Hell on Earth: Gimme Shelter

We'll Meet Again, Parts 7 & 8
Log Date: 2094-09-22

Following the death of the Combine sniper codenamed "Watchtower", March and Grace carefully exited the Antioch Baptist Church, only to freeze at the sound of gunshots to the south. They converged with the rest of the group while traveling carefully through backyards towards the source of the noise, where they discovered a pick-up truck full of Black Hats taking potshots at a wounded woman limping down the road.

Rather than engage directly and risk alerting the rest of the Combine forces, they managed a convincing imitation of Watchtower over the stolen Combine short-range radio, ordering the pick-up to the eastern part of town to investigate an alleged disturbance there. The drunken Black Hats departed, but not before a final salvo of gunfire that cut down the wounded woman. 

March used her Templar abilities to lay on hands and cure the majority of the woman's injuries. She identified herself as Dana Ingraham and said that she was a member of the Trinity Springs militia. She had been trying to draw the Black Hats away from the Nevada Bar & Grill, where other militia members were attempting to access one of the few weapon caches that the Combine forces had missed — the town's other weapons had been rounded up by the Combine when they occupied the town and destroyed via thermite charges.

The group helped Dana inside the Nevada, where they were greeted by the proprietor, Miriam Hinckle, and her shotgun. After recognizing Dana and Jim Greer, Miriam hurried them inside. Several Black Hats lay dead with their throats cut, and two other militia members were in the process of unearthing the weapons cache from its hiding place in the Nevada's back room.

Miriam informed them that other militia members would likely be willing to join them in any assault on the Senior Center to free the captured townsfolk and further explained that the Black Hats had been able to take over the town so easily due to assistance from the inside — Greer's former crew chief, Ed Neubauer.

We'll Meet Again, Part 6
Log Date: 2094-09-22

March, Grace, and Carver scaled the exterior ladder of the Trinity Springs Senior Center and quietly dispatched the three Black Hats operating the SAW and spotlight emplacements overlooking the surrounding streets.

While surveying the area (and continuing to operate the spotlights to avoid raising suspicion), they received communication from someone on the Combine local radio frequency who identified themself as "Watchtower". A scan of the nearby Antioch Baptist Church with a spotlight revealed "Watchtower's" location as the church steeple, along with threats from Watchtower herself if the spotlight was not removed.

Plum jury-rigged mechanisms from old sprinkler parts to keep the spotlights rotating on their own, and Carver used his "Facemaker" cyborg implant to reconfigure his facial features to copy another of the dead Black Hats, entering into the Senior Center to scout it out under the pretenses of retrieving tools to repair a broken spotlight. Inside, he encountered four Black Hats in the kitchen and northern interior hallway, finding his way to a storage room filled with mostly empty shelves, moldering office supplies, and fresh crates full of Combine materiel, including one large sealed crate significantly larger than the others. Carver unlocked the windows from the inside, and Plum moved to reconnect with him from the northern exterior of the building.

Meanwhile, Chey and Lydia crept back into the shadows, avoiding the now-automated spotlights with ease and seeking out the shed where the wounded raccoon had last been seen after being shot by the now-deceased Black Hat lookout. Lured out with a can of coffee crystals, the raccoon revealed himself to be badly wounded in the left rear leg. Chey channeled his Doomsayer training and used radiation to heal the wound completely, leaving only a discolored patch of fur to mark the injury. The raccoon allowed himself to be picked up by Chey, and the trio returned to the comparative safety of the buildings to the north. Chey raised his concerns about the moral failings of  Greer, Carver, and others, worried that they were working with "the bad guys", and suggested that they leave the town, but Lydia insisted that they remain, at least until they could save Greer's daughter and the other hostages.

While Carver and Plum scouted the Senior Center and Lydia and Chey rescued the raccoon, March and Grace moved through the woods to the west and circled around to the back of the church property. They entered through a window on the ground floor and found the chapel and back office both abandoned. A ladder in a maintenance closet led to the steeple, and March spotted a tripwire roughly halfway up. Grace carefully avoided the wire while climbing the ladder and popped through the hatch at the top, surprising "Watchtower" in her sniper nest and knocking her unconscious.

Climbing the rest of the way through the hatch and finding a safe perch within the cramped confines of the steeple, Grace used her Librarian ability of "Withdraw" to pull information from the unconscious woman's mind. She identified herself as Lt. Sharon Stegner, formerly of the Arizona 411th, currently of Denver. When Grace pried further, her vision of Stegner's mind was completely obscured by a red orb, and a mechanical voice blared "SECURITY OVERRIDE", ejecting Grace from the vision as Stegner's "headbanger" chip exploded.

We'll Meet Again, Part 5
Log Date: 2094-09-22

Before the Black Hat emerging from Jim Greer's home could open fire, he was yanked suddenly downwards, and his head disappeared into a hole in the ground behind him, from which, a moment later, a satisfied Bob emerged. It humped across the grass and deposited the remains of a skull at Plum's feet.

The group set about tossing the grouped bodies of the dead Black Hats into the Truckee River. A fourth Black Hat emerged from the home but was quickly dispatched by crackling bolts of nuclear fire launched at him by Chey. Over Combine radio chatter, the group learned that the four Black Hats who had been surveilling Greer's home were using the call sign "East Target". Another group with the call sign "North Target" requested an update, and Carver managed to convince them that everything was normal.

Led by Greer, the group entered his home and did a swift sweep of the upper and lower floors. The lower floor was clear, although Grace recognized the small living room from her vision when she had peered into the unconscious Greer's mind during the roadside attack earlier that afternoon. On the second floor, March spotted a hulking silhouette by the moonlit window and smoothly dispatched what was ultimately revealed to be an innocent (albeit giant) teddy bear.

After some discussion, Greer reclaimed his old ID Card and Security Pass for Polson Field from the footlocker where they had been hidden for the past decade. He also relucatantly admitted that he had been stationed at Polson Field as part of "Operation Valkyrie", a Northern Alliance initiative to bomb high priority CSA military targets. On the morning of Judgment Day, Greer and his fellow pilots were given the order to deploy and deliver their payloads, but Greer's crew chief Ed Neubauer had left a wrench on the port jet intake of Greer's bomber, damaging the plane on the attempted lift-off. While they attempted repairs, a Southern Alliance syker strike team attacked the base, and Greer and Neubauer fought their way clear. When they returned later, the remainder of the base personnel and the strike team were either dead or gone. Greer was evasive when asked about the ultimate fate of his bomber or the ghost rock bomb which had been loaded onto it but expressed his regret for any involvement, even in a canceled flight, in the final days of the Last War.

The discussion ended and the house otherwise being absent of either threats or Greer's daughter, the group decided to investigate the rest of the town to locate where the Combine was keeping its "guests", picking the Senior Center, the largest building in town, as their first destination. As they moved west through town, Lydia heard a northbound ATV on River Road, and they managed to duck into cover in time to allow it to move past them without spotting anyone.

Approaching the Senior Center from the northeast, the group saw reinforced chain-link fencing with newly applied razor wire surrounding the building and its parking lot. From the northeast, southeast, and southwest corners of the roof, Black Hats in sandbagged SAW emplacements combed the surrounding nighttime streets of Trinity Springs with spotlights, and several more Black Hats patrolled the parking lot below.

Grace's raccoon companion attempted to reach the sheds to the south of the group's position, east of the Senior Center, but it was shot by a Black Hat in the attempt and skittered, injured, into the shadows. 

Through a frankly ridiculous combination of Carver's chameleon-like subdermal implants and a hastily-constructed gizmo by Plum that temporarily knocked out the northeast spotlight, the group was able to cut through the fence and reach the northern wall of the Senior Center without being spotted. 

We'll Meet Again, Part 4
Log Date: 2094-09-22

As the group reassembled on the western bank of the Truckee River bridge, Carver rose from his investigation of the dead Black Hats to reveal that he had somehow managed to alter his face and skin tone to perfectly mimic one of the deceased, disclosing his previously concealed nature as an infiltrator-model cyborg

Greer meanwhile inspected the bodies hanging from the bridge trusses and identified them as members of Trinity Springs' militia. The group quickly stripped the dead Black Hats of their Kevlar vests and snagged one of their radios while Plum slapped together several pairs of makeshift nightvision goggles from her pack of mechanical miscellany.

Before the group could set out, however, a speaker installed on the bridge crackled to life, echoed by other distant speakers spread throughout the town. Via this hastily-installed public address system, a man who identified himself as Major StanisÅ‚au Piatek relayed the following message:

"Good evening, Trinity Springs. As you were informed this afternoon, your town is now under the protection of the American Combine. You will recall that a curfew from 1900 hours until 600 hours has been put in place for your safety. The time is now 1855 — any of you still out of doors should return to your homes. Any unauthorized individuals found outside during the curfew period will be taken into custody and brought to me for questioning.

"The individuals who currently remain guests of the American Combine will be returned to their homes as soon as your town's induction is complete, assuming there are no further unfotunate incidents such as the one this afternoon. I am certain we can all work together to make this a speedy and simple process, and we can move forward into a brighter future together. God bless General Throckmorton, and God bless the American Combine. Good night, Trinity Springs."

March and Grace realized that the mention of an extended "induction" seemed strange — to the best of their knowledge, Combine inductions generally consist of rolling into a town, announcing it is now part of the Combine, executing any who resist or object, and then only returning if the town fails to deliver tribute to Denver or if it falls under attack by any other forces.

Combined with the fact that Trinity Springs is much farther west than the Combine's general area of operations, the group expressed some doubt whether these soldiers were actually Combine troops. Lydia used her medical scanner on one of the Black Hats's "headbanger" chips, and the readout indicated that the chip came from the Hellstromme Industries Automated Manufactory in Denver — consistent with the information about how Black Hat headbanger chips are issued and installed.

At Greer's urging, the group got moving again, creeping north through the scattered riverside shrubbery towards Greer's home to check on the safety of his daughter Vicky. Pausing under some trees roughly twenty yards away from the house, Chey and Carver spotted movement both in Greer's home and in the small neighboring house to the west of it. Greer told them that the neighboring house was unoccupied, or at least should have been, and that his daughter always kept a light burning (against his wishes) on the rare opportunities when he was away from home after dark — but all windows in his home were now dark.

Carver quietly approached the neighboring house and then walked in through the front door, where his altered face was identified as "Al" by the two Black Hats who had taken up surveillance positions inside. When questioned why he was away from his post at the bridge barricade, Carver told them that the barricade crew had just fended off an assault by a team that included someone who could throw radioactive fire. One of the Black Hats responded "A fuckin' mutie? Does EVERYBODY know about the air base?" before telling "Al" that he should immediately report in to Major Piatek.

Without asking any further questions, Carver deployed the S.A.N.D.M.A.N. launcher given to him by Plum, which, instead of the tranquilizer dart he had been expecting, launched a canister that filled the entirety of the house with a powerful aerosolized sleeping compound. Both Black Hats immediately fell unconscious, and Carver took a shirt and hat from one before slitting both of their throats.

When Carver returned to the others, a whispered conversation about what steps to take next quickly became heated, and Lydia raised her voice. In response, two Black Hats emerged from the back door of Greer's house to investigate, and the group hurriedly fell silent, falling to the ground to avoid immediate notice. Plum fired the S.A.N.D.M.A.N. at the approaching pair, blanketing them in the sleep powder. One succumbed swiftly but the other shook off the effects, yelling in surprise, and Carver leapt at her from behind a nearby trampoline, cutting her down before she could respond.

As the dust settled, the back door to the house banged open again and another Black Hat emerged onto the yard, drawing a bead on Carver with his rifle.

We'll Meet Again, Part 3
Log Date: 2094-09-22

Jill Plum set a cautious pace as the Underminer headed west through Sawtooth Ridge into the Sierra Nevada foothills, seeking to reach the town of Trinity Springs. As they drove, Jim Greer introduced himself in more detail and asked the group about their backgrounds and motivations in joining him.

Greer also told them a bit more about the town and how he came to live there: he had been a pilot for the US Air Force during the Last War and had been stationed at a small airbase west of Reno called Polson Field on Judgment Day. He and his crew chief survived the final Southern Alliance attack on the base and eventually made their way southwest to the small town of Trinity Springs, where they settled. Greer returned once to Polson Field, bringing a group of townsfolk with him and using his old security badge to access the armory, clearing it of munitions. With these weapons, he helped to organize a town militia in Trinity Springs to keep out any marauding road gangs or other threats, and the townspeople appointed him as "Chief of Police" (really more the head of the militia, but old familiar titles lend this post-apocalyptic world a sense of normalcy for the survivors).

In response to questions about the town's defenses, Greer stated that the militia consists of thirty full-time members. The town is not walled (something of an oddity these days) but is protected to the west by a sheer cliff wall rising into the mountains and to the east by the Truckee River. River Road, which runs north-south through the town, is blocked to the north and south with manned barricades, and a third barricade restricts access from the bridge to the east of town. Caches of the weaponry from Polson Field are distributed through town so that everyone can arm themselves in the event of a large-scale attack.

The group neared Trinity Springs around sunset, halting the Underminer on a ridge to the east, and Greer informed the others that something was amiss: the town's street lights glittered in the dusk, and Greer stated that the town (careful with its limited Spook Juice supplies at the best of times) never used its generators to power visible lights at night to avoid attracting unwanted attention. A closer inspection with Lydia's binoculars revealed five bodies hanged from the bridge's trusses and the bridge barricade now occupied by black-hatted figures.

Greer, his fears realized, asked the group to come with him to investigate and liberate the town. He offered to replace all ammunition fired in the effort, plus a payment of 100 live rounds each (or an equivalent value in trade goods), for anyone who would accompany him. Unanimously, the group agreed and geared up, storing their remaining belongings in the Underminer. Plum then activated the truck's digging array remotely, causing it to dig itself securely underground, away from prying eyes.

After considering several options, the group decided on the direct approach, with Carver, Grace, Greer, and March swimming the river under cover of darkness while Chey, Lydia, and Plum provided support from the east bank.

Upon safely and quietly fording the river, March unsheathed the curved sword strapped to her back and donned the white tabard that had been tucked into her sealed quiver, revealing herself to be a member of the Templars. Grace meanwhile opened the leatherbound bible at her side, quietly reading a few lines of scripture as her blackthorn walkingstick began to glow with a soft golden light. Not to be outdone, Carver stripped off his shirt, and the pigment in his skin rippled and swirled until it mimicked the dark mud of the riverbank.

They then moved to attack, silently climbing the bank behind the barricade and managing to catch the Black Hats completely unaware. Carver, March, and Grace quickly dispatched two guards each before they could raise an alarm, while Greer slit a seventh Black Hat's throat and the raccoon managed to kill the eighth and final Combine trooper, biting his ankle and causing him to trip and fall off the bridge, cracking his head on the support struts and disappearing into the dark river.

Carver used Chey's flashlight to signal the others to cross the bridge now that the coast was clear and then began investigating the bodies of the Black Hats while the group reassembled to consider their next move.

We'll Meet Again, Part 2
Log Date: 2094-09-22

As the remaining Black Hats scampered back to their vehicles and retreated north into the woods, the group spread out to examine the scene. Chey healed Moss Darby's wound with his Doomsayer abilities and then salvaged parts from Jim Greer's wrecked dirt bike while Lydia and  March attempted to dispense medical assistance to Tinny and Carver. Grace returned to the bus to read, only to have her interest piqued when Jilliana Plum coaxed out a juvenile rattler from her truck.

Carver shrugged off March's offer of medical aid and stalked after the fleeing Black Hats, finding one still cowering in the underbrush. Some direct questioning methods convinced the terrified Black Hat to disclose the Combine's interest in Greer, but, just as he was about to speak, the control chip which is embedded in the base of every Black Hat's skull detected his intentions and detonated, killing him instantly and removing the entirety of his head. Spattered with blood but otherwise unphased, Carver next triggered the tamper-proof mechanisms in the two remaining Combine motorcycles, setting off explosions that started several small fires in the woods.

Back at the roadside, Plum's rattler "Bob" burrowed into the soft loam beside the cracked asphalt and disappeared, presumably following Plum's orders to confirm that the Black Hats were actually gone. Meanwhile, Jim Greer, who had been loaded into the bed of the Underminer, began to shake off his sedation. Chey found a tranquilizer dart in his shoulder and immediately withdrew to the interior of the truck, leaving Lydia to step forward and aid in the man's recovery.

As his consciousness returned and he learned that they had chased off his pursuers, he informed the group that he was the police chief of the town of Trinity Springs and had been investigating one of his deputy's reports of armed scavengers in the ruins of the former ski town Wise, some ten miles east of Trinity Springs. Instead of scavengers, however, he had walked into a Combine ambush and fled south, away from Trinity Springs in an effort to draw them off. Concerned for the safety of his town, he refused Alice Nickels' s offer to take him back to Carson City and started to head that direction on foot.

Lydia and March both quickly expressed their intentions to go with him, and Carver, Plum, Adair, and Chey all eventually agreed (albeit with varying degrees of enthusiasm). Nickels stated that she was concerned about driving into a Combine ambush with wounded on board, and so she decided to return to Carson City with Tinny, intending to reconnect with the main body of the Convoy in the Donner Pass or, depending on timing, during their longer stop in Lynchburg at the edge of the Great Maze.

Nickels gave a flare gun to Carver, another Convoy veteran, and told him that she would fire a yellow flare when in visual range of Trinity Springs upon her return. If the coast was clear, or if Nickels and Tinny could be of assistance, Carver was to fire a red flare in response. If the situation was too dangerous or if the town was already lost, Carver was to fire a white flare and attempt to make his way to Truckee and meet with her there. She asked for a volunteer to return with her and Tinny to Carson City and operate the bus's roof-mounted SAW in case they ran into further trouble, and Darby agreed, urging Lydia to join them. When she reaffirmed her intention to travel to Trinity Springs, Darby told her to be safe and that he would see her again soon.

The others grabbed their belongings from Nickels's bus, at which point Grace's traveling companion, a creature resembling a raccoon with lanky limbs and human-like hands, exited its nest under her seat and accompanied her to Plum's truck. It repeatedly vocalized a desire for coffee but hid itself, hissing, after Chey created a bloom of radioactive light in his palm.

Nickels, Tinny, and Darby headed back east on the road, retracing their route towards Carson City, and the others loaded themselves and their gear into the comparatively cramped space of the Underminer after Bob returned from its scouting expedition to report that there were no further sounds of vehicle traffic in the woods. Greer conferred with Plum over the best route to take to Trinity Springs, and, after Plum assured him that offroad travel would not pose any difficulty, the group departed west, heading directly into the foothills.

We'll Meet Again, Part 1
Log Date: 2094-09-22

A small trade convoy departed Carson City heading west through the Sierra Nevadas towards the Great Maze. The convoy consisted of two big rigs, several support vehicles, a modified school bus driven by Alice Nickels, and a heavily modified trophy truck driven by Jilliana Plum. Chey Alisher had accepted a ride from Plum, excited about seeing the fabled dragons of the Maze, and Nickels's bus was crewed by Conrad Carver, Grace Adair, Lydia, March, Moss Darby, and Quentin "Tinny" Vickers, all traveling with the convoy for their own reasons.

They started out of the city on US-50 and then wound north along Lake Tahoe on NV-28, heading up into the foothills as they left the lakeside. Roughly twenty-five miles out of Carson City, the scouts heard gunfire in the woods to the north. Priscilla Palmer, driver of the lead rig, radioed to Nickels and Plum to investigate but kept the rest of the convoy moving, fearing an ambush. 

Pulling off onto the shoulder in a heavily forested area, the crew witnessed a dirt bike crash as its driver, eventually revealed by med scanner to be Lt. James Greer, seemingly passed out at the handlebars. Before the crew could investigate much further, a dozen Combine soldiers who had been in pursuit of Greer arrived on the scene, demanding that everyone step back from Greer. When Lydia, Darby, and Chey failed to comply, the Black Hats opened fire. 

In the ensuing firefight, Carver, Darby, and Tinny were injured (the latter two quite severely) while loading Greer onto the bed of Plum's truck. When the Black Hat patrol had been reduced to half strength, its lieutenant ordered a retreat, and the Combine survivors began to scatter back into the woods. 


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