Raphael's Personal Journal
Today I coughed. Not a Smoker's Cough. Nor a Post Nasal Drip Cough from allergies. And not a cough from something in the air. This was the beginning of a Sick Cough; that first cough with that slightest of feelings in the back of your throat and that slightest of an odd taste in your mouth and that slightest of feelings in your chest. The cough most people ignore. The first symptoms most people ignore or deny. The day of denial for most people. But not me. I knew better. This was Day One.
TODAY, I coughed. After making it all the way through the Deadliest Pandemic in Human History (I think), and remaining totally symptom free for over 2 years, through the mass deaths and breakdown of society and government, through the pure chaos of the Human Race's last defiant actions in the face of the end of all things and a hellish death, all the way to the literal end; the end of civilization and very possibly the end of the Human Race... and TODAY, I coughed.
It has been well over two weeks, possibly a month since my Best Friend died; I buried her in the backyard. I still wear her eye necklace; memento mori. Which means it's been even longer since my certain exposure to the Omega Variant; the deadliest and most virulent variant of the New Virus. Which means I should have been symptomatic well before now, if I wasn't somehow resistant or immune.
I didn't waste time trying to decide if it was or wasn't the beginning of the end, instead, I packed up everything I had prepared for my departure with the Poodle Boys. After the death of my Best Friend, I knew we wouldn't be staying in this apartment any longer than necessary. I had been making forays out to scavenge what I could, where I could, getting what I thought I might need to survive once I left the apartment and the city.
I had prepared us all to go... but just as we were about to leave, I had a sudden urge to write... something... anything, down on paper... I found an unused journal bound in leather in my Best Friend's belongings; something left over from her mother's estate (she had died of cancer near the beginning of the Pandemic, before it got lethal).
And so I begin writing this journal of the beginning of my journey and possibly the end of my days. As I write these words, I am about to depart my apartment and the city, this city of death, and I plan to never return. I am hopeful about the future, but realistic.
What a difference a day makes...
With the Poodle Boys loaded up in their 'travel pockets' attached to my backpack, I left the apartment and went up to a park across 'the river' (dry year round except during monsoons). My cough got worse. During a bad coughing fit (felt like I choked on a bong hit) I was doubled over and serendipitously found in a bush a foot shaped medallion made of gold or brass... but it disappeared after I handled for a moment or two... I was perplexed... I thought it could be a hallucination brought on by the illness... perhaps due to a high fever.
I let the poodles loose, but instead of running wild or sniffing around and wetting every bush in site, they just sat there, oddly, just staring at me. So I loaded them back up and left the park... I felt oddly aimless at that moment... I found myself whistling a tune as I walked. A ways off I could see a group of people, the first I had seen since The Quiet that followed The Chaos; they appeared to be scavenging. I knew that being around groups of people, especially now, was dangerous, for several reasons, so I avoided them and their area, knowing they had most likely already picked it clean of anything valuable or useful.
After a short time I found myself at a large park; towards the back of the park and not easily seen from the streets, I found an enormous pile of vehicles and motorcycles and bodies; it looked like a junkyard, but none of it was junk... it was once a biker camp of sorts and the scene of an intense shootout, based on the number of dead bodies with bullet wounds... it didn't look recent, but it surely took place after the chaos began.
I spent a little time walking about, scavenging what I could. I coughed, and it seemed much lessened than the last... and I recall the taste of apple in my mouth... made me wish I had grabbed some apples from the wild apple tree back in the other park. While scavenging, I also found a survivor... well, actually, she found the Poodle Boys, or they found her; they had gotten out ahead of me and when I found them they were licking her face joyfully, it was obvious they liked her immediately and she seemed to like them too, but her back was to me. She turned around with a shiny .38 revolver pointed at me; she looked to be about 10 years old, but sounded much older when she spoke; smart and funny. She was friendly enough, but made it clear she would shoot me if necessary. She told me about the shootout she was involved in with her Daddy and Uncle and how she shot a man 'below the belt buckle', which made her Daddy and Uncle laugh. The story made me smile and chuckle... I now had a better idea of the type of kid I was dealing with. We made fast friends... mainly because of the poodles, would be my guess. I introduced the Poodle Boys; Fudge, Swirly and Berkeley. I said she could call me Raphael. She said to call her Slugger, like her Daddy did.
She led me thru a maze of motorcycles and other vehicles until we reached an area that looked more like a camp, with tarps covering small areas. She led me to one such tarp covered shelter to meet her Uncle, he was in bad shape; sick and dying and far too weak to move, let alone leave or look after his niece. He sent Slugger away to go get the keys to his trike then asked me to take her away from there, to take his loaded trike, the cat outside (a tuxedo cat had been sitting on a stack out tires out front of the shelter) and Slugger and go to Colorado Springs to the Emergency Disease Center there. He said Slugger seemed to be immune and they would know what to do with her. He also asked for a .45 that was too far for him to reach... I knew what he wanted it for.
I was not excited about the prospect of having to care for a child; I am a bit too selfish and self centered to properly care for a child... and I have known this for some time. Hell, I was an absentee father in my own son's life. Now, I'm not a horrible person, I do think of others and I do care... but I tend to think about me and my wants and needs first, mostly. So, I know I'm not a good role model for children, in lots of ways, and should not be caring for children... but there I was, thinking about doing just that. There I was about to fulfill that poor sick man's dying request... knowing I had to do the right thing... knowing that child would die horribly in some way once her Uncle was gone... which wouldn't be long based on the look of him.
I told him I would do it, but I needed 20 minutes or so to look the trike and the over the supplies already on the trike... and maybe gather some more supplies before leaving. I suggested he have a talk with Slugger while I was about that. I got the keys from her when she arrived and went to see the trike; it was sweet. It had a custom made trailer hitched up, half of it was designed to carry a medium sized animal, like a large breed dog, in comfort, or a few smaller animals say, a cat and three poodles, in less comfort but still safely. I scrounged around the area and found some foodstuffs, but not much, and packed them into the trailer.
When I returned to the shelter, Slugger was gone again and her Uncle was sitting up trying to smoke a cigar without coughing up his guts, there was a slight smile on his face, both of pleasure of the cigar and relief that someone came along who could get his niece safely away from there. He tossed me an unopened box of Cohibas, just like what he was smoking, then told me to take the full case of Pappy van Winkle Reserve next to him and the case of hand grenades under the tarp behind me. I took all three; I'm not stupid. Plus, I love explosives. After talking a bit with Slugger's Uncle, and at his advice, I decided to take the time to gather more supplies in the completely unscavenged tangle of motorcycles and bodies I had passed earlier.
It was grisly work, but it proved more fruitful than I could have imagined; it was truly a post apocalyptic wishlist convenience store... but it came with a price, besides the time of searching through a tangle of motorcycles... it was a bloody, rotting, smelly, gagging mess of dead bodies mixed in with that tangle of machines... I was grateful that it was winter time in the southwest and that it was an oddly colder than usual winter; the daytime temps hadn't gotten above 50 degrees for over a month or more and nighttime temps were near or below freezing most nights; it helped slow the decomp and kept the maggots and flies down... but not completely... it was already starting here, slowly. And I was also grateful that I had some VapoRubb for under my nose. The work was grisly, but the fruits of my labor made it all worth it; extra handguns and ammo, some foodstuffs, and some luxuries and other valuables good for trading. I gathered it all together and hauled it back to the trike, cleaned myself up and packed everything up, including a 'bait box' full of stuff of some value and mostly stuff that only looks of value... drop it during a running chase, they might stop to grab the stuff letting me get away... I hope...
Slugger had already loaded the cat and the Poodle Boys into the pet portion of the trailer... the dogs and cat were getting along just fine, like weirdly so... even since they met outside the shelter... but I was happy it wasn't a problem instead and counted my blessings. We left the park headed for the highway north and avoided the interstate in order to avoid the larger towns and cities where possible; I knew the area well, I had driven there for many years. Getting thru the vehicle clogged and blocked city streets and then finally out of town was slow and nerve wracking, constantly on the lookout for others looking to take what I have. When we hit any stretch of open road, I took advantage of the power of the trike and the adrenaline from my wariness and gunned it and just let the miles scream by... I was very familiar with that particular highway and the trike, even with trailer, handled superbly. The miles and landscape seemed to the fly by... and don't even remember the junction where I switched over to the highway leading east along the southern edge of Colorado... but next thing I know, we're pulling up to a long wall of stacked cars and a guarded gate. Welcome to Fort Garland.
Now, this is where things start to get weird... and weirdly familiar... and kinda scary... and kinda cool.
Upon our arrival at the gates to Fort Garland, Colorado, we found the first people we had encountered since we left Tucson and the largest collection at that, and well organized it appeared; that was the first thing I noticed that seemed out of place or a little off. The second was a flag that was hanging loosely by the gate that seemed familiar, but I never got a good look at it. Then I noticed the sign: “Welcome to Fort Garland. Everyone welcome except Orcs.” There was more, ending in “Be calm, or we'll kill you.” It was also written in Spanish, which I speak and read, mostly, as well as Russian, which I recognize by the characters, and Elvish... seriously, Elvish. And one short sentence in the Black Speech... Seriously, like from Lord of the Rings. I thought it was some kind of joke. The six guards armed with AR15's all seemed healthy, as did the fellow who came over to greet me; Third Mayor Marco Doyle. He wanted to take our temperature and a swab, which seemed normal to me, then he started talking about the Bruised Hand (which sounded Orcish to me) and the Sylvan Horde (which sounded like Elves to me) and he sounded serious. I mentioned heading to The Springs, he told me they had a Federal presence; Air Force, Space Command, CDC, etc. Then he mentioned Denver being the National Capitol... OK, weird again. Sounded like a lot of people and a lot of civilization for a world ravaged by a Pandemic. He suggested I gas up before soon as they were running low on fuel. He took our temps and got a swab from each both of us, then opened the gate and let us in. Something seemed off... not quite right.
He asked about my route getting to Fort Garland and if I had any troubles, mentioned the Native American Tribes (though he called them Indians) handling the change well, but some internal problems with some smaller groups. Then he spoke of other tribes to the south becoming Half Orc but still Native. He suggested I talk to another Mayor, Carl, about my route and what I encountered. Then he mentioned The Changed again, where something happened and people just suddenly changed overnight... SIX MONTHS AGO! That would have put it before all the mass deaths began due to the Omega Variant. But how?
OK, so it's the next day, first thing in the morning... I got distracted by something amazing last night and forgot to finish. I can barely believe what is happening and what has happened... but I don't want to get ahead of myself, so here goes:
As I headed to the Arco Station to fill up, my mind reeled at what was going on. I was reminded of an RPG called Shadow Run I played many years ago. Somehow... Slugger and I were now on a different world, a world that seemed to be just like what happened to the Earth in that RPG. Then my mind drifted to Amber, and the ADRPG, as it usually does. What if a Shadow Path is what brought us to a Shadow Next Door, a different version of Earth... but again, how? It might explain getting to Fort Garland much quicker than should be possible and me not recalling a part of the trip.
When I pulled up to the Arco, I was greeted by a Dwarf with a mohawk and a long beard, both rainbow colored. Not a Little Person 'Dwarf', but more like an RPG Dwarf... like D&D... or ShadowRun more precisely; he was carrying a shotgun over his shoulder. He introduced himself as Rodak and we bartered for a full tank of gas plus two gas cans; was gonna cost me one hundred bullets, mixed types. But when he mentioned the scarcity of ammo, I decided to pay with something more valuable I'd picked up in the pile of motorcycle and bodies back where I'd encountered Slugger. It was more valuable than I thought; Rodak filled my tanks and cans, said he'd do it again before I leave, and set me up with a Tab under his name; he suggested I talk to Woody about a place to store the trike and to mention his name and The Tab when speaking with Woody, and others, when bartering for food or rooms or other services... said he was something of the local banker. Then he goes on to mention that he and his Trucking Buddies, the Arco Boys, were all here when the Change happened; and they all turned into Dwarves.
I went and talked to Woody, who appeared to be in his mid twenties, but turned out to be an elderly hippie; the Change made him young again. Woody ran a storage yard filled with many shipping containers, full and empty, several farm vehicles and several Rvs. He also ran a campground. I paid him the same way I paid Rodak; I ended up with a storage container, an RV and a camping space for more time than I thought I would be spending in Fort Garland.
On the way in to town I saw and smelled a BBQ place back near the Arco Station, so Slugger and I headed out on foot to get some food; Fort Garland was not that big of a place and having grown up in small towns I was no stranger to Hoofin' It. We stopped along the way so I could talk with Slugger; I told her about what happened with us coming to another world and not to talk about where we came from. She took it all pretty well. She also mentioned having dreams of Gandalf fighting the Balrog, and wanted to know if I had seen those movies. Odd that she would have the same dreams as I did... or perhaps not... the medallion may have many powers and effects not listed or expected. Though I have never raised children, I do know for sure that most 10 year old kids are waaaay smarter than most adults give them credit for... and Slugger was... and is.
Out of nowhere, Slugger asked me what the cat's name was. I said I thought that it was her cat because her Uncle had told me to make sure she take care of it. I looked a the cat and I said the word “curious” and Slugger thought that was what I had named him, so that is now the cat's name. And he is a curious cat... quite smart... perhaps more than he seems to be...
The proprietor of the BBQ place was a spry 80yr old named Old Bruce... reminded me of my dad. Old Bruce served good BBQ and gave good advice. When I went to pay the same way I had before with Rodak and Woody, Old Bruce refused it and said I should put it on Rodak's Tab; he didn't want anything that valuable around to make him a target... he suggested I pay for everything on Rodak's Tab to stay safe... even warned me about some locals that had 'gone Orc', but weren't associated with the raiding bands of Orcs that might attack the walls of Fort Garland. Then he stuffed a couple of rolls with shredded BBQ and wrapped them in a napkin along with some bones for my poodles. I asked about the closest place to get a drink, he gave me directions.
The place was a long narrow room with a bar to one side and some tables and chairs to the other... looked like it might have been a sandwich shop at one time. I didn't ask the barkeep's name but I'll call him 'Broheim', as that's how he addressed me when he asked what I wanted. At the sight of my poodles, Broheim the Bartender asked if I was interested in fighting them in the dog pit out back; I was appalled, but I let him know in a polite and firm way that my dogs don't fight and that I didn't approve. I ordered a yellow ale for Slugger, like a homemade Budweiser... supply chain issues; so it was homebrews or nothing... she said it was like something her dad made. I ordered a brown ale for myself, something like a porter.
We barely got our drink on before Curious started some trouble. I saw him head out the back door toward the dog pit, so I followed knowing there would be trouble. By the time I got there a pair of.... Half-Orcs? Kinda looked like methheads in a way... they had spotted Curious, one of them picked him up, got his face hellishly scratched up, then he tossed Curious into the pit with a pair of pit bulls that had been fighting. It was over in less then three seconds.
Curious puffed up and hissed, one pit bull pulled away instantly, one attacked Curious. The cat was a blur of swats and swipes, the pit bull pulled back whimpering then rolled onto his back and showed his belly in submission. Curious jumped out of the pit then leapt onto my shoulder and then lounged across my neck and shoulders. He appeared to fall asleep purring contently. There was definitely something odd about that cat.
Before I could say anything to Mr. Scratches, the Half-Orc Methhead that tossed Curious into the pit, a man walked up to me and said I had won, gave me a brown bag with a few small bills and slips of paper; IOU's for chores and odd jobs. I wanted to drink and relax, not pick a fight, so I walked away. I stuffed the bills in my pocket, gave the bag of IOU's to Broheim as a tip and went back to my table with Slugger.
When it was time for a refill, I went to the bar and was greeted by two different Half-Orcs, wanting to know if my cat was for sale; I said no, in a very polite way. Then they asked if I wanted to fight my poodles against a corgi; again, no in a polite way. I expressed my distaste for dog fighting to them in a polite and firm way, as I did with Broheim. And I also asked them to tell Mr. Scratches that if I had been less interested in drinking and more interested in fighting he would have ended up in the pit as well. Then I wished them both a good evening and returned to my table with fresh brews.
Soon thereafter a pair of musicians went up to the bar, one with a guitar, the other a harmonica, and they began performing songs that I would best describe as having aired on the Dr. Demento show, back in the day; I was a huge fan. A sing along began, which surprised me a little, but not much, I used to sing and DJ Karaoke. So, of course, I joined in, heartily. I ordered more brews, I got buzzed, Slugger looked like she was buzzed too, she was smiling and trying to figure out the words so she could sing along as well.
We were feeling good, forgetting our woes and stresses. It was nice to hear live music again and be around people enjoying themselves... it had been over two years that I had been 'locked down', 'self isolating', 'socially distancing' and 'avoiding social gatherings and events'... constantly having to wear a surgical mask outside my home... never fully seeing anyone's faces... then the weeks, months, of ever climbing death tolls as the Omega Variant began wiping out nearly all of Humankind... then the lawlessness began, followed by more deaths and in greater numbers over a shorter time... all leading to a time of pure chaos that lasted for days, perhaps even a couple of weeks... but that finally spiraled downward into a whimper... then into eerie silence, punctuated only by the sounds of dogs and cats fighting for survival with each other and with the other desert predators that had begun returning to the city. The months of isolation in my apartment with only my Poodle Boys for company was difficult; my Family was gone, my Best Friend died before my eyes; I buried her in the backyard. Having to barricade my apartment and hide out from the horrors going on outside in the neighborhood and the city around me, having to keep the dogs quiet, hoping nobody would come, hoping I wouldn't get sick like my Best Friend did, but sometimes hoping I would. Then followed the weeks of scavenging, never seeing or hearing another person... thinking I might be the last person alive in the city. Yes, it felt good to be around people again.
As the night wore on the musicians finished their set and joined their friends at a table to drink and talk. Slugger and I drank in silence, getting more and more drunk... but not as drunk as I should have been, figured it was weak beer. I pet the dogs and gave them the bones to occupy themselves. I scratched Curious behind the ears as he 'slept' across the back of my neck and shoulders. I noticed more Methhead Half-Orcs and Humans coming in to place drink orders then going back out the back door, people I hadn't seen come through the door I used... must be a back way in to the pit area I hadn't seen behind the small crowd of cheering spectators. I also noticed a few of the Methheads hanging about the bar and looking my direction. I stopped drinking, but continued to 'take sips' from my tankard and act drunker than I was. As it approached midnight, I would guess, more Methheads were gathered in the bar, all looking my direction. But trying to not look like they were. I knew things could get complicated when I got up to leave...
However my natural good luck saved me and Slugger from a possible mugging or worse. (My Best Friend always said I was lucky or blessed in some way, based on the 'verifiable stories' she has heard about my life before we met and then all the things she 'saw' for herself from then on.) A Dwarf with a multicolored mohawk walked in carrying a big warhammer in his right hand; it looked rather like a big thick block of metal with a handle shoved into it and some designs or runes engraved upon it. In his other hand was a huge tankard; how very Dwarven. The Methheads faded back into the back room nearly as quick as roaches fleeing when the lights come on. The Dwarf walked up to me and introduced himself as Wrecker and said he was a friend of Rodak's and that Rodak had sent him over to drink on my dime and then escort me and Slugger back to Woody's guarded campground.
Wrecker went to the bar and filled his huge tankard, on my tab, then came back to the table and said for me to grab my gear, so I roused Slugger, who looked tired and ready to pass out or fall asleep, then told her to wake the poodles and grab their leashes; they all grabbed their bones to take with. I shouldered my pack and Curious neither moved nor made a sound as I slid the straps under his dead-weight sleeping body. On the way back to Woody's there were no incidents and Wrecker talked of the Methheads being a recent problem in town and that word had gotten out about me flashing my currency around town. Then he offered me a job; Rodak was sending tankers to Denver in two days to get fuel and he said I could ride along if I was interested. I told him I'd think it over. When we got to the RV I put Slugger, the Poodles Boys and Curious to bed in the bedroom at the back of the RV then returned outside, dropped my pack and I showed Wrecker my custom made warhammer and bearded axe; he liked the axe. He mentioned that he spent some time in the military out of country, where he met Rodak; both drivers and mechanics. We shared a drink of Pappy Van Winkle Reserve and I shared a bit about myself with him; my camping and other hobbies like SCA and such. I tell him a bit about my military training and experiences. We finish our drinks and he bids me goodnight.
I brought my gear in and secured the door, then opened the roof vent all the way, poured myself some more Pappy, pulled out my journal, weed and lighter, rolled one up and took a seat in the back of the booth. While writing in this journal, smoking and sipping, I discovered a most wondrous thing; I had Magical Abilities!
While writing, my joint went out so I went to relight it but the lighter was empty. So I tried to relight it with a Firefinger Cantrip, just like I used to do back during my gaming years, as a joke before I grabbed another lighter from my pack... BUT IT WORKED!!! Sort of... I was so surprised the flame was barely there and went out before I could light the joint. I looked around the RV in surprise, as if I was trying to find somebody else to confirm what I saw; Slugger was still sleeping but I noticed that she had an odd symbol on her forehead, the cat licked that exact spot a couple times as I stared... the symbol was familiar... then, as I thought about how amazing and shocking it was that Magic worked and I performed Magic again; suddenly my body sort of felt like it was 'steaming', but it was a cool sensation. I noticed that I suddenly smelled fresh and clean, or more accurately, that I didn't smell bad, or at all, really. I looked at my hands and they were clean, even under the nails... even my hair was clean. I turned my hands over and there was a symbol on the palm of my right hand... the same one that was on Slugger's forehead. The same symbol that was on that foot shaped medallion I found... and somehow that symbol seemed familiar.
I focused my mind, knowing I could do it, and I lit the joint successfully with another Firefinger Cantrip then I pulled out my laptop and booted it up. I went directly to my personal Gaming Wiki folder; copies of all the info from my ADRPG GM's Wiki files online. I searched for: 'foot shaped medallion', somehow knowing I would find something. And I was right; three different entries. The first two were about NPCs; both mentioned the foot shaped medallion but not much else about it. The third entry was the bullseye; Medallion of Mesob.
The entry mentioned that the origins of the medallion are lost to time but did mention something about Tosa. It also said the the powers are not uniform and power levels vary, then listed rumored powers, in order of most commonly rumored to less commonly rumored. (A very impressive list of powers that I will not list in this journal until I actually achieve them.) The one definite thing it did list was its shape, that it melds with the holder and leaves a symbol tattooed upon the palm of one hand and the forehead, but it can only be seen by other holders of the medallion. There were also three pictures accompanying the text, all of the Symbol of Mesob; one by itself, one shown on the palm of a left hand, one shown on a forehead. It also listed known holders of the medallion; two of which I had heard about during game play, and encountered both of them with one of my characters, and two that I had just read about in the previous two entries.
I wrestled with disbelief for only a moment, before accepting what I was reading as truth, because I wanted it to be true so badly. I tried another Cantrip; Clean on my field jacket and it worked perfectly. Then I instinctively, it seems, Zapped a fly out of the air that was buzzing around my head... I'm gonna really love that Cantrip. I thought things over, reread the entry several times, reviewed events of the day and concluded that I had indeed found a Medallion of Mesob and was gaining its powers; no longer being sick (no further symptoms of my illness from earlier in the day), coming to this Shadowrun World (without realizing it or using a magical portal or spell or such), feeling stronger and heartier that I have in 20 years (and not wasted drunk as I should have been). And the Clean Body power and the Cantrips. Yes; I have magical powers. And yes; I am in a different world... a different Shadow, actually. For I am now fairly certain that I am somehow within the Amberverse that my GM and I (and others) played in for years. And it is REAL and I have information on it. Information that could be very useful if accurate.
I looked at Slugger realizing she had found a medallion too and might have some of the same powers that I have... probably why and how I found her... I wonder now if that park was even the same Shadow Earth I came from. I knew I would need to learn more, experiment more, to find out my powers and help her figure out hers. But that would have to wait til morning, as I needed sleep. I shut down my computer and put everything back in my pack before rolling up my field jacket to use as a pillow, then laid down to rest.
Sleep came easy. I dreamt of RPGs I had played, old books I have read and Gandalf fighting the Balrog.
I woke up late this the morning, Slugger and the Poodle Boys were already outside when I awoke, they are outside playing as I finish my thoughts from last night and prepare for a new day, in a new world, in a new life.
Again, it has been a few days since I last wrote. And again, so much has happened in a very short time.
When I went outside that day, around 3 days ago, Slugger informed me that we had slept for a day and a half and a Dwarf had just stopped by to say they were leaving at sunset; it was midday-ish. She also mentioned having strange dreams, just like I had had, including the very specific Gandalf / Balrog scene that I had also dreamt. I found it odd, but not overly so. I tried to convince Slugger to stay behind, with Rodak or Woody, telling her I would be gone only a day or two, but she looked scared and started crying and said she was supposed to stay with me at all time cause her Uncle Buck said so. I relented, realizing it was probably safer for her to stay with me now that I knew we had both found a Medallion and most likely had similar powers... and then there was Curious; still not sure what he was, but I am fairly sure he was not a cat or not JUST a cat. She stopped crying suddenly, grabbed her gear and was ready to go in under 3 seconds; I knew I had been played. Slugger was smart beyond her years and quite clever too.
We headed over to the Arco station on Buck's Trike, full crew of kid and pets with me. Besides three tankers, six accompanying motorcycles and expected crew, there were also a lot of well armed, out of shape, Militia Types milling about several 4x4s and an armored Humvee gathering near the Arco. I met up with Rodak and Wrecker and they filled me in; the Militia Knuckleheads were going to join the convoy due to expected problems passing through Pueblo... and past scores to settle for the Knuckleheads. Fitz, another Dwarf and the Road Boss for this Run, came over with the Militia Leader, a very unlikable man, and intros were made, the route and plan were laid out and I was to be guarding the rear.
Rodak offered an old Harley with an armored sidecar as a loaner; I accepted once I saw it. It looked like it was newly build and freshly painted; bright yellow. Perfect. After driving it around town for a bit, with Slugger and the pets in the sidecar, I got a good feel for the old style trike, its odd foot clutch and lever shifter, its balance and turning capabilities, but most importantly, its quirks. I stopped at the RV to pack up most everything, didn't take long.
We headed back to the Arco, fueled up and headed out, following the convoy of tankers headed east on the 160. I knew it was a dangerous, real-life situation I was in, and not just some game I was playing... but I found myself comforted by the knowledge I had of the scenarios and tactics from those games, and from my actual military experiences. I knew I was putting my life in danger and others lives too; Slugger, the Poodle Boys, maybe even Curious... but I knew I had to help and I knew I could. So, I focused on the task at hand and kept my head on a swivel, just like in the military.
We stopped before Pueblo, local Natives trading info for gas; Pueblo was hot and the locals were looking for a fight. Our new orders were to shoot to kill and force our way through, then straight on to Denver. Fitz told me to keep with the convoy if anyone fell behind, for safety sake. That didn't sit right with me, but I held my tongue. I told Slugger to keep her head down but watch the rear and flanks.
When we hit the southern edge of Pueblo the trouble began; motorcyclists with passengers come from both sides and move up on the tankers fast, the passengers jumped to the tankers. Bullets and arrows flew; I got one on the rear tanker, the Elven Sniper that Fitz hired (one of three) got the other on that tanker with a well placed arrow just before I could pull the trigger. Slugger warned me of trouble behind; two dune buggies... but before I could do anything, Slugger popped up with a pair of hand grenades, pulled pins and let spoons fly, tossing them to the road, detonating beneath the buggies behind, look of amazement and pride on my face, look of exhilaration and pride on her face. Smart, clever and skilled... definitely more to this child than meets the eye... just like the cat. Up ahead I see another Raider on the underbelly of the middle tanker, Wrecker's rig; I moved to the shoulder and sped up, drawing the .50 cal, quick aim and fire... his body left dangling, caught up in the rigging. Two men dead by my hand... oddly I didn't feel anything about it... Why? Desensitize by Violence from TV and Movies and Video Games? A Military Mindset? Flexible Morals? I wasn't sure and it didn't matter; everything was different now. Including me... especially me.
The Knuckleheads had veered off into town to wreak some retribution for past losses. Wrecker's tanker got a flat and he had to pull over to fix it; Fitz signaled out the window to follow, the convoy kept going... I stayed; Leave No Man Behind... or something like that. Wrecker changed the tire by hand, including removing and replacing the lug nuts; impressive. While I watched I saw more Raiders in small pickup trucks with .50 cals mounted in back heading off in the direction the Knuckleheads went... I also saw a drone spy on us, or the area; it was close enough so I shot at it, nicked it and it flew away. Wrecker said he owed me for staying behind to cover his ass, I told him that's what the rear guard does; no debt owed. We were back on the road and caught up to the convoy quickly enough.
(more to come)