APAGear II Archives Volume 2, Number 9 October, 2000


A Matter of Honor

Harman Meyerhoff

08:20:13 AM
Two kilometers above MilGrid 14455-Bravo, Redjacket flight Zero-Niner-Aleph-Foxtrot

"Hold still damnit!" He screamed, doing his best to keep the Quetzal in his missiles' acquisition cone. Phelan McGuiness was not experiencing his usual luck today, and with this damned Quetzal obstinately refusing to accept its preordained dose of ordnance, events were not helping his mood any, either.

"I got'm!" His wingmate slurred, G forces making the words into a groan as he snap-rolled and cut upward directly behind the enemy fighter, hosing 35mm through the fuselage and left engine of the southern fighter.

"Good hit Deuce," Phelan called, swinging around for a observation pass of the crash site.

"Thank you for flying Redjacket Air, and should you survive to fly again, please be sure to include your will, life insurance claim form and preferred method for disposal for your remains, at the outer edge of our patrol zone!" Deuce Cavanugh drawled, this time soley for a Big Bad Fighter Pilot ego-boosting, instead of the more serious near-lethal changes in inertia.

"Shit Deuce, can't you do anything right?" Phelan cursed, watching a scorched figure already halfway out of the wreckage.

He eased off the circle, straightening out to get enough distance for a proper ground attack run. Inwardly, he felt somewhat queasy about executing, and that was the appropriate word, the southern pilot.

Still, with the chance of that pilot delivering his recon data, the entirety of the Southern forces around Azov would come down hard on the CNCS troops quietly trying to sneak through the mountains.

Silently, he offered a mental prayer for his target and armed his underwing rocket pod.

Col. Jeanette Deveraux probably wouldn't have cared, even if by some chance she'd known what Phelan was thinking. Rather, she was struggling to bring the bulky GEP-720 rocket launcher to bear on the Northerners' Redjacket.

Finally, the launcher was situated, and she loaded one of the soda-bottle size Shrike rockets, moving with a forced calm as the northern war machine streaked closer and closer, throwing a predatory shadow that seemed to race hungrily across the sand, heading for her wrecked fighter with unearthly hunger.

She merely squeezed one eye shut, lined the glare-shielded thermal scope up on the lead Redjacket, and squeezed the trigger.

At first, Phelan thought the southerner was surrendering, standing clearly out on the sand, but as he neared, he made out the boxy object on her shoulder, suddenly spitting fire as he tried to gain altitude and veer away.

But that sudden puff of smoke suddenly was replaced by a geyser of flame, as the Shrike rockets' small cercachip reacted to the heat source before it. With all of it's half-liter of fuel and kilogram of HE, the warhead hurled itself into the left intake of Phelans fighter...

Almost fortunately, the warhead encountered the main fan shaft of the right engine, hitting at an angle such that the force of impact separated the grenade-sized explosive from the coffee-mug rocket motor. As the GEP round split, the whirling wreckage of the blade even managed to connect with the warhead, miraculously catching the miniscule pressure sensors' lip from behind and pulling it outwards, ripping it free of the shaped explosive core. Normally, the pressure sensor would simply close upon a solid impact, or be bypassed when the fuel sensor in the tail registered empty. Unfortunately, the separation of the thruster assembly had severed those wires, preventing such a signal from being received.

Now, with the turbine blade having ripped the pressure sensor outward (an unforeseeable occurrence for a rocket intended to impact the target at over three hundred kilometers per hour) the warhead was left resting inertly between two twisted turbine blades. Having been jammed there without a detonation method, it might have been considered comparatively safe, at least versus what it could have done seconds before.

Unfortunately, the rocket motor casing continued to burn after being sliced, now spraying fuel as it punched through the engine wall and through the outer fuselage of the aircraft, lodging such that it sprayed its' white-hot blowtorch exhaust against the inner lining of the fighters' fuel line. As it consumed the milliseconds of fuel left, the armored hose finally burst, bubbling just enough to allow a gasp of air into the superheated fuel mixture.

Phelan didn't have time to even know what had happened, but Deuce, just coming out of his first evasive roll, saw the entire sequence, hopelessly yelling for his wingmate to eject even as fire blossomed from within his friends' cockpit and gouted from the damaged engine. The Redjacket began to sink, trailing fire.

"Phelan! Ejec-" Deuce screamed in horror.

Then, with a shuddering blast of flame, the ordinance caught, and Phelan was no more.

Shrapnel and fire began to rain downward, but the debris that had been propelled upward remained a threat for Deuces' rapidly closing fighter. With a groan of G forces, he began a turn to skirt the airborne junk, wincing and ducking as tiny pings sometimes sounded from outside his cockpit.

The long turn did, however, give him time to regain his thoughts, and by taking his time on the far side of the fireball, the superheated air provided a shield of sorts against

In the time he had he frantically punched his comset to maximum and transmitted his position towards friendly lines.

Thus occupied, he never even knew when the warhead from the rocket that had killed his comrade was sucked into his right engine; explosive finally touched off by the impact with his afterburning engine. This half of the GEP rocket also assured a similar death, as its' explosion also ruptured fuel lines- fuel lines that were immediately touched off by the volleys of sparks struck from the mangled turbine blades and white-hot afterblast.

Below, Deveraux saw only the first Redjackets' demise, a grayish cloud of shrapnel and smoke to her eye, and a color-washed patch on her targeter screen where the northerners' explosion had whited out her rocket heatseeker.

With a muttered curse as a glowing rivet whizzed down scant inches from her feet, she shifted the bulky GEP launcher and began to laboriously unload the damaged "hot" round and reload, this time with a laser-guided rocket.

Then the sands lit up again, as the second Northerners' wing sheared away, a ragged hole where the right engine had been. The fighter suddenly dipped, and then the plane began to shudder- tumbling end-over-end twice before disintegrating in a whirling shrapnel-laced fireball.

"Merci." Deveraux exclaimed, dropping one of the rockets she had been juggling onto her foot as she stared in rapt fascination at the burning wreckage streaking down across the sands and futilely trying to guess how the second Norther had died.

"Well now, that was convenient!" She stated eventually, struggling to put the finally reloaded launcher back down. Sucked something into an engine... She decided after a moment, and turned back to gathering up her survival kit.

09:35:53 AM
MilGrid 14457-Bravo; approximately 25 meters above ground level
Scorpion SAH-Z95
Orders: Combat patrol, priority interception and neutralization of hostile recon units.

"There he is! Just to the left... See the thermal spike in the shadow of that rock? Ten to one odds that's where our little Suthern buddy tried hiding."

"Beer for you Auger- there's the pilot!" Kilryen Raly exhulted, swinging their Scorpion over the dune and bringing the nose-mounted machinecannon to bear on the rocks, but he was already too late.

The smallest rock in the boulder field suddenly moved, and moved fast, the now identifiably human pilot sprinting to his Iguana, resting in the shadow of a larger dolmen.

"Shit! Shit! Shit!" Auger Throupe chattered, more as a situational reoprt than a curse. Already Kilryen was had cut back and quickly throttled back the juice to the collective, using the compressed air cushion effect to 'bounce' them forward and upward much faster than clawing their way forward from a straight hover.

The Iggie was already up, zigzagging as it raced for clear enough ground to engage its' SMS, and Auger found even drawing a bead difficult. Fortunately, Kilryen didn't buy him beers for misses. As the Iguana paused to kick the skatewheels out of its' feet, he deadeyed it with a burst between the shoulders.

The gear below spread its' shoulders and collapsed facedown, and began smoking. Then the plume of smoke burst into flame, a geyser of fire spouting from the V-engine as the fire gutted the downed gear.

"I believe that is a Kill." Auger pronounced, swinging the nose cannon back to standby position.

"Confirmed, beers for you when we get back..." Kilryen agreed halfheartedly, already envious of the lagers that would go to his gunner.

"Anything else?" He questioned after stowing his jealousy. He began a slow orbit of the wrecked Ig, allowing Auger a good look at the surroundings.

"Nothing on magres or therms, looks like we get to go home." Auger pronounced, settling back in his couch to half-doze as Kilryen swung the Scorpion westward and headed for base.

15:55:23 AM
MilGrid 14459-Sierra; approximately 85 meters above ground level
Scorpion SAH-Z95

"Command to Sierra Alfa Hotel Zulu Niner Five, we have possible contacts near gridpoint One-Four-Four-Five-Niner Romeo, command suggests you swing by. Recon and sterilize, neutralize all hostiles encountered." The comset squawked, momentarily drowning out the low pitched rumble of the counterrotating blades.

"Goddamnit..." Kilryen complained, easing up on the cyclic and dropping their alititude. The Scorpion immediately dipped, bringing them to a slowly-declining hover in a craterlike depression.

"Command, this is Sierra Alfa Hotel Zulu Niner Five, please repeat and clarify." Kilryen requested, dropping the scorpion even lower.

"Repeat Sierra Alfa Hotel Zulu Niner Five, proceed to gridpoint One-Four-Four-Five-Niner Romeo and sterilize of what are likely hostile recon Gears. Proceed to Supply Point Utah for rearm and refuel and then resume transit."

Auger groaned, but Kilryen steeled himself and responded.

"Confirmed, Command. Movin' out."

Even unspoken, they both knew each others' dissapointment, but the copter still rose and dipped its' fans eastward.

30:52:55 PM
MilGrid 14459-Romeo; northern edge. 45m above ground level.
Scorpion SAH-Z95

"Awake in front!" Kilryen chided, watching his gunners head drooping over the edge of his solid-state instrument displays until aa sound kick under his command board hit Augers' chair with a muted thump.

Auger jolted awake with a blasphemous epithet and several anatomically impossible suggestions, before he finally returned to his job.

"Saw something!" Auger responded, drooping his head even more to one side, peering off into the darkness.

Kilryen immediately dropped a little, setting them at the ideal 35m above ground. Too high to crash into a rock, too low to be silhouetted, and just high enough not to cause a plume of stirred up sand.

"Gotcha. Something is out there!" Auger reported uncomfortably, switching the in-cockpit displays to thermal.

Immediately, the green and black enhanced-optic view switched to an ice-blue pattern shot with specks of green and red. And a plume of heat rising into the black-cold night air.

"Looks like a friggin' bonfire."

Kilryen eased forward, navigating over a dune with only a whisper of sand to announce their presence.

"Whoa!" Auger called, overriding with his controls. "Mast sensor sees som- Fuck, that's a 'Jacket! no... Fuck! Two 'jackets, at least, pasted all to hell over everywhere, and a ditched Quetzal over there!"

"Well, we've investigated. Now let's scan for hostiles." Kilryen stated, already peering into the darkness with the copters' powerful optics.

MILICIA Firegrid Zebra-Sierra-Tango-Alfa-Nine
six hundred meters northwest of Scorpion SAH-Z95

In the darkness cast by a rock dolmen, a gear stirred. Starlight fell upon it like a velvet cape, absorbed by the thick rubberized stealth coating and warding the machine near invisible. It shifted suddenly, the single red glare of its' omnicam muted too, though it cast slight bloodly shadows over the rounded armor of the torso hatch and shoulder guards.

"Commander! This is Ig alpha, we have something comin' in, bearing zero-two-zero. Holy Shit! Fuck! SCORPION! I REPEAT, THAT'S A FUCKIN' SCORPION!"

"Hold steady Ig alpha, we're prepared for such." Ig alpha merely clutched his pack gun tighter, regretfully wishing that his gear was a King cobra rather than a Reconnasaince Iguana. Though that wish suddenly evaporated as his sensitive broadband sensors caught a new com from the commander. While scratchy and distorted, he was heartened to hear the words "Anti-Aircraft in position".

31:02:15 PM
MilGrid 14459-Romeo; mid-northern quadrant. 42m above ground level.
Scorpion SAH-Z95

"Hey! I got some-" Auger yelped, swinging the nosecannon to bear on the ugly vehicle emerging from behind a dune.

Immediately Kilryen lased and photozoomed the contact, standard preparation for using a manually-guided antitank missile.

But, before the cannon could even be brought to bear, the vehicle on the sands below was surrounded by a bright strobing light, four flickering flashes issuing along the top of its' hull so quickly that the flashes and shadows made the vehicle a mad kaleidoscope of pulsing energy.

Wordlessly screaming, Kilryen tried to dodge, but it was already too late. With a buzzing roar of hail on a tin roof, the Hydra anti-aircraft tanks' quad-mounted 25mm cannons chewed at the copter. Electronic screams mingled with the pilot and gunners as the tail, then one wing were literally blasted away by white-hot flak.

Auger screamed once, blood splashing his instrument board, but Kilryen was desperately trying to land their craft. A sudden concussion from the right side marked the demise of his starboard engine, but with the emergency clutch, the gearshafts disengaged, allowing the rotors to spin on their remaining momentum. Enough to get them down, Kilryen prayed.

But a sudden groan of twisting metal doomed that hope, as more southern shells chewed one of the rotors partway through. The blade thus weakened, it bowed and twisted, only to encounter the counter-rotating blade above. The opposing spin of the two pairs of rotors on a Scorpion allowed for the craft to be much more compact, as no long fulcrum tail and fan were required to arrest the spin of the engine turning the blades. But in this case, the mangled blade caught the upper blade, twisting toghether and tangling, shredding the other props and slicing through the rear fuselage, which immediately exploded into flame.

31:20:15 PM
Unspecified location, approximately 490 kilometers from Azov city limits, deep desert.
31st Desert Sharks Fire Support Cadre Delta, and Force Recon Cadre Bravo

"Well, y'see... I started out in the freakin' Infantry. Crock of shit that was- march here, march there, 'Sir, yes, Sir', Sir, fuck you, Sir', just irritated me." Mordred Remler discoursed, crouching around the fire and gnawing on his ration bar.

"'Nyway, it was fun at first, but once you supposedly start gettin' better, they start makin things worse. Where the fuck's the point in that?"

Ann Carrows and Jace Kinney merely nodded, more concerned with the consistency of their pot of stew than his story.

"Hey.. that's the best frickin example- the third day they give us a gun. Gave me a 10mm assault rifle, one of those crappy ones all the militias have. I was so happy when I got that gun, I gave it a name... Becky? Yeah. Called it Becky."

Mordred paused to lean closer, the firelight lending his features in a demonic cast, which was surprising considering his already unpleasant countenance.

Born in the UMF before the Earth invasion, Mordy had just happened to not only possess the name of the soon-to-arrive terran stormtroopers, but also a passing resemblance. Beady eyes, a hooked nose, almost-pointed ears and a shaven skull, coupled with his impressive build, all made him resemble some sort of pale genetic fluke from the Caprician vats.

Not that anyone would try directing any of the common anti-GREL insults his way.

"Anyway, they give me Becky. I'm in love. She's there whenever I want. But then she starts wanting too much. Relationship gets demanding. I end up having to clean her. Drag her around. She has to be with me at all times. Came to the point where Sargeant n' she was so clingy, wouldn't let me take a shit without her bein' there."

Mordy leaned forward even more, to the point where he was forced to shift around the edge of the fire or risk falling in.

"Now, I liked that gun. Liked Becky. Loved firing her off. Got to fire her off nearly anytime anywhere." Mordy grinned at his choice of words; "But there came a time when it just wasn't worth it. Sure she was fun, but the relationship just got to be too demanding."

Suddenly he stood and stepped back a few paces into the darkness, until they could barely make out his outline. There was a sudden sound of metal being tapped, and then Mordys' voice issued from the darkness.

"And that, chilren', is Why I Like Gears Better."

Liela and Jace merely resumed stirring the makeshift soup tureen, which was actually a scavenged shoulder plate from a long-dead southern Gila.

"Chow's up!" Jace called after tentatively sipping the broth.

Immediately both squads issued forth from gears or tents burrowed into the sand, each holding forth a cup or bowl like pilgrims begging for alms.

But John Marius was first in line. A big sandy-haired man, he was not only capable of leading by rank, but also charisma. Born in the UMF and having traveled extensively throughout the north, the only reason he was still commanding squads in a shooting-war was for exactly those liberal viewpoints. And that some called him a southern sympathizer.

Nonetheless, he was first in the squad, first on the kilboard, and first in line for soup. At least until Kara Withoughs showed up.

Short, blonde, and seemingly incapable of being #2 on the killboard, she assumed first in line like a birthright, masking her entrance in the line with an affectionate hug for John.

People behind them groaned, either out of mock disgust for their commanders' intimacy, or merely due to the delay in distribution of the stew.

Several of the troopers in back even became vocal, good-naturedly ragging Marius for blocking the way.

But, wisely, no one complained about Kara, even when her oversized bowl was returned brimming with Chunky n' Unidentifiable.

John merely smiled an moved out of the way, stew in one hand and woman in the other. He was consistently amazed and somewhat irritated by the deference she received.

And she also got more stew! He realized, watching her wolfing down what must've been a goodly quart of reddish broth and unidentifiable morsels, while he fished for anything resembling meatlets in his dole of broth.

"Everybody Up! Alert! We got a Situation!" Came a sudden shout from Marius' left, where Ivers, the Weasel pilot and coms officer was leaning out of his powered down gear. There was a sudden click, and the coms Gears' loudspeakers cut in

"Command to Delta Sierra Three-One Cadres Delta and Bravo. We have an friendlies down near a probable southern incursion thirty kilometers north-northeast, bearing oh-two niner. Two plus general combat gear squads with one of fire support heavies is our best estimate in hostile firepower; and one anti-air vehicle has been confirmed on-scene. Scramble Scramble. Proceed to location and assist. Attempt recovery of any captured personnel, and neutralize all hostiles encountered."

End Part One. Check back later for the next exciting episode!
(Revised in the March, 2001 issue!)

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APAGear II Archives Volume 2, Number 9 October, 2000