APAGear II Archives Volume 1, Number 2 January, 1999



Kevin R. Hinote

I sat on the porch of my small two-bedroom home. It wasn't much, but it was the home I wanted. The early morning sun was just rising and a mist clung to the dry desert hills. Mornings for me were an everyday reminder that I survived the war. The peace of this moment always calmed my heart and my fears. But today it wasn't going to bring me or anyone in Gelder calm.

From the mist walked six figures. They walked apart, not speaking to each other, weapons carried at the ready. Soldiers. You can always tell one when you see them. It's in their walk, in their movements, and most of all in the eyes. Just because you joined an army, that didn't make you a soldier. It was the fighting and dieing that made you hard and cold. It was the fighting that made you a soldier. I was once a soldier, along time ago. I had fought for everything I knew, and against foes that threaten to take it all away. But, no matter how hard I tried to bury the memories of those times, they always came back. And now those horrible memories were walking straight up to me and my home.

There were six of them, five men and one woman. They were all armed, two with assault rifles, two sub-machine guns, and the woman with a laser sniper rifle and all carrying heavy rucksacks. It looked as if they had walked all the way from Massada, the dirt and grime hung all over them and their fatigues. Their uniforms were dirty, and of mixed types; northern boots, southern pants, Paxton load bearing vest, both northern and southern hardware. From the looks of them, they were a small merc force. But something told me that they were... different. A shiver shook me; they carried death in their eyes.

Three of them approached me, the other three fanned out and faced away from me. The leader, from the look of him, walked up and casually slung his rifle over his shoulder. The woman, she was hard and cold, and much deadlier than the weapon she carried. The other was a young man, but his eyes showed that he had been places and done things beyond his cycles. Only the young one didn't sling his weapon. He kept it pointed discreetly at my feet.

"Good morning, Sir. We seem to be lost. Could you tell the name of this town?" The French was fair, but not a native. He was most definitely the leader. A tall man with blond short-cropped hair, his face weather hardened, and his eyes. His eyes were cold and green, but there was more to them than their color. He looked at me in the strangest way. It was almost as if he knew me. But it was much more than recognition, it was more like admiration.

"Gelder. This ain't it, it's that way about 7 kilometers." I wasn't in the mood to be friendly, or talkative.

"Thank you, Sir." Replied the woman. She was harder than titanium. She wasn't, to me, beautiful, but she had a look that was unique. Her black hair was no doubt long, but she wore it up and under her MILICIA cap. Her skin was dark from years in the sun. Her eyes too held me in a special light. But that light competed with her own demons.

The third just stood staring at me with an almost unbearable stare. As I said he was young, and could have almost been my son, if he had survived the war. His eyes were soulless orbs, empty, lost, and dark. Among them all, this youth seemed to me the hardest. There was no other look in him than death.

The other three stood twenty or so meters back away from my porch. I noticed that none of them paid any real attention to me. They were focused on the surrounding hills. Security, most likely for the group who were talking to me. They held their weapons lightly in their hands, with the barrels pointed at the horizon. I couldn't get a real good look at them. They kept their backs to me and seemed more concerned with the hills than with me.

"Thank you, and go with the Prophet's blessing, Sir." Said the youngest as he walked away, followed by the woman. The others fell into step as soon as they moved off.

I've met some cold snakes back in the war, and they had nothing on these guys. Something bad was going on, and I wasn't going to be left out.

I went inside my house after watching them walk away back into the mist toward town. From under my bed I pulled out my old trunk that I kept my war momentos in. There were photos, medals, letters from the family, commendations, patches from my units, and the goal of my search a small rectangular wooden case. The case was a varnished hardwood from near Ankara, and the gold clasp and name plate from Marigold. It was a beautiful case for such an ugly thing inside. I pulled from the case my old service pistol. Memories of it flooded into my mind: I could remember when Field Marshall Von Breslau presented it to me and my assumption of command, and I can still see the face of that young Earthling tanker before I squeezed the trigger. The pistol was still well oiled, its grip comfortable and reassuring in my hand, and it was in perfect working order. Deeper in the trunk I found the few spare magazines and rounds I had left. Carefully, gently with all the care and precision of a master artist, I loaded each round in, one by one. I held the weapon up to the light, and slid the loaded clip into the magazine well. Quickly I pulled the slide back, and let it go. With a snap a round was loaded, and my pistol ready. I tucked it into my belt as I headed out toward my fields for the day's work.

That evening I made my way to Tucker's place. Brigadier Matt Tucker and I had served in the war together. He was my executive officer and more than that he was my closest friend, then and now. He told me that he had seen the soldiers earlier today in town and that they were buying supplies of all types: food, clothes, ammo, and medicinals. Matt also told me that they were looking all around town, always in twos. For what he wasn't sure, but he had a good idea. They weren't looking for anything; they were learning the town's layout, some sort of recon party. Why? The Snakes regularly sent patrols through here. Maybe they weren't snakes! I thanked Matt for the fine dinner and headed back to my place.

Something about these soldiers didn't settle with me, and I was bound and determined to find out just who they were and what they were up to. The next morning I got up and headed off to Gelder. The air was cool, and the morning's mist made the walk very quiet. There hasn't been many times in my life, since the war, that I was afraid, but this morning was one of them. The people here all lost something or someone important to them in the war. I couldn't stand the thought that once again something bad was going to happen to them. I sped up my pace, but let's face it, I ain't as young as I once was.

As I reached the outskirts of town I could instantly tell that something was wrong. There was nothing moving. Nobody was on the street, no buggies, no cars, and no people. The little hairs on the back of my neck stood up as I heard the tell-tell sound of a V-engine in the distance. The six I saw yesterday were scouts all right! I wasn't about to be trapped out here in the open with a gear walking into town! I ran as fast as I could manage up to the feed store that sat across from the theater. I drew my service pistol, and dropped the safety into the fire position. Crouching near the corner of the building I peered around to get a better look.

The feed store and theater sit on this side of a four-way intersection, across the intersection was the general store on my side, and opposite that the tailor's shop.

At first there wasn't anything to see. So I rushed across the street to behind the theater. I noticed that on the roof of the tailor shop someone had stacked up a fair size pile of wood. There was something going on here and I had no idea what it was. The sound of the gear was growing closer. I ran around behind the theater to come up across from the tailor shop. The pile of wood was not overly tall; it was just tall enough to hide a man. Then I looked off to the right, in the direction of the gear's noise, and saw two Jagers and a platoon of infantry. The gears were about fifty meters apart, with the infantry moving in flanking positions.

"Pardon me," the French was whispered perfectly, "General, but I feel that this is no place for you now." Who ever he was, he was the quietest man on Terra Nova and directly behind me. I dared not to turn and look. The fact that he knew me by my old rank didn't come to me until much later.

"Look who ever you are, the people here are hard working, and honest. They don't need your kind around here!" I lowered my voice to a whisper, matching his French. The sound of the V-engine steadily grew louder. Things were getting worse for me by the minute.

"Sir. I have no time to explain it to you." He hastily whispered to me. "We're not here for the people! We're here for you! So, please Sir, you have to come with me."

"Like hell!" I fought back the urge to scream, but just barely. Before I had a chance to do something really stupid, the lead Jager appeared in the intersection between the feed store and the general store. It was barely 25 meters away. The Jager's optics were sweeping the street, looking for any sign of movement. That's when all hell broke loose.

The ripping noise of a machine gun broke the quiet in the street. The machine gun was on top of the general store. The gunner was raking the street, cutting into the ranks of the southern infantry. Their yells and screams of the wounded and dying followed. The Jager spun around, raising its autocannon. Yells in French about a sniper were heard, but just barely over the constant ripping of the machine gun. The gear had turn far enough around, when boom-whoosh rocked the center of town. From on top the tailor shop, across from me, a smoke trail appeared then disappeared into the rear of the Jager. The explosion knocked me from my feet, shrapnel and pieces of the Jager exploded through the feed store and the general store. The flaming debris cut down the unfortunate infantry that stood nearby. I didn't have time to think. I jumped up and rushed out across the street. From behind me I heard the man's yells, but couldn't make out what he had said. The continuous scream from the machine gun is all I heard.

I had made it across the street, but not before the second Jager darted out from the same place the other had died. The infantry, what was left, was scrambling into the alleys on ether side of the street. The Jager had its secondary fully engaged, and its optics focused on me. The pop, pop, pop, of the grenade launcher was clear, even over the machine gun. The first grenade landed up the street, and blew out the front of Pete Wilson's shop. The second grenade, I'm not sure where that went, but the explosion was behind me. The third went into the wall of the tailor shop about 5 meters away from me. The sound alone I thought was enough to kill me, but the fire and fragments were well on the way to doing that. The blast slammed me down and pushed me back out into the street. I tried to stand and run, and only fell face first into the dirt. It was my leg; the grenade got me pretty bad. The young soldier, with the soulless eyes, I meet yesterday came rushing from where I had run from, and picked me up over his shoulders. We made to the alley as the Jager rolled on toward us. There was a quiet pause in the machine gun's fire, just long enough for me to hear another boom-whoosh from above me. The Jager's cockpit door burst open in a ball of fire and smoke. The Jager careened off the street and crashed into Pete's store.

"Sir! You have to come with us! Their here for you!" He was pointing at some figures moving across the street in the alley we had both just left.

"Alright! Let's go!" I screamed loudly, mainly because I couldn't hear very much. The men he pointed to were firing shots off at us as we scrambled toward the back of the theater. My escort was talking into a microphone that attached to something in his ear. I couldn't for the life of me hear what he was saying.

"Sir! You have to go!" He pushed me off away from the street. I did my able best to move off in the direction that he pushed me. And much to my surprise I hobbled fairly well. The young soldier's rifle began to return fire.

I made it to the alley's end, and ventured a glance over my shoulder. I saw him lying there, behind a small pile of rubble, firing back into the snake's that were rushing up the alley toward the street. I drew pistol, aimed, and fired. The closest figure grabbed his stomach and went down. I squeeze the trigger over and over at the snakes. That young soldier's rifle went silent and I saw blood as it flowed from under his helmet and covered his face. I rolled around the corner. Only to come face to face with the woman I saw yesterday. Before I could speak she pulled a grenade from her vest and tossed it around the corner and pushed me off in the opposite direction. From behind me there was an explosion, confused and tortured screams followed.

She pulled me fast through all the back streets of the small town. Slowly and surely we made it to the outskirts. The sounds of gunfire was fading into a few random shots, and the screams were almost quiet. A small cargo truck waited there with its engine running. Someone I had never seen before sitting in the driver's seat.

"Good morning Sir! If you please?" He gestured to the passenger seat.

I was numb all over. I sat more out of confusion for the moment than at his invitation. The small truck leapt off. I watched the woman rush off back toward town.

That was the last time I saw those six, I geuss its really only five...

Excerpt from General Austin Snow (retired)
Debriefing of his extraction from Gelder
37 SPRING TN 1933

"What ever happened to them?"

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APAGear II Archives Volume 1, Number 2 January, 1999