A Gamma World® play-by-post adventure run by gammaworld_gm
Lamia turned around speechlessly, her face grim with worry. That was when Brimstone saw them. "Madre de Dios!" he muttered.
Across the courtyard just inside the perimeter fence next to the gate stood four mutants each carrying two or three Mark VII blaster rifles, and one Pure Strain Human with a sleek, oddly trimmed black beard. A short distance outside of the fence stood a tremendous show of force---about thirty combustion vehicles and a phalanx of seventy well-armed and bristling mutants.
The bearded human stooped to place the portable nuclear reactor and laptop at his feet and slowly, quite majestically stood. It was almost as if Brimstone could feel the man's gaze penetrating right through him, so powerful was his charisma and presence. The human stood silently, proudly for a full minute, like in some spaghetti western, before speaking boldly, "Seems we have what I would call an Albuquerque standoff. How about you give us one of your red ID cards and we'll be nice enough to let you live!" He smiled as if he knew something he wasn't telling them.
Right then, as if summoned silently, the huge warbot drifted into view overhead, and hovered to a spot midway between the groups, targeting both with its deadly array of weaponry, but not firing. Brimstone looked down at his chest to see a smattering of red laser dots. Lifting his keen eyes, he also noted the brilliant sighting lasers peppering both groups, but strangely not Jonn or the other human. Time seemed to slow down as the Cougaroid squirmed visibly underneath his newly acquired spots.
Geo leaned over to Jonn to say, "They can't get out because the Insectoid that Brimstone stunned must have carried their only one of these!" Geo produced the red ID card and pushed it into Jonn's sweaty palm.
Jonn turned over the ID card in his hand, examining it absent-mindedly. Geo conjectured that the Pure Strain human's mind was racing to formulate a DukasPlan™.
"That's a good man," the other human stated confidently from across the courtyard, "See, Petey, I told you they were reasonable."
The chief of security at the Factory took his cigar out of his beak long enough to tell Jonn, "I say boy, T-Rex is a good robot. I do have the master code to control him! <boooock>" Leghorn points at the hovering warbot forty feet up.
Puffing up his chest like an alpha rooster, Jonn acknowledged the Captain, raised the ID card, and spoke loudly, "Blackbeard, you want this card? Well, we want your reactor, your laptop, your Mark VII rifles and the grav-car keys. We're willing to deal, but you should note we have friends in high places." Jonn glanced at the glinting warbot.
The tension was nearly too much for the impulsive Gren. "Just give me the damn laptop!" she snapped, accidentally squeezing off a single shot at Blackbeard. Uncharacteristically, her shot was dead on target, but the black ray stopped just six feet short of Blackbeard, freezing in time, and then dissipating. The crowd behind the fence erupted with excited chatter. Blackbeard laughed haughtily as Geo snatched Lamia's pistol with blinding speed. Blinded with shock, Lamia stepped back, bumped into Jonn, and felt her way around him, ultimately hiding behind his sturdy frame.
"Jonn," Geo said under Lamia's venomous glare, "my thermal scan shows a small circular device floating above him. It is not invisible; it just bends the light making it appear invisible to you. My guess is that would appear to be the source behind Blackbeard's <beep-beep> 'mystical' powers."
The Duckoid tugged discreetly at the fringes of Leghorn's new jacket. "Pssth, Capthain, can you useth thath code to intherfaceth with T-Rexth and geth ith off our backths?"
As Leghorn ruminated a response, Jonn boldly bluffed across the courtyard, "We know about your shield, Blackbeard. Do you want to test it against the warbot's armaments?"
Leghorn removed his cigar and spat some juice. It sizzled on the hot pavement. "I can do more than that, boy!" he said, then lowered his voice to a sinister pitch that Howard once thought unattainable by mutant fowl-kind, "Much... more."
Swiftly, Captain Leghorn flashed a look at his robot comrade's head. Gallus 5/13 chimed back, "Should I?" The Roosteroid popped his stogie back into the corner of his beak and stated flatly, "<booock> Do it."
Later, Jonn would tell Howard that the security drone's eyes then turned into a series of numbers and words as he broadcasted a message to T-Rex: "Alpha beta, chicken pickin' lickn' good," followed by "Make duck soup out of the mutants outside the fence now, please!" Howard didn't see this, as Gallus' head was atop his backpack; he only heard him say "Howard Dodgers of the 23½ Century, I have completed your request."
Slowly the huge floating warbot turned, still 40 feet in the air, and flew in a wide circle outside the perimeter of the electrified fence. As it did, it opened fire with its rail mini-guns spewing Teflon-coated bullets, its heavy lasers, and its missile launchers all at the same time. The seventy or so mutants returned fire, but they were all dead within a matter of minutes. Those who ran burst into a fine red mist by targeted barrages of several hundred bullets. Even those who sat petrified in their combustion vehicles exploded into flame amid ghastly cries of pain/death, and the deafening roars of machine guns and anti-personnel missiles. Once finished making Swiss cheese out of everything behind the fence, T-Rex dropped a small quantity of what Howard guessed was napalm on the shards of metal, bone and flesh still daring to protrude from the desert sand. The desert behind the Oad-Ck-Factory fence roared with vicious flames of such intense heat that a minor fire storm arose, whose convection currents sent a dark mushroom cloud of roiling smoke and seared organic ash high into the atmosphere. Finished, T-Rex returned slowly to his former position. Blackbeard and his mutant friends stood dazedly with slack-jawed, white-washed faces.
Howard stood with his bill slack and his face in an expression of horror. He felt a heavy weight of responsibility for the Warbot's actions; after all, it was he that had spurned Gallus 5/13 and Captain Leghorn to the murderous actions the Warbot had effortlessly displayed seconds ago. He shook his head slowly and became very upset. So many lives lost, so much blood on his hands.
From Howard's perspective, that of a mutated animal, a species whose entrance into the world of sentience and intelligence was relatively recent in this "Gamma World," he felt even more depressed that all of the progress mankind and sentient animal kind had made had instantly and literally dissolved before his eyes. Humans had no choice but to make room for the mutants in their own ranks but at the same time, they realized that they no longer had dominance over all of creation. Howard presumed that sharing was never a character trait of mankind. After all, what had moved life on the planet into the Shadow Years was most probably the destructive culmination of centuries of distrust between human nations bent on not sharing the world's resources, land, and technology. How much progress had Earth's inhabitants made, and how much had been thrown away in the last few minutes?
Howard felt a consuming and complete disgust for Leghorn but dared not show it in front of the Warbot and his terrible array of weapons. Before he could say or do anything, the mutant duck slowly swiveled his eyes in Jonn's direction.
Jonn was the first to break the horrific silence that followed. He cleared his throat purposefully, but Howard had known Jonn long enough to realize that the massacre had deeply sickened him. "Back away from the reactor, laptop, rifles and grav-car keys. That was the warbot's 'light' setting. Wanna try for 'moderate'?" Jonn emphasized his point by waving his pulse rifle at the warbot. Howard wouldn't remember it until much later, as his senses were still overloaded, but at that moment, Jonn had been unknowingly targeted from above---for the first time---with hundreds of laser dots.
In an instant, Jonn's luminous freckles disappeared as he moved the pulse rifle out of alignment with the warbot to point toward Blackbeard. He had come within a hair's width of annihilation, and hadn't even known! Despite this, Jonn was visibly shaken, and his other hand was clenched knuckle-white as he struggled to maintain the illusion of control.
Blackbeard answered Jonn, whimpering, "Dammit, man! OK! You can have it all, except for half of the rifles for our self-defense once you leave. We'll back away, just drop the badge!" His mutant cronies cowered around him like children, feeding off their human leader's visible fear.
Jonn's expression was as blank as the featureless wasteland that surrounded the factory. He hadn't agreed to this mission to be witness to massacre, much less to be responsible for it. The devastation before him drained his sense of self-worth, as he realized that the Ancients---his idols, for all intensive purposes---were ultimately responsible for this ruthless automaton. Why had he spent his entire adult life striving to restore a civilization which poured its last resources into such inhumane killing machines? It was a question he would forever leave unanswered for fear of its existential consequences.
Then Jonn felt a wash of something else flooding his veins alongside the adrenaline. It was pity for this Pure Strain human, who not unlike himself, was struggling to retain some sense of control in a world in which humanity was quickly falling by the wayside. Jonn experienced tunnel-vision as he focused on Blackbeard's eyes from across the courtyard. It was an epiphany of sorts. Here was his Pure Strain brother, not his enemy! And then Jonn realized, with some desperation, that he could never kill a Pure Strain human, even Blackbeard, for as long as he lived.
Lamia grabbed Jonn's arm with both hands and whispered frantically in his ear, "You're not going to kill them, are you Jonn? There were women and children in those cars! I saw them!" She released her grip when she realized, even through his plastic armor, that his sinewy musculature was taut, steeled for some unfathomable purpose or reason. She looked at Geo for an explanation, but none was forthcoming.
Still pointing his rifle at Blackbeard, Jonn flinched at Lamia's touch. This would be the camel that broke the straw's back. Between gritted teeth, he uttered, "Of course not. There's been... too much... bloodshed already!" Haltingly, he lowered his gun and pointed his trembling finger at Blackbeard and the mutants. "Hold that thought... grizzly dudes!"
Jonn turned to hand his pulse rifle to Brimstone, at his left side. In the same movement, he continued around rapidly, crouching. In this split second, Lamia noted his poker face had melted into a mask of horror, one which he could no longer hide. And then Jonn vomited on her boots.
"Thanks Jonn, I knew you cared," she said, trying to shake off Jonn's chunks. "There's nothing wrong with being a sensitive guy," she cooed, trying to console the human, who was heaving with the effort to fight back tears.
Brimstone juggled the pulse rifle with care and awe, and Geo moved over to reset it for him. "Welcome Blue Warrior!" the pulse rifle emitted. Brimstone snarled with glee and pointed it at their adversaries. "Eh-eh, let's not get testy!" he growled.
Without taking his Cougaroid eyes off Blackbeard, he remarked to Jonn, "Man, better lay off those powerbars for a while!"
Jonn recovered and addressed Blackbeard earnestly, as if by sheer force and desperation of his convictions, he could effect Truth. "You have my word, as a fellow Human, that no further harm will come to you." But Jonn should have realized that Truth was elusive, especially with a warbot in the mix.
Geo poked Jonn in the side with the spare red ID card. Jonn grasped it and held it high. Slowly he walked midway to Blackbeard and, never breaking eye contact, stooped, and placed the badge on the ground. He then turned and walked deliberately back to his friends.
Blackbeard and the other mutants backed away from their stuff, as agreed to, But Petey, Blackbeard's right-hand Dogoid, bounded out toward the ID card without warning or permission. T-Rex's response was instantaneous and brutally effective: Petey was reduced to unrecognizable hamburger by the warbot's rail mini-guns in less than a second. The roar of gunfire was excruciating, and the deafening reports richocheted maniacally off the factory's walls.
Jonn winced as Blackbeard blasted him with verbal acid. "'Fellow Human,' I thought we had an agreement. Apparently, I was mistaken," he spat, as if he had just been punched in the face. "If you wanted everything, you should have just said so! There was no reason to kill Petey!" For the first time, Jonn saw tears welling in Blackbeard's eyes, as the human and his cadre of remaining mutants moved away from their loot and the gate. Their faces had become white as the snow-tipped San Matoe Mountains, and this made T-Rex's ever-vigilant laser dots all the more visible.
Blackbeard glared at Jonn until Jonn could take the humilation no more. He was utterly speechless and powerless, and wanted for the life of him to say he was sorry, but he dared not risk inciting Blackbeard or his gang to provoke T-Rex any further. Instead he turned and stared down Leghorn. "Captain!" Jonn hissed through clenched teeth, "Take T-Rex outta the picture, and no more killing!"
Jonn's last three words were spoken with such intensity to the Roosteroid's face, that Leghorn nearly dropped his cigar. The chief of security of the Oad-Ck-Factory scratched futilely on the pavement before looking briefly at Jonn, who noted a flash of anger and desperation in those shifty Roosteroid eyes. Leghorn stooped and picked up Gallus' head from Howard's pack and flipped open the manual override panel, fiddled with the switches inside, then snapped the panel shut and replaced the robot's head.
He folded his feathered arms, and shook his wattle defiantly at Jonn. "I've set off a security breach, I say, a hole that is, in a far portion of the perimeter fence." As if on cue, the warbot hovered away up and over the factory.
Immediately, Blackbeard and his mutants backed out of the way, leaving behind the reactor, the laptop, the grav-car keys, and three Mark VII blaster rifles. Howard and the rest of the group moved as a tight unit following Jonn's lead over to the loot. Howard noted Blackbeard's wrathful stare as they grabbed the spoils and ran toward the large sleek black grav-car.
It was a limo by grav-car standards, almost twice as big as the one he'd previously piloted. Howard pressed the auto-unlock on the keys, and this caused the car to beep and its four doors to unlock and open all at once. Wasting no time, he piled inside the plush, deep black interior, taking the driver's seat, just as Geo, Gallus and Captain Leghorn took the rest of the front seats, and Jonn, Lamia and Brimstone, the rear. He plopped Gallus 5/13's head down on the dash in front of Geo.
Geo hooked himself up to the grav-car's controls from a panel underneath the dash, and also hooked up Gallus' head. When he finished, through the windshield he saw Blackbeard and his mutants snatch the ID card, unlock the gate, and flee the factory grounds quickly, on foot. Once strapped in, he coveted the portable reactor like a small child.
Meanwhile, in the back seat, the Gren gingerly placed her laptop in her pack and fastened it tightly, holding it against her chest with both arms. She surrepticiously peered at Jonn over the straps of her pack. The quirky human was digging in vain for his seatbelt, and for the moment, it appeared that whatever demons had spooked him out there were gone. She smiled inwardly at their leader and couldn't help seeing him in her future.
The pulse rifle in Brimstone's hands purred softly with what Brimstone could only describe as atomic juice. He turned the rifle over and saw the glowing words, "Made by Atari Corp." Without warning, the rifle spoke, "I've never seen such bravery!" Brimstone cocked a Cougaroid eyebrow and looked inconspicuously for the mute switch. Being a techno-idiot, he didn't find it.
Eager to put the visions of the past half hour behind him, Jonn gave up his seatbelt search and broke out the trio of powerbars he'd picked up off the stunned mutants. He tossed one to Lamia and to Brimstone. "Here guys, one for the road." As Brimstone snatched and stowed his and Lamia fumbled hers, Jonn tore into his own with vigor, "I sure am hungry!" He smiled at Lamia a wide Pure Strain smile complete with dimple and crow's feet just as Howard revved the gravitic engines.
"Howard Dodgers of the 23½ Century, please hurry. The Oadesta Chicken Factory is going to blow!" chirped the robot head ominously. Howard nodded grimly and punched the accelerator.
The grav-car limo rocketed over the fence with inches to spare and zoomed east for the Starport. Seconds after they sped off, Geo found T-Rex in the rear-view periscope; the warbot was already a mere glinting speck hovering over the factory. "Howard, T-Rex is leaving the compound, heading on an eastern vector. Gallus is tracking it. At this rate, it will beat us to the tunnel."
"Noth ifth I can helpth ith!" Howard exclaimed.
At that precise moment, Geo's optical circuit breakers kicked in as the periscope reflected a blinding light. Seconds later, a sonic boom rocked the grav-car. He turned to Howard and said almost cheerily, "The Oad-Ck-Factory is history. Gone pecan!" Geo then turned his chrome dome toward Leghorn, but only saw the back of his neck, festooned with his red comb, somewhat deflated. The robot decided to halt execution of his humor subroutine.
The Captain looked out his window, moving his ever-present cigar from one side of his beak to the other, blinked moistly, and exhaled a long, low <boooock>.
This page updated: Mon Jan 09 14:22:21 2006
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