APAGear II Archives Volume 1, Number 3 February, 1999



Buji Kern

I flew low over the Wildlands canopy and took one last look at the trees. I climbed, and turned to head home. I set the autopilot for Port Oasis and relaxed in my seat.

Flying isn't a popular mode of transportation, but I love it. I work for BioTex, a leading biotech firm. The jungle is where the newest wonderdrugs and cures are being found, so it's my job to visit remote research stations and tell them to keep up the good work. Mostly, I nod my head while a technician babbles about the rare caterpillars they're studying. I may not know much about biotech, but I can tell when the techs are slacking off and I can write a good report.

And I have my own transportation.

I was in the middle of deciding what disc to play ("Rage-o-Rama '34" or "Seven Habits of Highly Successful Floater Captains") when the cockpit erupted in alarms.

I bolted upright and checked the displays. The main display read:


I cursed. Everything that could possible go wrong in a small twin-engine aircraft just did. Okay- mental checklist time. No way was this thing going to keep flying, so I was going to have to set it down. Start looking for a nice flat landing area... in a jungle? I scanned the horizon and my map. Okay, here's a logging road. It'll have to do.

My airspeed was too high to survive a crash landing so I did everything I could to slow down. Flaps down, gear down, bring it around to line up with the road.

I dumped what little fuel was left so I wouldn't become an expensive napalm canister on landing. The road was approaching faster than I wanted. I noticed all the vegetation growing over the so-called road and tried not to think about it.

I hit the ground. Hard. I bounced. Twice. The plane veered off the road and headed straight for a cluster of trees. I screamed. Then I blacked out.

When I woke up, I was lying on a sapa fern. My head felt like it had been used as a speedbag by a boxer. I checked my bones- I was surprised to find that nothing seemed to be broken. Finally my brain kicked into gear and registered extreme pain coming from my right ankle. I struggled up and looked at it. It hurt like hell, and was all sorts of funny colors, but no bones were sticking out of the skin so I took that as a good sign. Maybe a sprain, maybe a fracture. Who knows. Could be worse.

As my vision began to focus I took a look around. I noticed I was sitting to the left of a huge swath of mangled vegetation. At the end of the path were some large trees and the fuselage of a Skycorp SA-2 light plane.

I blinked. I looked back out toward the logging road and spotted two wing sections, neatly sheared off by two large trees. I started to put together a mental picture. The plane veered off the road, the wings were clipped off, and sometime before the remnants made a kamikaze attack on the local flora I was thrown out, keeping everything but my right ankle intact. I blinked again.

God I'm lucky, I thought. Then it hit me that I was in the densest jungle on Terra Nova, and civilization was hundreds of kilometers away. My elation at surviving the crash was somewhat dampened.

First things first. I had a survival kit in the plane. Maybe it survived. I struggled to my feet, and collapsed as intense pain started in my ankle and overwhelmed me. Okay, that's not going to work. I need a crutch. I looked around and saw a stick more or less the right size and shape. I crawled over to it, wedged it under my right arm and stood up. So far, so good. I hobbled over to the plane. After about 15 minutes of figuring out the correct technique for walking with a crutch in the jungle, and a lot falling down, I reached the wreck.

About this time it occurred to me to feel bad about my totally destroyed plane. I did, for about 3 seconds. Then I refocused on the task at hand and struggled into the semi-crushed cockpit. I felt around underneath the pilots seat and pulled out a metal box. It had a dent in it, but seemed intact. I popped it open, and everything seemed fine. A map, compass, light sticks, a flare gun and a couple flares, a pocketknife, a signal mirror, some emergency food and a tiny first aid kit. I grabbed the first aid kit, gave myself a painkiller injection, and wrapped my ankle in bandages. After a few minutes I no longer felt like a dawg was trying to chew my foot off. I also felt drowsy. It was dark now, so I crawled into the wreck to sleep. Before nodding off, I remembered my takedown survival rifle stowed behind the seats. Strangely, it wasn't there. I decided that maybe it fell out during the crash, and passed out.

I woke up shortly after dawn. I was vaguely curious exactly what time it was, but my watch had a big hole in the face and wasn't moving. For the first time, I noticed all the little cuts and scratches on every part of my body. I rubbed antibiotic on them, trying to put off infection as long as possible. I thought about how odd it was that both of the engines in my plane catastrophically failed at the same time. I decided to have a chat with the guy who sold it to me when I got back.

I was hungry, so I looked at my food supply. I had enough food to last a day, maybe two if I really stretched it. For water, I had a small canteen, plus a filter. I took a drink and ate an energy bar. I would have to find some more food and water if I was going to last.

As I ate, I remembered a mnemonic I had read in an old Army manual. It spelled SURVIVAL and reminded you what to do in a survival situation. I couldn't remember it. Think, think!

Finally, it started to come back.

S- Size up the situation.

I looked around. I saw ferns, and trees. A lot of them. I expected to hear some animal noises, but the local wildlife seemed to be somewhat perturbed by having an airplane fall out the sky and crash into their living space. I could see the "road" that I tried to land on, but it looked so overgrown I doubted it had seen traffic for 20 cycles.

U- Undue haste makes waste.

I didn't feel like I was eating my energy bar hastily, so I moved onto the next one.

R- Remember where you are.

I finished my food and pulled out my map. I located the road again, and found that I was in square E5 on a map of the huge expanse of jungle between the Humanist Alliance and Port Oasis, helpfully labeled on the map as 'Wildlands'. The important thing was that I was about 600 kilometers from home. There was no way I could walk out of this, so I'd have to find another way. Maybe a helicopter would fly overhead and I could signal it. I thought some more about my engine trouble. It didn't make any sense, someone had just checked the airplane out before I-

Wait a minute. Right before I left the research center I was visiting, a scientist gave me a disc. He said it had "reports for the Chairman", but he was acting strangely. He told me to not show it to anyone else, or let anyone know I had it. I figured he was worried about me giving up trade secrets, and maybe the heat had gotten to his brain a little bit.

But the guy at the airport really creeped me out. When I rented a hangar, he really insisted on me having a "complimentary function check". He looked suspicious, and I didn't want him crawling around on my bird, but I didn't think I had a choice.

My plane was sabotaged, and my rifle stolen!. I still couldn't think why, but it must've had something to do with that disc. Or maybe it's just bad karma, and the disc really is just a plant life catalog. I felt my shirt pocket to see if the disc was still there, and it was. I wondered what was on it, and wished I had a palmtop. Oh well, it would have to wait.

I went back to my checklist.

V- Vanquish fear and panic.

Surprisingly, I didn't feel scared. I figured it must be a side-effect of the painkiller.

I- Improvise.

I glanced at my field crutch. Check, I can improvise.

V- Value living.

My morale was pretty good. I decided to think about this more when I was crawling through a mosquito-ridden swamp on hands and knees, dying of starvation.

A- Act like the natives.

Natives? I'll try this when I see some natives. If they don't kill me first. With my luck I'll probably blunder into a slave camp run by a crazed warlord. I hoped instead I'd find a peace-loving back-to-nature commune.

L- Live by your wits.

I decided that the list could have been more helpful. Oh well, at least it gave me something to do. I finally made the decision to head down the road as long as it lasted, so I could see any aircraft above. I stuffed the survival gear into my pockets and hobbled off.

The first couple of hours were uneventful. After a while I spotted a large beetle. Food, I thought. I looked at for a while, trying to remember if it was the poisonous kind or not. Let's see, no orange stripes, no oversized claws. Looks okay. I grabbed it and snapped its head off. The legs looked kind of spiky, so I broke them off too. I ate it, quickly. It tasted terrible but it was food. I moved on.

After a few more hours of hobbling, I started looking for a place to sleep. I would need to find some water to filter, too. I looked at my map. There was a stream not far from the road. It took me over an hour to negotiate the terrain on my crutch. When I got there, I found a small, very brown, muddy stream. It was time to see how well the water filter worked. I filled the filter's reservoir, then screwed it onto my canteen. As the water filtered, it would drain into my canteen. I took a short rest, and then I struggled back to the road.

By this time it was dark. I snapped a light stick to help me see what I was doing. I found a reasonable looking spot a few meters away from the road. First I lit a fire to keep the local animal life away. Finding something that would burn wasn't easy in a jungle, but I somehow managed to find some dried leaves and sticks. I found some matches in my kit. Of course, I only had 15, and the first two didn't work. After I got the fire going, I ate some rations and went to sleep.

I woke up to a rustling sound nearby. A small hopper was investigating my empty ration container, trying to find some scraps. Of course it wouldn't, since I had already licked out every crumb. I saw a chance for breakfast, so I grabbed my crutch and brained the hopper before it noticed me wake up. I didn't have a clue as to how to prepare hopper, so I just cut off all the unpleasant looking bits. Then I got my fire going again and burnt it to a crisp. I was starving so I ate the whole thing in minutes. As I was chewing the stringy meat, I found myself surprised at my survival ability. I had spent most of my life in the city, but I guess all those trips as a kid to my uncle's place in the Wildlands had paid off.

My uncle was a character. He had been, at various times, a military Gear pilot, a big-game hunter and a Wildlands tour guide. He retired to a few square kilometers of jungle and swamp where he taught me how to take care of myself. He liked to rant about how 'soft' Drylanders were, especially the people he guided. I never did find out what happened to Uncle Joachim. One time when I was a teen I went out to his place, and he was just gone. I don't know, maybe one of those monitors he would hunt finally snapped him up.

I remembered my proximity to water and stopped thinking about monitors. My ankle hurt, but I only had one painkiller left. I was getting pretty good at blocking out the pain- I could even put some weight on it now, so I decided to save the painkiller shot for something really important.

I packed up my gear and headed down the road. I was getting better at walking with my crutch, and I moved faster. After a while, I heard a low frequency beating noise overhead. It took me just a few seconds to realize what it was- a helicopter! I was saved. I fished out my signal mirror, and as it flew overhead I blinked light at the cockpit. The Titan veered around and started to fly back, it was going to rescue me, and I was going home-

Showers of dirt and stone started walking toward me on the road, a loud popping sound coming from the chopper. It was shooting at me! I dove off the side of the road, my ankle screaming in pain. I ducked beneath a fern as the huge chopper made another pass before flying off. It must have seen my mirror and thought it was the muzzle flash of a rifle, I thought. Stupid over-eager pilots.

I crawled back to the road and looked around. Convinced the trigger-happy helicopter was gone, I stood back up. I stayed a little closer to the edge of the jungle as I moved on.

The rest of the day was uneventful. As I bedded down, I decided to see if I could put out a hopper trap. I grabbed some sticks and a good-sized log and whittled away for a couple of hours. When I was done I had a halfway-decent deadfall trap. Hopper comes up, tries to pull a hunk of ration of the stick, disturbs the other stick holding up the log, smack. Proud of my work, I went to sleep.

I woke up and checked my trap. Success- a very dead hopper was pinned underneath the log. This was a lot easier than what I'd been doing for food, which is hiding until something walked by, then attacking it with my crutch.

I ate the hopper and got going. I wasn't really sure where I was going- the map and compass indicated southwest, but didn't really indicate why there ever was a road here and what it led to.

I began to wonder if I would get out. Even worse, I began to imagine extremely ironic ways to die in the jungle. Starvation, dehydration, animal attack, sure. I was convinced I was going to die by eating the wrong plants. I could see the obituary already:


Successfully fought like a wild animal
for three days in the brutal jungle.
Perished on the fourth day
from eating a poisonous seed.

I also imagined being rescued, only to have the plane crash. I tried to stop thinking about this, but it didn't do much good. I was also running low on water, and my map didn't show any nearby streams. I still didn't panic, I was too tired. I sat down in the road.

I heard something. My first thought was that the helicopter was back. I was considering taking cover when I realized it was on the ground. V-Engines. Heavy Gears!

I struggled to my feet and started walking toward the sound. After a few steps I paused, remembering my thoughts about bandit warlords in the jungle. Maybe this is a hideous gang of cutthroats. Then I decided maybe they'd allow me make a career change to cutthroat, and give me some food. I continued walking. If it was a military patrol, I sure as hell didn't want to be turned into mulch by cannon fire, so I played it safe. As I got closer I started yelling.

"Help! Help, I'm lost! Can anyone hear me?"

The trees to the left side of the road started moving. This confused me, since it sounded like the Gears were still a bit down the road.

I stared at the trees, as they moved more and some mechanical sounds came from them.

They weren't trees. One of the trees stood up, some random deadfall falling off it. I now picked out the shape of a Black Mamba military gear, expertly camouflaged as an innocent tree. Another tree powered up and rose.

I found myself feeling a little scared. "Uh, hello there?" I said, trying not to sound shaky. "I'm Kenneth Jarvis, my plane crashed, I'm lost. Can you help me?"

They looked too modern to be bandit Gears, so they were probably Army. I imagined that they were trying to determine my authenticity. After what seemed like an awfully long silence, both gears popped their cockpits open. Two green-clad soldiers were piloting them.

"You're in luck, Monsieur Jarvis. We're from the Army, we can help you!"

I felt relief and elation. Both pilots hopped down from their Gears. I explained my ordeal to them, while they nodded and looked sympathetic. Finally, one of them gave me a ration while the other called a Grasshopper jetcopter to pick me up. I finished the ration quickly.

"So why are you guys out here in the middle of nowhere?" I asked. They glanced at each other, then one, who had introduced himself as Nik, said "Training."

And the other one said, at the same time, "Bandits." Nik glared sharply at the other soldier, and then said quickly "Well, we're training in jungle-environment bandit elimination."

This was weird, I thought to myself.

"I was surprised to see your Gears," I asked, "since the engines I heard were farther down the road."

"Oh?" Nik said. "That must be the rest of our section. I thought I told those idiots to shut down and stay quiet."

"Why are you shut down?" I asked curiously.

Nik answered again. "Quietness training." I decided I had asked enough questions, and they probably agreed with me. An hour or so later the hopper arrived, and I climbed aboard. "Strap in sir, you're going home!" The pilot told me. I felt unbelievably lucky and happy and tired and sore. A corpsman gave me some pills and shots in the back of the plane, and I feel asleep before too long.

I was going home.

The next day, I woke up in my apartment in Port Oasis. It was mid-afternoon. I vaguely remembered being dropped off by the jetcopter at a hospital, where I was treated for infection, dehydration and a severe ankle sprain. A friend of mine picked me up and took me home. After that, I slept for hours.

I struggled out of bed and found my palmtop. I needed to do two things- shop for a new plane, and take a look at this mysterious disc.

To be continued...

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APAGear II Archives Volume 1, Number 3 February, 1999