|APAGear II Archives||Volume 2, Number 8||September, 2000|
"Sweet Prophet!" I swore, and gritted my teeth, gripping my Hunter's controls hard. The explosions around my gear deafened me, and I felt bile come up as I brought the gear into a quick run, bounding over the rough terrain. Keeping low, I brought my autocannon to bear as I scrambled behind some rocks. There were three of them, and only two of us. Mambas. It was not good. They even had hull down on us, but the terrain was so broken it gave me enough cover to survive that first deadly volley. Three of my squadron mates were not so lucky. I hate ambushes.
"Danyel, we're in trouble!" Kaite's voice came in over the com. She had that 'statement of the obvious' skill down perfectly, "I'm pinned down, and they've taken out my LRP!" That wasn't good. She had no way of returning fire. I glanced over at her, hoping her cover was solid. It wasn't really.
"I'm working on it!" I shouted, "got a smoke grenade?"
"Toss it, I need the cover!"
My ballistics computer registered the little grenade as it flew into the air from her Cheetah's position. Perfect. It landed just where I needed it, squarely between the Mambas and me.
In less than ten seconds, there was a perfectly thick cloud of smoke that I was going to use to effect some serious table turning. I could feel my Hunter's engine rev up eagerly. I don't know where it learned that...
Kaite grinned at me. She didn't look all that comfortable lying in the hospital bed, but her condition was stable, and she was going to get better. The room reeked of antiseptic and chemicals, but I guess that's normal for hospitals. She looked pale, but far better than when I pulled her from the wreckage of her Cheetah.
"Aww...Danyel, what's wrong? I'll be fine," she smiled softly, reading my grim expression, "the docs say that the internal injuries are stabilized, and the burns are healing nicely. Please, don't worry about me."
"Yeah, I know," I replied, "it's just that I've got some bad news." She looked up at me, concerned. She always mothered everyone in the squadron. "I got new orders," I said, lightly resting my hand on hers, "I've been transferred. Some training camp out in the Badlands."
"Don't worry. Besides, you never liked me mothering you. I'm sure there will be some other sorry soldier who could use some care," she grinned weakly, and squeezed my hand, "wherever you're going, make me proud Danyel," her gaze drifted down from my eyes to my chest, "whoa! They just pin that on you, or what?"
"Yeah, apparently, saving your hide was a brave thing to do," I smiled, slyly. The medal was too big for my liking, "Though I don't think I get paid enough to get shot at by Black Mambas," I grinned.
"Get outta here, kiddo!" she laughed.
I stepped out of the transport hopper into the harsh Badlands. The wind raged around me, kicking dust into my face, as Helios' harsh rays beat down hard. My eyes adjusted to the brightness of the sun reflecting off the bleakness of the Karaq Wastes. The hopper powered down, and I slung my kitbag over my shoulder. I grimaced, thinking about how much sand was going to get everywhere, and smiled, thinking about how much I had missed The Wastes. Special training school or no, I will always appreciate the stark beauty of the desert.
"Corporal Benaari?" asked a petite woman wearing standard fatigues, "please follow me sir."
I nodded, and started walking off the packed earth that was the landing pad. There were small buildings here and there, but this certainly wasn't the main facility. Actually, I was pretty sure that this facility was a private civilian airstrip. I shrugged it off, and followed the soldier to the truck parked a little ways away. Its motor was still running, and I climbed up into the back, and sat down on the floor of the bay. The soldier smiled, and I grinned back.
"Sir, are you sure you want to be back there? We're in for a bumpy ride up into the Pacifica Range, and I usually have the passengers ride up in the front," she said.
"Nah, I like the fresh air. If there's a problem, I'll be sure to let you know," I said casually.
"Yes sir," she replied, and disappeared around the corner. I heard the door close, and the truck started moving with a jolt.
I grinned. The hopper ride went so smoothly; I couldn't get a wink of sleep. I spent the whole time fidgeting, and worrying about my Hunter that they had already shipped down to this training camp. The bumpy ride into the mountains was exactly what I needed to put me to sleep, and I awoke, five hours later, feeling considerably better, as the truck lurched to a halt.
"Sir, we're here," said the soldier, who was now bundled up in a standard issue parka, "if I may ask sir, how in the Prophet's name did you avoid throwing up during that ride?" she grinned.
"Easy, soldier," I replied, "I've been on active duty for two whole seasons now. I don't think I can sleep unless I'm being jostled about."
I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, grabbed my kitbag, and hopped off the truck.
"So, this is it, huh?" I asked, taking in the view.
"Yes sir, the Orde Wingate Special Warfare School," the petite soldier replied, "good luck, sir."
I looked around, grinning, with my kitbag on my shoulder. The air was crisp and there was a strong breeze. The view was spectacular. I was high up in the Pacifica Mountains, and this Special Warfare School, I realized, was one of a kind.
It's easy to describe. Take any pristine and lovely bit of nature high in the mountains. Add tents, some small modularized concrete buildings, and randomly sprinkle them all over the chosen sight. Now, wear some paths in through continued use. That's it. There was some greenery: hardy plants clinging to the pale rocks, surviving on any minute amount of precipitation. I smiled, gazing at the magnificent view of the snow capped mountains that provided a superb backdrop.
I took this in for a minute, and then sighed softly to myself. Time to get down to business. I walked towards the camp, lugging my kitbag on my shoulder.
"Corporal Danyel Benaari," I said, standing stiffly at attention in one of the few solid structures in the camp, the headquarters building, "reporting, Ma'am."
"At ease, Corporal," replied Colonel Moore. I stood, a little more relaxed, but still stiff and straight.
"No, at EASE, Corporal," she said, grimacing, "Sergeant Zashok, please explain the concept to our corporal."
"At ease, Ma'am. Yes, Ma'am," Sgt. Zashok turned to me. He was a darker man, with muscles piled onto his frame like slabs of tank armour, "Corporal," he said, "being at ease in or with a situation means you relax, let your guard down and maybe even slouch a little. You DO know how to slouch, don't you Corporal?" he asked.
I was taken aback, and had a difficult time processing all this. I think I was staring at the Colonel, "uh, yes sir, I can," I said, relaxing. My hands fell to my sides and I slowly exhaled.
"Better," said Colonel Moore, "Welcome then, Corporal Benaari, to the Orde Wingate Special Warfare School," she stopped, and looked over at the computer screen on her desk, "hmmm. Your record is very impressive. Eight commendations for valour in six cycles, including one Northern Star, and you've been on the front lines for two whole seasons. And of course, you finished the Northern Guard Youth Corps as a company sergeant. I wonder then, if you even know why you're here."
"No Ma'am, I have no clue as to what this place is, or why I've been assigned to it," I answered honestly, even letting my shoulders slouch a little. Sgt. Zashok smiled crookedly.
"Well, bluntly," she said, "this training school will turn you into one of the finest guerilla warfare specialists on Terranova, if you let it. We only accept soldiers who have already shown that they can fight effectively with minimal support, win or lose. You have shown capabilities sufficient to be on the roster here. We're going to teach you how to hone those natural abilities to their finest and sharpest," her words resounded in my skull, "any questions, Corporal Benaari?"
"No Ma'am, thank you Ma'am," I replied.
"Sergeant, show Corporal Benaari to his quarters," Colonel Moore said, "oh, and Corporal," she added dryly as I was exiting her office, "good luck."
Sergeant Zashok led me through the camp, down dirt paths packed hard from continual use. I grinned, as I noticed the trainees. Everyone was grimy, unkempt and looked as though they were functioning on three hours of sleep, including Sgt. Zashok. I must have stuck out like a well-rested, clean-shaven sore thumb. We stopped in a small empty clearing just below a bare ridge. It was hot, even this high up in the mountains.
"Welcome to your quarters Corporal," Sgt. Zashok smiled slyly, and whalloped me on the shoulder with his huge open paw-like hand.
"Uh, yes, thank you sir. How long will this training last sir?" I added, mentally reviewing the basics of pitching a tent, and making a fire.
"Oh depending on how much you need to learn, usually about three to six months," he replied, enthusiastically breathing in the fresh air, "ah, I love it up here. Well, good luck, soldier!" he smiled, and tromped off down a path back into the camp.
It was then that I realized I had no tent.
Our platoon collected quickly over the next two days. The little clearing was soon very cluttered with tents and lean-tos. I had managed to procure a small tent from Sgt. Zashok, who took great pleasure in my predicament.
We were all gear pilots. This was strange, until I thought that perhaps platoons of infantry were being trained separately. There were thirty of us, all combat veterans, I found out later, and from a variety of units. We came from all the ranks, though our highest rankers were the two lieutenants from the Roving Guns Regiment. I was somewhere at the bottom, with only two other corporals.
The two lieutenants, Unger, a tall blonde woman from Swanscombe, and Norita, a small wiry bundle of cartilage and muscle from Fort James had us under control within minutes of their arrival. We had latrines dug, a washing station built (no plumbing, but someone had brought a little hand pump that was put to good use in the makeshift shower), and general order established by the second day of my stay at the camp.
That night, I was tending the cooking fire when a sergeant approached the clearing. He was largish, with big meaty arms, and a barrel chest. I couldn't place it, but he looked vaguely familiar. He was dressed sharply; his uniform well pressed, and had a clipboard in his hand.
"Soldier," he said calmly and evenly as he approached the fire pit, "get your platoon assembled."
He had the stripes on me, so I got up, "Yes sir," I replied, thinking about what the lieutenants would do with this guy.
Five minutes later, the platoon was standing in a straight line in front of the fire pit. The sergeant was grimacing, eyeing each of us slowly.
"My name is Sergeant Petrush. I will be this platoon's commanding officer for the duration of its existence here at the Orde Wingate School," he said.
"Sergeant!" interrupted Lieutenant Unger, "I do not understand. A mere sergeant is to command an ad hoc platoon with two lieutenants subordinate to him?" she smiled condescendingly, "there must be some mistake."
Sgt. Petrush looked down the line of us to where the lieutenant was standing. He walked over to her, in a slow relaxed gait, and looked up at her. She had at least six centimeters on him.
"Lieutenant Unger," he said softly, "would do well to not interrupt me again. Had the Lieutenant not interrupted me," he said louder, "she would have discovered that as of now," his voice got louder as he leaned closer to the lieutenant, "all of you are buck privates. Officially. However, this demotion will be temporary, and will be reversed, upon your completion of this training program," he paused, and looked right into Unger's eyes, "unless I find a damn good reason to make it permanent."
"I will be your primary instructor in gear piloting as it pertains to guerrilla warfare, as well as your instructor in certain tactical aspects of conducting an effective guerilla war. You will meet your other instructors later, is that clear?" he barked.
"Yes sir!" we answered in unison. Perfectly clear. Sergeant Petrush was going to have his way with us like our sergeants did back in basic, or perhaps, more appropriately, the Youth Corps. I knew he looked familiar. I wondered at the time if he recognized me when he first saw me.
Sgt. Petrush looked down at his clipboard, "are we all here?" he asked, cynically. He started calling out names.
"Alvarez?" apparently his list was not entirely alphabetical.
He paused, "Benaari?" he said, frowning.
The roll call went on for another five minutes. I just stood there, dazed, thinking about that first time I dealt with Sgt. Petrush, in the Karak Wastes, so long ago. His eyes still gleamed in the twilight. I was almost too eager to show him what kind of soldier I had become.
Seven minutes! He wanted seven minutes! The thought flashed through my head, like those big flashing warning lights you see in your helmet's IHADs, when something bad happened to your gear, like losing fire control, or say, hydraulic pressure. Sgt. Petrush's first order was clear:
"This abomination that is an encampment will be completely gone in seven minutes. I want it so that this clearing is as pristine as it was before you all strip-mined it of beauty!"
The lieutenants started ordering people about the instant we were dismissed from our introduction to our new commander. Ten of us filled in the latrine as best we could. The rest had the daunting task of dismantling everything, quickly, and then packing it all away for quick transport. Once that was done, we began combing the little clearing for signs of anything other than that natural beauty Sgt. Petrush had invoked.
We assembled quickly, our tasks completed. The clearing was clean, and everything else was discretely packed away.
"Task completed, sir!" yelled Lieutenant (or should I say buck private?) Unger, standing at attention with the rest of us.
Sgt. Petrush surveyed the scene. I was breathing heavily, having been assigned the task of hauling earth to fill in the latrines. Things were looking good, but then it dawned on me-
"How long did this task take your platoon to complete, Unger?" Sgt. Petrush asked coolly.
"It took Second Platoon eleven minutes and two seconds to clear this area of any and all signs of human habitation. And you all did it quickly, efficiently, and with a modicum of teamwork," he paused, "the record is nine minutes, thirty six seconds," he began to slowly pace up and down in front of us, "the Desert Viper Mk. II Heavy Gear is the standard Southern MILICIA rough terrain unit, and will therefore be one of a guerrilla's most common adversaries. It has a running speed of forty-two kilometers per hour, and a passive sensor range of two kilometers. It can therefore cover two kilometers in roughly three minutes," he paused, and gave us each a piercing look. This was our first lesson, "you all followed normal procedures for creating a field camp. But you're not here to practice normal procedures. Is that clear?"
We all stood silently, absorbing what was being asked of us. No wonder all the trainees I saw upon my arrival looked like hell.
"Yes sir," I said, softly.
Others joined in, slowly, as they did the math, and let Sgt. Petrush's logic take hold: You can be instantly mobile, or you can be dead.
"Good," smiled Sgt. Petrush, "now, you've got seven minutes to prep for a quick march."
We hustled, and were carrying everything by the time seven minutes passed.
"Task completed!" yelled Unger, panting. The elevation was beginning to make extended periods of exertion a dicey proposition, at best. We would acclimatize. I hoped.
The march out from the camp was mercifully short, though challenging, because of the thinner air, quick pace and rough terrain. No one fell, but a few of us needed help, stumbling due to lack of oxygen. I gritted my teeth through the entire march. My mind drifting back to the first time I had met Sgt. Petrush. I was not going to falter for an instant this time.
We stopped along a gentle slope, against a ridge; it was getting late, though the moons were providing ample light for us to see. There wasn't a lot of cover, except for some big rocks and dried up riverbeds. Sgt. Petrush walked alongside the two columns we had formed.
"This will be our encampment. While relatively close to the actual Wingate Camp, we're in the middle of nowhere. Norita will organize guard duty rosters. This encampment will NOT be built like the one you all just dismantled," he paused, and grimaced, running his hands over his face, "latrines will NOT be dug," another pause, letting that fact sink in, "No solid structures of any kind will be erected. None of you will pitch a tent in the open. Pitch it against the ridge, or against some rocks, or something, but not in the open," he stopped, and paced slowly down the line of us, "there will be no fire pit," he said, softly.
That last statement was met with groans from the entire platoon. No fire pit meant no warm meals. It meant combat rations. It meant cold, canned barnaby.
Our new camp was bleak. What little vegetation there was barely survived on the rocks. The wind howled bitterly through the night, down the riverbeds that etched the rough terrain. But it soon became home, and we took care to make our little tents as hospitable and unobtrusive as possible. We established a rough perimeter, and posted guards. Sgt. Petrush walked through the sparse camp slowly, observing. He seemed generally impressed, and half an hour later, had us assembled.
"We have two more hours until we hit the sack. That should be plenty of time to issue weapons, eat dinner and..." he paused, smiling slyly, "well, don't get used to it, but today does end on a happy note. Unger," he called.
"Yes sir!" she replied.
"If you were a Grizzly from the Roving Guns regiment, parked out in the middle of the Pacifica range in the Badlands, where would you be to keep out of sight?" he asked smiling, speaking loudly.
Unger paused to think, a thin smile crossing her lips, "well sir, I'd say I'd be hiding in a cave, or under a rock outcropping, or hull down and camouflaged discretely."
"Private Unger," Petrush replied, a crooked grin breaking out on his face, "I doubt that a Grizzly could ever be discrete. However, you have the right idea. The deal is this: Colonel Moore has a sneaky sense of humour. All our gears are hidden in this general area. We have half an hour to find them. ALL our gears," he paused again, grimacing, letting each and every one of us see his face twinge. Apparently, his gear was hidden as well, "whoever doesn't find his or her gear within half an hour has just wasted a good week or so of R and R camping out at the Orde Wingate School, and will be sent home, gear and all, for a boring career as a line soldier," he grinned.
It didn't take us long at all to fan out in teams of three with radio and flare. We all set out, and my main concern was trying to recall as much of the navigation I had learned in the Youth Corps as possible. I nodded at my companions, a sergeant named Olin, and a ranger Phillips. We trotted off northwards, looking for any sort of hiding places big enough for fifteen-foot tall war machines. I saw Sgt. Petrush taking the two lieutenants with him westward.
After about ten minutes of climbing into caves and looking carefully over ridges, we struck paydirt: three boulders, crouched down low in a small hole in a ravine wall. Olin grinned, and was about to strut into the cave, arms wide open. Phillips and I looked at each other, horrified, and tackled Olin to the ground.
"Hey, what gives?" he growled incredulously.
"Olin, come on, we've just been told that Moore has a sneaky sense of humour, and after the crap we've just been through this fine evening, do you think running into that cave like a dumb rockhopper is intelligent?" Phillips whispered harshly.
"Shit, you're right!"
"Come on," I said, looking up at the cave, "I want a gear. Let's take this nice and easy."
We all agreed, and fanned out, checking for any sort of telltale sign that could at least give us a clue as to what we were going to be facing. We reached the cave, and I peered inside. It was pitch black, and I swore softly.
"Do we use flashlights?" Phillips asked.
I shook my head, "that would be asking for trouble."
Olin sniffed the air.
"Springer dung," he said.
"Aw, fuck!" I swore, "they put our gears in a rock springer cave. If my gear's in there, covered in shit, I will be seriously fucking angry."
"Well, we may as well use the flashlights. Just point them to the ground, and if you see anything move, don't panic," Olin said. He had better be an amazing gear pilot, what with his bright ideas and all.
We nodded. The cave was pitch black, and our eyes would be useless. So, one by one, we switched on our small flashlights, and kept them pointed at the ground, which we saw was relatively clean, but the stench of springer shit was strong, almost unbearable. Our eyes took in the tiny amount of ambient light given off by our flashlights, and gave us a useful picture. There they were, three big boulders in the cave. We approached slowly, quietly, and looked at eachother.
"Now, the question is, whose gears are these, and will we be able to start them?" I asked quietly, touching the closest gear. It was cold, and covered in...
"Oh fuck! They smeared springer shit all over our gears!" I said, in a harsh whisper.
Olin grinned a big white toothy grin, contrasting starkly with the inky blackness.
"Yeah, well, if you want to put gears in a springer cave, without having the springers trash 'em, you had better hide them right, huh?" he grinned, looking over the gears.
"We got two Hunters, and a...whoah..." Phillips paused, staring up at the biggest gear, "I've never seen a Razorback before."
I didn't get past the word 'Hunter'. I was wiping springer dung off the knee plates, shining my light on them, looking for unit markings. No luck. My Hunter wasn't in this cave. I looked around. Olin was climbing up to the emergency cockpit release latch on the Razorback.
"I missed you too, Hildegaard. I'll get you cleaned up right quick too," he said soothingly, in what sounded like a bedroom voice.
Phillips and I looked at each other, and grinned.
"Figures, doesn't it?" he said, softly.
"Yeah," I grinned, "your gear here?"
"Nah, I pilot a Jaguar."
"Hey, guys, come on, let's get going!" Olin's voice resonated through the cave. Then something else did too. Something snorted, and then lots of shuffling. I gulped, as I heard movement behind the Hunter I was closest to. Phillips didn't waste any time, and was clambering up the other gear quickly.
I jumped onto the gear and pulled the emergency hatch release. The hydraulics hissed. Suddenly the gear shuddered. There was a grunt, then a smashing sound as something tried to topple the gear. I hopped into the open cockpit, and no sooner as my backside hit the seat, I was initiating the startup sequence. The V-engine roared to life, and I saw the Razorback and the other Hunter make their way out of the cave slowly. I wasn't granted such a luxury. The angry wild rock springer was smashing its armoured carapace against my gear's leg, and I was desperate to avoid toppling in this cave. I pulled the hatch down quickly, and punched the throttle. The Hunter bounded out of the cave, caught some air, and landed hard, breaking rocks beneath its feet.
"Ouch!" I growled, clutching the side of my head in one hand. I hadn't put the safety harness on, and received a solid hit on the head for my aggressive gear piloting. Olin and Phillips were waiting nearby. They were shouting something at me, but I couldn't tell what, since their hatches were open, and mine was not.
"Come on Benaari! We've only got five minutes to get back to camp!" they were yelling as I managed to open the hatch quickly, my head still spinning.
"Shit," I muttered, and started the Hunter running after my companions. It was then that I noticed whose gear this was. I learned something very interesting about Sergeant Petrush, while sitting in that cockpit. It became apparent that we had more of a common past than just that week back in the Youth Corps. Still, he was not pleased that his Hunter was camouflaged in springer dung -- Colonel Moore and her sneaky sense of humour, indeed.
To Be Continued...
Orde Wingate is well remembered in Israel as the driving force behind the Palmach, the special fighting units of the Hagana, the underground Jewish defense organization that operated during the British Mandate of Palestine. Captain Wingate was a British Army officer and religious Christian who sympathized with the Jewish cause, and pushed the Hagana to form partisan-commando groups. His training regimen emphasized mobility, supreme physical fitness and using terrain to maximal effect. Today, the main IDF physical training center (as well as the adjacent civilian physical training/education center) is named in his honour. The Palmach units would later evolve into the cadres of the various combat units of the IDF.
Captain Wingate later went on to command British troops in Burma during the Second World War, where he used the same techniques to prove that Europeans could fight just as effectively in the jungle as anyone else, given the proper training. He was killed when his transport plane crashed in the jungle during the War.
|APAGear II Archives||Volume 2, Number 8||September, 2000|
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