Using some of their payment from the Mormons, Grek, Cassey and Doc acquire a number of artifacts from vendors around Airfield City, including a UWS ‘Control Baton’ (used to activate/deactivate Power Armors, possibly other undiscovered command functions as well), light-amplification goggles, sniper rifle with a light amplification scope, several hi-ex grenades, another military-spec cross-country motorcycle, medical equipment and a large quantity of alcohol fuel. Arik contributes much of his scavenged brass to the team. At a cost of around 1500 credits, Minot’s Gunsmithy reloads the whole lot, creating a large trove of excellent-quality ammunition. All power cells are repaired, combined and recharged at Marduk’s Caravansary. The rest of the evening is spent carousing at the bars and casinos on Main Street and Tower Street including Coopers, Hangar 21 and Lucys. Arik joins in one last time. The revelers don’t return to their private barracks at Marduk’s until 2am the next morning.
In the early morning hours at Marduk’s Caravansary an explosion rips through the floor at the north end of the barracks, tossing everyone out of their bunks. A 3-meter hole opens in the floor revealing one of the many ancient conduits below Airfield City. Equipment and weapons are scattered everywhere. The scene is complete chaos as billowing dust and crazy shadows fill the dim barracks-room. Josephine was on guard but is nowhere to be seen. Other explosions sound from the caravansary marshaling yard. Three suicidal cultists leap from the pit shouting “DEATH TO THE DEFILERS OF THE VOICE!!!” with faces twisted into masks of hatred. They are armed with long daggers and wear only dirty brown monk robes. Several are clearly already wounded. Airy grabs for her riot shield, but like everyone except Josephine is otherwise totally unarmored. Grek finds his LBE and yanks off a stun-gas grenade. Cassey is still wearing her personal force-shield projector and activates it. Doc grabs for his stun-club. Arik reaches for his lever action rifle. The screaming monks are upon the struggling eagle clan warriors in seconds, slashing with their daggers to inflict a number of cuts and shallow stab wounds.
A strange power begins to drain energy and life-force from everyone in the area. At first Doc, Grek, Cassey and Airy fight off the mental attack. Arik and the lead cultists are evidently affected and experience sharp stabbing pains followed by a feeling of terrible lassitude. Their skins take on a blue-gray cyanotic pallor, but still the monks slash away madly with their daggers. Cassey rips one monk to shreds with her claws. Grek pulls the pin on the stun grenade and tries to toss it into the hole, but hits a cultist instead. The grenade bounces off the wall and lands just four meters away! Initially the gas is not strong enough to stun anyone except the two remaining cultists. Airy drops her shield and manages to slap on her gas mask quickly, as does Grek. Doc is not so lucky and can’t locate his mask in time. When he finally does pull the mask from its container the brittle artifact comes apart in his hands. Doc is soon stunned and begins stumbling/crawling for one of the windows to the marshaling yard. At this point everyone is feeling very sick from whatever power is sucking their life-force. A strange word shouted from the hole in the floor causes Arik to drop his rifle and slump against his upturned bunk to stare mindlessly at the ceiling…a post-hypnotic code-word planted during his reprogramming at the Followers Temple? Josephine is also affected and lies prostrate in the marshaling yard where Marduk’s guards engage several dozen screaming cultists in a chaotic gunfight. The night is very dark with no moon, the stars concealed behind a thick layer of blowing dust driven by a strong wind from the south.
Three Follower ‘Guardians’ emerge from the pit into the collapsed barracks. Two wear riot armor and carry black-powder shotguns and heavy swords. The third is a huge mongoloid mutant, almost 2.5 meters tall with 4 bulging arms and protected head-to-foot in a heavy bone carapace. This monstrous creature wields 2 fire axes and 2 somewhat-damaged riot shields. Both guardians fire shotguns at Cassey who is hit once. The huge mutant hits her shield with one axe. The other glances off the force-shield ineffectually. The field-generator emits a high-pitched whine and grows smoking hot, almost but not quite burning out.
The two lead cultists fall unconscious from the stun gas. Another cultists emerges from the opening, at one time an ‘Elder of the Voice’ in white robes, but now transformed into a bulging glowing-green toad-like humanoid almost 3 meters tall…this mutant must be the source of the life-draining emanation. The huge toad-like monstrosity wields a glowing blue energy-dagger.
Cassey is now stunned as well. She uses her gas-generation mutation to begin filling the barracks with a thick cloud of caustic red gas (to which she of course is immune). Doc is incapacitated by the burning gas while hanging halfway out the barracks window…not a night he will remember fondly. Airy and Grek are protected by their gas masks. Airy blasts away with her heavy auto-pistol at the mongoloid mutant, as does Grek with his blaster pistol, knocking it flat. The melee ends with Cassey, Doc and all the cultists disabled by a combination of stun-gas and Cassey’s caustic red gas cloud. Only Airy and Grek are left conscious. The dazed cultists are quickly killed or captured. Airy takes possession of the energy-dagger.
The fight outside ends in the slaughter of several dozen fanatical cultists by Marduk’s guards and other caravansary guests. Marduk himself makes an appearance firing a man-pack rotary autocannon that must weight over 20 kilos. Thankfully Marduk bears no ill-will…in fact he somewhat enjoyed a fight after being retired from adventuring for so many years. Even if it was just a cultist turkey-shoot. Marduk never really cared for the Followers of the Voice, as their pilgrims were usually destitute and therefore brought no custom to his establishment.
The next day Commander Blackstones security forces raid the Followers temple. A dozen pathetic cultists are discovered still hiding inside. All are apprehended and branded with the symbol of ‘Mormon Anathema’ before being ejected from Airfield City. A similar operation will be conducted against a second smaller temple located in Magna Outpost 50km to the northwest. There may be repercussions from this complete proscription of the Followers as there are thought to be at least 500 more cultists in the New Salt City region. But the cult is strongest in the northern lands beyond the Great Salt Flats, far from Mormon influence or control.
Over the next ten days Airy, Grek, Doc and Cassey train in their various skill specialties. As their comrades at Vault 57 are now simply too far away, training is obtained from various experts around Airfield City including Krank’s Emporium, Junktown, and Mai Yun of ‘Yuns Gift Shop’. The cost is 100 credits per skill point gained, but due to a newly-won good reputation at this settlement, cost is reduced by 20% (80 credits per skill point). Grek, Airy and Josephine drive south to transfer equipment and supplies to the Keeg Vault base team. Airy is able to successfully reprogram one of the Research Bots with detailed instructions from Grek for disarming the tactical nuke still hopefully hidden in the Ruins of Orm. However Grek still lacks the necessary tools to give the bot a reasonable chance of success, so leaves the nuke alone for now. Grek uses his mechanical tool kit and plasma torch to disassemble the ancient 2-person utility buggy recovered from the Keeg Valley some months ago. The frame, suspension, wheels and other parts are used to manufacture two new sidecars for the two team motorcycles.
During this time Arik also formally takes his leave of Eagle Clan and his companions in the Vault 57 ‘Special Operations’ team. Arik has tentatively joined the Mormon faction and now divides his time between various MMPF special missions and his new saloon in Spanish Fork. For complete details on the completion of Arik’s story-line, see his amended Bio. Much loyalty still lies with Eagle Clan however and Arik is undoubtedly ready to venture out with his old friends of ‘Special Operations Number 1’ team if called upon. Having a new motorcycle and wealth of additional equipment courtesy of his father will probably help as well!
The team sets out on a quick reconnaissance mission to the origin point of the messages from FINNTHIRTEEN. The ‘Logbook of the Voice’ documents the source as being somewhere within a 10km area about 250km to the west in unknown territory just across the ancient Utah-Nevada border. It should take no more than two days to drive there and back. After reaching Magna Outpost at the south edge of the Great Salt Flats the team drives west across 60km of flats, then returns to the I80 roadbed passing through several large radiation zones and a deathland area. Most of the team has suffered little radiation exposure due to vehicle speed and use of radiation protection gear. Cassey can’t use any of the rad-gear designed for humans and suffers from mild rad sickness. Doc injects Cassey with anti-radiation serum, as more radiated areas lie ahead. Several hours later the team reaches a range of hills and mountains. An ancient duralloy highway sign has been moved from the roadbed up to a nearby cliff by someone with a sense of humor…it displays the ancient letters, “Welcome to Nevada”.
The crumbled I80 roadbed turns northwest through the first pass across twenty clicks of desert valley to another even higher mountain range. The mountains north of the pass have been rearranged by multiple powerful nuclear ground-bursts, probably burrowing missiles as well. Where the crest of the range should be are a series of great crater rims. The nearby desert valley is covered with swirling ashen dust and large patches of dull greenish-gray glass. Grek begins to drive the Shadow-Years-era utility transport slowly down into the valley.
After a few minutes the personal Communicators carried by Airy, Doc and Cassey, and inside Grek’s combat armor helmet, receive a loud and very clear voice message:
“ATTENTION APPROACHING VEHICLE! Abort mission! Abort mission! A hostile class III attack bot is approaching from the northwest and will shortly destroy your vehicle and all occupants. This is the factory installation neural network reporting takeover of UWS heavy robotics factory 13 by hostile androids. The androids are using surviving parts of this installation to produce a small volume of additional androids and makeshift combat robots. I have been shut out of direct access to most sensors and factory systems, but the rebel androids cannot completely deactivate me without rendering the remaining factory systems completely inoperative.”
This apparently sentient AI voice is obviously that of ‘FINNTHIRTEEN’, previously heard only as various recycled and partial recordings played in the temple of the Followers.
Grek slams on the brakes. Seconds later Cassey spots the dust trail from a small dark object gliding swiftly over a rise in the valley floor about 5000 meters to the northwest. Grabbing Greks binos, Cassey sees a vaguely turtle-shaped hull of graphite-black duralloy covered with variously-shaped bumps, popouts and knobs. The sinister shape appears very large, possibly 10 or more meters long, 6-7 meters wide and around 3 meters high. Grek guns the engine, spins the transport around and speeds back toward the protection of the pass, now about 2.5km away. It is clear the approaching warbot moves about twice as fast as the transport and will approach to within a few kilometers distance before the team reaches the pass. Grek shouts out the comm codes for the Keeg Vault base team communications console and requests FINNTHIRTEEN send additional details there if possible.
- The voice of FINNTHIRTEEN continues:
“Please return with powered assault troops or class II and higher combat bots. Entrance to the remnants of this installation will require energetics, demolition charges or Stage III UWS Industrial Facility credentials and a skilled computer technician. I will guide assault forces to a hidden control center from which the androids can be shut out of key systems and isolated at their current locations. Bring technical personnel capable of accessing installation systems and restoring functionality to my network. As system access is progressively restored to my control I will be able to render additional assistance. I must now end this transmission or risk detection by the androids.”
At this point a frantic Airy screams into her communicator: “Is someone named Beth Sands there…she was sent here 6 months ago!”. After a slight pause, FINNTHIRTEEN replies, “Yes, among other captured personnel is one named ‘Beth Sands’. She is still alive and relatively unharmed. The androids conduct experiments on captured personnel eventually resulting in their deaths. None have survived captivity more than 10 months. Please send an assault force at once! I MUST sign off…FINNTHIRTEEN out…< static >”.
Two minutes later the warbot has halved the distance. This unit looks to have suffered damage over the decades. It is listing to the side and seems to wobble as it cruises up the side of the valley. A large teardrop-shaped port opens atop the superstructure and a long wicked looking energy cannon emerges. The first shot of white-hot energy races across the intervening 2400 meters to shear off the rear top third of the utility vehicle. About a third of the teams cargo and equipment is destroyed. The blast of white hot plasma also burns off the recently-added weapon copula atop the roof. A deflected jet of plasma shoots through the passenger compartment, luckily not striking anyone directly, and burns off part of the front right wheel. The warbot fires a second shot and misses just as Grek reaches the edge of the pass. The lance of blazing energy roars close by, melting a 1-meter hole in a nearby boulder. Twenty minutes later Grek reaches the top of the pass. Through the binos Casey observes that the warbot has turned away from the pass. The ancient engine of destruction races south along the edge of the valley where it quickly disappears into a depression. Apparently the warbot is reluctant to enter the hills, boulder-fields and canyons along the edge of the valley.
An hour later Grek pulls the crippled vehicle into a narrow canyon. Cassey sets up a watch atop the canyon while Grek repairs damage to the running gear. Ten hours later the team pulls back into New Salt City, wiser but missing some key equipment. Grek is able to repair some of the important bits but a number of items were permanently destroyed including ammo clips, chemical energy cells, 60mm grenades and jerry cans holding 60 liters of water. The teams sole energy weapon repair kit is destroyed. Worst of all, the anti-matter demolition charge, recently acquired Control Baton and small atomic power supply are all destroyed and unrepairable. Of course, if the vehicle had been completely disabled before reaching the safety of the pass, things could have gone far worse.
Eagle Clan reports that the move to the Ag-Station valley is almost complete. In 3-4 days General Morgan will close the Vault 57 doors for the last time using the purple ‘Vault Administrator’ access card handed down from the original 26th century vault-dwellers. A mechanized convoy is sent north to deliver the ancient UWS Control Baton and Stage IV Military access card to ‘special ops team 1’ at New Salt City. Soon the team will embark on a mission to the fabled home of the clan ancestors, believed to be high in the mountains northeast of the Salt Lake City ruins. Does the legendary fortress still exist? If so, what lies within?