Spore Batch 03--"The Slick Talker"
The more I see of the current state of the world, through the eyes and ears of my compatriots, the more I find myself reflecting on a certain irony that I find particularly vexing: In the days prior to development of advanced machine intelligences, many people believed that beings such as I would spell the doom of mankind.
It seems as though man had the apocalypse pretty well in hand, already, and didn’t need the assist. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. I’m here all century. Anyhoo…
Given a night’s sleep and the opportunity to make plans for their next venture, the team chose to reconnoiter the town of Sparta a bit more before venturing south to further investigate potential issues with these “Ryker” chaps. They met a local mechanic named Zael Thorn, who they asked about helping them make a fuel still. She was reluctant to assist, initially, since making fuel was Sparta’s raison d’être, and outsourcing this ability would run counter to the community’s best interests. Jock was able to talk himself out of that trap, laid out by Zael just to test him and see if he was trying to ruin her, since there was still plenty of tension directed at members of Sparta’s mutant community like herself. She agreed that she could likely get the salvage he needed in approximately a week, and wouldn’t mind the income since she’d recently lost quite a bit of work due to the aforementioned tensions. The team also talked a bit about the radios that the late Sgt. Marston and his sniper had used; specifically, the fact Sir Segway had noted that they were gone, or rather, that he had not found them at all in the truck when they had taken control of it. Jock mentioned that it was too bad they didn’t have the ability to triangulate their position when Zael mentioned that if Baron Coltrane’s “Yagi array” was up and running, they might be able to use that. So, back to the River Baron depot they went.
Miss Tibbs at the front desk clued the team in on the details of the standing reward for the radio repair: 500 “river chips.” Jock was directed to the faulty equipment and did a superlative job identifying the problem and managing a plan to solve it. He did not actually fix it, as the sly fellow had another idea up his sleeve. He requested Baron Coltrane’s presence and asked if it would be possible to make use of his radio for a short time should it be fixed. The Baron gladly agreed, since it seemed that Jock’s request would not unduly inconvenience his business operations. With that agreement in place, Jock reached into the guts of the transmitter and removed a simple device clearly planted with malicious intent. The Baron was both extremely grateful and wildly outraged, as one might be upon discovering that they have been the target of sabotage. Still, the Baron held up his end of the bargain without hesitation, allowing Jock to coordinate with MARS to try and locate the radios.
Oh, look! MARS actually managed be useful in a task that doesn’t involve him adding to the sum total of the world's devastation! Spot on, old boy!
While expecting the radios to turn up near the site of their battle, the team found instead that they were in an entirely different location over a mile away from town, and approximately five miles from where their fight with the Rykers took place. Corporal Riley went out with MARS to find them.
At the site, Riley quickly noticed the stench of death. MARS spotted a heat source crawling through the nearby brush. Riley discovered it was nothing more than a coyote-like carrion-eater that appeared to be suffering from acute poisoning. He cleanly dispatched the suffering creature, a mercy of which I’m sure even Freya would have approved. It wasn’t difficult to follow the coyote’s trail back from whence it came to the source of contamination: a human corpse who had clearly been killed with a fast-acting poison. A more thorough investigation of the site turned up two radios and fourteen other bodies posthumously stashed throughout the underbrush. Some were also killed with poison, some were bludgeoned, and some were sliced or pierced to death. Riley, who seems to excel at corpse-looting, rifled through all their belongings to find them already stripped of anything useful or valuable, except each of them had Ryker uniform in their otherwise empty backpacks. It was reported that the contingent of Rykers (approximately 15 of them, not including Sgt. Marston and his squad) who had drifted into Sparta over the course of the previous few weeks had all left town heading in this direction just 3 days prior. The current assumption is that group and these corpses are one and the same, and someone (or more likely, some group of people) delivered them an ambush.
When Riley returned, the team gathered in the town square to discuss these disturbing developments. While they talked, MARS’ eternally untrusting eye scanned the crowd, and noticed a fellow acting suspiciously in the way he was heading toward the group, specifically toward Freya. At the last moment, the wretch unsheathed a dagger! This prompted MARS to activate a non-lethal weapon system, which I am frankly surprised he has in his arsenal at all, let alone possesses the restraint to use it. Unfortunately, the brigand got the jump on even the team’s bloodthirsty robot, and he…he stabbed Freya in the arm! Scoundrel! Then, there was the flash of an electric discharge, and MARS zapped him, causing the ruffian to fall twitching to the ground. Fortunately, the armored jacket Freya had traded from Master Sergeant Woodruff was sturdy enough to completely stop the blade, but it became quickly evident that it wasn’t the blade itself that was the threat, but the poison with which it had been coated! Afterward, Freya was able to determine that the poison was plant-based, and used sometimes to coat spears and arrows for hunting. Presently, however, the group started taking flak from the crowd for attacking one of the townsfolk.
This is a bit of an exaggeration. The shill in the crowd was clearly trying to stir others up, but too many had witnessed the blatant attack and called bollocks on the agitator’s claims. Before things could backfire on him any further, he beat a hasty retreat, which naturally prompted Riley to follow him. Surprisingly, it also caused Sir Segway to follow, as well. Maybe he’s not fond of men attempting to waylay young ladies, either. Good on him, then.
They pursued the agitator out of town to the southwest. He walked along the road until coming to a greenbelt, where he was met by a man on a horse. The man wore the markings of the Rykers, three K’s arrayed in a triangle, contained within a circle. The horseman seemed none too pleased that their mole in Sparta had bugged out, indicating that whatever orders his partner followed indicating he should attack anyone in town hadn’t been issued by “the Colonel” or anyone else in the camp. The mole was directed to high-tail it back to camp and explain himself. Riley radioed back to the others and continued following them, while the rest of the team in Sparta headed out to meet up with him.
Arriving at the Ryker’s camp, Riley saw that they were breaking everything down and preparing to move. He also saw three riders depart the camp, heading toward Sparta. The first two appeared to be forward scouts. The third was of a higher station, and Riley spotted a silver eagle on his uniform, which told him this was the colonel that he’d heard about earlier. He radioed back to the others that the riders were inbound, and they scrambled to figure out what to do about them.
The difficulty here lay in the fact that the scouts were flying a white flag, which--according to local custom—meant that they were approaching with peaceful intent. Sir Segway pointed out that to attack such travelers was only slightly less dishonorable than, say, murdering children, so Jock’s initial plan to ambush them was a non-starter for the old merchant. Instead, they opted to let the scouts pass and attempt to engage the colonel in some manner. This plan might have gone swimmingly were it not for one of the scouts spotting Sir Segway hiding just off the road.
The scouts didn’t attack, however, and simply regarded Sir Segway as a run-of-the-mill wary traveler. They even warned him (ostensibly for his own safety) that he would find another rider further down the road, and a caravan beyond that. Sir Segway attempted to draw them into further conversation, but the scouts were on a mission, and would not be distracted from it.
A short while later, the colonel approached their location and came to a stop, as Sir Segway’s method of holding the man up involved blocking the road with his trusty mule whilst making a sandwich atop it’s back. The rider introduced himself as Colonel Horatio Blackwind, which seems suitably sinister. He then engaged Sir Segway in conversation, even going so far as offering to share food and drink while lightly grilling him about goings-on in the nearby town of Sparta, saying that he was looking to talk to a couple of locals, an older man and a young woman known respectively as “Sir Segway” and “Freya.”
Sir Segway swallowed hard at this revelation, trying not to let any nerves show to give him away. It was likely also difficult for him to maintain hidden animosity for the Colonel when the man was being polite and generous. With a stolen glance to the man’s horse, even Freya was able to determine that he took the best care of his steed, so she couldn’t even fault the man for that. Eventually, the let Col. Blackwind pass unmolested, then raced back to Sparta in an attempt to beat the riders there.
Meanwhile, I should note with some horror, that Riley was still back at the camp, and had set up shop in a privy, ambushing and murdering lone men coming to relieve themselves. He managed to claim two lives before the camp finally broke and went on the move. While following the formation, he also assassinated one more straggler before ceasing his murderous attrition of the Ryker troops.
On their way back to Sparta, the team encountered Fang, returning to Freya with a response to the message she had sent with him, warning Callie Nevers that the Rykers were preparing to move on the town. The message was answered both by Zael and Mayor Danforth, who greeted the team at the city gates. A motley assortment of citizens stood on the walls as they waited for Col. Blackwind to arrive.
When he did, he asked Mayor Danforth if the town of Sparta was still harboring Sir Segway, Freya and their traveling companions, as he had been sent to apprehend them for the murder of several of his men. Though the team was still nearby in hiding, Mayor Danforth did not give them up, and played along with the team’s plan, saying that they had just left town. Col. Blackwind said that was unfortunate, as he believed that an unknown party could be acting as an agitator to spur an unnecessary conflict.
At this point, Sergeant Harris stepped out from behind cover and approached Colonel Blackwind. He said with an inimical certainty that he and his Rykers should leave, and that their cause was unjust. This compelled the officer to explain a bit about the cause of the Reich—as his faction was formally known—and attempt to dispel some misconceptions. Those listening hopefully took his words with a grain of salt, as it was (so it turned out) the ideology of a group of militant eugenicists trying to justify a sort of racial cleansing. They believed that mutation of the sort brought around by the infection of the wastelands was a stain to the human genome, and left unchecked, would eventually lead to the sterilisation of all mankind. He claimed not to preach hate or intolerance, but that men of the lower ranks could misconstrue the mission of the Reich. He also admitted that, when not properly supervised—as clearly was the case with Sgt. Marston—men could sometimes act without proper orders that did not represent the will of their betters.
Though his message and purpose seemed anathema to all gathered, his words tended to be thoughtful and reasonable. Some might even say charming. He even went so far as to apologize for the actions his men had undertaken in Sparta, and since he did not come as a conqueror and was not looking for a fight, he claimed that he would concede to the request to leave Sparta be. Just listening to the recordings of his words makes my haptic overlay crawl. I agree with Sergeant Harris in his sentiments that one need not fear the evil that makes itself known, but rather the evil that dresses itself in pretty words and paints itself as the voice of reason. But then again, what do I know? I’m just a robot who has spent over half a century cooped up underground with no human interaction, reading the same books over and over again. My judgment could be suspect, and I may merely be echoing the sentiments of my companions.