I-80, 10 Miles Outside Lincoln, NE
60 Miles from Downtown Omaha
Perimeter of the Omaha Exclusion Zone
Sunday, February 26, 2051
The Sam Elliot sits parked on a hill overlooking a small valley below. At the top of the hill is posted a single, solitary yellow sign with a trefoil emblazoned in red upon it. To the north and south, several of these signs can be seen, placed a few hundred feet apart; the only remaining signs that this is the official edge of the Omaha Exclusion Zone.
A few miles from here lies the first of several craters from the nuclear strike that shattered the Militia Wars and finalized the splintering of a nation. The warheads, with forces measured in the megatons, struck over a dozen times across a zone only a hundred and fifty miles wide, the result of two MIRV-capable nuclear missiles with only a small, concentrated target.
The background radiation isn’t too much higher here, but that will change quite swiftly further in towards the blast zones. More than that, the automated defenses surrounding the Offut Air Force Base are said to be still in operation and both willing and able to destroy anyone foolish enough to pass.
“Wow, finally here guys, one hell of a road-trip. This place looks kind of like Pits bedroom.” Pacoy says, taking in the scenery.Mac lets out a low whistle. “This place… it doesn’t even look like it holds answers, anymore. It looks like it holds… nothing…” “Well, Ladies and Gentlemen and Androids of Mysterious Origins, I think it’s getting close to Radiation Suit time.” Pacoy says, noticing the increasing frequency of the warnings.
Wormwood slots the last 10mm bullet into his spare Rifle magazine, completing refilling both the magazines he carries, and peers ahead with his optical augments turned all the way up. “I guess we should suit up, guys. Pacoy, can you rig a platform under the roof hatch for me so Mac doesn’t have to hold me up? I may not be a lot of use at exploring so I might be better on overwatch with Isolde here.” he pats his Valkyrie rifle fondly. Eris sits at the computer station that she appears to have claimed in the APC. She’s quietly speaking on her implant radio – probably the last time she’ll be able to make a report back to DreamCorp HQ before they come back out. After a few minutes, she turns back to the group. “Yeah. We’re almost there – now we just have to cross the rubicon.”
Mac looks towards Pacoy. “We have enough suits, right? I mean, after the fire?” “We have 4 suits, Mac, I didn’t plan on Eris or Siri…” Pacoy sounds a little worried about how Mac will take the news. Pitbull edges the APC up to a point, before coming to a halt. “Well dudes, this is about the point of no return. Any of us not willing to trek through this, speak now or we grind through.” Pitbull growls, hitting off of his cigarette with some vigor. “Don’t be daft, Pits, we’ve come all this way. Pass me my suit.” Wormie replies.
Mac winces. “Eris, you can take mine. As much as I’m still coming to grips with myself, I’d hate to see a lady like you end up like a Ruskie commissar on a nuclear sub.” Eris pats Mac’s hand. “Don’t worry about me – I packed my own supplies. My suit’s stashed on my bike.” He crosses his fingers in his pocket. “Besides, those suits would cramp my style.” “Hey, any of you science nuts know how long it takes for radiation to wear off of an area?” Pitbull growls, debating on pushing the engine even further or walking there. Mac looks up at Pitbull. “You might want to suit up, cowboy. I don’t think it’s been THAT long for the radiation to have worn off.” He then looks towards Siri. “What about you, sis? Are you going to be okay in the radiation?” “That was just curiosity. Someone pass me one up here. Still curious on that though.” Pitbull growls as he unbuckles his harness. Siri shrugs, her voice taking an almost professorial tone. “I should be pretty OK, so long as we aren’t hit by a huge dose all at once. Robots aren’t as affected by radiation as humans.”
Wormwood tries to put his suit onto his splinted legs for a while, then says gloomily, “Can someone gimme a hand getting this thing up to my ass? I can’t reach properly.” Pulling together some of the spare parts and scrap metal, along with the majority of an unused crew seat, Pacoy manages to put up a surprisingly comfortable as well as stable platform under the hatch. Seat installed, Pacoy fumbles with his own suit. “I think Mac pulled ‘Worm Ass Duty’ this roadtrip.” Mac grumbles something under his breath in Russian, clearly directed at Pacoy, as he goes to help his crippled friend. Wormie, still struggling to put on his suit, says “A couple thousand years, Pits….Sonnovabitch!…oh, thanks Mac. The help is appreciated, my friend.”
Eris looks around the cabin, making eye contact with everyone one at a time. “Alright. If any of you want to say anything to anyone back home, you’ve got to do it now. My satcom is up at the moment, but the only satellite over Nebraska right now is one we specially tasked to this expedition, and it’s going to be taken out of service permanently in a few minutes.” Wormie looks up. “Tell Emmy I love her with all my heart and soul, and I may not be able to come home right away but I’ll be home somehow eventually.” Mac also looks over at Eris. “Just see if you can get a courier to one Ms. Borokov of Tears in Rain that I miss her and wish she was here.” He looks at the rest of team. “Not really, but it’s sort of an inside thing. And Eris – you haven’t… said anything, yet, have you?” With a solemn nod, Pacoy uploads a vidmail call back to Lazarus HQ. Looking back at the group, he nods again, “It’s on a time delay, If we’re not out by Sunday, It’ll send a message to my lo.. my grandmother, and another, concerning Lazarus, to a cousin back at the shop. Just in case.”
Pitbull steps back into the APC and snags up his Rad Suit. He tries to zip up and fit his trench coated form under his Rad Suit, but quickly found that he wouldn’t be able to squeeze it in. “Shit. That’s protection I need to leave behind.” He grumbles as he yanks off and throws his armoured trench coat over his seat. Mac looks at Pitbull. “Why not just wear it over, yeah? And we’ll be back by Sunday, no fuss, Pacoy.” “Better safe than Sorry, Mac, I haven’t a Sunday phonecall in years.” Pacoy answers “Just, you know, in case.” Eris shakes her head to Mac. “We haven’t released anything from this trip yet; everything we uncover is going to be aired in a single special, maybe with some follow-up pieces.”
Pitbull looks up at Eris, about to say he has no one beyond the people in this vehicle, but then remembers the engraved bullet in pocket. He yanks it out and tosses it to Eris. “On that bullet is the information of Annabelle. Tell her that if I make it out of this radiated helll-hole alive, that I’m taking her out on a dinner. For starters.” Pitbull says, not in his characteristic low growl, but in a clear, serious baritone.
Once everyone is in their environment suit, Wormie pulls himself up into his new chair – with a bit of a push from Mac – and pops the hatch. He levels his sniper rifle over the front of their APC and steps the gain up on the optical feed from the sight to his own HUD. "Let’s see what’s out there, shall we?’
Mac grins at Pitbull before turning to Eris. “I hope you understand that… well, someone in my situation has a bit of… interest in making sure that the news of… what I am… being handled delicately. I fear that the news may not be… beneficial to myself.” Mac finishes tugging his radsuit on over his clothing and looks forlornly at his hat. “I’d be more than happy to make a deal with you for… a sensitive treatment of the information you have already.” He looks up at Wormwood. “Lets go find something nobody’s seen before, right pal?” Eris smiles to Pitbull. “Alright; if we meet our untimely deaths, or at least we don’t come back out before the window closes on the sixth, those messages’ll be broadcast, along with as much of the story as we could get out.”
She looks around the group one last time, then pushes a button at her computer station. “OK, boys – after we pass that line, our wireless comms will be jammed, and as far as I know there’s nothing we can do about that. Let’s hope everything works according to plan, yeah?” She shakes her head as Wormwood pops open the APC, stepping out to go to her bike and her own rad suit. Under her voice, she mutters that she hopes the boffins were right about the window.
Pacoy clicks his teeth, about to complain on the fact that it’s highly likely his biggest assets, the bots, will be useless in this communication blackout, but remembers the mixed company and holds his tongue. Wow… I hope…better cross that bridge when we get there Pacoy thinks to himself. Mac looks around the APC. “Say, where did we put the Geiger counter? You know, click-click-click? That seems like the kind of thing we should have at the ready.”
Eris pops open a side panel on her bike, pulling out a fashionably-stylish, though still highly functional radiation suit. Sleek black, with a clear faceplate that looks to be able to polarize on demand, the suit has a number of pockets and other rigging, giving it an almost tactical look, but it’s obviously not heavy armor. Facing away from the boys, she quickly and unselfconsciously removes her boots, then divests herself of her outer garments. For a moment, she stands there starkers from the waist up, but the view is spoiled mere seconds later when she covers herself up with the radiation suit’s jacket. She bends over, and after a moment the tight black pants slide up her legs – and as she bends over, she tilts her head to the side to see behind her and winks at Wormwood, sitting there two dozen feet away up on the top of the APC. Wormie winks back and palms up the nanobug he filmed her on.
Mac, having turned around when she began to disrobe, looks at Wormwood and rolls his eyes. “See anything on the road ahead there Pitbull?” Wormwood finishes a quick quartering survey of the landscape and calls down, “Nothing out there but sick trees, Mac. let’s roll this wagon for the target.” Mac grimaces. “Hate sick trees. You decent, Eris? I’m anxious to get a move on and get some answers.”
Eris steps back into the APC, nodding to Mac through her full-face helmet. “I’m covered, doll.” She sits back down at her console, which is now displaying a countdown – one and a half minutes and dropping. “You should stay up there just a while longer, Randall. You might enjoy the show; look to the north-east.” “The name’s Wormwood, and what am I looking for?” Wormie scans the indicated direction. Eris smiles; the countdown turns red as the numbers head below 10 seconds. “Look up. You’ve got flash protectors on those augmented eyes, right?” “Yep” Wormie responds, scanning the sky.
At Eris’ words, Mac flashes back to his previous bout of blindness, as he hunkers down in the APC and screws his eyes shut and covers them with his hands. “I’ll watch the vid later, Worm. I’m not going blind again. No thank you.” “No worries, Mac – watch my feed, it’ll show you without blinding you.” Wormie matches actions to words and dumps his visual field to the team’s datanet. Mac peeks an eye open to scan the feed.
As the clock hits ‘zero’, nothing quite happens – or at least, it doesn’t seem to, at least for a moment. And then, the furies seem to light the afternoon sky. It’s like Thor has been using his hammer to drum ‘Wipeout’ upon the Earth’s very roof. A manic display of lightning criss-crossing the sky, brighter than any lightning Wormwood has ever seen. The majority of the lightning stays high up in the air, but a few small strokes come falling down to land somewhere north-east of the APC’s position.
The light is blinding – and the effect on the wireless communications systems just as damning. As the lightning stretches across the sky, the video feed from Wormwood’s eye-cameras simply cuts out, replaced with nothing but static.
Pitbull looks confused as he grumbles. “What the hell was- oh yeah. Comm-jamming. Saw that only a few times in Mexico.” “Fuck, I hope that shit can’t go horizontal!” Wormie yells. “Guys, did the datanet just fail on us?” Mac attempts a subvocal comm up to Wormwood, then shakes his head when no response. “And I saw heaven opened, and behold the white lightning, striking down with his furious might. Dead in the water, Worm. Looks like it’s scrubbed everything but passing notes.” Cursing, Wormie shouts down into the APC, “Mac, hand me the fibrer-optic out of my bag. I’ve no wireless handshake with my rifle any more.”
Pacoy does a quick check of a Pinbot, then nods and re-stows it, “As I thought, Bots are functional, but no communication. Dog-Brain only.” Mac scrounges through Wormwood’s bag, pausing only briefly to call back, “There’s nothing in here that’s going to scar me for life mentally, right?” He blindly fishes around for the cable, retreiving it and handing it up to his friend. “Dog-Brain? They can play fetch?” Pitbull frowns, then remembers that he is always jacked into his Reaper, so he worried for nothing.
Eris smiles at Pitbull. “Somewhat similar to what you’ve seen in Mexico, probably. But much larger-scale. That, my friends, was the locksmith opening up our window. That comms satellite that was made to support this little project? That was the Offutt defense array neutralizing it, with a little feedback pulse from the satellite amplifying it a bit. It should knock out the defense array’s various parts from being able to communicate wirelessly, too, at least until it self-repairs in a week or so. That’ll leave it mostly blind – which is where we come in. We just gotta follow in on the back of that pulse.”
Wormwood plugs the cable into the stock of his rifle, then into a socket just under his hair at the back of his neck and sighs in relief as the rifle’s data flows to his brain again. “Better. But we better get moving then, right Eris?” Mac nods. “Don’t want to get caught out with our pants down. As my Granddad always used to say, opportunity only knocks once, so get your ass up and answer the door!”
Eris nods to Wormwood. “Yep. Time to get moving; we’ll want to go around Offutt first and head into downtown Omaha. There should be a tunnel leading from the capitol building to Offut’s VIP bunker; I really recommend going that back way rather than going right up to the door. Offutt itself will be the first place to get repaired, and some systems are probably wired in to the defense array.” Wormie grins, “Truckers Ho, Pits! Second star to the right and straight on till morning!” Pitbull fires the APC up again and immediately jars the hulk into motion, heading for his best guess of Omaha.
Wormie calls out to Eris, “Wanna give Nana some directions, Wendy?” Mac giggles to himself, sitting back and flipping his hat repeatedly before setting it on Siri’s head. “You can take my trenchcoat if you’d like, Kiddo. More use to you than me right now. You shout if you think you can use this suit better than I, y’hear?” Eris sighs, then pops into the driver’s compartment, sitting in the passenger seat. She reaches into her bag, still strapped around her chest even in the tactical-gear rad suit, and plops a flimsy on the dash. She powers it up, and it shows a map of the region – a very rough map of the region, anyways. Looks like it was based on data from 2038, before the bombs dropped. She places an old-fashioned compass right next to it.
Mac grins. “Knew I liked this girl for a reason.” Eris grins in return to Mac, before turning back to Pitbull. “You know how to navigate with these, right? No GPS pre-computed anything for us now. The old Offutt defense system had emplacements around the normal approaches to Omaha – the highway running through Lincoln, for example – as well as around the missile launch sites, which are peppered all over the countryside here. We’ll probably want to avoid the actual bomb craters too, when we can – but we don’t have any data on where the bombs all fell, so we’ll have to wing that, and sometimes we might not be able to. In short, I’d recommend a zig-zag course; follow the roads around Lincoln, then cross-country a few dozen miles, avoiding any silos and craters we can, before entering Omaha from the west. We’ll probably encounter part of the defense grid in Omaha proper or maybe before it; then we get to the capitol building or the crater where it used to be and get access to the tunnel in its basement.”
“Ya Eris. Got this shit. Land Navigation was one of the first skills you learn for Mexico. Get lost out there, and you’d be lucky just to die of starvation.” Pitbull growls as he puffs off of his cigarette again, after retrieving it from his ashtray. Mac rolls his eyes. “If you’re in Mexico, you’re lucky if you die, Pitbull. I can’t imagine what it’s like down there.” “True in most of Mexico, Mac. There were some rest holes there that were just war-tired areas of refugees. Some of them were actually rebuilding themselves well.” Mac grins. “Bet you still can’t drink the water, though!” “Oh hell no, Mac. The reason why just about everything over there is made with Jalepeno is so that it would kill the parasites in the water.” Pitbull says as he urges the APC onwards to the location on the map.
After thirty minutes of careful driving on the back roads around Lincoln and two hours drive cross-country in a twisty fashion going roughly northward, the APC breaks through some overhanging foliage to a somewhat startling sight; a giant grater at the center of a clearing in the forest. Seemingly growing out of the side of the crater is a metal tube, perhaps fifty meters long, with all sorts of greebles growing out of it. Next to the face of the crater the tube is growing out of are several box-like concrete structures, connected together by tubes.
Wormwood bangs on the roof of the APC, “Woah, Pits! What in the name of Klono’s privates is that thing?” Mac gawks out the front viewport. “That… is a… what is that? That doesn’t look friendly by half.” “Back it up, Pits, let’s go around.” Wormie suggests “This is what happens when you let art majors play with engineering toys!” Pacoy says, looking at the odd structure. Pitbull’s eyes grow wide as he sees the turret emplacement. “Yeah, let’s try that.” Pitbull growls as he backs up the vehicle from the path to turn it around.
As the APC begins to turn, a door seems to open in one of the concrete bunkers dotting the crater; a figure steps out, moving slowly away from the structure in the direction of the APC. Mac blinks. “Wait, there are people out here, still?”
Wormwood, seeing the movement, immediately sights his rifle on it. What he sees in the feed from his rifle scope stops him cold, however. The figure looks identical to… “It’s Mac.” He breathes. To be more specific, it has Mac’s face, but is wearing different clothing – looks like a shirt, jacket, and pants in rather subdued colors. Nothing particularly notable. On its back is what’s very obviously a military-style rifle. Mac looks up at Wormwood. “Is Mac what? Just ask, dammit, I’m right here. What’s going on?” Pitbull is not quite getting what he’s hearing. “Why’d Mac get out while I was turning this fucker around? He should know better! This fucking place could eat him for all we damn well know!” “…family reunion time…” Pacoy mutters to himself.
Wormie stammers, “Mac…it’s your double! Over there, the guy with the rifle just coming outa that door.” Mac blinks. “A double? This I’ve got to see. Can you get us closer, Pitbull?” “Do you think he saw us? Should I shout?” Wormwood asks, hesitantly. Mac looks around him. “Kind of hard to miss this ugly thing in the middle of nowhere. And he’s coming this way. Might as well wave. Are the rads safe enough to step outside?” “This ugly thing?” Pacoy asks"That’s no way to talk about your double!" Mac grins. “Ouch, Pacoy. Ouch.”
Wormie calls out, “Hey buddy! You over there! Stop! We only want to talk!” The Mac-Imposter stops for a moment, head tilted to the side as it listens to Wormwood. Then, it immediately drops to a crouch and raises its rifle, moving in a highly fluid motion – not unlike that of Mac himself.
Wormie, seeing the figure move, yells again. “I’ve got you covered. Lower your weapon or I’ll fire!” as he aims. Mac curses and begins struggling with his Rad-hood, trying to get it off. “You’re not going to shoot me, are you, Worm? I can go talk to me, maybe find out what’s going on out here!”
The faux-Mac fires his weapon, striking Wormwood right in the chest. The heavy bullet penetrates his anti-radiation suit almost like it isn’t even there, and the bullet continues through and out the other side. Slammed back by the enemy shot, Wormwood refelxively squeezes his own trigger, and the superior rifle he wields plus sheer determination puts a single round of his three-round burst into his assailant, who drops like a stone. Wormwood immediately slides off his chair, down into the belly of the APC, bleeding profusely.
”Worm, get down from there, I just patched you up! Can’t you stay saved for a full week?” Pacoy cries, “Get inside and Pit’ll run it over, I have it on good authority that Mac doesn’t deal well with blunt force trauma!” Mac stops fussing with his Radsuit long enough to rub his chest, still sore from the blow he took all that time ago. He spares time for a glare at Pacoy before fussing with the suit again. Mac looks at his comrade, stunned. “Siri, I need you to help Pacoy with whatever he needs to get Wormwood patched up. I’m still tangled up in this damn suit. Eris, can you help me out of this thing? Unless you’ve got better hands than Siri, that is – We need to get Wormwood in this suit once he’s patched up – that suit with a hole in it is no better than a sneezed through tissue, now.”
With the Mac in site down, the world outside the APC is quiet and calm. Eris reaches up and closes the hatch, providing what radiation protection the closed-up military vehicle can, then turns to helping Mac out of his suit. Siri, meanwhile, flashes her eyes towards Pacoy, awaiting orders.
“Siri, help me get Wormwood down.” Pacoy orders calmly, voice in professional mode, working on lowering Worm at the same time he pulls up the medkit, “We’ll get his suit off and patch him up.” Siri nods, helping Pacoy where she can. Mac looks toward Pitbull when his head is finally free. "Hey hoss, you got eyes out there? There any more movement?’
As soon as the suit is stripped, Pacoy is all stitches and injections, working with rapid precision to patch Wormwood up. Wormwood writhes in pain, screaming, as Pacoy turns and moves him.
When he is finally free of the suit, Mac lays it next to the ersatz operating theatre. “Make sure Deathwish here gets into that, and that he doesn’t put any more holes in the damn thing.” He plucks his hat from Siri’s head and ducks out the APC hatch, heading to where his clone lies on the ground. “I got the first aid covered, Siri,” Pacoy says through gritted teeth as he plugs a hole, “Help Mac with the other body.” Siri nods to Pacoy, then heads out the APC to follow Mac. As she gets closer, she puts a hand on Mac’s shoulder. “Hey, look there. Doesn’t that look like one of those things you stepped on back where we met Pitbull’s old squad?”
Mac groans inwardly. “That it does, sis, that it does. Stay back by the APC, and let Pitbull know we may not want to head this way due to the mines. I’ve got to check out this… me. And watch your step.” He begins picking his way out towards his dead… self. He delicately places footfall after footfall, creeping closer to his dead likeness, glad for the deftness his Capone’s lend him. When he reaches the body, he begins looking it over, checking for clues in a methodical manner, seeing if the body contains any hints towards his existence. The body has a big ol’ hole in it, spewing what looks an awful lot like blood all over the scene – along with bits of non-organic composites, maybe some plastics. Definitely unnatural materials. They’re all spilling out of the body’s guts. The robot doesn’t have many items on it – just the rifle, those clothes, and some extra ammunition. The weapon seems new, almost unused; everything seems very ‘clean’.
Mac shakes his head in wonder as he stuffs the ammunition in his pockets and slings the rifle, grimacing at the thought that he now carries the weapon that almost killed his friend. He bids himself an awkward farewell before beginning to carefully pick his way back towards the APC, relying on his Photographic memory to retrace his steps. He ushers Siri back inside and turns to his comrades once he seals the door. “How’s Deathwish? Still alive? That was… creepy. The other me… it was like he was brand new. I think this rifle’s only ever fired one shot… completely surreal…” Seranya holds Mac’s shoulder as he speaks, comforting him as best she can.
Holes plugged, and a heavy does of StimHeal running through his veins, Wormwood looks to be on the mend, although he won’t be moving for at least a half hour as the drugs do their thing. Pitbull waits on as he had been since the vehicle turned around, his cigarette now smoked and replaced by another.
Mac looks down at his friend. “Lets head around, Pitbull. Bring us to Omaha – hopefully Wormwood will be better when we get there.” “Alright dudes. Assholes and elbows, let’s go!” Pitbull exclaims as he revs the engine forward again, pushing them away from the mine-field.