In a ceremony honoring dead and surviving heroes of the assault on Vault 57, General Tolstoy awards 16 newly-minted medals stamped from ancient gold coins. The medallions depict an airborne Mount Pleasant skyship over a 3-pointed star. These words are inscribed around the edge: “Legion of Honor – New Utah Federation – 2755”
32 warriors lost their lives in the battle at Vault 57, including the former Security Chief of Mount Pleasant Joshua Talbot. The heavy losses were shared equally by Eagle Clan, Mount Pleasant and the Mormon contingent. This shared loss goes far in cementing relationships between members of the new Skyship league of settlements. Captain Underwood, Colonel McDermott and Reverend Blackstone have been appointed by their respective factions as ‘Grand Councilors’ of the prospective skyship evacuees. They will lead the coming Exodus and form a new government at Heavens Gate, though Captain Underwood is the acknowledged commander while the skyship is underway. The word around the campfire is that the Councilors have already started referring to the skyship tribe as a ‘New Utah Federation’.
Various weapons, explosives and energy cells are salvaged following the successful assault on Vault 57, including three android-manufactured ‘killbots’. Strelok is able to recondition and reprogram these bots with the assistance of Gyorj and the Ag-Station work-shops. They will come in very handy as sentries and for search-and-destroy missions. Individual killbots can now be remotely operated using the robotics ‘Remote Control Pad’ previously scavenged from the ruins of Enclave Mine City 5. One of these bots is later welded to the top of the APC and linked in to the electrical system to serve as a sentry turret.
The APC provided by Captain Underwood allows for a whirlwind three-day tour of the major settlements along the I15, including Gunson (what is left of it anyway), Nephi, Spanish Fork and finally the ‘Rome of the wasteland’, New Salt City. Strelok is rightfully paranoid about the Mormon proscription on sentient AI so stays close to the team during this trip into Mormon-controlled lands, pretending to be a dumb robot. Gunson is a shadow of it’s former self with most of the population fled to either Nephi, Sipio or Efram after Vault 57 was abandoned in 2754. Only 60 or so scavengers and traders remain. The two highway forts are still garrisoned by Eagle Clan troopers, but it is touch and go. Hundreds of Kaktahn, Kendo and Muunokhoi tribal warriors have gathered in the hills northwest of Gunson…the twin forts may well have to be abandoned, and soon. The next stop is Nephi, where some ammunition and explosives are picked up from Roman Arms.
The team overnights at Spanish Fork after a few drinks at ‘Arik’s Watering Hole’, formerly ‘The Thirsty Mutant’ run by the conniving Mormon murderess Odile Krenshaw. Humongous, Sleestak, Bannstone and Gooptaz enjoy selections from the extensive bill of fare: Wild Dog Chops; Iguanodon Egg Omelette; Peppered Pongo Steak (a large one-eyed badlands wallaby); Sandworm in Whiskey Sauce; Wild Pig and Onion Goulash; Varmint Stew (misc. small critters). Sheriff ‘Mongol’ Murchison stops by to find out who drove into town with the huge APC. Seeing no likely targets for a quick shake-down, he calls off his ‘deputies’ and enjoys a shot of mescal with the newcomers.
The next morning Sleestak visits the local Temple of the White Hand at the south end of town to inquire about cybernetic enhancements. The ‘Sister Superior’, a strange insectoid mutant with yellow and black chitin and faceted eyes, informs Sleestak that this is only possible at the main temple and surgical theater in Airfield City, and elective modifications are seldom considered. Except perhaps for worthy heroes who have performed a great service for the White Hand. Noticing the obvious wealth and power of this new group of adventurers, the Sister meets with Sleestak privately and makes an open-ended offer:
“If you can bring us orphaned mutant youths with latent or newly-expressed healing powers, we will reward you well. We will raise such miracle-children in our main temple at Airfield City. They will be treasured and well-cared for, I assure you, eventually taking their place in our order as mighty healers. I personally can offer all the considerable medical artifacts at our temple here in Spanish Fork. Were you to supplicate the Bishop in Airfield City for the boon of cybernetics, such a service would go far in obtaining his good graces”
The eerie ‘Sister Superior’ implies that certain irregularities might be overlooked in exactly how ‘orphans’ become catechumens of the White Hand. Sleestak is not in the mood for any kidnapping and ends the meeting, though the Sister seemed ready to impart additional details.
The team hits nearly every shop in Airfield City, loading up with a quantity of gear, explosives, weapons and other artifacts scoured from the vast ruins of Old Salt Lake City looming to the north. Late in the day the team pays a visit to the renowned ’Arefu’s Armory’. Arefu is a small dark man of rotund shape, with two identical heads, hard scaled skin, black spiky hair and placid expressions. The heads speak interchangeably, starting and completing one another’s sentences with no gaps or pauses, and do not appear to have different personalities. The cunning Arefu has managed to survive as the top arms dealer in Airfield City for almost two decades. No mean feat in this wild frontier town where no one does business without tacit approval of the Mormon Authority. Arefu’s informants at the East Gate and other shops in the area have provided hours of advance notice regarding the coming of this wealthy group of adventurers from the far south. Before they set a foot in the door he’s learned their clan affiliations, history and recent achievements. After closing the deal on a top-quality 27th century blaster carbine, Arefu invites his new clients into the ‘VIP’ room. It seems Arefu has got his hands on a deadly explosive device, a terrible weapon of mass-destruction. Strelok, Humongous and Gooptaz verify the heavy pear-shaped red metallic case is most likely a neutron cluster bomblet from World War IV. Arefu: “For a mere 3500 credits your clan can own this mighty weapon! Don’t let this fabulous treasure be wasted on the Mormons, who are even now on their way to take it off my hands at twice the price!” Clearly Arefu prefers doing business with mutants. Purchasers must agree to take delivery of the ‘device’ at a secret location in the hills southwest of Airfield City. Perhaps fortunately, the team has already spent most of their cash and passes on this dangerous offer. Dealing in such weapons is fraught with peril. Perhaps Arefu’s greed is finally getting the better of him?
The next day Strelok finally attracts some undesired attention from Mormon agents while trying to track down specific equipment in the sprawling ‘Airfield Bazaar’. Humongous cranks the flywheel-starter on the ancient APC’s gas-turbine engine and Bannstone tries to make a quick getaway, but the MMPF is already waiting for them at the east gate. Commander Blackstone, probably informed by his older brother the Reverend Blackstone, takes this opportunity to apprehend the strange hybrid of android brain and robotic body for a closer inspection. Strelok is deactivated at some point during the trip back to the Airfield Control Tower. Strelok doesn’t regain consciousness until after being dropped back off at the east gate where his organic companions have been waiting four or five hours. Undoubtedly the Mormons conducted a full disassembly and inspection, possibly implanting control or monitoring devices as well. A subsequent detailed break-down and inspection by Eagle Clan technicians doesn’t reveal anything new or amiss. The only other possibility is that Mormon cybernetics experts might have bugged or otherwise drugged Strelok’s organic android brain. This is beyond the skills of anyone outside the Mormon Compound or the Temple of the White Hand in Airfield City. The legendary Eagle Clan surgeon and gunfighter ‘Doc’ Holliday might be able to help, but last word placed him at Heaven’s Gate helping to prepare and guard the paradisaical valley he loved so well. Without air transport, Heavens Gate is now isolated from the I15 settlements.
Three days after driving north the team rolls back into Sipio and the Ag-Station valley, 80 liters of fuel poorer and down to their last few credits, but swimming in newly acquired gear and artifacts. General Tolstoy requests use of the APC to ferry technicians and equipment north to Mount Pleasant, where the first test launch of the Skyship is planned. Sleestak, Humongous, Gooptaz, Bannstone and Strelok are invited to witness this historic event.
Three days later the team watches from their APC as a crowd of impromptu spectators gather along the south edge of the Mount Pleasant mesa. The entire 400-meter length of the gargantuan Mount Pleasant skyship is now fully righted and resting in a huge cradle of scrap metal and cut stone assembled over the past months. The auxiliary reactor is installed and all the important flight systems appear operational. A definitive answer to the question of whether six out of eight anti-grav generators are sufficient to get the giant craft airborne can only be had through a full test launch.
On this perfectly still but strangely overcast afternoon of June 1st 2755, everyone except 36 essential bridge and technical crew are evacuated from the skyship. The entire plateau trembles as mighty anti-grav generators warp space around the titanic hull. Slowly, painfully, for the first time in over 130 years, the great ark of the ancients lifts free of the earth, trailing streamers of sand and gravel. A collective gasp rises from the hundreds of spectators, and not a few involuntary cries of terror. The skyship rises slowly to an altitude of perhaps 1200 meters where it dominates the sky. The sight of the vast shape suspended high above is simply too much for some of those on the plateau below, who bury their tear-streaked faces in the dust or flee in panic.
Ten minutes later the ship begins listing to one side. Captain Underwood quickly brings the ship down to the surface of the plateau where it comes to rest without seriously damaging the huge stone and steel drydock. Cheers rise up from those remaining atop the plateau. Security is unable to stop the stampede of jubilant spectators. Distant shouts of triumph can be heard from the skyship bridge high above.
The not-so-maiden flight is judged a great success. Many problems are identified and corrected as a result of this first test. More such flights will be required, but all the collected technical experts of the ‘New Utah Federation’, as those assigned places on the ark are already calling themselves, agree that the ship can be made airworthy. Barring any unforeseen catastrophe, the ancient craft should be able to at least cover the 200km between Mount Pleasant and the blessed valley beyond Heavens Gate.
Giving up their places in the Exodus to Heavens Gate, our heroic explorers plan to embark on a risky expedition south to the lost city of Albuqerk and the ancient spaceport supposedly located nearby. Elite Eagle Clan scouts flew south months ago and never returned. This team and the fabulous VTOL aircraft they commanded are presumed lost in the great wilderness of New Meksgo. What could have stopped such a skilled and well-equipped party of explorers? More than a few in Eagle Clan consider undertaking a similar expedition in a primitive alcohol-powered APC to be foolhardy and doomed to failure. Others more optimistic observers calculate the chance of success at 50/50. What most people don’t know is that Colonel McDermott has provided one of the last available inertial navigation devices. Her scribes have worked long and hard over bits and pieces of ancient maps to plot a potentially navigable overland route south. Even so, at least 700km of burning wastes, wide canyons, towering mesas and unknown terrors lie between the Ghost Bear Brigade and their objective.