Episode 12: Hunger Strike

Published on September 23, 2018

"I don't mind stealin' bread from the mouths of decadence
But I can't feed on the powerless when my cup's already overfilled." 

- Temple of the Dog, Hunger Strike

I had come to Chi-Town on the trail of the Palmer Gang. They were wanted in connection with grave robbing back in Perseverance. The no good bushwhackers led me into an ambush and I found myself fighting a squad of ISS agents and their dog pack. I took no joy in killing the men or the dog boys, they were just doing their jobs. Sure, I got away, but it wasn't without taking some lumps myself.

Klyde carried me away from the confrontation. I instructed him to take me to a body fixer. Lucky for me, he found the office of a sawbones I was familiar with. A couple years back Doc Burns patched me up after a scuffle. Needless to say, I wasn't doing so hot and nearly passed out. I stayed conscious though, gotta uphold the rep of the Rangers.

Doc Burns had his hands full. A group entered looking even worse than I did. Apparently, I wasn't the only one familiar with Doc Burns. The leader of the group was a feller by the name of Doc Flint. A 'stalker by the looks of him. He was accompanied by a female 'stalker. Must have been a mated pair. I didn't ask, because that's kinda rude. I couldn't figure out the third guy, I think he might have been some kinda new fangled crazy. The three of them carried the body of a mauled dog boy, and were accompanied by a small group.

Doc Burns split his time between me and them. There was nothing he could do for the dog boy and the kid that was accompanying them must have witnessed something horrifying because he refused to talk. I don't know what it was, but I reflexively curled my hand into a fist. Rangers don't take kindly to women and children being hurt. This Magpie, or whatever it was, had a strike against it. Although I knew the Palmer Gang was getting further away from me, I couldn't in good conscience leave without helping these folks get a bit of payback. The Palmers' would wait.

Doc Flint told us the tale of what happened while Doc Burns made arrangements for the refugees. Doc Flint's mate, Fer I think her name was, asked Doc Burns for some chemicals and she made something she called "hot sauce". It's probably not the kind of hot sauce I'm thinking about though. Man I could really go for some tacos right now. The crazy man busied himself with acquiring components to make something he called a "genesis bullet". I'm not sure I'd trust my life to his mad science experiment, but if it reassured him, that's all that mattered.

We returned to the warehouse where the bad stuff had gone down. ISS was all over the place. I found a trail, but a few investigators were collecting samples. We couldn't get close, but Vic the crazy wanted a sample for himself. He wasa apparently good with computers and, despite appearances, was a smooth-talking devil. He bluffed his way into the midst and collected a sample which he later added to his "magic bullet".

I followed those tracks. It was a trail a blind man could follow. I could only hope it was this easy to pick up the Palmers' trail again. The dead vegetation gave way to tire tracks dug into the fresh mud. Klyde remained behind at Doc Burns' office. He was just a commlink call away. I'm not the daintiest flower in the woods, but I can be kinda quiet when I try and this operation required a little bit of stealth.

In the middle of the woods we came upon a few troops guarding some crates. The others identified them as the mooks employed by their "friend" Magpie. Apparently, Magpie had betrayed them and stolen the tablet. I'm not sure what the tablet was, but a good guess would have been they hid it in the tree that was surrounded by dead vegetation. We watched the clearing for a few hours. The crazy deployed some sort of robot squirrel. Yup completely off his nut. Then he hacks a secure Coalition Spec-Ops line and has Doc instruct them to go into the area being purged and extract his friend. He's either crazy or a certified genius, maybe both.

Finally, a truck rumbled into view and backed up.The mooks loaded up the truck with the aid of the driver, while Magpie looked on. Fer took one out with her laser rifle and I took one out with Bess. Who's Bess? Bess is my replica Winchester '76. That's when all hell broke loose.

I don't think any of us were prepared for what happened. As any battle, most plans go out the window with the first gun shot. Vic missed the driver, which allowed him to scamper to the front of the vehicle. Doc had been sneaking around front to commandeer the vehicle. Fer took a shot at Magpie hoping to take her down, but the shot didn't even pierce her armor. Was Magpie some sort of 'borg? Magpie confronted Fer about shooting her, genuine surprise on her face.

It was then that some sort of creepy, disembodied voice spoke. It seemed to be coming from the weird tree. I knew we should have examined it. Creatures appeared out of no where. A large lump of mismatched body parts stitched together and a wicked looking preying mantis bigger than Klyde. I tangled with the dead, stinky critter bearing down on me, while the mantis ran toward Magpie and drove one of it's scythe-like claws through her leg. Nope she was human alright, no 'borg would scream like that.

Speaking of nerves, Fer lost hers and ran screaming into the woods. Vic managed a shot that popped the bug like a blister, While Doc hoisted Magpie like a sack of taters. Magpie was genuinely confused by what was happening. She had no memory of the last three weeks. I would later learn that was around the time things started getting weird in Firetown. Stinky, the dead monstrosity, got a chest full of lead and that ended that.

Around this time, mist began to pour out of the tree. The area of dead vegetation increased. I was standing right in it, and was instantly powerful hungry. No time for a snack though because a four armed gorilla and a walking pillar of fire appeared. Vic tossed a grenade in the midst of the tree and the pillar of fire. I think it drove whatever was in the tree away, but the fire just absorbed the energy, and then proceeded to set the forest on fire.

Vic spotted something in the field of vision of his robot squirrel and ordered it to "sic balls". It was rewarded by being crushed and hurled to the forest floor. I punched the gorilla and it vanished in a shower of goo. Doc worked on Magpie's leg but went to help Vic when he noticed the thing in the trees. Vines snaked up from the ground and entrapped the Doc. By this time Fer had recovered her wits and returned to help. She was creeping up to help Doc when Magpie blasted her from behind. Now it was Fer's turn to say "What the hell!?"

The fire elemental shrugged off a full cylinder or silver ammo. So I tried to smother it by whipping dirt at it with my tail. No dice. The dirt disintegrated before it hit. Fer and Vic took more shots at the thing in the trees. While Doc struggled to get free, and Fer took another shot from Magpie who was convinced Fer was the thing from the trees, I was racking my brain trying to figure out how to kill the pillar of fire. Hadn't ever run into a critter like this though. Somehow the others managed to kill the creature in the tree - some sort of demonic hag with no legs that floated in mid-air.

Killing her might not have been a good idea, because she .. changed. She turned into this skinny demon that looked as if it hadn't eaten in weeks, and carried a bizarre looking staff. Just then everything began to die. Grass and trees withered, nearby fields decayed and died, and even Magpie fell victim to the wave of faminization. We high-tailed it as quick as we could. Winter was going to fall hard on Chi-Town this year with the destruction of the fields that were their lifeblood.

And I thought things were getting bad in Perseverance. Sheesh. I'm not yellow, but after what I witnessed even I felt the shiver of fear run down my back. Something tells me this is only going to get worse.