APAGear II Archives Volume 2, Number 10 November, 2000



Nat Kealen

"Next stop: Khayr ad-Din!"

Nobody looked up as the conductor made his announcement. They were too busy looking out the windows of the maglev at the dark landscape. Rain was very rare in this part of the Badlands, and most people jumped with each flash of lightning and crack of thunder. It was going to be an unsually wet season.

One person did not seem to care one way or another. He sat in the back of the passenger car drumming his fingers on his datapad going over some last minute figures. It was too risky being out in the open like this. Petreoff knew it, but there was no other way. He needed a job, and this new prototype was sure to convince one of the head engineers at Paxton Arms. His tests were just too conclusive to deny. This was his last maglev stop before getting an air transport over to Peace River. He set the datapad down on his lap and leaned back in his chair, closing his eyes.

He had been through too much. Getting the materials alone had nearly depleted his life savings. That was all soon to change, though. He would probably get a good position, maybe even head of the project. After all, he invented the thing; he should head it up.

There was another crack of thunder and lightning and the passengers gasped in excitement. Petreoff didn't notice it at all. His mind began to focus on what was in cargo car 111-A. His dream. His reality. His one last chance to climb back up the scientific ladder. No more laughter. No more jibes.

He wondered what it could be doing now. What was it thinking? He had no idea. That was the interesting part. One could create life, but one could not predict it. It was probably wondering why it could not move. Of course, Petreoff knew that it would probably run some sort of low level diagnostic and see that its motor skills had been disabled. Petreoff had not even let it see. it just stood there in cargo car 111-A.

Petreoff smiled as he let the sound of the rain lull him to sleep. Another couple of hours and he would have his vindication.

Rannik looked over at Janus and watched him pull the collar up on his coat. This rain was something else. He had never seen anything like it. It was going to be a wet season. That did not matter to Rannik who was on a tight schedule. He had to be in order to pull his current gig off right.

Janus walked under the light and crossed the street over into the alley where Rannik was waiting.

Janus. He was a pretty good guy, and he would cover your back in a firefight. Trustworthy. Rannik liked that. Trust was rare in his line of work.

"Did you get 'em?" Rannik asked.

"Yeah," Janus replied as he reached into his coat and pulled out two Paxton AK-11 pistols. He tossed one of them to Rannik. "It wasn't too bad. They didn't even really search me. It seems like everyone's preoccupied with the rain." Janus cast a glance upward and then looked back down at Rannik. "I just gave them my token, and they let me right on through."

Rannik grinned. That's what he liked about Janus. He was gutsy. Trust and guts. He couldn't get any better than that in a partner.

They had been working together the last two seasons just getting chump change and other nonvaluables from people as they left the station, but however, as of the last couple of weeks SecCom had really been cracking down on them. A couple of times they almost got caught. However, they were always able to get away. One of the unspoken rules Rannik and Janus had was that when the gig was bust they escaped on their own each going his separate way. Rannik's route was foolproof. He thought the same about Janus'. After all, they were the only two left from their original gang of five.

Tonight they were going for the big bust, the entire maglev. They had figured that since security was so tight outside the station, they might be able to use this one opportunity to hit and run on the inside. The plan was simple. Get the passengers as they disembark. This train was bringing in people who were coming in for the duels, so there was bound to be some items worth a lot of dinars.

"Hey, Rannik. If we gotta split up tonight, you get to carry the heavy stuff," Janus said while putting his gun back in his coat.

"What for?" Rannik asked grinning, "Just because you had to last time? And what was the deal with you layin' low for a couple of days?"

"I don't know. I just didn't feel to safe, that's all. Man, the SecCom bulls were really all over us last time. They keep getting closer and closer. One of these days-"

"I'm not going to worry about that. The way I see it, this'll be our last gig for a long time. I've got a good feelin' 'bout this one. The hair on the back of my neck is standin' up. We might just hit the motherload."

"Well, I hope so. Of course, you've never been wrong with the hair thing," Janus said smiling. "I'm going to go see about getting a warm drink. This rain is cold."

Rannik watched Janus walk over to one of the bars close by. Yes, the rain. It was beautiful. He looked up from Janus toward the night time sky. Just a couple more hours and he would be done for a long time, at least until the dinars diminish out. Rannik let the rain wash down over his face. Hopefully, the few guards left in the station would be distracted by the downpour. The rain was going to be such a blessing.

"Curse this rain!"

Janus walked into a dark room in the back of the bar. Situated inside were four SecCom officers watching monitors and terminals. One of which featured Rannik standing under a light looking across the street at the station.

"Janus, what are you doing here? I thought you guys were leaving soon," one of the officers piped.

"Rannik doesn't want to leave until later. He's got the maglev on his mind. He's giving me all this talk about laying low for a while. I think we need to nail him tonight before all is lost."

Janus took off his coat and threw it over one of the monitors giving feedback from the maglev platform. He then walked over to a cawfee dispenser that one of officers had set up and poured himself a cup.

"I'm going to call Demeters and see if we can get this over with tonight," he said taking a sip. "Someone get me a secure line."

One of the officers typed up some encrypted characters on one of the keypads attached to one of the terminals. "Your good to go, boss," he said giving the thumbs up.

Janus turned and faced the monitor. A an image of the SecCom logo appeared on the screen. For security reasons, the team had decided not to use the standard vidphone.

"Nadia, it's Janus. I think it's time. Rannik is getting really antsy, and I'm afraid we may lose him after tonight. He's talking of really laying low for a while. I imagine he's going to want to split up after our little raid."

"Well, is that how you truly feel about it?" Demeters' voice cracked over the com system.

"Yes, this may be all we have to go on. Plus, we've got all the evidence from the other raids," Janus replied.

"All right, I leave the case in your hands. Whatever you want to do on the matter. I'm sure you'll make the best decision. I'll need for you to give me a report in person when it's all over. Later. Demeters out."

Janus turned the com system off. He walked over and put his coat back on and headed back out of the room towards the bar.

"Let's do it. I'll need everyone in their positions."

The rain was coming down even harder now as the maglev pulled into the station. Petreoff was fully awake now and was looking over his datapad. The prototype was still there. Good. He had to be more careful. Who knows what would happen if it got in the wrong hands?

Petreoff did not even want to think about it.

The passengers began to disembark and he had wanted to be the last. It was all too quiet as the people left. Petreoff smiled. Badlanders thought this much rain was magic.

He stepped off the train and immediatley felt something cold against the back of his neck. He had felt it before. The protype had its fair share of them. The gunman grabbed him by the arm and spun him around.

"You're last, old man! One move and you're gonna end up like Mr. Bargain Brains here!"

Petreoff glanced over to his right and there on the ground he saw one of the merchants who was on the train. He was grabbing what was left of one of his knees. This was not the time to be heroic.

Another gunman walked over to him pointing his weapon in Petreoff's face.

"So what have you got on ya?"

"I have nothing, just a couple of dinars and some clo-"

"Liar! What's this here?" Rannik reached down and picked up the datapad. "It's got some type of key code combination. What's it do?"

"It's the combination to my safe at home. It will not do any go--OOF!" Rannik gave him a good blow to the stomach, and Petreoff fell to the ground.

"Hey, come over here and take a look at this."

Janus walked over and grabbed the datapad from Rannik.

"It looks like a combination that they use here on the maglev. It probably belongs to one of the cargo cars. Hmm...I would have to say it's 111-A judging by the text in the upper corner."

Rannik licked his lips and bent over.

"What have you got in there, old man?"

"Nothing, just some travel lugga-" Rannik smacked Petreoff on the back of the head.

"What do you have in there?" Rannik yelled down to him.

"Nothing you need to know about, Rannik." Janus cocked his pistol and put it to the back of Rannik's head.

"The game's over. You've been had." Rannik glanced up at Janus.

"You no good-"

"Save it, Rannik. We've been onto you for a couple of seasons now. Drop your weapon and get up. Do it, now."

Rannik looked up at Janus right in the eyes, dropping his weapon. It landed squarely in the back of Petreoff's head.

"Ow!" Petreoff yelled kicking his legs out.

Unfortunately, one of his kicks hit Janus right in the shin, knocking him off balance. Rannik took advantage of the situation and reached back down for his gun, grabbing Petreoff in the process. Rannik spun him around and put the gun at the base of Petreoff's neck.

"Don't move, Janus or the old guy goes! Drop your weapon!" Rage began to burn inside Rannik.

Janus threw his pistol down. "You'll never make it, Rannik. We've got the place completely covered."

"Well, then, I might as well kill you right here and now." Rannik aimed his gun at Janus' head.

Just then the datapad on the ground began to beep. Rannik cast a glance down.

"What the...okay, old man. What's happening?" Rannik asked keeping his gun pointed at Janus.

"The batteries must be dying," Petreoff answered.

"I don't believe it. Tell me!" Rannik drove the muzzle of his pistol into Petreoff's neck.

"Okay! Okay! It's a gear!"

Janus gasped. "You shipped a gear on the maglev?"

"Quiet, you bull! I'm asking the questions here." Rannik turned his attention back to Petreoff. "A gear, huh? It's too perfect. Come on, old man. We're going for a ride."

"No, you don't understand! It's not sup-"

Rannik drove the gun in farther, and turned to Janus.

"Well, Janus, my good friend. It seems like we have to leave. I don't think you brought along a gear to stop little ol' me."

Janus stood there watching Rannik's every move. Rasnik stopped when he reached cargo car 111-A outside the station.

"Open it!" Rannik yelled while the rain bounced off his face.

Petreoff slowly reached for the datapad and typed in some numbers. The bay door opened and there it stood dimly lit by the cargo car lights. A Shaian Mechanics Cheetah.

Rannik glared back down at Janus and gave a smirk.

"It seems like this is my exit!" Rannik bellowed. "I won't forget this, Janus!"

Rannik clubbed Petreoff on the back of the head causing him to fall down. He then grabbed the datapad and climbed up into the car. The cargo bay door closed behind him.

Janus wasted no time reaching for his pistol on the ground. He pulled out his phone and started yelling into it as he was running towards the cargo car.

"I need all posts on alert! Rannik is on the move! I repeat. He's on the move! I may have him cornered in cargo car 111-A!"

Outside the station, Janus was only a couple of cars away now. The water from the rain splashed up on his legs as he sprinted towards the car, his gun glistening in the night time rain. He was stopped short by a large banging sound.

A Cheetah jumped through the cargo bay door barely missing the wounded Petreoff on the ground below. It looked left, then right, and then ran towards the end of the train. Thunder cracked overhead.

Janus aimed his weapon but he knew it would be of no use. A little pistol would not stop a gear. He holstered his weapon and ran over to where Petreoff was laying.

"Are you all right?" he asked.

Petreoff moaned and grabbed his head. "I'll be fine. Where's the Cheetah?"

Janus looked back up and saw it running off in the distance. "He's getting away. We don't have anything that'll keep up with it...yet."

"You don't understand. That Cheetah was a prototype."


"Yes, it had a new experimental neural net. It was sentient."

"Sentient? You mean it could think for itself? Sweet prophet! Then why did it let Rannik run itself?"

"I don't know," Petreoff said shaking his head. "I don't know."

There was another flash of lightning and crack of thunder. Something did not sound right. Janus looked back up.

"Look!" Janus pointed towards the direction where Rannik had ran. He reached for his phone. "I need all units to head south. It looks as if Rannik and the Cheetah have been struck by lightning!"

Janus exited the elevator and walked into the third floor of the clinic. He strolled over to the nurse sitting at the desk.

"I'm here to see Marcus Rannik."

The nurse typed up the patient's name on the console. "He's in room 4B"


Janus walked down the hallway, looking over the numbers as he went. He could tell which room was 4B by the two SecCom guards covering the door.

"Hey guys."

"Hello, Lieutenant Janus. The doctor's been waiting for you. Go right on in," one of the guards said gesturing at the door.

Janus walked in and met the doctor at the foot of the bed.

"How's he look, doc?" Janus asked casting a glance down at Rannik who lay there motionless.

"It's pretty grim, Lieutenant. He's nothing. A lifeless body. The blast from the lightning seared the connections from his neural tendons to his cereberal cortex and spine," answered the doctor while flipping through some charts.

"I'm not a doctor. Give it to me plain," Janus piped.

"He's brain dead. You say that he was in a gear at the time of the lightning strike?"

"Yeah, his head was fused to the helmet inside the cockpit. It completely fried the inner workings of the gear."

"That's all you can give me?" the doctor inquired.

"That's about it," Janus lied. He knew there were some other things, but they did not concern the doctor. "How about that other patient we brought in? The engineer?"

"Hmm...oh, yes. Very interesting fellow. He was lucky. Had a nasty bump on the back of his head though. We let him out yesterday."


"Yes, what were we to do? Keep a patient under his own free will?" the doctor asked, finally putting the charts down.

"We needed him for questioning." Janus turned to leave the room. As he walked out he looked back toward where the doctor was standing. "Please let me know if anything changes."

"I will, Lieutenant. I will." The doctor went back to his work.

Out in the hallway Janus activated his phone.

"Yeah, this is Janus...Sure...Look. Petreoff is on the loose. Send some people out to find him. Of course, he might show up. We've got his gear after all. By the way, have our techs been able to figure anything out? No? Where's it at?" Janus came to the elevator and entered. "In storage? Locked down? Good." He hung up as he entered the elevator.

He turned and smiled as the elevator began to descend. Another case closed.

It was late in the evening and Petreoff's Cheetah was located in the quarantine containment unit of SecCom. All the technicians had left for the day, leaving the almost fully functional gear in the unit.

As the enviromental controls to the room lowered the temperature and turned off the lights to the building one light shown in the darkness.

The omnicamera to the gear sparked to life...

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APAGear II Archives Volume 2, Number 10 November, 2000