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Northstar Rising

Modified on 2011/10/18 11:11 by Kerrick Categorized as Books, Deathlands

   There's night and day, brother, both sweet things; sun, moon, and stars, brother, all sweet things; there's likewise a wind on the heath. Life is very sweet, brother; who would wish to die?

   - Lavengro
   George Barrow

   The book starts from the POV of Zimyanin, who had jumped into the mat-trans with the companions at the end of Ice and Fire. He recovers first from the effects of the jump. Soon after, however, Ryan and the others start to wake. Zimyanin has only a few moments to act, so he leaps out of the chamber, slamming the door shut behind him. He finds himself in the control room, where one wall has been pulverized and everything is covered in pink slime.
   Ryan sees Zimyanin, faintly, through the armaglass of the chamber walls, and hears him yell in surprise. There are three shots, then Zimyanin's yell cycles up into a shrill shriek of terror and Ryan glimpses something yellow and "immeasurably huge" before he blacks out.
   They arrive at a new destination, a bit the worse for wear after making two jumps in quick succession. This new redoubt is badly damaged (most of the computers are offline) and inhabited by troggies. They aren't much of a threat, but Krysty senses hundreds more of them hiding in the darkness, advancing. The companions decide discretion is the better part of valor and retreat; they fall back to the chamber just ahead of the horde, but one of the troggies gets its hand slammed in the door, blocking the contacts. A malfunction warning rings out as they jump once more.
   After suffering horrific jump nightmares, they arrive in a new gate, this one with red walls. Zorro, the puppy Doc acquired in Moscow, didn't make it through the third jump, and Doc's brain is badly scrambled - he thinks he's back in the past, but makes references to his current circumstances ("I've been away from home for... 200 hundred years.").
   Once everyone recovers, Ryan opens the door. The redoubt is hot and humid, like they're in the tropics. The control room shows signs of abrupt abandonment - a game of poker on the table, posters on the walls - and long exposure to a humid environment: moss and mold are growing on all the flat surfaces. They check the cards, and Ryan's hand shows up aces over eights - the famed "dead man's hand" - but he wins first crack at any hot water they find.
   Opening the sec door lets through a nasty little insect that bites Krysty's wrist, but they see nothing further. The door opens onto a long hallway lined with more moss and mold; as they go on, the greenery increases and they run into water on the floor in a low spot.
   Further along the corridor (which goes for about a quarter-mile), they hear a buzzing which increases in intensity - a swarm of killer bees. They hurry forward, hoping to find a place to hide before the bees catch them, and find a door. They make it through barely ahead of the swarm; even so, some get inside and deliver some nasty stings.
   Once they've dealt with the mutant bees, they find themselves in the living quarters - hot showers, clean sheets, and fresh food. Clean, fed, and with more ammo and supplies, they set forth.
   They leave the redbout and walk into a tropical paradise. They think South America or Hawaii... but JB says it's Minnesota. They decide to explore a bit to see how a tropical jungle could get planted in the cold North.
   A couple hours later, hacking their way through the verdant growth, Jak spots a group of buildings on the other side of a small river. Ryan and Krysty advance to scout the area while the others stay behind. They signal the all-clear; while the others are making their way across, Krysty spots a sign:

   Wendigo Institute of Botanical Research

   Which explains where all the odd plant life came from - the nuking spread seeds and spores, which took root; the change in climate affected the bowl-shaped valley, trapping heat and turning the entire area into a tropical paradise.
   Ryan finds more:

   Incorporating the Blackwood Center for Chemical and Neurological Research, Military Division

   And Krysty spots a final line, hidden in the grass at the base of the sign:

   With the The Shelley Cryonic Institute - Private

   This is one of the freezie centers Rick Ginsburg told them about. The complex, however, is long destroyed - most of the buildings have crumbled, either from the nukes themselves, later earthquakes, or the encroachment of the jungle itself. They find one building intact, though: Shelley Cryonic Institue. There's a single set of double doors, military-grade vanadium steel, securely locked. JB blasts them open with a huge wad of C4, and they're in.
   The center has remained secure and untouched since 2001, a time capsule. The pass through an airlock and into an area of offices; further down the hall, they find another set of doors labeled "Noncorporeal Section". They pass through into a huge control room; banks of computers occupy most of the room, and one wall is taken up by frozen heads. Jak accidentally hits the emergency quick-thaw button, killing all the heads and starting an electrical fire. They flee the room and find a door marked Exit, but Ryan decides to press on - he thinks the area will be sealed off.
   This hall leads to a lounge, on the other side of which is another room with three frozen bodies:
  • A child of three, named Hope Future, who was born with massive and inoperable brain damage, frozen as part of a cryo-campaign;
  • An old man, 87, who was frozen at the point of death from a brain tumor. He was an atomic physicist;
  • A middle-aged black woman named Mildred Wyeth, a medical doctor and specialist in cyronics, as well as a crack shot with a pistol. She'd been frozen because of complications from routine exploratory surgery - an adverse reaction to the anaesthesia sent her into a coma.

   After some discussion, they decide to defrost Mildred. Several hours later, she awakens from a 100-year sleep, perfectly healthy, though a bit weak from her time in stasis. After Ryan and the others give her a brief explanation of what's happened and where she is, she gets into a shouting match with Doc, which seems to knock his mind back on track.
   After spending the night in the institute, they go outside and see some high hills to the northeast. They decide to head there and get a better vantage of the area. Along the way, they get into a discussion about Milred and her shooting ability; she borrows Ryan's Sig and uses it to shoot a mutie wasp.
   The press onward, hacking through the jungle and crossing two rivers. On the second crossing, Jak trips and falls into the water; Ryan manages to pull him out, but not after he's nearly drowned. Mildred saves him by forcing the water from his lungs and performing rescue breathing.
   A couple hours later, Krysty hears drumming and senses something coming at them. A short while later, a horde of animals of all descriptions come running past them in a panic, completely ignoring them. The cause soon becomes clear - an army of mutant ants on the march. They run forward, toward a huge mangrove tree, and barely make into the branches ahead of the ants. They take shelter while the ants attempt to form a pyramid and get to them, but they hold the ants off with Ryan's panga.
   When morning comes, the ants are gone. The lower regions of the tree are chewed up, and there's a cleared path of vegetation, 80 paces wide. When the companions reach the ground, Jak spots a pile of bones with a collar tag bearing the name Odin - likely someone's dog.
   They press onward, up into the hills; the air gets cooler and drier, and they eventually get out of the jungle. Krysty hears the drums again, and they spot human footprints, though the tracks are too muddled to get a good read. They finally reach the top of the ridge and descend the far side, finding vegetation more suited to the climate. After some walking, they scent cooking meat and come upon a village of what can only be Vikings on the shore of Lake Superior.
   They are welcomed and ushered into a meeting house to talk to the village leader, Jorund Thoruldson. All the villagers have pale blond hair, fair skin, and blue eyes - they're obviously descendants of the original Scandinavian people who lived in the region. The companions learn that women are treated as chattel in the ville of Markland, inferior to the men.
   Jorund extends an offer for the men to join their village as warriors, and Ryan and the others request time to think about it. About this time, Mildred lowers the hood of her sweater, making everyone recoil - none of the villagers have ever seen a black person before, and they think she's a demon. The village men insist she must be slain, but Ryan stands up for her; Mildred suggests trial by combat, which is a valid solution in Markland. If her champion wins, she gets to live; if the village champion wins, she dies.
   Since the fight is with swords, not blasters, Doc steps foward to take the challenge. He faces off against Odo Crookback, the best swordsman in the village, and wins handily, gaining Mildred a reprieve. She and Krysty are taken to bunk with the women, while the men are given the hut belonging to the alemaster and his family, who recently died of rad sickness.
   The next day, Ryan, Jak, and JB are taken to do their tests to become warriors. The tests are spear- and axe throwing, and ability with a blaster. By the time they get to the last test, the fog has become too thick to accurately test their shooting, but Ryan gets into a friendly dare with one of the men - he claims he can shoot an apple off the other man's head.
   They set up, and as Ryan is about to take the shot, a shot rings out and the man drops dead, a wound in his forehead. More shots ring out a second later - the village is under attack. The men race back to fight the invaders, which are muties from a neighboring ville further down the shore. The villagers beat back the attack, but they suffer three casualties.
   The next day, the dead warriors are later loaded onto a longship, along with several strangled thralls, and the ship set alight. Three of the muties are taken prisoner; that night, they are stuffed into wicker men and burned alive. Ryan and the others, appalled by this barbaric display, decide they've had enough and it's time to leave.
   The next day, he sees Mildred and Krysty in the village and signals to them; they meet in the hills outside the village and he passes on the word to them. As they're heading back down, they hear some men coming up the trail, so they hide on a side trail. This trail leads up to a mountaintop, where a large stone altar, adorned with metal rings and covered in dried blood, bears witness to human sacrifices.
   Later that day, two children die of the bloody flux, brought on by radiation poisoning. Mildred, as the dark spirit, is blamed; the Karl confines all the companions to the same hut for "a day, maybe two" until the wisewoman can cast the runes again and decide their ultimate fate, but the prevailing opinion is that she must die, sacrificed by Jak, the "white god".
   That night, the companions steal a boat and head east, away from the ville and the tropical valley. They put ashore a couple miles away, near what looks to be a clean, clear river. Jak is about to take a drink when Ryan warns him away - he's seen a salmon swimming oddly. They test the water on his rad counter, and it goes off the scale - obviously this is the cause of the ville's rad sickness. They follow the river back to its source to find a once-secure toxic waste site exposed by a recent earthquake. Now the site is a fetid mess of radioactive and chemical toxins poisoning air and water. They run away, hoping they weren't exposed too long, and hop back in the boat...
   ... Only to be caught by the Marklanders. The villagers discovered they were gone and sent two ships east and west. The companions are taken onto one of the ships; as they head back, a fog rolls in and they are attacked by more muties. The death toll this time is hideous, but the villagers - aided by the companions - win again.
   When they return, they are confined to their quarters with an armed guard - they have broken faith and the villagers no longer trust them. Mildred is set to be sacrificed that night. However, Jorund is still willing to offer a compromise - Jak must stay, Mildred must die, but the others can go free. Ryan accepts the offer, but he has a plan in mind.
   That evening, Jak and Mildred are taken away. She is due to be sacrificed after sunset. Ryan and the others wait until the procession has left town, then start a fire in their hut to get the guards to unlock the door; once this happens, they burst forth and kill the guards. An old man near the center of town threatens to bang the alarm gong, but Krysty slips up and kills him too.
   The companions race up the trail, hoping their not too late, but they arrive just as Jak is about to drop the knife. Ryan takes a shot and hits the knife, saving Mildred and setting the clearing into chaos. Most of the villagers flee, several more are killed, and Mildred is set free. The wisewoman comes at her with a straight razor, intending to complete the sacrifice, but Mildred disarms her and kills her by cutting off the blood flow to the brain.
   The companions hot-foot it over the mountain and back to the jungle, hoping they can beat the Viking warriors to the redoubt, but knowing they can't - the Vikings know the area far better. Indeed, they are nearly to the river when Ryan senses the presence of the remaining warriors. He tells the others to hold back and moves ahead alone, calling out Jorund to talk.
   Ryan attempts to negotiate a truce with Jorund, and one of the other Vikings speaks up to support him, but Jorund shoots the other man with his shotgun. Ryan can see at this point that Jorund has gone completely around the bend and that there's no reasoning with him, so he tosses Jorund an implosion grenade. Jorund catches it just before it goes off, sucking the flesh from his face and one hand and killing him.
   Erik Stonebiter, another Viking who was previously well-disposed toward the companions, takes charge of the warriors; he agrees that there has been enough death, and knows that the disease is not because of Mildred or any other supernatural cause. He also agrees to move the village west, away from the toxic dump, and lets the party pass.
   Once they return to the redoubt, Mildred finally gets herself a pistol, a ZKR 551. They find that more of the computers controlling the gateway have deteriorated, but get into the gateway anyway and make the jump.

DEATHLANDS, OUTLANDERS, EARTH BLOOD, and JAMES AXLER are all the property of Gold Eagle / Worldwide Library, and are used here strictly under Fair Use guidelines.
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