Gooptaz helps plan the coming expedition using Gyorj’s portable computer. It quickly becomes evident that food and water will be a problem, even with six days of use for the anti-gravity sled provided by Eagle Clan. The team opts to leave a lot of equipment behind so they can tote more food and water. This is where the light weight of the ancient concentrated rations found inside the overturned Facility 11 APC will pay off. Water however is just water…roughly one kilogram per liter, and each man will require at least 1 liter per day assuming medium burden and cool temperatures. Except for Strelok of course, who still has 3-4 weeks use left on his internal atomic cell. All in all, it’s becoming pretty clear why no one from Eagle Clan is rushing to volunteer for this mission before the VTOL returns…
Strelok remembers the location of an atomic cell currently awaiting scrap or repair in the medium scale habitat building before being moved to high-security storage inside the Ag-station HQ. These devices are highly sought after as there is no easy way to recharge them and they power critical artifacts including the Eagle Clan hovercraft and the last remaining power armors. Strelok and Bannstone hatch a plan to steal it. The guard who will be on duty tonight is a pure-strain human female, Corporal Frida, who is known to be partial to handsome mutant humanoids. Bannstone’s charmingly furry form and sparkling personality could be the ticket to another atomic cell!
Around 3am the next morning, Bannstone wanders by the open MSH gate and strikes up a conversation with Frida. His empathy ability should help him out here…“My friend here forgot his tools inside the access hall…can you PLEASE let him get them? By the way, did I ever tell you how cute your butt is?”. Unfortunately Corporal Frida is not impressed and gives Bannstone the cold shoulder. “Dammit, that line works on everyone else!”. He’s reduced to distracting her just long enough for Strelock to slip into the access hall using his stealth field.
Strelok creeps down the long wide hall crowded with salvage waiting to be sorted. Five minutes later he reaches the storage room just short of the main engineering space. The building is deserted except for the guards playing poker in their bunk-room, and ‘Walley’ the service bot inside the storeroom. Walley is armed with a flamer but is otherwise not much of a threat unless he somehow alerts the guards at the other end of the building. Strelok is again successful at creeping past the front counter and into the main part of the storeroom where rows of shelves are crammed with everything imaginable, most of it broken. Somehow Walley knows exactly where everything is, but if there is a system involved, it’s known only to Walley. After 30 minutes of careful searching Strelok is lucky enough to locate the functioning atomic cell from among the piles of useless junk…two hours until daybreak.
As Strelok tries to sneak back out of the MSH, Frida spots him from her vantage point in the darkness beyond the lighted gate and takes aim with her stun rifle. Several blue-white stun beams impact the duralloy wall of the MSH with a resounding BANG. Strelok is almost entirely proof against stun beams and flees into the night. Shouting guards tumble from the bunk-room and spread out through the dark. Fortunately none possess night-vision equipment and Strelok is easily able to avoid them using his own thermal vision and stealth capabilities. But it’s quite possible Frida Id’d him through the distortion field emitted by his stealth generator.
Just two hours later the team assembles at the Sipio market yard, including Strelok and Bannstone (having previously deposited their illicit power cell in the iguanodon packs). Major Sands is there to greet them in the watery pre-dawn light. It’s unclear exactly when Major Sands sleeps. She lives a chemically enhanced lifestyle, alternating with bouts of pain – the result of android experimentation during captivity in their base, until freed by her sister Lt. Airyana Sands (who happens to be one of the elite VTOL crew). Sands has more-or-less assumed the role of ‘handler’ for this new group from Indian Valley. “So, I heard there was some excitement last night…don’t worry, I kept you out of the brig. But I’d recommend steering clear of Cpl. Frida for a while.” The team heads south from Sipio with one iguanodon carrying their gear and water. A guide from Scout Company accompanies them. Three days later the team replenishes water at Efram then heads east across the valley and up into the high mountains. The scout heads back to Efram with the iguanodon. Strelok loads the purloined atomic cell into the reassembled anti-grav sled and all the food and water is transferred.
Day 1-3: Climbing ridge after ridge, each higher than the next, the team reaches the midpoint of their mountain crossing according to aerial intel provided by Eagle Clan. At that point the leaky old atomic cell runs out of power and the team loads up with all the food and water they can carry and hides the rest in a cave, taking careful note of the location. The anti-grav sled is disassembled and the spent atomic cell hidden along with the excess food and water. Humongous totes the remaining fully-charged atomic cell.
Day 4-5: Cold wind sweeps through the high mountain wilderness. The stony slopes are practically devoid of life except for occasional glimpses of bighorn sheep leaping from rock to rock along near-vertical surfaces. On the fifth day there is a brief heavy rain shower. Everyone scrambles to collect what they can and drink as much as possible from pools and sinkholes where water briefly accumulates.
Day 6: While descending a steep slope covered in rock shards, an avalanche tumbles down toward Sleestak and Humongous. Sleestak does not get away in time, but avoids serious wounds thanks to his heavy tactical armor. In the last light of day the team crests a final ridge to look out across a broad bowl-shaped valley stretching away to the east. Using the rifle scope, Strelok is able to identify a ruin in the center of the valley, a large partially collapsed building surrounded by six smaller structures connected to the central terminal by long concourses. A broad flat landing field lies on the north side of the terminal. The valley is unique in harboring extensive stands of cedar and pinyon pine…the perfect hiding place for beast-men. The smoke from numerous fires can be seen and even a few individual beast men spotted through the scope. Without doubt the valley is crawling with them. Barely visible on the far east edge of the valley, still illuminated by the setting sun, is a dark oblong shape accordioned bow-first into a tall cliff. Clearly a Combine skyship hull much like the one atop the oasis at Mount Pleasant.
Day 7: Led by Strelok, Sleestak and Bannstone, the team creeps along shadowed dells, coverts, ravines and woods, slowly and carefully. Often the smell of smoke is the first indication of a nearby beast-men camp…they seem completely at ease here and not at all on their guard. A number of curious artifacts are found discarded at an old campsite: 80cm white hemispheres containing a honeycomb of storage slots, originally attached together to form 80cm white spheres formed of ancient ‘duraplast’ material. The storage spaces are just the right size to accommodate small artifacts such as metal blades, axeheads or spearpoints. A few examples are even still in place – shiny new metal of unknown origin. The beast-men are known to avoid ancient ruins, so it’s hard to imagine where they could have obtained these containers.
At first light the wide flat expanse at the center of the valley comes into view. The main terminal building is heavily damaged, as much from the ravages of time as from the war. The Indian-Valley refugees have heard tales of this ruin though few in living memory ever ventured this far south. The six outbuildings are said to be entry points to a subterranean city spanning a series of vast salt and gypsum domes. Ten thousand people lived and worked here for many decades until the approach of Combine forces in 2610-2612. In any case, it appears the beast-men avoid this area, so the team sets up camp concealed by rubble from the great bulk of the silent central terminal structure.
Day 8: By nightfall the team reaches the east edge of the valley where the skyship came to rest against the cliffs over a century past. This skyscraper-sized monstrosity apparently crashed-landed in the valley and slid several kilometers before coming to a crushing stop against the cliffs. The front half of the hull is covered by a massive rockslide which looks very recent, perhaps 4 or 5 years old. This event tilted the entire hull forward and to the port (left) side, exposing a great jagged gash along the starboard side of the stern section. Smoke from beast-men fires rises 400 meters to the left and 200 meters to the right, though the camps are concealed behind hills and stands of cedar trees. The morning sun already illuminates the scene so the team elects to wait until nightfall before crossing the 500 meter slope up to the skyship.
Day 9: Clouds move in to conceal the moon…the night is dark and still. Sneaking into the vast hulk through the jagged opening, the team finds a long U-shaped hall connecting three large engineering spaces: two auxiliary reactor bays at either end and a main engineering bay at the very stern of the ship. The starboard side auxiliary reactor is identical to the example at Mount Pleasant, but unfortunately the huge spindle shaped device came off it’s mountings during the crash and smashed against a bulkhead…a total loss. The main reactor bay is reduced to a blackened shell, filled with the melted remains of a huge fusion reactor and various other machinery. The slag from the destroyed reactor burned through the floor to expose the remains of huge 20-meter anti-gravity generators in the space below. The port side auxiliary reactor bay is largely intact and, wonder of wonders, the 3-meter tall #2 auxiliary reactor is still upright in it’s massive gimballed mounting brackets.
Nearby is an intact robot, a heavy cone-shaped unit about 1.5 meters high, with a spherical head dangling on the end of a thick tentacle-like neck and three meter-long tentacles around the circumference. The squat torso rests on heavy caterpillar-tracks with three sprockets per side. The unit likely has anti-gravity lift capability as well, though it is unclear if this is still functional. One tentacle is cut nearly in half and the unit has sustained other structural damage as well. Inspection by Strelok reveals that the bot is functional but deactivated. It’s backup hydrogen cells are receiving a charge from some unknown external source, but full broadcast power is offline. The unit appears to retain it’s original programming for damage control and repair functions, but that’s all that can be determined without computing skills.
Meanwhile Gooptaz has been scavenging the engineering spaces and finds a sealed black canister containing six hard wafers. These turn out to be Combine ‘Sustenance Doses’, each weighing only a few ounces and able to meet combat zone nutritional requirements for 1 day. A lucky find considering that the team is about to finish off their last rations. Water is a more serious problem…only four liters remain.
As Strelok begins to work on activating the bot, loud scraping and clattering noises echo from the U-shaped access-hall connecting the three engineering bays. The team has just enough time to take cover and ready weapons before first one and then two hulking black scorpions clamber into the reactor bay. Each massive scorpion is over two meters long. Bannstone, Strelok and Gooptaz take cover and use their heat pulse, laser rifle and eye-beams to turn the first scorpion into a flaming pyre. Humongous draws his mighty iron great-sword and plunges forward. Sleestak sprints to the side with katana in one hand and energy-blade in the other.
Strelok slices the first scorpion into smoking black chunks with his laser rifle. He draws a bead on the second one, but the corroded piece malfunctions and emits only a gout of blue-white smoke. Humongous and Sleestak battle the second scorpion with great sword, katana and energy-dagger. The creature rends Sleestak with it’s huge claws, lacerating a leg and almost knocking him unconscious. The wicked black stinger hammers ineffectually against his tactical armor…deadly venom splashes across Sleestak’s facemask. Bannstone and Gooptaz hide behind a tangle of fallen ducts and use their heat pulse and eye-beam mutations to singe the surviving scorpion.
The fight descends into a wild melee as the monstrous black scorpion chases the explorers around the debris-strewn reactor bay. Strelok drops the smoking laser rifle and unslings his semi-automatic. Humongous and Sleestak continue hammering the scorpion’s steel-hard exoskeleton with their hand weapons. Bannstone manages to avoid the snapping claws and darting stinger by desperately squirming away through the litter of cables, conduits and fallen beams. He pulls out his double-barreled shotgun pistol as the hideous beast homes in on his heat signature. Gooptaz quick-draws his laser pistol lee-van-cleef style and makes an incredible shot, halfway burning off a massive black pincer.
Humongous and Sleestak finally strike home with great-sword and energy dagger. Strelok fires multiple bursts from his rifle but most of the bullets ricochet off iron-hard chitin. Bannstone hides in debris while the hulking beast searches for him. He discharges the shotgun-pistol as the monster clatters past, hitting with one lead slug. Gooptaz loses his nerve, gibbering in terror when the creature turns on him. In a panic he burns long glowing scars across the steel floor with his laser pistol. Gooptaz is cornered against a bulkhead. He struggles desperately to fend off the snapping black claw and lashing stinger.
Just before Humongous finally splits the smoking arachnid in half with his great-sword, it snags Gooptaz and pins him to the floor. The meter-long tail arcs down and spears its screaming target with a dagger-sized stinger. Gooptaz gasps and chokes as his body swells into a pale crimson-splotched parody of itself. Humongous pulls the dying Gooptaz out from under the flopping scorpion and plunges a poison antidote injector into his neck. The miraculous pre-war drug saves the three-eyed mutant, but he’ll be weak as a baby for hours.