red emergency lighting. They took the stairs.

After ascending several stories, they stepped out into a wide hallway. The robots directed them to the end of the hall, where they entered a room full of medical equipment and several beds. A third robot, painted white with a red cross, came out to meet them. After a three-way “bidi-bidi”-fest, Doctor Bot turned to Liberty. It offered a bath for Rufus, and a quick checkup for Liberty, just as a precaution after her tribulations out in the dangerous, wild world. She agreed to both.

The Guardian ‘bots brought out a tub of clean (!) hot (!!) soapy (!!!) water, which Rufus joyfully jumped into, having spent a lifetime fighting his urge to play in the water, since any water that wasn’t toxic was reserved for drinking. He declared it tasted funny. Nevertheless, he allowed the robots to scrub him, comb him, and blow-dry him, only baring his teeth as a warning a couple of times.

Meanwhile, Doctor Bot took Liberty to the far end of the room, where it directly her to lie down on a scanning bed. After a certain amount of bright lights and cold probes, it had her sit up. “You might feel a pinch,” it warned, placing a metal appendage against the back of her neck and injecting her with something.

“What was that for?” Liberty asked.

“Access,” Doctor Bot responded. Liberty had seen that the doors in this place just slid open when a robot approached, so she took this to mean access to the building, and wasn’t overly concerned.

Once Rufus was done with his first bath ever, the robots took them back into the hall, to the far end, where they entered a huge room with a huge video screen on the far wall. By its flickering light, they could see rows of workstations in a sort of “Mission Control” arrangement. Several robots lurked in the shadows. A pair of alert rhino-dogs came to their feet, snuffling at the newcomers.

(Rhino-dogs are built like Rottweilers covered in thick, hairless armor plates like a rhinoceros. Liberty and Rufus readily recognized them, as they are a common pet and watch-animal in the wastelands.)

An older man, wearing a helmet with raised visor, armored vest, and heavy boots, with a rifle slung over his back, peeked at them from around one of the workstations. Seeing that they were his expected guests, he stepped out and introduced himself as Jeremiah Coot.

Liberty and Coot had a long conversation, during which dinner was served. A robot came in with a tray bearing several cardboard boxes imprinted with a benignly-smiling countenance of an elderly gentleman. Coot demonstrated how to pull a tab to open them, waiting a moment as steam puffed from the box. “Self-heating,” he explained, opening one to show Liberty a hot sandwich. She had never tasted such meat and inquired as to the source. “Chicken,” he informed them, “one of the favorite meats of the Ancients. I have allies who keep me supplied in the fight against the aliens.”

Coot had a lot to say about the aliens and his lifelong mission to preserve the planet from them, though not all of it was especially coherent. He kept pointing to the glowing blobs on the screen and talking about “incursions in China” and the like, without giving much explanation about what, exactly, a “China” was. In time, Liberty made the intuitive leap and realized the screen was some kind of map.

Mentioning that he had thought he was the last remaining “real human”, Coot asked if Liberty might be interested in joining his crusade against the aliens. She might stay there and help him keep watch. She expressed polite interest, but declined to make an immediate decision. Taking one of the chicken sandwich boxes for the road, Liberty and Rufus withdrew, with promises to return after consideration. The robots escorted the pair to the outside.

Rufus and Liberty joined Doc and Jimbob back at the garage, giving them the sandwich to split and telling all they had seen. Doc Rizzo examined the back of Liberty’s neck and recoiled; whatever it was, it was electronic and it was coming online.

Tampering with it might be more risky than bearing with it, so our protagonists turned their minds to other matters. They had discovered great treasure in the garage, and now they knew that the big building was a place of vast riches and wealth and hot, clean water. What other wonders awaited on top of this hill?

There was one other structure standing, but the straight-line path to it from the garage led across a wide field, where they could see a single scraggly tree with sparse red foliage, and the unmoving bulk of a robotic death machine. For comparison, if the snakebot were a mall cop with a billy club, and the Guardian-model ‘bots were cops with pistols, and the military ‘bot guarding the main door were a pickup with a machine gun and a squad of soldiers, the Ancients’ death machines were like a squadron of bombers and fighter aircraft. Their purpose was leveling entire cities. In consideration of this fun fact, our protagonists elected to take the long way around.

The patrolling robot observed their progress, but did not interfere.

When they approached the other structure, they found that it was a high-ceilinged building sitting at the end of a long, straight piece of pavement. It reminded them of the highway of the Ancients that ran by the foot of Mindkeep hill, except it didn’t go anywhere. It led from the big door of the tall building in a straight line into empty air.

Apparently, one of the Ancients’ vehicles had driven down that road right into the building’s doors where it crashed and burned. The wreckage had punched a hole through the door, giving them glimpses of crates and rusty tanks inside.

As the wastelanders’ expert on technology, Liberty entered first, clambering over the crashed vehicle’s wing and body to get through the broken door. Jimbob and Rufus watched from the door, while Doc hung back, watching their back trail in case of approaching ambushers.

As Liberty stepped into the cavernous room, there was a sudden rush of air and a blood curdling shriek! Something like a translucent flying manta ray glided out of the darkness, tackling Liberty and wrapping her in a crushing grip. She screamed and struggled, unable to free herself.

Jimbob raised his rifle and aimed, but didn’t trust himself to shoot the beast without also harming Liberty. Rufus ran in full speed and dove into the pile, snapping and worrying at the creature with both mouths. It shrieked again, but this time from pain rather than fury. Oozing foul clear ichor, its grasp weakened. Rufus ripped the thing off Liberty and flung it into the air, where Jimbob finished it off with a bullet.

While Doc tended to Liberty’s cracked ribs and Jimbob collected spent brass, Rufus scouted out the rest of the building, finding it abandoned. They spent some time scrounging the hangar and the wrecked vehicle, coming up with a collection of parts that Liberty should be able to use on the van.

The really legendary find, though, was a sealed 55-gallon drum full of guzzolene! When Liberty took a sniff to try to identify the liquid, her eyes teared up both from the harsh fumes as well as the unexpected discovery of such a rare treasure.

While Jimbob and Rufus improvised a sled to haul away the loot, Liberty wandered over to get a closer look at that death machine. As she cautiously approached, she could see that the area around the robot was littered with ruptured steel drums and puddles of oily water. The red “foliage” on the tree rustled despite the lack of wind. Liberty took a second look and realized that those weren’t leaves… the red things were actually a flock of roosting pirana-birds! Wanting nothing to do with that, Liberty quickly returned to the hangar.

Our protagonists rolled the fuel and dragged the heavy parts back to the garage, where they settled in for the night. Jimbob tried to reach Francisco on the radio to have him bring up the wagon and the rest of the party, but there was too much interference. Inconvenient, but not especially unusual. They planned to rendezvous with the others in the morning and regroup.

That night, as she stood watch, Liberty noticed a distortion in her vision. In the upper left corner of her field of vision, she noticed a series of blinking dots. They pulsed for a while before turning green, one by one. Then they were replaced with a series of digits separated by dots…

To be continued…

GM Notes

We were short-handed this time; Francisco’s player had other responsibilities, Vine’s player’s computer acted up, and Doc Rizzo’s player had to step away and leave Doc under the control of a puppeteer. That’s why Vine wandered off unremarked, why Doc dithered so much, and why there was radio interference.

This session’s Serendipity was when Jimbob was able to swap his inferior rifle for Francisco’s better rifle. “Lucky I thought to trade with him before he rode off…”

When the wastelanders noticed the arrival of the snakebot, I asked them all to roll their favorite sense roll. Apparently, Jimbob and Rufus are both fond of the oft-neglected smell/taste roll.

Every time Doc applied First Aid, he healed the maximum number of hit points, either through critical success on the skill roll or just lucky HP rolls. I can see why he has the reputation he does.

When Liberty started seeing things, there was a very satisfying “Oh crap” moment. The characters in the game don’t have any idea what’s going on, but the players have some suspicions.

When Jeremiah introduce himself, the players asked if they hadn’t seen that name before. Before the end of the session, thanks to these play reports, they realized that last session, the Mayor had mentioned that Rebecca Coot had left Mindkeep after a schism in the community there before coming to the valley to found Mt Hope.

Experience

Standard award was 3 points. Cool Point also went to Rufus, partly for the double-mouth grab-and-worry, and partly for getting a bath from robots.