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Session 3: SNAP, CRACKLE, POP
VAULT DWELLERS: Wren (27-year-old rodent taxidermist)
ABOVE-GROUNDERS: Zeke (the faceless, security at the infirmary)
ADAPTIVE CONCEITS: Wren's hysterical sobbing has gotten on Dez' nerves, and she's been given a sedative to keep her quiet. Zeke is still out patrolling the airport perimeter, and has hunkered down inside an old 727 to escape the rain.
Elrond (Vault Dweller) - We learn that Elrond had some experience with foodslavers in the days before the fall. Back in 2019 he was rounded up in a general sweep and held for a time at Nellis Air Force Base, where a temporary Cordyceps Containment Facility had been erected under a public-private partnership between the US Air Force and Pioneer Proteins Incorporated. He managed to escape, but not without killing some people and making some enemies. We also learn that over the years in the vault Elrond performed brainwashing experiments and attempted to plant post-hypnotic suggestions in both Joel and George, some of which may have worked, but with unpredictable effects on the boys' psychological development.
Joel (Vault Dweller) - He was secretly taught strategy and anticapitalist ideology by Elrond during the hypnosis sessions. And he's changed his mind about Wren. He is no longer interested in her, since she seems to become hysterical under pressure. He's growing increasingly concerned about the vault door, and still hasn't told anyone he forgot to close it.
George (Vault Dweller) - George wants to die. Laying in the dirt, partly covered by a large piece of corrugated metal, skin peeling from the rain, George has a series of visions in which scenes from his short and mostly uneventful life go by. He sees himself as a young boy playing with a stuffed giraffe (his most sentimental possession is the foot of this plush toy, which he carries to this day). He sees himself doing poorly with the logic and math that Joel did so well at, but excelling in his martial arts training and sparring with Elrond. He remembers his father, who was a military man, and his father's final words to him: "To give up and die early is the greatest dishonor." At this moment, that's exactly what George is considering doing.
Dez (Angel) - It's been fifty years, as far as she knows, since anyone was able to get a sample of pure human blood, untainted by Cordyceps or high levels of petrochemicals. Dez realizes that the vault-dwellers would be very useful as a control group, and their blood might be useful in helping to develop anti-toxins or vaccines. She wants those blood samples. She's worried about upsetting the Reapers, but mostly because they have a good machinist who sometimes fixes stuff she needs.
Dodge (Driver) - He's also worrying about the inevitable visit from the Reapers. He has no doubt that escaping squadleader will tell his gang bosses where the attack took place, and they'll be back here as soon as the rain lets up to do a little investigating. The rain in Vegas rarely lasts longer than 30 minutes. And from what he knows of the Reapers, detente is not one of their stronger suits.
Dip (Ruin Runner) - Checking out that “Cannonymous” button she found near Dez' dropbox this morning, Dip realizes two things. First, it's not old. It seems to be newly made. And second, it wasn't covered by any mud or anything when she picked it up. That means it must have been dropped just last night, or this morning.
Tulu (Brainer) - Turns out she and Squaids have been "communing" in the psychic maelstrom for the last week, touching each other's unconscious minds, and they have been growing steadily more aware of each other - even to the point of knowing some of each other's secrets. We learn a little more about Tulu's mysterious past (as does Squaids). While Dodge's shot takes out her would-be attacker, she recalls a time long ago when someone else saved her in a similar way. It was back in the South, and it's why she had to leave her hometown. She and her parents had been captured and targeted for eradication by a religious cult who felt their god-appointed duty was to “cleanse the world” of all Brainers. After her parents were tortured and killed before her eyes, the young Tulu was saved by a gigantic slave who set her free and told her "I'll meet you in Vegas one day." That slave's name? Zeke.
Squaids (Hocus) - Between mushroom-enhanced maelstrom visions in which he cavorts with mysterious disincarnate females, Squaids learns that two of his followers - Sorrow and Rabbit - are beginning to show second-level symptoms of Cordyceps infection. This means they will soon lose their cognitive abilities, and will have to be "harvested" for food and mycotoxin. To make matters worse, the latest foraging run turns up nothing edible in the entire Childrens' Museum complex. The only good news is: the rain is letting up.
SNAP, CRACKLE, POP
WE START WITH SQUAIDS, who is preparing to take his group down to the Silverton Hotel, where he is sure the silver eyes from his maelstrom visions are telling him to go. The cultists begin packing up the camp while Squaids takes another look into the maelstrom. What he sees is a confusing array of information and he loses consciousness, passing out in the ball pit. When he awakens he is being slapped by Cookie, who has been trying to wake him for several minutes. "Lord Squaids, it's Sorrow and Rabbit... They've gone walking."
"Gone walking" means the Cordyceps has taken over their motor control impulses, and they'll be chaotically wandering around the neighborhood now, trying to eat things. Sometimes it takes some work to find walkers, because their patterns of travel make no sense: they'll turn on a whim and go into buildings, up stairs, wander out into the trees, fall down elevator shafts, and all sorts of other random things.
Squaids tells her to get them back. The cult is starving and they need all the food they can get. This saddens Cookie, who helped birth Sorrow, and doesn't want to eat her. She requires some convincing. Squaids promises to perform a ritual which will set Sorrow's soul at rest, and sends Cookie to assemble a search party. Six of the cultists go off to find the walkers.
CUT TO THE ROAD EAST OF AIRPORT. Tulu whirls around to see who fired the shot that just saved her. She's looking down the barrel of Dodge's magnum as he slowly approaches. Dodge attempts to read Tulu, but she's unreadable. She stands her ground, finger hovering over the button of her painwave projector. He's coming this way. "That head pain thing - what the fuck was that?" he demands. She doesn't answer. "Well... Don't do it again!" he shouts. He realizes that he's out of ammunition, but keeps the gun raised as a bluff. They eye each other warily, and Dodge cautiously moves closer.
CUT TO INFIRMARY INTERIOR. Dez and her assistants Shig and Mox place the sedated Wren in the bed across from Elrond's. Dez senses movement from the other bed as Elrond comes to. She also levels up and chooses to take a +1 Hot from the Hardholder playbook. With the reflexive speed of his martial training Elrond bounds out of the bed and seizes a narcostab from the counter, turning upon Dez, whom he sees as a would-be captor, an assailant, an enemy. Dez doesn't turn around, but she does reach into a pocket for her taser. She says "It feels a lot better with that bullet out of your arm, doesn't it?"
Joel and Dip, who have been standing in the hallway just outside, notice what's happening and quickly enter the room. Joel realizes that Elrond must be having some sort of flashback. He runs in and interposes himself between Elrond and Dez, simultaneously attempting to calm the old man down verbally. It doesn't work. At this moment the unconscious Wren begins screaming horrifically, at the top of her lungs. Everyone is startled. Elrond tries to lunge around Joel but loses his footing and falls, breaking his nose as his face hits the hard tile floor. The narcostab goes skittering under Wren's bed. Nobody notices this but Dip, who takes advantage of the adults' distraction to slide down there and grab it. She slips the dropped narcostab into her pocket and comes out from under the bed.
Dez quickly whips out a chillstab and jabs Wren with it. The screaming stops instantly.
BACK TO THE ROAD. Tulu and Dodge are now only a few feet apart. "Are you friend or foe?" Tulu asks. Dodge glances at the dead bikers on the road, at the twitching body of George on the ground, and back at the diminutive spiky-haired woman. "I'm a friend" he says, and lowers his weapon. They keep a close eye on each other from either side of the fallen George, who has managed to push the metal sheet off with his good leg.
Neither of them knows this, but if George had the strength to do it, he would commit suicide right now. He's sure that Dez won't help him after the earlier debacle, he knows he's bleeding his last, and he would rather kill himself than die at an enemy's hand. But all he can manage to do is twitch.
Dodge looks at the twitching, wounded man in the brown jumpsuit, now frayed and dissolving in places. He takes a quick count: "Two down, one hysterical, Mutha Hubbard dead by my magnum, and the Reapers are on their way". He can't believe this is what his day has turned into. "Why the hell did I stop to get involved with these people?" he thinks to himself. "I swear, next time, I'm just doing what Dez says, running to the Golden Gardens, doing my job, no side trips, no free rides..."
He lifts one of George's arms carefully. "Help me get this guy inside?" he asks. Tulu nods. She grabs George's other arm and they begin dragging his bulky form across the parking lot, toward the infirmary doors. Along the way she opens her brain for a moment. Her hunch is confirmed. George is one of the four empty circles she saw in her vision this morning. The other three are inside this infirmary. One more thing: She knows there aren't any more bullets in Dodge's gun.
CUT TO LAS VEGAS BOULEVARD. Squaids and his group have been moving for a couple hours, they're now just south of Tropicana Avenue. As they get closer to the Silverton Hotel they notice a scav party up ahead, catty-corner from their current position. Six people, each with a black equilateral triangle marked onto their shirts or tattooed on their biceps. The scavengers are breaking into two groups of three to search both levels of a small apartment complex. Their tactical efficiency implies they have a good deal of experience with this type of thing. Squaids, always hungry and eager to capitalize on someone else's find, decides to take these guys.
The cultists move quietly around the back of a neighboring gas station, and then up into position around the corner of the nearest apartment. They brandish their kitchen knives, waiting for the scavenger inside to come out. When he does, he is caught completely off guard. "Hey, look what I found" is what he almost finishes saying - before Squaids and the cultists slice him from throat to crotch. His entrails pour out onto the ground as his body collapses. Squaids takes his handgun.
Alerted by the first scav's gurgling sentence, two more scavengers hurry out of the adjoining apartments, guns drawn. They see the cultists standing over the body of their fallen comrade, now slashed to ribbons. There is a brief exchange of gunfire between neighboring apartments as both groups duck in and out of their respective doors. One of the cultists - Snake - is killed by a shot to the head. Squaids is also hit, but he manages to corner one of the scavengers before their leader makes it down the stairs with the other two. Squaids holds a long carving knife, he's surrounded by followers, and they've got this guy backed up against the wall. "Tell him to hold his fire. I want half of this building." he says quietly. The guy shudders and complies: "Durk - don't shoot!" he shouts. "They only want half!"
Durk, a massive man with a shaved head and scars all over his face, looks at Squaids with scorn. "Do you realize who you're fucking with?" he asks. There is a large solid black triangle tattooed on his chest. "I can have a squad of backup here in one hot minute. This is Pyramid turf you're standing on." Squaids stares right back at him, gesturing with the knife toward the bloody mess on the ground beside him. "Right now we outnumber you three to one" he says.
Durk considers his options. He looks at his fallen comrade, then at the body of the fallen cultist. "That's one for one" he says. He looks up at the building and then back at Squaids. "Alright, fifty-fifty. This building ONLY. And then you move on, clear the fuck out of our turf."
"You agree to retain a truce as we withdraw?" Squaids says. Durk spits in his palm and they shake hands.
The two groups of uneasy accomplices continue their search of the building together. No weapons are drawn. The loot is divided fifty-fifty. The cultists' take is half of a first aid kit, a little food, and a box of CDs. The scavenger unit wraps up their fallen comrade and carries the body north toward the Black Pyramid. The cultists leave the apartment building only after slicing up Snake's body and heaving the meat into a carrier. No sense wasting it.
CUT TO INFIRMARY INTERIOR. Elrond gets back on his feet. He stands there, blood pouring down his face. At about this time Dodge and Tulu can be heard banging on the infirmary doors. Dip glances out and reports to Dez: they're carrying the big guy. Dez is furious. "YOU can stay" she says to Joel. "But HE" - pointing in the direction of George - "cannot. And HE" - pointing at Elrond - "has to leave my infirmary. NOW."
Elrond suddenly lunges himself at Dez one more time, screaming something in Russian. Joel runs to restrain him while Shig tries to grab his arm. Dip casually whips out the narcostab she retrieved earlier and shoves it into his chest. Elrond goes down again.
While Shig and Mox strap Elrond into the bed, Dez goes to the front doors and opens them for Dodge. He is accompanied by Tulu, and together they drag George in and lay him down on the floor. There's blood and mud EVERYWHERE. Dez is looking at Tulu, who's also bleeding but not critically wounded. George is making gurgling noises. Joel kneels at his side. "What a mess George made of everything" he thinks. "He's out of his fucking mind and he's going to get us all killed."
Dez is resolute. "He can't stay here and I'm not treating him" she says.
George looks up at Joel with his one unswollen eye, trying to speak. He gathers his strength and fumbles weakly at the hewn shank weapon at his side. Joel kneels closer.
"Kill me..." George says.
Joel takes the weapon from George's trembling hands. He raises it. Nobody says anything. "You were like a brother to me" Joel says, as the wicked blade slices across his vaultmate's throat.
As the camera draws back on the bloody scene, the sound of motorcycle engines can be heard approaching.
# # #
END OF SESSION THREE.