|APAGear II Archives||Volume 1, Number 6||June, 1999|
[Continued from "Fears are Realized," which originally appeared in Volume 1, Number 5. This story is the conclusion to the story arc that began with "S-U-R-V-I-V-A-L" from Volume 1, Number 3. - Ed.]
I pushed the Grasshopper lower and lower, jinking madly to avoid cannon-fire from the two helicopters behind me. The jungle canopy rushed up at me as I skimmed over the top. I heard a loud bang, and I saw my left engine start to smoke.
Behind me, in the cabin, two heavily armed people, who I suspect are completely insane, sit staring out the windows.
Once again, I wondered why I was doing this.
2 Days Before
The intruder didn't come back to my apartment that night. I got up the next morning, flipped on the trideo, and went about making my breakfast. The fridge wasn't in very good shape due to my extended absence, so I had to dig through various unidentifiable, decaying foodstuffs before I found something edible. I listened to the trideo while I searched.
"That's right Jan, those Monarchs sure can score! Now in other news..."
I pulled out a ready-to-eat breakfast cereal pack and grabbed a clean-looking spoon. Johar flakes and milk, both stored in two separate insulated compartments. I twisted the pack, and the milk compartment ruptured and flowed into the cereal. I ripped the top open and started eating.
"...and we're looking at five more days of sunny warm weather, and then showers. So you'd better..."
I crunched some more cereal. The only programs on trideo, it seemed, were talking-head news shows that I detest, so I pressed a button on the remote and started reading my email.
I had accumulated a few hundred messages during my last trip and its aftermath. Most of the messages were from mailing lists, which I for the most part deleted without even looking. After some reading and a lot of deleting, I was down to about 20 messages actually written to me. Most of them were messages from people at work expressing their sympathy at my ordeal. I guess the stores were all out of 'Sorry You Were Unwittingly Involved In Biological Warfare' cards.
I noticed a message from Chairman Lefleur. The subject line was blank, and the message was encrypted. I own decryption software, but I hardly ever use it since most of my email is pretty meaningless. The encryption system Lefleur was using was Paradoxa, a simple but effective key system. Supposedly even the government hadn't succeeded in cracking it yet.
It took a few seconds to decrypt, and then the message was displayed on my screen.
I am using Paradoxa because this message contains sensitive information. Please draw your blinds now.
I did as instructed. This guy sure knows how to freak people out.
It may seem careless to use email for this communication, but even the government's best people haven't cracked it. Please use proper protocol in erasing this message after you read it, though. I have spoken to my contacts in the military, and I have reason to believe that there is a conspiracy in the highest levels of the Twin Falcon project and SRID to betray the secrets of Twin Falcon to the Humanist Alliance. I believe that my contacts are part of this conspiracy, and I think that either the Republican or Humanist side of this conspiracy is responsible for the sabotage of your aircraft. I haven't decided about the attack on the station yet. It could have been the Humanists acting on information given to them by the traitors, or even a squad of traitors posing as Humanists... I just don't know. But we are in even more danger than I thought. As long as I have this disc it give us a small amount of power... Video of either Humanist commandos or Republican traitors butchering scientists won't look good if we put it on the net. Unfortunately I'm sure there are forces trying to recover this disc as we speak. We shouldn't communicate much over the next few weeks. I may from time to time give you instructions... you'll have to trust me and follow them.
After I forced my jaw closed and finished chewing the cereal in my mouth, I got down to the business of having heart palpitations. Once I finished that, I wasn't sure what to do next. I sent an 'Acknowledged' message to Chairman Lefleur, encoded with the biggest key I could use. A few minutes later I received another message from Lefleur.
Kenneth- I have an idea. Meet me at Triomph Plaza in thirty minutes.
Something about this message seemed odd- not that the first one didn't but I still dialed up Lefleur's office on a funny feeling. The secretary sounded traumatized.
"What's going on? Is Chairman Lefleur in?" I asked.
"Didn't you hear? He's dead! He had a heart attack!" she gurgled, struggling to control herself.
"What time did he die?" I asked, looking at the timestamp on the most recent message and the one before that.
"That's a strange question, Mr. Jarvis. I saw him go into his office about an hour ago, and then about 15 minutes ago he had a visitor, and then the visitor screamed and said Mr. Lefleur was having a heart attack. I ran in to help him but it was too late, he was dead!"
Holy shit. He just got assassinated.
"What was the visitor's name?" I asked. "I don't remember for sure, I think it was Fogue," she replied. Undoubtedly an assumed name. I glanced at the timestamp on the first message. Three hours ago. The second message was dated 10 minutes ago. I hung up the phone.
I knew one thing. I wasn't going anywhere near Triomph Plaza.
Later, I was forced to leave the apartment to buy more food. I was beyond paranoid, and with reason. Everywhere I looked I saw a murderous government agent or a psychotic Humanist assassin. I fully expected to get rubbed out right in the frozen foods aisle of the grocery, but I somehow survived. A perky blonde woman bagged my groceries, occasionally flashing me a huge smile. I did my best to smile back and not look like someone who knows about government conspiracies. She was awfully cute, after all.
I walked out to my car, scanning the nearby rooftops for possible snipers. I lowered my gaze just long enough to open the trunk and stuff the groceries inside. I realized someone was yelling at me.
"Sir? Sir?" It was the cute girl. She was walking up to me, holding my credit card. I must have forgotten it.
"Oh, thank you," I said. Then I realized she was drawing a handgun, and then I realized she was dead. Shot, it looked like. I was still trying to figure out what the hell was going on when two muscular men ran up and more or less threw me into the back seat of a car. I briefly considered trying to fight them off, but wisely changed my mind when I saw a compact rifle dangling from one man's shoulder. One of the men noticed my hesitation, and said "Move fast, she probably has a backup." I managed a throaty coughing sound.
"Relax," one of them said. "We're not here to kill you. We work for your company."
"Who the hell are you?" I squeaked, as they pulled out of the parking lot and drove off at high speed. I thought I heard sirens in the distance.
"My name's John," the one with the rifle, who was in the passenger seat, said. "And that's Gregh," He gestured toward the driver. He grunted. "We are loosely associated with the military, and we occasionally subcontract for your company."
The extreme calmness of these maniacs, who probably just killed an assassin in broad daylight, in a TerraFoods parking lot, was really freaking me out.
"How do I know you guys aren't traitors or Humanists?" I asked, fully realizing that if they are either of those things, I'm totally screwed.
John doesn't stop intently scanning the sidewalk as we drive. "Well, first of all, then why did we shoot that chick who was about to kill you? I know what you're going to say- what if we're her backups? Well, all I can say is, I imagine that if we were part of a government death squad or Humanist assassin team, you would be splattered all over the back seat right now."
I think John sort of smiled at this point.
"Where are we going?" I ask. Gregh answers the question this time. "Somewhere safe. My house, to be exact. We're reasonably confident that they don't know about our- by that I mean John and myself- involvement in this snafu. Actually, now is a pretty good time to fill you in. You're probably aware that Chairman Lefleur was assassinated."
I nod. "I wasn't sure that he was assassinated, but I had a hunch."
John pulls a blanket over his rifle as a police car speeds by.
"Let's just say that cholesterol was not the killer here," John continues. "Anyway, he gave us some very specific instructions. Our friendly assassin compromised the Chairman's Paradoxa codes, as I'm sure you noticed, and swiped the disc. Right now, we basically have two choices. We can flee the city and live like primitives in the jungle for a few years,"
I nod enthusiastically. It seems like the only chance at survival right now. Gregh picks up the conversation again.
"Or, we could fly out to the jungle and sabotage the research station that has the Twin Falcon research, to prevent a good chunk of our fair country getting gassed sometime in the near future. And then live like primitives."
I splutter. "What? You want to do what? Fly out there, and destroy this stuff? While the conspirators watch? Besides, they've undoubtedly already got it. Two stations are probably history by now," I said.
"Ah, but our good Chairman got suspicious a few weeks ago and shuttled the bulk of the research from Hatfield to another station, Chesterfield. Without the research from Chesterfield, the bug is pretty useless. I'm pretty sure if we act quickly, we can get there before our enemies do. Hostile forces will probably be in the area though."
I couldn't believe this. "Well, I think we- or I, I don't care what you do, should just get the hell out of here. Threats to national security aren't our problem."
John and Gregh glanced at each other. John spoke, "Well Kenneth, we feel differently. And I'm pretty sure that without us, you'll be pretty dead soon. Don't get me wrong, you did a great job out in the jungle, for an amateur, but this is way beyond that. But we'd be happy to let you go and get killed, but like I said we feel like doing what we can about this problem. And neither of us really knows how to fly. So, we can let you wander off, and get your throat slit by the first Humanist killer in a slit skirt that winks at you, while we find another pilot, or you can come with us and help save the world."
I was starting to really reconsider my decision to get into the bush pilot business. I also figured I didn't have much choice in this matter- men with rifles can be pretty convincing.
One Day Before
We spent most of this day at an abandoned hangar outside of the city preparing weapons and supplies for our upcoming excursion. John and Gregh apparently are former operators in some special forces unit nobody knows about, and they seemed to have kept all their weapons when they quit. They also somehow secured a Grasshopper-II hopper, which I spent some time in learning the controls. Fortunately, I've spent time with hoppers before.
John has a map of the general region that all of the research stations are located in. He points at Chesterfield station. "Basically, we're going to fly here as fast as we possibly can, try not to get shot down, land, run in, plant charges basically everywhere, stuff the technicians in the hopper, and get the fuck out."
"Oh, no problem," I mumble.
I notice Gregh assembling some kind of fully automatic grenade launcher. He's obviously really enjoying himself. "This'll be a door gun in the Grasshopper," he announces to no one in particular.
Extremely early this morning, we got up and suited up. I still couldn't exactly believe I was doing this. I'm a bush pilot and a geek, not some snake-eating maniac. But I methodically drilled myself on the operation of the hopper.
John and Gregh were putting on bulky bulletproof (although I understand bullet-resistant is the correct term) vests, and Gregh handed me one. I swallowed hard as I attempted to operate the vast system of straps and buckles that connects the vest to your torso. They also handed me a loaded handgun and a holster, which I strapped to my thigh.
We boarded the hopper and took off, everything going according to plan.
Everything did go according to plan, until we got a couple hundred clicks from Chesterfield. We were challenged by a couple of Titan attack helicopters. I made up some throwaway reasons for our presence, but they didn't fall for them for very long as we charged top-speed over the canopy.
Sure enough, it wasn't long enough before the helicopters were throwing huge hunks of metal at us. I avoided their fire as best as I could, but the engine was hit. Amazingly, it continued to function. Gregh yelled to be heard above the turbines. "I'll see if I can distract them with the grenade launcher," and with that he hooked himself to a line in the cabin, and opened the rear cargo door. The grenade launcher made a rapid popping sound as he fired 40mm explosive shells at our pursuers. I looked back. I didn't notice a lot of damage to the Titans, but it seemed to have taken their minds off turning us into hamburger for a few minutes. "Hold on," I yelled, and pushed the hopper even lower.
"Unfortunately," John said, "they'll follow us to Chesterfield. Should make things more difficult."
Miraculously, we managed to fly to Chesterfield without taking catastrophic damage. The hopper was making some funny noises though.
I made an extremely aggressive landing, and John and Gregh grabbed their rifles and headed for the building. The helicopters were bearing straight for us, so Gregh stuck another belt of ammo into the grenade launcher. "Concentrate on the front sight," he said, and they bolted for the station. The ground started spraying dirt, like the last time I was in the jungle.
I lined the front sight of the grenade launcher up on the side of one helicopter, its gun turret swiveling back and forth, spraying bullets. I noticed it was painted a strange dark green, without any markings at all. I pulled the trigger.
Grenades exploded against the helicopter's airframe. The damage seemed to be superficial, so I aimed for the door that someone inside the chopper had just opened. Several grenades sailed inside the helicopter and exploded. I suspect that had a bad effect on the crew, because it started gyrating wildly. I relocated my fire to the tail rotor, and it started gyrating even more, like a demented spinning top. It spun right into the ground a few hundred meters away and caught fire. I could feel the heat.
Then I realized the other helicopter was walking shells right toward me. I fired a few grenades at it halfheartedly, then dove for the floor. Light streamed in through newly made holes in the Grasshopper's fuselage. I looked out the window and saw a group of heavily armed soldiers running straight for me. First making sure they weren't led by John and Gregh, I swung the grenade launcher toward them and fired. Dirt and debris flew into the air, scattering a few dead soldiers. Some were still coming- they were wearing very heavy armor, so I pulled the trigger again. The gun was empty. I scrambled around frantically for another belt, but I didn't see one. I grabbed a shotgun and waited. I figured my time was finally up.
A volley of rifle fire erupted from the front of the building, and some of the soldiers fell down. I leaned out the door of the hopper and opened fire with the shotgun. Caught in this crossfire, they didn't last long. John ran from the building to the hopper, four technicians running behind him with Gregh taking up the rear.
"Go, go, go!" John yelled. I bolted up to the cabin. I hadn't shut the engines off, so taking off was a matter of getting everybody inside. "We're all in!" Gregh yelled. I yanked on the controls and the Grasshopper shot up. There were several helicopters hovering around the compound, with more flying in. I spun the hopper in a circle while Gregh reloaded the grenade launcher and filled the sky with grenades, and then I pushed the throttles all the way forward. Right then the station went up in a terrific explosion.
A couple of Titans followed us for about a hundred clicks, but I was able to avoid and finally outrun them. By this time the hopper had taken way more shell hits than it was supposed to, but somehow continued to fly.
No one had spoken since we took off. Finally John and Gregh came up to the cockpit. "Well, that was a success. The station was totally destroyed. Good work, Kenneth."
At this time I realized I had no idea where I was going. "Where should I be flying to?" I asked.
"Go here," John said and handed me a map. A remote chunk of southern jungle was circled. "I know some folks. We can find work, and it's low profile. In fact, I'm pretty sure they need a bush pilot. You should have just enough fuel to get here," he said, and pointed at a small line on the map indicating an airfield. "There's another aircraft waiting for us there, since a ship full of holes might attract attention. From there we can go straight to our destination."
"Sounds good to me," I said, and I looked out at the sun going down over the vast jungle.
|APAGear II Archives||Volume 1, Number 6||June, 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.