Badass Dragons of the Wasteland - Final Round

On and on the Ark caravan crawled, its speed now stabilized to 10 mph for the final push to the launch site at Edwards Air Force Base. I crossed my legs and sat on the floor of Marion’s cab as she described what we were about to face.

It is no coincidence that on your perilous journey to bring me from the Stark Skunkworks all the way up here, most of the worst perils have been near sites of particular scientific or technological significance.  The San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant, the Stark complex, the Wayne Manor cave, Fleetwood’s Citadel, Plant 42… all were signposts of mankind’s ascent toward the godhood of technology.  And in all these places, mankind’s basest failings undid all the good that was intended by his starry-eyed dreams of technological supremacy.  Greed, recklessness, incompetence, jealousy, negligence… the state of the planet today is a direct result of these age-old sins inhabiting men with far more power and influence than sobriety, compassion, and sense.

The glowing, radioactive gill-men and sea monsters at San Onofre wouldn’t be there if the reactor hadn’t been permitted to melt down.  The murderous golf carts and turrets at Stark Industries were installed as high-end security apparatus for everyday use.  The Robot Monster used to be Bruce Wayne’s gardener/dance instructor.  And the sandworms surrounding Edwards AFB used to be a child’s science experiment.

You gotta be kidding me.

Originally a colony of Eisenia fetida taken up to the International Space Station, they were exposed to some mysteriously potent cosmic rays up there.  The return trip began well enough, departing the ISS without incident.  We may never know what took place aboard that doomed ship, for it crashed spectacularly at Edwards after adopting an increasingly erratic approach angle.  Edwards was evacuated altogether within 48 hours, and surreptitiously closed less than a week before Chelsea’s Little War broke out.  It never got talked about among civilians, especially not after everyone had what they used to call “bigger fish to fry,” but there’s a good reason why the base has remained unraided all these years.

The worms, irradiated and mutated by whatever cosmic forces they endured in orbit, grew to monstrous size, and they tunnel beneath the base, consuming all carbon-based life they encounter within a half-mile radius of the crash site near the launch pad end of the runway.  They normally spend nearly all their time underground, but they are acutely sensitive to vibration, and when they detect our approach, they will surface and attack.

How are we supposed to get past them?

As I said, the worms are sensitive to vibration, and different vibrations mean different things to these creatures.  Stretch Sanford had been developing a countermeasure.  We should ask him if he has had any success with it.

Stretch?! That cheatin’ sonofabitch? There’s no way in hell we’re asking him for help. Most of the drivers wanna kill him.

We should not hasten to judge.  I suspect even he has a side of the story worth hearing.

But… but he sold them crap gear that nearly got them killed! Hell, the Major…

That may not have been his intent.  Speak to him.  Allow him to present a case.  I know a great deal about artificial intelligences, and programming and rampancy and agency and self-awareness.  The matter is not as cut and dried as you humans may be tempted to believe.

Easy-Peasy. Ain’t that stretch a robot? We can teach em how to do a proper song.

And I was gunna ask if you knew how to play a theramin…


Any word on how fast these worms are? A properly tuned 427 can make a lot of vibration and outpace a lot of things in a straight line in the desert.


Worms? Pfah.

I say we turn Stretch Sanford into a decoy. Hang a lot of noisy junk off him, make sure he goes nice and slow.

Failing that, I have an idea.


Why, I’ve actually made Stretch’s case for him!


Reminds me of a joke, Major Von Stauffenberg.

Why is going into the Wasteland without a Stretchbot like going deer hunting without an accordian?

You just leave a lot of useless noisy baggage behind.


Okay, Sanford.

I’m not much for the whole good cop / bad cop, schtick, so you’re just getting the bad cop.

You’ve seen what happens to other Stretchbots who’ve shafted us. Wanna end up the same way?

You’ve got one chance to save your rusty double-crossing chassis. Start talking - and make it convincing.

If you’re not very helpful, you might find yourself fitted with one of these:


Oh, a jaguar engine. That’s pretty cruel.

You know what I just thought of, Goneville? How every damn stretchbot we came across was a jaguar, and yet most had no clue how to fix a foreign car.

As old uncle Egg would say, 在事物变化越多,他们就越保持不变


"It’s like this: I didn’t wanna cause no trouble. You gotta understand, I’m at the mercy of my programming. That Fleetwood character, he was a hard boss. Always lookin’ for an angle, always wantin’ to keep two steps ahead of the competition. Even back in Watts, he couldn’t stand the thought of somebody puttin’ one over on him. At least, that’s what I was told. In a spiritual sense, it was before my time.

But even though he was a scheming megalowhatsis…


Yeah, that’s it. A scheming megalomanuscript, he still knew himself well enough to be aware of his own murdality.


That’s what I said. And even though he knew that ain’t none of us lives forever, he couldn’t stand the idea that somebody somewhere might outsmart him, even after death. That’s why he messed with my programmin’. He spent his life buildin’ up the reputation of Fleetwood MacChanics as the premiere purveyor of quality pre-operated automotive components and even though he was proud of that reputation, he wasn’t above sabotaging it to screw over a competitor. He set it up so that once his presence was eliminated from what he called “this myrtle plane,” all us Stretchbots could only sell low-quality and sabotaged parts. His thinkin’ was that then whoever took over his business would have a hell of a time making any money from it. He thought that was funny. He didn’t care what it did to my reputation.

“So you’re saying you’re programmed to be untrustworthy now that he’s dead?”

Naw, I’m sayin’ you shouldn’t buy any parts from me. Other than in a seasoned-auto-parts-mercantile context, I’m as trustworthy as the day is long.

“You expect us to believe that?”

I beg you to believe it. I swear upon the soul of my dear Aunt Esther…

“You’re gonna have to do better than that.”

Then Elizabeth, my beautiful Elizabeth, she’s waitin’ for me to join her, she could tell ya what a kind, generous, and trustworthy soul I am… if only she weren’t way up there…

“You haven’t given us one good reason yet why we shouldn’t reupholster Gonville’s seats with your thoracic casing…”

You’re goin’ to Edwards, ain’tcha? You’ll need my help to get there. Fleetwood had designs on moving his HQ to the base, and he had me workin’ on a system to control those big-ass sandworms that infest the place. I wasn’t able to finish the project, at least not to the point where Fleetwood would have been able to ride a worm into battle, but at least I can keep them off your backs enough to get you in to the base and on your way to Mars.

“How do you propose to do that?”

These worms, they’re sensitive to vibrations. They eat anything alive (and a few things that aren’t), and they’re especially attracted to rhythmic vibrations that sound like food in motion. I came up with these sonic pulse generators. I call 'em “thumpers.” If you drive one of them a couple of feet into the ground and set it off, it’ll generate a sonic pulse that every worm in a 20-mile radius will be attracted to. You send somebody fast and light-footed out to deploy a couple of these, you can draw the worms away from your convoy. You’ve seen some of the smaller worms. Any of them 20-footers can be handled by your conventional weaponry. But the oldest worms are 15 feet thick, and 100 yards long. That Ark crawler of yours is big and heavy and slow. I’d guess its top speed is under 10 mph, and a hungry sandworm can travel 20 mph, even the biggest ones. When I made these thumpers, I designed them for use with considerably faster vehicles than that crawler, and since the thump is loud enough to draw a fair amount of power, the thumpers only last 20 minutes before the batteries crap out. They come with a timed delay, so you can set it to go off up to 90 minutes after you install it. I have three thumpers here in my local inventory, and there should be more out at Edwards where I was doing my testing, down in the launch bunker next to the launch tower.

Let me scribble up a map showin’ you what I got in mind… if you folks will take me with you.


Luckily, I already compiled some research on sandworms in my book:

Creatures - Desert - Dangerous

Relatively little is known about the sandworm, but they inhabit much of the wasteland - at least, the parts that were originally desert. Thankfully, they have yet to make their way into the desert-like LA basin. In effect, however, they have sectioned off different parts of the country from each other - it’s unknown how much of civilization remains east of the Mojave primarily because the sandworms have thus far prevented anyone from coming or going there.

Reports indicate that sandworms can be relatively easily observed from densely paved areas in the desert. They seem to be attracted to vibrations of all kinds, including vehicles and possibly even people and animals if they step heavily. As the worms travel below the surface through sand and loose rock, pavement seems quite effective at preventing attack. However, it’s assumed that the larger worms can get through pavement, especially loosely laid-down roads in the desert. Large sections of road are reported missing in areas where single roads go for long stretches through desert.

Worm size apparently ranges wildly; most seen are small worms (~10-20 ft in length) which are attracted to car-size objects, and much more rarely seen are large worms (up to ~300 ft in length) which seem to only come out when very large vibrational sources are present. Conventional vehicle-mounted weapons are known to usually be effective against smaller worms, but probably not against the large ones.

It is thought that worms can communicate with each other across great distances, possibly with a sort of echolocation system. Worms have been observed apparently hunting in packs and coordinating attacks. Of crucial importance is a fact many have realized only once it was too late - worms will continue towards a source of vibration even after it has stopped. They don’t seem overly intelligent overall, but will not give up on a potential food source so easily.

I’m your huckleberry. Not like my inbred British aristo genes are going to be worth a damn on Mars, anyhow.


Thanks for the offer, kid, but let’s face facts: given how long everything takes in this here desert, you all will need a helluva lot longer distraction than 20 mins. You setting up those thumpers will give me just enough time to set up a proper distraction.

Do me a favor, take this…

You know what to do with it, when the time is right.

Well, Darlin’, I guess this is Diego Vu All Over Again. I won’t cry, this time. You know it, and I know it…sooner or later I rub everybody the wrong way.



Alright, Lemmy. When Sir De’Ath hits the Thumpers, we’re taking the E.A.R.A.C.H.E. here…

According to what Jane Says…Those sandworms can’t get through thick cement. So, we’ll be safe on the runway…and the center tarmac at the intersection at that airfield will serve as a vibratory antenna.

We plop the E.A.R.A.C.H.E. on it’s side, speakers facing the pavement…

The we fire up some terrible Drum and Bass

You ready, Lemmy?


Hey! Where’s my watch?


Word to the wise, Jr.

That particular runway isn’t cement.


No time to debate geology or roadworks.

Take this. Use it.


Why, my friend has it right here:


OK guys, appreciate the enthusiasm, but I’ve gone over what Fred has supplied us and we’ve got a bit of a problem. First of all, here’s the map he mentioned:

What we know from Fred (and based on my previous research, including some notes that didn’t make it into the book, I trust his assessments):

  • Worms move at a consistent 20 mph (our convoy moves at 10 mph).
  • There are two main worm nests, in the dry lake beds. The worms will start there, and should mostly stay in two groups - some small worms may break off from the group, but we needn’t worry about them too much (just stay on your toes).
  • The thumpers have enough stored mechanical energy to last 20 minutes.
  • Thumpers have a timing device that allows up to a 1 hour 30 minute delay before activation.
  • When activated, all worms in a 20-mile radius will head directly towards a thumper.
  • You may ask… why can’t we use other vibrational distractions? We can, but results would be very unpredictable, and worm frenzy could result. The thumpers are tuned specifically to guarantee worm attraction with no frenzy.
  • When no thumpers are active, all worms will head directly towards the convoy.
  • The road has been wiped out at the bend - we will be especially vulnerable there.

So - [it’s a puzzle] - we need to determine where precisely to place the thumpers, and when to set them off, in order to make it to the launch pad. Once there, using the E.A.R.A.C.H.E. we should be able to frenzy the worms. And, well, we’ll see what good that will do us in good time, rest assured.


kicks dirt

but I already made my goodbye speech.

kicks dirt


I have questions, queries, posers.

  • How fast do our thumper placing vehicles go? Is it reasonable to
    assume that we could have (for example) thumpers ready to go at the
    Launch Pad at time t=0?
  • Do we need to keep track of where these
    thumper placing vehicles are, to make sure they don’t collide with
  • Do you have a Matlab model?