GURPS After The End #9: “Unchivalrous Conduct”
The carnage races on well into the night– Omen, “Battle Cry”
As the sun creeps up we see the morning light
On the battlefield the tragedy of dawn
Through the crimson tide we still carry on
Unexpected, unpleasant visitors. Roadside conversations and startling insults. Dire directions. The charge of the death machine, and the carnage that followed. The sentry bot fulfills its primary function, to its great satisfaction. Negotiations through a locked door. If one ally won’t, sometimes a new ally will. Dealing with the devil. A solo raid and a feast. Repairs.
- 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.
When we left off, our protagonists had split the party. One group, with the wagon, spent the night camping with Herman the Hermit, while the other group slept in the garage, in the back of the van. It had shag carpet, an exotic pleasure from the time of the Ancients.
By the next morning, the heavy rain had mostly tapered off. The group from the garage walked down the hill to join the others. Along the way, Doc Rizzo thought he saw something shiny, and ran off on his own. Rufus ran after him to catch him before he got himself killed. Buck, Otto, and Doc’s feral bug chased off after Rufus to help.
While everyone else was trading stories, Vine got bored and started climbing things, as they do. They spotted a group of mounted figures approaching along the road from the west, and drew the others’ attention to them. Thanks to the advance warning, everyone had a chance to take a good look at them through the binoculars, then discuss how to handle them.
They were three humanoids wearing shiny metal armor from head to toe. They carried shields, decorated with colorful pictures, in their left hands, lances with pennants attached in their right, and broadswords at their belts. In short, they were knights. (Of course, none of our protagonists knew what a knight was. Jimbob warned the others that these creatures were blood-suckers, much worse than the common garden chupacabra that they were all familiar with, and furthermore, they were composed entirely out of glitter.)
To add to the spectacle, the knights were mounted on podogs, giant dogs the size of horses, known to parrot the voices of their prey when hunting. Francisco was familiar with them and briefly told the others what he knew.
Our protagonists chose to meet the knights peacefully, but with an eye towards treachery. Jimbob and Liberty led the way, standing in the middle of the highway. Spud stuck close by Jimbob’s side, lawn dart clutched at their side. Liberty had one hand on her revolver, in her pocket, while Jimbob carried his rifle, slung on his back but clearly available. Francisco hung back, ready to charge into battle if the need arose. Vine found a good vantage point on top of a boulder, where they draped themselves artistically in an attempt to be taken as harmless foliage, while clutching a sharp rock in one hand and a black powder grenade in the other.
Seeing this, the three knights paused. One rode forward to parlay. He raised his visor, revealing himself to be a Pure Strain Human, and greeted Liberty in high style, calling her “milady” and so forth. He introduced himself as Sir Versie, a knight of the great, far-off kingdom of Columbo. He paid no attention to the others until Jimbob stepped forward to introduce himself. Before Jimbob could say two words, Versie snapped at him, calling him a dog who should learn to hold his tongue in the presence of his betters!
Jimbob was taken aback. This was not the usual response to his patented old-timey charm. Liberty took over as the voice of the party, apologizing for the behavior of her servant and asking Versie to continue his tale.
Mollified, Sir Versie explained further. He and his men were from the great kingdom of Columbo, as he had mentioned. They were Knights of Genetic Purity, sworn to uphold the purity of the human race. One of their scholars had discovered documents from the time of the Ancients, claiming that in the Before Times, the source of all mutation was a place called “Mindkeep”. Sir Versie had left Columbo at the head of a mighty group of knights: Sir Ardel, Sir Burnel, Sir Raynel, Sir W.L., Sir Lanel, Sir Odel, Sir Marcel, Sir Newgene, Sir Claude, and Sir Clovis. They had journeyed many miles, faced many dangers. Many had fallen along the way. Now, only Sir Newgene and Sir Clovis remained with Sir Versie. Obviously, he pointed out, the law of survival of the fittest guaranteed that these few survivors were the strongest and most excellent of knights, having proven their superiority. Now, they had come to put Mindkeep to the torch. Would Lady Liberty happen to know of this place?
Thinking quickly, Liberty agreed that she did know of Mindkeep. It was a big robot sitting in the middle of a field on top of that hill right over there, just at the top of that road over there. She could draw them a map. She and her servant had just seen it, she said, menacing a bunch of podog puppies. They would have intervened but were too afraid of the robot and came away quietly. Perhaps such valiant knights could rescue those poor puppies?
This was the fight that Sir Versie had trained for! He waved his lance, shouting “Sir Newgene! Sir Clovis! We ride!” The three rode off at top speed, saluting Liberty and shouting their thanks as they went by.
Our protagonists couldn’t let this fun go by unwitnessed, so they trailed along after, watching from a distance. They observed as the knights rode up the road, past the vibrating cactus. The knights were clearly pleased when they came to the “Mindkeep” sign; one of them had his podog lift its leg towards the sign before they resumed their advance.
Near the top of the road, two of the human-faced scorpion things dashed out in ambush, grabbing the lead podog’s legs and holding it fast. It struggled for a moment, before the other two riders advanced and stabbed the scorpion-things to death with their lances. The knights continued, pausing at the crest of the hill when they came into sight of the main building, the various outbuildings, the expected death machine, but no pack of podogs beset by robotic evil. They discussed among themselves, gesturing back along the road towards our protagonists, who quickly busied themselves with butchering the scorpions to hide their interest in the knights’ activities. Jimbob recovered a poison sac that Doc might be interested in.
The knights eventually decided to continue on. They headed straight for the death machine, speeding up as they went. In the last few yards, they lowered their lances. One after another, they crashed into the robot at full speed, shattering their lances on it with a sound like hitting a giant metal drum. The robot was obviously jarred, if not obviously damaged, yet made no response.
The racket did provoke a different response, however. The rustling red “foliage” of the nearby tree took to the air, revealing its true nature: a flock of blood-red piranha-birds! They swarmed around the hapless knights and their podogs, quickly hiding them from sight. There were screams and howls of pain. Our protagonists fell back, wide-eyed, to the safety of the garage where they watched the chaos.
After several horrific seconds, two men staggered out of the feeding frenzy, waving sword and shield to fight off individual birds. Sir Clovis and Sir Newgene ran to the garage, half-blinded, following the encouraging shouts of our protagonists, who slammed the garage door shut behind them as soon as they were inside.
The two knights stood panting and bleeding. Jimbob approached them, asking if he could help the noble sirs remove their heavy armor? Liberty urged them to accept the offer from her “servant”, claiming he was quite good at such things.
They would have none of it, menacing Jimbob with their swords and telling him to keep his stinking mud-blood hands off them. They demanded that the mutated scum – Francisco, Jimbob, and Spud – leave the garage and take their chances with the killer birds. Liberty and her pet plant could stay. When Liberty protested, they told her that if she didn’t like it, she could go with the mutated scum.
One by one, the wastelanders left the garage. As they did, the knights commented on the food value of Nabisco, who raised her tail and left them something to remember her by as she walked out the door.
The birds seemed to be satisfied with their meal of three podogs and one knight. Our protagonists steered clear. Liberty led them directly towards the front door of the main building, where she greeted the sentry-bot. “What is your business, citizen?”
Liberty claimed that she had seen a couple of aliens over in that building over there. She could lure them out, if that would help. The sentry-bot was interested and accepted this offer, rolling over to take a position with a clear line of sight from the far edge of its patrol area. The wastelanders knocked on the garage door and delivered a selection of insults, provoking the knights to open the door and charge out, swords in hand.
As it turned out, when the sentry-bot opened fire on the knights, ancient armor was no match for high-tech, high rate-of-fire weaponry. It sprayed them with an astonishing amount of lead, until nothing identifiable remained. The garage, and even the van inside, took a certain amount of collateral damage.
When it finished, the sentry-bot returned to its patrol with an aura of satisfaction.
The tremendous noise drew the attention of the yexil, however. The orange winged lion rose ponderously into the air from the roof of the main building to see what was going on. When it saw our protagonists scattered around the garage, it exclaimed, “Oh, I say!” and started flapping its way towards them. The wastelanders wanted nothing to do with any laser-eyed lion monsters, especially those that could unexpectedly talk, and so quickly fell back into the garage, closing the door behind them.
The wastelanders watched the shadows move as the yexil stalked back and forth in front of the garage door. When asked what it wanted, it explained that it had seen a human wearing an absolutely exquisite white suit – Jimbob and his surprisingly-immaculate clothes – and it would be absolutely delighted to eat that suit.
That’s right, the yexil eats cloth. Refusing to hand over his trademark outfit, Jimbob looked around for a substitute. Luckily, Francisco had taken one of the spare sets of morlock rags from the wagon to use as an improvised horse blanket. Jimbob snatched it and shoved it under the garage door.
“What in the world is this?” the yexil asked, pawing at the bundle. If you recall, these rags were originally taken from a cannibalistic mutant who wore several layers of scavenged clothing as makeshift armor. “Oh, this is foul… nasty… is this paint?…” Then, a pause. “Oh, my,” the yexil breathed, in awe.
Our protagonists peeked out to see what was happening. The yexil had dug through several layers and uncovered a purple jacket covered in shining rhinestones. It was holding the garment up to catch the sun. “This is exquisite,” it commented. “I must take this immediately to feed my young!” It took to the air carrying the jacket, heading back towards its apparent nesting area on the big building’s roof.
The wastelanders sighed with relief, congratulated themselves on their narrow escape, and sat down to a lunch of land shark jerky. Having dealt with present distractions, their conversation turned towards their main purpose. They were here to secure weapons to free Mt Hope. Perhaps Jeremiah could be persuaded that the arks were aliens and Mt Hope was worth saving.
Accordingly, Liberty and Vine went to seek an audience with the old man. (Jimbob and Francisco stayed behind to take a nap.) They asked the sentry-bot for permission to enter, a request that it relayed up the chain of command. Shortly, access was granted. A snake-bot escorted the two up to Jeremiah’s control room, where they found him tinkering with the old consoles.
Liberty explained the plight of Mt Hope and described the barbarities being committed there by the arks. She brought out her hand-drawn map of the area to help describe a point, which somehow triggered the giant world map on the wall to re-draw itself, zooming rapidly in to show a staggeringly-detailed map of the same area, from the time of the Ancients!
Stunned at the vast amount of information, Liberty took in what details should could gather. She saw Mt Hope, and Newtown, and a confusing profusion of other villages’ names. She saw the lake near where they had scavenged the crashed air car. She saw the ruined city to the south of the valley, where they had found the High-Pair Loop entrance and the hospital, the city that Rebecca Coot had reputedly led her people from when they came to settle the valley; it was labeled Beckley. There was no label for Mindkeep itself, but she could see the road of the Ancients that ran by the hill it stood on. That road was labeled with a cryptic “64”.
Liberty thanked Jeremiah for refocusing the map. Bemused, he claimed he had not done anything, and wasn’t sure why it had done that. While he was curious to hear that there were more “real” humans out there, and claimed to be eager to give them what help he could, Jeremiah insisted that he couldn’t offer much. His robots were the remnant of a once-powerful force who could have destroyed the arks, certainly, but these days, their range was strictly limited. He might be able to rustle up some weapons, but someone would need to provide the soldiers to carry them. He dismissed Liberty, more interested in investigating the big map’s odd behavior, but promised that they would talk more later, when he had a better idea of what supplies he could offer.
As it escorted Liberty down the hall, the snake-bot paused at an intersection. The mysterious numbers in the corner of her field of vision started moving, forming into words, asking if she were seeking allies. Feeling somewhat foolish for talking to herself, she said aloud that she was. The snakebot turned right instead of left, and led her to a new room.
There, she found several robot charging stations, most empty, some filled with deactivated robots. A sentry-bot like the one outside rolled forward. It introduced itself as the voice of Mindkeep.
Liberty negotiated with Mindkeep. It agreed with Jeremiah’s assessment. The surviving robot forces operating using broadcast power. Once, Mindkeep’s broadcast range had been sufficient to reach Mt Hope, but no longer. The system had broken down too far to allow that any more.
However, there was a way to accomplish everyone’s goals. Mindkeep explained that when it had been built, it had been one of many such installations. If someone could travel to one of those installations, it might be possible to recover spare parts that would allow repairs to Mindkeep’s broadcast system. The nearest such installation was the “Green Briar” installation, located about 60 miles east along the highway that ran past the foot of Mindkeep hill. If Liberty could go there and return with the correct parts, it might be possible to send a robot army to liberate Mt Hope.
Liberty agreed to this plan. The sentry-bot located a utility green-screen, which it used to show Liberty the location of the “Green Briar” and some pictures of the structure from the Before Times. The snake-bot escorted her to the exit and she returned to tell the tale to the others.
Later that afternoon, they heard a sound approaching from the south. Looking that direction, they noticed an air car flying towards them. It was done up in red and white, with a familiar smiling elderly gentleman’s face on the side. It landed inside the big building, apparently entering through a door sixty feet above the ground. Suspecting that this was a delivery of self-heating chicken sandwiches, they went to see if Vine could climb up and get a better look.
Of the four giant legs holding up the main building, the one nearest the air car’s door stood out as the most overgrown. In fact, the thick greenery around its base was the most lush, by far, of any on the rest of the hill. As they approached, they noticed the ground becoming more moist.
Suspicious, Jimbob wished that they had thought to bring along the geiger counter, but they had left it behind with the wagon. “This geiger counter?” Liberty asked, pulling it from her bag. She had luckily picked it up earlier to do some idle tinkering and forgotten about it.
Sure enough, the area was not only wet but hot. The others kept their distance, cautioning Vine to be careful. Despite trickling moisture and slime, Vine was able to rapidly scale the wall, avoiding contact with anything harmful. They made their way to the level where the air car door was, then slithered through an air vent into the ventilation system.
Using their echolocation, Vine was able to notice that they were not alone in this system. They could hear movement. Being careful to avoid contact, they crept around the ducts looking for what they could find. During this tense game of hide-and-seek, they were eventually able to identify their opponent as some kind of spider-robot.
They found an air vent where they saw the air car being unloaded by a couple of robots. The cargo was several crates, all marked with the elderly gentleman’s smile. While Vine has no sense of smell, they were sure these crates were full of this “chicken” they had heard about. When only one crate remained, they slithered down from the vent behind the robots’ backs and snagged it.
From the point of view of the other wastelanders, after a tense wait, they saw a vent fly off the wall, followed by a box nearly the same size as the vent, followed by Vine. They lowered the crate gently to the ground, where the others helped carry it back to the garage. As expected, it turned out to be full of self-heating chicken meals, half sandwiches and half mixed bowls.
There was a very satisfied feast that night. Doc and Rufus returned in time to wolf down their share.
Over the next eight days, our protagonists kept a low profile while Liberty worked. She repaired the tools they had scavenged, then used those tools to repair the van. Filling the van’s tank with some of their precious guzzolene, they were ready to hit the road.
Doc Rizzo and Rufus had other commitments, which is why they wandered off, why their allies wandered off, and why nobody was worried about them all wandering off.
Jimbob rolled a critical failure, leading him to confuse “knight” with “night” with “twilight” with “sparkly vampires”. They appear in his good book.
Among other reasons, Jimbob’s clothes were especially attractive to the yexil thanks to his Sartorial Integrity perk. He was able to produce the morlock rags that had been left behind on the wagon thanks to a Gizmo.
I finally managed to get caught up on Jimbob’s Serendipity; the first use was when the yexil found the prize inside the morlock armor, and the second was when he noticed Liberty had the geiger counter.
Standard award was 6 points, since they made such great progress in unexpected directions. Cool Point went to Liberty, for talking the knights into going to their doom.