This seems like a good spot to stop, award some character points, and improve our characters. Since episode 2.6, everyone has made Scrounging rolls. Nick rolled Diplomacy and Knife, Vera rolled Driving, Fast Talk, and Mechanic (Automobile), Marco rolled Knife, Ashly rolled First-Aid. We give out 5 CP.
I’m worried I might have missed some skill rolls; I think from now on I’ll assess this every episode.
Nick has 13 unspent CP. He doesn’t have Knife or Scrounging yet, but he passed his IQ roll to learn both, putting one point into each. We use 2 points to improve his Diplomacy skill to 12, and decide he’s been running around enough to justify buying off Unfit for 5 points. He has 4 left, which we’ll save for now.
Vera begins with 10 unspent; we increase her Driving for 2, her Mechanic for 4 (she has a 13 now), and her Fast Talk (also to 13) for 4. All of her points are spent.
Ashly begins with 7. She passes her IQ roll to pick up scrounging for 1. Her First-Aid is already a 13, so instead of putting 4 points into it to improve it, we are going to say that like Nick, all the running around has been good for her, and we spend 5 points to pick up the Fit advantage, leaving her with 1 unspent.
Marco has 11 unspent because he keeps failing his roll to pick up new skills. This time he passes the IQ check to pick up Knife, so we put a point in it, and we put a point in Knife. For now we’ll hold off and save his other 9 – he already has Fit.
Josh has 16 skill points because he honestly hasn’t been doing much. We put 1 into his Scrounge skill, and buy off Unfit for 5, bringing him back down to 10. That leaves us with enough to increase his Strength or Health, but he hasn’t been doing much with either, so we’ll hold off for now. He’s just full of unmet potential.
One by one the group made their way across the road to the golf course, silently climbing its low chain-link fence, eyes riveted on the creatures yet flying above the mall parking lot only a hundred yards away. An occasional explosion came from the lot, but Vera couldn’t tell if Jim was still firing paint cans or if it was just the parked cars exploding due to the small fires he’d already started. Either way, it seemed to have captured the creature’s attention.
“Let’s stay under tree-cover.” Marco pointed along the copse of trees that ran west from where they’d entered, along the north fence, then turned south and ran almost all the way to the south wall. “It should get us far enough away that they won’t notice us.”
“We hope,” Josh said.
“Hope’s all we have right now,” Vera said, just about done with his bullshit. “So how about you shut the fuck up about it?”
“Whatever,” he grumbled.
GURPS: Everybody gets a Stealth roll to try and stay hidden as they make their way across the greens. Nick, Marco, and Josh don’t have the skill, so for them it defaults to DX-5. Fortunately, with stealth, a failed roll doesn’t mean “everybody sees you.” It just means that potential observers who make their Perception rolls will, and the penalties for seeing objects at a great distance is pretty stiff – they’re probably 40 yards from any Fliers likely to see them, so call it a -8 to spot them.
Vera and Ashly both have the skill, both pass. Nick, surprisingly, does as well. Both Marco and Josh fail… and it only takes the one. Fortunately none of the fliers make their Perception rolls.
Marco led the way, Vera behind him, the others behind her. It was dark, the putting green lit only by the lights from the road. Ahead, she could see a large structure in the center of the course – the club house, probably. Nick and Marco would probably know – she’d never really been on a golf course before. To her, it was a boring sport for the idle rich, as alien to her as polo.
Alien. Is that what those creatures were? But how did that connect to the rest of it… the zombies they’d been facing earlier? The ones that had killed her? And why wasn’t she dead? Other than the strangeness, the invasion, the collapse and breaking down of society, it didn’t seem connected. She couldn’t see how it tied together, but she couldn’t see how – or how it was all connected. How she’d come back from the dead. How the others had gone from the church in a world where the zombies had torn everything down, to some kind of mutant shape-shifter incursion in Austin two years earlier.
Somehow the time travel was the least strange part of it all… but it didn’t make any sense, either.
A sudden burst of static from the walkie talkie on her belt made her jump and frantically go to turn it off. She looked up and noticed that the nearby streetlights along the course’s fence were dimming. “What…?” A sudden scream from the middle of the green grabbed her attention. There, she could see a lone silhouette running towards the central building, maybe fifty feet ahead of them. As she watched, the figure suddenly collapsed mid-stride.
GURPS: Everyone gets a Vision -1 roll: Vera and Ashly succeed.
“The hell is that above her?” Ashly asked.
Vera could see it too, a dark shape about the size of a motorcycle descending from the sky. Whatever it was, it didn’t look good. What was this new danger, this new horror, this new monster? Somehow, Vera knew that whatever it was would be worse than the zombies, worse than the Flying Fucks. Worse than anything.
Do we get involved?
3: Yes, but it’s Ashly that prompts Vera.
“We have to help her,” Ashly whispered.
Vera’s hand was moving before she realized it, bringing her Tec-9 up in line with the slowly falling bulk. It was far off, but moving slow – not an easy shot, but not the most difficult. She squeezed the trigger again and again until the hammer clicked on an empty chamber.
Vera fires 3 rounds, 1 hits the object. She is now out of ammo.
An unmistakable ‘ping’ told her that at least one of her rounds had hit something metallic. The object’s descent stopped, and something under it turned their way – Vera barely had time to register large bug-like eyes glinting in the dim light from the streetlights before the whole mass vanished, just blinked out of existence.
The streetlights brightened back to their normal luminance.
“What the fuck,” Josh said in the exhalation of a long-held breath.
Vera started forward towards the fallen woman, only to be stopped when Marco held out his arm. “Hold it. Give it a second.”
They waited, the night silent aside from a lone explosion coming from the mall’s parking lot. Finally, Marco gave a nod and the group crept forward.
“Is that…” Ashly said. “Toni?”
The stewardess from the airport lay in the grass, sprawled out, eyes closed, her red uniform torn and dirtied, scavenged lace-less sneakers on her stockinged feet.
Ashly knelt next to her, taking her pulse. “She’s alive, just in shock.” She looked up. “We should take her to the clubhouse.”
“We should get the fuck out of here,” Josh muttered.
Vera grabbed Toni under the shoulders. “Something’s gone very wrong at the airport if she’s out here on her own. Someone grab her legs.”
“Try to support her spine,” Ashly said.
Marco held her gingerly by the ankles, Nick by the small of her back, and the group carried her to the clubhouse, letting Ashly lead the way.
Vera looked down at the woman’s face – in the darkness she could see that Toni’s eyes were open, darting around wildly, her mouth opening and closing silently. “Ashly – she’s awake!”
Ashly hurried over, studying her face. “She’s in shock, but doesn’t seem injured.”
Is the Rec Center unlocked?
4: Yes, but it’s deserted.
The door proved to be unlocked, and Ashly directed Vera and Marco to put Toni down on a couch in the lobby. “See if you can find some bottled water over by the bar,” Ashly said.
“Where’s the bar?” Vera said, flipping a light switch on, bathing the facility in light.
“I’ll find it,” Nick said.
“I’ll go with you,” Marco said. “Nobody goes anywhere alone.”
The Professor knelt down next to Toni, whispering calmly, taking her hand. “Easy now. You’re safe. You’re with friends.”
Vera frowned. “I don’t think she’s going to be comforted by a male presence.”
The Professor didn’t look up. “I don’t need to be psychic to know that whatever she’s been through recently is even worse than whatever happened at the hospital. But it appears her shock is more physical than psychological… look.”
Toni’s movements were growing more pronounced, her limbs shifting, fingers scrabbling.
Professor Poropot moved so that his face occupied her field of vision. “Toni. It’s me, Wendell, from the airport. Do you remember? And this is Ashly. And that’s Vera over there. You’re safe, for now. You’re not alone.”
Her mouth continued to work. Vera leaned closer, listening, but couldn’t hear the words in her croaking gasps.
GURPS: The Professor rolls against his Psychology skill to calm her down.
Gradually, as her ability to move returned, the stewardess relaxed, her eyes staying focused. When Nick and Marco returned with a bottles of water, bags of pretzels, and a jar of olives, she sat up against the back of the couch to drink.
“Good thinking,” the Professor said. “The salt from the pretzels will help her recover.”
“Oh?” Nick said, tearing open a bag. “Yeah, sure. That’s right.”
“Did they have any pickled eggs?” Josh asked.
“No, but there are bottles of beer if you want to grab some,” Marco said.
“Sure,” Josh said, padding off towards the bar, no one suggesting he not do so alone.
Toni gulped the water down, wiped her mouth.
“Easy,” Ashly said, taking the bottle from her.
“Oh god,” Toni said. “You guys are still alive – thank God-“
“What are you doing all the way out here?” Marco asked. “Did something happen at the airport?”
Toni shook her head. “Shortly after you guys left, other people started to drift off. Jane – the Chief Stewardess from your flight – she tried to keep order but honestly, she wasn’t doing so well herself, and people just… went. First those Angels troubled youth gang, then the Legionaries, then a bunch of other passengers… Sister Pacifica – oh god – Sister Pacifica decided that they had to find better facilities for the Captain and Flight Engineer, so they left and I went with them.”
Josh returned with a bucket of Coors Light in ice. Vera debated heading to the bar herself to find something worth drinking, but decided she’d rather hear Toni’s story. She took one of the bottles and passed the others around – it’d be cold, if nothing else.
“Everywhere we went – it was all destroyed, abandoned, with those… creatures. The flying ones. But we managed to avoid them for the most part – we had an ambulance, and the nuns were surprisingly capable.
“Then those things showed up.” Her voice trembled, her fingers dug into the arm of the couch. “Appearing out of nowhere, grabbing the nuns one by one, disappearing with them.”
“What are they?” Ashly asked. “All we could see was a dark shape.”
“Spiders,” Toni whispered. “Riding under some kind of… I don’t know, flying platforms. They appear, fire these beams that… I don’t know, it was like I could still see and hear, but my body wouldn’t respond, I couldn’t even scream…”
“Take it easy,” the Professor said. “Take your time. You’re safe, at the moment.”
“Safe?” Toni let out a strange laugh. “There’s no safe here. Not from them, not from each other.”
Vera took a long hard pull from her beer. “So what now?”
“Now?” Josh said. “Now we get the fuck out of here. Just… drive north, out of the city, away from all this crazy bullshit.”
Do they just leave?
1: No, and they want to help the mall folk.
Marco shook his head. “I don’t like the idea of abandoning the other passengers, but with everyone scattered throughout the city… there’s no way we can find them all. Whatever group we were… that’s done.”
“And that’s not us, anyway,” Josh said. “We have to take care of ourselves. Figure out what’s going on, try and get home. Back to our own time.”
“You mentioned this before,” Professor Poropot said. “Back at the mall. What are you talking about?”
Vera sighed. “We’re… we’re from the future.”
“2019,” Nick said.
Toni’s eyes widened. “Are you for real?”
Vera chuckled. “Technically we haven’t been born yet. But yes. We… it’s hard to remember what happened.”
“Assuming you’re telling the truth, is time travel common in the future?” Professor Poropot asked.
“No, no, it’s still science fiction,” Josh said. “No flying cars. No hoverboards. No giant robots.”
“But if you’re from the future you must know what’s going on?” Toni asked. “What this’s all about?”
Ashly shook her head. “There’s nothing like… Austin was never invaded by monsters in our time-line. Unless they did a very good job of covering it up.”
“Yeah, so I’m thinking parallel universes at least,” Josh said.
“Parallel universes,” the Professor muttered thoughtfully.
“Yeah, this is actually our second Jump,” Josh said. “First time we just… found ourselves in a Florida office building in the year 2000 – our past, your future – just before there was a mass zombie uprising.”
“Zombies?” Toni squeaked.
“It was terrible,” Marco said. “We escaped to a military stronghold, but for months we just heard stories about how society was falling to the dead.”
Ashly frowned. “And we know that never happened.”
“And then suddenly we were here.” Vera didn’t go into how she’d died. She didn’t feel like talking about it.
“On the flight,” Marco said. “With no idea how we’d gotten there.”
A thought occurred to Vera. “You were seated with a pretty good view of our seats, Professor. Did we just… suddenly appear out of nowhere?”
“No,” he said. “I wasn’t paying much attention to you, but I think I remember you boarding? Or at least, it wasn’t unusual to me that you be there when the pilot had his heart attack.”
“Showing up in 2000 was the same,” Nick said. “I was just… sitting in front of a computer screen without any idea how I’d gotten there.”
“And before that?” The Professor asked.
Vera shook her head. “Before that… it’s fuzzy. I can’t really remember any specifics.”
“What do you think, Professor?” Marco asked. “You’ve studied this kind of thing.”
Professor Poropat shook his head. “No, nothing like this… time travel or alternate universes. I keep my crazy theories firmly within the realms of parapsychology. Psychic phenomena. Ghosts. There are stories about psychic visitations to other times and places, but you… these are all your real bodies, correct?”
“Yes.” Vera thought about the bite mark that’d come over with her.
“It’s quite the story,” he said. “I’m not sure if I can believe it… but I believe you believe it.”
“Can you look into our minds?” Marco asked. “See for yourself?”
He shook his head. “I’m not a telepath.”
“But you said you can see the past? Can you look into our pasts?”
“Possibly?” Poropat said. “I suppose I can try?”
“Try it with me,” Vera said. She hadn’t spent months in the military encampment with the others… perhaps it would be easier for the Professor to see her past than the others.
The Professor nodded. “If you’re sure. I’ll need an object that’s been with you – I can’t read people directly, their current resonance overpowers the past.”
“Of course,” Josh rolled his eyes.
Vera shook her head. “We don’t have anything from back then. Everything we have – the clothes we’re wearing, everything in our pockets – we had it with us when we jumped.”
“Then I’m afraid I’m at a loss,” the Professor said. “It’s feasible that someone’s consciousness might travel along their time-line, or that a mind can temporarily inhabit the body of someone in another era… but physically traveling backwards, before you were even born?”
“It doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Marco said. “On the plane we had boarding passes made out in our names, drivers’ licenses… that’s the part that bugs me most. We’re not… we’re not out of place here.”
“Mysteries upon mysteries,” the Professor said. “All it does is make our situation even harder to understand. If it is indeed related.”
“You think it might not be?” Nick asked.
“That’s one possibility – that the only thing linking this zombie outbreak and what’s going on here is that you’re here to witness it. What that might imply, though… I can’t even begin to guess.”
“Shit,” Josh said.
Next time: Aggies or Longhorns?