GURPS After The End #11: “Cannonball! Run!”

by mshrm

We got to install microwave ovens, custom kitchen deliveries
We got to move these refrigerators, we got to move these color TVs

– Dire Straits, “Money For Nothing”

Eastbound and down. Reunions, introductions, and story time. What is a “president”, anyway? Who owns who, and why? A rescue. Into the deadly miasma. No reservations. The grand tour. What do you do with all this water? Stealing toys from the attic and major appliances. Dropping names. One houseplant gives the cold shoulder, while another acts suspicious. General Jeremiah Coot and the surgeon general. Exfiltration. Midnight attacks. Evacuation.

Who’s Who

  • Doc Rizzo Von Frankenstein Van Helsing, Hardy Doc.
    • “Roachy”, “Ricky the Roach”, etc, half-tamed bombardier bug
  • 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.
  • Herbert Walker (NPC), Pure Strain Human, President of the Hue Nighted States of Meriga

What Happened

Rewinding a few days from last session, we find Rufus, Doc Rizzo, and “Roachy the Rad Roach” hanging out in the vibrating cactus near Mindkeep, passed out from adventures with mushrooms. Doc Rizzo woke to find Burt Reynolds, wearing a cowboy hat, poking at him with a stick. “Come on,” he said, “enough laying down on the job.” Dom DeLuise, wearing a mask, appeared behind Burt, agreeing that they had places to go. Doc Rizzo groggily peered past them, seeing a Cadillac convertible idling behind them. Hercules LaCroix sat in the backseat, clearly terrified, but game for whatever adventure life threw his way. Doc woke Rufus, they both got in the car – Burt took the driver’s seat, obviously – and the whole gang tore off in a cloud of dust. They rattled down the hill to the highway, where Burt could really open ‘er up. The road was astonishingly clear, and they soon reached unimaginable speeds, possibly exceeding 55 miles per hour. (Doc assured Rufus that it was possible to travel that fast and survive, but according to the science of the Ancients, if they exceeded 88 mph, they would vanish from the universe.)

… then they woke up, under a tree, near Al Ectric’s house, in sight of the van, with a bad taste in their mouth. Rufus’ fur was matted and tangled with burrs. Roachy’s pupils were still dilated. It was dawn. As Doc Rizzo blinked and peered about, Vine lowered themself from a nearby tree branch, waved a greeting, and took root. No sign of Burt, nor Dom, nor Herc.

Rufus and Doc Rizzo joined the rest of the group for breakfast, where they met President Herbert Walker. There were questions about exactly what a “president” was. Walker’s explanation didn’t satisfy Rufus. “You don’t own me,” he said, lifting his leg to deliver his political opinion to Walker’s pants leg, “now I own you.”

Hearing this, Spud made a few gestures at Walker, saying that no matter who owned who, Spud owns Jimbob. “My Rev,” they insisted.

After hearing the story of the goat people and their fear of Al Ectric, infernal combustion, and so forth, Doc Rizzo made an idle jest, claiming it would be amusing to kidnap one of their kid-kids and raise it in the ways of science. Rufus’ ears twitched, but he made no comment at that time.

After breakfast, our protagonists turned to the problem of locating and extracting the power broadcasting module from the Green Briar Hotel. President Walker agreed, they were welcome to anything they were able to scavenge, but speculated that the robot attendants might object. When questioned, Walker claimed that the robots didn’t so much accept his commands, as they just took care of his every need. He didn’t think he could just order the robots to roll out the module, for instance.

As they mulled this over, Jimbob heard a disturbance in the distance. Springing to the top of the van, he scanned the perimeter with their binoculars. It was a gang of goat-people bearing torches and pitchforks, pursuing a cloaked figure. Despite an apparent difference in the length of their legs, the would-be victim was maintaining a lead on their attackers. Jimbob communicated this to the others, who prepared for a skirmish, then gave a shout and fired his rifle over the heads of the goat-people. They broke and ran, allowing their quarry to stagger into the area inside the fence around Al Ectric’s house.

At our protagonists’ challenge, the figure threw back his hood and introduce himself as Waja. He was an obvious mutant, with a bulbous nose entirely innocent of nostrils, a coat of velvet-like fur, and mismatched legs. He thanked them for their assistance, and they invited him to breakfast. When questioned, he explained his recent troubles. He had been living in one place, until militant rabbit-folk drove him out. Then he ran into a bunch of angry dog-folk who chased him away, until finally he had stumbled into the goat-people’s camp and inadvertently offended them.

The wastelanders nodded, saying they had run into those angry dog-folk as well. Waja was welcome to hang out and make himself useful.

Hearing the story of how the air in the nearby valley was apparently poisonous, Doc Rizzo decided to apply to apply the scientific method. He sent Vine into the miasma with a jar to collect a sample. Vine carried the jar down into the valley, waved the jar around wildly, thought for a moment, unscrewed the top of the jar, waved the jar around again, restored the lid, and returned. Doc Rizzo examined the jar for some time, holding it up to the light and so forth, before finally shocking everyone by opening the lid and breathing deeply.

It wasn’t a poisonous gas after all, Doc Rizzo explained to his horrified audience. This was a case of tiny metallic particles being suspended in the air, with the mission of attacking people’s lungs. They would float on air currents, but when captured in a jar, the particles would fall out to form a thin dust in the bottom of the jar. Our protagonists wouldn’t be able to blow them out of the way, as they had earlier speculated. The van could run in the poisonous atmosphere, but anything that breathed could not withstand exposure to the particles.

Thus forewarned, it was time to get to work. Liberty, wearing the lone air mask, drove the van down into the valley with Vine clinging to the van’s top, planning to drive through town and get to the top of the hill where the Green Briar stood before the canned air ran out, to avoid the “sparkly fog”.

Halfway there, they turned a corner and Liberty was forced to stomp the brakes to avoid a car that had been poorly parked in the Before Times. The van’s engine died. With the level of breathable air dropping every second, she had to get outside and spend several minutes tinkering with the engine. Shortly, she got the van running again and proceeded up the hill.

At the top of the hill, they found manicured lawns and a spotless parking lot in front of the hotel. They pulled into a parking spot. The doors of the hotel opened, and a robot floated down the stairs to greet them. Upon seeing Liberty, it assumed she was a guest. “Would you like assistance with your… houseplant?” it asked, indicating Vine. She declined, but accepted the offer of a room. The concierge-bot led Liberty and Vine inside the hotel. Liberty declined the services of a valent-bot to park the van.

Bemused by all the attention but sticking to the plan, Liberty dropped a duffle bag full of tools and machinery in the middle of the Green Briar lobby, ready to pump the air tank full of clean air again for the return trip. The robot attendants were surprised by this, but quickly got the idea. “May I?” one valet-bot asked, before taking over pumping duties.

Once the air tank was full, Vine took it back out to the van. They collected their bike and trailer, strapped the air tank to the trailer, and started pedaling back to camp to collect Doc Rizzo, so he could help with looting the hotel’s medical supplies.

Meanwhile, Liberty accepted a tour of the facilities. The robot staff proudly showed her the hotel restaurant (closed due to lack of customers), the medical clinic (closed due to lack of qualified personnel), the spa (open), and the swimming pool.

Of course, this was a shocking moment for Liberty. She had never seen so much water that wasn’t glowing in one place. “But what’s it for?” she asked. The robots had no answer.

Back at camp, Herbert Walker was making the rounds, making sure he could count on everyone’s “vote” in the next “election”. He approached Francisco to discuss the availability of horses, since they would certainly want to increase the cavalry strength of Meriga in the near future. Francisco admitted to having seen mounts, if not horses…

Vine arrived, collected Doc Rizzo, and pedaled him back to the hotel. The robots weren’t as welcoming, but once they heard that Doc was the personal physician to the President, they accepted him as a guest. They took him to meet Liberty at her room.

There, Doc Rizzo explained many of the mysteries of the Ancients to Liberty, who had been trying to puzzle out the soft bouncy square thing, and the glass box, and the weird basin full of clear water next to the glass box…

Then Doc opened a mysterious box, discovering that it was full of cold air and tiny bottles of booze. Doc Rizzo gave in to temptation and started emptying bottles.

Meanwhile, Vine had become bored and wandered off. They eventually climbed up into the attic, where they found the power broadcast module that they were there to retrieve. It was about the size of a refrigerator, with three wrist-sized cables attached to it. After further exploration, Vine discovered a nearby freight elevator. Unwilling to disconnect the module, they located a dolly and loaded up a couple of likely-looking trunks to see if they could take cargo out of the hotel successfully.

Vine discovered that the robots seemed to mostly ignore them. They took the trunks out, unopened, and stored them in the back of the van. Then they took the dolly and went to find Liberty.

Liberty had been trying to get Doc Rizzo to stop drinking and get back on task, to no avail. She eventually tried to cut him off at the source, instructing the local ‘bots to stop re-filling her room’s mini-bar. Vine showed up, explaining what they had found and asking if Liberty knew how to disconnect the module. The two of them went to examine the technology.

Doc quickly realized there were many rooms with many mini-bars. He talked the robots into giving him access, leaning heavily on his supposed responsibilities as the President’s personal physician. Leaving a trail of tiny empty bottles behind him, Doc went on a solo scavenging mission, gathering fuzzy white bathrobes for the whole gang – including short ones from the spa for Buck and Otto. He also had a long conversation with a plastic ficus plant, mistaking it for Vine, and becoming increasingly distressed at the way his friend was giving him the cold shoulder.

It took most of the rest of the day, but Liberty and Vine were able to successfully disconnect the power broadcast module. They maneuvered it out of its socket, down a freight elevator, and into the back of the van without too much difficulty.

In camp, Jimbob had gotten Herbert Walker talking. Under friendly interrogation, he happily explained anything asked of him. Aside from fun facts about the Ancients and the Hue Nighted States, he dropped two large pieces of interesting information.

First: Yes, Walker and his people had been in contact with other remnants of the world of the Ancients, but less often and less reliably as time went on. He mentioned several familiar names – Wintermute, Oracle, Bishop – explaining that they were the thinking machines that ran the bases. “Just like my own Jarvis,” he said, pointing to the hotel in the distance, “or Mindkeep.” The last time Walker had been in contact with any other base, though, it had been Skynet – probably because Skynet had the most powerful radio broadcasting equipment, he speculated, catching Jimbob’s close attention.

Walker grew nostalgic while talking about Skynet and “Old Waldis”, the human leader of that installation. While Walker was descended from survivors of the Ancients, Old Waldis actually was one of the Ancients, having somehow survived The End. He was the very personification of wisdom, with knowledge beyond probably any other being alive these days.

“But how could this be?” Jimbob asked. “How could one man live so long?”

This led to the second interesting conversation: the medical miracles of the Ancients. Back in the Before Times, they had machines that could cure just about anything, even bringing people back from the dead. There were some examples of the Ancients’ medical technology inside the Green Briar Hotel. Walker didn’t know how to operate it himself, of course. There hadn’t been anyone who understood how to use those machines in years and years.

Jimbob got on the radio and spoke with Liberty, asking if they had seen any medical technology. They decided that the team at the hotel would spend the night there, do some scavenging with resurrection beds in mind, and come back the next day.

Later, Jimbob performed some radio wizardry in an attempt to make contact with the robots of the Green Briar. He was ultimately successful. When challenged, he disguised his voice and claimed to be “General Coot, of Mindkeep”, en route to the Green Briar to extract the President and precious cargo in the face of advancing hostiles, using a lot of the Ancients’ jargon that he had picked up from Walker. He advised them that the President’s personal physician would be arriving in advance, and to defer to him in all matters. To his own surprise, they seemed to buy it. They agreed to give the physician any assistance they could, but admitted that some facilities could only be accessed with the appropriate identification.

Late in the evening, Doc, exuding a cloud of alcohol fumes, wandered into the pool area. Liberty and Vine discovered him perfecting his diving technique. “Watch this!” he shouted, running to the diving board and executing a skillful “cannonball” dive. (Burt and Dom both gave the dive a perfect 10.) He cajoled Liberty and Vine into joining him in the pool. Vine relaxed into a loose ball of tendrils and drifted around the surface for a while, before falling asleep and settling gently to the bottom.

During the night, Rufus slipped away from the others and quietly invaded the goat-folks’ village. He moved silently from shadow to shadow until he located a likely-looking goat-child. He picked it up by the scruff of the neck, causing it to wake with a cry. This woke some of the surrounding goat-people. As they raised the alarm, Rufus spirited the kid-kid away, fleeing at full speed, quickly out-pacing his pursuers. He returned to camp, shoving the drowsy kid into the cuddle-pile under the van with Buck and Otto before joining them himself.

The next morning, after an excellent continental breakfast, Doc Rizzo and Liberty went to see if they could find any top secret medical miracles. They were able to talk the robots into letting “the President’s personal physician” into the medical clinic. There, they discovered a wealth of treasure… and a vault door. No matter how they tried, they could not talk the robots into letting them through the door, nor could they pick the advanced electronic lock. In the meantime, they looted what they could find, which turned out to be an impressive haul of drugs and useful medical equipment, including a fine set of surgical tools.

Watching from nearby, Vine was surprised when something nuzzled up against their ankle. It was a small, flat robot that grumbled and roamed around the floor, working its way around their feet. Fascinated, Vine followed it for a while, eventually coming to realize that it was cleaning the floor as it travelled.

In camp, Jimbob went rummaging around in the luggage for a piece of shark jerky, and stumbling across a blank plastic card they had picked up some time ago. Wondering if this might be something the Green Briar robots would accept as “identification”, he called the hotel team on the radio and arranged for Vine to come and fetch him. When they arrived, he again claimed to be General Coot, brandishing the card.

The receptionist robot seemed to accept it, but still couldn’t convince them to let them into the secure medical facility. Identification was one thing, but only those certified to work with the devices inside could be allowed access. Attempting to salvage something from the trip, Jimbob asked what facilities a general could access. As it turned out, there was a sealed bunker…

Intrigued, “General Coot” went to check out the bunker. There, behind pressurized doors, he found a war room with a big conference table and a wall-sized screen. Several uniformed skeletons sat in the chairs around the table. Jimbob helped himself to a fine hat, and then jumped, surprised, to hear himself addressed by a new voice.

The screen lit up and introduced itself as Jarvis, the brain behind the Green Briar. Jimbob attempted to be diplomatic. They had a short, pleasant conversation. No deal were made, but Jarvis seemed open to future contact.

While the others were occupied with all this, Vine wandered off, bored, as is their way. Since they had heard Doc Rizzo mention that the little bottles of mini-bar booze were valuable, they snuck in and out of many rooms filling pillowcases with any small bottles they could find. Stashing those bags in the rapidly-filling van, they turned to tracking down the fascinating little cleaning robot.

Finding the robot roaming the halls, Vine picked it up, stuck it in another pillowcase, and started hauling it towards the van, aiming to keep it as a pet. It began making a loud, distressed beeping. Other robots began taking an interest. As Vine walked across the lobby, one of the concierge-bots cautiously approached. It still seemed to consider Vine an unthreatening plant, but knew something strange was going on. It grabbed the pillowcase and tried to take possession of it. Vine refused to give it up. They struggled for a moment, during which it became clear that Vine was not going to be able to break the robot’s grip. Finally, they gave their most fearsome threat display – throwing open the petals around their eyes, spreading their echolocation ear-fronds, and hissing in their louded voice – and struck with all their strength and thorns, ripping the pillowcase. The vac-bot tumbled out, squawking. Vine grabbed it up and ran away to the van at top speed.

This was enough to cause the robots to become suspicious. Doc Rizzo, Liberty, and Jimbob came to realize that the situation had become unstable, and gathered together in the lobby. Liberty went to the van, where Vine was hiding, and using the lone air tank, drove them down the hill back to camp, while “General Coot and the President’s personal physician” used every scrap of diplomacy and assumed authority to keep the robots calm. Liberty quickly re-filled the air tank and sent Vine back to the hotel on their bike, with the trailer and tank. Vine barely slowed down, making a wide loop at the top of the hill as Doc Rizzo sprinted down the hotel steps and jumped into the trailer. While they made their trip to camp and back, Jimbob held off robots using nothing but the power of his I.D. card and the power of persuasion, before making his own quick sprint to safety.

At camp, Rufus told Doc Rizzo that he had a surprise for him, revealing the kid-kid. Burt (in his guise as Doc’s common sense) and even some of the other wastelanders pointed out this thing might escalate the conflict with the goat-people, but Doc was charmed. He went to work winning over the little goat-person.

By the time Vine and Jimbob joined the others, it was late in the day. Our protagonists elected to spend the night before heading out in the morning. Just packing up the van became something of a challenge, with all the new cargo and fresh loot.

Late that night, everyone was asleep, even whoever should have been on watch, Francisco was disturbed by a nearby “thump-thump-thump”. Groggily peering about, he saw three flaming arrows sticking from the side of the van! Surprised, he looked at the gate in the fence around Al’s house, seeing a group of teenage goat-people with bows. They made obscene gestures at him and scampered away before he could respond. Shouting an alarm, Francisco pulled the arrows out of the van and threw them to the ground before they could inflict any real damage.

Everyone else stumbled out, half-awake, asking what had happened. As Francisco explained, he gestured towards the gate, drawing everyone’s gaze. As they looked, a big, muscle-bound goat-person brandishing a sledgehammer strode up to the gate. He gave them a come-on gesture.

Steely-eyed, Rufus approached the goat-person. They sized each other up for a moment, staring into each other’s eyes. After a tense moment, the goat-person blinked, drew a breath, and shifted his weight to attack. In a blur, Rufus drew his katana and in a single movement, sliced deeply into the goat-person’s abdomen. He staggered a single step, then fell to the ground, bleeding out.

Time to go. They packed up the camp, filling the van to capacity and beyond. Doc offered to return the kid-kid to its people, but by then it had bonded with him and refused. With Liberty driving, they left at a slow pace, with the others walking alongside. They left the area, travelling five miles down the road to find a new campsite at the edge of the flat area where they had met the cannibalistic raiders before. The plan is to re-pack and slim down the van’s load in the morning before returning to Mindkeep.

To be continued…

GM Notes

When Walker mentioned the technology of the Ancients that could bring people back from the dead, the first player response was “Yeah, watch it be a defibrillator.” I had to assure them that the resurrection beds of the Ancients were something more.

Jimbob’s use of Serendipity for this session was finding the I.D. card, which they’ve had for such a long time that everyone had forgotten about it.

The speculation is that Vine’s sacks of bottles were a mix of mostly booze with some shampoo.

Experience

Everybody ended up getting one vote each for both of our bonus points, so I went with “Everybody gets a Cool Point!” Standard award was 5 points.

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