Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Fiftieth entry: Field Trip

July 5th

The last week or so have been good. I am feeling a lot better since I put those things away, and good things seem to be happening as a result. I know the glasses, and the present, and stuff are all still there, but not seeing them everyday isn't as hard as actually being able to see them was. I've also been spending more time with Pippa while Gerry is out on runs and Beth is down in the labs doing her training. It's been nice, and I've not felt creepy, which is also nice.

Gerry came back from a run on Thursday with a present for me. He had been home for a couple off hours when he came into the living room where I was reading (“1984”, if you're curious), and dropped a large purple gift bag on the IKEA-esque coffee table.
I lowered my book, and asked, “What's that?”

“It's your birthday present. Happy birthday!” Gerry said, and I saw Pippa come into the room from the dining room where she had been on her laptop.

“It's not my birthday,” I said.

“Well, I figure I have known you for more than a year, and I've not seen you celebrate your birthday, so we must have missed it at some point. That's from Beth too, by the way, but I didn't want to wait for her to come home from training.”

“Is she okay with that?”

“If she's not, tough,” Gerry grinned.

“You didn't have to get me any-”

“Open it!” Pippa cut me off with a gleeful cry.

I dropped my book onto the coffee table, and took the bag; it was heavier than I expected. In the bag was a relatively plain looking cardboard box with the FutureTech Computers logo on the side. I pulled the rectangular box out, and set it on the coffee table.

“Is this?” I asked.

“Yup,” Gerry beamed, “Now you and Pippa can play together.”

I let any obvious replies to that go since they would just make me look bad.

I opened the box and found wrapped in the plastic and styrofoam inside was a shiny black laptop emblazoned with the FutureTech FT logo.

“How did you get this?” I asked as I unpacked the folder of instructions and the power cable.

“We brought a bunch back with us on the last run, and as I am sure you remember, being on the Acquisition Team has its advantages,” Gerry said, “You might want to look in the bag again.”

I looked in the gift bag, and at the bottom of it was a shrink wrapped copy of Seventh City Online. It was the deluxe version that came with a headset for voice communication in game and a superhero action figure.

“I figure you'll need that too.”

“Install it! Install it!” cried Pippa.

“You really shouldn't have,“ I said, feeling embarrassed.

“It wasn't all my idea,” explained Gerry, ”and I expect you to do a better job of sharing than Pippa does.”

“Hey!” Pippa protested.

It's a nice laptop, and it might even fit in my satchel if I cleared some of the crap out of there. It's even got a little television plug-in for it that can pick up Lovelock's one TV station, not that I watch the news much, but it's nice to have the option.

I installed the laptop's battery, and plugged it in. The laptop booted up perfectly and I went through all of the first time use stuff. Register? No. Sign up for free online backup service X? No. Subscribe to virus protection software? No. Sign up for internet service provider X? No.

Finally I was able to get the computer onto Lovelock's wifi, and install the game. Once it was running Pippa hovered around me while I created my character.

“Your nose isn't that big, and you're not fat like that!” Pippa protested.

“Who says it's me?” I said.

“It looks like it's supposed to be you. Look!” Pippa pointed at the screen, “You even gave him a scar over his eye like yours. Come on, do it right! No fatties!”

After decking him out in an all black suit, a black fedora, and a pair of steampunk-looking goggles Captain_Noir was ready to hit the streets of Seventh City. Rushing through the tutorial, I selected his powers (telekinesis, strength, and enhanced healing), and left the tutorial area.

On the street outside the starting area I found a couple of people waiting for me, Super-Pippa, a tall female in a bright red bodysuit, and Evie_of_Destruction, a pale woman in a flowing white dress and cape who hovered about a foot off the ground and glowed, casting light onto the street and buildings around us.

“Hello, Captain Noir,” Evie_of_Destruction said, and I recognized the voice immediately; it was Doctor Byron.

“Doctor Byron?” I asked into my headset.

“Now now,” Evie_of_Destruction cautioned me, “Let's try to stay in character.”

I checked out Doctor Byron's character and found that she was maxed out at level ninety-nine. Pippa on the other hand was at level twenty, and of course I was a mere level two (you gain a level in the tutorial for choosing your starting abilities).

“I know that you have been having some trouble connecting with people since you arrived here,” Evie_of_Destruction, “So I was hoping that you might be able to form some connections here. I hope you do not take offense.”

A little bit, yeah, but that's not what I said, “No doct-... Miss Destruction”

Evie_of_Destruction sighed, “Will you please, in here at least, call me Evie?”

“Get him!” a voice called from behind Captain_Noir, and there was a gunshot. A red “-10” appeared over his head. I spun my character to see three men in raccoon masks and black and white striped shirts firing pistols at me.

A red beam shot past me as Evie_of_Destruction fired her eye beams, and sent all three of the low level NPCs flying against the wall of a building with a red “-1542” appearing above each of their heads. They hit the ground and faded away.

“Well, I have a raid to go to. I hope the two of you have fun, just make sure this does not interfere with your other responsibilities. Now if you'll excuse me,” and with that Evie_of_Destruction shot up into the sky and out of sight.

Pippa and I played well into the night, and I was at level thirteen before we stopped. I've never been much of an MMO player because I didn't like the subscription model. I was afraid that if I was paying a monthly fee I would feel obligated to play it at the expense of playing something else. I've seen “Second Skin”, I know how addictive these games can be, but this was a lot of fun.

My week of goodness continued the next day when, instead of standing around at one of the roads into town I got to go a field trip. I was invited to help stand guard while the scientists tested out some of their anti-zed technology. Most of the guard was composed of Genetitech Security (including Beth), but me, Zack, and a handful of other civilian guards were along just in case.

The reason for the heavy security presence is because they do not test these things in town We actually drove to a town to the east called Harlan because we needed a supply of zeds to test on. Honestly, I doubt the claim that there are not zombies kept down in the labs for testing on, but I don't suppose bringing them out into town would not be a very good idea.

Our caravan of trucks, cars, and vans drove quickly along the road that had been scouted out in the morning to make sure that it was still clear and intact, and arrived at Harlan early in the afternoon.

The testing field was the baseball diamond at Harlan East Middle School. This was not the first time that they had used this location, as there was already a cage built out of chain link fencing out in right field with three active zeds locked in it, and a large fence had been erected around the entire field to make sure no one could accidentally walk into the testing area. I was told that they've been using this place for awhile, and the lack of active zeds in the town would seem to be evidence of that.

I only got to witness three of the tests, but I did get to meet Zack's wife, Margaret, and the two guys she works with. Grant Vang, a youngish looking man with short black hair, and James Carraway, a balding man with a ridiculous handlebar mustache who wears a newsboy cap. Vang and Carraway are both absolutely insane, but the machine of theirs betrays genius beneath that insanity.

Doctor Byron was with us, wearing a loose white blouse and slacks and carrying a wide white umbrella to keep the summer sun off of her sensitive skin. The whole exercise seemed to be a mix of the progress on these items being demonstrated for Doctor Byron, and a morale boost for the scientists who have spent I don't know how long working on them. It was all quite impressive really.

The first demonstration I saw was built by Doctors Hutchins, Vang, and Carraway; it was something they called Da Vinci's Scythe Wagon. It looked more like something from the old Battlebots show than any design of Da Vinci's I've ever seen though. It was a box about four and a half feet tall with tank treads at the bottom. The wagon was topped with, just as Beth had described it, what looked like a two layered helicopter prop. One of the props was set at around five and a half feet, the other at about five feet, and each of the blades was actually a curved scythe made of gleaming metal.

The scythe wagon was driven out onto the baseball diamond by a large remote control that Doctor Vang was holding. When he got it to the pitchers mound, Doctors Carraway and Hutchins went out and tinkered with it; I think they were undoing some sort of safety device on the propellers. When they were done, they both quickly moved away from the machine.

“Safety is off!” Doctor Carraway hollered.

“Wagon is live! I repeat, wagon is live!” Doctor Vang yelled in response.

Hutchins and Carraway got to the gate in the fence, and closed it behind them as the scythe wagon's blades started to spin. It was like looking at a giant rolling food processor.

“Release the subject!” Doctor Hutchins called.

The door to the cage with the three zeds in it out on the field slid open, and the zeds shambled towards freedom, but the gate slid shut again before more than one of them could get out. The ghoul started shambling towards where the majority of us were standing outside the fenced off area.

The scythe wagon turned and started rolling in the direction of the zed, its whirling blades throwing off glints of sunlight. The wagon was slow, a normal person could probably outrun it, but it was faster than most of the zeds I've ever seen. Doctor Vang drove the wagon around in front of the zed, and then charged it head on. Whatever motor the doctors used in that thing must be incredibly strong because it tore through the zed like it had been made out of paper. The scythe wagon tore off the zeds head and left arm and shoulder before the creature even had enough time to fall to the ground.

“I am impressed,” said Doctor Byron, “And what kind of battery life can we expect off of these?”

“At full power, around ninety minutes,” answered Doctor Vang, “However without the weapon employed the scythe wagon can travel for approximately four hours.”

“And does it need to be controlled locally like this?”

“No, Doctor,” explained Doctor Hutchins,” The wagon is fit with video cameras, and can be controlled from the vault in what we expect to be about a six mile radius.”

“Very nice,” Doctor Byron.

At that moment something hit the fence next to me, One of the blades from the scythe wagon had broken loose and launched itself in my direction. The fence stopped it in a small shower of sparks, dropping it to the ground harmlessly. That did not stop me from flinching far too late to have saved me, tripping over my own feet, and falling onto the brown grass. The impact of my sword against my back momentarily knocked the wind out of me.

Out on the field the scythe wagon now wobbled dangerously, thrown off balance by a missing blade, “Shutting down!” Doctor Vang called out, and the blades started to slow.

“Are you okay?” Doctor Byron called to me as I got back to my feet.

“Yes, Doctor, just surprised,” I said as I brushed dust and bits of dead grass off of my jeans.

“I think there is still some work to be done,” Doctor Byron judged, “but I would very much like to see your progress. You are cleared for one more month of work, but at that time I want to see your balance situation resolved. “

Doctors Vang, Hutchins, and Carraway came over to me, “Hey, I am totally sorry about that, man,” said Doctor Vang.

“That's what the fence is for, right?” I said, trying to seem less freaked out by it than I really was.

“It is,” said Doctor Carraway, “but sometimes I think that we maybe need something more... substantial.

“I think,” announced Doctor Byron, “that we are going to need more test subjects. Justin, please take Beth and a couple of the citizen guard with you to gather some.”

“Yes, Doctor,” a tanned man with a buzzcut in a black Genetitech Security uniform snapped, “Officer O'Hara, pick two people and meet me by the cars.”

I had started doing a bit of daydreaming when I felt a hand on my shoulder, “Come on, lets go,” Beth said, and kept walking.

“What are we doing exactly?” I asked.

“Gathering test subjects, you know, zeds, zombies, animated corpses, soulless, ghouls, etcetera. You don't think I would let you hang out here and miss fun like that, do you?”

“No, why would you?”

We walked over to where the cars and trucks that had made up our caravan were waiting. Officer Justin Lassit and Beth's other civilian pick were already standing there by a large black Genetitch Laboratories delivery truck talking. I was surprised to see that the other person Beth had chose was Barbara Rosenberg; I hadn't even realized she had come out there with us.

“O'Hara and I will take the truck, you and Rosenberg will follow behind,” Justin said to me, “Stay close; I don't want to have to waste any time looking for you, okay?”

“Yes, Officer,” I said.

He seemed to think for a moment, and then said, “Call me Justin; If O'Hara thinks you're okay to call her by first namse, then you should be okay to call me by mine, okay?”

Justin and Beth got into the large truck while Barbara and I took a small blue Prius. Barbara asked me to drive, and I did not see any reason to disagree. Two uniformed officer opened the gate to let us out of the fenced in area and into the seemingly abandoned town.

One thing I noticed as we slowly drove through town was that all of the stores looked empty, as in totally cleaned out. Some stores looked like they had been broken into while others looked untouched, but every one of them looked like it had been cleaned out down to the walls. Clearly Lovelock's acquisition teams were a lot more thorough than we were in Mallville.

“So you're Gerry's friend, right?” Barbara asked,” I mean you live with him and Beth and that girl, right?”

“Yeah,” I answered, “We traveled together for a long time.”

“Gerry told me,” Barbara, “You guys were lucky to have each other. I would have killed for someone to talk to on the road.” she clutched her Annihilator tool in her lap while she spoke.

“I would'nt be here now if it wasn't for them,” I said.

“I'm lucky to be. Everyone I ran into out there was a complete asshole. There was Barry, he was a coach at the school I taught at; you know I was a teacher, right?”

“Yes.”

“Well, he tried to force himself on me at the end of the first month, and that... that didn't end well.”

“Wow, I'm sorry,” I said, not sure how to reply to that.

“Then there were these pricks that thought they were vampires. I got away from them by escaping in the daylight.”

“They thought they would burn up or something?” I asked.

“No, they were afraid of seeing each other as they really were. They said they were ugly in daylight. I wanted to point out to them that they weren't exactly fashion models in the dark either,” Barbara took a deep breath, “I wish I could have been with your group, it sounds like you guys had a better time of things than I did.”

“It wasn't all great,” I said, “We lost some people... some really important people out there.”

“Oh, yeah, huh? Gerry told me about your wife. I'm sorry about that,” Barbara said a little awkwardly.

“It's no one's fault,” I told Barbara, like I tell myself every day now, “I'm finally starting to move on now.”

“But you still miss her, huh?”

“I miss everyone I've lost, but she is certainly at the top of the list,” then, trying to change the subject a little, “but I'm sure you miss people too.”

“Yeah, I do,” Barbara said, and then stopped talking.

It was about fifteen minutes of seemingly random driving before The black truck slowed to a stop in front of us. I saw Justin and Beth hop down, Beth was pointing her vicious looking assault rifle (Beth tells me it's an FN F2000, which is good because it keeps me from having to just refer to it as a futuristic-looking gun) at something in front of the truck that I could not see. Justin motioned for me and Barbara to get out of the car and come over to him, and then slid up the back door of the truck up.

“Help me with the ramp,” Justin said as I jogged over to him, and together we extended a ramp from the back of the truck to the ground. As I handled the ramp I could feel cold air flowing out of the back of the truck, and realized that the inside of the back was refrigerated' this truck probably hauled produce or meat or something in the old world.

The inside of the back of the truck gave me pause. About two feet in from the edge of the truck was a cage wall with a sliding gate on it. On the walls of each side of the truck were four seven foot long metals poles, two to each side, with metal cable dangling from each. Even though this stuff didn't look anywhere near as amateur, it still made me think of the Hell's Postmen and their cage truck. The fact it was refrigerated was to make the zeds more sedate once they were inside the cage, which was something I'm sure the Postmen would have wished they had thought of.

Justin climbed into the back of the truck, and pulled one of the metal poles out of the bracket that was holding it to the wall, and tossed it down to me. I caught it, but not without one end clanging against the surface of the street. At one end of the pole the cable was bolted down , and looped so that the rest of the cable was threaded through the pole. About two feet from the other end of the pole the wire came out through a hole, allowing the user to tighten noose at the other end. There was also a metal clip to lock the cable in place once your target had been caught in the noose.

“Okay, so I know this is the first time doing this for either of you,” Justin started, “but I also know that you must know how to handle yourselves around the ghouls or you wouldn't be here now,” Justin pulled another of the poles free, and tossed it down to Barbara who caught it much more smoothly than I did.

“What we're going to do is simple. We need to catch some ghouls for the brains to test their projects out on. Now we don't want to waste the meds sedating them,” Justin pulled a third pole loose to demonstrate with, “so one of you just needs to catch the ghoul's head in the loop, pull it tight, and then lock it in place with the little clip down there by your hand,” he pointed at me.

“Once you've done that, then the other needs to catch the ghoul in their own loop, and do the same. Then you both just guide them up the ramp, and into the cage, there's an open space on the gate for the poles to go through when we close the door. Once we have the ghoul secured in the cage, unlock your loop, and slide it back over their head, and the cold will take care of the rest.”

“What do we do if there's more than one of them?” Barbara asked.

“Beth and I will be covering you. If you're in danger we'll take care of it,” Justin said, patting the rifle hanging from its shoulder strap and resting on his hip.

“If we want to take this one alive, you'd better get to it, “ Beth called from around the front of the truck, “I'm going to take it down if it gets much closer.”

Moving to the front of the truck we found a male zed about twenty feet away; it was shambling a direct path towards Beth, who kept the barrel of her gun trained on it. The zed was pretty short, maybe five and a half feet and was wearing a filthy white button up shirt. It's left arm was missing, the sleeve of his shirt ending in maroon tatters. A bear? Are there bears up here? Do bears eat zombies? Can a bear become a zombie (to that, the answer is apparently no; Zack Hutchins told me that the virus/bacteria/whatever doesn't seem to spread between species while I was drinking and telling my tale in Bacchus later... thank God for that).

Catching the zed was fairly easy; Barbara went around one side of it, and I went around the other. We were able to capture its head easily enough, and hold it stable between us to maneuver it around the back of the truck and up the ramp.

The gate of the cage was automatic, and Justin opened it by pushing a button that I had not noticed on the side of the truck. I noticed that he had to put a key into it first, which is probably meant to keep anyone from accidentally releasing the zeds. Getting the nooses off of the zed's neck once it was safely locked up took a bit of work though; we didn't have a lot of room in the gate's gap to move the pole around, but in time we figured it out.

It took about an hour to gather up eight zeds, and most of that was just finding them. Previous rounds of experimentation have pretty much cleaned out Harlan of its undead infestation. It's too bad we can't just chip away at all of them like this.

We got back to the middle school in time to see two white coated scientists spraying down a flaming zed through the fence with fire extinguishers. Hell, I could have told them that setting the things on fire was a bad idea.

Since we had captured the zeds, we were spared the pleasure of having to re-rope the now sluggish zeds and remove them from the back of the refrigerated truck and into the holding pen. The warm summer sun seemed to revive them pretty quickly, but not before they were safely locked up again in the holding pen..

The last two tests of the day, there had only been five planned and we missed the second and third, were both quite interesting. The first was some sort of microwave gun (I did not catch the proper name). It looked like a big square satellite dish mounted on the roof of a van.

When the door to the holding pen slid open, two zeds managed to get out before the door slid shut again; a male and a female. They startled their shuffling job towards the truck, and the satellite dish tracked the the whole way.

Once the zeds no longer had the holding pen behind them the dish activated (I guess, since I didn't hear any noise). In seconds both zeds started smoking; their skin appeared to dry out and start to crack like the meat in a TV dinner put in the microwave for too long. A couple of seconds after that they stumbled and fell to the ground, smoke and steam drifting up off of their well done corpses.

“It can cook a turkey in a minute too,” said the scientist working the gun by remote, Doctor King, earning him a good round of laughter.

The final one was probably my favorite, they called it the Vortex Ring Gun, and it was also truck mounted, though to a pickup truck this time. The device looked kind of like a super-sized grenade launcher, although unlike the microwave gun this one was controlled directly by a Genetitech Security officer.

When a zed was released into the testing area it charged the fresh meat atop the pickup, but when it was maybe twenty meters away it was suddenly thrown off of its feet by an unseen force. The zed tried to get back up off of the ground, but was flattened, as if pounded by an invisible giant's fist. The zombie did not try to get up again.

I did not get to hear the explanation behind how this gun worked, so I don't know if it was sound or air pressure, or what, but it impressed me. I can only imagine what we could have done with something like that back at Mallville. Of course I can also imagine what Kaur would have done with it too.

Over all Doctor Byron said that she was very pleased with the progress everyone was making, and that she looked forward to seeing what else people came up with by next month's test. I hope that I'll get to go on that one too.

On the ride home I ended up in a car with Barbara, and two guys named Ciaran Monroe and Christian Whitehall. Ciaran, our driver, kept hitting on Barbara the whole drive home.

“Would it be okay if I were allowed to buy the fair zombie wrangler a drink at Bacchus?” Ciaran asked.

“Well, okay,” I said, “but you're not getting past second base on the first date.”

Christian and Barbara laughed at that, and I'm pretty sure Ciaran turned red, but I could not see him clearly from the backseat.

“I meant Barbara,” Ciaran said, a little bitterly.

“One,” retorted Barbara, “the drinks at Bacchus are free, and two, I'm sorry if I offended you.”

“Whatcha mean?” Ciaran asked.

“Well in some countries giving somebody a glass of that wood stripper would be considered a hostile act.” Barbara explained. Ciaran laughed perhaps a bit too hard at that.

Barbara puts on a good front, but I think she's uncomfortable being flirted with. Maybe it's just that Ciaran was trying too hard. The problem can't be that she's not used to being hit on because she is quite attractive.

Don't get me wrong; even though I do find Barbara attractive I have no interest in her. I need to be with myself and my adopted family for awhile now, and I don't know if I have room in that part of my heart for anyone after Tara and Sharon.

We did end up at Bacchus that night, and Barbara and I sat at the bar and watched the others act far more foolish than two glasses of even stuff as strong as Milly's specialty could possibly get you. Zackariah did a pretty mean rendition of “She Blinded Me With Science”

SCIENCE!

Of course the crowning jewel of the last week was yesterday, July Fourth. Last year I spent the holiday pretty much considering suicide, but this year was so much better.

For Fourth of July Doctor Byron had a picnic put on in the park at the center of town. She wanted to do a barbecue, but that requires meat, and the best we could come up with on that front were apparently canned whole chickens and Spam. Grilled Spam is actually not bad, but the canned chicken was not so good. It's not that the chicken actually tasted bad, but more that it didn't taste like much of anything. Who thought that canning whole chickens was even a good idea?

Aside from the grilling there were vegetable and fruit based dishes that were good. Fruit salads, pies, cakes, all good stuff. I think the whole town turned out for it even though the sky was cloudy and kept threatening to rain..

You can really tell how much Doctor Byron cares about this town; she really tried to create a sense of the world before. If it weren't for the fact that most people carry weapons of some sort with them all the time it might be a little more convincing, but I'm not complaining.

Pippa and I took part in the three legged race, but lost out to Zack and Margaret Hutchins. Actually we lost to a lot of people, including Barbara and Beth. It probably would have been easier if I had just carried Pippa.

Beth and Pippa forced me to join in on a baseball game. It was civilians versus Genetitech staff. You would think that beating the scientists would be easy, but they also had security officers on their team (although Beth was allowed to play on the civvie team), so it evened things out a lot. In the end we won thanks to Beth hitting a grand slam home run in the eighth inning.

It probably would have helped if I were any good at sports, but I'm not. I did manage to make it to base twice though, and even crossed home plate once thanks to Gerry hitting a long one into left field. He says it's from his days in the major leagues, and you don't forget batting skills like that once you learn them.

There was live music on the park's bandstand. The first band was a group of scientists from the labs who called themselves The Ionics. The other was really just three teenagers called Maneki Neko and th Ch'an Chu. It was fun; Beth made me dance with her some more.

Later in the afternoon the wind picked up, it got colder, and rain seemed a near certainty, but very few people left. I don't think they wanted the illusion of normalcy to end. Going back to our homes and watching the one TV station would just be a reminder of that.

Luckily it never did rain, and the clouds actually worked in our favor. There were no fireworks, but there was still a light show. Someone from the labs built some laser projectors (or maybe they just already had them for some reason), and the clouds became the canvas for a fantastic laser light show. Nothing exploded, but there were still plenty of “oohs'” and “aahs”in the park that night.

Like I said, it's been a really good week. I only wish that Tara, Alex, Sharon, and Maria could be here to enjoy it with us. I'm not going to let that get me down though; I wouldn't want them to be all mopey like I've been if things had gone differently.

I'd better stop now; I was supposed to meet Pippa in Seventh City 20 minutes ago. Captain_Noir is level 22 now.

I never thought I would be able to say this again, but I actually feel pretty happy; like I could live happily ever after if things could just stay the way they are right now.

1 comment:

VoltRabbit said...

I love the gaming related content. I also love the super smashy weapon. I can't wait for another two weeks to pass!