Free City of Rising
Wednesday, February 22, 2051
The diner is dark and nearly silent. Mac’s half-eaten food lies untouched and unseen as everyone faces the big floor-to-ceiling windows, showing flashes of Gnox and storm as the dust-charged lightning cracks through the air. The only noise is the low rumbling of the Gnox, mixed with the sudden cracks of thunder – and something else almost lost in the general clamor. Pacoy and Wormwood are the only ones to notice it – a third low rumble, close by and almost directly below thumb, with an almost metallic tinge.
The latest flash of lightning shows the Gnox, stretched from the barrier to the horizon and easily numbering in the tens of thousands, moving past the deactivated barrier, agitated and scared. The big creatures are starting to move fast now, the lead few running with those in the rear struggling to catch up. The herd is moving randomly, but they’re sandwiched in by the storm on one side and the underground city on the other – and they’re clearly more afraid of the former than the latter.
Mac fumbles around in his jacket holster for a brief second before pulling out his flashlight and toggling it on. “Pitbull, you did order the steak – can I blame this one on you?” Mac’s grin is barely visible in the illumination from the flashlight. A stampede in the darkness – life serves up strange things in late night diners, but this one’s a first.
There’s something HERDING them out there!” Pacoy shouts, standing up and looking around frantically “We have to find safe ground!” Pitbull scrunches his face, ashing his cigarette on the diner carpet as he watches the scene unfold. “Ummm… What do we even do about them? We could shoot ‘em, but I’d need some real firepower and more AHEX than what we have.” “Herding them? Driving them into the city? You mean other than the sandstorm? And isn’t most of Rising underground? Where is going to be safe from stampeding Gnox?” Reaching into his jacket, Pacoy sends a Pinbot out to help illuminate the area, hovering close enough to provide light, but far enough away to not make the crew into targets.
Wormwood stops and uses his augmented hearing to try and isolate then identify the metallic rumble he can hear. However, although he can isolate the noise, he seems to have no Net connection at all. He yells to the others," The Net is down!" Snapping in the Night Vision and Infravision options on his optics, Wormie draws both pistols." Guys, if those things get in they could wreck our transport and we’ll never get to Omaha. We need to get down there, grab the SUV and go."
Mac nods. “Dining and dashing? Classy. Ladies, we should board our transport post haste. Shall we?” Mac uses his flashlight to illuminate the way, reveling in the black-and-white of the situation. Pitbull nods too – “Though it sucks that I can’t kill me a Gnox, I’m sure I’ll get another chance. Let’s get the double-fuck outta dodge, guys.” Pitbull growls as he flicks his cigarette in the direction of the wait station.
[8:27:30 PM] Langy: The waitress stands up at that. “Wait, what? The hell you say!” She moves to block the entrance. “No way you’re leaving here without paying! Not after dropping a $500 bill on us with your ‘order one of everything’ shit!” Wormwood interrupts her, “Oh Klono’s Blue Balls! I can hear the main doors we came in – they’re opening!” Mac looks slightly ashamed. “Miss, can you process electronic payments right now, during this emergency? With no power?” Wormie snaps, “Eris, give Jenny some jewelry or something!”
Pitbull rolls his eyes and yanks out a fistful of cred chips. The woman rolls her eyes. “They figured out payments in blackouts before you or I was born, buster. I might not be able to confirm the payment until power comes back, but I sure as shit can still charge you.” She snaps up the credit chips from Pitbull, sliding them into the battery-operated reader at her waist; their electronic tracking chips indicate the balance they held last time they were updated, and she charges the bill to the chip. Pitbull yanks out his smokes and prepares to light another one. “Ma’am, you smoke? You might as well have one if we’re goin’ to wait this ou- oh. ’Kay then.” Pitbull growls as she snatches the chips from his hand. Buster? She reaches out and grabs Pitbull’s cigarette just as she had the creds. “And if you light up in here I’ll stick this in your eye. We take our health and fire hazards seriously in Rising.” Pitbull gives her a look. Damn. There’s fire in that girl. Shame we have to leave…
Wormwood looks at Pitbull in the dark, “Hey Pits, we can’t wait it out – we have to protect the SUV and our supplies. You lead, I’m right behind you.” Mac whistles. “Well I’ll be – apparently cash ain’t that outdated. Lets go, guys and dolls – this ain’t going to get better while we wait around.” He moves to exit the building to head to the vehicle, flashlight pointed towards where he parked the Amur. As he leaves, Wormwood tosses a $100 chip to the waitress. “For your trouble.” Pacoy mutters something under his breath about Health & Hazards, Mammal Egg Omelets and Raging Stampedes. “That sounds like a good meal, Pacoy. Coming, ladies? The light’s leaving.” Mac heads towards the Amur, using his off-hand to bring the collar of his trenchcoat to cover his mouth. Pitbull turns his slab-faced mug to the waitress and gives her a wink as he stomps his bulk in the direction of the rest of the team, donning his full-faced filtration mask as he does so.
Eris nods, her hand already tossing a camera drone in front of the group, which activates just as it passes Mac. The drone moves out into the open cavern of the underground city – but she quickly realizes it was a mistake as the drone gets buffeted around by the heavy winds, at least 50 miles per hour; the drone strains in vain to maintain level flight, and succeeds for a few moments – before the dust accompanying the storm finally get into the rotor mechanism and the drone comes falling from the sky, flying out into the city like a tossed, metallic baseball. Mac drops his trenchcoat from his mouth, stumbling forward as the wind whips it about him, stinging like a thousand angry hornets. His hand reaches out for the plummeting camera and he feels it slip just out of his reach as a buffet of wind catches it. He turns back to Eris, offering an apologetic shrug. “Sorry miss. Bit windy in here, eh? Best hurry up and get to the shelter of the Amur.” He makes tracks for the SUV, trying to shelter Eris and Siri from the storm as best he can with his trenchcoat, suffering the worst of the storm without it. Seeing the raging sandstorm, Pacoy recalls his own Pinbot in frustration. Pitbull stomps down to the stairs, his face somehow even more grim than the face of the filtration mask itself as he struggles with visible effort to remain on his course.
Once outside, Wormie clambers up onto the balustrade surrounding the level on which the Donny’s sits, gathers himself, then launches into space. Diving out into the thickening dust swirling across the parking area, he tucks, rolls then swan dives – with a final flip at the end before sticking a landing on the big SUV’s roof. Coughing from the dust, he drops down and blips open the car doors with a thought, then hops inside. He sends, “I’m at the car, guys, hurry it up!” through the team net. He digs out and begins to don his filtration mask while grabbing for his Valkyrie rifle. Getting his mask on finally, Wormwood racks a round into his big rifle and gets ready to defend the van as the others make their way to it – staring out into the murk with every cybernetic sense turned up to maximum. He hits the Amur’s lights, putting them on high to cut into the darkness. It’s juts enough to see for a half-dozen yards or so before the dust swallows up the light; but just at the edge, Wormwood sees something move.
Aided by his cybernetic vision – though even that can’t cut through the dust very far – Wormwood sees a lone Gnox, fighting against the wind and dust, trying to slowly move into the relative safety of a building’s shadow; but just as he starts to think that it might not be so bad, two more Gnox come barreling into sight, moving at full speed, almost racing the wind. Popping the window to give himself a field of fire, Wormwood sends on the team net “Hurry it up, you guys, they’re here!” The dust swirls immediately into the car’s cab, filling it, and he’s glad he got his mask on.
Pitbull comms Pacoy as he gets within feet of the Amur, wrestling with the wind as he tries to focus on the comm channel. “Don’t think there is a weapon suspension mount among your tools is there, Pac?” Head bowed and arm crossed over his face, Pacoy makes a dash for the van, “Not that I can do in the storm while fleeing a stampede” he comms back while scrambling to the van. “I’m awesome, but I’m still human!” “Thought so. Worth askin’ at least.” Pitbull grumbles back to Pacoy as he clambers into the back and starts hauling the looted machine gun to the seat nearest the sunroof. The gun isn’t heavy (to Pitbull at least) but the bulk of it knocks against the walls and roof of the Amur as he hastily tries to move it.
Mac’s voice comes clear over the comm-net. “Who’s driving so Worm and Pitbull have a clean shot? You want the wheel, Pacoy, or do you want me to drive?” He ushers the ladies closer. “Almost there gals, don’t fret.” Pacoy scurries behind the wheel, letting action answer Mac.
Eris, now wearing a small filter mask over her mouth and goggles over her eyes, nods to Mac as they reach the Amur. “Thank you, Mac. Let me just suggest that we get the hell out of here before anything happens to the equipment.” Mac ushers the ladies into the car, helping them up. “Gas it, Pacoy – lets get going before those bangtails catch up with us and make us into burger patties!” He secures himself, not worrying about masking his face, letting his worry display prominently. Pacoy sets off in the van, trying for the best possible route to avoid becoming ground chuck by free-range beef.
More Gnox have begun arriving in the dust storm; at least six within visual range of the vehicle’s lights, and no doubt more elsewhere. Pacoy only gets a few feet – not even out of the parking lot – before he finds the Gnox reacting to the Amur’s movement – and not in a good way. Wormwood draws a bead on the nearest, but holds off from firing just yet. The Gnox, detecting movement and not recognizing the source as one of their own kind, begin reacting in typically Gnox-like fashion. The nearest Gnox turns on the vehicle, lowering its head as it begins to charge the Amur for a ram!
Pitbull gives a mental command to the Amur playlist, and Terrafex’s cover of Pantera’s “Fucking Hostile” starts blaring through the speakers as he pokes his head out of the Amur and sets his machinegun in a target search. Mac asks, “What’s going on, Pac?” He grabs the driver’s seat and hauls himself forward, looking towards the Gnox. “Gun it, gun it! Go, move, vaminos, gas it!” “Banal na Tae!" Pacoy curses as he floors the gas trying to outmaneuver the crazed beast.
Wormwood’s Valkyrie rifle blazes three times at the oncoming Gnox outlined in his augmented vision, hitting twice despite the wind and dust. The heavy bullets penetrate the Gnox’s hide, going deep into its midsection, ripping apart organs as through hydrostatic shock, the flesh rippling away from the bullet like a wave, blowing open a wide cavity into the beast’s side. The Gnox makes a loud groan, stepping forwards slightly before falling to the ground, unconscious and bleeding out, but still breathing.
The Amur guns forwards, maneuvering around the nearly-deceased Gnox, but that just puts it in position for two more of the big animals to notice. The Amur is now close to the exit of the parking lot, its lights shining out into the street; it is nearly covered in Gnox, a true stampede rampaging through the underground city.
“Holy crap…” breathes Wormwood. Mac swallows heavily, ignoring the dust caking his throat. “I take it there aren’t any… back roads… we could slip down?” Of all the diners in all the world, we had to stop and eat here… “Mother-fu-” Pitbull growls as he swivels his aim to the nearest Gnox, and opens fire on full auto.
Pitbull growls as rounds embed themselves in it’s thick hide, wounding it but not taking it down. The beast appears, in fact, to have only been enraged by the onslaught rather than actually hurt. Mac’s finger darts out to point to the side of the road. “There, Pac. Get this tub of bolts through there and we’ll bypass the main herd. It’ll be a tighter fit than a burlesque dancer fitting into her corset, but I wager we’ll make it with a palm to spare.” Or at least get stuck someplace the entire herd can’t get at us… Pacoy turns the wheel in his iron grip, darting down the proposed path
Pitbull adjusts his aim to the other Gnox, placing his faith in the idea that Wormwood would fell the one that Pitbull had pissed off, and unleashed another storm on the Gnox barring the Amur’s path. He hawks and spits to clear his mouth of dust as rounds impact into the Gnox, one right in the neck of it and the rest in it’s torso, but all it seems he achieved was pissing off another Gnox.
Wormwood raps of three rounds at the first Gnox, the one Pitbull hit earlier, but only one hits home. That’s enough, however, as a lucky hit brings the charging beast down in its tracks. Wormie lets out a whoop of joy. “Better luck than me today, huh brah?!” Pitbull roars at Wormwood through his mask and the sandstorm. ""I’ve trained ya’ well, right Tex?!"
With a firm grip on the wheel, Pacoy maneuvers the heavy van at the fastest pace he can manage in this weather – which is little more than a snails pace. Mac tries to disguise the panic in his voice. “Slick driving, Pacoy. Keep keepin’ ‘em down, you two! We’re almost out of this mess!” I could barely believe what I was saying. Barely out of a mess the scale of which I was having trouble comprehending. When I woke up this morning, fighting off a herd of cattle in the middle of a sandstorm was the last thing on my mind.
“Great Navigating, Ferdinand, the alley is to narrow! I’m jamming it!” Pacoy shares with the group, “We’re going to hole up for a minute!” Mac grimaces, his eyebrows furrowing before his eyes light up. “Great story – Ferdinand the Bull, you ever read it? Got my hands on a paper copy. Oddly fitting – goose it into the Alley, we’ll use the trailer to stopper the flow of the herd from getting at the Amur proper, gives us a chance to protect ourselves.”
Pitbull ducks back into the Amur and yanks up his Reaper, letting the machinegun clatter down to the floor, as he springs himself back up through the sun-roof..
The sand whirls around the Amur and several Gnox move into view, one still bleeding from the wounds Pitbull just gave it, its eyes nearly red with visible fury. Two others stand by it, all three looking like they’re preparing to charge. The first Gnox sets itself and charges the Amur, lowering its head so its big antlers and tusks are pointed right at the Amur’s driver’s side door. The tusks gore right into the Amur’s supposedly armored side, their pointy ends sticking through the door and ending about four inches above Pacoy’s lap.
The second Gnox, even bigger than the other two – and probably the biggest Gnox anyone on the Lazarus team has ever seen, standing easily nine feet tall and probably weighing in at 5,000 pounds – sets its own sights and comes tearing down the parking lot at a full charge. Two and a half tons of beast moving at a full clip, the great tusks on its head set to rip into whatever it comes into contact with. When it finally strikes, the sound is absolutely terrible, ringing out through the storm and stampede like a great clap of thunder. The Lazarus team can almost feel the impact as they watch the lightpost fall to the ground, uprooted by the great Gnox’s impact. The Gnox itself reaches down and lifts the 300-pound streetlight into the air on the tip of its tusks, holding it high like a great trophy.
Pacoy utters a curse realizing how close he came to death. Mac lets out a mighty whimper, barely heard amongst all the din. “Sweet mother of grace, that thing is an abomination! Are you okay Pac?” He pauses, letting out a weak strain of laughter. “Maybe that’s a female Gnox trying to get to know you?”
The final Gnox runs up to the Amur, bashing its shoulder into the big SUV’s side; the SUV rattles with the impact, but otherwise seems uninjured. “Probably pissed you guys were eating gen-modded mammal eggs!” Pacoy shoots back, obviously shaken. Mac grumbles. “They weren’t even cooked properly!”
Pitbull, happier with a better extension of his killing prowess in his hands, lets forth a fusillade of APHEX rounds into the Gnox that had made an attempt at spearing Pacoy. His hail of rounds flense the flesh off of the face and shoulders of the Gnox, its antlers shattering and tusks splintering in the torrential outpour from his Reaper. The Gnox’s body flops backwards and is trampled by the herd, doing little to deter their path.
On the other side of the SUV, Wormwood blasts three big rounds from his Valkyrie through the hide of the other wounded Gnox. Gouts of flesh and blood mark the impacts. The huge beast takes one step, two, then slowly collapses to the ground dying. It moos mournfully as its lifeblood pumps out into the parking lot.
As the Gnox carcasses are torn from the van, Pacoy slides the vehicle into the alley, the extra wide wagon shielding the entrance from the herd. Pitbull continues surveying for potential threats, filtration mask hiding the satisfied smile on his face. Ahhhh… shouldn’t’ve bothered with the new toy. Should’ve just stuck with the ol’ Tried and True. Mac uses the brief reprieve provided by the tight confines to wipe some of the sand from around his mouth. He tries to peer ahead after not being able to see behind. “Well this is a bit of a tight spot we’ve gotten ourselves into. Next time, can we check the weather forecast before we leave the house?” He grabs his shotgun bag and begins the process of clambering onto the roof and stepping over towards the trailer, prepared to defend his brand new motorcycle at any cost.
Wormwood grins at Pitbull, “That’s three to your one, soldier-boy!” He begins to reload as he climbs onto the trailer for a better field of fire and makes ready to protect the SUV and its cargo. “Last I counted, you got two, sucka!” Pitbull yells, in a mock-Mr. T voice.
Putting the van into park, Pacoy assess the damage, in a word, Screwed he thinks to himself as he tries to figure out a new plan. The Amur’s lights shine upon a dark, empty alley just seven and a half feet wide. The dust is swirling through the alley just as bad as elsewhere, but here, at least, there are no Gnox – at least, not yet. A small map sits next to the alley’s side, helpfully pointing out emergency exits – and showing that the alley connects to a main street that runs parallel to the one they just exited, moving on in a loop to connect with the main road near the center of the underground mesa – which will no doubt be completely filled to the brim with Gnox by the top of the hour.
As the Lazarus team begin to settle themselves up to protect the Amur and their trailer while waiting out the herd and the storm, the newest passenger tugs upon Eris’s shirt. Seranya looks up at Eris, her mechanical eye twisting and turning as it focuses, the ‘iris’ dilating. Her voice, when she speaks, includes so much fear and confusion that it almost sounds real; it’s the voice of a child, confused and scared of the world she’s just been exposed to.
“I don’t think we should have came here..”