The Arcadia Mall was old, even by 1990s standards, largely unadorned, its parking lot dotted with a few cars but otherwise dark with no lights from the structure or the light-posts.
“There’s a Sears,” Josh said, pointing at the sign on one of the mall’s anchor stores. “Do they sell guns?”
“This is Texas,” Vera said. “Toy stores sell guns.”
“Good, because I’ve only got four rounds,” Adams said, checking the pistol’s magazine again.
The SUV rolled through the parking lot, Vera’s eyes fixed on the doors, the others watching the skies.
“Flying Fucks are thick,” Marco said. “Like, circling the mall.”
“Maybe we should look somewhere else?” Nick suggested.
“Amanda doesn’t have that kind of time,” Ashly said.
“Neither does Allen or Captain Morgan.” Vera thought back to the injured Flight Engineer, saw the girl-monster leap, head the wet ripping sound as she tore into his thigh-
Her memories were interrupted as something small quickly darted out of her headlights. She tracked it, and saw to her horror that while the passengers were watching the Flying Fucks up above, the parking lot was crawling with creatures in their no-less creepy crawling dog form. “Oh shit.”
Nick followed her gaze. “Fuck!”
“What?” Marco asked.
Josh took a look in the side mirror. “Fucking Christ, they’re all around us!”
Ashly moved around Amanda to the back window. “Those… things… they’ve closed ranks behind us!”
“Fuck!” Vera shouted, pounding a fist on the wheel. “Fuck!”
One of the creatures in the darkness ahead went through its revolting transformation from Crawling Fuck to Flying Fuck, launching itself into the air to batter against the SUV’s windshield like a grotesque moth, blocking the view of the mall.
GURPS: Vera needs to make a Driving Roll.
“Shit!” Vera cried, swerving hard enough to rock her passengers from side to side. Through the side window she could see a crack of light appear as the door to the Sears was opened, figures appearing, long-arms in hand, as lights in and around the storefront blossomed to life. At its periphery she could see dozens upon dozens of the creatures.
A broad-shouldered man in a white t-shirt and trucker cap fired a shotgun at one of the Crawling Fucks, blowing it onto its back. “This way!” he shouted, waving them over. “Hurry!”
A woman in a long olive jacket next to him fired her own rifle into the crowd of creatures.
Vera banked sharply, accelerating to pull up in front of the doors, saw that the store’s display windows had been boarded up.
“Go!” She shouted back to her passengers, then turned back to the man in the cap. “We got wounded!”
He fired another shotgun blast at the creatures. “We’ll cover you! Hurry!”
Josh slid out the passenger side door, and she scooted over to jump out after him, running into the department store alongside Marco and Oscar. Nick and Ashly ran in behind her, while Adams and the guy in the cap – who, she couldn’t help but notice was built like a pro-wrestler – carried Amanda’s chair out of the back.
Inside, the woman in the jacket slammed the door, fastened a hanging blanket over it, and shut off the lights, plunging the interior of the store into darkness.
The large man braced himself against it as a number of powerful shuddering impacts came from the outside – after four or five he relaxed. “That’s right you sumbitches,” he muttered in a sloppy drawl.
“Jesus Christ,” Adams said.
“You folks know what’s goin’ on out there?” the big man asked. “Or how long until help arrives?”
“We just flew in to Mueller,” Adams said. “I was hoping you’d know.”
“Nah, no. Soon as those things showed up I went around and got everybody I could find moved in safe here.” He led the way further into the store, past a row of hanging curtains into a better-lit area. “Name’s Jim.”
“What are they?” Oscar asked.
“Damned if I know,” Jim said.
“We’ve been calling them Flying Fucks.” Vera said. “Except when they are walking, then they are Crawling Fucks.”
Jim let out a laugh, and Vera could see a few gold teeth in his smile. “I like that. Only maybe don’t say it around the kids. If an old Marine like me can watch his mouth, so kin you.”
Adams stuck out a hand. “First Sergeant William Adams, US Army, retired.”
Jim shook his hand. “Just Jim, though some call me Damnation. Oh, let me introduce you to Alpha Team.” A half-dozen men in their twenties and thirties were clustered around what had been a snack-bar, now thoroughly looted. Jim handed his shotgun back to one of them. “Here you go, Earl.” Vera noted that he was the only one with a long-arm – some of the others had pistols, but at least half only had scavenged tools or kitchen knives. “Got Alpha and Beta team watchin’ this side of the mall.”
“We heard there was a clinic here?” Ashly asked. “We were in a car accident on the way over, and back at the airport we’ve got some seriously hurt people.”
“Used to be, but it’s a law office now,” Earl said.
“FUCK!” Vera slammed a fist down on the snack bar’s counter.
Are any of the Mall folk medically trained?
5: Yes, but they’re low on supplies.
“Easy there,” Jim said. “Remember what I said about there being kids around? Look, there might be some medical supplies at the barber, and I think somebody on Everest Team is a doctor.”
“Doc Warren’s with the kids in the theater,” Earl confirmed.
Jim rubbed his rugged square jaw. “Okay. Okay. That’s on the east side. We’ll need to cross open space to get there. Should be fine, if we’re fast… I put up these curtains so them critters can’t see where we’re moving, and most will be waiting outside the door we just come in.”
“Everest team,” Marco said. “How many teams do you have?”
Jim grinned, flashing his gold teeth again, and Vera couldn’t help but find his crooked smile charming. “Everybody old enough to hold a gun. That’s about half the people we got, five teams of ten. Everyone contributes. Everest is those too hurt to fight, or too old to hold a gun.” A shadow passed over his face. “Course, even after looting the gun department we’re low on ammo. Sorry if you were hoping to stock up.”
“You have fifty kids here?” Nick asked.
“I made kids a priority when herding folks to the mall. Wish I could have saved more.”
“You’re so brave,” Ashly said, and Vera found herself agreeing.
“Come on, let’s get the doc to look at you.” Jim gestured to Adams to take a hold of Amanda’s wheelchair handles.
Seeing the woman clearly for the first time since the accident, Vera thought she looked semi-conscious, eyes half-open, but uncharacteristically quiet. She fought down the guilt – the accident wasn’t her fault. It was those Flying Fucks.
Jim led the way through more hanging curtains into a darkened area around the side doors. He paused, gestured that the group should be ready, then unblocked and opened the doors. Across the tiled walkway Vera could see an emergency exit set into the wall of the structure on the other side. Taking a glance to the left and the right she could see that the mall was, effectively, two buildings, with the walkway running between them. To the right was the parking lot with its monsters. To the left, past what looked like a centrally located fountain, a long way down, was the other side of the sea of asphalt surrounding them.
Then Jim was off, wicked hunting knife in hand, jogging across the way to the theater. Once there, he pulled the door open, took a careful glance up and down the walkway, then gestured that the others should cross as well. It was only maybe a dozen feet, but to Vera it felt like a vast plane of unknown dangers.
Still, they made it across without incident, and Jim shut the door behind them, plunging them into pitch darkness. “The inner doors are just a few steps ahead. Let me.”
A crack appeared in the darkness, and Jim opened the door into a well-lit theater, dozens of children seated and either chatting, reading quietly, crying softly, or simply resting, exhausted. A pair of adults, an old man and an even older looking woman, walked the rows, checking on them.
“This is half of team Everest,” Jim said. “Here and in the other theater. Unlike the others they’re not a combat team – their role is watching the kids, plain and simple. The other half is over at the China Buffet, making sure everybody stays fed.”
“Jim!” A girl of about eight shouted, running towards them, waving her crayon.
Josh stiffened for a fraction of a second, and after what happened to the Flight Engineer back in the airport, Vera could appreciate why.
“Hey Suzie!” Jim picked the girl up, spun her around, then put her down again.
A general cheer of the man’s name rose from the kids, and Jim’s smile broadened. “This is why we need to survive, y’all. These kids.” He raised his voice and called out to the elderly pair. “Hey, we got some wounded, where’s the doc?”
“In the lobby,” came the response from the woman.
“C’mon, let’s go see him.”
Jim led the way up the ramp to the back of the theater to the doors in back, and then out to lobby. Even before everything fell apart Vera could tell that it hadn’t been in the best of conditions, a discount movie theater in an outlet mall. The marquee above each individual theater auditorium proclaimed the films being shown as Candyman and The Mighty Ducks, and more than anything else that brought home that she had gone back in time nearly a decade before she was born.
“Hey Doc, got some people here, need your help,” Jim called.
An elderly doctor with a gentle demeanor hurried over, his face ruddy, his eyes concerned as he spotted Amanda. “Oh dear me. Let’s get you under the light.”
As he wheeled her away, Jim turned to the rest. “Any the rest of you banged up enough to need immediate attention?”
“We were in a car accident,” Oscar said. “I think we’re all a little busted up.”
“Maybe so, but we only have the one doctor,” Jim said. “And he can only see one of y’all at a time.”
“I have some nursing experience,” Ashly volunteered. “Assisting them, I mean.”
Doctor Warren glanced over. “Candy striper? Blue Teen?”
Ashly paused. “Sort of?”
“Come on over, then.” He looked up at Jim. “Find that disinfectant yet?”
“Was just going to head over to the Barber to look.” He regarded the rest. “It’ll be a bit before the Doc gets to you. Triage rules, you know. So if you wanna come finish the tour and get the sitch, I gotta keep moving.”
“Sure,” Vera said.
Adams handed her the pistol. “Hate to admit it, but I need to have a sit and wait.”
“Same here,” Josh said.
“I’ll wait too,” Nick said. Vera glanced at him, concerned – she hadn’t realized he’d been that banged up, and he returned her smile somewhat uneasily.
“Rest of us will head off with you,” Marco said. “Safety in numbers.”
“Okay,” Jim said. “Let’s go.”
GURPS: The crash is recent enough that Doc Warren can still attempt first aid to treat people for shock; this takes ten minutes per patient. Since this might be interrupted, we’ll roll for each as it’s completed, starting with Amanda.
Oscar surveyed the lobby, seeming even more out of his depth than usual. “Jesus, what’s going on.”
“Ain’t it obvious?” Jim asked.
“Not really,” Marco said.
“End of the world, kids.” Jim almost sounded proud of the fact. “Been heading this way for a while. Ain’t you read the news? First it was the aliens at Roswell, then Bat-Boy…”
Bat-Boy? Vera mouthed the words to her friend, but Marco just shook his head.
“Bat Boy?” Oscar asked. “Like, from Weekly World News?”
“You seen it too?” Jim asked.
“That’s… that’s just a tabloid.”
“Don’t make it any less real.” Jim stopped before the lobby’s rear door, leading back out to the mall.
“Actually yeah it kinda does,” Oscar said.
“Don’t be so quick to discount alternative media sources,” Professor Poropat said.
“Thanks, man.” Jim paused, hand on the door. “You know, folk been telling me that for years. Elvis is dead. Wolfman ain’t real. Nessy wasn’t on the run. But I kept my head down, coming up with a plan to save as many people as possible when the shit hit the fan. And I ain’t one to say I told ya so, but I done saved a hundred folk and set up a pretty secure fortification here. So y’all forgive me if I keep on keepin’ on with keepin’ these good people alive even if my sources ain’t exactly the Papers of Record.” He sounded tired – exhausted, really, but still in good humor. “Now we got another walkway to cross, over to the Rainbow store.”
“Rainbow store?” Marco asked.
“Paint store.” He put his left fist against his right forearm. “Mall walkways are a T, right? West side is one big chunk, where I got Alpha and Beta. Donkey Team is guarding the theater here, with half of Everest watchin’ the kiddies. Across the way in front of us, northeast corner, patrols Cracker – we done knocked down some of the inner walls so ain’t nobody gotta go outside except to run east to west, or southeast to northeast. Got it?”
“I think so,” Vera said, trying to visualize it.
“What matters is that Rainbow Store is across from the theatre here, Roy’s is right next to it. Y’all ready?”
“Ready,” Marco said.
Jim pushed the door open, glanced up and down the walkway, and jogged across to the garishly painted paint store across the way. Vera, Marco, Professor Poropat, and Oscar quickly followed.
Once inside the dark paint store, Jim led the way to a ragged hole in the left wall. “Oh hey, remind me to show you my secret weapon later.”
“Secret Weapon?” Vera asked.
“It’s a peach.” Jim pushed through the hole in the wall, into a well lit barber shop with tarps over the windows. The walls were decorated with stuffed animal heads – hunting trophies, which Vera found a little odd. “Okay, grab as much disinfectant as you can find. Maybe a straight razor if you’re lacking.”
Does anybody check behind the counter and find the shotgun?
2: No, but Oscar and Vera arm themselves with straight razors.
Vera approached one of the barber stations, grabbing a large blue canister of disinfectant solution. She also found a large steel-handled folding straight razor. She snapped it open, regarded the well-kept edge, and closed it before slipping it into her pocket. It would suffice, if worse came to worse… she really didn’t relish the idea of hitting one of those… things… with her bare hands.
The straight razors use the knife skill, which Vera lacks – she will rely on her default of 6. It does thrust-2 cutting damage, and is unable to stab or parry. Hand-to-Hand Damage in GURPS is based on the character’s Strength (ST) rating – Vera’s ST is 11, giving her a thrust of 1d6-1 as a base, so with the razor she’ll do 1d6-3 damage – it’s cutting, so any damage that penetrates armor is increased by 50%.
For comparison, she’ll do 1d-2 crushing with a punch, or 1d6-1 with a kick, with a much higher chance of actually connecting – but emotionally, it feels safer to fight with a weapon, and she’s not experienced enough to always make the “optimal” choice.