|APAGear II Archives||Volume 1, Number 3||February, 1999|
Author's Note: The sort of fiction H. P. Lovecraft wrote is an acquired taste, I admit, and it's a taste I long ago acquired. His brand of "weird fiction," as he called it, is something I really quite like, and I often ape it. Hence this particular story. Also, although not directly relevant to this story, the dates during which the events herein take place span from 40 Summer to 4 Autumn TN 1935--the days right around Thor Hutchinson's assassination. Again, that detail is not relevant to the story, but it does set it in a known timeline for you.
We lost another damned Treerunner today. Leroi's still a little pissed, even now, after dinner, but we did eventually manage to convince him that it wasn't Teri's fault. I think the bottle of Gentle Prophet helped, so, well, whatever it takes. On that subject, Jesi is always quick to note how fortunate we are that our advisor's tastes in liquor are so cheap. If it took a bottle of Feu-de-Nuit or, God help us, a bottle of real grape wine to placate Leroi Washington instead of that cheap elohar stuff, we'd never be able to get him drunk enough to let us do our work!
Anyway, I digress.
Like I said, we lost another Treerunner today, and Teri was driving this one, just like she was driving the one we lost two days ago. It really isn't her fault. Probably the moisture here in the rain forest is just shorting out the little remote drones' batteries. William, of course, is busily trying to rig a wire guidance system for the drones. He's hoping we'll be able to trace the wire to where the drones are presumably getting lost in the undergrowth. He's also rewriting the navigation software to take advantage of the drones' accelerometers; by recording the accelerations, we can get an accurate record of a given drone's position. He says it's how a memcompass works.
I think William should go into computer science instead of plant pathology, but whenever I mention it, he just shakes his head in that violent way he does whenever he's enthusiastic about something--in other words, always--and you have to wonder what it's doing to his brain in there. Maybe that's why he's so weird. It's got to be why he stumbles around a lot.
Okay, so now that news of the loss of another Treerunner is out of the way, I can get to the good stuff:
I discovered a new species of sapa tree aphid today!
Leroi says I shouldn't be too hasty, that it still has to be confirmed by a more careful search of the Campbell Catalog, but I'm pretty confident. The second set of mandibles bears two extra cusps over any other species of aphid I've ever seen, and the little guys have a tiny blue swatch across their translucent, pale green backs, like a small arc or crescent --also unlike any other species I've seen. I think we can get a paper out of this discovery, and I'm going to name these things Aphis kolos, after Kolos "the Teacher," the guy who founded the Order of the Blue Crescent. Jesi thinks that's a bad idea, that it might offend Blue Crescenters, but I don't really care. If they've got nothing better to do than be offended that the planet's greatest entomologist named a millimeter-scale bug after the founder of their philosophy, then screw 'em.
The kolos aphid is really cool! Okay, okay, it's actually not any cooler than any other species of aphid; what's cool is that I discovered it. It's an incredible feeling, studying a tiny insect up close, knowing you're the first human being ever to observe the creature.
Like any other aphid, it feeds off the sugars in the leaves of its host, which, in this case, seems to be a species of sapa found only here, in the Northern Esperance Basin Rain Forest. Well, here and in some of the deeper valleys of the Southern Alps just north of here, especially those around the Réunion Plateau, according to Liza, our expedition's plant biologist. Like William, our expert in plant diseases, she's from the Plant Science department, and is here on Leroi's good graces.
Anyway, back to the kolos aphid. It feeds off the sugars in the Esperance Sapa fern, secreting a by-product called honeydew. The honeydew is typically harvested by another species of insect Also, like all aphids, the kolos aphid is born pregnant. They exhibit the phenomenon of parthenogenesis; that is, they reproduce asexually, without a partner. Incredible! ("You go, girl!" shouted Teri when she learned about this phenomenon, much to everyone's surprise. She's normally pretty quiet and shy.)
I say "typically" when I talk about the harvesting of an aphid's honeydew by other, larger insects. That's what's kind of interesting about the kolos aphid. As far as I can tell, there is no other insect utilizing this resource! I suspect the kolos aphid secretes a toxin with its honeydew, and this putative toxin keeps other insects away. I'm running a sample right now in my Groundhog's toxin lab; it'll take a few more hours to analyze. I've got an ermova fish dinner riding on this prediction--a home-cooked ermova dinner, prepared by the lovely and talented Jesi Cooper.
Looks like I'll be washing Jesi's dishes for a week instead of getting that ermova fish dinner. Well, actually, it's in addition to the dinner. She took pity on me and has agreed to cook me dinner anyway, but since I lost the bet, I still have to clean her dishes.
The samples contained no known toxins. There were a few interesting protein chains in there, but none of them seemed likely to be toxic to any known insect chemistry. It's certainly piqued Leroi's wine-muddled interest. He had agreed with me that the critter was probably toxic, and was just as surprised as I that it didn't seem to be so.
Sigh. Those lines there are Leroi's work. He patched his PDA into my notebook here via the IR port and has been reading what I've been writing for the past couple of minutes from across the campsite. I took care of it, though, by covering up the port. I think I'll leave his writing in, just to remind me to take more precautions when he's around. He's laughing at me now, too, saying I won't make a good spy. Like I want to be a spy!
Whoop. Commotion out behind the Explorer.
Well, talk about a surprise. William literally stumbled across the missing drone a few minutes ago while out relieving himself behind the truck. There it was, just laying there in the brush near the truck. Leroi is dumbfounded, and Teri is triumphant. We think we know at least part of what happened.
Judging by the way some of the drone's arms and legs are broken and, in one case, entirely missing, and judging also by the serrated cuts taken out of the plastic shell of the body, we think a crabfly got ahold of it. A big crabfly. One of those mythical crabflies you hear about from three-quarters delirious Easterners hopped up on euphorics, who know a friend who knows a friend who swears he once saw a meter-scale crabfly in Okavango. One of those crabflies. I had the foresight to bring my PDA along and record the discovery. I'm going to hook it up to this notebook and transcribe the recording. Here it is:
> Three Moons Electronics, Inc.<
> Personal Digital Assistant Model DL 1700/S <
> Audio Recording <
> Transcription Mode <
> Date: 40 Summer TN 1935 <
> Time: 29:45:15.3 <
Voice 1 [ID: Leroi Washingon; Abbreviation: LW]: Great prophet's short hairs! What the hell--
Voice 2 [ID: Teri Whalen; Abbreviation: TW]: I told you I didn't do it! I told you! But, no, can't listen to the undergrad can you--
Voice 3 [ID: Jesi Cooper; Abbreviation: JC]: Shh.
TW: [Sigh] Fine.
LW: Son of a... What do you suppose happened, kids? Look at this thing!
Voice 4 [ID: Karl DeMeers; Abbreviation: KD]: Looks like it got pretty banged up somehow.
JC: Yeah. [Pause] Look at this casing. Look how it's been cut into.
[General murmurs of agreement--KD]
JC: And look at these legs. This one's bent up, this one next to it's bent down. Here where the middle port leg is entirely missing, it looks like it's been sheered off. Same goes for the missing arms here and here. Hey!
Voice 5 [ID: Liza Dorset; Abbreviation: LD]: Yeah.
Voice 6 [ID: William Close; Abbreviation: WC]: What?
LD: Look at the casing, look at the stump by the shoulder joint.
TW: Same marks.
JC: You know, they look kind of familiar. Sort of like the pattern left by the cutting claws of a crabfly.
LW: [Low whistle] Big crabfly.
TW: Come on, Jes. You just want to find a crabfly! Notice how Karl here isn't claiming it looks like the pattern left by the chewing mandibles of an aphid.
LW: [Low whistle] Big aphid.
KD: That's because they don't.
LW: Too big to be an aphid, of course.
KD: I think Jesi's right. These markings look like a crabfly cut them with its claws. I've seen these patterns on leaves and the scrapped exoskeletons of crabflies' prey. This is just on a much bgger scale.
TW: Really? [Pause] Hm.
LW: Presuming we've got a giant species of crabfly running around, why would it attack our drone?
WC: Maybe it tried to mate with it.
[Very long pause]
JC: Why would it do that? The drone doesn't look anything like a crabfly. It looks sort of like a treerunner. That's why it's called a Treerunner...
WC: Hey, what do I know? I just study plant diseases and electronics! Gimme a break.
LD: Territorial issues?
JC: For an insect?
LD: It's a big insect. Maybe it has to be territorial.
LW: There's a thought.
KD: Wait a minute. Territory? Maybe it was just hungry and it did think it was dealing with a treerunner.
JC: Could be. Some crabflies are known to tear the limbs from their prey before eating it to keep it from escaping. This incision, well, tear, on the back would be about where some of the more desirable organs are found in a runner. Isn't that right, Leroi?
LW: Yeah, that could be it.
TW: Hey! What's that?
LW: I'll be damned.
> Pause Output <
At that point, Teri was pointing at the ground beside the wrecked drone. Tiny footprints had been left in the soft soil there. There were quite a few, all of them apparently from the same species of animal, and possibly from the same individual:
> Continue <
JC: A biped?
JC: Those tracks were made by a bipedal animal, not a quadruped.
KD: Interesting. You know what they sort of remind me of?
JC: [Grunt] Yeah. Interesting, all right.
LW: Hm, yeah, I see what you guys are getting at. Very interesting. Very interesting indeed.
JC: A go-ki. A lizard monkey indigenous to the Yung An Basin in Mekong, a quarter of a world away.
TW: Shit. So some asshole was keeping one of these go-ki things as a pet, and it got loose or he got tired of it, and now it's out wandering around here. Hopefully it can't do that parthenogenesis trick like your aphids, Karl, or we'll have some kind of problem with a non-native creature with no natural predator.
WC: Oh, I don't know. There's that giant crabfly...
> End Record <
So that's it. That's what we think happened. A giant crabfly found our drone and attacked it, thinking it was food. Later, a go-ki found the wreckage and, for whatever reason, dragged it back to our camp. Probably it was attracted to the light of the campfire or the noise of William singing badly. We dragged the wrecked drone into the truck; Leroi wants to collect insurance on it, given how tight our department's budget is for these kinds of expeditions.
As we went back around to the other side of the truck, where our campfire was still burning, Teri rushed up to keep close to Jesi. "These go-ki. They're not dangerous, are they?" she asked. Jesi put her arm around the younger student and said no.
Well, here I am, writing in my journal again. It's late. Real late. Or early. Real early. It depends on how you want to look at it. According to my notebook here, it's 1:15:43.2 in the morning. Gotta love the insert time function, huh?
We were awakened in the night by a terrible noise. I hope I never have to hear it again, quite frankly. I'm sure William doesn't want to hear it again, either. He's now sleeping in the truck. We were sharing a tent out here in the rain forest, but after that awful noise, he's abandoned me for the safety of the Explorer. What a fink. At least he won't be comfortable in there.
How do I describe the sound? Do I even want to? In the interest of science, I suppose I ought to.
Imagine an army of skags. Big skags. Loud skags. Lots and lots of skags. Imagine that they've surrounded you and are making the noise that skags make, that raspy sort of buzzing sound that changes in pitch every few seconds. The one they make at night on the hottest days of the cycle, right around mating season. I understand that if you live anywhere near a skag colony, this time of the cycle is possibly the worst, and you end up longing for the sun to come up, just so the insects will quiet down.
This sound was like that, only it sort of went back and forth across camp, like there were two groups of these critters, and they were, well, singing a chorus or something. Strange, I know, but that's what it was like.
Weirder still was a second sound. It was a dull moaning sussurus sound, like wings beating the air. Big wings, like the wings of a giant crabfly.
Except that it would have to be a whole lot of giant crabflies.
And on top of all that ruckus was a third sound. I cannot recall it, mercifully. It was terrible. It came only from one direction, north of us.
The entire chorus lasted for about ten minutes, and suddenly it was quiet again.
So now William's holed up in the Explorer. Leroi apparently slept through the whole thing. I went to check on him, and he seemed annoyed that I'd awakened him. The ladies seemed quite a bit bothered by the incident, but not enough to want me to hang out with them. "Go to bed, Karl," is what Jesi said. Teri looked a little annoyed at me, like I'd made all the noise. Liza was curled up in the back of their tent.
They seemed to think I wanted to play dumb male ape and protect the females of the troop, or something. All I really wanted was some company.
So here I am, all alone, and I can't sleep. Not after hearing that.
It sends shivers down my spine just thinking about it.
Ah, and now I see it's raining outside. It's a light rain, but it means the ground is going to get muddy. The tents are waterproof, but it's still damned annoying having to break camp with the ground all muddy.
Oh. Shit. I just remembered the other noise.
Amazing! Once you know where to look, at what particular kind of sapa fern, you find these kolos aphids all over the place! I'm starting to wonder if they're about to reach some over-population state. Where's their predator?
I'm sitting right now in the cab of my Groundhog, Mariel, taking a break after spending hours this morning alternating between remote driving our remaining Treerunner and driving Mariel further into the forest. It's a pretty strange feeling, walking away from camp. You only have to go a couple of hundred meters into the forest before completely losing sight of the Explorer and the other Groundhogs. I'm still in radio contact, of course, and I've got a memcompass that tells me how far I've gone, but it's easy to imagine those systems failing and suddenly finding myself stranded out here, all alone.
On the other hand, though, it is very peaceful here in the forest. The normal noises of the rain forest--the various creatures announcing their presence, alerting their kin to the presence of intruders, alerting potential mates to the presence of prime genetic material--these noises are all quite relaxing. It smells just wonderful, too, especially after the rain. I had expected the rains to stir up mud and rotting vegetation, but what they've really done is bring some of the higher altitude pollens and floral fragrances down from the heights of the forest to the floor, here where Mariel and I are. There's one scent in particular that's dominating the whole "fragrance-scape," though only because I don't think I've ever smelled it before, not because it's particularly overpowering. This morning at breakfast, Liza identified it as that of the Angel's Kiss plant. It's sharp, heady, and spicy--very pretty smelling. The plant apparently lives at the top of the forest canopy, where it can get a lot of sunlight. Liza's taking one of our Hummingfly aerial drones up above the canopy this morning to look for the plant; I gather it's pretty rare. She's with Tasha, one of the other two Groundhogs we brought with us from the university. Jesi and Teri took off with the third Groundhog, Alissa, looking for that giant crabfly. William is back at camp, taking a look at a fungus that's found on some of the local flora. Leroi is probably taking a nap.
We all seem to have recovered from last night's harrowing experience--on the surface, anyway.
It's dark here in the forest. Not so dark you can't see, mind you; in fact, it's easily light enough to read comfortably without any eyestrain. But it is definitely darker with the huge canopy of foliage above me. Not that it would matter much, given the powerful sensors on both the Groundhog Research and the Treerunner. These things come with low-light optics, thermographic IR systems, ultrasonics, you name it. Of course, we can't actually use some of the more powerful suites in active mode--don't want to scare away the animals!
Where it really gets dark is at the base of the sapa fern trees, where the overhanging leaves are thickest, and almost all of the direct sunlight plus most of the ambient scattered light is blocked. That happens to be where I'm doing most of my research on this aphid. The Treerunner comes in pretty handy here; I can easily drive it under the leaves to the trunk, then use its arm and leg spikes to climb up the tree to some of the higher reaches that I can't get to with Mariel. I can collect aphid colonies with either the drone's arms or the microarms on the Groundhog. Most of the time, though, I prefer to get the samples myself, by hand, in person.
However, after last night's unholy chorus, crawling around under those sapas has been pretty unnerving, so I'm trying to use the drone more for that sort of work. I think it's just the pervading darkness that does it to me, and the drone's low-level lighting optics make it far less...dramatic.
I found something interesting today beneath one of the trees I was exploring. It was a little, flattened stick about ten centimeters long. It looks like it was forcibly flattened by someone. What was really curious, though, is that I found this stick beneath a leaf that obviously used to have an aphid colony on its underside. A series of shallow, linear bruises--almost like grooves, each as wide, roughly, as the stick--suggests to me that the stick was used to scrape the aphids off the leaf. Under the drone's magnification lens, I can see what looks like evidence that the stick itself was scraped against a harder surface.
I think something actually used the stick to make a quick snack out of the aphid colony, scraping them off the leaves and then into its own mouth! That evidence, of course, points directly to the go-ki, who are primitive tool users not unlike Humanity's close relative, Pan troglodytes--the chimpanzee. I wonder if there will one day be a being that can claim the go-ki as its close but primitive relative.
I also wonder if maybe the go-ki we think brought our wrecked Treerunner back to us last night might be around here, nearby, watching me.
Well, that's enough for now. Just got a call over the radio from Jesi. Sounds like she and Teri have found something interesting over where they are. I wonder if it's a giant crabfly?
No. It certainly wasn't a crabfly.
We stood around it for almost fifteen minutes, just staring in wonder at what the two of them found. Leroi and William joined us, too, hiking on foot the half kilometer through the rain forest from the Explorer.
The object is definitely human-made. It's plainly a mechanical arm from a Gear--the remains of a mechanical arm, I should say--along with an assortment of other scraps. After searching around the clearing where Jesi and Teri found the thing, we managed to locate much of the remains of the rest of the Gear, too. It's probably been here for a while, at least a cycle or two, since many of the pieces were overgrown with moss or corroded. It looks like it had seen some combat in its time, though we have a hard time really knowing what happened.
Certainly it was deliberately destroyed. We know that because Leroi fell into a shallow crater near the epicenter of where the parts were scattered around the clearing. So obviously there was an explosion, and it probably destroyed the Gear--probably scattered the parts, too. Beyond that... William found a section of armor plating that has several bullet holes in it, so it's probably safe to say someone shot at the thing. Whether that happened before or after the explosion, we really can't tell.
The girls found the remains of a war machine, plain and simple--a long-dead war machine--and this is the hard part: It must have had a pilot, and presumably the pilot's dead, too. I find that singular hypothesis immensely disturbing. I hate war. I hate those who would wage it instead of pursuing other, more noble human endeavors. I've never come face to face with human death and killing before, and here's this machine of war before me; it was almost certainly used to kill human beings. I hate it, I hate everything it stands for, and I hate anyone who would pilot it.
And yet, ultimately, the pilot was a human being, too, just like me, just like Jesi, and he or she probably died here in this thing. My heart aches, standing here staring at this machine; it's probably the last resting place of a fellow human being. It's one thing to hate an abstract concept like war. It's an entirely different thing to look at something like this and feel anything but sadness--the sadness of knowing that a life could have been better spent, the sadness of realizing the state of the Human Condition is no better now than it was before Humanity took its first steps off its homeworld, and the sadness of knowing that another human being, however misguided, breathed his or her last breath here, probably alone and far from home. My heart cries out for this poor soul.
On top of all that, there's one other detail that's pulling at us all with insidious efficiency: The Gear and the pilot are "The Enemy."
Within a few minutes of studying the arm that Jesi and Teri found, we knew this Heavy Gear wasn't one of the South's. All the armor plating is square and blocky, not curved like the machines our armies use. There really can be no doubt about it: We've found the remains of a Northern war machine, here in the South. We're not exactly in the heart of the Republic where we are, but we're not at the fringes, either, which means the North sent machines of war into our country. How dare they! The very fact of it fills me with anger. What were they doing here deep inside the South? What's so important, out here in the Northern Esperance Basin, that they would send their people here to kill and to die?
More importantly, how did they get this far into the country? What's our army doing with the billions of dinars of funding they get that can be spent better on science and education? What good are they if "The Enemy" can just stroll in here and do as they please?
So now, emotionally, I'm being pulled in several directions at once: I'm angry that the North would wage war in the South--not to mention here in particular, in this rain forest that teems with undiscovered life! I'm angry that my country's military doesn't seem able to keep the North out. I'm angry that there seems to be something here in this forest that the North would go and do this thing for in the first place! At the same time, I'm sad that Humanity isn't really doing much better than our chimpanzee relatives--worse, it seems some times. I'm saddened particularly to be standing here knowing a human being died in this very spot.
Well, anyway, Leroi has decided we should try to contact the authorities regarding this discovery. They probably should know about it, if they don't already.
Where's Liza? She hasn't shown up yet. We told her about this thing about an hour ago, and she hasn't even checked in. Great. Now Jesi and Teri are really jumpy and nervous. So am I, but I'm met with that strange, cold hostility whenever I try to broach the subject. What's with that?
The silly thing is, Liza's probably just taking a nap like any sane Southerner would at this hour.
We found her. Thank god she's apparently okay--physically, anyway. Psychologically, well... None of us really is okay right now. Leroi's into his third bottle of Gentle Prophet. William's going over every square centimeter of the Explorer, both interior and exterior, searching for a weapon of some kind. Liza's still in a catatonic daze, unmoving, sitting beside the newly-lit campfire. Teri's sitting beside her, holding her hand, singing nursery rhymes.
Jesi had to drive Liza's Groundhog back to camp. She was silent the whole trip back. Right now, she's looking over the remains of the Treerunner we found last night, and has made it clear that she wants to be alone.
So I'm alone, too, once again writing in this accursed journal, which has been my only friend for much of this trip.
We'll be packing it up soon and heading back, tomorrow morning, which will be a week earlier than we'd planned. Who knows what will happen after that? William's pretty much convinced there won't be a tomorrow, which seems to be why he's looking for a weapon.
What happened to change our plans so dramatically? To put everyone on or over the edge?
Liza found a corpse.
And something even more horrible than that.
She was off about a kilometer north of camp, about three-quarters of a kilometer west of where we found the remains of the Northern Gear. She had one of our Hummingfly remote drones, which is a little, flying drone, sort of like a miniature helicopter with a couple of sets of tiny arms. The main rotors are recessed and heavily protected by the thing's body, because the drone is designed to fly in and around the tops of trees, especially densely-packed trees like those of this rain forest.
She is apparently unable to talk, so we had to piece together what happened from recordings made while she was using the drone to search the upper reaches of the forest for her Angel's Kiss plants. We reviewed the files after Jesi and I had returned to camp.
There was a lot of footage of the top of the rain forest canopy as Liza flew the drone back and forth in a well-organized search pattern. There was an amazing variety of foliage growing at the top of the forest, stuff we'd never seen on the floor, but no sign of anything resembling Liza's description of the white, broad-petal flowering plant with the dark blue stamen and the light blue spots on the petals. While combing the canopy, Liza apparently spotted something that caught her eye, because she flew the drone into the foliage at the top of a particularly tall sapa. You probably wouldn't find one of those Angel's Kisses inside a sapa's foliage.
And that's where she found it.
It was definitely the remains of a human male, long dead. Most of his flesh is gone, leaving behind bones and a few scraps of cloth. It's very gruesome to look at, even through the recordings of the sortie. The drone never went in for a closer look, so we have no idea who the man was; we can hardly blame her, though.
Aside from the shock of finding the corpse, it was what happened next that probably put Liza into her current state of mind. It's certainly why Leroi is drowning his thoughts in the third--no, now he's on his fourth--bottle of Gentle Prophet.
As the drone was backing away (under Liza's guidance), something dark and shadowy leaped across the view from the direction of the corpse, ending up behind the drone. The drone began to wobble, as though it were off balance and the pilot unable to control it. Whatever it was that leaped must have landed on the rear-facing sensors, because a shape of some sort suddenly blocked those cameras, and we couldn't see it clearly enough to make out any details.
On the front sensors, however, we clearly saw a tiny hand. It was the hand of an animal, not unlike that of a go-ki... Except that it was clawed in a way very much unlike the go-ki of the Yung An Basin, and it was curiously reminiscent of an insect's pincer, though it was definitely a hand and not a pincer at all!
The hand clutched a small rock, which it employed to beat against the sensor array! After a few blows, the sensors stopped functioning, and the creature moved on to the next array, repeating the process. When it reached the rear-facing sensors, the creature hopped around to the front of the drone, always staying out of clear focus.
At some point during the assault, it finally destroyed the communications antenna, and all contact with the drone was lost.
During the whole incident, recorded via the drone's microphones, we heard that awful noise that I'd hoped never to hear again: "Tekeli-li. Tekeli-li."
No wonder Liza's seemingly catatonic now! It's probably a good thing that the Gear from which she was controlling the drone was no where near the drone when the creature dismantled it.
After reviewing the files, we finally got around to sending our remaining Hummingfly to the heights above us, to break out from the canopy and radio a signal to the local authorities.
Surprisingly, we received a reply almost immediately from the Southern Republic Army, and it was this: We are to stay at our present location until a team can be sent out in the morning to meet us. We'll be required to direct the team to the locations of both the Gear and the corpse. It seems imperitive, judging from the message, that we not leave the site. They didn't actually threaten us, but it seemed from their tone that leaving now would be bad for us.
So now Leroi's into his liquor.
William's searching for a weapon. It's not clear whom he wants to defend himself against.
Teri's singing to Liza, who remains silent.
Jesi's looking over the Treerunner again, trying to judge whether or not the creature that attacked our Hummingfly could be responsible for the destruction of the other drones as well.
And I'm writing in my journal, looking forward to tomorrow morning when the Army arrives.
It's happening again.
The sound of the beating of the wings, the chorus of skag-like noises, and that awful third sound are ringing out all around us!
William's inside the Explorer, shouting and screaming hysterically. I can sometimes hear him over the other sounds outside, but mostly, his voice is drowned out by theirs.
The girls are all in their tent, I think. I hope.
I don't know where Leroi is.
I don't dare leave my own tent. I'm--
Dear god! Dear god!
The noise finally stopped about an hour ago, and I took a careful peek outside with my flashlight. Leroi's tent is a wreck and the front windscreen of the Explorer has been shattered and smashed in!
There's no sign of either Leroi or William!
The missing Hummingfly--the one Liza was piloting yesterday--has turned up. The wreckage is currently sitting in a heap, in the ashes left over from the campfire. A quick examination reveals that the same creature that attacked and destroyed our Terrrunner almost certainly destroyed the Hummingfly, which means it was that thing in the tree!
The same thing, or things, that were present a few hours ago!
The same things that, presumably, got to Leroi and William!
I'm with the girls now. Jesi dragged me in here when she heard me prowling around outside. I'm terrified. They're terrified.
Leroi and William are still missing. They're presumed to be dead.
Liza took her life two days ago.
Everyone here at KT has been very kind to us, very sympathetic. Lake, the head of the department of Insect Sciences and the director of the Center for Insect Studies, has been just as kind and sympathetic. He's offered Jesi and me time off for a while, for us to deal with the nightmare that has been the past couple of days and the grief over our loss of our friends and colleagues. And our advisor. Teri got the same offer from the undergraduate program. There are counseling services for us to take advantage of, too.
None of us particularly cares anymore, though. It sounds like we're all going to withdraw from the university and go our separate ways. We've gotten together both nights since the Army brought us back to Ankara after being in their custody for two days, to try to talk about what happened. We never really can, though, but it's clear that this life is not for us anymore. So we'll withdraw.
We all agree that the stares we get here are the worst. Despite the fact that everyone has seemed to be pretty understanding about the whole incident, we can tell they secretly wonder if what we've said happened really did happen.
Naturally, there's no evidence.
The Army confiscated all original records of what happened out there. They confiscated the Gears, the truck, and the drones. They took all of our photos and visual records, even if they had nothing to do with the incident. The only thing they didn't confiscate is this notebook journal. I suspect they feel it's not really evidence, and they're right. All it is, really, is the writings of a crazy scientist. Correction. Ex-scientist. I'm definitely leaving the program.
This story is related to a couple of pieces I did for the original APAGear: "The Beginning of the End" and "Always I Wake Screaming" are direct ancestors of this tale. "The Beginning of the End" has some pretty lame-o scenes in it that I plan to redo one of these days.
The events surrounding the body found in the tree and the wrecked Gear found in the clearing are the framework of a set of linked RPG and tactical Heavy Gear scenarios I've got cooking.
The vehicles in this story have actual stats waiting to appear in APAGear, too. I was going to present them in this month's contribution, but the piece became quite a bit longer than the maximum size of 10,000 words. I'll present them as part of a mini vehicle compendium in issue 5. Such details aren't necessary to the story anyway. Suffice it to say that they're all designed around exploration and scientific field work. The drones and the Groundhog Research have pretty good sensors. The Explorer truck does not.
Finally: "Tekeli-li. Tekeli-li." Lovecraft did not invent this expression, though it is typically linked to his "At the Mountains of Madness," where it is presumed to be the sound of a shoggoth. In fact, Edgar Allen Poe first used these sounds in a tale the title of which I've forgotten. Drat. It included some coordinates, however, and was set at the North Pole (as opposed to Lovecraft's tale, set at the South Pole). I use it here (a) because I like it and (b) as a nod to both M'sieur Poe and M'sieur Lovecraft.
|APAGear II Archives||Volume 1, Number 3||February, 1999|
Heavy Gear is © 1999, Dream Pod 9, Inc. All rights reserved. APAGear is not affiliated with Dream Pod 9 in any way. Submitted material remains the property of the creator.