APAGear II Archives Volume 3, Number 3 April, 2001


Black Talons

Part Five

Harman Meyerhoff

[NOTE: Continued from Part Four, which originally appeared in Volume 3, Number 1. -Ed.]

At least I knew what to expect from both the hostiles and my mates this time.

Recon was plastering the terrain around our dropzone with no less than four recsats (though with all the cloud cover that day I don't know why they bothered).

To further encourage us, we were also informed that if things went really hairy, there was an Ortillery platform in geosych, prepped and ready to drop a fifteen hundred kilo asteroid down onto our position and take everything out rather than let an Amat bomb escape.

Only in this profession... Sword of Damocles for incentive......

Also, the squad was now starting to work as a unit, and despite the protestations of our ragged bunch, (which I chalked up to using political differences as an excuse to bicker) we seemed to have gelled somewhat.

I knew how they reacted, they knew how I reacted.

This mission, I wouldn't have to do everything myself and let them clean up, and it relieved me. I'd just have to do most. "Gelling" and "fighting well" are two very different things, and I'm never going to trust my back to any-one or any-thing other than (A) a battle-brother/sister who's shared at least four months of frontline combat with me, or (B) the hundred-forty milims of armor plating on the back of my gear.

At least they were fairly safe on my flanks...

"This is Hades to Black Talon Command- you are on target and green to go," Captain Merean noted as her ship circled around overhead, "Good hunting. Hades out."

"Ok folks. Red covers me, Green covers Blue."

I checked my weapon and my squad, arrayed in a loose semicircle around me. Wallace in his Kodiak, Vesping in her Jag, Mallinaux looking his Mamba around at the scenery, Pinter at attention in her Cheetah, and Sobec and Kage back a ways, their Cobra and Warrior seeming apart from the group.

I decided I'd definitely have to watch those two carefully, and keep them paired with sane folks. Neither suicidal/homicidal nor homicidal/homicidal in a big expensive, heavily armed means o' mass destruction (TM) is a good arrangement. Still, Westphalia Cabinet is Northern. Whaddya 'spect from Northies?

Did I mention I don't get paid enough for this shit?

"This is Talon Lead to Claw Red, Claw Blue and Claw Green. Showtime. Follow me." I said, goading my mount into a pounding trot towards the tentative patrol routes of the hovertanks.

Tentative, because despite not leaving tracks, a hovertank leaves whorls in tall grass or a settled dust wake to either side, depending on terrain. In order to prevent visible paths, the already terrain-friendly Scythians had been spotted traveling on either side of previous patrol routes.

By terrain friendly, I also should mention the numerous riverlets in the rock. Deep and narrow, the whole rocky valley was wrinkled with water channels that would doubtless start filling quickly if it started to rain.

"Hey! Lucky break -in the clouds- Harik... We see a transport truck and two hovertanks moving along the bottom of the valley right now! You should be able to trail them without a hitch. Be careful though- those tanks might be old, but they still can pack a punch, and if they see you, they sure aren't going to lead you in..." Morgan quipped, nice and warm and safe back on the Hades.

"Rog Hades. Thanks Morgan, I really need advice on how to do my job." I responded, dropping some of the usual sarcasm out of my voice at the last minute. It's called "tact", and I'm not real good at it. Case in point, without my trademark cynicism and sarcasm (which I miraculously realized could be considered offensive in this case), I sounded weary and dejected, which I most certainly was not. Actually, I was distracted more than anything, already surveying the live-beam satellite feed through my HUD overlay and plotting a path that would keep us near them, yet provide cover. With the gullies flooded, it would be pretty difficult, and there was no way that we'd all manage to stay together and in sensor range of the patrol.

Hell... Why not, 's what she's here for... I thought, weighing options and risks.

"Temmm-ple!" I called out.

"Ack-Yessir!?" She responded promptly, her gear snapped to parade-ground stiffness.

"You got the Recon Gear, do the Recon thingy on dem bad purple mens down dere. Don't get caught." I said in my most genial voice. Unfortunately, all the ingratiating tone I'd spared Morgan slipped out now.

Thankfully, she still possessed her "kaydet leather" and apparently didn't think anything of superiors being condescending. Still, I (as always is the case) immediately wanted to have not said it in that tone.

"Yessir." She replied cheerfully, her gear already speeding away. Didn't even get defensive with an "I know what I'm doing..." like Xia used to.

But at least she apparently did- I got a good squadmate-view video- and sensor feed from her as she trailed the laden truck and flying tanks like a ghost.

I, however, was busily trying to keep up. Wallace, Sobec and I were pounding along at the back of our group, with Mallinaux, Kage, and Vesping taking point to the left, center, and right, respectively.

The storm clouds overhead then began to rain.

Really rain.

Within minutes visibility was down to three hundred, maybe three hundred-eighty meters, but that was the maximum range you could see anything- details like trees, and the ground only came out at two hundred or so.

Just great. Untested squad, unknown enemy and unknown enemy emplacements, and now the weather was going to hell right when we'd just had satellite intel available.

"Looks like they're slowing up, I think they've arrived at wherever they were going. DAMN! That whole rock face is a door! Folds down into a bridge and leads in to the next valley north, looks like light defenses, couple of pillboxes..." Temple exclaimed.

"Do you want me to follow or hang back and wait for you guys to catch up?" She amended graciously, though there was (I was fairly certain) a jab about our Assault Gears' speed, or lack thereof.

Still, we were supposed to do this the nice team-oriented way, and that meant trusting these other Black Talon yahoos to A) not shoot me, B) absorb or redirect some enemy fire from me; and C) shoot back at the enemy occasionally. Seeing as I did not want to get shot, we'd have to gather and then advance.

"Temple, hold position and observe." I ordered, swapping my view to infra for a better look around.

I never quite understood why infra-red night-vision and false-color infra-red thermal scans are both referred to as infra, but the green one cut through a little of the rain, and afforded about forty meters more visibility. And range, as any scout or sniper will tell you, is everything.

"Sir, if this is like other CEF bases, there should be a microwave communications dish on nearest good sized hill. If you destroy it quickly, they won't have time to warn their agents or send word back to their superiors." Morgan cut in, adding a navpoint to my HUD and squad tactical display.

"Yeah, 's probably on that big hill, and barely inside their first defensive perimeter..." Kage agreed, his Warrior starting to outpace me and the rest of the squad. I reined him in an over-revved speed burst and a solid buffet to his Gears' shoulder.

"Temple, any other entrances to that base?" I asked, scanning my tacmap as my Gear continued to lope along with the pack.

"Nossir. One way in, and not really defended. I guess they figured if they're found, they're already completely screwed. I can't find any mines through magnetic resonance, but there looks like a couple of 65mm MLR-20s set up under those fake-rock mushroom caps."

"Mushroom caps? Temple, did you bring some Gunji up from Mekong? If so, did you try any recently?" I asked dryly, while my gear paused, contemplating another of those vicious little rain-enraged streams that wound around everywhere in this particular valley. In no mood to go swimming, I leapt over it with a roar of the jumpjets, and landed just in time for Temples' stammered response.

"Uh, no... I mean No Sir! Sir, the earthers have all their buildings covered with overhanging rocks, probably that fusion-melted sandstone like they use, and shaped so orbital surveillance would just think they're rock formations. From down here on the ground, they look like mushrooms."

"Err, ok. Very good Temple. You get that Morgan? Might explain why the sats couldn't see anything. Try looking for a suspicious boulder field around Temples' position and a little northward."

Leaping another stream, and waiting for my mates to ford (with the collective grace of a herd of giant iron barnabies) I managed to have the necessary half-second to observe the surrounding terrain and scan for Temples' beacon.

I had just spotted Temple and the CEF entrance through the rain when Morgan managed to get back to me. He seemed to be inventing new curses and designating nav points with equal facility.

Ammo dumps, hovertank bays, barracks, possible coms building (but no dish? Whatthehell...), support facilities and even a camouflaged airfield and a hangar burrowed into the side of a cliff face.

Apparently those sats had good enough radar systems that they could not only cut through the rain clouds, but take limited-depth scans through rock, natural or roofing. Good to have them on our side.

Having plotted the defenses and formed up my fire teams, I motioned readiness and started "tacticalizing".

"Temple, when I say so, snipe off those entry turrets or give me a mortar coord." I asked, dropping my gear to its' great steel belly behind a hillock.

The rest of the squad followed suit, dropping alongside me.

Then came the count.

"Everybody set?" I asked, checking my Gear. Once again I'd changed my loadout, judiciously bolting on an antitank launcher with six spare rockets to augment my guided mortar, hip-mount 15mm chaingun, IRP and prerequisite 60mm HAC, HRP/98, light antitank bazooka, and demolition grenades.

Only a fool limits his options.

"Temple, on two, shoot those turrets. Sobec and Wallace, shell with impunity. Kage, Vesp, Malllinaux, with me."





"Two" (Chrak-zizz-boom...Chrak-zizz-boom in the distance)

"One" I said calmly, rearing my Gear up and charging forward at a dead run, launching a mortar round to clear the gates of enemies.

As my mount accelerated, time seemed to slow.

Alarms began to wail as the smoke from the deceased turrets swam up into the sky.

"Sir! Two Scythians coming down the hill from the north-noreast. Looks like those patrollers we followed." Temple shouted, drowned out by the ringing tone of my targeting system as it provided a firing solution on one of the incoming tanks.

I paused my forward plunge, momentarily dropping to one knee and popping off a guided mortar round at the incoming hovertanks, then resuming the charge, launching bazooka shells into concealed pillboxes as I went.

Around me, the rest of the squad was doing likewise, concentrating on wrecking defenses before they could be manned.

Off in the distance, I felt/heard/saw the concussion and then plume of smoke as my tracking shell took out a hovertank.

Still, it's companion soared over the hillcrest like a bouncing metal raft and unleashed a barrage of cannon fire at me.

Rounds spanged off my Gear as I backpedaled, jinking and spraying 15mm at the turret. The purpose of this wasn't to hurt the hovertank (gods know, it couldn't've) , but rather to spoil its' gunners aim through flinch reactions and heat/magnetic fouling while my fire control computer took its' sweet time giving me lock-on.

Finally, the blessed beep sounded inside my cockpit, and with a sweet "whoosh-fwoosh-whphoom!" a streak of antitank on a pillar of light stabbed out and gutted the earther tank.

Time finally caught back up as the CEF hulk disappeared amid a weak fireball. The immolated form continued on for a few meters as the fans died, but then it almost peacefully nosed into the ground, caught, and cartwheeled over as it jammed its' prow into the mud and stuck. It screeched and groaned as its remaining fans tried to chew mud and turf, but then exploded as the drive fans gave out, shredding into the hydrogen tanks and setting them ablaze.

Still, I was running, rampaging and pillaging once again, never sparing the earther vehicle more than the time it'd taken to lock and fire.

Through my neon green view of things, I didn't really need Wallaces' shouted warning of "Infantry!"before I opened up on the poor sods with my hip cannon.

Around me, my squadmates joined in with machinegun and APGL, as a wave of GRELs and conventional infantry trying desperately to slow our charge and were mown down.

24mm and light antigear rockets blazed through the haze of rain and whited out patches of my infrared display, but both the Earthers and we knew it wasn't doing much.

Massive purple bodies and lighter human corpses fell as if scythed down as our black gears trotted across the mud stained field.

Finally, the human tide slowed and I began to lead the plodding charge up the slope, cresting the hill just in time to see the entire top of the plateau lever upward, sod and grass lifting up to reveal a giant antenna dish.

"Holy shit..." I said, surprised to see and enormous patch of the ground folding up and an antenna the size of a Walfish lazily ascending from a subterranean lair.

Like a massive umbrella cutting the rain, the antenna locked into position and began extending the central projector thingy, which would momentarily activate, bounce the signal off the dish, and screw our entire mission.

Still, I maintained my senses and began firing into it, cursing as my machine gun, and then 60mm autocannon rounds, pinged off or punched clear through with little effect.

The massive dish clanged loudly as the central thingy locked into position, but thankfully, it still had to orient horizontally, and I fought down panic and drowned out the shouts of my squaddies and whatever Morgan was yelling over the coms as I scrabbled for ideas.

Then I knelt my gear, bowed its' head and disabled my rangefinder. That done, I volleyed my entire heavy rocket pack into the dish.

Heavy rockets are supposed to be like medium-range high-volume minimortars, arcing up-and-out, and then coming down far away with an authoritative crash-and-boom. but in a pinch you can bend over and fire them in a straight-line, short range swarm and saturate the vicinity of your target. If you're lucky you'll hit it, if you're not, you'll have already bought it from standing still and giving away your position.

When the target is immobile, defenseless, thirty meters away, and easily twenty meters square, the whole operation is not such a dangerous or difficult problem.

The dish pretty much dissolved, girders snapping and sparks flying, and several of the few remaining infantry suddenly collapsed as the central microwave emitter snapped free from its' mounting- swinging by a power cable and irradiating them as it swept across their position.

Temple started on a question, but thought better of it as a Badger roared up the hill from the general direction of the inner base.

As Wallace put a 'zook rocket into it, Sobec called out a warning and ducked back behind cover, followed by the rest of the squad as another pair of lurching, soaring Scythian jetted up the hillside, cannons firing.

"Goddamnit! Suppressive fire, shoot-and-move kiddies!" I screamed as I dove for cover behind a gutted bunker, but not in time to avoid being tagged by one of the hovertanks. The cannon slug nailed my now empty heavy rocket rack and staggered my gear before I was completely under cover, but failed to do more than rattle me. Now damaged, empty, and pretty much useless, I took the hint and blew the rack free, my gear staggering slightly as it was relieved of its' burden.

I quickly re-shouldered my autocannon and drew out my bazooka, laying the tube along my Gears' right shoulder and whirling from cover, sidestep-pivoting on my left foot and launching a volley of bazooka rounds and incendiary rockets at the nearest intake port.

On the other side of the tank, I saw similar flashes and explosions, and watched gleefully as the flying steel raft succumbed to our overpowering teamwork as it dipped, flipped over, and exploded, accompanied by a rousing cheer from the squad.

Unfortunately, the hovertanks' brother immediately came slipping along from my right, crackling bolts of white-hot particle cannon lighting at us as it charged.

Then, in what has to rate as the second... third... well, one of the top ten stupidest/bravest/most incredible acts I've ever seen or done, little Temple ran up behind it and in one smooth move logrolled her Dark Cheetah right underneath it, making the tank surge queasily on its' air cushion.

"Stup-ed leetle... Temple!" Mallinaux screamed as he saw her go under, but was forced to duck as the tank oriented on him and fired again. Fortunately, about a half second later I saw Death Kitty jump up and spring away, just as the tank bucked upwards and dissolved in a tower of flame as the limpet charge went off.

Kids these days.

Still, we were far from out of the woods yet, and as if to prove my grim analysis, two more hovertanks came out of the base.

However, with us having plenty of cover and a good fire lane on the narrow portcullis, we were able to fire-and-move with great efficiency, chewing the first one up in a simple crossfire, and Mallinaux somehow getting close enough to the other to kill it with a well thrown suicide-grenade.

Current opposition liquidated, we began the laborious infantry tactic of infiltrating the base proper, clearing alleyways and open vehicle bays while sprinting from cover to cover, popping the few Badgers and infantry giving a last ditch effort to hamper our progress.

As we made our way through the scattered 'mushroom village' of the Earther enclave, I remembered to set demo charges and time-fused grenades, rigging just about everything to explode. The hovertank bays, the main barracks (whose doors we collapsed after setting fire to its' innards with my last few incendiary rockets), and the supply dumps.

Finally, the base populated with nothing but smoking wrecks and little democharge indicators floating in my HUD, I reached beneath my command couch armrest and, after gleefully calling out a warning, pushed in the detonator stud.

The entire mushroom farm suddenly blew their caps, as the squat CEF structures were reduced to craters of guttering flame or collapsed in on themselves amid their crumbled, exploded, or collapsed stone camouflage domes.

Unfortunately for my inner pyromaniac, the fires quickly died down under the pounding rain, but the com was nonetheless instantly filled with applause, shouts, and Mallinaux' scream/curse/howl as a parked badger was lifted off the ground near a blast and hurled into the air, to land less than twenty meters from him as it burst into flame.

"Sum'n good in that one." Vesping jibed, not missing a beat in the persistent effort to mock her teammate.

Whatever he responded, he thankfully kept it to the private fire team channel.

"Commander, we're reading a few more structures hidden north of your location, appears to be some static defenses. I'd say from the radiation and thermal output, it's probably the storage facility for the antimatter weapons."

"Roj tac, proceeding to nav." I replied laconically, motioning my squaddies into a loose wedge behind my gear.

There appeared to be a steep roadway going up behind the base and heading off toward the green diamond of [NAV GAMMA].

Holding up one metal fist for a halt, I began making my way up the steep grade, hunched over and weaving from cover to cover as the road snaked upward. Theoretically, I could let Pinter do the legwork, but I had a hunch that armor and firepower would be important at the top.

Squad arrayed behind me in a loose double-column, I slowly peered over the crest of the roadway. Immediately, the noise of the rainstorm was cut by two loud whooshing thumps, sounding like giant corks being pulled by an alcoholic giant, echoed from up ahead. Following like thunder to lightning, we vaguely saw streaks of white began arcing across the rain-obscured sky and begin falling toward us.

Almost like slow motion, I looked over my shoulder to see my squaddies breaking and spreading, hampered by the lack of maneuvering room on the narrow trail.

Then the first mortar hit, landing safely downhill of us and geysering gravel and sand into the air, where it immediately combined with the torrential rain and turned to airborne mud.

The second shell landed uphill, and while the blast didn't do more than rattle us, I immediately realized the danger of our position. Even if the shells missed, there was the very abundant chance of either a rock- or mudslide from the impacts.

Still, we were already fighting back. Both Sobec and Wallace were popping their shoulder-mounted guided mortars at the source of the artillery fire, and Mallinaux and Vesping were sprinting up the slippery slope, weapons at the ready as Kage simply screamed and charged past me.

Not being one to lead from the rear, nor possessing the most impressive or accurate long-range bombardiering skills, I elected to charge right after my cohorts, in the hopes of helping to kill some things and keeping Kage from committing enemy-assisted suicide.

More mortar rounds began to splash down now, and I tentatively identified one of the mortar positions and sent a few bazooka shells towards it in the hopes of dissuading more shelling.

Meanwhile, I heard Wallace and Sobec report superficial damage as a particularly accurate shell landed farther back down the trail. Temple was also screaming something, and the hilltop ahead of me suddenly began to strobe flickering lights as Kage, Vesping, and Mallinaux made contact.

"Oh no..." Mallinaux pronounced, and a quarter second later I crested the hill and could see what they were talking about. A bloody Visigoth was crawling around, flaring from its laser and 40mm batteries and bucking occasionally as it let loose with a slug from its main cannon. My mates were pinned down behind a second, burning-and-turretless Visigoth, and were pretty well screwed. Already mortars were starting to splash close by, thankfully unable to home in due to our ECM, but the dumbfires were growing increasingly accurate as the mortar teams zeroed in.

Not being nearly as suicidal as Kenji, I backpedaled the hell away and dropped to my Gears' broad belly, then and only then crawling back up to where I could just see the 'Goth.

Then, the sweet electronic scream ringing in my ears, I triggered my antitank launcher, reloaded, and fired again.

The Visigoth caught the first rocket in the front left tread assembly, which pivoted and twisted into uselessness as the shell ripped its housing apart.

The second rocket was much more accurate, and bored deep within the turret, where it detonated amid the huge railgun capacitors and munitions racks.

"Thanks si-" And something went Spak-zeeiiing off the side of my Gears' head, shaking me up and shock-shorting my electronics, but failing to do much permanent damage.

"Goddamnit..." I yelped, even as someone listed the hostiles. "Another hovertank, and some GREL infantry... make four, all armed with Twenty-Four Millim Ay Gee Ars..." I heard over a sudden barrage of cannonfire, though with my skull still ringing and hear still chugging, I wasn't sure who had said it.

Not helping in any way, my gear seemed just as dazed, and three more rounds tagged me before my attacker lost the bead. Thankfully, all those hits had glanced off, but it still underscored my instincts - GET TO FRICKIN COVER!

Desperately, I swung my omnicam and weapon towards the encroaching purples as I ran, firing wildly as I tried to clear my head.

Then, like a blast of holy damnation denying the Four Horsemen, Sobec crested the hill and launched a light mortar shell in direct-fire trajectory, so low it seemed like a flaming glob of fire had somehow leapt from his back and soared away a phoenix given flight, at least until the round arced down and hit amid the GRELs, spraying fire and shrapnel everywhere as it detonated.

The com erupted into a barrage of muffled staticky "woohoos", but still left us with the hovertank to worry about.

And Wallace, who'd been far out of view, solved that for us in an offhanded manner. While our ECM systems were making target locks difficult, the outdated CEF Scythian had no such advantage, as was made abundantly clear as my northie comrade sent it pair of guided mortar shells from well out of view.

Meanwhille, earther mortars were continuing to rain down at us, necessitating lots of running and yelling as puffs of mud and dirt blossomed everywhere. Combined with the haze of rain, it was only by sheerest chance I relocated the antimatter storage bunker.

Immediately, my emag sensors went berserk, and I, not knowing what I'd found beyond that mortar rounds weren't falling near it, designated it as a nav beacon and screamed "Rally Rally Rally!" into my coms.

Immediately, Vesping, Mallinaux, Kage and Temple materialized from the muck, but both Sobec and Wallace were cut off as the arty began saturating the courtyard gateway.

It took Morgans' startled "Thermal, radiation, and gamma particle spike! You found it! This is the Earther antimatter storage facility!" for me to realize where I was. Namely, practically sitting on a bunker full of antimatter citybusters with artillery raining fire everywhere but my position...

Offhandedly, a corner of my mind wondered what it'd look like if it went off. Then another part reminded the first part that both parts were in my head, only meters away from the fantasized ground zero. Both parts shut up after that.

Realizing that Sobec and Wallace weren't going to get under cover, I ordered them to fall back out of range and considered my options.

Despite being in the middle of a "hot" combat zone, I stopped to observe my surroundings, namely the squat, atomic mushroom that sprouted concealed coolant rootlets and camouflaged loading docks all over the courtyard.

I shuddered at the thought of its destructive potential, especially if any of us accidentally set it off.

Thankfully, its presence did the same thing to the mortar teams- gave them the womblies and precluded any shelling of Me and Mine. It was like a "get to shoot back free" card, and I played it for all it was worth. My mates were trying to suppress the mortars with autocannon, laser, and bazooka. But I had the advantage of a guided mortar.

So, with Sobec out of the picture, Wallace shouting he was down to three mortar shells, and myself (in combat terms) having all the free time in the world, I lined, lased, and volley-thumped my nearly full load of shells at those bothersome defensive emplacements.

My first trio of shells had just set off a mortar position as a sniper laser seared into my Gears' arm.

Fortunately, my Gear, like all of the other Talons, was coated with layers of quick-vaporizing exterior paint, which poofed quick and scattered the beam, negating most of the impact and blast, which allowed me to pop off my last shell with at least a vestige of accuracy as I was hurled onto my back, roaring fear and surprise.

("What 'Laser impact'?" you say? Well, in simple terms, Lasers impart either optic (light) frequency radiation or heat energy. Enough heat energy causes a state change in most materials. The more energy, the more material is changed, and at a faster rate. A fire is a slow release of heat energy. An explosion is just a really fast fire. A sniper laser can convert a chunk of metal to vapor-plasma so quick it's equivalent to a hand grenade explosion, and that's not even counting the penetrating/coring effect that makes the blast work almost like a shaped charge. Now you know, so let's get back to my turgid monologue, eh?)

So, still roaring incoherently, I side-rolled to avoid another blast, came up on my knees and crawl-sprinted for cover, coming to rest in the lee of the antimatter facilities' outer wall.

Several more thunder cracks issued towards my mates, but as I lay in the mud gasping the suddenly scorching air of my cockpit, I heard the louder snap-bangs of Temple returning fire, and as Vesping dove for cover next to me, heard a muffled giggle from Temples' com band.

"God... damn... You killit Temple?" I asked shakily, watching spatters of mud sizzle on the melted armor, forming lazy wisps of steam around the scorched laser wound.

With a start, I realized the rain had stopped, and that the sun had returned, seeming to have saved all the light from during the storm and concentrated it into one colossal blast of post-storm uberbrightness.

"Sous-Caporal Morgausa Temple, reporting one sniper neutralized, and it looks like you got all the enemy mortars, sir."

"Thank god.." I groaned, shifting my gear off its side and levering it up to a crouch. Carefully, I straightened to where I could pop my head up and take a quick peek over the palisade.

"It's all clear sir, nothing on any sensor band." Vesping assured me, carefully plodding her gear through the ripped up courtyard and only semi cautiously checking the once battlefield.

I slowly followed, accompanied by my mates, scanning around the muddied, but somehow clean, ex-battlefield.

In an almost sickening stereotypical turn of events, birds were starting to sing, and I felt that rather than the joy of somehow having survived and done grievous damage and being rewarded with a bright sunny day, whatever gods that be were having their last chance at screwing with my head, trying to royally fuck up my equilibrium by giving me this squeaky clean, bright, sunny aftermath.

Needless to say, I wasn't buying into it, and rather than cheering as Wallace and Sobec staggered into view and wandering off to halfheartedly search for remaining hostiles like my squaddies, I kept my AC snug and my sensors hunting.

And once again, Lady Luck saved me from the cruel machinations of her mischievous siblings as she put me dead in front of the bases' evacuation convoy with a full belt of ammo in my gun and my pitted metal Cobra dead center in front of their escape hatch when it opened.

Lady Luck hadn't just smiled, she'd shot me a smirk and winked.

Imagine my surprise as a normally nondescript slab of bedrock about fifteen meters square levered up and revealed an underground parking garage with a full column of cargo trucks and APCs lined up and waiting to leave through the just-revealed tunnel.

I'd prefer to remember their expressions as I, never missing a beat, dropped my AC and jabbed the tip through the windshield of the lead truck, nonchalantly nosing the snout of the 60mm barrel against the chest of the terrified driver within.

"Hey talon kiddies, getcher asses over here!" I roared, savoring the plight of the trucker and smirking a predatory grin so wide my cheeks ached.

Far back down the line, a vehicle blared on its' horn, prompting me to lean my gear around the lead truck. Focusing in on the noise source with my binaural mikes, I pushed the Camel to one side of the tunnel, giving me space to reach in and wave my HAC in a threatening manner.

Unfortunately, the earthworms weren't being stupid when they found the convoy jammed, and had dispatched a pair of GRELs to run up to the head of the line and see what the problem was.

I at least assumed it was two GRELs, because the thrusting of my AC in the space between truck and wall apparently skewered the first, and the whole "threatening waving" in the confined space apparently took care of the second as it was accidentally yet repeatedly rubbed between the rough cut rock wall and my gun barrel.

By that time, the rest of the squad had gathered, amid profanity and incredulity. Acknowledging their presence, I pulled my autocannon free and straightened, patting the hood of the terrorized lead truck with one giant steel paw.

Only when I brought my gun back into my view did I notice the struggling GREL thrashing on the barrel. Feeling like some sort of bayou spearfisher, I shook the half-dead NEC footsoldier off, perhaps with a bit too much surprise and emphasis. The twitching purple was not only removed from my gun, but flung across the intervening space to hit Temple in the "face", who immediately spent a few seconds shrieking and flailing DeathKitty to dislodge the GREL from where it'd hit her in her Gears' head.

"Sorry bout that kiddo." I apologized, then motioned the squad to cordon the entrance as I motioned the lead flatbed out into the daylight.

Curiously, Mallinaux pulled the tarp off the truck, casually resting the barrel of his laser cannon on the drivers' side door, nearly tearing it off its hinges as he pulled the heavy canvas off the bulky cargo strapped to its' back.

"Merde!" He yelped, and I turned to look.

Even as my eyes widened at the metallic ovoid bearing the cautionary (DANGER-AM CONTAINMENT-DANGER), I had keyed Morgan and the Hades. However, this development gave me pause to rephrase my report.

"Hades Black Talon, this is Black Talon Lead, you guys will never believe what we found under a rock..."

To be continued...

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