|APAGear II Archives||Volume 1, Number 1||December, 1998|
Sous-sergent Chagall hit the ground with a muted thud. Overhead the supersonic stealth transport sailed past, a delta-winged shape just slightly darker than the black sky above it. After pausing to watch the transport's egress, he unbuckled his HALO rig, severing the shrouds binding him to his paraglider with his combat knife. In the darkness surrounding him he could make out several indistinct forms doing the same. There was no sound save his quiet breathing through the respirator mask; that was exactly how it should be. After concealing his 'chute and insulated coveralls behind a nearby mound of scrub johar, he toggled his night vision goggles. Before him stood the rest of Légion Noire Team One, all present and accounted for. Adjusting their turtleshell armor, they looked to him for guidance. Consulting his memcompass, he led his team forward into the rolling hills.
The Compound's floodlights were visible from more than a kilometer away. It had been a calculated risk dropping so close, but not as dangerous as Team Two's landing. At that very moment Team Two would be inside the Compound, paving the way for the extraction.
Flanked by two of his best men, Caporals Lansing and Sinclair, Chagall flattened himself against an outcropping. Despite the late hour, the testing grounds surrounding the Compound were a hive of activity. Squinting through his binoculars to the terrain below he saw canvas-topped trucks surrounding the target like a herd of wild springers protecting their young. Two fully-loaded Armored Personnel Carriers and a cluster of technician and maintenance vehicles. It would be a tricky extraction, with greater than two-to-one odds against the Légion team, but not an impossible one.
Chagall raised his arm and his men tensed slightly, anticipating his order. Beneath his mask he was grinning like a hungry wolf; they were ready for action. He made a quick spiraling motion with his hand and the team fanned out around the test site, disappearing into the night.
Chagall returned his gaze to the target. The walker lumbered around clumsily, like a toddler taking its first steps. Chagall shook his head. This ridiculous block-headed thing was to be the future of military technology? He didn't buy it. Work Gears were useful, even indispensable, for combat engineering, but they had no place on the battlefield in any front-line role. Not even jumped-up models like that monstrosity below. Chagall sighed inwardly. Still, orders were orders, and he'd be damned if he screwed this mission up. This job came straight from the top, with grandiose promises of advancement if it was completed satisfactorily, and whispered threats of disappearances if it was botched.
There: he focused in on the kilometer-distant Compound, past the proving ground. A supply truck was trundling away from the Fort William Military Testing Compound. That was the signal. A perfectly ordinary supply truck, innocuous in every way except for a cargo bay full of the second team of operatives.
Chagall waved his men forward.
Senior Technician Abel Hardaway checked his dataglove. "No, no, NO!" he threw up his arms. "You're going to burn out the leads! No wonder she's limping like an arthritic barnaby!" He shook his head at the terrified assistant tech, then swept his arm out to indicate the ailing Hunter prototype. "Get back there and do it right this time!" The pale assistant tech scurried off to remedy the situation, leaving Hardaway to mutter under his breath. "Frick'n newbies... Why do they give me children to work with? I've got my hands full as it is. They should be called low-techs, they sure aren't offering me any assistance!" He rubbed his sizable gut, where already he could feel the beginnings of indigestion.
He glimpsed a shadow out of the corner of his eye. Craning his neck to see over the hood of the telemetry truck he could make out nothing. He rubbed his eyes. The long hours spent working on the prototype, coupled with an incompetent staff, were fast making life unbearable.
After grinding his cigar nub out under his booted heel, Hardaway swaggered back to the truck.
"Wha--?" he managed to gasp before the slim garrote looped over his head. The wire bit into his fleshy neck, closing off his windpipe. Hardaway kicked twice and then went still, sagging heavily to the parched ground.
Chagall allowed himself a brief moment of job satisfaction before dragging the body into the shadows. He stuffed the bulky corpse under the truck, where already Caporal Sinclair was busy downloading the telemetry readings into a portable databank. They exchanged curt nods, then Chagall returned to the inky black.
His predatory gaze swept from side to side as he crept from vehicle to vehicle. Even with his night vision goggled he never saw more than an occasional silhouette of his teammates. Good, exactly as it should be.
One of the Badger APCs was parked scant meters away, guarded by a pair of inattentive Military Police. They smoked and idly griped about their jobs, completely oblivious to Chagall's approach. His fingers tightened around his sub-machinegun. He flicked the safety off but avoided the trigger. He froze as one of the MPs glanced in his direction. Chagall slowly swung the muzzle of his weapon towards the guard, drawing a bead on the MP's head. After squinting into the dark for one eternal moment, the MP half-shrugged and turned back to his comrade. "Thought I saw somethin'," he said by way of explanation.
Very slowly Chagall let out the slack on the trigger, letting out his breath at the same time. Keeping half his attention devoted to the guards and the other half on his footing, he silently circled around to the undefended side of the APC. Still eavesdropping on the guards' whining, he slipped under the Badger. Accustomed to working under pressure, Chagall had no trouble affixing and wiring the shaped charge to the undercarriage of the APC. In a matter of seconds he had over a kilogram of densely packed plastic explosive ready and waiting for the command to detonate.
Invisible and silent, he retreated to the perimeter of the testing grounds. Checking his chronometer, he counted down the seconds.
Exactly on schedule Team Two's charges went off. The sky above the Compound erupted into giant, beautifully destructive blossoms of fire. Reinforced bunkers loaded with high explosive munitions mushroomed into flame. A heartbeat after the initial detonations there followed an additional chain of chest-rattling explosions. It was glorious: half the Compound was ablaze, triggering a frenzy of activity on the surrounding testing grounds.
Inwardly Chagall rejoiced at the panic and outright chaos the inferno caused, but outwardly he was the supreme professional. He thumbed the trigger switch for his own charge and the Badger Armored Personnel Carrier was lifted off its wheels on a column of fire, tumbling over in midair. An instant later the second APC was gutted by flame, a funeral pyre for the squad of soldiers trapped within.
Like black wasps bursting from their nest, the Légion Noire operatives emerged from cover. The surviving MPs, unsure whether to rush back to the Compound or to protect the prototype, were brutally cut down by a hail of merciless gunfire.
After coolly executing the assistant tech Hardaway bad been berating, Chagall faded back into the shadows. The remaining technicians all hurried back to the Hunter prototype, ushering it back to its transport. No sense killing them while they were serving a useful purpose, he thought.
"Stop!" one of the few living MPs shouted, bringing his rifle up to his shoulder. Chagall stitched a tight group of red holes in the man's chest and disappeared before the guard hit the ground.
By now all the vehicles except the Gear transport had been neutralized; Chagall's commandos had long since collected the telemetry data and destroyed the truck. The burning hulks illuminated the burnt, slaughtered bodies, adding a smoky, impressionistic flair to the scene. Chagall's ears were assaulted by the screams of the wounded, the crackling of the blaze, and the alarm klaxons sounding at the Compound. By now they would be sending troops after their precious prototype. Time to clear out.
Team One encircled the transport. Chagall observed that two of his Caporals had been killed, Sinclair among them. He would be hard to replace. He noted with pride that their living team-members had retrieved the bodies. Excellent, he thought, no one left behind.
Chagall yanked the stunned driver out of the transport's cab, viciously wrenching the man's head to the side. His teammates disposed of the cowering Gear pilot, rolling his corpse off the transport bed and onto the blood-soaked ground.
Within second Légion Noire Team One had departed the scene, joining Team Two at the rendezvous point several kilometers to the west. The sudden arrival of their transport, which had been loitering in the upper stratosphere, alarmed both the Western Frontier Protectorate radar stations and those of the adjacent Northern Lights Confederacy. Both nations scrambled fighter squadrons, and without a trace of the unidentified aggressor, the opposing fighters faced off against each other. Having successfully abducted the Hunter P5 prototype and destroyed much of the Fort Williams Military Testing Compound, the Légion Noire team had the additional satisfaction of causing an international incident between two rival powers. In the red-lit cargo bay of the transport Chagall sat shaking his head. "And they never knew what hit 'em..."
|APAGear II Archives||Volume 1, Number 1||December, 1998|
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