APAGear II Archives Volume 2, Number 8 September, 2000


Black Talons

Part Three

Harman Meyerhoff

[NOTE: Continued from Part Two, which originally appeared in Volume 2, Number 7. -Ed.]

"Welcome to de swomp bubba!" I joked, punching Morgan in the shoulder and looking at the crabfly that I'd splattered across the back ramp of the Hades.

"Shit." Morgan responded, looking at the twitching little (well, not really) bug that had nearly cost him his health.

"Yeah, 's a big 'un." I responded soberly, reholstering my nifty little lepoard gun. The gun was shaped like a cross between a human-sized pack gun and a sawed off shotgun, and it worked quite well. I got more and more comfortable with this Black Talon stuff every day.

"Well, I'm glad you're the one going out there, Harik." He sighed, staring a little dazedly at the still-twitching giant bug.

I just patted him on the back and turned him back up the ramp, giving him a gentle shove towards the gear bay hatch.

He had just sealed the gasket when it began to rain, as if the noise of the doorseal had provoked the clouds above into a drizzling retaliation.

I just clambered up into my gear and slammed the hatch shut. Inside, I cranked up the heater/filter and luxuriated in the nice warm, dry air pouring over me in the dim redlit interior. I grunted and wormed my way up into a proper sitting position in my chair and fit my head into my helmet.

Immediately, I went from dim, claustrophobic closet into being a nine-foot giant in a landship-dropship too small for me.

Freedom beckoned mere steps away, the swamp an unspoilt paradise to explore.

I looked myself over, reveling in the scum-gray and swamp-green patterning that made my gear look like an algae-dripping pile of rocks. I outdo myself when it comes to camo, and this was no exception.

As the torrents increased, I took one last look at the gear bay around me and leapt free like a giant bird from a steel egg.

Off the ramp of the Hades and out into a nice torrential rain. The storm-gods were having a party, complete with random lightning and sheeting rain. I turned the heater up another notch and lowered the humidity as far as it could go.

"Ok Commander, you know the drill. There's fifteen GREL infantry in this area, mostly armed with light machineguns, though you could see some antigear weapons. They also have two antiarmor turrets, nothing especially amazing. Our defector says that they're only packing 15mm infantry frag rockets, but they might have armor piercers too. Follow your NAV points, smash their portable radar dishes in the lookout towers, and get to the main base. Once you're there, wait for him to transmit the data. If he decides to back out, don't let him escape or die- he's the only lead on those bastards that killed Peace River!"

"Affirm, Hades, I'll get you your data."

And into the swamp I went.

Now, everybody in the north seems to have a warped perception of what a swamp is. They see dead trees jutting from black brackish water, with scavenger birds and mud-monster fish and a million and one snakes.

Whereas a real swamp is a lush vibrant place, full of greenery, pondplants, birds and bugs. And in this case, some GRELs and machine-gun nests.

So, wrapped snugly in my gear and feeling invincible, I bounced and slogged through the muck, sheeting water from my armorplast shoulders as I headed for a sandbar, the one place that would give me a view of the first sensor tower.

As I emerged from the water, I could vaguely make out a narrow pathway and a deep channel in the muck before me, where the placid swampwater apparently had a current.

But I could also just make out the fort, if you want to call it one...

Two aluminum and plywood shacks to keep the rain off, and a sandbag wall, with at least two GRELs behind it, sitting there in the rain in camo ponchos. I thought I could make out either a heater or another GREL inside one of the guard shacks via thermal.

Apparently the GRELs didn't like the rain either.

I backed off, crawling out of view and then getting to firmer footing behind the steep remains of a rock ridge jutting from the swamp. It had likely been a mountain, once, but due to that current and the ever-encroaching jungle, it had worn down to form the passage.

Using the inertial compass and my AIs' innate skill, I zeroed in my 40mm mortar and let fly. At that exact instant, lightning exploded a tree not fifteen meters away, scaring the hell out of me, as well as incidentally covering the flash of my shot.

One potato.

Two potatoes.

And I felt/heard the concussion.

I very carefully made my way back to my prior vantage point, observing the inordinately large crater that had once been the entrenchment. The sensor tower leaned at a dizzy angle, trailing sparks and its' wooden tower burning in places despite the terrific downpour.

As I passed, I smacked it with my drawn vibroknife, shearing the remaining components in half.

"Soo... Onward to Objective Number Two!" I said to my gear, limbering the knife in our hand and arming the light machinegun bolted to our collar.

Objective Two was equally unimpressive. One mortar shell, and a four round mercy burst for a shredded-yet-thrashing GREL. Neither turret was even manned. I chopped down this sensor station too, stomping the electronics with one steel hoof.

The rain abated, and for a moment I feared being exposed in the brillian post-storm sunlight. Fortunately, the weather was apparently only getting its wind, as now wind and rain began to assault the area.

Objective Three resulted in about four *spang* noises on my gear and some screaming from the locals, and not much more. I merely knocked this tower over and kicked it.

But, midway through the squishy hike to Objective Four, I noticed a suspicious cloud of murk in the fast-running water ahead of me.

I switched on my ultrasonic sensor. Yes, Ultrasonic sensor- the expensive sees-through-everything-and-produces-clear-readings Ultrasonics. Have I mentioned I like being a Black Talon?

Anyway, the US saw a nice clear picture through the muck.

Hunter. Waterproofed and waiting for me to trigger the crappy antipersonell mines buried at the bank of this little islet, where the water was shallow enough for infantry crossing.

Supposing a caiman didn't eat them first.

I popped a grenade into the water and watched it slowly sink to the bottom.

I like underwater explosions. The lend variety, and the belch of burning fuel-air released from the cockpit lit the swamp up like a red swamp-gas plasmoid as it surfaced. Pretty.

I then strafed the bank with my machinegun from a safe distance. I did NOT want damage to my paitjob, my gear, or my self.

The mines crackled and detonated, popping up to try and spray me with anti-infantry flechettes. The minefield was not only laid out in such a way that there was exellent coverage, but also so the mines wouldn't trigger each other. The GRELs certainly knew what they were doing, but they didn't expect someone like me.

I cleared a meter-wide strip to the waters edge before I realized I could just bounce across. So, despite the wasted ammo and time, I backed off, got my running start, and jumpjetted across the entire channel and to the far bank, a goodly thirty meters distant.


Another lightning bolt lit up the sky, and by its cutting glare I could make out the crude huts of the main camp.

And then something pinged loudly off my armor.

We ducked and rolled in complete accord, myself laying down supressive fire as my gear located and headed for defensive cover.

A Hun tank, perched in the center of the hiltop base. I jinked and ducked, finally getting behind a blessed rock as the tank continued sending me 35mm rounds, and began trying to line up an indirect-aimed volley from its' rocket rack.

I immediately dropped my knife to its holster, and pulled free my medium autocannon, also arming my rocket pod.

I popped up, sprayed about ten 35mm rounds, ducked down, and let the AI figure the firing solution. Then I leaned left just enough to expose the pod. The waterproofing cover popped open, and in one glissade of crackling rockets, ye Daemon en ye sairpent o' iren smote the purple bastards with hellfire and damnation.

Hearing the suuuck-roar-whphoom of the incendiary rockets spectacular detonation, I chanced a peek around the rock.

Crackling flames and melted, twisted and shattered armor.

No purple peoples shooting at me!

Out of this strode a Wasserjaeger, autocannon held high and clear.

As it passed the wrecked hulk of the tank, the whole encampment on the hill erupted into flame, buildings and machinerey melting and collapsing in the inferno. CEF democharges, I recognized by the greenish tint in the fireballs.

This informant apparently believed in burning bridges.

He paused before me, and a sleek com antenna emerged from his gears' head. Dataflow commenced.

He opened the coms, starting with a weary breath and melancholy tone of voice.

"I see you made it here without incident... I am transmitting the data you bargained for. I just want out of this...

"And, you know, it's not every day a single terranovan defeats an entire GREL unit. If the rest of you are that good, you might actually have a chance...

"I wish you good luck...

"You're certainly gonna need it."

And Morgan cut in with a totally inappropriately cheerful: "Data recieved. You've fufilled the deal."

More lightning crashed, illuminating the firey camp and the solitary Jaeger before me.

And with that, the gear and traitor slogged off into the bog.

Great. Go from outoor sauna to walk-out freezer in five hours.

Jet lag, temparature differential, and a million other things contributed to making my day finally start to suck.

At least my sarcasm wasn't feeling as bad as the rest of me. Quite the contrary, in fact.

"Get through the passes and kill everything you can." Was the word of the day, involving my solo-assed suicide-hike through some frozen ass canyons splatting some half-assed CEF stockpile and its' guards, whom the Northies were kind enough to predict were in the vein of some APCs and polar infantry.

They also claimed there were "no GRELs and probably no antigear equipment". Save a "possible tank." (or two...)

For that dubious assertion, I swapped my virtually-unused MAC back into the Hades' weapon hold and pulled out a shiny-new Snub Cannon, as well as a frag cannon and some extra grenades.

No telling what a stockpile would have around it, and certainly no chance for refills out in the field.

On impulse I mounted an APGL too... Like I just said, it is nicer to have more than less.

Then the Hades decided it didn't like cold air. One of the engines decided to crap out, leaving us listing at a forty-five degree angle, trailing coolant and still traveling several hundred kloms an hour VERY close to the ground.

They managed to shut it down and restore systems, but I decided to take the last four miles outside detection range on foot, more for the sake of not getting killed in a reactor accident than not alerting some perimeter guards with an exploding landship/dropship whatever-the-hades-is (or, my cynical sarcasm predicted, was).

So I wound up hiking a southern-made air-conditioned swamp-ready Heavy Gear through frigid winds, snow, ice, and a nasty windchill that dropping the ambient temp of four degrees below zero to something that felt more like liquid nitro down my pants. Despite assurances that my gear was spaceproof, desertproof, White Sand resistant, and stealthed down to inperceptibility, I now realized there had been no garauntees regarding the heater.

The northern polar circle very expertly managed to get at me when I put any part of my body near a joint in the cockpit.

I became firmly convinced at that time that not only had the temp gauge frozen, but whomever the Northies pray to didn't like this southerner in his freezer.

Still, I cranked the heater up another notch and kept on pounding along, idly tapping that deceitful needle with a blue and tingling finger.

"This is recon number six reporting. All clear here." I smirked. I was idly watching the CEF troopers huddling in the cold, either fighting over who got the turn inside the APC or huddling under thermal blankets and full winter combat gear.

"Affirmative, Six."

Three minute check pattern, ten five-man-two-GREL (military intelligence: contradiction of terms) squads ringing the base, each with a Badger APC.

I switched to thermal imaging. Despite the deep blue-black of the frigid snow, and the hazing effect of the super-cold air sucking up the heat-wavelenghts, the pitiable earthsicles below me shone like the A-mat bomb they used on Pax River.

I checked over my weapons again, making very sure that the heater coils were working and nothing had frozen, warped, or jammed. Killed the three minutes and made myself reasonably sure that my gear wasn't a big steel icebox.

"This is recon number six reporting. All clear here." They reported again, this time a different voice making the bored notification.

"Affirmative, Six." Came back, in an equally bored voice.

Time to act.

Might as well let 'em die warm. I thought, and slipped my IRP to [BURST].

Sizzle-sshraak-whphoomm. In the cold air it looked like a Tacstrike, the jellied fuel warheads' puffs of flame mingling together and welling up to form a vaguely mushroom shaped fireball.

I leisurely made my way down the hillside, frag cannon up and ready to spray flechettes at anything obstinate enough to be not-dead.


I cranked out the skates and headed for the main base. I might manage a good headshot operation- sneak in, nail the nerve center, and get out before anyone could notice or respond.

They noticed suprisingly early- as I entered the canyon, I just about tripped over a badger going out to relieve the dead sentries. Even as I sprayed a much less accurate burst at its' rapidly diminishing backside, I could hear a driver/gunner/occupant on the theoretically secure comset.

"Alert! All units! HOSTILE! HOSTILE! HOSTILE! WE HAVE HOSTILE INBOUND NEAR SENTRY SIX! REPEAT WE HAVE HO-" And I hit the damn thing, my rockets splattering flame as they burned and burrowed inside. The fuel tank went up, and the whole vehicle shuddered and exploded, fire pouring out gunslits and weapon holes as something (apparently very flammable) caught, the ensuing explosion jetting even brighter as it flipped the vehicle.

Not that I was really paying attention. I was racing forward, trying to get to the place my radio had just informed me they were trying to set up a barricade.

Then my day got worse. I turned a bend and saw about twenty troops and three APCs forming a tight plug in the bottom of the snowy canyon.

"Roadblock in place! Enemy is a Gear! Repeat, Enemy Is A Gear! Dispatch the Hunter!"

Holy overdramatic, Ferretzilla... My subconscious muttered over the whine of my racing forebrain.

But that wasn't really grabbing my attention. The ominous "CrrakkRakkCrakk" Of a Samson IV 18mm Anti-armor assault weapon (unmistakable sound) began coming from behind the badgers.

And then a light streak of grey decided to pass my exposed self with only a few yards of distance, exploding against a pine tree in a cloud of wooden shrapne- err, actually they'd be splinters... anyway... exploded into lots of big splinters.

So I did the natural thing- for me, that is: donated an unaimed spray-burst of APGs to the badger-blockade and jumped for my life. I guess the suprise of seeing my sudden coil-and-leap, jumpjets flaring, and all this coming from a ten-ton war machine threw off their aim, because the next rocket to pass me by was a good ten meters off.

By the time I began coming back down, I had had some time (half a second) to collect myself, and sprayed frag-flechettes at the offending area from whence the rockets had come.

There was a sudden detonation under a tree after my third shot, and after the usual explosion-induced whiteout, the thermal no longer showed moving bodies.

Then something made that unmistakable "plink-plinkg!" of a light AC shell bouncing off my shoulder. I turned just in time to jump out from under the burst of LRP rockets that the awsome and ominous Hunter had "dispatched" at me.

I dispatched it. Leap, swap weapon, fire.

As I hit the jumpjets and watched the rockets exploding underneath me, I slapped the Frag to my magnetic (I think that's how it works- guns stick to my armor skirting) "holster," reached behind me to the small of my back, yanked out the Snub Cannon from the magnetic rifle-clamp, and double-handed it straight down between my gears feet.

Time elapsed and gravity working together, I was about a half meter above the Hunter when the Snub was ready. With a massive "Bukh-ChukWhfoom" A 89mm antitank shell with all the finesse and power of a drunken Mordred impacted the Hunter square in its' upraised omnicam.

At least, that's where I think it hit it... There wasn't much left from the waist up.

I did notice that it had dropped its autocannon, and the gun appeared to be a newer LAK-35 20mm smoothbore- a nasty new northern suprise we had been encountering just before my discharge.

Might as well try the free nifty toy out. I clamped it to my other hip and resituated my snub cannon. It kicks like a mule even when you're three meters tall and fortified with ten tons of hydraulics and alloy.

So, having claimed my prize and wasted the guards, I engaged the halftracks and went whirring toward the base.

On the way I encountered (as to say Snub-cannoned) another two Badgers, and I was rewarded by the constituent ominous noise, immense recoil, enourmous holes in plate armor, and (of course) the ensuing explosions.

But, before I could truly enjoy myself, I reached the base.

Two sentry towers, and a somethingorother tank trying to bring a big turret gun towards me. Apparently the turret wasn't moving fast enough, because the driver tried rotating its' main chassis to try and speed things up. His sudden jerk as the tank stopped its' spin, however, bumped the advanced targeting systems off just enough, and the gunner missed.

Or in other words, a big and painful shell smacked past less than six inches away from me and my gear.

Now, If you can't guess my reaction, you haven't been reading very long. I leapt. Jumpjets might be finnicky and expensive, but they are oh-so-very useful.

An it turned out that that was also a good idea for combatting this tank.

In case you don't know, most tanks can traverse their turrets fairly fast horizontally, but lack any sort of speed when it comes to declination. As to say, they can't aim upward very fast, and therefore can't target suddenly-airborne Gears real well, either.

And incidentally, the top armor of a tank is somewhat less impressive than the thickened frontal plating. And the rear, where I landed, turned out to be even less so.

Yes, of course, I found out the way you think I did.

I just stared in rapt fascination as the tank buckled, arched its' back and exploded, sending turret one way, tracks the other, and fire straight up into the sky in great big gouts.

Then something else went and hit me. I was mildly jounced, and my gear reported a glancing hit to my left shoulder and torso even as we ducked-dodged-ran.

Another damn tank was coming out of some sort of buried tank-bay elevator, already firing away with the commanders' auto-rifle.

I fired off the rest of my rocket pack and jumped again. The little red indicator went off this time, so I was apparently on a quarter tank. This Spit definitely wasn't as fuel-efficient as my old LJ...

Then I got an Idea. The looted smoothbore was theoretically an improved armor-piercer weapon. And I noticed my jump was going to land me on top of the tank bay.

I offered a silent prayer (to whom, I still don't know) and landed, and the untrustworthy concrete roof did hold, despite groaning and crumbling protestations.

I dashed to the edge just in time to see the tank revving up and trying to race out the garage door.

I reached for the autocannon.

What am I thinking?! I screamed mentally, pointed the Snub in my hands straight down, and let hell loose on the half-closed commanders' hatch.

The shell connected, the turret vented fire around its' base, and shrapnel geysered out. But the damn thing continued crawling forward.

I donated a grenade down the ragged hole in its top and jumped off the other side of the building. (not jumpjet, just falling. Was only three or four meters.)

The building finally collapsed as the explosion-wracked tank reared up from within and detonated in a storm of firey armor shards and burning munitions.

I got another intercepted com. The bored voice was panicked now. "Hostile in base! Hostile Is In The BASE! ALL UNITS PULL BACK AND DEFEND! ALL UNI... ALL UNITS RESPOND! ANYONE?!!"

This merely brought my attention to playing "which building is the coms building?".

That one.

One charge? Two charges.


Three charges.

"Detonator, set remote frequency, no override, twenty second delay..." I worked the goodies from my "Hell Purse" (demolition kit) and molded them across the small bunker window.

"Big red LCD timer facing inward, radius should be twenty-thirty meters, hide behind that snowplow..." I always talk to myself as I work.

At this point, the com shack surrendered, two REMFs running and screaming out into the frigid cold in normal-climate uniforms. They waved a big white something and held their arms out about as far away from their bodies as you can get without dislocating anything, and suddenly I had prisoners.

Not that that stopped me from demolishing the entire base (save the com/command tower). Two barracks, the tank bay, a supply warehouse all got set to go boom, and when the Hades appeared overhead, I set them off in unison.

Would've been prettier if I didn't cause an avalanche.

And off to our third and final destination.

Dissecting everything in that com hut took an amazingly short time. The officer who had decided to surrender himself had prudently decided not to wipe the data tracks and self-destruct the command bunker, so we had complete acess to everything.

Morgan was somewhat dissapointed, probably because he could simply ask the machine to chuckle up the file he wanted, rather than chewing through six layers of ICE and tweaking around the security systems.

Fm: Col. Proust [JAN-15502-1b]
To: Staging Area 2 [CMD. J. Marakin]
Re: Dispersal of equipment following operation "[data censored]"

Hold all units at operational readiness for second operation. Reseve units have been activated, prepare for two additional cadres of infantry to arrive.

Gate coffin traffic reports Command expects sterilization of B [Marabou] and C [Helios space EWS and orbital facilities]before first troopships are ready.

Also prepare for possible reciept of a "thundercracker" if operation compromised.

Also advise increase in operational readiness. Colonial activity has not exceeded expectations, but increases in satelite surveilance and random patrol activity could detect you. See to it that they do not.

Will meet at [coordinates] tomorrow at 31:20.


"This means 'Oh shit'?" I asked over Morgans' shoulder.

"Yep. They want to destroy Marabou... that's fairly serious."

"Dated yesterday, does that mean-"

"How do your feel about an ambush?" Morgan asked rambunctiously.

"Just fine." I replied, grinning.

Just as cold, but now it was dark. I'm not sure about polar daylight cycles, but it felt pretty damn close to three in the morning.

Not that I minded, mind you. Just felt early.

My gear was now better-equipped for the cold, having gotten two cans of sprayfoam insulation and a new gasket applied earlier, and now was warm, snug and felt invincible.

According to one of the prisoners, Proust would arrive in a big ugly Kodiak Destroyer (They let Southern Intel spend umtey-ump skillion Denaari on failing to capture a Kodie, and yet a friggin imbalanced and genocidal GREL commander can get one?!) , flanked by two Zerstorers and two Assault Hunters, all retrofitted with heavier firepower.

But we had the entire bleeding-heart wrath-of-the-prophet blessing and support of the CNCS, embodied in the form of four squads of Aller and Klemm tanks.

I merely made sure they kept those THORs pointing away from me.

Though, having swapped out the weapons modules containing the IRP, machinegun, and other goodies, my gear was now packing some of the deadlies stuff known to Terranovan Man. A 6mm Fourier-Proschaut superbalistic magnetic railgun was cradled in my arms, and a 6mw heavy pulse laser (tuned for x-ray wavelength) was attached to my shoulder where the rocket rack had been. Also, I carried a grenade launcher specially fitted with haywire grenades and one of the precious K-4427 ECM/ECCM modules we had rescued from the Jackal pirates.

Or in short, I was big, ugly, and definitely not something anyone would want to meet in a dark alley.

Or, if no alleys were present, the scooped-out valley where the ambush was to take place.

So, we powered up and tried a signal test. And spent five minutes trying to get the damn NGIS satelite uplink to accept the codes we had been graciously granted. Eventually we simply lassoed the Northie liason and made him punch in the code.

Unsuprisingly, the machine that had balked at our attempts at entering the code (several times each) accepted his entry on the first try.

So out I went, pounding along as much rock or ice as I could, trying to avoid leaving a trail in the snow.

Morgans' preprogramed waypoint popped up on my HUD overlay, and I smiled. A crude semicircle of rocks and a fallen pine formed the closest thing nature could possibly get to a defensive breastwork and snipers nest. I could just lay down under the pine, rest my railgun barrel through the gap between those two rocks... Just perfect.

"Click-Click-Click" I heard, and my satelite uplink allowed me to get a fisheyed view of a red striped Kodie (Proust) and escorts making their way into the valley.

They might have once been Hunters, but these seemed equipped to be "Killers."

HARGON-C, MR-40, LLcm-12, Vogel-9, GMU-90, PAX-240... These gears were proof of the versatility of a Hunter, as well as answering the age-old question: Can you make a Kodiack out of a Hunter?

Heavy autocannons, mortars, rocket pods, lasers... Apparently, yes.

"Nothing here Colonel." One of the Hunters stated, waving an ominously retrofitted gatling-laser to indicate the snowed-over dirt road that lead (eventually) to the (now destroyed) base. The voice sounded like a Mordred GREL. Great.

"As expected. Always count on humans to be late." Proust replied, apparently unconcerned and mildy amused.

"Patrol the area while we wait." He ordered a moment later, his gear assuming a more relaxed posture as the Hunters dispersed.

I groaned inwardly. The damn northies had probably stopped to pray for victory or something, because they weren't in position- and who knew when Proust might get suspicious.

I heard the secure com beep green. The tactical map showed the tanks in position at either end of the valley.


"Ready when you are." The NGIS man finally said, his voice suprisingly clear for being encrypted, bounced from his tank to the Murdock, up to a comsat, down to the Hades, up to our Talon sat, then down to me. And all this while he was only a kilometer away!

Now, in addition to phobias regarding cliffs, lava, very deep water, the newer one regarding Zero-G, and compuslive dislikes of SMS systems, tanks and infantry, I also do not trust or like energy or special-physics weapons very much either.

Still, I could get to like a railgun.

I centered the little green triangle of the "this weapon does not require lead time" crosshair on a hunter flitting amid the pines.

"Whummmm-mmm-mmmm" The capacitor surged power into the gauss coils.

"Sir! I'm reading a slight magnetic anom-"

"Whischuck SKREEEEEEEEEEEEWHPHOOM!" As I sent a ferrous badminton birdie the size of a pencil eraser into hypersonic state of pain-inducingness.

An interesting side note- your target dies before the sonic boom of the weapon reaches your ears.

Also, a Hunter, hit by a railgun slug in the center torso, can be bent into a funnel shape by the sheer force of impact.

Snow thundered from the trees nearby, obscuring visibility and startling various arctic critters into panicked flight.

I switched to infra-overlay and realigned my magick deathstick, letting another Hunter have it. The shell force ripped this one in pieces, as the torso was spectacularly deformed and wrenched from the limbs while exploding.

"All units! Fall back to the hill and form a defensive perimeter!" Proust screamed as his gear looked wildly about and ran for cover.

Next Hunter (a beautiful Zersorer, shame to have to kill it) caught its' shell and died, again reacting to my fire like a ball of mud being hit with an invisible hammer the size of a Nagas' leg.

As I lined up on the final Hunter (the remaining Zerk) and fired, the laws of probability and physics decided to get intimate.

One of the encircling tanks crested a hill and let loose with the dreaded Westfellows THOR rail cannon at the same time my Fourier-Proschaut did another delayed-thundercrack.

The Zerk took on a resemblance of a bug that had hit a windshield at very high speeds.

In the middle of a multi-car pileup.

My shell had caught it somewhere around the right shoulder, and the MAGISTER had been aimed at the left hip.

What remained took the form of a fuel-dripping/partially-burning alloy pretzel somewhere between a crushed beer can and a compressed block of junkyard material interspersed with metallic confetti.

"Colonel Proust! You are outnumbered and surrounded! Stand down and surrender your gear!" Morgan and the NGIS man screamed through bullhorns, and to prove their point, I rose from my cover, waved, and casually blew a snow-laden pine three feet from Proust into toothpicks with my railgun.

"I surrender!" He responded, and far be it from me to say a GREL can be nervous, but JAN-15502-1b certainly didn't sound very confident.

Suprisingly, Proust caved before we even had to interrogate, giving us the location of another covert CEF base, explaining the bombing, divulging the other targets, and explaining the "Gate Coffins" we had read about, all while utterly destroying any belief in the supposed conditioned-suicide response the CEF claimed it had built into its Jans.

To Be Continued...

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