|APAGear II Archives||Volume 3, Number 2||March, 2001|
[NOTE: This is a revision of Harman's original version of "A Matter of Honor," which appeared in Volume 2, Number 9 of APAGear. -Ed.]
"Hold still damnit!" He screamed, doing his best to keep the Quetzal in his missiles' aquisition cone. Phelan McGuiness was not experiencing his usual luck today, and with this damned recon Quetzal obstinately refusing to accept its peordained dose of ordanance, events were not helping his mood any, either.
"Get the friggin' firing solution!" Davis, his pilot, screamed angrily, swirling their fighter after the fleeing Quetzal.
"I got'm!" Their wingmates slurred, G forces making the words into a groan as the other Redjacket 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 as Davis began swinging around for a slow 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.
"Uhh, Deuce, I get one infantry walking away. Repeat, the goddamn pilot is running away from the crashzone. Appears uninjured..." Morris Evans, gunner on the second fighter, reported morosely.
"Shit Deuce, can't you do anything right?" Phelan cursed, watching the scorched figure already halfway out of the wreckage-strewn dip between sand dunes.
Wordlessly, Davis 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 entiritey 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.
Inwardly, she sorowfully acknowledged the sacrifice of her E-op, who'd been crushed in his seat during the crash.
Had she been more religious she might've offered a prayer before exacting vengeance.
Instead, she merely squeezed one eye shut, lined the glare-shielded thermal scope up on the lead Redjacket, and caressed the trigger.
At first, Phelan thought the southerner was surrendering, standing clearly out on the sand, but as he zoomed the targeting optics, he made out the boxy object on her shoulder, suddenly spitting fire as Davis intuitively 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...
Pursuing the fighters' heat emissions with mechanical lust, 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 recieved.
Now, with the turbine blade having ripped the pressure sensor outward (an unforseeable occurance 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 erupting when it crushed the fighters' fuel injectors, spraying fuel as it punched through the engine wall and through the outer fuselage of the aircraft, lodging such that it allowed the aggregate fuel fire to touch its' white-hot blowtorch against the outer carbon lining of the fighters' fuel tank. As the roaring fuel fire consumed the the last miliseconds of fuel left, the armored shell twisted and buckled under the roaring onslaught. Finally, the inner honeycombing burst, bubbling just enough to allow a gasp of air into the superheated fuel mixture within the tank.
Niether Davis nor Phelan had time to even know what was happenng, but Deuce and Morris, 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 redjacked began to sink, trailing fire.
"Phelan, Davis! Ejec-" Deuce screamed in horror.
Then, with a shuddering blast of flame, the ordanance caught, and Phelan was no more.
Shrapnel and fire began to rain downward, but the debreis that had been propelled upward remained a threat for Deuce and Morrises' rapidly closing fighter. With a groan of G forces, Deuce 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 heatseek or radar homer.
In the short occlusion time they had Morris 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 the engine not fifty centimeters from his cockpit; its explosive finally touched off by the impact with their engine. This half of the GEP rocket, the warhead, assured death by itself, but as its' explosion consumed half the fighter's right wing, it also ruptured fuel lines- fuel lines that were immediately touched off by the volleys of sparks struck from the mangled shrapnel of blades cowing and helped to ensure a second, 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 rocket set for laser-guided.
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 futiley 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.
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 flailed its arms and collapsed facedown, smoking and spraying fuel and oil from the enourmous hole bored through it by the Scorpions autocannon. Then the plume of smoke burst into flame, a geyser of fire spouting from the V-engine as the fire furhter 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.
"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.
"Awake in front!" Kilryen chided, watching his gunners head drooping over the edge of his solid-state insturment displays until a sound kick under his command board hit Augers' chair with a muted thump.
Auger jolted awake with a blashphemous 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 silouhetted, and still 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.
In the darkness cast by a rock dolmen, a gear stirred. Starlight fell upon it like a velvet cape, absorbed by the thick rubberized steath 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 Chameleon Alpha, we have something comin' in, bearing zero-two-zero. Holy Shit! Fuck! SCORPION! I REPEAT, THAT'S A FUCKIN' SCORPION!"
"Hold steady Recon Alpha, we're prepared for such." Alpha Recon merely clutched his pack gun tighter, regretfully wishing that his gear was a King cobra rather than a Reconnasaince Chameleon. Though that wish suddenly evaporated as his sensitive broadband sensors caught a new com, southern in origin and doubtless from the commander. While scratchy and distorted, he was heartened to hear the words "Anti-Aircraft in position".
"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 flak cannons chewed into the copter. Electronic screams mingled with the pilot and gunner as the tail, then left wing pylon, were literally scoured away by white hot flak.
Auger screamed once, blood splashing his intsrument 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 counterrotating 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 at a combined speed of over ninety kilometers per second, slamming and twisting together and tangling, shredding the other props and slicing through the rear fuselage, which immediately exploded into flame.
"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 suprising considering his already unpleasant countenance.
Born in the UMF before the Earth invasion, Mordy had just happened to not only posess 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 tenatively 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 Timothy Marius was first in line. A big sandy-haired man, he was not only capable of leading by rank, but also charisma. Born near Port Aurora and having travelled 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 Marius.
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, noone complained about Kara, even when her oversized bowl was returned brimming with Chunky n' Unidentifiable.
Tim 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 recieved.
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 friendlys 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 personell, and neutralize all hostiles encountered."
"Alfa-Two, green. Cereberus ready."
"Alfa-Three, green. Grendel is O.K. ..."
"Alfa-Four, green. Lancer is ready."
"Bravo-One, green. Wombat is set for combat."
"Bravo-Two, green. Ace is up and running."
"Bravo-Three is all green. Mjolnir ready for thumping."
"Bravo-Four, green and tracking. Minx is reporting full sensor and E-double and E-single Measures One-hundred percent. Tacsat link is go, spotter link is clean."
"Bravo-Five, Sneek, what he said."
"Delta Cadre, this is Bravo Cadre, we are green to go. On your lead."
Marius turned his gear to face his minions, his body forgotten as he rode within the ferrous shell of his gear. Megara was handling beautifully today, "her" every move fluid and prescise as a human, but backed by the power of tons of hydraulics, armor, and weapons.
"Go. All teams, move out. Alfa-three, you lead. SMS everybody."
As he moved to position, the other gears suddenly acted as if their feet had become mired, shifting from one foot to the other and kicking to deploy the skatewheels. Soon the air was alight with plumes of exhaust and the thrumming roar of the V-engines contained fury.
"MOOVE Out!" He roared, shoving his throttle full ahead. Behind him, his comrades' machines growled and roared their assent, charging after him amid a cloud of dust.
"Nearing the objective, everybody eyes up and awake back there. Arty fall back, Sneek, you go up ahead, look about, and stay quiet."
Immediately, the squads separated, the heavier support and assault gears finding good barrage positions while the lithe form of the squads' Cheetah recon sped past, favoring Megara with an glare that said "I know what I'm doing" impressively, coming as it did from a six-ton walking war machines' single omnicam eye.
Megara seemed to wince.
Then Marius felt his gear twist sideways as the waist, acknowleging Karas' Grizzly, "Kalibah" as it strode into view.
"I hope you aren't going to just go charging in like that..." She asked, putting one of her gears' massive paws on Megaras' shoulder in what would have been a comforting gesture, had it not been delivered by a mechanichal goliath whose gentlest touch nearly knocked him flying with dented shoulder-armor.
"Nope, just the textbook run-over from Sneek, then a slow advance through those dunes. We'll go hull-down leapfrog from crest to crest until we see something, then call you for help."
"Good plan. Simple too... Don't you get killed out there, Timothy Akarthy Marius- I'll haul your sory butt back to the land of the living just to kick it back to hell if you do."
"Fear not, milady! For with those encouraging words, I shall be reassured and never falter!" Marius quoted glibly, striking a glancing slug to his girlfriends' gear.
They stood together for a half moment longer, before separating to lead their teams
The damndest thing about desert night is you can't see shit until it's right in front of you, but you can see motion from a mile away... Gaav Preston cursed, slogging his belly-down Warrior IV through his ninth dune of the night. Beside him, the bulkier shape of his brothers' gear, Grendel, seemed to hate the sand even more. As the "Rapid-Strike" Grizzly plowed completely through another dune, shedding fine sand from accordion-folds of sandproofing, it's "Rapid" designation seemed wistful thinking. Damn thing moves like a cripled sandhog... He groaned mentally, scanning the terrain between him and another dune again with his lowlight optics.
Something glinted far below, and he paused, magnifying the image and filtering it for clarity.
But beside him, his brothers' clumsy gear had emerged from it's half-buried state and began to crawl down the dune, sliding downward in a torrent of grit and dust.
"Cor! No! Mines!" He screamed futiley, knowing that even if his tightband was recieved, there was nothing either of them could do.
As he watched, his brothers' Grizzly slid rapidly down the incline, showering the sand-valley floor with loose stones. Then, plowing his metal fists deep into the slipping sands, Cor somehow slowed his gear, driving his machines fists like pitons into the tigher packed sand near the base of the dune.
Finally, he stopped altogether, miraculously hanging in push-up position a meter above the disturbed sand of the valley floor.
Suddenly Gaavs' breath whooshed out of him, and he began to laugh.
"Son... of... a... bitch... Cor, you cut that one t- "
Light and fire geysered from the sand around Grendels' head and shoulders, fire blackening the armor as it shredded and tore through the lightly-armored head and neck.
As the explosion subsided into licking flame and greasy smoke, the gear below slid forward as its' arms gave way, to collapse limply over the pyre, sensor array and upper torso an unrecognizable gobbet of glowing metal and charred composite.
Gaav screamed wordlessly, incoherent enough not to hit the transmit button as he shrieked his brothers' name. And around him, Lancer stood immobile, sensor arrays fixed on it's constant companion, now reduced to a charred hulk.
Memories flashed through Gaavs' mind as he numbly clicked the com switch twice and tonelessly reported in.
"All gears, be advised of mines. Alfa-three destroyed, pilot dead. Alfa-four undamaged."
"Gaav's dead, sir. Minefield." Reynolds Ivers said meekly, his Weasel crouched with it's back against a dune as its' pilot coordinated the attack teams.
"Damn... Cor.. Advise all teams about the threat, call back Lancer, and move Five and Six to cover their zone as well. I'll take the Dolmen Forest myself, so long as you keep me updated."
"Yessir" Ivers said, once again peering over the edge of the dune with his gears' sensor dish, his gears' red omnicam eye peering mournfully out into the blackness, as if in search of the souls of it's dead companions.
"Ell-Jay recon alpha, something just set off the minefield east of my position. I'm scanning now, and would appreciate someone giving me cover before I check it out."
"Roger Elljay Recon Alpha, I'll get a mamba out to cover your six. Command out." Came the attentive reply, and down in the basecamp the low snarl of a starting engine could be heard.
"Andrews, you see anything?" Private Ward asked, carefully scanning the broken sand and hardpan along their route. His gear, Wombat, moved slowly, autocannon snuged in and every movement cautious. Before him, the massive shape of Mjolnir, Andrews' Razorback, continued to blithely clomp along, making no attempt at stealth as it casually held its' infamous railgun at the ready.
"Easy runt, if something is coming, I'll handle it. You just stay near me and you'll be fine."
"Yes Debbie." Came the absentiminded reply.
"Goddamnit Private! MY, NAME, IS, G E B H A R D T- ANDREWS. GEBHARDT SHORTENS TO "GEBBY"! THAT IS GEBBY, NOT DEBBY! Do you understand me, private?"
"Sorry sir." Ward replied, attention still more than half on his environment.
"Now try'an keep up with me Ernest? Okay?"
"Sorry sir." Ward replied, making no discernable increase to his gears' cautious gait.
"Shit sir. One bigass and one beercan. Both northie and both actively hunting. Passive sensor scans and slow movement on the second, just like I'd be doin' 'f I were in a P.O.S. Hunter, second is bold as brass and doesn't seem to give a damn if somebody sees him or not. Might be packing a Gaussrifle."
"Rog, EllJay. I got the big one, you take the Hunter."
"Banzai or whatever, Snakeeye Lead."
"Just shoot the damn thing on three."
"Three- Wha..! I mean, BANZAIIIII!!!"
"Sir, something, maybe." Ward suggested nervously, his gear seeming to hunch over even more as he tried to enhance the resolution of his Hunters' passive sensors by force of will alone.
"I don't see anything." Andrews replied. Then the air around him flared, coronal discharge lighting the sands as a laser blast thunderclapped superheated air and burrowed into his gear, melting and chewing armor in a firey line.
Simultaneously, the hill to the left of their chosen route was immersed in blue-white light as a strange form leapt skyward on a pillar of fire.
"Jumpjaeger!" Ward screamed, even as a faint red line sheared his Gears' left arm off in an explosion of metal shards. As the Hunter staggered and tried to return fire, the rocket pack on his left shoulder erupted, sending the war machine into the ground amid shuddering limbs and exploding ordinance.
Meanwhile, Andrews had opened up with his railgun, firing hypersonic needles at the now grounded Jaeger and struggling to acquire a rocket firing solution on his other unseen attacker.
Another faint line etched out of the darkness, spearing across his Gears' thigh in a shrieking blowtorch hiss, followed by the wailing screech of fire alarms and damage indicators.
Still firing, Andrews half-crouched his gear, centering his inoperable leg behind him as he braced and fired another flurry of autocannon shells and Gauss quarrels.
"Goddamnit! Shoot him!" Screamed EllJay Alpha, watching as current cover was further eroded in a geyser of rubble as a supersonic shell shattered a large portion of boulder behind which he presently resided.
"Roger, getting shot." Muttered the Snakeye on the ridge, rising from its' concealment and stalking forward, trying to gain a killing angle on the enraged Razorback below.
"Fuck this..." Groaned Elljay, as his cover disintegrated under another barrage. Popping off a pair of smoke grenades, he leapt his machine in a low parabolic arc, then zagged drastically upon impact, leaping and landing twenty meters closer in mere milliseconds and diving for cover amid a flurry of supressive fire.
Blackness surrounded Ward as he struggled to clear his mind. Got shot. Darned souther. Shot me. You want to get shot!? Shoot you back... I'll shoot you right back, stinking snake... He ranted mentally, trying to activate his Hunters' fire supression systems and restart the machine.
As he reached for the startup controls he winced in pain, realizing that his arm was either shredded or broken. Stifling a snarl, he ignored the pain and pawed at the start board, finally relaxing his clenched jaw as Wombat groaned and shuddered back to semi-activity.
The prognosis was grim, his gear missing one arm and damaged throughout its' torso. The rocket pod had sucessfully jettisoned after nearly incinerating him, but partial munition damage was preferable to fractricide and immolation.
Amid subdued claxons and shrieking hydraulics, Ward levered his mauled Hunter to its' knees, staring fuzzily out into the darkness through his cracked external cam and shorting VR helmet. Then, above him, he saw a hulking rounded shadow, illuminated by a passing tracer shell.
Breathing a sigh of pain and relief, Ward struggled to bring his gear to its' feet. Amid sparks and protesting groans of stressed steel and polymer, he finally managed it, blearing through his gunsight as his gear raised its' autocannon one-handed and clenched the trigger convulsively.
So intent was the southern sniper on drawing a bead on the wounded Razorback he had no warning as the Hunter he and his partner had assumed dead rose up and emptied its' cannon into his gears' exposed profile.
The first warning was the dreadful clatter of the 20mm autocannon, quickly drowned out by the thunder of impacting rounds, only one in ten deflecting off his rounded armor plating as the rest gleefully burrowed deep into his mounts' mechanichal flesh, causing a cacophony of shrieking sirens and shattering components, which mingled with his own death rattle and the sudden sucking whoosh as his fuel tank was hit. Ignited alcohol flooded the crew compartment with liquid flame, and breached the Snakeyes' laser powerpacks, geysering lightning and fire high into the air as the fire consumed the Gear.
Safely behind cover once again, Elljay Alpha paused his wild supressive fire and quickly reloaded his autocannon, jerking to attention as a pillar of flame marked his partners' demise.
Distracted, he never saw the enourmous buttstock and powercell array of Andrews' exhausted railgun swing down, crushing the Luftjaegers' rounded head. The giant Razorback swung again, and the blow squirted the massive omnicam assembly out of the mangled head like a grapeseed. Still berserk with battle rage Razorback swung again and again, crushing the Luftjaegers' crew compartment in on itself as he remorselessly battered the disabled machine until it resembled a crushed soda can.
"Ivers, sir. Ernie and Geb got ambushed. Both ok, but Ward's Hunters' barely hanging together and Gebs' weapons are dry."
"Roger Reynolds. Get em back to the ammo wagon and reload em, then have them meet up with the support squad and trade off for their XMGs."
Sighing, Marius poked his Gears' head over another dune and peered around, searching for enemies, mines, or anything else threatening. Seeing nothing, he continued his slow march toward the next crest of the omnipresent sand.
"Sneek reporting in. Hostiles all over the crash site. Downed Scorpion, wreckage enough for the two dead 'Jackets, and the back half of a Quetzal smeared all over the place, since I can see what's left of the front about a four hundred meters out. That's got two choppers parked next to it, and a Varis orbiting overhead. I make ten gears around the perimeter, and a light AA trak. Repeat, ten gears, two choppers, a Hydra-AA and a Varis hopper."
"Gotcha Cardiff, Kalibah, you copy?" Reynolds Ivers asked quietly, though he objectively knew that having his gear crouched behind a dune and speaking softly weren't going to help him hide if anything came nearby. Weasel Gears weren't meant for combat, and he was acutely aware of that fact as his coms dectypted the responding "Allgreen. Give us vectors, and we'll smash 'em flat."
"C'mander?" Reynolds asked, checking his passive sensors for the hundreth time as he waited for a response.
"Sneek, any sign of survivors from the crashes?"
"Maybe. Crew pod on the Scorpion looks like it was opened, but I'm hidin behind a chunk hull, looks like it got shredded off one of the Redjackets' noses, and I don't think anybody can survive when a plane- SHI-" Sneek contested, breaking off suddenly.
Marius held his breath as he heard the connection severed, and only prayed that the Southers wouldn't discover his spotter. If they did, not only would the mission be compromised, but his squad would be brutally eliminated by the alerted AST MILICIA forces.
Shit. You don't see me, you don't see me, you don't see me. Nothing here but rock. See, ROCKS, not Cheetah Mark Two hiding in boulder pile, you see ROCKS. You see rocks. No gears. Go back to thinking about ashanties or whatever. Just don't look at me. I'm not hereI'mnothere I.. am.. not.. here.. Winslow Cardiff chanted silently, curling even tighter inside his Gears' steel belly in response to the passing glare of a Southern Brahmin Cobra.
Fortunately, the pilot in the command Gear below overlooked him and his Cheetah somehow, and he was able to relax slightly within the cramped confines of his Gear.
"Damn." He exhaled, and powered his optics back up. In the distance massive pillars of volcanic rock rose around the edges of the valley, as if a massive mouth was rising from the sand to swallow all within, and only its' teeth were yet visible.
And amid those teeth, like darting remoras, were nine southern Gears, dilligently patrolling amidst the basalt spikes.
Finally, when the Southern support gear turned and trotted back to the tents strung between the two copters, he raised his secure burst com and fired off his sensor sweeps in a pulse transmission, carefully aiming and bouncing the signal off a flat slab of basalt far across the caldera rather than risk supressed sattelite-bounced voice coms again so soon after such a close call.
The message, aside from his compressed readout of the Southern forces, contained only a few lines of text.
<datstream/plaintext>TIMECRIT: AST READY FOR EVAC. HAVE LIKELY ACQUIRED RECON FROM DOWNED FIGHTER>FORCES EQUAL> ADVISE COMMENCE ACTION WHILE POSSIBLE USING SUPRISE AND FIRE SUPPORT TO GAIN STRATEGIC ADVANTAGE.<end text/transmit>
Looking the glowing green message over again on his solid-state screen, Marius breathed a prayer and began calling up his troops, already arrayed in a lopsided semicircle around the crash zone. Superimposing the red dots of the Southers in what he estimated were their current positions, he toggled his secure pulse com and began raising and readying his troops.
To be continued...
|APAGear II Archives||Volume 3, Number 2||March, 2001|
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