Previously our protagonists found themselves thrown almost two decades into the past, working in an office building that was very shortly ground zero for a zombie apocalypse. They escaped, but not before losing Vera, one of their own, to the hoards of flesh-eating monsters.
Or did they?”
Vera sat bolt upright in her seat, screaming, flailing to get the memories of undead office workers off of her, elbowing Ashly in the face. She could still feel the hands grabbing at her, cracked fingernails ripping her clothes, jaws tearing at her flesh.
Hands grabbed her wrists and she pushed away until she recognized the concerned face of her friend Ashly, realized that there was no horde of the dead assaulting her, identified their surroundings as that of a commercial passenger plane cabin. The scream died in her throat and she held Ash close for a second before settling back in her seat.
We’re switching from Mythic to a simpler d6 roll.
1. No, and: The answer is no, and things are even worse.
2-3. No, but: The answer is no, but it’s not so bad.
4-5. Yes, but: The answer is yes, but there’s a drawback.
6. Yes, and: The answer is yes, and it’s even better.
So does Vera recognize Ash and chill out?
4: Yes, but she’s still a little out of it.
“Miss are you all right?” A red-vested stewardess came, of course, to check on her.
“A dream,” Vera said. “It was just… a bad dream.” It had to have been. But so real. And waking from a nightmare was so disorienting, she couldn’t remember why she was on a plane or where she and Ashly were going.
Nick, seated in front of her, turned around, eyes wide. “Vera! Oh my god!”
“Sorry.” She felt honestly embarrassed, making such a scene. “I’m okay.”
“You were dead!” He was out of his seat, in the aisle, practically hugging her.
She looked up at him, then Ashly. “What?”
“Sir,” the stewardess said. “You have to take your seat now.”
Nick ignored her. “You died. They… the zombies.”
Vera sat up. “What?”
The stewardess guided Nick back down, next to Marco, who was leaning back at her with an expression of wonder on his face.
Vera looked from shocked face to face. “That was real?”
“I don’t…” Ashly looked turned to Nick. “How did we get here?”
“Don’t ask me, just woke up,” Vera said. “I was hoping you could tell me what’s going on.”
Josh cleared his throat. “We were all just… in that office building. Then the zombies happened. You… you didn’t make it.”
Vera’s hand went to her throat, still feeling the memory of rough hands there. “I didn’t?”
“No,” Ashly said. “We saw… we saw you…”
“Excuse me.” Vera stood up and quick-stepped to the airplane’s lavatory, shutting and locking the door behind her. She stared deeply into her eyes, into her face, looking for answers, looking for anything… and everything she saw was wrong. Her hair was longer than she typically wore it, with curly high-volume bangs spilling out over the simple tan headband she was wearing. Her clothes were different, too – brown flannel over a Soundgarden t-shirt, and ripped jeans. Not torn by the clawed hands of the dead, but by a manufactured distressing process. Not what she’d been wearing, and not something she’d have in her own closet.
She pulled aside the waistband of her jeans. There, fresh, red, raw, but no longer bleeding, she saw the very obviously human bite-marks left by the creature that had attacked her. She nearly collapsed against the small airline sink.
A rapid knocking came at the door. “Miss?” It was the stewardess, midwest heavy in her voice. “Miss. We’re about to take off, you need to take your seat.”
“Yes, I…” Vera took a tissue, wiping tears from her eyes, smearing mascara that she didn’t typically wear. “I will be right out, thank you. Just… nerves.”
She pulled a few more wads of tissue paper, placing them carefully over the bite mark on her hip, then pulled her jeans back up and exited to the aisle. “Sorry.” She pushed past the annoyed looking stewardess and walked back to her friends. “What happened?”
Nick and Marco exchanged a glance.
“We don’t know. You remember the helicopter?” Nick was dressed differently too – a navy blue blazer and khaki chinos, his usually short blonde hair collar-length.
“You were… we couldn’t get you, and the chopper left. Took us to this old church, a safe-house with some other survivors, protected by the National Guard and what was left of the cops.”
“Two months went by,” Marco added. He was wearing a blue and white letterman jacket, and his hair was cut into a hi-top fade. “Things kept getting worse. Food was running low. There was no evac. Little word from the rest of the country.” He looked at the others. “I was helping the General sort through reports, and I didn’t mention it to the rest of you, but it wasn’t painting a good picture. Real “civilization is lost” kind of intel. All over.”
“Shit,” Nick said.
“So how did I get here?” Vera asked. “And where are we going?”
“I don’t know,” Ashly said. Her outfit was the furthest from the norm – a short black babydoll dress over black tights, hair done up in a side-pony tail. “I was assisting in the medical tent, and then I was here. And you were screaming. Oh god, Vera, you were dead!”
“What the fuck,” Vera said.
Nick handed her a paper. “Found this in the pouch in the seat in front of me.”
It was a Houston Chronicle dated February 2nd, 1992. “Wasn’t it 2000 when the zombies attacked? And you said only two months had passed? Are we… jumping around in time?”
“It looks like a normal paper,” Nick said. “Not one from, you know, a zombieworld.”
“Explains how we’re fucking dressed,” Josh said. He was wearing overalls over a dark brown bowling shirt, his hair in an actual-factual mullet.
“So what is this?” Vera asked. “Another dream?”
“Doesn’t feel like it,” Ashly said.
Vera looked away, out the window at the tarmac below them, at the airport around them. “Should we get off?”
Just then, the intercom crackled with the voice of the pilot. “Welcome to flight 13 from Houston to Chicago – this will be a straight two and a half hour trip that will arrive at 9pm local. I’m your pilot, Captain Morgan, and I hope we have a pleasant flight.”
“Chicago,” Nick said. “Good. That’s where we want to go, anyway.”
“Let’s… ride this out,” Marco said.
“I’m still bit,” Vera said softly.
“What?” Ashly said.
“I checked in the bathroom. I’m still bit. Like it just happened. My arm’s still busted up from the elevator. It’s like… no time passed for me at all.”
“Oh god,” Nick said. “We all had time to recover at the base, but…”
Vera looked at Ashly. “So if I am infected… if I am… what do I have to look forward to?”
Ashly spoke clinically, eyes forward. “From what I observed in the quarantine tent, bites carry a 95% infection rate. It’s fast. Very fast. Most patients died within twenty-four hours, some made it as many as thirty-six before… before the soldiers stopped taking chances. Before we stopped looking for a cure. Stopped palliative care.”
“Oh Christ,” Nick said. “I didn’t know. They didn’t tell us.”
“They didn’t want to start a panic.” Ashly’s voice cracked. She took a moment before continuing. “Post-mortem the virus goes into overdrive. Most victims with any virus in their system will rise again in mere minutes.” She let out a long breath. “You hadn’t shown any signs by the time the… the helicopter arrived.”
“That was half an hour later. After I was bit,” Vera said.
“Yeah. 50% of cases show signs in the first hour. Fever. Nausea. Headahces, drymouth. 25% more show signs by the end of hour two. If you haven’t shown signs of infection by the time we reach Chicago…”
“Yeah.” Vera looked out the window, watching the runway retreat as the plane ascended. Soon she could see the sun setting in a bright line on the clouds below. “If.”
So, obviously Vera is the viewpoint character this time around. Not a lot of rolling yet; as always session 1 is setting the scene, though sometimes our protagonists will just be thrown into action without warning. For the apparent resurrection of Vera I wanted to start off with a slower burn to give the characters a chance to realize that she’s alive, but still injured.
That’s one of the Meta Rules to this situation: Death is no escape. Though Vera only bears the bite from the stairwell, not when she was overcome by the zombies.
This scenario is an old GURPS adventure, Flight 13. The players might be slightly underpowered for it… but them’s the breaks. If you’re familiar with the module you’ll notice that we’re skipping some incidental airport encounters to get right to take-off – the pacing feels better this way.
Vera must have dozed off, because Ashly was gently shaking her awake.
“Hey, I got the stewardess to give me a first-aid kit. Let’s go to the restroom, and I’ll take a look at your bite.”
Vera nodded, rising and leading the way down the aisle to the bathroom.
Once there, Ashly examined the bite mark, cleaned it, applied antiseptic and a bandage. “Doesn’t seem infected. That’s good. Even if it wasn’t a… a zombie… the human mouth is crawling with germs.”
GURPS: Ashly’s successful First Aid rolls treat Vera for shock from the injuries she’s sustained from the elevator crash and zombie bite. She recovers 3 hp (currently 5/11). Further healing is only possible with bed rest.
Just as they were finishing up a sudden turbulence rocked the plane, and Vera nearly fell.
“Listen folks, we’re encountering a bit of, ahhhh… turbulence.” The captain’s voice over the intercom sounded casual, unconcerned. “If you look up at the front of the cabin, you’ll see that the fasten seat belts sign is back on. We should be through the weather front shortly, but for now go ahead and buckle back in.”
“Let’s get back.” Vera stopped, considering. She didn’t really know Ashly that well outside of the weekly role-playing game the group got together for, and had originally written her off as a girl Nick brought because he’d had a crush on her. “Thank you.”
“No problem.” Ashly smiled. She caught sight of herself in the mirror and paused to wipe away the bright scarlet lipstick she’d been wearing. “I wonder how – why we’re wearing what we’re wearing. It seems so arbitrary.”
“I’ve got a purse.” Vera slung it off of her arm, put it on the sink, and unzipped it. “Gum, tampons, change purse, Kleenex, keys… the fuck is this, a scrunchie?” She found a driver’s license. “Name is mine, but says I was born in 1975. And I don’t recognize this address.”
“I… don’t want to think about that right now,” Ashly said. “Let’s just get back.”
The girls emerged to find the cabin in mild disarray, passengers vying for stewardess attention.
“Miss,” a well dressed man with a deep voice boomed. “My phone service has been cut off, can you help me get reconnected? This is very important.”
Closer yet, an older gentleman in a tweed suit with a severely receding hairline suddenly slumped in his chair, head lolling, drool at the corner of his mouth.
GURPS: Another successful First Aid roll from Ashly.
Ashly hastened to his side. “Sir?” She checked his pulse at his neck. “I think he fainted.” She loosened his tie and reclined his seat. “This should help.”
“You’re good at this,” Vera said, hand resting on her jeans above the bite. “You were a Girl Scout?”
“What?” Ashly let out a laugh. “Oh hell no. I’m just… I want to go into nursing, you know? Do something that matters. Help people.” She paused. “Do something with my life.”
“Do something?” Vera smirked. “Your own TV show wasn’t enough?”
Ashly spun, and Vera was shocked to see the anger on her face for a moment. “I’m not…” she swallowed. “That was a long time ago. I’m not an actor any more.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean-”
“It’s okay.” Ashly looked down at the older gentleman in the tweed, conscious but disoriented, blinking at the cabin lights above. “He’s okay.”
“We are not okay,” he croaked, mouth working like he was trying to remember how to use it.
It was at this point that the stewardess swept up behind them. “The seat-belt sign has been lit, would you mind returning to your seats now?”
“We were just-” Ashly began.
“Come on, let’s go.” Vera hooked her arm around Ashly’s elbow and guided her back to the others.Something about the stewardess’s manner set her teeth on edge – the woman was still crisp and professional, but there was a forced calmness about the eyes and a tightness at the corner of her lips. “Something’s very wrong here.”
“I’ll say.” Nick held up his headphones. “All the sound channels cut out.”
“No, there was a man,” Vera glanced back to see the stewardess attending him as she buckled herself into her seat. “And the crew…”
GURPS: IQ roll for Nick.
“I mean all the radio channels,” Nick said. “The pre-recorded stuff is fine, the broadcast stuff is static.”
Vera picked up one of the headphone buds and held it to her ear. Static.
GURPS: Everybody gets a Fright Check. Ashly and Marco fail.
“Maybe the array was hit by lightning?” Josh suggested. “Knocked it out, left the internal coms up?”
“What array?” Nick asked.
“The… radio array?” Josh said. “They have those, right?”
“Makes sense I guess,” Nick said.
“Yeah well, time travel and us jumping from zombieworld to here doesn’t.” Vera said. “Dying and coming back doesn’t. So maybe we’re in hell, maybe everyone going to turn into zombies and kill us again.” She could hear the accent in her own words, hated it, but couldn’t stop it any more than she could stop the panic from rising up into her throat. “Something bad is going to happen. Can’t you feel it?”
“No, I…” Nick paused. “Yeah. No, I know what you mean.”
“Stay calm.” Marco said. “Whatever happens, we can deal with it better if we’re calm. Just stay calm.” Vera could tell by the whiteness of his knuckles gripping his seat’s armrests and the way he kept repeating it that Marco was not, in fact, calm.
“Oh god.” Ashly sounded like she was on the verge of tears.
“Easy,” Vera said, putting a hand on Ashly’s arm. “Relax. Last thing we need is more attention from the crew. Stay alert, stay alive, yes?”
Ashly nodded furiously but didn’t relax. “Yeah. Yeah. Okay. Yeah.”
All of a sudden Vera was nearly blinded as a bright shaft of pure white light pierced the rear of the plane, dazzling even if you weren’t looking directly at it, and began slowly moving towards the front. At the same time the whole cabin started to shake back and forth as if gripped in the fist of an angry giant.
GURPS: Another Fright Check, this one at -2. Vera fails – badly.
It was all too much for Vera, eyes wide, unable to look away, feeling as if her heart were beating in time with the plane’s tremors. It all grew distant, hard to see, as a greyness overtook her vision. Dimly she could hear the sound of gunfire, but knew, before she lost consciousness, that those rounds had been fired years ago and half the world away, the day she’d had her family taken from her…
Vera woke to find herself alone in the passenger cabin.
No, that wasn’t accurate. The other passengers were, for the most part, still there, still fearful, still in their seats. Nick, Ashly, Marco, and Josh – the ones she knew, the ones who mattered, were gone. Icy fear gripped her heart – had they left her again, gone on to some other world, left her here to die?
The older gentleman in tweed caught her eye from across the aisle. “Are you okay?”
“We are not okay.” Her voice sounded weak in her ears.
He smiled slightly. “Your friends went up to the cockpit. The pilot had a heart attack.”
“The cockpit?” She unbuckled her seatbelt, wincing at an unexpected pain in her neck. “None of them can fly a plane.”
The older man’s smile faded and he pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “That’s less than comforting.”
She rose and made her way unsteadily down the aisle up towards the front of the plane. The door was open, and she could see even before arrival that it was crowded.
“Nick?” she asked, spotting him first, the others past him, along with a nun. A woman in a wheelchair was sitting at the controls.
The chief stewardess moved towards her. “I’m sorry, you can’t be in here-”
Nick waved the woman away. “It’s okay, she’s with us.” He stepped out and gave Vera a hug. “Jesus, Vera, I’m sorry we left you, it all happened so fast.”
“I woke up and you were all gone and I thought – what happened?” She held back the tears. Now was not the time.
Nick shook his head. “Okay, so that light appeared and you passed out, and everyone started screaming, then the pilot had a heart attack and the plane started to drop-”
“Right? And Ashly figures it out and runs to the cockpit and… shit, the Captain is down, the co-pilot’s having some kind of episode, and I’m freaking out, and nobody knows what the fuck, and Josh is all like he can fly the plane because of all the dumb flight sim games he plays and we don’t have any better ideas, but then Amanda shows up – the woman in the wheelchair, and she used to be a pilot…”
“That’s a lot to take in.” Vera said, feeling a little better about having been left behind. “But you fuckers still ditched me.”
“Sorry,” Nick said, either misreading her tone or wrapped up in his own guilt about it, as he was prone to being.
“Whatever. Christ. Did they find out what that light was?”
“It’s all… it jut happened. You were only out for a few minutes.”
Marco poked his head out of the cockpit. “Hey, you guys are going to want to hear this.”
Vera rubbed her sore neck. “What now?”
Action! Adventure! Blown Fright Checks! Nick’s recap covers what happened during Vera’s faint, all more or less according to module. None of our PCs can fly, fortunately an NPC who can is included, though she needs help to operate all the controls. Josh has been making (and passing) IQ rolls to figure out what she’s trying to tell him.
Next Time: What now!