The village of Habitat
was in trouble… and the Council of Elders knew it. They assembled a group of twenty volunteers in the barely-warm confines of the council lodge. Everyone of importance was in attendance: the Council, Enginer Rorke
, and Vizor Toom
. Vizor Toom
spoke for the Council and told the assembled men, women, and animal friends that they were being sent out on an urgent mission. The recent extreme winter weather had already killed the crops and was freezing the lake. The village was simply not prepared for weather so much more severe than previous winters, particularly during the summer months. Several villagers had died from the cold and it had only been two days. The Council hoped the volunteers would find some place of shelter, supplies, or perhaps a useful relic of the Ancients
in the wilderness.
All the volunteers drew lots to determine where they would be sent. One unlikely group, consisting of a young farmer named Jeb
, an Enginer apprentice named Jim
, a mutant porcupine named Mister Pointy
, and a huntsman named Zandor
, were tasked to go north along the Ranger River. They were given weapons and supplies, including a couple of valuable duralloy
shields and an ancient slug projector
was a miracle metal of the Ancients
, light-weight and almost impervious to physical blows or energy attacks. Unfortunately, the villagers had lost the knowledge to create or even shape the metal, but they were able to build shield frames around the four-foot triangular sheets. The slug projector
was one of the few ancient weapons owned by the village and Jim
jumped at the chance to use it. Enginer Rorke
himself taught Jim the Prayer of Loading, the Mantra of Targeting, and the Prayer of Humble Jam Clearing. Before sending the party on their way, the Enginer
with seven dum-dum rounds for the slug projector
. The rubber projectiles could subdue the toughest opponents.
The group left Habitat
and followed the eastern edge of the Ranger River north through Birnam Wood. They trudged through the frozen forest for several miles before Mister Pointy
noticed the glint of metal high in a tree ahead. The tree seemed to be some form of weeping willow and although frosted by the cold, it still held on to its yellow-green drooping leaves. These leaves prevented Mister Pointy
from getting more than a glimpse of the shiny metal.
After a brief discussion between the villagers, Zandor
shouted a greeting. A strange voice greeted him in return and warned him to beware the tree! The voice also pleaded for his help and asked that ship security be contacted. This odd reference led to an even more confusing conversation in which the group learned that the owner of the voice was a Habitat Control Droid, serial number HCD-31E5F3
, whatever that meant. This droid creature also mentioned other strange “facts”: the Warden
was a ship instead of a planet, the group was located on Habitat Level 2
, the current year was 2525, and the ship launched with a population of 1.5 million colonists and 50,000 crew members.
After hearing such nonsense, Zandor
was prepared to move on. They had a village to save; who cared about a droid? However, the interest of the others was piqued by the strange being. Jeb
crept up to the tree
until he could see the creature through the foliage. He saw a humanoid wearing masterwork metal armor and held by a thick vine. The droid shouted a warning to Jeb
as seven other vines whipped down. Jeb
backed away before he could be caught in their grasp and the vines disappeared back into the leaves.
decided it was time for him to step forward. He concentrated his pyrokinetic
power on the tree trunk. The frost melted off and soon the tree began to shake. After only 15 seconds, smoke began billowing from the bark. After 30 seconds, flames danced along the trunk and the hidden vines collapsed to the ground, releasing the droid.
The droid walked to the group and thanked them for their help. Once again a confusing conversation ensued. Mister Pointy
was constantly referred to as a pet by the metal man; he simply didn’t comprehend that an animal could be intelligent. The droid explained that he was not wearing armor and that the metal was his exterior. Jim
and the others grasped that he was a strange machine of the Ancients
, but it took quite some time for Jeb
, the simple farmer, to understand. The droid also claimed that he had been maintaining the weather for 206 years. A pack of wolves had damaged him and taken control of the Environmental Control Center only two days ago. The metal man needed help to regain control and restore the normal weather but only had two hours before he succumbed to his injuries. He could repair himself at the facility if he was defended from the wolves. The center was only an hour away.
Although still unsure of the droid’s claims, the group knew the village was desperate so they agreed to help him. The metal man led them several more miles along the river. During the trek, he recommended the group call him Hayseed
, an old nickname based on his serial number. He also mentioned that there were three entrances to the Environmental Control Center: two were located on the main level where the wolves attacked while the third was an auxiliary emergency entrance. The auxiliary entrance was connected to the second level of the center. This level provided a route to the robot repair bay that did not pass the main control center, the last known location of the wolf pack. The group decided to give the auxiliary entrance a try.
The tunnel to the auxiliary entrance
was hidden behind a waterfall. The tunnel gate was rusted open and there were signs that a large animal used the unlit tunnel as a den. The signs were proven accurate when the group encountered a mutant bear
inside. This descendant of a black bear had sharp quills along its legs, fur that blended with the tunnel walls, and when it roared, the entire group (other than Hayseed
) were filled with an unnatural fear. The party fled the cave, leaving the bear to his den.
The psychic dread eventually wore off and the heroes regrouped. After a short discussion, they roasted jerky over a fire to draw the bear out of his den. They then dashed inside, throwing even more of their provisions to the beast. Unfortunately, they forgot to prepare a torch. While Zandor
watched for the bear and worked on a torch, Jeb
and Mister Pointy
stumbled down the tunnel after Hayseed
, who had low-light vision.
Rounding a bend, the two discovered Hayseed
waiting by a door. The area was dimly lit by glowing moss around his feet. The green glow brightened at the approach of Jeb
and Mister Pointy
. Laying across the moss was a complete human skeleton. It was dressed in a one-piece garment of unknown material. A light-green bracelet was wrapped around the skeleton’s right wrist. Next to the out-stretched right hand was a dark 10-inch-long cylinder with a strap on one end.
Wary of the moss, Jeb
to identify the skeleton. The droid noticed a patch on the clothing which read “Simpson, Kathy.” Jeb
then instructed Hayseed
to continue into the complex. The droid told Jeb
to wait with his pet (Mister Pointy
) and disappeared behind the door.
While waiting, Jeb
’s curiosity overcame his wariness and he stepped onto the moss. Although the green light intensified, he felt no ill effects so he gathered up both the cylinder and the bracelet
. He gave the cylinder his full attention while Mister Pointy
watched for any other effects from the moss.
After spending less than a minute standing on the moss, Jeb
began to feel a burning sensation in his feet and lower legs. He raced off the moss but the pain continued. He was gently rubbing his legs when Zandor
came around the corner with a lit torch. Jeb
told them that Hayseed
had gone through the door and Zandor
went over to investigate. He had just started walking across the moss when he threw himself backward. He pulled off his boots to reveal that his feet and legs were severely burned. Jeb
had pulled off his boots and his skin was burned as well, but it was obvious that Zandor
was afflicted the worst. Both of them ate Heal Pill
s from their supplies and felt much better. A majority of Jeb
‘s burns healed instantly, but the cakes could only help, not completely heal, Zandor
’s horrible burns. He was left with painful blisters on his feet and raw burned patches on his legs.
finished his examination of the cylinder and determined that it was some form of simple club. There was an obvious hand grip on the back end near the strap. Using the strap, a person carrying the club could secure it to his wrist. There was a little window on the front of the cylinder through which could be seen a reflective chamber. Jeb
thought this chamber might have some combat effect, but it could just as easily be used to signal others by reflecting ambient light.