APAGear II Archives Volume 3, Number 4 May, 2001


Lost and Found

Part Three

Steve Hilberg

[NOTE: This piece continues Steve's story from Volume 3, Number 1 -Ed.]

Catryna stood transfixed for a second, trying to take in the situation; Petra was barely holding out against the GREL, who smashed a massive fist into her torso with brutal force. Catryna could almost hear the ribs cracking as Petra groaned in agony. The mechanic was not moving on the ground, but she could see his chest rising and falling rhythmically; he was alive at least. Petra would not be much longer if she didn't do something quickly.

She squeezed off a round at the head of the GREL, hoping to at least distract it and give Petra a chance to get away. The 11mm round ricocheted off the bulkhead near the GREL's head and echoed down the corridor, without even causing the supersoldier to flinch. She had no choice but to fire into the melee and hope that she didn't hit Petra; she dropped her sight slightly onto the GREL's back as he wrestled with the Southerner and squeezed the trigger twice.

The expected spray of blood did not come; instead she heard the bullets ricochet off the walls again and ducked involuntarily. There was no way she could have missed at this range -- she would have hit something, the GREL or Petra, but not missed....

She had little time to think about it though, as the GREL seemed to take notice of her now, tossing Petra's battered body against the wall and standing up. She fired twice more before the GREL was on top of her, grabbing the gun and twisting it out of her grip. His nostrils flared and she braced herself as the supersoldier's elbow rammed into her face, stunning her and sending her to the floor, blood oozing from her nose.

The GREL stood over her and looked into her eyes; a chill ran down her spine and his face became a death's head in her mind. As he came in to finish her off, she snapped her leg up and kicked the GREL's knee out. He moaned loudly and stumbled, losing his balance long enough for Catryna to scuttle away, trying to grab for her gun. She was no more than half a meter from the gun when she felt the vise-like grip on her ankle; she twisted and kicked as he dragged her back towards him.

A heavy foot smashed into her ribs and she groaned in pain, then felt herself being slammed into the wall. The GREL held her up and pulled his fist back to hammer her face again, a cruel grin spreading across the battered purple face. She struggled, but the GREL's strength was far too much for her.

Just before the fist was about to pummel her, she saw Petra approaching, bloody-faced, behind the GREL, then pounce like a crazed dawg on his back, wrapping her arms around his neck and growling loudly, her legs coiling around his waist. "Catryna! Get out of here!" she frothed.

The GREL staggered back, trying to get Petra off his back, and Catryna pushed herself from the wall towards the mechanic. She didn't have time to think about a course of action -- she could sense Petra losing her battle more and more by the moment. With a loud groan she lifted the mechanic off the floor and hefted him over her shoulder, not sure if he was alive or dead really, and took a glance toward where she knew the exit was.

Her legs were starting to feel like jelly, but she began to run as fast as she could through the corridor. She could feel blood dripping from her mouth down her chin and the air burned in her lungs. "Petra! Run for it!" she shouted, hoping the other woman would be able to make it. Her comm set was broken she was sure, she only hoped that the others could get her down from the ledge fast enough to escape the GREL.

Her knees were white hot with pain as she ran down the corridor, the metal hard under her feet. Behind her, she could hear someone thudding down the corridor after her; she couldn't hear it well enough to know if it was Petra or the GREL, but she wasn't going to take any chances. If it was Petra, she would be here soon enough. If it wasn't, she didn't want to waste any time. The mechanic groaned as he bounced on her shoulder and she gritted her teeth as the light from the entrance to the ship came into view. "Travis! Rick! Someone get us out of here, and fast!"

She heard the roar of a V-engine as she rounded the corner and she came to a halt less than a meter from the ledge, looking out to see Travis' Bear reaching up for her. "Right here, Cat -- are you okay?" She dropped the crumpled form of the mechanic into the Gear's hand and glanced back into the corridor, hoping to see Petra behind her, ready to jump to safety. All she could see was blackness, and hear the pounding of footsteps over the blood pounding in hear ears.

"I'm okay -- but I think Petra's gone. There was another GREL, it almost killed all three of us -- she was wrestling with it to buy us some time. I tried to tell her to run, but I don't know if she made it. I lost my gun too." She glanced back into the corridor again one last time, hoping to see her fellow pilot. Instead, she came face to face with the GREL as it barrelled out of the corridor, ramming into her chest and sending her over the edge, toppling into the arms of Travis' Gear. She hit the vehicle with a brutal thud and blacked out.

The pungent odor of smelling salts jolted Catryna out of unconsciousness, the pain in her body creeping back into her senses. Above her, Rick took the salts from under her nose, his jaw cocked in a look of concern. "Welcome back to the land of the living, Cat." She could see Geraint standing off to Rick's side.

"What happened? I remember falling off the ledge...."

"Yeah. You fell on Travis' Gear and looks like you got a concussion. I taped up your head, and cleaned you up a little -- Petra never came out." He looked back up at the ledge quickly, then back at Catryna. "Geraint put two people to watch it with rifles in case the GREL you saw came back. No sign of anything yet though."

"Damn...." Catryna closed her eyes. Petra had been a good pilot and a good friend -- and she had sacrificed her life for Catryna. She hoped the Southerner was in a better place now, where she wouldn't be haunted by the past anymore. "What about the storm?"

"It's lifted," said Geraint. "Your Bear is watching the entrance."

"We should get moving, Cat...if those rovers come back, we don't want to get stuck here. There's not much more we can do here anyway. Maybe we can pass along this place to the PRDF or NuCoal, and they can take care of it. I don't like the idea of leaving Petra behind, but I don't think we have any choice now...."

Catryna closed her eyes, Petra's desperate, bloody struggle replaying in front of her. "Okay. Load up. Geraint, do you have anyone who can pilot a Gear?" she sighed, opening her eyes.

"No, I don't."

"Rick, how hard would it be to tow Petra's Gear out of --"

An explosion made the entire cavern shake and dust bounced up from the ground, cutting Catryna off in mid-sentence. Travis' Gear staggered back through the entrance, sand and dust sprayed all over the vehicle. "We've got company!" came his warning over the radio, as the Gear brought its autocannon up and dropped to one knee.

"Everyone move!" Catryna shouted, clambering to her feet and stumbling off towards her Gear, waving Rick and Geraint to run for their vehicles. The two men guarding the hatchway ran for one of the Longrunners, covering their heads as debris crumbling from the ceiling above them. Rick sprinted for his Hunter as a cascade of shrapnel blew through the cavern entrance, answered by a burst of autocannon fire from the Bear.

Catryna pulled the cockpit of her Gear shut and punched the engine start, the comforting growl of the engine filling her ears. "Get ready, Travis. We're going to have to punch a hole through for the Longrunners. Keep those bastards away from the civvies." She pulled her Gear up from the ground and moved to flank Travis, adrenaline beginning to shake off the last remnants of her wooziness. "Rick, you take the rear....Geraint, when I give the signal you punch out and head west -- we'll rendezvous about 50 klicks from here if we get separated. I'm hoping they'll check this place out and leave us alone, especially if we can discourage them a little."

"Got it, Catryna....good luck."

"Good luck, Baez."

Catryna armed all her Gear's weapons; her joystick felt almost like it was buzzing with energy. "On my mark....go go go!"

The Bear surged forward in front of her, autocannon roaring as Travis cleared a path for the Longrunners. Catryna followed, emerging from the cavern into the darking desert sun. Rovers, in small scout vehicles, modified Work Gears, and on foot were scattered about the entrance, guns firing in a cacophony of bullets. Two of the scout vehicles were in flames, victims of Travis' heavy autocannon.

Catryna took one last look back at the cavern, and then opened up with her Warrior's autocannon, sending shells through the engine block of one of the rovers' vehicles. "Geraint, get your Longrunners out now! We can't cover you for long, under this fire --" She jerked her Gear to the side as a rocket flew past, detonating against the side of the buried spacecraft.

Behind her, the trucks, followed by Rick's Hunter, drove out of the cavern, turning to the west and taking off at flank speed. "See you at the rendezvous, Cat...good luck." Catryna let loose a rocket at one of the rover Gears, sending it toppling on a wobbling leg into the impact crater.

Catryna began to pull back on the heels of the Longrunners, concentrating her fire on the rover vehicles that were attempting to give pursuit. "Pull back, Travis....just put down the ones who get too close. We can't afford to waste ammunition on these bastards." Catryna gritted her teeth; if it weren't for them Petra would still be alive. She hoped they met a similarly gruesome fate.

As the merchant convoy retreated towards the horizon in the setting sun, the rovers abandoned their pursuit and limped back to the cavern entrance to lick their wounds. They gathered their wounded men and limping vehicles outside the buried spacecraft and three of them separated from the group to check out the cavern.

The one at the head of the group pulled out a flashlight and played it over the walls inside, stepping ahead carefully with his gun at the ready, wary of any traps the convoy might have left behind. Seeing no signs of a trap, he moved in further and looked around again.

When the beam of the flashlight caught the armorplast shell of the Jager in the corner of the cavern, he let out a cry and nearly bolted for cover, until the fact that there was no engine noise and the Gear was totally immobile registered in his mind. He motioned for the other rovers to join him and walked towards the Gear.

Above them, in the darkness of the entrance to the spacecraft, a deathly pale face illuminated only by a pair of faintly glowing eyes watched them, the uniform of a Southern MILICIA soldier faintly visible on her body.

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APAGear II Archives Volume 3, Number 4 May, 2001