The game opened with the group going over last minute logistics in preparation for entering the portal. Corporal Free and Michael would go first, followed by Samuel and Sonny then Deena and Reggie then Eddie and Max. They would leave a sign beneath the camera that was either white or black, depending on whether there was something to extract or they needed something dropped in (food, ammo, etc.). The Earth team would have everything ready for a rapid extract (power winch) and bundles of ammo and such ready for quick drop, depending on a short computer message burst timed to the portal opening.
Samuel suggested flying in sandbags so the team could establish a small defensive position. Each member took three glow sticks and two grenades (except for Reggie, who wasn’t allowed to carry grenades; he instead carried chalk). Each member also carried some of the explosives planned to wipe out the portal generator. Corporal Free carried the radio detonators. Fresh batteries went into all electronic gear, and food and water sufficient for a few days was packed.
At ten seconds to open, everyone powered on their flashlights (some mounted to helmets, some mounted to guns). When the portal opened, the team descended. Mike and Samuel misjudged their leaps and ended up taking a few scrapes for their troubles. The rest of the team made it to the cavern floor unscathed. Deena bandaged up the wounded while the rest of the team quickly set up a perimeter. Mike and Sonny quickly oriented themselves using their compasses and their own unique abilities.
Aside from the objects sent down previously, the cavern floor was still nothing but stone and the occasional small patch of sand or pebbles. Deena and Mike took rock samples and quickly determined the cavern was probably cut from metamorphic rock. After looking around a bit, they speculated the metamorphosis was probably from extreme heat, possibly from magma. Mike and Sonny looked for any spoor, egg shells, or other indication of use of or traffic through the cavern; it was remarkably clean. Deena made video recordings of the entire cavern while the team watched perimeter and set the white sign up for pickup. She placed the first media and samples inside a secure, hardened container and attached the container to the winched line.
With the initial data collection done, Samuel set about building up the sandbag position with Max, Mike, and Sonny’s help. While they did that, Corporal Free and Eddie threw glow sticks just shy of the mouths of the openings off the main cavern. Everyone switched to NVGs and switched off their flashlights. There were seven openings, but five glow sticks were enough to light them all up. Reggie took a piece of chalk and marked the various openings from one to seven for easy reference. Deena and Max listened and covered the openings.
The glow sticks revealed more than the flashlight beams had. Deena examined several stretches of a tacky coating and of an almost crystalline substance on the walls at various heights. She and Mike speculated the crystalline substance was more than likely what the tacky coating became. There was no indication of what left these substances, but they figured it was some virbold excretion. Deena made several recordings and collected samples. The media and samples joined the others on the winched line.
Confident they’d done what they could to secure their entry point, Corporal Free decided to begin investigating the openings. The first one was what looked like a small cave to the north. Free and Sonny confirmed it was just a small dead-end chamber maybe twenty-five feet deep and no wider than ten feet. Where the cave terminated, there were several fist-sized holes in the floor. The team debated covering the holes with the sandbags (Samuel fought that idea) or by chipping chunks of rock from the walls. Corporal Free finally decided to rig explosives in the middle of the cave with the idea that he could blow anything up if it came out of the holes while they were exploring.
They moved on clockwise and found another dead-end cave, this one stretching about seventy-five feet deep and with another tunnel off it midway that ran north about fifteen feet. There were holes again. Once again, explosives were set, this time at the cave mouth. Corporal Free continued clockwise and found the southeastern entries opened into a common cave about forty feet across and about half as deep before splintering off into three tunnels that also came to eventual dead-ends with holes in the floor. Charges were rigged at the cave mouths and they moved to the next clockwise entry.
The southwestern entry opened into a very wide tunnel that eventually split off into two. Both of those tunnels dead-ended after about thirty feet. They set a charge in the middle of the wide entry tunnel and checked the next clockwise tunnel. That turned out to be a shorter tunnel—maybe fifty feet—that dead-ended. Another charge and they moved to the final mouth.
The final mouth opened on a northwest-running tunnel that stretched about twenty-five feet before opening on a narrow tunnel to the north. A few feet before that, there were two shadowy, very narrow openings on the southern wall. The narrow gaps were separated by seven feet.
Corporal Free gathered the glow rods up from the main cavern, leaving only three behind in the center, which was enough to cast the dead-end entries in a wan glow. He also gathered up most of the explosives. The group proceeded into the tunnel, bypassing the narrow gaps to the south. Free took the north tunnel, followed by Reggie. The rest proceed on to the northwest to investigate the tunnel revealed as they moved deeper. The northwestern tunnel opened onto a twenty by twenty cavern to the north that hooked to a slightly smaller cavern off the north tunnel, forming almost a horizontal figure eight.
As Reggie prepared to exit the tunnel he and the corporal had moved through, he sensed something behind him. He turned in time to catch a flicker of the fringe of distortion as one of the invisible creatures attacked him. Battle was joined, with Corporal Free pulling Reggie out of harm’s way after the creature’s attack left him stunned. The group opened fire on where they thought the creature was, but very few rounds found their mark, and most of those proved ineffective. Finally, Corporal Free landed a blow that Deena followed up with a solid spray of shots.
Wounded, the creature fled. The group wasn’t about to leave its flank exposed to such a deadly foe. They pursued, but eventually lost it in one of the caves. Feeling confident they knew where it was, Free detonated two of the explosives. Once the dust settled, they entered the cave and found pieces of the creature. Deena took samples, videos and pictures, and bagged it. She connected the body bag, samples, and media in the winched line.
The group returned to the northwestern cavern. They had two clear options at this point: north and northeast. Max had been advising them of the direction to proceed. He concentrated and explained that there were many small, weak alien minds to the north. There was a grouping of stronger alien minds to the northeast, including one that was quite . . . powerful. Corporal Free decided to proceed northeast.
After about sixty feet, the group came to a small chamber with two tunnels leading off it. To the northeast, Max felt the more powerful mind and several lesser ones. To the southeast, there were fewer of the lesser minds. Many of the lesser minds were close by, in the two tunnels. The corporal decided they should proceed into the northeast tunnel and be ready to defend two flanks. As they moved towards the tunnel, six of the creatures they’d fought at the Gila Bend Incident charged out of the darkness. Corporal Free ordered the group into the northeast tunnel so they could limit themselves to two open flanks.
A vicious gunfight ensued. Once again, Free had to pull someone—this time Mike—to safety. Eventually, the beasts went down. Since they had a corpse of this type of virbold already, Deena settled for video and photographs before they moved on. About eighty feet later, they came to a sealed cavern entry. The seal was organic, pulsing. It felt like rigid muscle. Glow rods revealed a vertical slit from the entry top to floor.
Corporal Free tested the strength of the seal and found he could push into it with a great deal of effort. The muscle exuded a slime that covered every inch of his arm and weapon. He decided he would go first and had Mike follow him, followed by Samuel, Sonny, Reggie, Eddie, Deena, then Max.
Free held his breath and pressed through the opening, finally popping out the far side. Six more of the big drones awaited him. Beyond them, a huge, blobbish creature stared at him. He thought it quivered, possibly in fear. He knew he was looking at the portal generator. He taunted the drones. They charged.
A touch-and-go battle ensued. The group could only gain entry into the chamber one at a time, exposing the first entrants to dangerous odds. Fortunately, Corporal Free was more like Sergeant Rock in battle, his deadly boots of doom cracking drone skulls right and left. Mike, Reggie, and Samuel were all in dangerous predicaments at one point or another, but in the end, some well-placed shots by Sonny turned the tide.
With the drones down, Max moved towards the terrified portal creature. He could sense in its mind that it wasn’t “evil,” it was just fulfilling its role. He could also sense that to defend itself, it had summoned even more drones (or they’d sensed its panic and were coming on their own). Max saw through the creature’s mind that it was touching other minds. Through its thoughts, he could sense the approaching drones only a seconds out from the northwestern tunnels the group had earlier bypassed. Those northwestern tunnels were filled with non-virbold or mutants or failures . . . it was hard to determine the exact nature of the things, but they were scavengers. They were crawling all over the place but refusing the big creature’s summons. Through the scavengers’ senses, Max became aware of a few corpses in the northwestern tunnels. They wore military uniform scraps, but they were so desiccated they couldn’t be identified. Finally, Max was aware of hundreds, perhaps thousands of bugs crawling all over the main cavern they needed to exit to. Corporal Free told Max the charges were in place. He was ready to detonate the bug; he was setting the timer for ten minutes, when the next portal would open.
Max realized he could control the big bug. He ordered it to open a portal and to release the seal at the entrance. He then told Free to set the timer for two minutes and told everyone to run for it. As they ran, Max warned them the main cavern was covered in bugs and that more drones were coming. Corporal Free ordered folks to ready their grenades.
When they burst into the main cavern, the group nearly went into shock at the sight. They hurled grenades, blowing up hundreds of the bugs. The rest retreated. Free sent everyone up the tunnel, ordering Mike and Samuel to cover the rear with their sniper rifles. Deena brought up the winched line of data/samples. Mike and Samuel fought a rearguard action, killing the first three drones to appear. The group exited to Earth and Max told the big bug to close the portal with seconds to spare before the charges went off.
The slime-covered team was greeted by their peers. Booker wanted to know what they’d seen and whether the threat was eliminated. The scientists looked over the invisible creature’s corpse and discussed Deena’s findings with her. Booker kept everyone in the cavern for a couple hours to confirm the energy pulses and the portal were no more. With that confirmed, the mission was deemed a success and everyone headed back to base in helicopters.
Session Nine End
The game opened with the group going through an extensive debrief session. No one had been through to the other dimension, so the video, biological and mineral samples were a gold mine. More important, though, seemed to be Max’s experience. He was quickly put into a helicopter and flown off for testing and interviews.
A day after the debrief sessions, Mike, Samuel, and Sonny were notified they’d been selected for a special operation. They reported to a room where they met three other soldiers, two of whom they’d worked with before. After a minute, a serious, sharp-dressed soldier entered the room and closed the door. He introduced himself as SSG Ron Woodley and explained the group had been selected due to recommendations for the Advanced Scout course. He would be their evaluator. SSG Woodley provided minimal details about the course other than saying it would run one to two days, depending, and that it would push them like they’d never been pushed. He also bragged he had scored higher than anyone else on the course and didn’t expect that to change.
After answering a few questions, SSG Woodley dismissed the assembled soldiers. He held Mike, Samuel, and Sonny back for a minute, telling them to report to MSG Ian Carter down in Supply. MSG Carter was the unit’s armorer.
The team headed down, through security, and into the weapons locker, where they found MSG Carter. Carter was a scarred, grizzled veteran. Carter gave the three of them the special kit they’d need for the Advanced Scout course (a smaller, different-shaped rucksack primary among it all). He also asked Samuel if he was the big hotshot sniper he’d been hearing about. Samuel said it was possible. Carter dug into a secure cabinet and pulled out a box of ammunition. He explained it was some of the stuff being evaluated, a new type of armor-piercing round. Based off what he’d heard about Samuel’s exploits, he thought it would be ideal to have him test it out next time he went into a live-fire situation. Samuel signed for the ammunition and promised to let Carter know what he found.
Meanwhile, Deena found herself under another round of interrogations, this time from her fellow scientists. Together, they went through round after round of theories, generally classifying them in four broad categories of absurd, unsupported, possible, and worth pursuing. The specimens Deena had secured made her a rock star among the nerderati. By the second day of the geekfest, Deena felt more at home than she had in quite some time.
As the scientists wound through the morning of questions and data analysis and prepared for lunch, a radio call came in from operations. A team in the field had discovered another of the “alien chickens.” They were en route and would be dropping it off for the scientists. This energized the entire scientific team even more. They’d lost out on dissecting the last “chicken” due to their workload. They badly wanted this one.
Dr. Shmuylovich left the biologists and medical experts to their tasks and returned to his physics lab to do more research on some of the materials and readings brought back by Deena’s team. Thirty minutes later, three soldiers, grimy from the field, entered the lab and dropped off an Igloo cooler-sized specimen container. They apologized for the creature being dead and explained they’d been closing on it when it lost its footing and fell into a gorge. They put it on ice as quick as they could to slow decomposing as much as possible. The scientists thanked them and quickly went to the specimen container.
After setting up a surgical area, the scientists gathered around the specimen laid out. Deena, still being a “rookie,” pulled her surgical mask over her mouth. Dr. Rao turned on the overhead camera and began recording the autopsy as Doc Walters (rapidly recovering from his previous wounds) and Dr. Blanchette prepped instruments and containers. As Dr. Rao prepared to make the first incision (after noting the creature’s rear left leg and a few ribs had been broken in the reported fall), the creature’s eyes flicked open. The scientists screamed in surprise. The chicken creature screamed in surprise. Then it twisted onto its belly and vomited a spray of fluid into Dr. Rao’s face, some of which went into his mouth.
Dr. Rao fell to the ground, convulsing. The lab sealed off with a biological hazard alert. The creature hopped onto its good hind leg and made a desperate leap for one of the nearby equipment carts. It missed the top but managed to grab onto one of the lower trays. It dangled momentarily as Dr. Blanchette rushed to check on Dr. Rao. Deena shouted for Walters to help her take the thing down.
Meanwhile, Colonel Parker sent for Eddie Orgeron. After asking how Eddie was handling the transition to his new life, the colonel gently reminded him there was no way he could ever go back to his family. He reminded Eddie he had full access to his sons’ school records, communications, etc. He said one of the boys was acting out a bit and listened as Eddie groused about his ex-wife’s inability to provide a man’s strength and guidance to young boys.
Once Eddie was through venting, Parker asked if Eddie was a former cop. Eddie said of course he was. And a former private investigator. Parker asked if he had been good at his job. Eddie said he felt so, except for when the divorce had sort of derailed things for him. Parker said he had a job for Eddie, a job a former cop could prove useful on.
Parker explained they were having concerns about Jason Talbot, the head of BioVault and Logicwyrx. He handed Eddie a folder with photographs inside it. The photos were of Talbot and an unidentified/unidentifiable dark-haired woman. Eddie knew it wasn’t Talbot’s wife; he’d met her. Parker needed to know who the woman was. If she was just a mistress, it wasn’t a concern. Whoever she was, Talbot had met with her five times previously.
Eddie said he’d love to work the case. Parker said he’d hoped Eddie would take the job. He had a CID attaché working it from the military side, but he felt Eddie could bring a valuable civilian perspective. He asked Eddie if he thought he could handle Reggie. Eddie said he could. Parker told him to take Reggie with him, but to ensure he didn’t put the mission or the operation at risk. Eddie agreed. Parker gave Eddie everything he and Reggie would need for their mission and told Eddie they needed to head to Albuquerque quickly. Talbot was due in at six the next morning.
Eddie gathered up all the paperwork and gear, got some civilian clothes, gathered up Reggie, and headed for a chopper. He and Reggie were dropped off a few miles from a nearby town. They walked to the town and rented a car. En route, Eddied brought Reggie up to speed on the case. Reggie’s thoughts quickly turned to potential opportunities to inflict pain in the line of duty.
Meanwhile, back at the Vault, SSG Woodley asked Corporal Free to accompany him on the Advanced Scout course as an assistant evaluator, since he had half his team in the evaluation group. Free agreed to the offer. The next morning, the Advanced Scout team headed out to the High Desert in the pre-dawn hours. They were dropped off atop a ridge as the sun rose and were informed their scores would be based on their effectiveness avoiding detection, locating planted virbold sign (tracks and the like), and time. They ultimately had to reach a Post Office in the town of Randsburg, 20 klicks away, by 0200 the next morning, and transmit back to base for any shot at the maximum score. Woodley distributed maps of the area to each member and told them they were on the clock.
The six students agreed on formation/marching order, distance, and other basics before heading into the tracking. Things seemed to go very well throughout the day, although Samuel found he was having a hard time with the pace Mike and Sonny set. By midday, Samuel was sucking wind and soaked in sweat. His Marine pride was keeping him in the game, but it was costing him. He couldn’t believe the way Sonny just moved up and down elevations and over rough terrain as if it were nothing, and the way Mike could move through heavy scrub without slowing. Although taxed by the effort, Corporal Free was able to keep up.
Late afternoon rolled around and Mike’s eyes spied something that delivered Samuel from imminent collapse. It took a moment working along the edge of a ravine, but Mike finally spotted what had caught his eye. In the ravine below, something was glistening in the sunlight at the base of a bush. Mike and Sonny tied off ropes and descended, thinking they might have found one of the virbold sign that had given Woodley his “high score.” Most of what they’d found up to that point had been fairly manageable: a couple fake virbold “eggshells,” some torn clothing, some fake spoor, and tracks. What had caught Mike’s eye had been extremely well-hidden.
Mike and Sonny descended just over 20 meters then trekked along the ravine floor for about 30 meters. They found the tangle of scrub and what had caught Mike’s eye: a cracked-open virbold egg with its gooey fluids leaking out. The egg looked like the real deal. Mike bagged it and the two of them headed back. Back up on the ridge, watching Mike and Sonny move to the scrub, Free asked Woodley if they’d found some of the planted virbold sign. Woodley hesitated before saying he didn’t think so, but it was possible he didn’t know about it. Free could see from his body language that Woodley was confused and uncomfortable. Things only got worse when Mike showed Free the egg; Free was sure it was the real deal.
The students pressed on into the night. Although Samuel had taken the opportunity to catch his breath and drink as much as he could, with the sun setting, he now found himself paying the price. His soaked clothing now sucked away his body heat in the chill of the night. He did what he could to stay warm, but he wasn’t about to cost the team time. He sucked it up and pressed on, fighting chills, cramps, and nausea.
The students reached a rise outside Randsburg shortly before midnight. They’d easily scored in the high 80s, maybe even the 90s on their test. The post office wasn’t even a ten-minute jog from their position. Things were looking up. Except for the fact that something looked terribly wrong in Randsburg and over the hill in neighboring Johannesburg, things didn’t look any better. Even at midnight, there should have been some signs of life: a TV flickering in a window, a car driving down main street, someone taking out the garbage. There was nothing. Free convinced Woodley to call off the evaluation and to let the team check out the town.
The team headed into Randsburg, skirting the edge of town. They checked the windows of the nearest house, their stomachs churning as they saw what looked like an abandoned bedroom. Another house, the same thing. The team went in, safeties off, ready for anything. They found virbold eggshells. That was enough for Free, who’d caught enough of Woodley’s “I’ve never been in this situation” vibes to take command.
Free ordered the team to gather up an SUV. That done, they headed for the post office to get into the shack where the radio was hidden. Free deployed the team to keep an eye on a nearby quarry where he’d spotted a possible cave entrance. He and Sonny entered the shack. Free radioed in to request immediate evac and teams to deal with the almost-certainly infected towns. After some confusion, Free got through to the night watch sergeant and explained the danger of their situation. The sergeant scrambled four Blackhawks, but they were more than two hours out. The sergeant advised Free to find a position to hole up in for two hours.
Free and Sonny stepped out of the shack and saw the team hiding. Mike warned they’d seen movement in the quarry. Free spotted dozens of creatures spilling out of the cave, running towards the nearest ramp up. They’d be in the town within minutes.
Free ordered everyone into the SUV. Sonny got behind the wheel, fought through a near-flood, then realized the gas tank was nearly empty. They drove to the only pump, a convenience store on the outskirts of the two towns. They got the pump running just as the horde of creatures started charging towards them from the western edge of the town. Sonny filled the tank until the creatures were twenty or so meters away and got in. He burned rubber, heading into Johannesburg and, hopefully, a building that might offer them a place to make a stand. As the SUV crested the rise separating the two towns, Sonny saw dozens more of the creatures charging them from Johannesburg. Sonny threw the SUV into reverse, executed a perfect moonshiner’s turn, and accelerated north. About one hundred meters out of town, the SUV died.
Meanwhile, Deena and Walters began their hunt of the chicken creature. Walters proved inept assisting at first, and Deena failed to land a meaningful kick, but she and Walters kept the little beast from hopping out of the lab as the quarantine kicked in, sealing them all inside. As Deena and Walters pursued the creature, Major Blanchette communicated the situation in the lab to operations, describing it as “under control,” but Dr. Rao’s screams made that seem a bit optimistic.
After several tries, Deena managed to stun the chicken creature with a good kick and Walters threw a lab equipment cover over it, pinning it. Deena told Walters to hold the little bastard while she checked on Rao. Rao was mutating before her very eyes. He was searching through drawers for an antidote injector, but Major Blanchette told Deena not to inject him with the antidote. When Deena asked why, Blanchette explained Rao had only barely survived the antidote the first time. Another injection would almost certainly kill him. Unspoken was the implication that Rao could still serve a scientific purpose as a living mutant specimen.
Deena didn’t like Blanchette’s explanation. While Blanchette calmly talked with operations about the situation, Deena helped Rao find an injector. When they found one, Deena saw in Rao’s eyes what he could no longer articulate: he wanted to take his chance with the antidote. Deena dragged Rao over to an isolation chamber, injected him, then sealed the chamber while Blanchette yelled at her to stop. No sooner had the chamber sealed than Rao began thrashing, screaming, and writhing. His human eye finished converting to a virbold eye then burst. The rest of his head burst, spraying the inside of the chamber.
Blanchette called off the quarantine and asked for a security detail to help capture the chicken creature (which was giving Walters fits).
Meanwhile, in Albuquerque, Eddie and Reggie quickly touched base with Warrant Officer Michael Liddel, their CID attaché. While Liddel worked some other angles for them, they tailed Talbot to the Hyatt Regency. After Reggie pulled off some impressive bluffing and intimidation, they managed to land a room in the hotel a few floors below Talbot’s suite. Reggie quickly located Talbot’s limo and placed a tracer on it while Eddie figured out how they planned to bug Talbot’s room. When Talbot left for dinner, Eddie asked Liddel to tail him while he and Reggie set up cameras and bugs.
With cameras and bugs placed, Eddie and Reggie headed for the restaurant where Talbot and his mystery woman were dining. Eddie sneaked into the kitchen, convinced a busboy to take a break, and bused Talbot’s table, securing the woman’s wine glass and silverware. Eddie handed the materials off to Liddel then returned to Reggie. They followed the limo back to the Hyatt and returned to their room.
Talbot and the woman quickly started making out. With her sunglasses off, Reggie recognized the woman as Wang Jingyao, a suspected Chinese double agent he’d known from the Office of Homeland Security. Eddie and Reggie forced themselves to listen in on the passionate noises of the two. They heard enough to feel confident Wang was after more than a good time.
Meanwhile, back in the High Desert, Free ordered everyone out of the vehicle. He had the team help Samuel as they made a mad dash for a defensible position about seventy-five degrees off from the direction the vehicle’s lights pointed. They settled into the position as the horde closed on the SUV. After a quick assault on the SUV, the horde broke off into sub-hordes. The largest of the sub-hordes stayed at the vehicle. Six others headed off in different directions, searching.
When one of the creatures seemed to spot their location and to pull a few sub-hordes with him, Samuel, loaded up with a magazine of the new armor-piercing rounds, put a couple holes through him. The creature got his buddies close to the hiding spot, but not close enough. The sub-hordes split off again. Eventually, one of the sub-hordes spotted their position and charged it. Samuel put down the spotter, but it was too late. Samuel put four rounds into the SUV, the fourth finding the gas tank. It blew up in a spectacular ball of flame half a minute later, drowning out the imminent firefight and drawing the creatures’ attention.
The sub-hordes came in three waves. By the time the last of them was down, only Free, Mike, Samuel, and Sonny still stood. Woodley and two of the students were still alive, but bad off. Free and the others did what they could to stabilize their comrades before retreating to another, more distant position. They still had nearly one hundred minutes before the Blackhawks arrived.
Session Ten End
The game opened with Eddie and Reggie in Albuquerque. They had Talbot on audio and video involved with Wang Jingyao. Jingyao was, as far as Reggie was concerned, a Chinese spy and traitor to the U.S. As they watched, Jingyao crawled out of bed, pulled an oversized smartphone from her belongings, and pulled Talbot’s laptop from its case. She hacked the laptop and while it booted, she hooked her device up to Talbot’s smartphone. After sucking data off the smartphone, she hooked up to the laptop and downloaded data. As she put the laptop away, Talbot woke. Jingyao surreptitiously slipped her device into her clothes and stood. She quickly distracted Talbot from any concerns over what she’d been doing.
Eddie contacted Colonel Parker for further guidance. After considering the evidence, Colonel Parker authorized the two of them to do whatever they had to do to find out what Jingyao knew. He didn’t provide any guidance other than making clear to Eddie he’d sent Reggie with him for just this sort of work.
Reggie quickly forged a gun permit and headed out to buy a gun for himself while Eddie worked with the colonel to get Talbot out of the hotel. When Reggie returned with his gun, Eddie gave the colonel the go to call Talbot. Reggie left his Force Alpha-equipped pistol in the room and headed to the top floor and waited in the stairwell entry, door propped open, watching the hallway for Talbot. When Talbot hastily headed for the elevator a few minutes later, cell phone to his ear, Reggie waited a few heartbeats, heard the elevator chime and open, waited a few more heartbeats, then quickly moved down the corridor. At Talbot’s door, he used the card swipe device Eddie had used to gain access earlier.
Reggie drew his just-purchased personal gun and entered the room. He closed the door behind him and listened. The shower was running and the room was empty except for Jingyao’s carry-on bag and some clothes laid out. Reggie quietly padded towards the bathroom door; it was open just a crack, enough for him to hear the irregular fall of water, indicating someone was in the shower. Reggie waited for the water to shut off and the sound of a shower door opening and a towel being pulled off a rack at which point he burst into the bathroom. He ordered Jingyao to get on the ground, face down. Jingyao played it calm and innocent, somewhat recognizing Reggie, trying to establish a connection. Reggie was in full badass mode and would have none of it. He put a knee in the small of Jingyao’s back and pulled her hands behind her, zip-tying them. He then yanked her up, unconcerned about potential injury. She was, after all, a traitor.
Eddie watched the video cameras in and outside the room and listened in over the bugs he’d placed. Jingyao’s screams of pain and Reggie’s excited voice made Eddie wince in shame. He convinced himself they were acting in extraordinary times and rights and privileges were a muddle. Just as he prepared to run up to the top floor to help Reggie (or possibly to kill him), Eddie saw three forms approaching the door. They looked like hotel staff, except they were all Chinese and the cleaning lady was clearly a man wearing a bad wig. Eddie warned Reggie he had company and said he was on his way.
Reggie stuck one hand up between Jingyao’s zip-tied hands and grabbed her hair, turning her into an improvised shield. At 5’ 2" and 109 pounds, she wasn’t a full body shield for Reggie’s 5’ 11", 180 pound frame, so Reggie held her up off the floor a bit. Jingyao gasped at the massive strain on her shoulders, but that only seemed to feed Reggie’s mania. Reggie demanded Jingyao tell him where her computer device was. After a bit of painful convincing, she nodded at the dress she’d left on the floor when crawling into bed with Talbot. Reggie saw the device’s outline and drove his heel into it with a few frenzied stomps, smiling at the satisfying crack of plastic.
Seconds later the three Chinese agents entered the room. Reggie immediately pointed his gun at them, ordering them to stand down. One of the agents hesitated, holding a hand up to calm Reggie down, the second one seemed shaken, while the third charged and took a swing at Reggie’s semi-exposed face. Reggie shifted at the last moment and the blow glanced off Jingyao’s shoulder, drawing another gasp; the agent lost his footing and fell at Reggie’s feet.
Rather than miss out on an advantage, Reggie shot the agent that had tried to calm him down. The agent went down with a surprised grunt. The second agent risked a shot and missed while the third agent spun on his shoulder and placed a knee-kick solidly against Reggie’s shin. The knee-kick should have shattered Reggie’s leg, but he managed to shift at the last second so that Jingyao took some of the hit and the rest of the force simply knocked Reggie off-balance for a moment. Reggie put the second agent down with a bullet to the groin; he used the momentum of his off-balance staggering to get some distance from the third agent, stumbling for the exit.
The third agent tried to execute a soccer slide-tackle but once again Reggie managed to keep his footing. Realizing Jingyao’s device might still be salvageable, Reggie staggered back to retrieve it from Jingyao’s dress. The surviving agent took the opportunity to shoot at Reggie’s unprotected hip. Reggie staggered and gasped. His vision clouded for a moment and the agent got off another shot, another hit in Reggie’s unprotected leg. Another herculean effort to fight off shock and the agent landed another hit. Reggie staggered, ready to collapse, nearly lost his grip on Jingyao. Finally, he pulled it together and spun, putting Jingyao between him and the final agent again.
Eddie reached the top floor and jogged towards the gunshots coming from the presidential suite. As he rounded the corner, moving past curious heads poked out of other suites, he saw two more agents closing on the presidential suite from the opposite direction. When they saw Eddie, they drew their guns. Eddie drew and uttered a very calm, determined warning that the building was crawling with FBI agents. One of the agents realized the mission was a bust and ran. The second called after him then opened fire on Eddie. Eddie tried to convince the agent he was going to die then gave up and a point-blank shootout took place.
Realizing he was no match for the Chinese agent, Eddie burst into the presidential suite and slammed the door behind him. The only surviving agent in the room had just shot Reggie again; Eddie put a round into the back of the agent’s head. As Reggie yelled at Eddie for taking so long to get there, the agent in the hallway fired blind through the door, clipping Eddie’s ribs. Reggie called operations back at Vault 4 and told them he needed an immediate extract. He then ran into the other room in the suite, heading for its door onto the hallway as Eddie and the final agent exchanged gunfire through the main door. Operations informed Reggie an extraction was under way. Reggie told the operations sergeant to have the driver pick them up from the basement and to have someone clear his and Eddie’s room.
With Eddie and the final agent emptying their magazines into the helpless door, Reggie opened the suite’s other door to get a look at the hallway. The final agent heard the door open and took a shot at Reggie, splintering the door jamb next to Reggie’s head. Eddie took the opportunity to open the door and stick his gun against the agent’s head. He ordered the agent to drop his gun; the agent complied. Reggie casually walked up and shot the agent in the head at point blank range, spraying Eddie and Jingyao with blood and brains.
Reggie re-entered the suite and grabbed Jingyao’s device. Eddie and Reggie then ran for the elevator with Jingyao. They got to the basement with little more than a couple of alarmed squeals from hotel patrons when the elevator door opened on them: two bloody and gore-spattered men with guns drawn and a naked, battered, gore-spattered woman.
Once in the basement, Eddie and Reggie made their way to the service docks and waved people away with their guns. A black SUV pulled up and Eddie and Reggie piled in with their prize. Jingyao earned a couple more slaps for her trouble when she tried to plead with Eddie to stop Reggie, who was unstable. Eddie just looked away, disgusted with the situation and with himself.
Meanwhile, back at Vault 4, in Dr. Rao’s lab, Major Blanchette looked on in disgust and mild anger as bits and pieces of Dr. Rao’s head slid down the isolation chamber’s wall. She mildly scolded Deena and warned her not to ever disobey her again. Blanchette explained that everyone who signed on—and being forced into the project still involved “signing on”—knew that their lives were at risk. She pointed out that Rao represented a unique opportunity as a living specimen. Deena explained that Rao had wanted to at least try to stop the infection, so his death was his own choice. Blanchette reiterated it wasn’t a choice and that Deena had been wrong to enable him to kill himself.
Blanchette told operations to send a decontamination crew. A security team in hazmat suits took the chicken/puker from Walters and a decontamination crew arrived to spray down the lab and Blanchette, Deena, and Walters. After going through decon, Blanchette told Deena not to worry about it. It was water under the bridge, a lesson learned. She said she’d handle it with Colonel Parker and word it as diplomatically as she could in the AAR.
Deena understood Blanchette was stuck in an awkward position. On the one hand, she’d lost a friend in Rao. On the other, she’d lost a huge opportunity when a living specimen had been allowed to destroy itself. Deena was trained as a medical doctor. Her first trust was to do no harm. The reality was, though, that Rao’s death quite probably robbed them of valuable research data that could theoretically save untold lives. The realization of the complexity of the situation, that it couldn’t easily boil down to a black-and-white set of choices, unsettled her. By joining the FBI, she’d hoped to find a career where choices were simple: legal and illegal, right and criminal.
As Deena pulled on the gown the decon team gave her to replace her furnace-bound uniform, she heard a call over the intercom. She picked up the nearest internal phone. A Sergeant Butler in Operations told her to gather a standard scientific kit and prepare for launch ASAP. She and Walters were joining Corporal Ainge (a tech), heading out to a crisis situation in California.
And out in the High Desert, that crisis continued to play out for Free, Mike, Samuel, and Sonny. With Mike, Samuel, and Sonny on point, Free pulled up the rear, propping SSG Woodson and Corporal Vickers up while Corporal Hudson hopped along in front of them. Mike spotted a cluster of six infected in a small gully about 40 feet down and 60 feet away. He signaled for Samuel and Sonny to stop, not realizing Sonny had spotted a couple of the infected already. Mike’s attention wasn’t on the trail, so he stepped on a twig. Unbeknownst to him, the noise caught the attention of two nearby infected. Sonny spotted the creatures and signaled to Samuel they should kill the creatures quietly.
Sonny drew his huge knife and sneaked forward on an intercept path to stop the creature approaching Mike from the right. Samuel, hating the idea, drew his knife and moved forward to intercept the one approaching Mike from the left. The creatures crept past Samuel and Sonny, intent on Mike, who slowly drew his knife and moved back to help his comrades with their trap. Samuel and Sonny attacked the creatures, catching them unaware. Sonny’s knife slashed across his opponent’s chest, drawing blood. Samuel’s scraped off the chitinous shell. The creatures growled and engaged their attackers.
Sonny had a slightly better time with his attacks, especially when Mike closed, but it was hard going finding a weakness in the creature’s shell. Sonny had no such chitin to protect him from the savage swipes, so he was quickly suffering from several ragged cuts.
Samuel shifted to a defensive stance, hoping to outlast the creature while Mike and Sonny finished off its partner. He was surprised when the frustrated beast took a swing and exposed a weak spot. Samuel drove his knife home and the beast went down, fountaining blood. Samuel joined Mike and Sonny just as Sonny, gasping from grievous wounds, gave ground.
Samuel once again turned to his defensive style while Mike kept the creature engaged and Sonny relied on passing attacks. In a stunning display of bravery and skill, Sonny managed a vicious swipe that beheaded the beast.
The engagement hadn’t lasted even a minute, but everyone was gasping from the exertion. They sneaked a peek and saw the creatures below still huddling around, listening for the gunfire or howls that would surely summon them to feast. Samuel spotted Free and the wounded thirty feet back, squatting, waiting. Samuel waved them forward.
The group found an excellent spot to hide in. For the next hour-and-a-half, they watched and waited and hoped. The occasional patrol of infected ran by their position, but they were never spotted or scented. Finally, a radio call informed them the Blackhawks were approaching and had visual on Johannesburg. A few seconds later, they could hear the whup whup whup of the rotors and seconds after that, they hear door gunners opening up on the creatures.
SSG Drake radioed Free and told him to get his team to the entry ramp into the quarry. Free explained he had casualties. Drake told him to drop smoke and get them onto a Blackhawk. Free dropped smoke. When the Blackhawk arrived, Free had his team get onboard and they had the Blackhawk take them to the quarry entrance. Drake’s Mission Team 5 was at full strength other than Free’s squad. He assigned someone to supplement Free’s team then explained to Free they were to hold the cave entrance in the quarry that Free had reported the creatures had come out of. Free didn’t like the assignment, but he understood the need for it.
As the Blackhawks continued strafing runs throughout the desert and Johannesburg and Randsburg and other teams began rapid-roping down into desert and towns, Mission Team 5 jogged down the ramp into the quarry. The team could see that the operation was focusing first and foremost on establishing a perimeter and preventing any escaping infected, if possible. Blocking the cave would ensure no more creatures got out to hook up with the infected and none of the infected got back into the cave.
Drake deployed about half the team just outside the cave entrance and the other half filling sandbags. His snipers watched the quarry rim and ramp and his machine gunners set up two positions, one pointing into the cave, one pointing at the ramp leading into the quarry. Seconds dragged by as the desperate struggle to establish a defensive position played out.
Back in Albuquerque, Eddie and Reggie passed the miles without speaking. When they were transferred to a helicopter outside Albuquerque, Jingyao was provided a large blanket for modesty. En route to Vault 4, they were warned they’d be transferring to another Blackhawk and taken to the High Desert of California to hook up with the rest of their Mission Team on a crisis control operation.
Reggie wondered what fate lay ahead for Jingyao, but not to the point of distraction. If she cooperated, she might be recruited, just as he’d been. If she resisted, she’d probably die. And if she was gauged too great a security threat, she’d probably be killed, regardless. Reggie hoped she might be turned. He really enjoyed the thought of working with her, enjoyed in a dark, disgusting way that demanded some time to himself.
Back at Vault 4, Eddie and Reggie found a Blackhawk waiting for them. Deena and Doc Walters were loading scientific gear into the bay. The crew chief jogged over and handed Eddie and Reggie their uniforms and explained the rest of their kit was onboard. Eddie and Reggie changed into their uniforms and climbed aboard. The Blackhawk lifted off and the mission brief began.
The biggest concerns about the Johannesburg and Randsburg situation were containment, elimination of the threat, and figuring out the full implications of the incident. Somewhere between 300 and 1,000 people had been infected, apparently overnight. That represented a terrifying escalation and an unprecedented level of sophistication and planning. Colonel Parker and other folks within TGO were very, very concerned about getting to the bottom of the matter. There was also the extremely unlikely matter that the Advanced Scout team had stumbled upon this, meaning an ambush on a scale dwarfing the Gila Bend situation.
A few hours later, Deena, Eddie, Reggie, and Walters arrived at the Randsburg quarry. They disembarked the Blackhawk on the quarry floor and ran up to join Mission Team 5. The defensive emplacements were close to done at that point, distant gunfire and Blackhawk strafing runs so infrequent a sense of calm had settled over the team. Deena, Walters, and Corporal Ainge took up position with a couple riflemen watching over the cave entrance. As Drake started to catch them up on the situation, gunfire suddenly erupted from near the entry ramp.
Samuel and Sonny saw it first: a wave approaching 100 in size were charging down into the quarry. Blackhawks strafed the creatures, hoping to slow them down, and soldiers who’d survived the overrun fired at the creatures. Drake ordered the snipers and machinegun teams to open fire. By the time the creatures reached the long ramps leading up to the cave entrance, their numbers had been halved. They still vastly outnumbered the mission team.
With Deena and the techs watching the cave to make sure nothing got out and attacked their rear, Drake had his men open fire. Mike’s well-timed grenade throws whittled the numbers significantly, but in the end, the mission team’s effectiveness as a disciplined fighting unit proved to be the key. Deena and her techs spotted something moving out of the cave during the gunfight (one of the invisible creatures), but a few grenades and some follow-up gunshots cut the movement off. The grenades sprayed the creature with fluorescent goop from the glow stick, making it easier to track and kill and later giving Mike an idea of how to deal with the invisible threats.
Once again, the wounded were medevaced out. Other units came down into the quarry to reinforce Mission Team 5 and to replenish ammunition. The team requested some more glow sticks and some explosives. Samuel requested two more silencers for his sniper rifle. The team was given an opportunity to rest before the next big push.
While the team rested, Deena, Walters, and Corporal Ainge took Sonny with them to hook up with other techies and scientists. Their mission: look the infected corpses over to see if they could derive any meaningful data from them, then check houses in both towns to determine how the infection came about. After a few hours of inspecting, taking samples, recording video, etc., Deena felt confident about a few points:
*about 15% of the infected had been created by the little pukers, not the eggs
*infected numbers were more accurately in the 400-600 range
*the frequency of the large infected (of the sort Reggie had shot as it charged their position a week or so prior) was around 1% and there was still no way to know what set them apart
*the infection had happened overnight
Once again, the implications were staggering. The eggheads held a lengthy radio chat to share information and to discuss the next step. For the moment, though, there was the need to dispose of the bodies in a huge bonfire. The scientists felt confident they’d largely contained the outbreak/breakout. Nearby police were warned to be on the lookout for crazed victims of a chemical spill and to shoot them on sight.
Session Eleven End
With the outbreak largely contained, it became imperative TGO determined how it was even possible. This dictated researching the mineshaft the quarry operation ran into the quarry’s large stone formation. The group realized something was up once they entered the mineshaft.
The shaft ran nearly 100 feet down, with two secondary shafts of about 25 feet that run perpendicular to the main shaft. The first shaft was 25 feet in, the other was at 75 feet in. It looked like the exploratory shafts found nothing worthwhile. However, footprints of the beasties (virbold) ended a few feet shy of the second shaftís left branch.
The group investigated this second shaft. After several minutes, a five-foot wide hole opened in the floor, dropping out of sight. The group timed the hole and waited for a potential wave of attackers. Nothing happened. The hole pulsed open at 15-minute intervals, similar to the Arizona outcropping they’d used to first enter the virbold world. The group gathered up supplies and prepared to descend using techniques learned at the Arizona outcropping site, starting with a lowered camera and other monitoring equipment.
The equipment revealed that the tunnel plunged down into the virbold world about 150í. Much of the descent was inhospitable terrain. The group dropped ropes and sent their best climbers first. with some heavy firepower for support. That proved wise as they immediately encountered a completely new threat, what they came to call chewers: small virbold that attacked ropes and equipment, chewing through even hardened plastic and sturdy aluminum with alarming ease. The support firepower finished the chewers off just in time for another new threat: flying virbold (they came to call fliers). Once again, the first team managed to hold the threat off, but only just.
The second wave entered when the portal opened again. These were scientists and other non-combatants. By this time, Max was having a hard time concentrating, the emanations from the virbold were so strong. Sonny and Eddie kept a close eye on him.
At the end of the descent, Michael and SGT Free tossed glow sticks out until the shape of the chamber was revealed. They set up explosives in tunnel entries and selected a tunnel to start exploring. They cleared each tunnel in this manner, removing explosives, tossing glow sticks in until they were sure they’d reached the end, retreating, and replacing the explosives.
The group was left with two long-running tunnels. They chose one and doubled up the booby traps on the other. After clearing the first long tunnel, they retreated, re-established booby traps, and headed down the remaining long tunnel. This tunnel gave Max the strongest sense of imminent virbold presence.
Maxís abilities made him ideal to lead the search. He sensed the presence of the gateway opener. After fighting through the pain, he was able to lead the team forward. SGT Free was ambushed by an invisible virbold at one point, but the team finished it off before it could seriously hurt Free.
En route to the gateway opener, the group discovered another tunnel that had evidence previous human influence: instruments, sensors, all so damaged theyíve lost most of their controls. There were also some human-looking corpses in what appeared to be uniforms. Ultimately, the group decided not to explore the other tunnel. Max led them to the gateway opener. With Max’s abilities, the group was much better able to handle the gateway opener’s guardians. Max once again forced the gateway opener to open the portal while Michael shoved a packet of explosives inside one of the opener’s orifices.
The group fled the caverns, escaping just before vengeful virbold reached their position. Armed with several samples and video of everything they’d discovered, the group returned to Vault 7. The data was logged and the team cleaned up and settled in for a couple of days of R&R. Unfortunately, their rest was interrupted by an alarm. Their mission team was scrambled to gear up and get aboard inbound helicopters. Once aboard the helicopters, the group received a briefing of the situaiton, which was still developing. The alarm was in response to an emergency alert from Vault 2 in China, where they were now en route (they would switch off to a C-17 in California).
Session Twelve End