Day 12: Grek, Arik, Airy and Cassey break camp just north of Dome City 12 and head southeast through the ruins and past the great domes one last time. At nightfall a new camp is set up southwest of the Area 6 Deathlands.
Day 13: The team travels southeast away from the medium-intensity radiation zone surrounding the Deathlands to the north and makes camp upon the mostly buried remains of the ancient ‘State Highway 50’ route, abandoned hundreds of years ago after the first apocolypse that ended 26th century civilization. That night a radiation storm sweeps in from the southeast with little warning. Arik is able to set up one shelter in time, but sustains some small radiation exposure before completing the 2nd shelter. Airy is protected by her gas mask while Grek and Cassey take refuge in the first shelter.
Day 14: As the team crosses the desert, a flock of seven bloodbirds (huge vultures) circles the team for a while and moves on. The team stops early to camp near the hills southeast of the Deathlands. Arik successfully forages for grub. A few hours after midnight Arik spots a pack of meter-long black scorpions in the bright moonlight coming down a shallow ravine from the hills, apparently following Arik’s hunting route back to camp. Grek sets up a line of land mines 40 meters from the team. Arik sights in with his low-light scope and blazes away, hitting with 3 of 6 rounds and crippling two of the monsters. Grek fires his 40mm grenade launcher at 115 meters but it malfunctions on the first shot. Arik reloads his heavy lever action rifle and unloads again, hitting with 3 of 5 rounds and taking out another scorpion. The rifles lever comes off in Arik’s hand while chambering the 6th round. The scorpions scurry as fast as an unburdened man can run and cross over the mines without detonating them – apparently the landmines require heavier weight to trigger. Grek readies and then lofts his single Tech III chemex grenade 35 meters, landing the deadly incendiary high explosive 3 meters from the remaining 2 scorpions. The flaring explosion blasts bits of flaming scorpions high into the air. The team later enjoys scorpion flambé courtesy of Arik, though he is again unsuccessful in harvesting any usable poison. Grek successfully repairs the rifle and grenade launcher.
Day 15: Heading east early the next morning, the team observes a shooting star streaking across the dim amber sky. Not an unusual sight in a vast desert wilderness where the light pollution of industrial civilization is centuries gone, but something unusual happens. The streaking white flash slows down as it moves south to north and then changes trajectory, enlarging into a flaming yellow-orange fireball that disappears at a shallow angle behind the base of Black Mountain. A dim orange flash appears on the horizon behind the foothills just north of the mountain, about 20 klicks to the east.
The team changes course and by 2pm reaches the edge of the low-intensity radiation zone surrounding the environs of Black Mountain. While Grek, Airy and Cassey set up camp, Grek heads east into the radiation zone wearing Airy’s borrowed gas mask. The plan is for Grek to recon the possible impact site in the hills just north of the thousand-meter volcanic cinder-cone. At this point Grek is on his own as the team has no technology allowing long distance communication.
Grek covers 8 kilometers in the direction of the impact flash in something less than 2 hours. Cresting a ridge north of the thousand-meter cindercone, Grek sees a teardrop shaped object about 10 meters long and 4 meters wide at the back end. The dark gray-olive surface of the shape is a network of glazed and deeply cracked surfaces, apparently severely damaged by high temperature. Three circular ports are visible at the south end. The object plowed a 200-meter trench through the rocky soil parallel to a 20 meter high outcropping of rock just 80 meters to the east.
Approaching the object, Grek sees an open door or hatch at the top front 1/3rd of the cracked teardrop shape. The material of the object is pinging and creaking as it cools. Grek finds that the scorched and glazed surface is still hot, but not dangerously so. Peering inside the hatch a space is visible, about 1.5 meters wide and 1 meter long. Two ovoid shaped depressions are visible along the bottom of the space, vaguely resembling reclining seats or chairs. The front part of the space is covered with an angled panel of smooth white duraplast. On the smooth white surface are imprinted a number of variously sized black geometric shapes. A wisp of acrid smoke rises from the panel. Grek recalls the design of the artifact found in the arroyo camp of the raiders north of Gunson and west of the I15: a 30cm hemisphere of smooth white ‘duraplast’ imprinted with a number of geometric shapes which turned out to be control inputs and displays. The instrument or control panel in the cockpit is designed identically to that artifact. Grek is not able to figure out anything quickly and dusk is coming on fast, so he boobytraps the cockpit with both his demolition and satchel charges.
That’s when the sound of a stone clattering down the rocky outcropping catches his attention. Grek sends a 40mm grenade toward the noise and scores a direct hit, but can’t be sure what if anything was hit, so draws his holdout pistol and begins investigating the cracks and crevices along the high rocky outcropping. Thirty minutes later with the sun sinking into the west, Grek finds a particularly deep cave. Overcoming a strong sensation of psychic dread and mortal fear, Grek peers into the tunnel now lit by a shaft of sunlight directly from the west. Inside is a 10 meter deep space in the rock with a few large boulders at the end. Grek throws one of the precious pre-war light-sticks into the tunnel and makes a perfect toss behind the boulders. In the bright greenish light, the shadow of a distinctly non-humanoid shape is projected on the opposite wall of the cave from behind the boulder. Whatever it is back there has some object ready, possibly a weapon. Grek exposes himself to shoot a 40mm grenade down the tunnel, but whatever is down there fires first and a flaring gout of blue-white fire lashes out, passing close by and inflicting a light burn wound. Then the rusty old launcher fails again and Grek ducks back under cover. Grek tries to toss several pipe bombs down the tunnel and is finally severely wounded in the leg by a near miss of blazing energy. At this point the rest of the team has seen the bright flashes far to the east and Arik rushes in, but it will take him at least 1.5 hours to reach Grek. Airy and Cassey remain behind to guard the Iguanodon and the team’s salvage.
Grek retreats to the crash site and retrieves his satchel and demo charges, returns to the tunnel and sets a 30 second delay on the demo charge. He peeks around the corner to find a meter-high shadow with a triangular-shaped head and 6 meter-long appendages half way down the tunnel and only 5 meters away. Grek drops the charge into the tunnel and quickdraws his holdout pistol, unloading the clip of hydra ammo. Unfortunately only one shot finds its mark. The creature returns fire and this time does not miss, but Grek is saved by his unconscious ‘Displacement’ mutation, which teleports him to a spot 60 meters from the rocks and 20 meters from the crash site. Doubtless the creature in the tunnel is wondering how its assailant disappeared into thin air.
Fifteen seconds later there is a massive explosion throwing boulders and earth high into the sky. A large crater is the only thing left of the tunnel entrance. Grek reloads the holdout pistol with his last clip (of standard ammo) and investigates. Grek spots the creature scuttling/crawling away through the broken rocks on 6 ‘legs’. The creature is not clearly visible in the failing light, but obviously torn and critically injured. Grek takes careful aim with his laser designator from 20 meters and puts 4 of 6 rounds into the creature which spasms briefly then lies still. While Grek debates whether to approach, there is a small explosion and the top half of the creature disintegrates, parts flying in all directions. Grek is able to retrieve the lower half of the corpse, including the weapon and what appear to be spare energy cells, now all heavily damaged. On the way out of the area Grek spots Arik and the two return to Airy and Cassey’s location. Using a covered light Airy and Grek inspect the creatures remains, saving the energy weapon and cells for later. The thoracic region, tail and three of six appendages are all that remain of the creature, originally around 1 meter long/tall. The remains are covered in a hard exoskeleton of black-spotted yellow chitin. Ochre-yellow gore flows from the remains. The remnants resemble the rear half of a giant yellow sow-bug with flexible shell and segmented/tentacle-like appendages capable of curling up beneath and into the shell. The head is completely missing. The remaining 3 appendages end in five 10cm flexible ‘fingers’ of tough flexible material. The creature was seen by Grek both walking upright on the 4 rear appendages, and scuttling/crawling along on all 6 as well. The creature was wearing a form-fitting gray jumpsuit of tough gray flexible material, now shredded and burned.
Day 16: The team leaves their camp at the edge of the Black Mountain radiation zone and travels back toward Vault 57.
Day 17: The team completes the last leg of their journey, crossing the I15 roadbed and arriving at the Vault 57 box canyon late in the afternoon.
General Morgan takes the team’s report immediately. Within the hour another team is sent out and is observed coming back the next day with only small bits and pieces of the glassy outer shell probably scavenged from the 200 meter long trench behind the wreck. The team is not kept in the loop, but Airy uses her speech skill to get information from Althea. It turns out that the salvage team found the crash site alright, but the 10-meter long object was completely gone, nor were their any traces of vehicles or other activity that would be required to move such a large object. Althea hypothesizes that the object was lifted straight up by either a tractor beam, a type of ranged anti-gravity projection which was invented during the Shadow Years and a capability possessed by the Vault’s single functional ‘light engineering bot’, or a powerful craft or robot with anti-gravity locomotion lifted the object straight up and away. No one nearby is known to possess either a tractor beam or a pre-war vehicle of the required type and sophistication. Vault 57 has in fact never possessed such a vehicle, at least in the last hundred years. The light engineering bot tractor beam can move 500kg mass at most. The crash site object must have measured in the metric tons judging by the samples retrieved and the length and depth of the trench behind the wreck. This is obviously deeply troubling to the Command Council, as is the similarity between the small spy artifact taken from the raiders months ago and the control surface Grek inspected inside the wreck.
Airy and Grek tell Colonel McDermott and the Vault’s chief medical doctor (also from S1 company) about the remains of the creature. Both are eager to autopsy the remains and allow Airy and Grek to attend. Not much is left of the creature, but several interesting things are noted: 1) the chemical composition of the creature does not appear to be normal organic matter and indeed the remains don’t seem to be decomposing, rather they are slowly desiccating into a dried and fragile remnant; 2) the remains don’t exhibit any detectable cybernetic enhancements or manufactured internal components; 3) it is not possible to determine if the creature was some kind of artificial creation, like an android (which in the Shadow Years were similar to what we would think of as cybernetically enhanced replicants), or another bizarre example of unbridled genetic engineering from the Shadow Years. Neither possibility can be ruled out.
Airy later figures out the salvaged hand weapon, still in the teams possession, and determines that it is a powerful short-range energy projector, similar to a laser or blaster pistol and in principle not radically different than the MkVII Blaster rifle which the team already knows how to operate. Unfortunately Grek is not able to do anything with the damaged weapon, which is most certainly experimental Tech-IV equipment, so the device remains in poor condition: usable but likely to fail at any time. The spare energy cells are also in poor condition, damaged by the demolition charge or the self-destructive final detonation which blew off the top half of the creatures torso.
Energy Pistol, Unknown/Unique Experimental (POOR): (DIV/300cr with functioning cell, otherwise 100cr as a curio/.5kg/ER:60;LR:-/C:8s(1 energy cell)/ROF:2/RLTime:1AT/D:ER-6d6)
Energy Cells, Unknown/Unique Experimental (POOR): (AIV/30cr as curios, 60cr each with functioning pistol/.2kg).