APAGear II Archives Volume 2, Number 7 August, 2000


Black Talons

Part Two

Harman Meyerhoff

[NOTE: Continued from Part One, which originally appeared in Volume 2, Number 5. -Ed.]

There bas barely time for my traditional "Oh Shiiiiittt!"

And out I went.

My shiny new Spitting Cobra teetered off the drop-hatch and dumped its' chute, slamming me hard into my seat and swinging everything like a leaden pendulum beneath the triple-chutes of a heavy-deployment rig.

Behind me Mallinaux followed suit, his gear moving much more fluidly as it jumped out of the Hades and dumped its' own double-chute. Vespings' Jaguar already was down, her gear industriously packing its' single-chute under a shrub as we drifted (hah! nine tons do not drift!) down into the trees. Anticipating the sudden jar of landing, I thumped my feet on the pedals and the jets puffed out of my gears' sternum, slowing my fall and letting me land with only an earth-shaking thump.

I unslung my HAC and checked over my gear on subsystem sensors.

AOK and Green-To-Go.

I wrapped the chute into a nice loose clump, then rolled a boulder out of the hillside with my gears' free arm. I stuffed the chute underneath and replaced the boulder. Except for the skags and other bugs that had been displaced, the affected area was relatively untouched.

Mallinaux hid his chute, and we clumped over the hillside. Below us we could see the first cluster of the "Jackal LandPirate" base, a nice gear hangar and radar control station next to a semipaved road.

I dropped my gear to its' knees and craned my head, the enhanced-optics and magnifying everything for me as I scanned the buildings.

Three guards with light submachineguns on the far side of the garage, sitting on the porch and smoking. No vehicles in sight but for one battered Elan parked next to the radar, and nothing else of any kind, moving or otherwise, nearby. Especially no [for Black Talon field command only] custom-made-state-of-the-art-ECM/ECCM-systems boxes.

Damn Jackals had raided our shipment of goodies!

Well, they were about to learn not to do that again.

"Dibs" I whispered through the encryptlink as my gear crept forward.

"Shit." I said to myself, as I saw a glint of glass through the haze. I magnified. A fuel truck was lumbering up the road, oblivious to our position.

I pointed wiht a great steel arm at the incoming truck. Both mallinaux and Vesping confirmed after a glance.

Again, I waved my gears' arm, his time in a chopping and pointing motion at a microhill along the roadsite. Just right to give a pair of gears cover.

"Click-click-click" They responded, dropping and covering.

Then, as the truck passed directly between the lazy guards and the sensor station, I fired. The heavy rocket pod on my gears back released exactly one round, which hissed light and white smoke as it lazily arced over top of the building and landed exactly, my rangefinder told me, one meter from the infantry. Before the rocket could even hit, I had already centered my autocannon on the truck.

Even with the thermal overlay flashed out slightly, my autocannon pumped ten rounds into the fuel trucks' tank. The truck arched its back as the fuel detonated, sending greasy smoke up into the air in a self-immolating funeral pyre and spilling liquid fire all over the road. The concussion also took out the sensor station- with a gratifying scream of metal, the dish collapsed and began to smoke as fuel and shrapnel chewed it to pieces.

"Clean. Nice." Vesping commented, checking for anything that might have overheard the noise of my two-second rampage.

(All clear) I tapped with my laser com, five rapid snaps. From contact in, silence was supposed to be the rule, despite the fact we were using maser-coms that were supposedly impossible to intercept, and encrypted as well.

"Click." She responded, followed by Mallinaux.

"Click! Click!" Incoming!

My gear dropped before I even had warning to order the action, and my AI had done so not a moment too soon.

A Hunter, belching smoke and running full speed on SMS, emerged from the haze and smoke to my left, about 300m away. Both Mallinauxs' and Vespings' bursts hit dead center, the formers' burst chewing off its legs, while the latters' swapped its head for a ragged hole.

The gear tumbled forward as it's legs went out from under it, and it rolled, crashed facefirst, caught, and flipped again before erupting into yet another fireball.

(Five clicks) Clear.

(Click-pause-Click) Slow Advance.

I motioned my squad forward again, using hand signals just like infantry troopers do.

Speaking of the litte beggers, not five hundred fifty meters ahead, a full 20+ squad came running down the roadway to pepper us with light machine gun fire. None appeared to have AGRs, thankfully.

Nevertheless, utilizing a judicious saturation burst from my medium rocket pack and my mates' APGLs, we ended their existences without a second thought or wasted.

From that point on we stuck to the hillocks, following a shallow creek that lead directly to the Jackal base, and the Saggitarius Striders we were suppposed to nuke in retribution for their pilfering. The creek was probably about two meters deep, and about ten wide, almost a river. There we hit a snag.

My gear, being a conventional Southern design, lumbered into the water and half-floated like a big steel caiman. Mallinaux did the same, though his gear sank rather more than it floated and was forced to sorta slosh-bound along the bottom.

And of course, you gussed it, Vespings' baby, the vaunted CatsPaw Commando FireJaguar, was about as waterproof as a collander.

So we were forced to float along as Vesping stirred up dust and labored alongside the bank. After a few minutes of sloshing, I cut down the pressure to the hydraulics in my mounts' legs. With a satisfying hiss, the legs became more buoyant and I reached an angle appropriate for swimming.

Don't get me wrong, this is a ground-pounder support gear, but anything southern generally can be modified to float and swim with at least some ability, even some Nagas.

Vesping bitched, Mallinaux slogged, and I floated down the stream like a big steel gator.

"Click Click!" I heard, and immediately boosted pressure to all my hyraulics. I sank like a gator even as Vesping ducked behind a stonehead and Mallinaux dropped to a submerged walk.

Very Slowly, I raised just my gears' head out of the water, hiding half behind a snagged log just in case.

Ahead were signs of civilization. A fishing boat was tied to a pier that extended into a tiny lake fed by our river. Clustered around the pier were two buildings, deserted houses, and a garage.

Outside that garage two more Jackal Hunters waited, painted in the same haphazard fashion as their deceased cohort -the original colors of various gears scavenged for components. Several Norlight insignia still showed through the rust and halfhearted camo on quite a few of the replacement parts.

I submerged, then motioned for Mallinaux to look.

He slogged towards the bank, where he popped his head above the surface and took a look.

Submergening, he gestured towards the dock pilings downstream, where the river widened into a mini-lake.

I nodded my enourmous steel head, then gestured to a broad flat rock about ten meters downstream. I mimed standing up from a crouch-crawl and firing my autocannon, which was thankfully completely waterproof and even vacuum-capable.

He nodded, and I stuck my free hand out of the water behind that log, hand held vertical and flat, indicating for Vesping to stay put.

Both of us dropped our gears into a belly crawl, inching our way along the cobble-covered riverbed in the deepest water possible. Nevertheless, we still stirred mud and sediment, turning the water faintly brown-tinted. Thankfully, the river was fast-enough running that there wasn't enough muck on the bottom to make our movement really conspicious.

I finally reached my flat rock and lay atop it. It was almost perfect, an old concrete slab that I could put my gears weight on when rising from the water, providing good footing and thus a stable shot-platform.

Mallinaux' Mamba gave me a thumbs-up and continued along the river, towards the pier.

Then my gear decided to blow a gasket. Just a minor seal problem, but it's disconcerting to have our nice snug metal womb sudenly dripping like a not-quite-turned-off shower right on your face.

(system failure: rating 3) I clicked, giving the emergency code and a severity rating. One was minor, two was irritating, and three being an unknown and potentially semi-serious problem, though not life threatening or system-compromising at the moment. At least it wasn't around a six... Six has been involved only during a weapons jam in the face of a Grizzly and the time my jumpjets clogged midjump...

Both responded with a click of confirmation, then Mallinaux began his click count...


Four. A BIG fish swam past my omnicam. Looked edible.

Three. Fish decided to leave as I grasped my heavy AC with both hands and snugged it close.

Two.Autocannon read green, no water damage or jams.


(Click-Click-Click-Click!) EXECUTE! EXECUTE!

Like a gator grabbing at a drinking springer, my Spit reared out of the water, brought its 60mm chaingun to bear and hosed the rightmost Hunter to scrap in a short hail of armor-piercing and a roar of thunder.

To the right, the Hunter by the dock turned towards me in suprise, even as Mallinaux leapt from behind the dock and blew it into the next world with a surgically precise triple-tap to the back of its' head.

Vesping emergd from her boulder and jogged toward our dripping gears, MAC held high and ready.

Mallinaux gestured a query of me, and switched to his external speaker.

"Hey, boss, what went wrong?"

"Gear sprung a leak. Got a little damp but nothing shorted. I'm almost thankful for the sprinkling... Is it forty-five plus or am I just hallucinating from the heat?!"

"You boys got to go for a swim!" Vesping commented, also using mikes-and-speakers audio rather than radio or laser.

"Shuddup Northie... Heat's gotten to yer brains..." I bitched, goading my soggy, and now humid, Cobra into a trot towards our objective.

According to the hi-res topos, the river did lead closer, but was used as a moat for the airstrip and base and was lined with 65mm antiarmor rocket-turret positions. Better to take a road in and only have to deal with the checkpoint guards.

Despite being raiders, the Jackals had over twenty fairly decent gun emplacements surrounding their base.

This one happened to be a 65mm Antiarmor/Antigear MLR-20 automated deployable field turret. Dumber than dirt, and panning over its' 180-degree firing arc at a leisurely twenty seconds per traverse.

"Eeny, Meeny, damn-you're-ugly..." I whispered, peering over a stonehead at two disreputable looking Grizzlies and a Basilisk that looked like it had been a casualty on several separate occasions. I continued my vigil, hunkered down not a hundred meters away and completely motionless. The Basilisk stopped, and the hatches creaked open, revealing a dirty and equally disreputable Jackal pilot.

Amazingly, one of the Grizzes followed suit, kneeling and spitting out another moron.

Ah, well, somebody has to strain crap out of the genepool...

I clicked and used the secure laser com to feed the incredible news to Vesping. Spotting for an antipersonell grenade launcher shot over a two meter tall stonehead might not be as impressive as being scout for an artillery battery, but less enemies means less casualties.

Vesping aimed perfectly, and the antipers grenade helped natural selection along for a certain two individuals.

Then, erupting from cover, Vesping loosed her 35mm AC in a short stattaco burst.

The third Griz didn't have time to blink before it crumpled from a clean headshot.

The gear fell facefirst remarkably like a person, but exploded when it triggered its' shoddy Panzerfaust rocket into the dirt point-blank.

Of course, with their deaths the autogun turret they were (supposedly) protecting was now completely defenseless; a fact that did not go unnoticed as I popped a mortar round into it from behind my stonehead, even as it mindlessly panned passt the smoking remains of its' protectors.

The mortar round did its thing a half-second later, and my fears about using it at such close range (the arc was higher and being a degree off adds up over enough distance) were calmed as the entire barrel assembly was ripped off in the explosion, cartwheeling through the air above my gears' head, and then slamming nose-first into the soft dirt ten meters past.

Now, for those of you who do not know me, I detest using SMS systems in combat. Gears were given feet, and it is my firm belief that there are already large gears with wheels or treads. They are known as "tanks".

But, like every little personality quirk, there are times when one must simply suck it up and go.

Therefore, belching smoke and reving my stacks, one Black Talon-modified OACS-01H/SU Spitting Cobra registered to Pilot-Commander Harik Kzyn began to haul ass along the back acess road to the strider park, followed by two other examples of mechanichal mayhem incarnate.

Now, despite my hating SMS systems, there are a few virtues, first and foremost being what is commonly know as "catching air"... Therefore, when I spied three hunters coming toward us at a dead run, I aimed for another of those damn-convenient hillocks.

At sixty-eight kays an hour, I sped up the ramplike slope, disengaged the SMS just as I cleared the lip and the ground, and shot off my cherished new compressed-plasma jumpjets. Just like when I was a JumpJaeger... The surging sensation of forward and up is better than flying, and the "look down-sight-and-fire-the-whole-clip-of-MRP-36 rockets" made coming back down just as fun. I landed amid the burning pieces of two of the Hunters in a massive throbbing thump and explosive hiss of the retros and shock hydraulics, which hissed again as my gear straightened, HAC held steadily on the remaining Hunter.

"COBRA!" The pilot shreiked, and even as I continued my seemingly slow-motion rise, my battle-conciousness registered that the crappy gear had no coms antenna. A speaker was bolted to one shoulder, and it was clutching a light crap rifle like it could make a difference. And the gear wasn't moving. It was in what's called a "rookie freeze". A veteran gear will always be looking, rebalancing, little motions that show. This one was frozen like a tin statue.

So help me, realizing that I looked like a Daemon fom Hel, rising from the burning wreckage of his comrades, combined with the youthful exterior and terror, made me pity him. Two hypersonic bursts tore his legs out from under him, and two more removed his arms, leaving him facedown and disabled. He couldn't even exit, as he tipped forward and his gear was laying on his pilot hatch.

War ain't fair, and War ain't noble, but sometimes you revert...

And his terror confirmed it one more time- not only did we still have it, and we had plenty of it.

Passing the rookie, and favoring his gear with a negligent kick, I crested another little ridgelet and caught sight of the Striders. Six of 'em, Saggitarrius class fire support striders, each armed with three MRP-36 pods and HRP-24s, as well as other weapons that had been bolted onto the underbelly and shoulders-hips-whatever you call the places where the legs join the cockpit pod. And they were clean.

You can usually tell the best machines in a battlefield by their condition. The Lofty Grand High Commander probably won't have a gear that's missing a hand, or has rocket-burns instead of outer armor.

These Saggies showed their value to the Jackals in every clean weld and smooth armor plate. Too bad they were going to get busted.

"There they are, let's get to work!" Vesping exclaimed, reaching for a grenade. Mallinaux' rocket pod perked up and locked in ready position as he followed.

"Hey! Wait!" I barked as Vesping made ready to plunk her grenade into the open pilot hatch of the Sagitarruis nearest the hangar.

"What?!" Mallinaux replied, halting in midplacement of another (yet-unarmed) heavy gren.

"One: Who wants to carry the loot, and Two: Do Sags have autopilot?" I asked, that mischevious lilt in my voice betraying my intentions of mayhem.

"Think so." Vesping replied noncommitally, still holding her grenade halfway inside the pilot hatch of the hunkered-down Sag.

"YeeeHAAAA!!" I screamed, running full out with my cohorts in tow. Behind, before, and all around us, six Saggitarius Striders pelted like possesive mother birds, occasionally jerking or twitching as their hotwired directional systems shorted.

Mallinaux just cursed as the red-striped Sag nearly stepped on him again, jostling the two cargo containers strapped to his gear. He looked funny wiht a big shockproof crate chained to his back and another enourmous container held between his arms. The last Sag looked even worse, with the two crates tied to the cargo rack on its' undercarriage forcing it to waddle.

It turned out that not only did these particular Sags have autopilots, but their autopilots had been sorta-kinda hooked into the medsensor systems. This made perfect sense for raiders, so that if a raid went bad or retreat was necessary, the invaluable machine would return, even if minus a (replacable) pilot.

Someone had even redone two to do that automatically. If the pilot hit the "follow target" command the dumb strider would trail along blindly while the pilot got to nap or eat.

And so we marched towards the main gear hangar, where the remaining pirates were likeley drinking and celebrating their raid.

I clicked the secondary coms on and sent a coded pulse. There had been an entire override code reference sheet pasted onto the coms of one of the striders, and now I put it to good use.

Like an obedient turkey, the left-hand Sag lumbered over the hill, following the roadway fairly well.

As it neared, one tech with a bottle waved drunkenly and raised a toast to his comrades. The morons barely had time to realize it wasn't stopping before it had walked through the garage door and the sum of our grenades, two magazines of mortar rounds, and all the ammo lying around the Sag bay erupted from inside the vacant cockpit.

I periscoped up over the hillcrest to watch.

The garage doors blew out like tinfoil (actually, retractable aluminum doors aren't much more than that) and the ventilator stacks on the roof belched fire and then were rocketed upwards as the blast channeled up through the air conditioning shafts.

Then the entire building shuddered and the back wall crumbled as a ineptly placed fuel dump caught. The resulting malestorm knocked the building over in a wonderful snarl of exploding drums, tanks and crates of munitions, as well as a fireball that would be visible for kloms.

I smiled. Demolitions skills can be so rewarding.

"This is Little Claw, we are ready for pickup Zero casualties, a couple cratefulls of goodies and aahh.. a big suprise.. or five." I noted into the long-dist coms system.

"Hup!" I barked, rising off one knee and turning toward the dustoff point. Mallinaux and Vesping emerged from their cover, and the Saggies stumped out from where they had been remorte-parked, again swarming us like idiot mother hens. I punched one as it almost kicked me, trying to assume a position behind me by walking through me.

Well maintained it might be, but stupid also. I wormed my nine tons out of its way and pounded towards dustoff, fondly remembering the Lady Xia, my sole experience with striders.

I smiled again as I remembered Xia. She damn near married the whole fire support squad after we named that Naga after her. And almost killed me after she saw the nose art...

"Shit!" I said, thankfully not in the tone of voice that my AI interprets as "duck-dodge-jink-cause-we're-geting-shot-at". Mallinaux and Vesping didn't have the luxury of six years of tone-differentiation refinement. They dropped and covered, guns up and ready to rock and roll.

"Clear!" Mallinaux shouted, rapidly scanning for targets.

"Clear!" Vesping followed. "Sir, GET DOWN!.. Sir?"

I bareley supressed an audible "whupsie" through the coms, and instead merely shouted "Sensor malf, had an error, All Clear!"

Still, I resolved as the Hades dropped through the haze and lowered ramp, something would have to be done about these personality-lacking tin soldiers and their almost robotic Heavy Gears...

To Be Continued...

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APAGear II Archives Volume 2, Number 7 August, 2000