APAGear II Archives Volume 2, Number 5 June, 2000


Black Talons

Part One

Harmon Meyerhoff

"Aw shit." I said, then ran over to the semi-wreckage of Manx, my recently mangled Bobcat.

I yanked the scarred hatch open enough to lean inside and switched on the com system, waiting a moment while it initialized the descrambler I had 'retained' after my medical discharge.

The local bands were mostly clear, but for that same repeated statement. Peace River destroyed.

Then the slicing softs I had devised with help from my AI decrypted the local southern recon channel:

"This is zero-aleph-six-niner Recon, we will have visual in- Mon Dieu! Mon capitan, all Paxton Arms is... it is just a smoking crater, and the rest of Peace River is hardly better off!"

"Roger Zero-aleph-six-niner Recon, we have visual. Shit do we have visual. Break off and await orders, and do not, repeat, Do Not engage any Nothern forces. This might not be their fault either."

"Shit. Johar Ridge sounds awful good right now." The Issac, Britt, rumbled from inside the wrecked leg assembly of his gear.

"I suddenly feel homesick too... Boys, hope you don't mind..." And I jogged over to my Gorilla transport.

"HEY JONAH! GET THE CRANE WARMED UP, WE'RE LEAVING!" That brought a rattling whirr as the crane booms extended and the massive transport backed into position near my Bobcat.

I fastened the lifters onto the gear, and it was loaded in seconds, followed by Gnoll, my prized dueling gear, and the small cache of stuff I had won in the potluck duelin' contest.

"Damn, where's that little shit, Chester..." I thought out loud, reaching for my com-pad, and it's locator-beacon display.

"Yessir?" He asked eagerly from behind my left elbow.

"I'm getting the hell out of here now, to Okavango. You and Jonah can jump off at Red Rum Gorge and take the Camel back to Port Arthur, I'm going back to Okavango and arming my perimeter defenses."

"Perimeter defenses? On a house?" He asked.


So I punched him in the back and yelled "Shut up and get moving! Load-up!"

The compressors in the Gorilla were already warming up, and the stacks lit off after a few seconds, while our crew (i.e. semi-local Issacs with too much time) scrambled to stow everything and get aboard.

Just then a big, gloved, attached-to-a-northie-officer hand descended on my shoulder.

"Sir, would you happen to be one ex-Lieutenant Harik Kzyn of Gator, Okavango?"

I turned to face this new threat. He was a clean shaven forty cycle Northern Intelligence officer flanked by two gun-toting troopers and a Hunter XMG.

"Yes." I gulped.

"Mister Kzyn, I assume that a man of your... 'experience' knows a bit more than you are letting on, so I have no incentive to try to lie to you. Paxton Arms is gone, and both the Northern and Southern Leagues are screaming for blood. But, even now, with the wreckage still warm and the medics on-scene, every single preliminary analysis says that the explosion was an extremely large and sophisitcated anti-matter demolition charge. And you know as well as I do that that means Earthers."

He turned and gestured me to follow him. I glanced at the guards. They seemed to be bodyguards, not MPs. Good.

"Open up, Soldier!" He shouted up at the XMG and stepped back as the gear knelt. The pilot opened the hatch and cimbed down.

He looked at me expectantly and gestured toward the empty gear. "Well, get in please, this is a Command Hunter, the best secure-line coms we could get over here under such short notice."

Ye unholy Gawds, Northies letting ME of all people inside a top-of-the-line Command Gear... I thought as I clambered aboard.

The pilot doffed his VR helmet and offered it up to me, but I already had pulled down my cut-down goggles and jacked them in. Northie gears had less comfortable seats, I discovered. And their sensor displays were on the wrong side of the headup.

Backwards northies... I grinned.

Then the comline came active, routed straight into my goggles' audio and video.

"Good morning Mister Kzyn, I'm General Auschenbach of the CNCS, now assigned to the First Black Talon Strike Recon. As you know, the mysterious destruction of Peace River has affected us all, economically, politically, and personally. Our investigators have determined that the explosion was caused by an anti-matter device, created and deployed our old nemesis, Earth.

Shit, this is bad. Earthers. A-mat bombs. CEF. And information this sensitive is being told to ME?! I thought quickly, panning my view, apparently a satellite view of the massive explosion. The view abruptly cut to a ground level shot of the destruction, close up. Pax was a write-off.

We have organized a Cease-Fire between the Northern and Southern Leagues. In order to confront this threat from the New Earth Concordant, we have organized a squad of the best and brightest soldiers from the North, South, and Badlands, as well the best top-quality commando gears available, to travel through the Tannhauser Gate and investigate Caprice, gather intelligence about the Colonial Expeditionary Force, and return the data to us on Terra Nova.

"Make no mistake, we are expecting an invasion, and we need the best we can find, beg, steal or borrow. And you're one of them."The disembodied Auschenbach continued, then paused expectantly.

"Me?" I squeaked.

"Your record says you sucessfully participated in over thirty-nine commando raids over a period of three years, and have over eighty-nine confirmed kills of Gears, tanks, and if I am to trust my information, two Behemoth Striders."

"Err, yes, two Behemoths, with help from my squadmates... But why me? What am I supposed to be? I'm a Demolitions and Assault specialist, not a Schattenjaeger Commando!"

"Yes, but, you see, we need a commander."

My mind raced.

Oh hell.


Con: Caprice?

Relevant Con: Covert ops?

Big-as-a-Naga Con: In a CEF STRONGHOLD?!!

Minor Pro: A chance to cause indiscriminant mayhem.

Pro/Con: Opponents are Earthie hovertanks.

Pro: Me in charge.

Big as their budget can cover Pro: I'll be piloting one of those Expensive Deluxe Edition Customized Cov-Ops Gears!

"I'm in, at least until I know exactly what I've signed on for."

"An excellent choice, Commander Kzyn." He replied.

I unclipped my helmet and climbed out of the gear.

I paused before the pilot. "Thanks" I said as he climbed up.

Then my personality cut in: "Try a Command Jaeger, they got better seats." I called after him as the XMG swallowed him.

"O.K. What do I do now?" I asked the Intel spook.

He just grinned and pointed up. An Orca transport was coming over the ridge, then swooped low and landed in the middle of the dirt 'street'.

The Northie pointed and yelled over the roar of the turbines "Your ride, get aboard soldier!"

I started to the Orca, but paused and ran over to the Gorilla, and yanked my armor, my rifle, and my AI box out of their equipment locker.

The pilots looked apprehensive as they saw me charging out of the Gorilla with my Mjolnir Anti-Gear rifle, Deaths-head enameled Turtleshell and wire-trailing AI box, but the cargo gestured me to a seat and buttoned up the hatch with no more notice than a routine pickup.

As usual, I went dead-to-the-world seconds after that hatch closed, and nothing could, nor dared, wake me up until touchdown.

I emerged groggily, my armor and rifle slung over one shoulder, my free hand gripping the rail, and my AI thumping reassuringly against my leg.

My first impression was not shock, but more of eeriness. Walfishes and Orcas landing on the same strip, A Gila and a Hunter XMG side by side in a Gear bay...

Then I was intterupted by a noisy crunch as a matte-black Jaguar gear emerged from the back of another Orca, to stand bewildered amid the remains of some wooden packing pallets.

I almost brought my rifle to bear, but I had expended most of my second of shock dodging behind the loading ramp of my orca and pulling my torso armor shut.

Then a truck full of techs and officers and a Gear-hauler emerged from between two airfield buildings and came to a screeching halt before the encumbered Jaguar. Only then did I notice the red cat-claw blazed on its' shoulder, and on the tail-fins of the Orca that had delivered it.

Cats Paws!

I nearly jumped out of my skin.

I have had exactly one experience with a northern Catpaw Recon, in combat- one that resulted in two casualties, three scrapped gears, and a new arm for my Spitting Cobra, all before the support Jaegers could neutralize the pair. A Cheetah Mk2 and two Sand Jaguars, eliminating half the cadre.

I distinctly remember the sudden tearing lurch of my gear being hit, and the sudden, shocking sight of daylight illuminating my cozy metal womb during the moment when my gear shorted and sputtered in its' link to my overlay goggles, and the alien sight of sunlight and muzzle flashes pouring in from the gaping tear left in the side of my cockpit.

And worst of all, the damn Jaguar that did it tenaciously struggling to rise, and defiantly obliterate a Jaeger with its' snub cannon even as the entire squad cut it to pieces with their autocannons, lasers, and bazookas.

The officers on the jeep got out and yelled and waved hands, while the cargo officer peeked around the edge of the hatch to see what had made me dive for cover.

Then the gear locked onto my movement, swinging around on a hiss of hydraulics and the crunch of packing pallets. The MAC locked onto me and I was experiencing, as they say in parts of Hsi Tsang, Du-ma-nhieu.

Shit, this is aircraft construction! I thought to myself. Only aluminum and carbon frame, I could punch holes in this stuff with a screwdriver! I analyzed a second too late. Nonetheless, I still covered behind it and centered the rifle's laser indicator on the gears' head.

But the Jaguar paused as the officers yelled and ran to catch up with the steel spectre of my impending death.

Then the unthinkable happened. The Jaguar stopped and lowered its' autocannon, then shuddered as it opened the crew hatch and revealed its' pilot.

I went looking for better cover while the opportunity presented itself.

One of the officers came my way, while his fellows soothed the Jag pilot.

He appeared nervous when confronted with my begoggled visage and double-rifle from above the lip of my new, improved cover- a nice, (i.e. thick) takeoff blast shield.

"Umm, errr.... are you Commander Kzyn? Would you please come out of there? Its' just a natural reaction, and I'm sure that noone would've actually gotten hurt. It's just that old habits are hard to break.. It's just an accident of nerves..."

He seemed overly concerned with my designator-dot resting on his Order of the Griffin medal, right over his heart, and futiley tried to shift out of my fire-lane. I tracked him, showing absolutely no apparent motion or emotion as the red dot gleefully chased the metal statuette on his breast no matter how he shifted. Finally, he turned away and retreated with a pitiful: "I'll tell command that you're here and send someone to assign you a room."

I grinned a crooked smirk and let him run, then turned off my ranger/sighter and returned the rounds under the hammers to their magazines. This was going to be fun after all.

Seeing as the flunky had fled, I decided to really test what I thought was unnaturally weird luck. The one suit was chatting up the jaggie pilot, so I figured that intrusion should be appropriate. I slung my rifle onto my shoulder, dusted off my pants, picked up my AI and marched right over.

The damned officer didn't even mind, introducing me like I had been invited over.

"Lieutenant Juno Vesping, this is mister Harik Kzyn, and he'll be acting as commander for the squad during your time on Caprice." He said before I could even salute. I paused for a half second, then offered my hand to them. The jag pilot, Vesping, seemed to think I was being rude for not shaking, and said so. I turned my hand palm down and grinned. "I'm retired." I said, as she recoiled from the steel-and-plastic sheathing.

I couldn't resist, so help me, so I looked hurt and said "It's not like it bites!"

She looked a little sorry, and put her hand out for me to shake. I avoided her hand and gave my wrist that little twist that hurts so much. The bone popped a little and the thirteen-centimeter surgical steel claw popped out of the seam between flesh and prosthetic, displayed like a second thumb next to my pinky.

She looked shocked.

The suit looked ill.

"Perverted southerner! You corrupted Ashanti!" Came a new, outraged and preachy voice from the Cats Paw Orca.

Preachy Bastard I thought, but instead assumed a look of impassive authority and said: "Pleased to meet you... And doesn't it say somewhere Judge not, lest ye be judged in turn?" Then, deciding it wasn't helping my people skills, I winced and retracted my claw.

My accusor was indeed a Northie, a bearded, intense, self-righteous Revisionist, looking as if he'd found a pile of springer shit on his dress uniform.

He paused at my quote. I like quotes, they let me say shit without it being MY opinions that tell them off. A sorta shield of authenticity.

I held up my arm. "This was because of a damned Morgana who didn't know when to quit, and this (I extended the tip of the claw and pointed to it) is because the first anchor bar didn't hold against the bone properly and got grown around by the tendons instead. Then when the surgeons decided to try to fix it, they broke the end off. They said to just leave it, and when I found I could pull it out by clenching my wrist muscles to hold it out for a few seconds, I had it sharpened up by the doc. Saved my ass more times, in more places than I'd like to remember in any great detail. It's not nice to make fun of other peoples' disabilities, so think next time, kay?"

He goggled, then made as if to argue, but he was tripping over his words, and I turned back to the suit to get my bunk assignment.

Then the Northie gathered his courage and spoke.

"I'm sorry. It just shocked me, seeing that thing hanging from your arm, and all those Order of Charon badges... I just overreacted."

I must confess, I looked at him like a talking caiman.

He offered his hand; "Lieutenant Boyden Wallis, Seventh CNCS. Kodiak Fire support."

"Kodie pilot... It'd be my luck..." I groaned aloud, peering at his decorations. "Seventh Templars?!" I stated more than asked, wincing.

Oh hell... Lady Luck is really bein' a bitch today...

He nodded, puzzled. "I've been in the Seventh, Templar, for the last nine years."

I rubbed my forehead, where a large amount of sweat and sand were causing my goggles to chafe.

"Ah, hell. 'Tenant Harik Kzyn, Nintey-ninth Skyhawks, AST retired." I shook, then pointed at the apropriate point on my armor, and the citation thereon. "Fryian bridge commando raid. Demolitions squad Spitting Cobra number eight- the one with the snub cannon." I looked at him appraisingly. "Damn, you're probably the bastard that carved my gears' arm off with the Particle Cannon..."

He was looking somewhat shocked, somewhat suprised. Possibly hostile. I backed up a step.

"You must admit that was a very good shot, though." He tried to grin.

"Well, just try not to do that again, and I'll spare the 'zook shell jammed up your gears' SMS.

He laughed, a short bark of approval, though tinged with wariness.

At least he wasn't shooting at me again. I never did like LPAs after that.

Eventually I made it to my preordained bunk, whereupon I encountered two more compatible folks: Another smuggler (me being the first) named Antoine Mallinaux, and a couldn't-even-be-25-cycles-old girl from Mekong named Morgausa Temple.

I had no problems believing that Mallinaux had been a smuggler- he had three flasks hidden in his desertsuit, at least that many in his coverall, and at least two of those six (or more) contained water. Of course, of the other four, two contained something northern and near-lethal, one, some old and valuable wine, and the last had some homebrew gear-fuel intoxicant.

Temple, however, seemed to be a typified, spit shined, Kay-det. She was wearing a uniform in the barracks. Got up when I entered. Saluted me.

I just stood there for a few secs before I remembered to return the salute and another few secs before I remembered to tell her to be "at ease".

Not that she really was. She seemed simultaneously giddy and scared shitless. First assignment jitters, I found out a few minutes later.

Temple showed much less personality than Mallinaux. Bunk neat, sheets folded regulation-style, little portable ancestor shrine (Mekong, remember?) and a few little knicknack thingies.

We got through introduction chat in about ten minutes, and Mallinaux lost interest, curling up with a book in one corner of the bunkhouse.

I dumped my AI on a convenient chair, chucked my vest and armor onto the floor next to my bunk, leaned my rifle against the side of the bedframe and flopped down on my stomach.

Without really thinking, I jacked my gogs into my AI box and started in on the saved copy of FerretZilla 4: The Reckoning, in stereo and tee-dee. I adjusted my neck to a more confortable position (face down, flat into the matress) and started in on the show.

Right around the middle of the intro credits I felt a tentative tap on my shoulder, and a near-whispered "Pardon me, Sir." Followed by Mallinaux' accented "What are you doing exactly?"

I hit the pause on the viddy and rolled over. My gogs squealed and turned clear, to show Temple looking down on me.

"Yes, Sous-Caporal?" I asked brightly.

She flushed and somewhat speechlessly indicated the patched adapter cord running from my goggles to my AI box. "Sir, if you don't mind the question, what is it you're doing with your AI, I mean, they're going to issue us new top-of-the-line AIs, so why did you bring yours?"

"You're young, Temple, any old soldier knows his AI like a best friend. Which is exactly what it has become by that point." Mallinaux interjected like he was quoting an obvious fact.

"Err, Yes, Sir." She apologized. She seemed a little confused still, but didn't seem to know how to ask her question.

"Temple, you were wondering why I was plugging these goggles into the box for?" I stated more than asked, waggling the jack in my free hand.

She nodded affirmativeley, but looked disconcerted by my manners. One does not usually approach a superior so, nor recieve such a response.

I grunted, stood up and plugged the jack into the tridee screen in the corner of the room, then returned to my bed and resumed my former position. I hit play and darkened my goggles.

"FerretZilla number four, in trideo, I taped a marathon from the local station back home to my AI's memory core a few months back, and I just finally got some time to watch..."

The ominous theme music resumed.

I rummaged for a second and then plugged the second cable into the my goggles.

"Hope you enjoy it, I know it's not quite legal, but how can you beat free?" I asked rhetorically. I turned up the volume a little and settled back under my goggles.

"In the days of the War of the Alliance, valiant Terra Novan troops fought bravely, but to no avail. In the face of advanced Terran technology and hordes of mindless GREL supersoldiers, it looked like there was no hope for this world..."


(Here it comes)...

(Seven stories high)...

(Breeeaaaattthhhiiiinnnnggg fire)!!!!

(It blots out the sky)!!!!





And Ferretzooki....

I woke up the next morning in that same position- and aside from feeling as though my neck would never straighten nor my goggles become separated from my face, I felt pretty good for being drafted into leading a suicidal recon mission that was to take place on a planet that was garrisoned by half of the entire CEF...

They made sure to squash all that enthusiasm too...

The first part was a physical. No sweat, they just fluoroscoped and prodded me, then checked over my reinforced wrist, though one dumbass hit just the right (wrong) nerve, and nearly lost his eye when my claw popped out at him.

Second was pilot testing. Simple. Sit in the simulator and complete the objectives while they monitor you. I just took it in stride and whupt the machine. Eighty four point-six accuracy, nine (generic hunter) Gear kills, fifteen infantry, nineteen percent noncritical damage, exercise completed alive and Gear intact.

The other tests merely confirmed those results, barring the Recon mission, whence I accidentally alerted a sentry, but then took him out before he could report, and the tank-wave test, where Visigoths and Allers shredded my ass in record time. I never was good at taking out tanks with a 40mm rifle and a sniper laser. Gimme a Snub Cannon and grenades anyday.

Of course, my good feelings were not destined to remain. Outfitting and its constituent paperwork, the worst scourge of anything in the military, was destined to overtake me. I was just lucky (and therefore gladdened) that I had my AI with me.

When I came to the outfitting garage, I encountered the rest of the squad, who had already recieved their gear assignments. Unsuprisingly, Wallis had been assigned a Kodiak, some Peace River guy (didn't know who he was at the time) had a souped up Warrior and etc.

Then suits approached little ol' Gearless Me, and I could tell it wasn't good.

"Commander, I'm sure you know that we have placed all of our pilots in Gears that they both proved to be skilled in piloting, and that matched their combat styles. However, you will be in command, and for you, we must be absoulutely sure that you are both comfortable and likely to survive a battle. Your piloting skills did not help us narrow down your choices, either. They seem to indicate you might potentially be as effective in a work gear armed with a vibroknife and a smoke grenade as in a Naga strider acting as artillery-designator for a Ceres class orbital strike platform and flanked by fifteen Vortex landships."

"Gee thanks. Can I have the Naga instead of the Groundhog?" I asked brightly.

Auschenbach cracked a smile. "I'm afraid that that is unavailable due to stealth and mass restraints, but nearly any type of gear available on the planet could potentially be obtained for your use as a Black Talon."

"Even a Rock mamba -a SnakeEye?" I asked, testing the limits of that theory.

"We have two." He stated matter-of-factly.

More than suprising. Northies aren' even supposed to really know what Rock mambas are, let alone have TWO.

"Hey! What was that!?" I asked, as I saw the last half of a gear exit from the hangar door.

"That? Oh, that is one of our new Dark Cobra heavy assault gears, we will be having two with the mission for fire support."

"Dark Cobra? As in a King Cobra?" I asked curiously.

"I'm sorry commander, these are only heavily modified Shredder Spitting Cobras.."

Spitting Cobra... Spitting Cobra... The thought rolled around in my mind before it clicked home and triggered the proper response: %lt;Drool>

"Oooohhhh!" I salivated.

Then I grinned. This was going to be much more fun than I'd expected.

"Territorial Arms OACS-01H/SU Spitting Cobra General Purpose/Fire Support Heavy Gear. Height: Five-point-oh meters, Average loaded combat weight Eight point nine-nine metric tonnes. Ninety milimeter average thickness Armorplast-alloy plating over ceramic armor undercoating. Standard maximum running speed thirty six point three kilometers per hour, Halftrack-secondary- movement-maximum-speed: Six-zero kilometers per hour. One MR-60 60 milimeter autoloading machinecannon rifle, one FSRP-36 Meduim- and one ASCRP-98 Heavy-rocket pod, one MGU-77 7mm light machine gun, six high explosive antigear/antipersonell grenades, with optional heat, massage, shaprened sticks, rocks-tied-to-sticks, and them pointy thingies on its' shoulders." I recited reverently before the awesome monument of my technologically enhanced killing abilities.

"Kay, let's rip her down." I said, grabbing an armor-unsealing pry and motioning the maintenence crew forward.

While the techs swarmed my gear like skags on a shit the foreman came up to me.

"That gear is pristine, fresh off the factory floor, 'been dissasembled, reassembled and run 'till it purrs... All the stealthing systems are in already... Why exactly are you pulling it apart again?"

"First off, you said we gotta check that they really did install the stealthing systems throughout the frame and properly, and second, I can make this pup chew up a good fifty-five or more on foot, and near nintey on the secondaries. I know how to reinforce the legs, the arms, the sensors, everything the manual and company doesn't say a thing about", I leaned forward conspiritorially, "And that's probably because it's being used as bait for the next big contract Territorial is negotiating."

I heard a shouted "LOOK OUT BELOW!" followed by a set of power winches locking onto detached components. I winced as the head came off.

"And, we just gotta do something about those ugly sensor horns..."

Then I was disrupted.

"What do you think I am? I'm certainly not stupid, and you must be if you expect me to authorize these repairs to a perfectly functional brand-new Gear!" Shouted a very loud voice from the hangar door. The crew boss paused his conversation with me to head off this new interruption, but like a portly javarite bull, the almost obscenely fat, ancient-looking Supply Seargeant plowed his way through techs and security.

"I want this mayhem to stop RIGHT NOW!" He thundered, gesticulating wildly. "You! Yes, You there! Stop that this instant! I gave no orders about any refitting to be done! This Gear is Fine! ABSOLUTELY FINE! And I'll have no more monkeying around with its' innards! This gear is to go to Caprice in as good a condition as it was when it came out of the factory."

He paused, not for breath, but to glare balefully at those who had already begun removing the arms from my gear.

I winced. My mantra came on, echoing and echoing inside my skull, just like it always does.

I don't get paid enough for this shit...I don't get paid enou...

"SIR, Supply-Seargeant... Sir, why has my gears' refit been stopped?" I asked, careful not to be impolite, let alone outraged.

"Your Gear! Your Gear?!!! That gear belongs to the Confederated Northern City States Armed Forces, not some pathetic excuse of a pilot, no matter how good you think you are!" He screamed, outraged and positively hopping up and down in rage.

"Sir, your attention, sir?" I began clamly. "I was not aware that of the fact that as of this date the CNCS either regulated or controlled the First Black Talon Strike Recon Squad, nor was in the habit of purchasing, leasing nor controlling, let alone fielding or maintaining southern Spitting Cobra Heavy Gears as of or proceeding from this date..." I stated so resonably he didn't even realize that what I was saying was even sarcastic for several seconds.

Many of the crewers laughed.

The Supply Sargeants' eyes bulged.

Then, as he started sputtered a response, he gagged and convulsed, then gurgled and tipped backwards, his face purpling.

"Oh shit... did I just kill 'im...?" I asked the foreman, who was panicking despite his laughter.

One of the crew had already gone to call in the medics, but I was feeling prime, and belted out the standard alarm of "MMEEDDIIIIC!" at around eighty decibels.

I could hear the medical truck squealing across the tarmac, but my yell gave them better directions. The foreman just grimmaced and uncovered his ears, muttering to me "Up here, they're called corpsmen..."

Despite my little incident with Supply Seargeant Sarkswurth (say that three times fast, eh?) the refit orders were still green to go, but nothing was happening... It seemed that Supply still was dragging its' heels. Thus I paid a visit to the Supply hangar.

I was "greeted" by a flunky, a lowly clerk who waved a clipboard and whined about forms. He referred me to another clerk, who seemed to be more interested in referring me to another clerk. Again and again this cycle continued, until I finally got fed up.

I hoisted one of the little pukes up, dragged him outside, and suspended him from a munitions winch. I threw him up a clipboard and issued the ultimatum that basically said, among other things, that "If you pukin' REMFs can't get my Gear authorized, notarized, and motorized by tomorrow I'm going to leave you up there until you can requisition yourself a way down!"

My gear refit proceeded without incident. Fifty-six kilometers per hour running, Eighty one on the 'tracks. Advanced Composites instead of armorplast, advanced sensors, and gods almighty- two compressed-plasma twin-cycle jumpjets! None tonnes of Death From Above.

The only thing of any other note would be Sobec. Soldat Leo Sobec, recently prisoner number something-something-something etc. of a forced labor colony near Siwa.

The whole problem started when he arrived by VTOL, flanked by guards and in shackles and leg irons.

"Who's he?" I asked... Hmm... I guess it was Morgan, the Intelligence guy.

"Soldat Leo Sobec, a borderline mental case, but sudden death in a gear. Got life for killing his entire squad during excersises down in the polar jungle somewhere... All top secret, Southern Command won't even release the files about it to us. "

"Jungle? Oh shit." I said, already correlating "borderline", "sudden death in a gear" and "down in the jungle somewhere". The sum of these parts is mostly classified, but I can safely say the word "Hades" sprang to mind, and not simply because I fully anticipated throwing him out the back of our dropship without a chute or gear.

Damn southern command... We get invaded by GRELS, so what do we do? We make our own! Yes! An amazing idea, let's make humans into sociopaths so they act like GRELS, and then go "Oh Shit" when they don't go "Sir, Yes, Sir" like a good earther dawg.

"No. Furthermore, no chance in Hell, Caprice or this whole goddam hellhole rock of Terra Nova."

"Commander, he's already been issued a gear, and southern command is expecting him to go with us to Caprice!"


"That was not a negotiable statement, Commander Kzyn."

"'I Quit'" might not be either."

"He is only a member of the squad probationarily, his quarters will be lcoked whenever he is not on duty, and you will be authorized to eliminate him at any time, and that is still not enought for you?!!"

"Ab-so-fucking-lutely! I repeat- HE EEZ A FAILED, not even succesful, HAY-DEEZ COHM-PLEX EX-PER-I-MENT!"

"He's going, and you might end up under similar arrangements if you continue this argument!"

"Sir, Yes, Sir. On a personal note; Sir, Fuck You, Sir! And Sir, If he IS going, I request a triggerable self-destruct or shutdown system to be installed in his gear, as well as possibly a similar triggerable detonation device implanted in his person."

Then came the training courses. Refreshers, fire-supression practice, stealth insertions, recon, and other unpleasant methods of not-fighting.

I discovered four things:

1. I was really not meant for this sort of fighting, though I gained good enough scores. Sneaking to fight is acceptable, sneaking to recon too. Sneaking and sneaking and sneaking all while trying not to get caught, when surrounded and outnumbered and hideously overmatched was not.

2. My squadmates were hideously proficient; even litle Temple was a virtually invisible angel of death in her Dark Cheetah.

This leads to the other two:

3. A Dark Cheetah, being small and agile, can dodge a suprising number of incoming paint-rounds.

4. And, unfortunately, a Dark Cobra, being niether of the above, cannot.

Still, I managed well enough in "training" to confirm my leadership. Only two things remained between us and Caprice. A field-test mission. And millions of CEF troops.

To Be Continued...

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APAGear II Archives Volume 2, Number 5 June, 2000