- Bro, the large dog formerly known as “Big Bad Dog” (PC)
- Cauliflower Jones, finally getting the respect a skilled gardener deserves (PC)
- Cyprys Hill, paying the price for one misstep (PC)
- Hanna Marlow, quick with a tire iron (PC)
- Steve Borden, master of the kitchens (PC)
- Robert (“Bob”) T. Builder, putting together a to-do list (PC)
In the background:
- Farrah Fawcett-Adler, sidelined by two crippled limbs and an indisposed player (PC)
When we left our heros on the afternoon of 22 December 2012, they were all frozen by fear at their first sight of a hundred-foot-tall walking metal tripod. Steve had fainted with a laden hand-cart hung up on top of him, Cyprys and Hanna were both in panic, and Bob had suddenly got religion. Upstairs, Jones was just getting to the door to the fire escape. When he caught sight of the tripod, it was with a building between them, so he was only momentarily stunned at the sight. Still, he chose to keep quiet and observe.
The tripod advanced, moving in a clearly unnatural manner, following the highway. There was a sound of gunfire from the far side of the highway, and the tripod paused. It seemed to hunt about for a moment, then went rigid as it located its target. There were three sharp pops from the tripod’s hemispherical top, and fiery explosions across the highway.
While the tripod was thus distracted, our heroes started to pull themselves together.
Hanna yanked the cart off Steve and started pushing for the fire escape. Bob ran after her and passed her up, pulling the keys from his pocket; together, they opened a ground-level storage bay, rolled the cart inside, locked the door behind them, and then sprinted for a door.
Cyprys ran for the door that the attackers had come from during the ambush. Sturges, the attacker who had had his morale broken by Farrah, made a split-second decision, and decided it would be best to rack up points with the PCs: he left Albert, his former comrade, lying wounded in the parking lot, while grabbing Steve (still unconscious) and dragging him to cover. “Hold the door!” he shouted, and Cyprys complied. All three, plus Big Bad Dog, landed in a pile on the floor, kicking the door shut behind them.
[GM note: I just realized, we never explicitly said anything about Farrah. Presumably she staggered her way to the door in time to get inside with Bob and Hanna.]
Finished with laying down retribution, the tripod’s attention turned towards the area where the PCs were hiding. It advanced along the highway, then stepped down into the parking lot.
Everyone was holding their breath, as quiet as possible, when Cyprys’s nerve broke. “Oh god oh god we’re all gonna die!” Sturges tried to shush him, but when he failed, he was forced to punch Cyprys in the jaw, knocking him out. Cyprys’ glass jaw was duly noted.
Outside, the tripod seemed interested in Albert, bleeding and unconscious. It extruded a tentacle, picked him up by his collar, and pulled him up inside its hemispherical body. Some time went by. Steve came to, finding Sturges wildly gesturing “Quiet! Friend!” while standing over Cyprys’ unconscious body. Assuming he was a captive, he threw his hands in the air and stayed quiet.
Eventually, the tripod opened and let Albert back down to his original position. It then straightened up, climbed back onto the highway, and proceeded east along its original course at a rapid pace.
After a few minutes of watching, our heroes regrouped. Sturges begged Steve to vouch for him. He claimed to be terribly sorry for helping ambush them, saying he was misled by bad companions. When the PCs didn’t seem to buy it, he pulled out his backup offer: if they shared their food and didn’t hurt him, he would lead them to something of great value. Food? No. Weapons? No. Better — a doctor.
This sounded interested, so they pressed him for details. He said that he was friends with this doctor, who lived just up the hill in the residential area, just a few short blocks from the barricaded grocery store. He suggested that it would be best to stay put for the night, since it was already getting dark, and get a start with the daylight tomorrow. The group found this to be acceptable, so they made the deal.
Everybody went to check on Albert. They found him with the top of his head shaved and fitted with a metallic skullcap. Uncertain what to make of this, they armed themselves with the attacker’s discarded baseball bats and woke him up. His demeanor was one of comfortable befuddlement. He claimed to have no recollection of being inside the robot, nor of much anything else. He was eerily pleasant and agreeable. In the end, they suggested that he talk a walk in a random, pointed direction. He nodded and ambled off.
So, weird, but all’s well that ends well. Everybody and the food got together in the third-floor campsite. While Cyprys entertained the group with stories, Steve prepared a feast for the entire group.
Dinner was interrupted when the heroes heard someone opening one of the exterior storage bays downstairs. The able-bodied members, led by Hanna, grabbed up weapons and charged down the fire escape. There, they found a man with a heavily-loaded shopping cart, apparently homeless, in front of the open door. When confronted, he raised his hands in the air and offered no resistance. When asked who he was, he responded “My friends call me Jesús.” Under questioning, he explained that this was his storage area, and he was just stopping by to gather some equipment. What kind of equipment? Oh, camping stuff, mainly — a camp stove, a tent, some tarps…
This was enough to satisfy the PCs. Jesús was declared to be a member of the group and invited upstairs to dinner. He gladly accepted.
Everyone has having a relatively good time, under the circumstances, when Cyprys developed the nosebleed.
It rapidly became clear that something was badly wrong with Cyprys. His thinking was clouded, his nose would not stop bleeding, and he was clearly feeling poorly, even after he stopped responding to conversation. What to do? Sturges offered to help throw Cyprys outside. That solution was rejected, but everyone agreed with Sturges’ basic point, that it might be unhealthy to sleep near him. Finally, they decided to quarantine him. They took him down to the ground floor, to one of the external storage bays, and locked him inside on a makeshift pallet.
Remembering that Cyprys had tasted the pink snow, it became the fashion to wrap something about one’s lower face. Hanna and Jesús were already doing so. Now, everybody scrounged up some bandanna or scrap of cloth.
The next morning, when the sun came up, they returned to check on him. Hanna was the first. She had to fight to control her stomach. Cyprys had grown much, much worse through the night. He was bleeding heavily from head to toe. He could no longer speak. Carol fed him his share of breakfast, while Bob, Jones, and Jesús put together an improvised travois from several brooms and some tarps, to be dragged by Big Bad Dog. Careful to avoid contact, they gently loaded him up. Jones, Hanna, Steve, and Bob went along, following Sturges.
Sadly, they had barely made it to the top of the hill when Cyprys stopped breathing. They concealed his body as best they could, and carried on.
(At this point, as he transitioned to full PC-hood, it was revealed that “Big Bad Dog” was just what Cyprys called him. The dog’s real name is “Bro”, because whenever anybody asks him, “What’s your name?”, he answers “Bro…”)
The group scavenged as they went. In particular, Hanna discovered a dead policeman, and was able to overcome her squeamishness long enough to recover his pistol.
In time, they made it to their destination, a nondescript home with a greenhouse in the back yard. There was no answer when they knocked at the front door, so they went around the side to the gate into the back. There, they met an older gentleman, who agreed to speak with them if they would return to the front. He joined them on the front porch to talk.
In the beginning, the man wasn’t interested in their plight. They explained that they had been in a train crash. He pointed out, if that’s all they had been through, they were doing pretty good by current standards, and recommended that they go to the hospital like normal folks. Why were they bothering a poor retired fellow who had his own problems? They explained how Sturges, who had been hanging back, had offered to introduce them. There didn’t seem to be any great warmth between the two, but the old man offered to get down to brass tacks: why should he help them?
Hanna cheerfully offered, “Well, we’ve got this gun!” If it had been anyone else, this sentence would have been taken as a threat, but delivered with Hanna’s trademark perkiness, it was correctly understood as an offer of trade. There was a general sigh of relief when the old man agreed to take the gun in exchange for giving the wounded a checking-over. Times being what they were, he said, an extra gun might be a handy thing. He invited them inside, introducing himself as Hershel.
Jesús announced that now that they were where they needed to be, he would be taking off again. He was on his way to Kelly Butte, where there used to be an old civil defense installation, now long since condemned. He claimed that some of his friends had been inside. He figured a buried structure built to withstand a nuclear war on top of a steep hill would make a wonderful place to hide from giant, three-legged robots. Wishing them well, Jesús left on his own.
Medical care took up the rest of the day, so Hershel shared dinner — mostly salad and vegetables — with the group, and offered to let them spend the night. At dinner, after trading stories, he became engrossed in conversation about gardening with Cauliflower Jones. [GM: Activating the reaction bonus from Jones’ two levels of Green Thumb.] His growing fondness for his fellow gardener prompted Hershel to take Jones into his confidence. He invited Jones to go out back and take a look at something.
That something, as it turned out, was an illegal marijuana growing operation. (“Oh, that’s how Sturges knows this guy — he was his dealer!”) He led Jones to the back yard, into the greenhouse, and through a concealed trap door. The foundation of the greenhouse was over a basement area, packed with now-dark grow lights and potted plants. They discussed how he had used a generator, but it had gone out, along with all the other electrical devices around, in the general blackout, and how he wanted to move the crop upstairs but wasn’t going to be able to do all the work himself in time. Between the two of them, they thought of a deal, in which the PCs could stay and finish getting patched up, if they pitched in around the house and helped get the place fortified and set up for current circumstances. When the others heard of this, they agreed.
[GM: During the private conversation, the other players loudly insisted that Hershel was working up the nerve to hit on Jones.]
The group spent the 23rd fortifying Hershel’s house. Bob was able to rewire the generator and get it running again, saving a bunch of labor and making them the only house on the street with even a little power. Bob made a point of putting the slacker, Sturges, to work. (Memorable line, after getting Sturges to admit that his main skill was in playing video games: “If you’ve got time enough to lean, you’ve got time enough to clean!”) He also started mentioning making a trip down to Oregon City to collect his family. Hanna brought up the possibility of locating a working car, or one that they could get working between the two of them.
On the 24th — Christmas Eve! — the fortifying continued. Bro made the trip, solo, back to the storage facility. [GM: By this point, they were referring to it as “the other settlement”.] He checked on those left behind, finding them safe but hungry. Farrah had improvised a sling, and was sitting at the top of the fire escape, practicing with it. Satisfied, but unable to deliver any message, Bro returned to Hershel’s. Going both ways, he kept an eye out for game, but didn’t find anything. [GM: He did crit fail the Survival roll coming back, though.]
When Bro returned, the others were scattered around the place working on various projects. Bro went to the gate, where Bob let him in. Seconds after he latched the gate, it was struck on the other side by some large mass. Someone, or something, was trying to ram its way through the gate! Bob and Bro raised the alarm.
Jones heard the ruckus from where he had been working in the greenhouse basement. He quickly moved to close the trap door, concealing himself underground.
Steve took a look out the window from the kitchen, where he had been trying to figure out how to can vegetables with the available equipment. He was able to see what was pounding on the gate. It was a pink and purple worm-like thing, nearly the size of a man, with eye-stalks and thousands of sharp teeth! The space worm! It had followed them! The shock was too much to bear, and he fell to the floor in a swoon.
The others went on the offensive. Bro jumped the fence, closely followed by Bob and Hanna. Between the dog’s teeth, Hanna’s trusty tire iron, and the shovel Bob grabbed, the worm found itself outmatched. After taking several hits, and with a successful Intimidation attempt by the growling Bro, the worm had enough. It turned and fled, displaying speed that none of the PCs could match. They guessed it was running at over 30 mph!
Bro wasn’t about to give up the fight, and made to follow the worm’s trail. Bob borrowed the pistol from Hershel and went to follow the dog. Jones emerged from his place of concealment. After Hanna filled him in on what had happened, the two of them armed themselves and went to back them up.
The trail led up the block, around some houses, and into a small neighborhood park. There, Bob and Bro were confronted by an obstacle. The trail led directly through a crowd of “zombies” — glassy-eyed, bloody, aimlessly-milling people affected by the pink snow. They cautiously circled around the crowd and picked up the scent on the far side.
It led directly into the playground area, to an elaborate play structure. It went straight up the slide to a raised enclosure. There were other entrances to the enclosure, but as Bob discovered, to get to them, one had to go to the other side of the structure, climb a stair, cross a rope bridge, and crawl on hands and knees through a child-sized opening. He paused there, uncomfortable with presenting himself to a cornered space worm in such a posture.
Back covering the slide, Bro decided it was time to flush out their target. He set up a ruckus of loud barking. This startled the worm into running out its back door, right into the unready arms of Bob. Hearing this, Bro scrambled up the slide and entirely through the enclosure, aiming to take the worm by surprised.
The inside of the enclosure was an unsettling place. It was like crawling into nest built by human-sized wasps. Luckily, the worm didn’t seem to have any friends along with it.
The battle on the play structure was tight and desperate. The worm bit Bob badly in the abdomen before it was forced to defend itself against the dog’s ripping teeth. While the two animals wrestled back and forth, with the worm snapping at Bro’s throat and Bro gnawing tenaciously on its eye-stalks, Bob tried to bring the pistol into play. After missing four times at point-blank range, he finally managed to put a bullet into the injured worm, putting it down, just as Hanna and Jones arrived.
* * *
Cool Point: Posthumously awarded to Cyprys, for not dying nearly so quickly as one might expect. As it happened, Cyprys’ death was a lot more agonizing than I let on. “He was sick for twelve hours, then he died,” sums it up, but we rolled out every HT roll along the way. If it weren’t for the massive penalties he was under because he stuck the pink snow in his mouth he might have pulled through. Instead, we stepped through four or five cycles of the sickness, as the damage mounted up. The player described, with some relish, the progress of the delirium and Cyprys’ feeble attempts to find some relief. Nasty, but moving…