The Youngstown Campaign -scouting 1 by Rich
In an ideal world, the goal would have been to find an easy, unblocked route to the Hellmouth. But then, in an ideal world, the Hellmouth wouldn't exist.
The distances involved were short, but the obstacles were enormous; chiefly the uncountable number of opponents who stood in the way. At the moment, however, there might be an opportunity.
The demons in the Youngstown area were swarming the troops there. The demons to the north seemed to be gravitating towards the Lakefront. There was a possibility that this had opened a temporary gap in between. A scout who headed west from Highway 11, or northwest from the airfield, might be able to get as far as the south end of Mosquito Creek Lake with minimal opposition. The Colonel would have preferred to make that move in force, but right now the "Force" just wasn't available.
Any force which they could send would be too small to do very much. The best they could hope for was to get some useful information about what was happening.
The Colonel hadn't been back to the mall for several days, so he was dealing with Lieutenant Miles. He'd submitted a request to visit the front lines, and she said she'd consider it.
In the meantime, he was studying the Slayers. He was fascinated by the fact that such a vital part of Earth's history had remained hidden for so long.
Also, they were cute.
Jenny had divided them into two teams, one under her command and the other under Tamiko's. By taking turns, they were able to assist the clearing operations in town around the clock. She'd taken her team into town about twenty minutes earlier, and Tamiko's team was now back at the mall. They were working with Calvert's recon troopers, learning how to use jumpjets and monocycles. Tamiko had just made her third jump to the roof and back, when Major Sanchez called her over.
Evidently Doreen, as a trainee witch, wasn't assigned to either team. She was currently helping out in the field hospital. He had some questions for her.
Lieutenant Miles had asked to speak with her, and with Tamiko. The two of them entered the office which Hannah had appropriated, and found that Captains Crook and Zhukov had arrived before them.
"Tamiko," said Crook, "We need more information about how you and your team escaped from the Wilderness area, and what you saw along the way."
"OK," replied Tamiko. "We were getting ready to go canoeing when it happened. We all knew exactly
when the 'mouth opened. First off was the earthquake; then there was a huge pillar of smoke - it was more or less northwest of where we were, which was about halfway down on the west side of the lake. Plus, we could all just feel
"So," she continued, "we got back to the parking lot, but it wasn't there any more, 'cause of the geyser...".
"Wait," interrupted Lieutenant Miles, "what geyser ?"
"Oh, there were lots of geysers", replied Tamiko. "Also hot springs, and some lava flows. This was mostly to the west, and even more to the northwest. Then it started snowing, and that cooled the lava and turned it solid. Then it crumbled into black sand, and the wind came up and blew the sand into a dune..."
"Hold on," said Captain Crook, "just how long did all of this take, anyway ?"
"By whose watch ?", answered Tamiko. "My watch said it took ten minutes, Jenny's said it took two hours, and Doreen's was running backwards." She was grinning now.
Major Sanchez spoke up, "So...unless you're pulling all of our legs, which I hope
you aren't", Tamiko shook her head 'no', "then what you're telling us is that the Hellmouth distorted reality, in a major way."
"Right," said Tamiko. "Doreen thinks that when it opened, the 'mouth caused kind of like a magic 'shock wave' that radiated out like a ripple from a pond, and just screwed everything
up. But it was mostly only temporary. Things where we were returned to normal, mostly - but the parking lot was still just a hole in the ground, and our van was gone with it. We could see a line of fire to the west, which was the direction we needed to go, so we figured instead we'd walk around the lake, then head east to the road. From there we could maybe catch a ride, or call somebody. The idea was that if we couldn't go straight west, maybe we could loop around to the south. Obviously that didn't work out."
"So.." said Hannah, "basically, we can't tell what we're going to find when we go in there, because the terrain could change at any time ?"
"I'd say so," said Tamiko, "and that 'any time' part might be a little unpredictable too. Because one thing we do know is that time moves at different rates in different realities. For example - Slayers can jog at ten to fifteen miles an hour, so the trip from the south end of the lake to highway 11 should have taken just a few minutes. It actually took an hour and a half."
"But if you're thinking of heading for the Hellmouth, you can count me in; and I'm pretty sure the others will say the same. Because sooner or later that's going to have to happen. You've heard about the Sunnydale 'mouth ?"
"Just the basics", answered Sanchez. "It was closed by Willow Rosenberg, and a souled vampire with an amulet, correct ?" The others were looking at the two of them as if they were totally insane.
"Correct," replied Tamiko. "The thing is, Spike was inside
of the Hellmouth when he did it. So whoever closes this one - I think they're probably going to need to be real
In the Field Hospital:
Doreen was assisting the medical staff, who weren't trained to deal with "magical" injuries. Doreen wasn't completely trained on those herself, so she'd had to make several calls to the ISWC for advice.
The latest had been a soldier from the 101st, who'd taken down a Glarghk Guhl Kashma'nik (better known as "Gesundheit") demon but been skewered in the process. They'd had to disarm him, then put handcuffs on him to prevent him from attacking their platoon leader. Luckily the platoon's medic had consulted the database provided by the HSC, and they'd used tasers to secure the demon who inflicted the wound.
She'd broken off the skewer and broken the demon's neck (which had disturbed some of the staff), and was preparing the antidote when Bregman had found her.
"So," he asked, "What's going on here ?"
She answered, "The venom in the skewer causes hallucinations, usually violent ones. It's different for everybody, but for most people, it's like a combination of speed, steroids, and LSD. The only known antidote is made from the skewer of the demon who inflicted the wound."
"and anyone can do this ?" asked Bregman.
"This ? Sure," she replied, "preparing the antidote to the venom isn't a magical process at all; it's more like alchemy. You just have to follow the instructions"
she continued, "The answer to the question you probably
want to ask, is that it depends. Magic is a little like ... weightlifting. I guess."
"I'm sorry," he said, "But weightlifting
"Uh huh," she answered, "think about it. In theory, any healthy person can pick up a barbell; and the more you train, the bigger the barbell you can pick up. But there's a limit to how much anyone can lift, and only a handful of people will ever be good enough to compete, let alone win a Gold medal in the Olympics. Magic is kind of like that - almost anyone can do some magic, but they have to be trained to be any good, and very few will ever be really
good at it."
"I take it Miss Rosenberg is really good ?" he asked.
"Miss Rosenberg," she said, "is the undefeated superheavyweight champion of the world."
Major Sanchez, Doreen, and Tamiko had come along to "wish her luck", and Lieutenant Calvert had come along to monitor her progress. He'd installed a camera in the Osiris, and a locator beacon.
Doreen had given her a "locator" of a different type; a bluish crystal which hung from a silver chain. Sonya had noticed that all of Slayers wore them, either around their necks or tied to their wrists or waists. Doreen said that the crystal would make her easier to find with a spell, and also had some protective effect against magic. She put it in a pocket of her vest.
At 3:25 PM, Sonya headed west from Highway 11, a little bit north of highway 196. She was about 500 yards form the Niles-Cortland road when her sensors "blinked" - first off, then back on, several times.
like all good pilots, she instinctively checked her orientation. According to the sensor, the Osiris was now leaning left and forward at about 32 degrees from the vertical, which was impossible without falling. Inertial navigation said she was still facing west, while the planetary magnetic field sensor said she was facing 10 degrees east of south. The external thermometer showed a temperature of minus forty-nine degrees Celsius, and the clock said that the date was Feb. 5th, 2013, and the time was 2:17 AM.
She opened her hatch and looked around. She was surrounded by the same kind of terrain she'd been in before, but a wall of mist or smoke blocked her vision beyond about 100 yards. Her mech appeared to be standing completely upright, and the temperature was comfortable. As a test, she dug the weighted fishing line out of her survival kit and dangled it at arm's length. The line hung straight up, pointing at the sun, which was directly overhead; which wasn't where it should be at 3:30 in the afternoon (or 2:17 AM, either), Also, the sun wasn't supposed to be green.
Whatever this was, it hadn't only affected her mech's perceptions.
She thought it had also affected hers.
A wall of mist was suddenly blocking vision to the west. Captain Zhukov's mech disappeared from the monitor. The video feed showed nothing but snow, and the location indicator was just gone. He widened the area of his scan, trying to pick it up again. Eventually he found it, several miles north of its' previous position.
"Captain," asked Major Sanchez, "is it possible to superimpose a map over that display ?"
He nodded, and complied.
"Well," said the Major, "It looks like Captain Zhukov's mech has just been instantaneously transported to the middle of Lake Erie."
She remembered the crystal Doreen had given her back at the road, and fished it out of her pocket. Holding it in her hand, she glanced down at her sensor array and found it completely normal, except that the compass needle was revolving in a circle. This was a spell, then - probably an effect of the Hellmouth. Looking around, she saw that the wall of mist still existed behind her, but to the front she could see a line of trees that marked the Niles-Cortland road.
She could also see a huge mass of spider-octopus creatures, and she thought that somebody should think of a better name for those things. They were skittering rapidly in her direction.
That suited her just fine. She had a bone to pick with these beasts.
"Well," he said, "if our sensors aren't working, hers could be out as well. She may not be able to navigate her way forward, or back here."
"I could bring her out," said Tamiko. When he gave her a look, she said, "Slayers can sense demons, and we can sense the Hellmouth. As long as I keep my back to that, I know that I'm moving away from it. That's how we
got out in the first place."
Calvert replied, "That's all well and good, young lady. But before you can bring her out, you'll have to find
her in that mist. Will your Slayer senses help you do that ?"
Major Sanchez spoke up. "Oh, I don't think that's going to be a problem," she said. She pointed into the mist, where they could all see the flashes of laser fire. "I don't think that'll be a problem at all."