Heroes Fail

Episode 46
The Changed

Content forthcoming.

Episode 45

Content forthcoming.

Episode 44
Put a Pin in It

Finding out who the Resistance Leader is brings out the worst in Melody’s demeanor, but she keeps her eye on the ball. Toby. Russell explains…

Some time ago, the Mad King set himself up at Magnolia Plantation. Inside the building, he’s got a machine that has, in the past, housed other former Powers for a few days before they died. He’s been holding Toby in the container for weeks — the boy is still alive. As to how they came there, they just “appeared” on the beach one day. Ryan is being told regularly that Toby is “very useful and a great savior of the people.” He’s allowed into the room with the machine around once a week to see Toby.

  • From back story, we know that the Gadgetmaster was a builder-genius (Powered? Uncertain. Likely not, given his hatred of Powers.) The machine that Toby is being kept in, Langston believes, is a Power-drain machine.)

The King himself encourages people to live in small groups. People who work for him get the benefits of electricity and he makes sure there’s food for all from the USDA labs housed in Charleston. If he gets upset, especially by former Powers, he’s quick to kill.

After the briefing, we ask for the room. Ang asks if Langston is still looking for stuff to save his own life. Of course he is. Toby! So Ang pokes a little. You don’t want the resources available here, you just want the kid. Langston evades like mad — he just wants to retrieve Toby. Really doesn’t care a lot about the tech, it appears. And the reason Ang is pushing? She wants to stay here and do what she said they were here for — take down the Gadgetmaster and help get Charleston up and running on its own two feet. She says flat out, “I’m tired of not being a hero anymore.” Other people argue that we’ve already built a whole community at Refuge Point, and we should go home.

Langston is in if we can broker a deal for tech. He’s mildly annoyed that the group has no intention of KILLING the Mad King, merely turn him over to the Resistance for them to punish as they see fit.

Meanwhile, while all this talk is happening, Maddy is perusing the papers on the walls. “Project Omelas” is listed and there are people moving pieces of a device. Natalie remembers and shares that “omelas” is a literary reference to Ursula K. Leguin’s book wherein the population was willing to imprison a child in a dungeon so that everyone else in the populace has Utopia.

That’s not flying. Heroes are now all-in. We spend four days working out the details.

The afternoon before the assault, Natalie suddenly has a spell of OMGHORRIFYINGLYBAD! She literally collapses, taking a knee in the middle of walking somewhere. She’s having a panic attack and //starving to death//. Or at least, she’s able to identify that it’s desperate hunger. So… she eats. And then feels better. They hold off telling Langston just for now — there are bigger things to worry about.

That same night, Maddy has a wild dream wherein she’s inside a box. She sees Tinker’s face coming clear. Then he’s IN the box! He’s trying to communicate, but there’s major interference. Maddy tries touching the bubble-box — it’s soft — the face fades back scene shows a devastated landscape, ugly and blasted. It’s not familiar to Maddy. She taps the bubble, and suddenly there’s a roar in the distance, the bubble smothers her, and she bolts awake.

It’s a rough night for all concerned.

Plan: Rescue Toby. Use expertise gained in Refuge Point to help Charleston get on its feet WITHOUT the electricity, which is being powered by a machine that KILLS people. We’re going to jury-rig an EMP and take all of the machines out. Non-lethally, if possible, take down the Mad King. Taking away the power source also has the added benefit of removing the crazy people’s ability to use those NewTech weapons they had out there on the perimeter. Also a back-up plan to disable the tech.

Points: Mad King travels twice a week to factory in the north part of “controlled” territory near the airport. Might be vulnerable then. Parts get moved between plantation and factory by small cars. Drones patrol the plantation. Russell’s people come up with a full floorplan of the plantation itself. Resistance will help us — they have people and small arms to help with the assault on the plantation. Landscape and guard schedules and other assorted things are discussed until a basic plan comes together. And since our plans never really survive first contact with the enemy ANYWAY, we head out for a dawn assault.

It’s a straight shot in the rear door of the plantation once the Resistance members are engaging all outdoor guards. Mel is kinda freaking by now. Several people try to kick down the door and fail — the baby does NOT like what Nat just did. Maddy works on trying to get in while Mel heads for the room Ryan supposedly uses. Maddy breaks the lock, and just as Mel and Ryan start talking through the locked door of his room, the Mad King shows up. He shoots at Mel with a shotgun as Ryan tries and fails to break down his door from the inside.

Ang yells, “Stand down, Hugo!” to the Gadgetmaster. While she and Langston try to talk him down, Maddy and Nat head back to Toby’s door to get in. Melody manages to get Ryan’s door opens and the couple has a slightly awkward reunion. Very a la “The Incredibles”

Natalie and Maddy make it into Toby’s room, where he’s definitely hooked into that machine. Hugo gives up and hands Ryan the shotgun. Toby’s machine has resisted the EMP and it CAN be used as a life support device, so Maddy works on it and they leave Toby inside it because Toby is locked so far down within himself that right now, he is unreachable. But possibly healing time will help him. Now that he’s not drained anymore. Ang turns Hugo over to Russell and his Resistance fighters.

Maddy in the downtime asks if anyone recognizes the blasted landscape she saw. No one does. The roar in the dream continues to niggle at her all this time, though, and she suddenly places it — DINOSAUR.

Episode 43
Road Trip to Charleston

Picking up in media res, the gang is on the road to fetch Ryan and Toby from Charleston.

Judging by how far the group was able to travel the first day in our VERY uncomfortable Scooby Mobile, we estimate that we’re going to need to resupply en route. The weather outside of St. Louis seems normal for the season, and the group does stick to actual paved roads when they can — though Mother Nature is doing her best to reclaim all of it.

Langston (and thereby Natalie too) is in AGONY on the trip. It’s not comfortable.

Many people who do travel the roads are wary of other travelers. It’s rather like the Wild West out in the great prairie. But we offer information trades with anyone willing to share. A couple along the way give us the intel that the northeast, near Maine, is their origin and they’re not in a great situation up there. Might want to avoid it. DEFINITELY avoid DC for a great many reasons. Most of the communities we pass through or near are small, 15-20 people mid-sized towns. We avoid the cities. Travel is uneventful for the first day and a half, but coming down I-24 the big bridge that crosses the Ohio River is gone.

Ang spots a couple of people with weapons flanking our vehicle and reverses the car fast to put some distance. A man steps into the road and holds up a hand, calling “Friendlies!” We take the chance of letting us approach, he tells us where we can go around to cross the river up on Rt 45. Ang wants to know what they want in trade for maybe some fresh food, and he tells them he could be convinced to even trade guns for that. (He’s not so smart)

We tell him we’re from St. Louis, and there’s recognition. Someone in the encampment he’s from wants to meet up with us, ask for Wayne. It’s the Casino Guys! They’ve made themselves a little enclave here at the river. Cool! We head off to the camp, following the trails that are reasonably kept up. It’s clear it’s not their permanent set-up, this is a forward camp. We recognize Wayne, who seems happy to see us, and he takes us to Geetha! She’s a fantastic surprise for us.

The camp has fresh food and meat. They give us the rundown on how they fought off some other people to keep the land, and it’s good land. They’re doing pretty well here. They give us the lay of the roads from here too — 45 is pretty clear, but a plane crash some miles down left wreckage on the road, so be careful. And the reports on things down Rt 24 have also been clear. A lot of people who travel West seem to be insisting that EVERYONE needs to go to Nashville but doesn’t say why. The group kind of figures on staying the hell OUT of Nashville, cuz that’s kinda creepy. We also learn that Phoebe came through this way but didn’t stay.

Travel continues onward. It’s a slow drive, but there are many vehicles, so fuel is obtainable. Just over the Tennessee state line near Clarksville, about 4pm in the afternoon, we chance upon a caravan. Modern-day gypsies, they seem to be. We stop there for a bit because Mel is curious and Maddy wants to see their solar panels. Three VERY beautiful women appear to be the bosses. These women run on and on at the mouth about the Parthenon and the Memory Station in Nashville, finally explaining to the travelers what is so cool about the place. She also tells us AVOID Charleston, cuz crazily aggressive people guard the outskirts. Rumor is that he has electricity, but that’s only rumor because once people enter, they don’t seem to come back out.

Maddy spends a lot of time looking at radio bits and pieces and is finally sent to talk to Mikayla – it appears the girl had been some form of technopath before everything. Or maybe just a genius. But she makes a new friend.

The group decides that since Nashville is already on their path and it seems way less creepy than before, they’re going to stop at the Memorial Wall. Langston grips a lot, but whatever. When doesn’t he? There are a LOT of collared dogs in the area, and an older black woman calls herself the Keeper. It FEELS like a place of reverence… the group is silent as they go in, looking at the messages and pictures left behind by people who pass through.

  • Ang sees a giant sign “Powers: We Forgive You”
  • Melody: Wandering around, she finds a note addressed to someone named Langston: “Langston, are you still alive? Still human? She wants to meet. Look where we got married. 8-23-21”
  • Maddy leaves behind a note with a small lightbulb.
  • Jared leaves something private for someone.
  • Melody leaves a note that says: “I’m so sorry. —Enigma”

Several more days on the road from Nashville to SC is slow going, but smooth. The group is forced to go around Lake Marion, and we start running our own radio replies when we think we’re in range of Charleston. As we reach the outskirts of the town, we see what looks to be a fox hunt in a field near the road… only the men on horses aren’t chasing fox or deer. They’re chasing down a man, who seems a little familiar to Ang but at this distance, who can really tell?

In typical Guardians fashion, we SWOOSH in there in the Scooby Mobile and make a daring rescue with our crazy pilot at the wheel. The chasers are definitely crazy — horses, ATVs, on foot, they’re calling the man they’re chasing DINNER. They also fire on us with something that looks like NewTech weaponry that for certain they should NOT have! We escape in true heroic fashion (hanging out the doors, driving like lunatics, shooting back when we can).

Oscar is hurt but nothing life-threatening. And as we get him settled, it’s realized that he is the husband of El Toro, one of the secondary Guardians. Ang and Jared both know the man from poker nights! He fills us in on the Mad King, the tyrant of Charleston — turns out that it’s the Gadgetmaster, a pain in the ass from the old days. He’s also seen Ryan — he was brought in a few weeks ago after washing up on the beach, along with Toby. Toby is being kept, apparently, in what sounds like a power suppression chamber, and Ryan gets to visit but obviously he’s not going to just leave the boy there. He talks to us about the Resistance… and is facepalming to realize he has to go back into Charleston if he wants to stay with us. Which he does seem to. So back into fray we go…

The Resistance contacts us via the radio, as we finally broadcast somewhere they can hear, and they lead us in to the north end of Charleston. We have to leave the van, there are drones that will spot it. We stash it in a warehouse there and head for a street address we’re given. Oscar explains that the reason he was running was because something tweaked the Mad King about him — the man is MAD. He has arbitrary favorites and then when you’re not one of them, he will punish or kill you. The machine Toby is in is apparently a BATTERY machine that kills the formerly Powered individual put into it… but Toby’s lasted a really long time, so he’s going to be very well protected even though Gadgetmaster hates Powers.

We meet up with our contact at the address, and for the first time since D-Day, the words are uttered: “We are the Guardians. We’re here to take down the Mad King.”

We are taken to the the residences of the Resistance, which are connected by underground tunnels. They’re well-organized. But we get there to find that the leader of this Resistance is none other than INSIGHT, Melody’s former archnemesis. Whose name is Russell Price.

Dun, dun Duuuuuuuun!!

Episode 42
At what cost freedom?

As our intrepid heroes pick back up their new season….

Melody and Maddy are observing the trucks that are supposed to be carrying away the people who want to leave Refuge Point. They are noticing distinct separations among former known Powers and the others. Natalie and Jared are on their way out the West Entrance to meet up with Dr. Nona, who is going to remove the tracker in Jared’s body thus allowing the couple to escape into the wild. Langston is faced off with Mercator, offering the General a bargain — or so he believes. And Ang is in her room attempting to head off a wild explosion of her overload.

Epic Fail on that last one.

Ang’s power shakes the entire structure and a device on Mercator’s belt tells him that it’s an active Power. This changes everything. Langston thinks fast and tells Mercator that he’s created something that will reactivate Powers, and he’ll give it to the General if Mercator will agree to leave everyone except Langston here. He does let slip that there is “more than one Omega-level Power here” and implies they are controlled Powers that could make things very hard for Mercator. He specifically threatens Mercator with the idea that he needs to leave EVERYONE here or deal with those Omega-level threats.

Nat and Jared are stopped by a guard at the west door who knows “Col. Norris.” He wants to know why the two are heading out. Natalie loses it a little bit just after the earthquake happens, trying first to play it off that it’s a freaking EARTHQUAKE and we need to be outside and THEN needling the young guard. Neither works. And ultimately the lie is told that they are going outside and around to the front where the trucks are. And the guard follows them for a good way. Once he finally leaves them alone, Nat and Jared have to regroup and alter their intended plans.

Melody and Maddy approach the trucks and Mel asks permission to talk to a former Power who’s planning to leave. Although she tries to convince the woman this is a bad plan, it doesn’t go well at all. Karen, who has been jealous of the fact that there have been at least SOME powers reactivated, shouts at Melody about how maybe the government will reactivate her! She wants that. Melody simply leaves.

Following the discharge of her overload, Ang heads out of her room and goes looking for Mercator. Guards are jogging through the corridors, trying to follow a signal on a detector that apparently can only trace ACTIVE power in use, not just Powered individuals. Which doesn’t work now because Ang’s not actively using it anymore. So that’s a good thing. Ang approaches the General and promises to help — the General doesn’t seem to believe Ang had anything to do with the earthquake, which is an even better thing. He’s probably thinking it was a terrakinetic or something. But his tenor has changed dramatically from the gentler, more conciliatory tone he originally had and Ang notes it.

MEANWHILE, in the radio room — DJ, who monitors short-wave communications and radio waves a lot, happens upon a broadcast during the earthquake. A honeyed female DJ voice is calling out what sounds to be a repeating message. <<andy,>> DJ himself has the presence of mind to jot the message down and goes looking for Ang or another of the former Guardians.

When Ang reads the message, which contains the old Guardians code “High Time” — a code that means a Guardian has been taken hostage — Ang is thoughtful. She asks if DJ has been monitoring the military bands locally since Mercator arrived. DJ has indeed been doing so and reports about chatter of Wyoming (not Montana) and special preparations being made. Also heard Natalie might have pissed off the West Entrance’s guard.

Given the changes in plans, the Guardians begin to pull together at Langston’s lab, where Langston retreated after the earthquake. ANg arrives first. He’s destroying EVERYTHING. All his files, his data, even his samples. There is nothing left. Luckily because it’s all in his own brain, he only loses about 15 percent of the data files. And he apologizes to Ang, which floors the young woman.
Ang: You just apologized for something you made!
Langston: No, I apologized for not telling you about the trackers I made. They weren’t relevant.

As they discuss the transmission from Charleston, Langston thinks it doesn’t matter if it’s a trap, we have to go. Ang learns about the deal Langston intended to broker, and Langston explains that he was leading the wolves away. He needs better equipment anyway — he is literally dying, which he’s told no one. Altering his own plans now might draw too much attention, but if he leads them away it will allow the rest of the Guardians to go after Ryan and Toby while he searches for a cure.

By now, the rest of the group has assembled. They learn about Ryan and Toby, and Melody is all for GTFO of here RIGHT NAOW!!! Obviously. While the team discusses Langston’s plan and tries to sort out how the hell they’re going to rescue him when they’re done rescuing Ryan and Toby, Melody helps Langston destroy all the drives with info on them. The knock at Langston’s lab door heralds the entrance Mercator, some guards, and the government scientists. Langston drops the last drive into a bucket of acid(?) as they come through the door. At which point, Langston confronts Mercator about being the reason that all the craziness happened — it comes out that all the research that Mercator was having done was unsanctioned. It looks like Mercator is going to bow to Langston’s power play.

As they are all herded toward the trucks by the guards, though, Mercator speaks to LAngston privately about the extinction problem. Langston loudly confronts him about telling the truth about shit. And Mercator is forced to explain about the Wyoming base and the Montana base, explaining that one is a completely non-Powered facility because it’s a smoother transition. A lot of people are still mad, obviously, at what former Powers did. Langston points out that by going to the Powered facility, people are agreeing to be part of reactivation research projects. Langston himself outs a lot of the previous projects, including the fact that he’s helped inject stuff into water supplies over the years to encourage more activation in the civilian populace.

Even the Guardians are floored by this — unwittingly they were doing WHAT????

The mob is silent and then there’s abject furor. A lot of people are suddenly NOT going to Montana or Wyoming, and the plane’s engines spin up. From inside that plane comes a massive burst of wind, which is then stopped — it answers where the hell Elena has been this whole time! Ang confronts Mercator with the fact that Elena was NOT a volunteer and Mercator gives a song and dance about her being a threat to them on approach — she’s clearly uncontrolled and a danger to the community, so she is going to Thunder Basin.

Mercator also confides to Ang that they know about the block to the powers and how it’s stopping the powers from working, and this needs to be removed or the human race WILL die out. Something about that virus and the block it caused is the reason that pregnancy is not attainable. So he is NOT releasing Elena. Maddy joins Ang and tries to punch the general, but Ang holds her back. Eric takes off running toward the plane, attempting to rescue Elena, but Melody cuts him off. He has SAUNDRA. That cannot fall into Mercator’s hands. Elena is deemed… regretfully by all concerned… a loss they must take if they’re going to save everyone else.

Later that night, amid a LOT of anger and talk about what’s happened in the populace, Ang deals with Langston’s revelations in front of the Council. Ang tells them about the message and about Ryan, and since Mercator coming back is a very real threat as well, we’re asking to go ahead and go after Ryan. It also serves the purpose of getting them out of Refuge Point until things calm down.

Langston and Melody talk long into the night. Jared’s tracker is removed. And Nat and Jared have a conversation about why he thought the research and such was all right… in which it comes out that not only had JARED known but RYAN knew as well. That’s to be dealt with another time, really.

Episode 41
I'll Tell Ya in Montana

Date: Feb 5 (Ep. 40 ended around Dec 20)

On Jan 30, solar panels were finally put in place and lo and behold they appear to WORK!! Electricity is not ubiquitous – priorities for usage are set in place. But we need batteries to store the power and the suggestion is made that Saundra may be willing. As of today -

  • Toby has not been heard from.
  • Food situation is better due to the Peace Accord with the Cult of Odin.
  • Weather-wise, it has been warming up just a little. Remnants of snow on the ground, mainly just a couple of inches except in the shade, where great piles still rest where the snow was shoved to clear space.
  • Maddy works on creating a battery that can store Ang’s excess power. She and Eric are doing okay, relationship-wise. Eric is growing into his role.
  • Langston is still attempting to do his research, as much as he can. Melody continues to help him.
  • Natalie is far, far more tired than she should be at this early stage of her pregnancy (she’s just at the 16-ish week [4 months] mark). She’s still managing to hide it from all but the team. She and Jared are both struggling a little learning to deal with an empathic link that occasionally causes surges of emotion between the two.
  • Ang – I had no report on what Ang had been working on at this time.

Between the need for batteries for Ang that Maddy wants to build and the need for batteries that the solar panels can store power in, a decision is made that a trip to Guardians Tower to visit Saundra is in order. The team plus Eric and Jared head out on this expedition. Saundra welcomes their presence and is willing to negotiate for batteries in return for things she wants. Group’s goals are:

  • Mel wants to see if anything is left of the Vault and her apartment.
  • Langston would like to look at the lab for more useful science things now that we do have electricity to run them!
  • Ang tells Saundra about the Treaty with Odin and Mjoltivir (however you spell that with the Norse spelling, I’m using this one!!) in the Botanical Garden. She has a massive map of St. Louis and the communities in it, and she makes note of the negotiated boundaries between Refuge Point and the Garden. Saundra wants to know more about Mjoltivir and wants to send an entity to engage in conversation and perhaps a treaty.
  • Natalie takes a nap. The hike was more than she could handle physically. She is still far more slender than she should be right now, too easily tired. Even the extra food resources and rations don’t seem to be helping much.

Saundra agrees to hand over 8 storage batteries. In return, she’d like Maddy’s time for 6 months. Eric is astounded. He’s willing to take 3 months of that time for Maddy, so they’re splitting it. Saundra tells them “New arrivals are flying soon” and to deal with those first and do not expose her.

Buh…. WHAT???

Aircraft sounds to us like VTOL, and Maddy activates the radio to Refuge Point to let them know there are aerial incoming. Circle the wagons. When Jared, who is sitting with Natalie, hears this over the comms, he immediately radios back with “From what directions.” When Maddy tells him, Natalie goes vaguely green and murmurs, “Mercator.” Jared’s reply is an F-bomb of epic proportions. And it suddenly occurs to Natalie to ask Saundra… is there a signal leaving the building?? It turns out that yes. Jared is lo-jacked. There’s a portable blocker that will now travel with us at all times. Speculation is that they COULD be coming now because Jared’s powers reactivated – they may be doing more than GPS monitoring of him – but the more likely explanation is simple GPS. He seems genuinely to have been unaware of the transmitter. During this time, the “Thunder Basin, Wyoming” information pops into Maddy’s head again from when the original radio that Jared carried to Refuge Point was being inspected.

The group gets moving. They hide the supplies as well as possible en route. Approaching Refuge Point, other people can be seen in the streets as the result of the sound of incoming aircraft. It’s a sound no one has heard in more than two years.

The motorcycle guys send an enjoy to check in with us as well. Ang talks with them and asks them to batten down their hatches — we’ll share info when we have it. The aircraft lands and the sound of large vehicles comes from the direction of their landing site, not too far from Refuge Point (across the street to the north). Soldiers await us when we get all the way there. “President” Mercator wants to see us. Personnel are bringing supplies into Refuge Point, etc. Ang, Eric, and Jared head for what passes for Council chambers (one of the stores in the mall). Langston and Melody head for the lab.

15-20 well-armed soldiers join us in the Council chambers. According to Ida, they’ve come to make that offer of supplies and whatnot (originally brought by Jared and refused by Refuge Point) again, in person. President seems unwilling to accept a “no” answer. Jared is called a bit on the carpet but makes clear that he’s standing with Refuge Point and abiding by their decision, though he’s not Council. Mercator tells Ang, sort of steamrolling her, that he wants to get everyone back to “U.S. Government life.” He’s too friendly, in her opinion. She goes to join the group in the lab while Jared is pulled aside for a private conversation with Mercator.

For three days, there are many interactions between the military and Refuge Point people. The population is very split, just as they were about the original offer when Jared arrived – some want what the government offers. Some view it as suspect, while others see it as stability. Nona is asked to learn all she can from the military group about the nanobot virus. Jared talks to Melody and Natalie – Mercator has ordered him back to the base.

Ang doesn’t want to be seen as a threat. She offers herself up to President Mercator to help sort through the people in the community. She sees cooperation as a way to keep Refuge Point alive – mainly trying not to make members here seem like more trouble than they’re worth. After all, they could decide just to exterminate us. Superior firepower and all.

When Maddy asks Ang what she should do… Ang replies “decide what you want. Stay or go. Then go convince other people.” Placate, de-escalate, appear harmless until they leave. Ang plays her role as a leader – she will do what’s best for the community and conveys that to Mercator. She says she thinks he’s honestly interested in the well-being of this community – it’s the largest one they’ve ever found post-D-Day. But he’s also interested in teasing out who the former Powers are (the ones he doesn’t already know about). Ang keeps Toby’s existence very quiet, and Natalie’s pregnancy is also being hidden very specifically.

Nona is worried about Elana, because she’s been outed. Mel searches for Elana, but she’s either in hiding or is missing (due to being taken?) Nona also offers to remove Jared’s tracer – the scan at the Tower revealed its location.

Langston talks to Mercator and offers a deal – Take Langston only. He’ll give some info to Mercator that will be well worth the loss of numbers of people. Mercator considers the offer. And then Langston offers, “I have info on an active Omega-level Power.” He also tells Mercator that he really wants to go — the lack of his power and the effects of the nanobots are killing him. He has a vested interest in figuring the situation out. Mercator appears to take this bargain and sets Ang to the duty of telling the population of Refuge Point they cannot come.

Melody, however, has been watching people get on trucks to go… Known Powers who wanted to leave are being loaded into one truck while everyone else is going into another. She and Maddy are quite disturbed.

Natalie and Jared have talked it over, and they’ve decided to take Nona’s offer to deactivate the tracer… they’re going to disappear. Something about Mercator and his goon squad isn’t sitting right with either of them, and their child is the only (so far as they know) viable pregnancy that has happened since D-Day. They are in the process of sneaking off the grounds to meet Nona at a place where they can then disappear into the region around St. Louis along, but a military guard on the West Door spots them. “Colonel Norris?”

Ang’s headache is blinding by this point. She manages to hide the building power and slip away. She’s getting the discharge machine Maddy built for her ready to use to get rid of some of the energy in her body, but she’s worried that she’s built up too much. She grabs the hilts, attached to the machine, and she was right – it’s too much. Her power is literally shunted right through the machine into the ground itself as she tries to ‘ground’ the power so it can’t hurt anyone. It causes an earthquake under Refuge Point.

The view pans across lines of people to the Council chambers, where Mercator is talking. Something on his belt starts to beep even as the earthquake rolls through. “This changes things…”

—End Season 2.

Episode 40
Peace Treaty with Odin and the Cult

Minor backscene — Natalie visits Ang about her power explosion out there in the snow, and Ang tells her what she already knows. She needs to see Langston. sigh So off she goes, in QUITE the mood, to stick her arm in Langston’s face and tell him to take her blood. She cannot look at Melody in the eye — she recounts for Langston what happened out there, and he makes thoughtful noises a lot. Melody tries to get Natalie to look at her, telling her that they will not lose their friendship, but Nat is clearly feeling very very insecure about that, as well as worried about what this explosion of power will do not only to the child she carries but to Refuge Point too. There’s a bit of chatter between Langston, Melody, and Natalie about that part – and Natalie does send Jared to go get his blood extracted by the resident vampire too.

A Science Montage happens. Langston is doing work on the protein marker previously noted in Ang’s blood, and he also notes it in Natalie’s blood. Still uncertain of exactly the link here, but there clearly is one. And whereas in Ang’s case when her power blew out and created the earthquake, the markers dropped very low… the indicators here are that whatever explosion happened with Natalie, EITHER she just carries more of the markers in her blood regularly OR … well, that massive blast she let off wasn’t the strongest she could have managed. Which is a concern as time goes on — if she’s overloaded in this way, she could prove dangerous to Refuge Point.

With the cultists’ arrival the next day, the plan is already in place for the group to travel aboveground (for a variety of reasons) to the Botanical Garden. There’s about 18 inches of snow on the ground, which makes travel hard but not impossible for everyone but Langston. A travois has to be fashioned — Maddy makes it look similar to an Eskimo sledge. During the course of the day and a half of travel time, the group does learn a little more from Calder. The cult’s attention, like Refuge Point’s, has turned from mere survival at this point to growth. To LIVING instead of existing. Calder has seen Odin in person, and we ascertain that it is NOT Franklin — so Ang warns the Cult about Franklin and the possible dangers he brings. We learn that in fact the people DO communicate directly with the tree through those vines about their neck and jacked into their heads. Langston engages them in a lot of conversation, and we find out that they consider themselves “better specimens” of humans — then no longer need medications. Plants, along the travel path, are not flourishing in the snow, but they are also not dying out the way we’d expect. As the group approaches the location of what we had thought was the World Tree, some of the travelers break off to stay there and we are told that although it is still a revered locale, it is not what they originally thought it was, so it is not quite as sacred a space.

When the group arrives to the botanical gardens, it is to see Mjoltivir (spelling?), the giant tree, is some 40 meters tall. This was not here before D-Day for certain. One of the primary features of the Botanical Gardens was the Climatron, a geodesic dome building that housed the tropical plants. Mjoltivir appears to be similar to a banyan tree, hollow at the center with massive vines that surround the dome. As we enter, we can see a man dangling far above at the center of the tree, facing down into the dome. Inside, the dome is still intact and there is obviously come kind of generator. The tropical plants are still growing. People dressed in jumpsuits walk around, giving the impression of “staff” from before D-Day, perhaps. They are definitely a little off — free will seems to be … missing?

When the group meets with the tree… it shapes itself into forms that we perceive as the Norn. It’s clear that the guy hanging up there has a worldview that is seriously impacting the tree-being. It speaks to us with a whispery kind of voice in the wind, with a telepathic component so that we can hear the words it speaks. It reiterates to us that yes, those connected to it are of a kind of hive mind, but that they cannot bring in the unwilling. It cannot be forced on anyone. And the level of free will each person retains is entirely up to them. Langston informs the tree that we wish to remain distinct persons in our own right, but we all do want to talk alliance. The tree agrees that as long as an accord doesn’t unreasonably restrict its growth, it is more than happy to have a relationship. Langston and Maddy volunteer to merge with the tree for a show of good faith — and what the tree learns from them is perhaps significant. Their worldviews on people are not exactly the norm, after all.

Through this merge, we learn that the Cult is some 400-500 people strong. That it is building a neural network, something that was speculated before and is very similar to Sandra’s intentions. It is just trying to “become.” We learn that the tree understands there is SOME kind of difference in the people it has connected with, but it’s only just barely beginning to understand the basics of the genetic differences — this could, in fact, be useful later. It doesn’t have enough knowledge right now to be helpful to us, but it learned some things from Langston. We also learn about the man suspended in the tree — he is the reason the tree is now sentient, and it knows that. It also knows that he is… completely insane. We have the conversation about that, and the tree definitely does not seem to have the intention of letting the man ever get down or be in charge of things. The symbiotic relationship works for them both because the man suspended there doesn’t want to give up the power and knowledge that the merge gives him either. We are able to hammer out the beginnings of a treaty, with resources as part of the initial agreement and boundaries defined and the understanding that some things over time will obviously be renegotiated as necessary. We may be willing to loan people in return for food, etc.

Seekers in the Snow
Wolf comes home, but it's not without surprises.

She slept for a long time. 8 weeks into this pregnancy, Natalie is learning some things that no one can really prepare you for — they tell you you’re going to feel tired. They don’t tell you that you’re going to be so tired that literally all you really WANT to do is curl up and sleep all the damn time. Even now, Natalie feels drained and weary, though how much of that is just being pregnant and how much of is that her healing power is constantly running and food is short is really anyone’s guess. She’s not skimping, taking the protein bars being shoved at her at every turn by everyone on the team and by Jared, but even with that going on, she is still feeling lightheaded at times and exhausted constantly. It’s not something she’s advertising — her family cannot give up much more than they already do or THEY won’t be getting enough to eat.

That’s a worry for another day. Today’s worry is to see if she can locate Wolf before he spots Cult members heading toward Refuge Point and kills them. If she can. Trudging through the snow outside, Natalie makes her way toward the old den near the arch where she first met Wolf. It’s slow going, and she glances sideways at Jared as they go. “I’m not sure how feral he’s going to be, if we can even find him. But … I need you to trust me and not intervene unless you absolutely have to.”

Jared nodded. “I trust you, Nat.” Suppressing his innate need to protect the mother of his child wouldn’t be easy, but Nat had been taking care of herself long before he came around. He’d be happier if he understood the relationship between Wolf and Natalie or even exactly what or who Wolf was these days. From what he understood, the two of them had a strange, complicated friendship to start with. Now with Wolf gone feral and the Cult referring to him as Fenrir, Jared felt like he didn’t have any idea what was going to happen. And he hated being unprepared.

Even before her empathy had kicked in at the levels she now… well, enjoyed was not quite the right word. But even before they worked the way they currently worked, she would have known that he was irked. Now with her sense of him so completely ingrained and as natural to her as breathing, Natalie couldn’t help the faint grin she quirked in the cold, bright sunshine. Slanting him another look, she shook her head in amusement. “You know… I don’t think I ever quite realized just how much of a control freak you are. You hide it really well.”

“Would you say that I keep it…” he paused for dramatic effect, “under control?” Jared smirked at Natalie a little bit before answering her seriously. “I don’t know if I’d call myself a freak, but I admit to prefer driving the car over sitting in the back seat.” These days, of course, the car was flaming and barreling out of control down a narrow mountain path, but that didn’t change where he wanted to be sitting while it happened.

He looked up at the Arch, glistening with ice in the cold winter air. “I don’t suppose you could at least tell me what your plan is?”

She chuckled at his pun, but was more serious when answering the question. “I would if I had one,” she confessed somewhat ruefully. “All I can do right now with him is follow my instincts and trust his.” Natalie paused, remembering back to her first meeting with Wolf. Knowing what she knows of him now, so much back then makes more sense than it used to.

“I didn’t know when we first met — which was in the FEMA offices, by the way — that he wasn’t human-born,” she told him as they trudged. The Arch was actually very beautiful. “But looking back, I’ve always sort of instinctively acted with pack dynamics in mind. Mrs. was alpha female. But she’s gone. Wolf’s pack was small – just Mrs., me, and to some degree the others on the team and in Refuge Point. I’m not sure that I’ll be able to find him. I’m not 100 percent sure that the pack dynamics will hold since he’s gone lone wolf on us. But when we lost Mrs., I read up as much as I could on wolf packs so I could at least try to help him in the ways he would understand and respond best to.I’m hoping that submission and scent — especially pregnant scent — will bring him far enough back to human to hear me.”

The green of Gateway Park was now covered in snow but it looked to Jared’s eyes that at least the river hadn’t frozen. They would know they were in deep shit if that happened. That gleaming white surface made it easier to see contrasting colors, which is probably the only reason he saw anything in the first place. Even that wasn’t much, just an impression of something gray and brown to their right, a little beyond the pond on the right side of the park. Unlike the river, the pond had frozen over, but it wasn’t likely to be solid enough to cross. They’d have to walk around. He pointed in the general direction of where he had seen him. “I hope you’re right, Nat, because I think I saw him over that way.”

Natalie stopped walking, her eyes shifting in the direction Jared pointed, and she pursed her lips. Then putting her two fingers in her mouth, she cut loose with the loud whistle that groups would use for search and rescue — which was something Wolf had also heard before. And then she called out for him. “Wolf! I need you… if you can hear me, it’s important!”

There was a long silence, nothing but the sound of the wind blowing tufts of loose snow off the ground. Enough time passed that it didn’t look like there was going to be a response. But then at the edge of their vision, Wolf appeared on the other side of the pond. His clothes were rags, what little were left. Wrapped around his upper body was the hide of some animal that neither Natalie or Jared could make out at distance.The sun glinted off a blade of considerable length that he held in his right hand.

“Natalie?” Wolf called out, his voice sounding rusty from disuse, much like he had sounded when Natalie first encountered him. Of course, then, he had never used it before. His voice sounded fragile, like even the single call of her name had cost him pain.

Pulling in a slow breath, Natalie didn’t hesitate to start moving toward the man…. No. The wolf in man’s form. “Yes!” she called back. There were many things she wanted to say, but fewer words were always necessary when dealing with Wolf, and quite honestly, at this moment Natalie wasn’t entirely sure how much he would understand or whether she can even explain what’s happening. Rehearsing how to say what she’d come to say the whole way here still hadn’t prepared her for the sight of Wolf gone nearly entirely feral.

She murmured to Jared as she walked, “He was willing to trust you when he met you. Just don’t startle him, okay?”

Jared just whispered in return, “This is your show, Nat. Just here for if things go sideways.”

There was another long silence as Wolf seemed to take in the response. Then he started trotting at a brisk pace around the north side of the pond. Eventually, he came within about 100 feet before coming to a halt. Now that he was closer, both Natalie and Jared could see how the wild had overtaken him. His beard was a long scraggly white, mixed with scraps of plants and dirt (and was that blood?). He didn’t look like he had bathed in forever and there was a wildness in his eyes, as they shot from point to point quickly. He stood there without making a sound, his attention solely focused on Natalie.

It made her heart ache to see him like this. Natalie had always tried to walk the fine line between treating him as human and not forgetting that he was more wolf than man. Now she held her position for a long moment when he stopped, allowing him the time to test the air between them. Then she moved forward to breach the distance. She didn’t stop until she was within two arm lengths of him, dropping her eyes and shifting her body slightly into a pose that one might take when asking permission to approach. “I need you to do something… that I don’t know if you’ll want to do. But I have to ask it.”

Wolf didn’t protest or make any effort to keep her away as she approached. His breath formed heavy mist in the winter air as he stood silently in front of her, waiting for her to ask.

When he didn’t retreat, Natalie looked up to meet his eyes. “If you’re still hunting down the Cult members, I need you to stop for the next several sunrises. Their pack has had a change in leadership. They want to make peace between their people and ours.”

“Why?” It wasn’t clear exactly what Wolf was asking about and he didn’t seem inclined to clarify. Words hadn’t tumbled from his mouth in mass quantities before the death of Mrs. Wolf, but now each one seemingly had to be pried from him.

Deep pain still bubbled below Wolf’s placid demeanor.

She didn’t stop meeting his gaze, and she moved just enough closer to put herself within reach of him. His pain was a constant rub on her senses and she hurt for him. “Why do they want peace?” Nat asked him quietly, making sure she understands what it is he wishes to know.

“No, Natalie,” he said, his deep voice craggy with pain. “Whyyyyyy?” The last vowel stretched out into a howl as his head tilted up to the sky, a cry out to the world about the unfairness of everything, an asking for an explanation of the unexplainable. As he called out, Natalie was overwhelmed by the sheer depth of the suffering, still as fresh as the moment as when it happened.

Oh. Oh!

Dear God, she had a moment to think as his anguish roared over her. His grief was so raw and her defenses against emotions still so precarious that Natalie couldn’t fend them off. In that instant of crushing pain, she had no ability to fight back and simply crumpled where she stood.

She had no way of knowing how long she might have been blacked out, but when she began to come around, it was with tears streaming down her face before she was even fully aware. “Wolf!” It wasn’t the shout that she might have intended… more a groan or entreaty.

Jared had never done anything in his life as hard as not rushing forward instantly to protect Natalie. In the moment, he felt almost as feral as Wolf looked, a man reverting to the basic instinct to protect what was important. But he managed to restrain himself, to take only the two, slow, cautious steps closer to where Natalie lay in the snow. She’s not physically hurt, he reminded himself. She’s strong and can handle this. If you rush in, Wolf may react and you’ll be sitting in the middle of a true cluster.

And his decision seemed justified. Wolf had made no threatening moves, just crouched down next to Natalie. Jared could see Wolf saying something to her, but he couldn’t quite hear what it was. It’s her show, he reminded himself. Jared just hoped that she could deal with that level of emotion.

As Natalie started to recover, she could hear the low growl of Wolf’s voice, not a whisper as much as an inability to say what needed to be said out loud where the world could hear. “Live…no. Die…no. Help?” The last word came out almost plaintive, a request from someone not used to asking for them.

She wasn’t fully conscious yet, acting entirely on instinct when she reached up and wrapped her arms around Wolf. Natalie’s power has always worked on her instincts to help those who hurt, and when her arms came up it was obvious what was about to happen. The soft golden glow flared to life around the two. But Jared was too far away to stop it.

Much as she did for Ang, Natalie reached instinctively for the source of pain — it didn’t matter to her power that it was emotional instead of physical. The person in her arms was in agony and it could not continue. But something unexpected happened at the same time. Nat’s eyes flew open and she stared blindly at the frigid blue sky. She gasped, her body arching off the wet snowpack beneath her, and her power did something she’s never felt… it shifts in her body. She doesn’t take Wolf’s pain into herself; instead, she could feel it passing through her and down a golden strand of… something. And into the person on the far end.

Jared only had a few seconds to think about he should have been closer, how he knew this was going to happen before Nat activated. But then he felt what she felt, all of Wolf’s pain, the incredible grief weighing on him like a boulder attached to his heart… the rage that was bubbling over, uncontainable and uncontrollable. And something else, something that he hadn’t felt in years. Oh god, she was healing his ability…she was going to turn his fucking power back on!

He shouted at her, “Nat, shut it down! Shut it down now!” But what good would that do? Once she started like this, there was no stopping it, even if she was capable of listening. She wasn’t doing it consciously. The emotional pain kept ramping up, driving him deeper into panic. He could feel that sensation in the back of his head, that twisty, tangling tingling that meant he was connecting to someone else’s mind. He did not want that back. He couldn’t have it back. It would destroy everything that he had gained since Destruction Day. And in a moment of panic and rage, with the power laced in his voice, he roared, “_*STOP!*_”

Where her power had sought him out to keep both her and the child her body harbors safe, his voice brought her fully back to consciousness and forced her to find another way. Natalie’s power shunted into something forceful, physically shoving Wolf from her embrace. She sucked in a breath, shocked at and disoriented, and her scream echoed across the frozen pond as she responded to the order.

Lying there on the wet snow, gasping for breath with wide eyes, Natalie could feel…. What the fuck was her power doing? The glowing golden aura was literally blazing around her, and she could feel… well. She could feel all the emotions that she did siphon off of Wolf; they were still there… but somehow …. Being released instead of drowning her? For now? Natalie had no idea whether that would hold for long and she gasped, “Jared… get him! Both of you…” She rolled to her side with some difficulty to climb to her feet and tried to put distance between herself and both men, watching them worriedly. “Are you okay?”

Jared felt the pain seep out of him. He could feel his own emotions again, not buried under the weight of what Wolf had been feeling. Mostly at the moment, those emotions were panic over what was happening with Natalie. And…relief? That back of the head sensation was gone…really gone. Maybe she hadn’t turned him back on after all.

He took a deep breath and took account of the situation. Wolf was lying prone near the pond’s edge, heaving with giant sobs. But more importantly, Natalie was still fucking glowing, although the intensity was starting to tamp down. But only, he thought, because she’s bloody well doing something impossible. The glow was crackling around her and dissipating into the ground, like electricity sparking off a wire. Had she turned raw emotional energy into actual REAL energy? They would never be able to tell Langston — he’d never let her out of the damn lab. Maybe, he convinced himself, it was just a display, an end result of an unusual situation. That had to be it.

Jared walked over to Nat carefully. “Are you okay,” he asked, “and what the fuck just happened?”

Standing, barely, bent double with her hands braced on her thighs, Natalie looked up at him. “Not … exactly sure,” she admitted between gasps. She felt sick to her stomach and shaky — she’d hit her limit and she knew it. It was obvious in her expression even as she glanced at Wolf. “I can… still feel it, but…. I think he’ll start to recover now.”

As she pushed herself fully upright, she wavered some and braced herself on his arm in an automatic movement. If nothing else, it was clear that she was not afraid of him and whatever he had done in the midst of the giant cluster they’d just been at the epicenter of. “I don’t think I feel so good, though. Can we sit?” She gestured toward Wolf. “I’d like to be able to touch him — I won’t activate again.” She was pretty sure she couldn’t even if she wanted to.

He just nodded and helped her walk over toward where Wolf had been knocked to by the force of Natalie’s ability. As they slowly walked over, he commented, “I thought you were immune.” He should have known that nothing seemed to remain the same these days.

After lowering herself to sit next to the sobbing man where she can stroke his head as she’s often done when he grieved before he left Refuge Point, Natalie was quiet for a long few minutes. When she looked up at Jared, her regret was so deep that she could barely speak past the lump in her throat and she couldn’t stop the tears that trickled from her eyes. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to reactivate your powers. I know you didn’t want them back.”

“I don’t think they are, Nat,” he said, a stunned but happy half smile on his face. He knew it wasn’t right to feel happy after the craziness that had just occurred. But he did. “I think I somehow short circuited it.”

Natalie looked confused. “I don’t understand,” she murmured as she continued to stroke Wolf’s matted hair and his shoulders firmly, offering him the only comfort she could as she struggled to make sense of what just happened. “I felt your power. I literally couldn’t disobey you when you told me to stop. And I … honestly can’t believe I didn’t just burn out my brain.”

Jared didn’t know what he believed, but he was indeed happy Natalie hadn’t burned out her brain… or hurt their baby. He tried to explain what happened. “They were on briefly, and then they went away, like your power didn’t have time to finish the job.”

Nodding slowly, Natalie considered what he thought happened. Pulling in a slow breath, she said softly, “Let’s hope that’s the case.” She wasn’t sure she could live with herself if she activated everyone … especially those who don’t want their abilities back.

Wolf’s wracking sobs were breaking her heart and she asked Jared softly, “Can you get the space blanket out of my pack? He’s going to freeze laying here like this, but I don’t think he’s ready to travel yet.” When she finally met Jared’s eyes again, she offered him a watery smile. “And if you don’t mind terribly… I really could use something to eat out of there, too. And a nap. A long one. But I think that part might have to wait.”

“Of course,” he said to all of it. “I won’t be too long.” But he also sensed that she and Wolf needed a couple of moments. He hoped that she could help him get through this. Jared could imagine himself being like that if Natalie died. Especially if he felt like he was at fault. So he understood.

It was one of the things that had drawn Natalie to Jared when they were simply friends — his ability not just to weigh the situation in front of him but to have compassion for the people they helped that was sincere. When he walked the small distance back to where their bags had been set as Wolf approached them, Natalie shifted to lay so that her body curved around Wolf’s shoulders and she could wrap her arms tightly around him. Never mind that she was soaking wet — her thermals would hold up a little longer. Please, God, don’t let me ruin the progress now. Wolf desperately needed bathing and the odor was turning her stomach.

There were no words that would soothe his grief, but she whispered in his ear, “You are not alone. I swear to you. You will be okay.” She wondered if perhaps once they got back Charlie might be able to reach him better than she can — Wolf had always liked the other man. And Charlie to this day missed his wife; Natalie had learned much about her in the nights that she spent with Charlie. If Wolf let him, Charlie’s ability to truly understand might help Wolf heal too. “Your pack still needs you. I need you, my friend. And my cub will need you, too.”

“Cub?” Where everything else seemed to slide past him, that word seemed to stick. “Natalie has cub?”

“Soon,” Natalie told him with a faint, teary smile. “In the spring.” She wasn’t sure if Wolf and Mrs. had ever had cubs before the world went crazy. But his pack ties were strong, and she’d hoped that perhaps something like a new addition might give him new hope for the future too. “Will you come home? The den needs Wolf… and I think perhaps Wolf needs the den, too.”

“Wolf still sad,” he explained, putting a world of emotion into three words. “But Wolf wants to feel happy again now. Wolf will come home.” He wiped some tears from his eyes, like he was surprised to see them there.

“Sadness heals slowly,” Natalie agreed. Her sense of his pain was muted, though she couldn’t tell if that was because her power levels were low or because he really didn’t hurt so much anymore. “Happy takes time.” She moved slowly, hugging him tightly and then drawing away. “Having you home makes me happy. Come on. My mate has some warmer clothing for you. Let’s go home.”

Episode 39
Paradigm Shift

—Picking up where we left off, Ang has just gone blind.

A voice from the dark says, “Don’t move. Bowmen are trained on you.” Ang uses old Guardians code for specific Defensive Positions, and the team instinctively moves to comply. Everyone can hear the person speaking, but what’s happening back where they stand isn’t clear to anyone. Some lights come on, and Langston can tell something is wrong. He and Natalie realize at about the same time that Ang is blind, and Langston begins to move forward to flank Ang.

The adversaries LOOK like the Cult of Memory and Thought, but we’ve never encountered them in a way that wasn’t violent before. Ang comments dryly, “You have got to be the blondest, blue-eyed motherf—er ever to be with these guys.” The speaker/leader chuckled and agreed — although he points out that nowadays you don’t HAVE to be blond. They can fix that for you. He sets about attempting to recruit Ang (after using the word coinkydink, which totally threw the Guardians). Ang engages them in conversation and it comes about that they are recruiting because they need to grow their numbers, and Ang rather cattily baits, “Oh, you haven’t had any babies? Because we’re having kids.” It brings the leader’s attention more fully on the group, because he does answer that although they’ve been trying real hard, it hasn’t happened for them yet. Ang proposes an alliance.

The leader steps away to “consult” and that’s when some of the party notices that the vines that have been coating the walls are also wrapped around the cultists… and they look like the vines are jacked into the base of their brains. The leader comes back and says that the All-Father is interested in meeting with us. apparently the vine offers instant communication with Odin. A messenger will come to Refuge Point in two days. Ang also negotiates with them about the stash we’ve come to retrieve — we’ll take all that we can carry and the cultists can have the rest. They agree.

To try to keep her blindness a secret, Ang takes Langston’s hand and turns to walk back to the crevice saying, “Okay, honey, let’s go.” Langston goes “Huh??” But the cultists don’t seem to tweak onto the situation. As they make their way through the crevice, Natalie is able to coach Ang’s steps into the large cave and down the narrow path to the stash of supplies…. but Langston loses his balance and falls. Melody tries to catch him and misses. Both land at the bottom of the path, some 20 feet, and break bones.

Natalie plans on splinting them both, but the cultists offer help and explains that his link to the All-Father, the vines, should allow him to visualize the injury and heal it. Langston acts as a guinea pig, and the vine around the leader’s arm wraps itself around Langston’s arm. It takes about 10 minutes, but the slow warmth climbs through his arm and by the time it’s over, he’s healed. He feels a strangeness in his body, similar to when he first made the change to giant ape, something deep inside.

While this is going on, Ang (directing), Natalie, and Maddy are packing as much of the gear as they can manage. Natalie keeps an eye on this healing, and she is reasonably sure it’s the vine itself doing the healing; the man is just a conduit. But it’s nebulous. When it appears to be safe and works, Melody also agrees to be healed. She’s fascinated by the vines. By the time the healing is done, Melody is perfectly capable of helping finish the packing. Ultimately the group takes home about 40% of the cache — a lot of medicines and food.

Traveling home, the group stays below ground for a long while, but they choose to use steam tunnels and sewer tunnels a bit farther on so as not to lead the cultists (potentially) to the basement of Refuge Point. It’s a much longer trip back, and they take watches so that everyone gets a little sleep. Melody plays Whack-A-Vole during her watch and we’ll have some skewered vole for dinner at some point. The next day, the last part of the journey is made above-ground. In the daylight, Ang’s eyes are able to recharge (albeit a bit slowly because it’s cloudy) and she can finally see again.

They arrive home and Langston immediately requests the council’s attention. Natalie drops off her supplies to Dr. No to let her inventory them. A couple hours later, the council convenes to hear about what happened. Much speculation occurs and someone remembers that Toby mentioned to us a half-man, half-plant person up in the Botanical Gardens. So now we think we have a clue who Odin might be.

Everyone (maybe not Langston?) finally heads off to get some serious sleep. Melody spends the next day studying the samples she took from the tunnels — learns that the seed pods appear to have been engineered to do exactly what they’re doing, and they’re kind of an evolutionary dead end. Natalie sleeps for a long time and then she and Jared go late that afternoon to return with a very scruffy, smelly Wolf in tow.

The messengers are due the following day (Dec 13). Calder, the same man from the tunnels, leads them. Natalie asks at one point why the cultists had this change of heart about how to deal with us, and they said Odin had finally hung from the tree and gained wisdom — so we’re thinking SOMETHING has shifted up there. But we shall see….

Episode 38
Spelunking in the Steam Tunnels

Dec 9, after All Systems Go and Marry in Haste

There is some brief discussion early that morning because the earthquake was definitely felt by everyone. Later in the day, when everyone is awake and sober and done fooling around, Ang asks everyone to join her at her quarters. As everyone enters, her recovered armor is in a prominent place. Natalie notices that the team leader is no longer in the high level of pain that has become the norm for her. Nonchalantly, Ang tells the group that she had this idea while she was drunk — to put on her armor and use it to perhaps alleviate the the power build-up in her body. And well… it DID do that. But it didn’t work like it used to. The earthquake was her power discharging in ways it has never done before and at levels it’s never been at.

Maddy inspects the armor and notes that it has built-in safeguards to prevent exactly that kind of explosion and the mechanisms are intact. It should have prevented it, but it didn’t. She might be able to tweak it to help lessen or ease the effect, focus it, something. Langston, of course, immediately wants blood samples. Drags Ang and Melody off to the lab. He notes an “element” in Ang’s blood — a protein marker or amino acid or something along those lines. Pre-D-Day it was there, so that’s not unusual, but according to all records, it was a LOT lower than it has been recently. The last blood test showed it very very high. Today’s shows it back down to much lower levels. Speculation on the possibilities include that it could be a waste byproduct of Ang’s Power and therefore normal for her to have in her blood and that it’s the physiological cause of the migraines (so there may be some kind of herb that we can work with to mitigate the levels so she’s not hurting so much).

While that’s happening, Eric comes looking for the group. Natalie takes the opportunity before the group gathers for him (it’s going to take them a little longer than she thought) and asks him his intentions for Maddy — because he’s coming across to her like a snake-oil salesman, and Maddy doesn’t deserve it if he’s going to be a jerk. And warns him that he better be sincere, or else she’ll do what’s necessary to protect her family. Melody wanders in at that point and catches the last of it, and she kind of has her say as well. Eric’s in the hot seat.

Once the group is able to gather in Eric’s office, he tells them that he wants to send them out on an Expedition. City View Apartments, just down the way, had a survival nut for a landlord. That’s where Eric’s been getting his stash. The earthquake last night has him alarmed that the secret room where the gear is stored — and the CAVE SYSTEM that it’s connected to under Market Street — could be in danger of collapse. So he wants the stash retrieved. These caves, he reveals, are extensive and do connect to the maintenance tunnels under Refuge Point (which means Defense needs to know about them; they are a strategic weakness). The small cache that Eric found and has already moved included some encoded noted and cases of supplies, and he knows of caches in other caves as well. Food, weapons, etc. He knows of two specific ones — one north and one south near the park. Refuge Point is already facing some shortages and this will help.

Those who’ve been in St. Louis are familiar with some of the caves. Lempe Cave/English Cave. There had always been suspicion that an entrance to this was under Benton Park or in a building on Wyoming St. On their visit to FEMA, Natalie had the forethought to grab all the maps that might be useful for use to know — mainly subway, steam, and sewer tunnel maps — and now these maps of the St. Louis underground are going to come in handy. They find a route that shaves off some of the distance.

It’s cold and snowy outside, and the group rounds up what winter gear they can manage. In the caves, there is general fungal growth on the walls, and heavy vine growth as the group moves west. There are cobblestones in strange places as they come across some places in the catacombs where new city was built atop old city or graveyards. Ang leads the way, making a path and using a communication system that everyone knows. It was very quiet for a good while but ahead in the tunnel, there was a really high-pitched sound. Nat initially sort of squeaks the word BATS, but it’s actually birds — Swiftlets. They come streaming through the tunnel like a horde of bats, though, and people fall all over themselves. Mel and Nat manage to keep their feet (they were near the back of the group). And a huge mole comes out of the darkness behind the birds. Langston manages to avoid the attack but is still stuck on the ground because it’s so hard for him to get up. It has something gross and bioluminscent covering it.

Mel fights it with a machete and chops hell out of it. Ang checks on whether it’s alone then does a pincer move with Maddy to flank Melody in the hopes that they can take it down faster together. No go. They get in one another’s way. But eventually it is in fact hacked to pulp. And the group moves on — Travel Montage!

They reach a point where the tunnel splits. The plant growth on the walls to the west looks strange and super creepy. It’s a T-intersection, but it’s not completely blocked… however the vines … blink. They have eyes. The long space behind the vines has some kind of luminescence on the walls. It’s kind of bright. Melody shines a light on the vines from about 6 feet away, and the pod that she illuminates bursts with a loud POP! It causes a chain reaction of popping pods, and seeds — not spores — are released into the air along with a loud keening sound. The group hightails it EAST very quickly, away from the seeds and vines.

Finally reaching where they believe the cave to be, they pause just outside the small tunnel that leads into it. In the quiet moment, Langston hears sound from behind the group and is reasonably certain it’s a voice. Ang stops the group and takes point, defensive positions. Langston sidles into the cave opening; the cache is still there. It’s a fairly large cave, too. Defensible of uncertain stability. The cache is on the path that appears to lead out, on the other side of a 60-70 foot depression in the ground.

Natalie slips backward with Langston. Ang coordinates the troops and then shifts to her night-vision — which flickers and dies. Just before she goes completely blind, Ang spots people from the Cult of Memory and Thought coming toward them in the darkness — wrapped in vines??



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