Spore Batch 02--"The Road to Sparta"
While I appreciate this novel method of data transmission, I find it aggravating in one particular area:
I have noticed that as my compatriots venture further from the Bolthole, it takes longer and longer for their data to reach me. Also, not every spore released will find its way back, so it takes longer to process them to get complete information through redundant data channels—the equivalent of dealing with “dropped packets” in a standard digital network. I fear that as the team moves further away, my picture of their activities may become fuzzier. Such is not the case today, however, which is fortunate, since they left me in a bit of tizzy with the last batch of spores!
Freya’s avian companion, Kuro, looked ready to dive-bomb the guard dog on the trail, but it relented at the last moment. This alerted the beast and caused it to sound a vociferous alarum. Seeing their advantage of surprise was blown, the group advanced quickly down the trail. Freya was near the front of the pack. Clearly, she hoped to use some of her animal charms to soothe the savage beastie. The other topsider, Sir Segway, was quick on the wheels of his namesake, though, and managed to charge ahead. He drew the ire of the guard dog, who nipped at his back in a most unsporting manner. Freya drew the dog’s attention and it lunged at her next, but with a combination of…whatever it is she does (and dog food), she came to a quick understanding with the creature.
Ahead on the road, the group discovered a terrible situation. Three people were strung to a tree and were being whipped by a foul blaggard under the direction of some official wearing a cowboy hat. There were several others in this group standing guard, giving them the air of a veritable posse. I think I’m using that word correctly.
The leader of the group—the “Rykers”—identified himself as Sergeant Ray Marston. When challenged about what he was doing, he explained that the three prisoners were “filthy mutants,” and he was attempting to extract information from them. Jock attempted to engage the man in dialogue and secure the prisoners’ freedom, but Sgt. Marston had a counter-proposal: He explained that the prisoners were not what he was really after. Rather, he was hunting a beast known as “The Squidge.” According to Marston, rumor had it that one of the three prisoners had information on the Squidge’s whereabouts, and could somehow summon it into their trap so that he and his men could kill it. If they could help him discover which of the three prisoners he needed, he would gladly turn over the other two.
Clearly, this was not a viable solution to the men of this recon team, I’m proud to say. Their companions were none too enthused about the trade-off, either. Seeing only one likely conclusion to this predicament, Jock attempted to regain the initiative by using a trick of his Esper abilities, and flicked the end of the whip-tender’s scourge around his craven neck as a distraction, and the fight was on!
To avoid sounding as though I am working at compiling a series of penny-dreadfuls at the expense of my compatriots, I shan’t go into a blow-by-blow of the festivities other than to say that the brave rescuers veritably dove into the enemy ranks. Riley used his martial prowess to disarm one brigand after the next while Sir Segway charged into their ranks, skewering them with his lance and then dismounting to run the curs down! MARS, predictably, plodded along and proved useful by being the most tempting target for a distant sniper, proving his true worth by soaking bullets that might have found homes in people I like better.
Somewhere here in the Bolthole, I think a deceased member of the team had his military service medals stored as personal momenta. I believe there was a purple heart in there. If MARS ever returns to darken my doorstep, perhaps I will present him with this enemy marksmanship medal as a reward for his service to the rest of the team. He can probably use it to patch one of the holes in his chassis. Ah, but I digress.
Seeing how poorly the fight was going for them, the Rykers began to flee. Sergeant Marston fired a couple parting shots into one of the bound captives before leading this rout. Sir Segway was hot on his heels. Marston crested the nearby ridge in his flight and regrouped with the distant sniper, who was now driving an honest-to-goodness truck-thing to make pick-up on his brown-trousered leader. It looked as though the truck was going to run down Sir Segway, who was charging argy-bargy up the hillside, determined to joust with the fell wagon! Fortunately for the topsider with more bravery than brains, the truck swerved to the side at the last moment to allow Marston to scamper in the bed. Not to be swayed from his path, Sir Segway ran up on the back of the truck as it slowed to nearly a stop and jabbed the tip of his lance through the empty rear window frame, gouging the driver and forcing Marston to scarper into the cab and drive off.
MARS attained target lock and blasted at the driver with terminally effective results: The truck rolled unguided down the hill, bounced across the road and rammed into a hulking tree. One member of the Rykers was still awake, having surrendered to Riley at the point of his own gun, liberated from his control by the capable corporal. With the excitement drawing to a dull roar, Jock assessed the condition of the captives. The one Marston had shot would shortly expire without some…divine intervention. After asking Freya if he could trust her (but not waiting for an answer!), Jock laid his hands on the dying victim, and promptly fell unconscious. Freya had a double-armload of trust dropped in her lap and did the best she could at keeping both of them safe.
At this point, one of the captives suggested that they all make like the wind, as he was convinced the Squidge was coming, and seeing the girl tied up to the tree—who had been cold-cocked at the outset of the fight by one of her captors—the Squidge would likely see nothing but red and attack anyone it could get its bits on. This posed a dilemma for the group: They had enough wounded and unconscious with them that there was no way to carry everyone away. Their only hope was to get the girl conscious before the Squidge arrived and strung up the forest with their entrails. The locals seemed to be terrified of the beast. Riley, not so much, but he appears to be a pragmatic sort, and seeing that running was not an option, set about making the best of a bad situation.
He, Freya and Sir Segway got everybody away from the girl and hidden as best as possible. He then tried the age-old method of splashing some precious water on her face to see if that finally roused her. With a blood-curdling howl in the distance drawing closer and closer, he managed to wake the girl. Her name was Callie Nevers, and she managed to soothe the Squidge when it approached. It was covered in a ghillie of the local brush and briars it had torn through to get here. It desecrated the bodies of a couple of fallen Rykers before its anger was sated. Once calmed down, it proved capable of speaking, and the team conversed with it for a short time. After it ascertained that Callie was unhurt and that she felt safe with the team escorting her back to Sparta, it shuffled off, seemingly uncomfortable with the notion of spoiling “the mystery” surrounding its nature. The team did not press the Squidge, and allowed it its privacy. With Jock and his patient now up from their mutual slumber, the Sergeant spent some time fixing the Ryker’s truck and they all rolled into town in style.
Callie Nevers introduced the team to Mayor Ulysses Danforth and later, “Baron” Gaston Coltrane, the local representative of the River Barons, a powerful local merchant confederation. Those two notables explained the story of how the Rykers had drifted into town and began stirring up some of the locals to distrust Sparta’s sizable population of mutated humans. The mayor despised the sentiment the Rykers had aroused among the townsfolk, and was quite grateful to the strangers, seeing how they had driven into town in Marston’s truck, which told the locals all they needed to know about the hatemongers’ fates.
Upon meeting Baron Coltrane, he made an offer to purchase MARS from the group, an offer that they regrettably declined. He was fascinated by the robot and told the group a bit of the lore about “Silver City” and Ghost Towns, offering rewards for information on either. He also mentioned some of the trouble other Barons to the south had faced recently, likely at the hands of these Rykers.
With a few more options ahead now, the team reposes in the mutant quarter and considers the direction their travels should take them.