APAGear II Archives Volume 3, Number 4 May, 2001


The Drawing Storm

Jason Dickerson

5 Summer 1931
Siwa Oasis, Southern Republic

Andol looked on in marvel at his old office. The 99th's regimental commander hadn't changed much since the War of the Alliance. On the southern wall, the regimental colors stood proudly next to the Southern Republic flag. The dark reds and silver of the SR clashed with the regimental orange and greens producing a somewhat nauseating sensation. Much like his current obligation to the Order.

Sitting behind the ancient mahogany desk, Raphael Sinclair, the current commandant of the 99th, scowled at the orders in his hands. Leaning on his cane, Andol reached for a Tabac cigar hidden in the jeweled case in his jacket. Finding a particularly large cigar, Andol breathed in the aroma of the Tabac.

"So, Raphael, do you see any problems with the orders?" Andol asked. Raphael looked up with a frown on his face.

Placing the file on the desktop, Raphael reached into a drawer for his own vice, cognac. "I can understand why you would want Jean for this assignment. Perhaps one day he will become a prefect. If the Order will allow it…"

Andol lit his cigar and drew in deep. " You think that the Order is mistaken in sending someone so young?"

"He's a good officer. In two cycles he should make full lieutenant, but why waste his military strengths on a diplomatic mission?"

"Jean has his father's charisma and natural talent for combat. I should know, I've been like a father to him since Marius's death. I need somebody who can properly assess the situation and report truthfully. Jean will perform his duty and he will excel at it. Not because of his talents, but because his country demands it."

Raphael leaned back in the padded chair. "You think that the sous-lieutenant will become the diplomat, because you demand it? I think that you may be sending a hot headed youth to his death, and what would that accomplish?"

"Hot headed? Jean? You mistake his sense of honor for hot headedness? Raphael, I'm surprised at your opinion of young Autel. The way I understand it, you've personally fostered his sense of honor, especially in Delyon's Code."

Raphael sat up in his chair. "Fine, old man. Have the boy, but I want him back eventually."

Andol could see that the commandant had invested much in the young man. No mystery there, Jean had a knack for gathering people to him. Andol prayed that Marius would forgive him for sending his son into the maws of hell.

24:00 Killerean Bakery, Siwa Oasis, Southern Republic

Sgt. Bossert was fuming. That was a bad sign. Jean looked up at the MILICIA officer that Bossert had just assaulted only moments before. The sergeant had been justified in his actions, but now the MILICIA officer had two more of his buddies flanking him.

No surprise there, MILICIA were known for their cowardice. Time to even the playing field, Jean thought. Standing from his corner table, Jean walked over to officer. To the civilians the whole incident looked ridiculous. Jean was surrounded by men who stood nearly a foot taller than him, yet he maintained a certain air of command.

This all began when the MILICIA officer's Dominionite friend had grabbed a waitress around the waist and fondled the young woman's breasts. Every Republican eye looked up at the girl's shriek. Sgt. Bossert had been watching the whole incident unravel to that point. It just so happened that Bossert and the waitress, Emily, had been seeing each other for some time and the burly sergeant reacted to the outrage with a precision that Jean could appreciate. Emily was amazed that Bossert had knocked out the offender and had begun on the officer. That's when the other two MILICIA men joined in.

Quickly assessing the situation, Jean intervened. "Stand down sergeant!" Bossert looked over at his commander with dismay. Surely he had seen the offense.

"Lieutenant? That dog laid a hand on Emily. I demand satisfaction!" The MILICIA officer grinned at the animated sergeant. Jean knew that Bossert was in no condition to fight off the three men, there would have to be another way.

"What's your name lieutenant? Your with the Golden Palais regiment are you not?" Jean was buying some time. The MP's should be arriving soon. Maybe there could be a way to salvage the situation. After all the Dominionite was laid out for his drunken indiscretion.

"Yokusa. Ameno Yokusa. This mongrel attacked my man without provocation. I believe that charges should be brought up against him." Yokusa grinned at Bossert. MILICIA always liked to find ways to knock down Republican soldiers.

Jean looked at Yokusa with derision. "Of course. If that is that route that you would like to go, then by all means bring charges against him. I don't think that you understand the gravity of the situation though."

Yokusa looked confused. " What do you mean? He clearly violated Military Law. His punishment should be public flogging. I'm sure that any judge would see it that way."

Jean crossed his arms and smiled. "Emily is a Republic citizen. Your man performed an act of public degradation upon this girl. As his companion in this situation and highest ranking officer in this establishment, you are his accomplice."

Yokusa's face contorted with anger. "Accomplice? I didn't do the act you accuse him of? How am I an accomplice?"

"As his commander, you did not prevent the incident. Bossert should have never had the opprotunity to pummel your Dominionite. You should have administered punishment yourself."

"You arrogant Republican! No court would see it that way!"

Jean smirked. Waving a hand at the crowd, he added. "Witnesses are hard to refute. Especially when there are so many of them."

That's when it happened. Yokusa threw a punch at Jean and the two other MILICIA men jumped at Bossert.

Just in time for the MP's to see….

99th Regimental HQ
Siwa Oasis, SR

Jean stood in the commandant's office waiting for his commander to arrive. It was strange, this office had once been his father's. Running his hand along the grain of the desk, Jean wondered how many hours his father had spent in this office. According to Andol, Commandant Raphael Sinclair had changed only a few minor things. Sinclair's commendations and photos hung on the wall. One picture, taken at the height of the War, showed Raphael with Jean's father. Both men were standing next to a Jager gear.

Marius looked exhausted, but his bearing didn't betray any weaknesses from it. Raphael was younger. Jean could see the sous-commandant bars pinned to his tunic. Andol recalled that many young soldiers advanced rapidly during that war. Attrition had its price.

Jean's reminiscing came to a swift close when he heard the pressure doors open behind him. The sound of heavy boots rang against the metal floor as Raphael walked over to Jean.

Standing next to the young man, Raphael looked down at his favorite junior officer. Jean Autel. In the three cycles since the Academy handed this young man to his care, Raphael had taken the boy under his wing. Most of the regiment had taken a liking to the youth. It had something to do with Autel's boyish demeanor, Raphael thought. Many officers had nicknamed him 'Little Brother'. Jean just smiled at the term and worked harder to prove that he was not the youth that everyone portrayed him to be.

Being short didn't help Autel either. Many women in the regiment stood taller than Autel. Andol said that Jean took after his mother physically. Having never seen the woman, Raphael could only surmise that Andol was right. Marius Autel had been a tall muscular man with a commanding presence. For all of the physical traits that Jean didn't inherit, Marius seemed to have marked his son's personality deeply.

During the first season that Jean had been a member of the 99th, Raphael had noticed the strong sense of honor that the boy had displayed. His section had taken a fierce loyalty to him during that time. Many of Raphael's commanders had noted that Jean had grown a cult of personality among his men.

It was infectious. Lt. Sylvia Montisse, Jean's commander, had become hopelessly infatuated with the boy during that time. Raphael was a little disturbed about the reports that Jean and her were lovers. Worse, Sous-Commandant Daral claimed that both of them had accepted each other into their circles. That was going to have to be remedied.

Jean waited as his commander glared down at him. Obviously, Sinclair had heard of the disturbance at the bakery. Bossert and Emily's honor had been satisfied, and that was good enough for Jean. The surprise on Yokusa's face when the owner smashed a bottle of port into the officer's face was priceless. The other two MILICIA men were only too grateful for the MP's intervention.

"Stop looking so smug Autel. I heard about that incident at Killerean last night and I'm disappointed in your actions. What possessed you to intervene in the situation?" Jean stood rigid without emotion. Raphael walked over to his desk and sat down. Publicly, Raphael had to chastise Jean. Privately, the officer agreed with Jean's actions. Republican honor had been violated and Jean chose to uphold it. "You may speak, sous-lieutenant."

"It was a situation that could have escalated further had I not intervened, and as Bossert's commanding officer it was my duty to intervene on his behalf."

Smooth response, Raphael noted. Not one word about honor, but he used the concept in his answer. Duty was the foundation of honor, and in one statement Autel had evoked that image twice. "Is duty a shield that you hide behind, Autel?"

Jean's face grew dark. "Duty, sir, is the precept that the military is build upon. I do not hide behind it. I worship it."

Truth. Autel spoke with the conviction of a fanatic. How was this going to help him in the swamps? "Why?"

Jean was confused. Why? Raphael was a commander of an elite airborne regiment. He should know this already. "It is the religion of a soldier to place duty before all else. Every soldat knows this."

"But at the expense of morality?" Raphael was testing the youth.

"There is no such thing as morality unless the soldier can commit to the foundation of duty. Nothing is more sacrosanct as that."

Raphael had heard this argument from many of the new officers. They forget the history of our country. "So how do you explain the Marabou Marauders? They committed atrocities in the name of duty. Do you approve of their actions?"

Jean relaxed his shoulders. "No. Of course not. But therein lies the beginnings of our country. Our military is founded on the Marauders' fanatic loyalty to the cause. Morality was instilled by the reaction of the other city-states."

"So you're saying that morality is the reaction to poorly directed duty."

"In the case of soldiering, yes." Jean looked onto his commander for a reaction. Raphael leaned back and looked at the young man.

"Are you a moral soldier, Jean?"

Jean thought for a moment. "I am a moral citizen of the Republic. I am a dutiful soldier."

Raphael knew that for Jean the orders he was about to receive would test those theories. "Good. Then as a dutiful soldier are you ready for the reassignment that I am about to dispense?"

Jean looked worried. The 99th had been his father's regiment. Everything about his military career up to this point revolved around the 99th. "Reassignment, sir?"

"As of three hours ago, I received orders to transfer you to the Okavango region of the Eastern Sun Emirates. Specifically, to the Toledo province. You are officially there for topographical research of the region. Unofficially, you are there to judge the loyalty of one of the Emirs."

"What qualifies me for such a mission?" Jean was exasperated. The ESE was a country devoid of morality. The horror stories of the decadent Patriarch were often the source of many headlines. Republican soldiers were sent there as punishment. Many never returned.

"Jean. You have gained the patronage of certain powerful individuals. They want to test your capabilities. Senior officers draw too much attention, and as a junior officer you have the luxury of anonymity."

Jean understood Sinclair's answer. He was expendable. "But why send military at all? Somebody from the diplomatic corp would seem better suited for this mission."

"This is a military matter, Lieutenant. Alia St.Croix, the emir of Toledo, has expressed interest in joining certain rebel elements in the region. In order for us to secure this as a possibility, we are sending an officer to judge the area's strengths and weaknesses. Mostly, we want to know the possibility of creating an independent military unit that can operate for our needs."

Jean nodded. "Black Ops…"

Raphael smiled. "Never heard that Autel. You will have six days to make any necessary arrangements."

Longchamps Airfield
Summer 12, 1932
Siwa Oasis, SR

The past six days had been a living nightmare for Jean. The first day after Sinclair had pronounced his death sentence, Jean had a falling out with his commander, Lt. Montisse. Sylvia had reacted to the news horribly, and Jean didn't blame her. They had finished an evening of lovemaking at the apartment they had leased together two seasons ago. Jean wanted to tell her later, but she knew that something had been bothering him all day.

Thinking back on it, Jean realized that any other place would have been better. Of course, the slap had been a surprise. No hesitation. Sylvia had thrown all of her strength into that blow.

Then came the screaming. None of her arguments had been logical. Why would they be? The man she loved just told her that he was being sent to certain death. Jean watched the whole thing unravel under a fugue of pain and confusion.

To make matters worse, Jean had said things that he regretted. He left the apartment with his clothes and his journal. Since then, Jean had sulked about town at his usual haunts. The Killerian Bakery and the Jodan Playhouse both offered a sense of civility. Jean regretted that the most. The Republic offered its citizens a proud history and culture, things unknown to the world outside of its borders. Jean feared the unknown primitives that he would encounter, and that thought appalled him the most.

After receiving the full extent of his orders, Jean spent the rest of the day drunk at his apartment on Rue de Champlys'. Sinclair wanted Jean to go to this Alia St. Croix's backwater home and train her rabble guard to fight as guerrillas. To complicate matters further, the home guard was barely trained to use their antiquated Anolis's and Jager's. Of the number of functioning gears that were reported still functioning, only twelve were worth using. The other fourteen gears had been stripped for parts over the past century.

That had been four days ago. Now Jean sat at the empty airfield waiting for the Bachuss transport to carry him to his personal hell. None of his comrades in arms had come to see him off, Jean bitterly noted. Why should they? After all he was the walking dead.

The hour passed uneventfully. Jean watched the birds fly above him in a flurry. The sky had its usual orange tint. It was said that the pollution from the petroleum production in the area was the cause of the strange tint in the sky. Jean liked the look though. The sky had a certain beauty. It had character. Here was Siwa Oasis. You could see it for miles outside of the city. Small reminders what was ahead for the traveler.

In the Republic, every city had its own character. Port Oasis had the grandeur of a capitol city and Ashanti had the feel of an open society. Jean loved them all. This was his home. No matter where he was sent, the Republic was his home. If the Republic demanded that his blood be spilt on some god-forsaken foreign soil, then so be it.

In the distance, Jean could make out the shape of the cumbersome transport slowly making its way to the airfield. He could also see a jeep coming toward him as well. Now what?

When the jeep came closer, Jean could make out Montisse sitting in the passenger's seat. Sgt. Bossert and Corporal Lindst were the other figures in the vehicle. So my friends haven't abandoned me.

"Lieutenant Autel!" Bossert's baritone voice echoed toward Jean. Stopping the jeep in front of his commanding officer, Bossert clambered out of the vehicle. Lindst followed his friend. Eric Lindst was one of Autel's fanatics. Everybody on the base knew that the young man would follow Autel into any situation if asked by his commander. Early in his command, Autel had found that Lindst was one of the least admirable soldiers under his command. It had become a matter of pride for Autel to shape this man into an effective combatant. Taking personal time out of his day, Autel had drilled Lindst into the man he was today. Lindst had received his corporal pips soon after. Ever since then Lindst had followed Autel around as a bodyguard and loyal follower.

"Lieutenant. Lindst and I… Well we wanted to say good luck, and…" The big man was at a lost for words.

Lindst took over for him. "I think what Bossert means to say is that we hope you'll be back soon."

Bossert grinned. "Those Easterners don't have any idea what their getting."

Autel lifted an eyebrow. "What were you told about my assignment?"

Bossert looked over to Montisse perplexed. Montisse stepped out of the jeep. In her arms was a tooled leather case. The 99th's emblem was etched onto the top of the lid. "I told them, Autel. They wanted to know why I wasn't talking to you."

Jean glared at her. "Command could strip you of your rank if they find out. What were you thinking!"

Montisse threw the case into Bossert's arms and marched back to the jeep. "You see how he treats us!"

Bossert took the case and handed it to Jean. "Don't worry about her, sir. She's just afraid that you won't come back. Any way the three of us thought you could use this down in the swamps."

Jean opened the case and looked down in awe. A finely etched nickel steel revolver lay in the red velvet interior of the case. Carved into the dark wood grain was his regimental logo and the Republic falcon. On the flip side, Jean could see an old photo of the four of them laser etched into the grip. A reminder of the past that binds us together, Jean thought ruefully.

"Thank you. You don't know how much this means to me." Jean smiled at the two men and then looked over to Montisse. "Would you, boys give me a moment with Lt. Montisse?"

Montisse looked up as Jean approached. In the background the transport noisily announced its arrival with screeching tires. The engines hummed loudly. "Damn you, Autel. Why are they sending you?"

Jean sat in the driver's seat. Reaching for her hand, he responded, "It's not my place to argue with command. Duty and Honor. I have to live by those ethics or my life has no meaning. I may not like where this is leading me, but I have to accept what fate has in store for me."

Montisse's eyes brimmed with tears. "You're going to die in that hellhole, Jean, and you're sitting here telling me about duty and honor. How typical of you!"

Jean wiped away the tears from her face. She was beautiful. Sylvia had the grace of a bull at times, but it was times like this that he saw her true beauty. "I love you Sylvia."

Anger flashed across Montisse's face. "Now! Now, you tell me this? What is wrong with you, Autel!"

Jean smiled at her. "Let me go, Sylvia. Find someone else, maybe an accountant. Just be happy for me."

"I hate accountants, but maybe I'll find an actor or some writer." Montisse looked away, only to be faced with the imposing face of the Bachuss transport. Looking back at Jean, Montisse drew him closer. "Damn you. Damn, damn, damn. Why did you make me love you?"

A crew member from the transport motioned for Jean to board. Bossert grabbed Jean's duffle bag and carried over to the transport. Jean nodded his thanks. "Promise me that you will find somebody else, Sylvia."

Montisse nodded faintly. Jean stepped out of the jeep and saluted one last time to his commander. She returned his salute. This was a parting of two soldiers.

The trip to Strathclyde was a painful flight. Jean had asked the pilot to inform him when the plane had left Republic air space. When the pilot announced that they had left the Southern Republic, Autel closed his eyes and meditated.

Summer 21st, 1930

The heat was worse than any of the reports had indicated. Jean was grateful to Commandant Garamond's suggestion of a replacement cotton uniform. The wool uniform would have suffocated him long ago. Even now, Jean worked on another tab. God! Why don't these MILICIA use the environmental controls in this Samson helo?

Noticing his discomfort, the MILICIA pilot began his rant on the swamp. "So, Sous-Lieutenant is this your first time to the Okavango?"

Autel nodded. "Yes. I'm afraid so." With that Jean unbuttoned his collar. "Is it always this humid?"

The co-pilot snickered and the pilot grinned evilly. "Actually, this aint too bad. Give it three or four weeks and that's when the mosquitoes start coming out. Then there's malaria and other nasty diseases that you can only get in the swamps."

Jean sighed. "Lovely. How long till we get to Toledo?"

The pilot brought up the holo projection of the region. Noting the locations, Jean watched the display blink in a flurry of colors. "Three maybe four hours. It all depends on if the town decides to put up their beacon. It's damn near impossible to find any of these swamp towns without them."

"What do you mean? Toledo isn't as hard to find as some of them. It's built on a terrace so it doesn't move around like some of the other platform towns."

"Platform towns. You mean they aren't built on land?" Jean had heard of such things, but couldn't imagine it being a suitable means of habitation.

The co-pilot looked back and motioned with two hands. In a slow sweeping motion he demonstrated how the platform towns could be difficult to locate. Then he add in heavily slurred Anglic, "Platforms moooove. Ne'r in the same place twaece."

Jean nodded weakly. "I see. Well then I guess I'll leave you to your piloting. I'm going to the back and check the equipment."

Leaving the cockpit area, Jean worked his way back to the cargo hold. Jean admired the new Iguana gear resting in the back. This gear was a paratrooper variant with water seals and simple submersible capabilities. It was definitely not a Water Viper, but it would be more than adequate for maneuvering around in the swamp.

Jean found a crate to sit on as he penned a few thoughts into his journal. His mother had given the old style ledger as a gift at his graduation from the Academy. Jean had to admit that he didn't religiously pen his thoughts onto the vellum, but when he was frustrated or feeling profound, this was his escape.

These MILICIA pilots leave much to be desired. Uncouth and barely trained, I am amazed that my current companions have survived the dangers of Okavangos for the six seasons that they have claimed to have been serving. I suppose it is a necessity of the times to use the fodder first. Surely some Republican ideals have been ingrained in their training. I have heard the copilot mention his derision toward all Republicans, but prudence dictates that silence would be my best ally. As far as my impression of this place, it's worse than I imagined. The first three days after arriving at the opulent capitol, I spent catering to the whims of various emirs. The only thing that kept me sane was the presence of my superior in this endeavor, Commandant Keisha Garamond, the aid to Lord Chancellor Tanaka. She was kind enough to guide me through the intrigues of the court of Strathclyde with ease. In addition to the uncouth behavior displayed by these debauched rulers, I have had to deal with the unusual humidity of the region. I swear this place is has all of the charm of a Badlands outpost without any of the pleasant dispositions.

As if on queue the Samson jolted in response. Damn it. What were those degenerate Easterner's doing! Jean scrambled to the cockpit. The pilot was calmly changing course to accommodate for the warning lights that were screaming at the crew. Jean was familiar with the sight. It could only mean one thing. Missiles.

"Who's firing at us?" Jean demanded. The co-pilot looked at him with a nonchalant face.

"Swamp Rats. They in use old dummy rockets. Nothing to worry bout."

Jean shook his head. This was insane. "Swamp Rats? Why are they firing at us?"

The pilot thumbed toward the back. "Cargo. They're pirates. What can I say?"

Jean nodded. They couldn't be that much different from the Badlands rovers. Most bandits operated in limited capacity. Ammunition and fuel were expensive commodities in the wilds. So that meant that their base was nearby. Jean looked at the navigation controls. Noting the location of Toledo and the helo's current location, Jean made a decision. "I'm going down. Open the hatch."

The pilot shot him a dirty look. "What!? I don't think so, sir. We just nearly got clipped by a missile and you want us to land in hostile territory?"

Jean smiled. "Who said anything about landing? In fact go higher. I'll need the altitude for the drop."

The co-pilot began to chuckle. "Misa, youse crazeee."

"Hey. It's your life Republican." The pilot adjusted his controls for the rise.

Jean patted the pilot's shoulder. "I'll be ready in two. Open the hatch when I tell you." The pilot nodded.

Rushing to the cargo hold. Jean grabbed his duffle bag and threw it into the cockpit of the Iguana. Following his gear, Jean strapped himself into the seat. Adjusting the straps and taking into account the ammo and fuel readings, Jean closed the hatch. "I'm ready. What's the altitude?"

"800 meters. We're as high as we can go, Republican."

Jean grimaced. Barely within the limit for a safe jump. "Fine. Open the hatch. Au revoir mes amis. I'll deal with any other threats between here and Toledo. Good luck." With that he was out of the helicopter.

The drop was quick. Almost immediately after the gear left the helo, Jean had to compensate. Thirty meters after clearing the helo, Jean engaged the parasails located in the shoulders of the gear. The machine groaned as the wind resistance pulled at the frame of the cockpit. Nothing abnormal there, Jean sighed.

Jean counted the seconds to descent. It seemed like an eternity. Then he heard the proximity sensor ignite. Five meters. Time to disengage the parasails. The loud pop hiss indicated that this was successful, but Jean wasn't prepared for the splash of water.

After orientating himself with the new sensation, Jean looked down at his gyroscope. Upside down? How did that happen? Toggling his manipulator controls, Jean moved his Iguana up out of the muck. The water currents washed most of the grime from the video sensors, but Jean realized that the communications antenna had been destroyed by the impact. Damn. Bad luck.

Engaging the walker system, the Iguana began the slow walk toward the heat signatures that were indicated on the laser targeting system. Three sources, infantry class. Jean engaged the passive sensors after tagging the targets. No sense of letting them know that I survived.

At least the Iguana was equipped with environmental controls. Keeping the gear semi-submersed helped reduce his gear's profile. These Swamp Rats were amateurs. Not one of them checked their trail. Three Judas's to betray the camp.

Twenty minutes later, the heat signatures in the area exploded onto the screen. The advanced targeting system counted fifty-two infantry targets. Jean pulled his gear further into the murky waters. Observing the enemy, Jean waited for the right moment. Hours passed steadily and Jean could see that the camp was celebrating something. Perfect. Noting the command tent, Jean began his list of potential targets.

4:03. Most of the targets were fast asleep or too drunk to react with any degree of aptitude. Turning on his active sensors, Jean made the computer 'paint' his target list.

Raising his auto-cannon, Jean pumped the command tent into oblivion with a short burst. The camp became active with commotion. Aiming for the fuel barge next, the Iguana let loose a hail of bullets. The explosion rocked remaining structures. The rest of the targets were simple mop up targets.

As if to deny his victory, one of the brigands scrambled into an old Jager. Jean caught the blip in his radarscope and groaned. Throwing one of his grenades into the encampment, Jean finished the remaining brigands. Looking at his scope, Jean could see that the Jager was quickly moving out of the area.

Adjusting his nav computer to record the location, Jean moved his gear into action. It was going to be a long night.

8:15 Summer 22, 1930
Toledo, ESE

"What do you mean he's dead?" The emir's guard leaned on a ornamental pole-arm. The two MILICIA helo pilots were off loading the cargo from the hold.

The pilot stopped and turned to the guard. "Dead. I don't think there's any other way of putting it. He pulled some crazy stunt jumping out of the hold. Damn. Never saw anything like that."

"But how do you know he's dead? Did you see an explosion?" The guard thumped the chest of the pilot.

The pilot pushed the guard away. "He didn't respond to any of our coms." Lifting up his forefinger at the guard to cement the point. "Including passive coms."

The guard looked perplexed. "The Emira isn't going to be happy."

Dragging the last crate off of the helo the co-pilot began to snicker at the guard's last statement. "Yous know. I almost liked that snoot ass, Publican."

The guard began to laugh at the co-pilot's observation. "I've never liked them Publicans myself."

The pilot just grinned at the two men. Looking over at the commotion at the palace, the pilot asked, "What's going on over at the Emira's?"

Shaking his head the guard replied, "Execution Feast."

"Who's the lucky relative?"

The guard just grumbled. "Not relative. The Fallen One. Our former garrison commander."

The pilot shrugged. Hell, it was going to be some party. These emirs were always grateful when they entertained and executions were this emir's favorite pastime. What luck! "Too bad our Republican friend couldn't be here with us. I'm sure the emira could have found something for palate. Maybe a young boy or girl. You know how those Republican's are."

The co-pilot and guard roared in laughter. Then it happened. Explosions from an auto-cannon broke the silence of the morning. Turning toward the sounds, the pilot looked on as a damaged Jager was rushing toward the helo pad. Out of the morning fog, an Iguana came rushing after the battered gear. Lifting the auto-cannon, Jean aimed at the head of the enemy Jager. One squeeze and it was over. The shells ripped open the armored carapace of the head with deadly effect. Nothing would be left of the pilot's upper torso.

Maneuvering his grime covered Iguana to the shore of the town, Jean walked over to the helo pad. Powering the gear down, Jean readied the gear for shutdown. The loud hissing of air escaping the cockpit could be heard to crowd that was gathering around the newcomer.

Throwing out his duffel bag, Jean clambered out of the cockpit without flair. All around dirty faces greeted the Republican. Jean grimaced at his first encounter with the Easterners of Toledo.

Seeing the two helo pilots, Jean walked towards them. "I guess I'm at the right place. Sorry about running late. I ran into a few complications."

The pilot looked on in amazement. "How did you survive that jump?"

Jean pointed to the airborne patch on his shoulder epaulet. "That's what I do. I'm not sure if that was all of them, but I did take out an encampment thirty-two clicks south of here."

The emir's guard has his eyes locked onto the flaming wreckage on the edge of the swamp. Much of the crowd was gathered around Autel's Iguana. Looking over at the crowd, Jean depressed the lock down button on his remote entry pad. Couldn't let the locals rummage through military property.

"So what's going on over at the palace? Looks like they're going to be having a party."

The Emir's Palace

What in Nine Hells is going on out there? Only moments ago an explosion rocked the courtyard of her palace and Alia St. Croix was going to find out what was the cause. Rushing down the hall of the palace, Alia grabbed servants as she walked by them. Most servants knew to avoid the mistress when she was in this particular mood, but some of the new additions from the town didn't know any better.

Soon a small entourage was following the infuriated emir. Turning down the primary hall, Alia cursed at the sheer incompetence of her staff. The execution was scheduled for 10:00 and the servants hadn't even finished raising the dais. Looking about the courtyard, Alia's temper rose to new heights. Where were her servants! The courtyard was totally abandoned with the exception of the animals that had been brought in for entertainment.

Looking over to a young boy that had been following her since the explosion, Alia asked, "Where is my staff?"

The boy looked at the other servants trying to find an answer. Horrified that no one would help him, the boy tried to stutter a response. "I don't know my Lady… I'll go find out if you'd like though."

Scowling Alia grabbed the hapless child by the shoulder. "Be quick about it if you want to live."

Wide eyed with shock the boy quickly nodded to the tall imposing woman before rushing out of the courtyard. Alia walked over to the half-completed dais and found a cushion. Pointing to an older woman, Alia demanded, "Where is Lydia? I want you to go fetch her and bring me some jula wine. You shouldn't allow your Emir to suffer in such heat."

Deeper in the palace, Lydia de Babineaux was busy organizing the emir's Protector force without much success. Since the commander was awaiting execution in the nearby prison complex, Lydia was the closest thing to authority that the palace guards could find.

Lydia was in an unusual position at Toledo's court. Since birth she had been the boon companion to Alia. As a member of the solicitor class, Lydia was afforded an excellent education in business law at various universities in the city-state of Newton in the Southern Republic. The cycles that she been away from her childhood companion and now employer had left Lydia with an open mind and Republican ethics. Her homecoming left her empty and distraught at the plight of the people of Toledo. Alia had changed in the cycles that Lydia spent abroad.

Cruelty and hedonism were the hallmarks of Alia's reign. The roughest estimation of deaths in the region by Alia's Protectors numbered in the thousands. Lydia felt crushed by the prospect of serving a clearly insane taskmaster, yet she couldn't totally abandon her childhood friend.

"Find the Emir and bring her to the southern bunker. I can't imagine an attack from the Swamp Rats, but who knows what Gerard and his band are capable of."

A guard captain nodded as he waved to his underlings. "Of course Lady Lydia, is there anything else we can do for you?"

Lydia glared at the haughty man, "Sarcasm does not suit you captain. Persist on this course and I may just whisper to Alia your manhandling of her favorite dawg."

The guard captain shrugged and began to chuckle. "Very well, Lady Lydia, I'm sure the Emir is looking for you anyway."

Sitting down Lydia sighed. Why did she come back to this hellhole? Looking down the hall Lydia could see Baphom Erst waddling toward her. Baphom was a grandmother of thirty children, and also the best cook in the region. Alia bought her services from Emir Jedrick two seasons ago after hearing Emir Dhavo brag to the dinner guests that he was going to have to buy her from Jedrick. Alia really hated Dhavo. Now Baphom spent her days working as overseer of the laundry. Lydia knew that Baphom hated it here. Who could blame her? Torn away from her family and brought into these god-awful swamps to work as a scullery maid was demeaning.

"Lady Lydia. Good I've found ya. Emir Alia requests your presence in the courtyard." Scratching her nose, Baphom added, "I think she wants you there yesterday. None to happy was she when I left her."

Lydia nodded weakly. "Thank you Baphom. I'm heading that way right now."

Standing up, Lydia smoothed the wrinkles in her silk dress. I must look dignified at least. Walking toward the courtyard, Lydia sighed.

Back at the courtyard, the little boy came running in with a man-child in a Republic uniform. Alia rose up from her cushion and stared interested at this paradox. "Mistress. Uhmmmm. This is Soup Lieutenant Jean Autel. He says he's from the Republic."

Alia stood up and waited for the young man to approach. "You may speak Republican."

Jean bowed gracefully. "I am Sous-Lt. Jean Phillipe Autel. I am the representative you requested."

Alia grunted in derision. "You? No… no I was promised an experienced officer. What you must be fifteen twenty cycles old?"

Jean looked up at her trying to conceal his frustration. "Madame. I am twenty-seven, and I am experienced in warfare. Now if you will take me to see Emir Alia St. Croix, I would like to proceed with my task."

Alia looked at him confused. "What do you mean 'see the Emir'? I am her."

Jean shrugged. "I expected someone older my apologies."

The crowd around the emir gasped in shock. No one spoke to the Emir that way and expected to walk away with their limbs intact. Alia just laughed. "I suppose I deserved that one, Republican. So what is it that you want to show me?"

Jean stepped forward. " I would like to discuss the security of your region. I found it inadequate to say the least."

Alia leaned back in her cushion. "Of course, that is why I requested your help in the matter. In fact I am punishing the offender for her lack of ability as my commander later today. I would so enjoy it if you would join me, Mr. Autel." Alia smiled seductively at Jean.

"I would be honored, Emir. When should I meet you for this engagement?"

Alia noticed Lydia walking out of the palace corridor. Pointing to her, Alia responded, "Lydia will fetch you, but right now she will take you to your lodging."

Jean bowed again, "Thank you, Emir. I shall be looking forward to our next meeting."

Lydia walked over to Jean and took his arm. "Sir, come with me."

Jean glanced back to the helo pad. "Is it okay if I leave my gear back there?"

Lydia looked over. "That shouldn't be a problem. Would you like for one of the men to move it to the hangars?"

Jean shook his head. "No. I'll move it later. Right now I'm just wanting to sleep through this heat."

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APAGear II Archives Volume 3, Number 4 May, 2001