APAGear II Archives Volume 3, Number 5 June, 2001


Jacob's Ladder

Josh Dix

[Author's Note: This first chronicle of Jacob's Ladder Productions is pretty slow up until the end, I'll admit. It mostly talks about the how and why of the company's inception, and sets the stage for future events. Act 1, Scene 1 always does.]

Dr. Brockenhaggen sat at his desk, studying the projected Dark-series production schedules. There simply was no way more than a handful of Talon teams could get the units they needed each cycle. Unless new production facilities could be found, they...

New production facilities... Hadn't one of his students- one of the rare competent, and even rarer, good ones- recently sent him a message about starting up a Gear company of some kind? "Limited design and assembly, but we hope to have a production line up in the next cycle or so... We'd be honored if you'd tour our facilities..." he seemed to recall it saying. Of course, they couldn't just turn over any Dark-series schematics to an untested company. But the message had said they were a design firm. Maybe given the right specifications, they could develop a Gear prototype that would be suitable for a pre-Dark Gear Talon unit, at least until a better arrangement could be found.

Of course, there was the problem of money. Black Talon Werk's budget was covered, but they didn't have the kind of marks to finance a new Gear. Perhaps there was someone he knew who could- or better yet, he could convince one of the government or corporate liasions to pay for it. In fact, he could probably word the design specifications so that whatever they came up with was suitable for contracting and mass production- the Paxton liaison would doubtless like that, if Brockenhaggen could convince them this company of his student's was a worthwhile risk. In fact, he may be able to kill two birds with one stone if he were to convince Paxton to buy the design for contracting- they could license it to a number of the other corporations who had expressed interest in Dark gears.

Dr. Brockenhaggen thought for a few moments more, then turned to his terminal to look up the Paxton liason's number. Picking up the letter from his student, he reached for the vidlink.

"Yes, we are considering starting contract design work, but... Well, yes, but... How much?... Yes, yes, we should get together to discuss the contract. Here? We're just getting set up- the place is a mess. There's heavy machinery running all the time... Ok, that sounds better, I'll meet you there tomorrow 1500... Thanks... See you then." The vidlink went blank, but Susan stared at it for a few moments more. Why someone with that much money would contact a small-time, brand new firm like hers was... almost incomprehensible. The prospect of industrial sabotage briefly crossed her mind, but it made even less sense. There was nothing to sabotage. Also, they had mentioned a forward- not spectacular, but more than enough to cover the costs of design work. It must be a gift from the Prophet, or one of those religious figures.

Even at almost 50 cycles, Susan never really bought into any of the seemingly dozens of religions that most Northerners professed deep faith in. Though technically a Sorrento Revisionist, she wasn't very devout. Most of her conversations with the Gentle Spirit were one of "Why me?" "Please let this work" and a heartfelt, "Thank you". Now was a time for the third. She knew the odds of any new company, especially one trying to break into the Gear design field, and this substantially increased hers.

"Kay- Kay, come here for a second." Her son set down the crate he had been carrying with the others, and walked over to his mother. They looked enough alike that they may have been mistaken for brother and sister if not for the difference in ages. Both had the same red hair and green eyes. Kay had been experimenting with blue hair coloring recently, though, and it was currently somewhere between indigo and dark blue. "We've already gotten a design contract offer. I'm going to meet with a Mr. Nils tomorrow. Make sure the engineers have their terminals unpacked and set up, and get the LAN working."

Jacob's Ladder Productions was a recent fusion of several small Gear parts manufacturers, a garage, and Ms. Jacobs herself. She had approached each of the small companies, explained her idea, and most had agreed. Though some hadn't, they still had essentially enough support to manufacture complete Gears- at a slow pace. Theoretically, since each company maintained its product lines, they should be making money every cycle, even if the contracting didn't go so well the first cycle or two. That meant that, hopefully, they'd be able to buy a factory or modify the garage after a few cycles, then add on to it each cycle until it was capable of turning out complete Gears. After that point, they figured, they could lean back and watch the money roll in.

Though in almost any other economy the idea would sound unsafe, at best, the market created by the near-complete gutting of Paxton Arms was perfect for new companies to start up, or for small ones to expand. Already dozens of new vehicular design and construction firms had started up, each hoping to attract the lucrative polar contracts Paxton could no longer fill. And- as she had pointed out when meeting with each of the small companies in turn- look at what Shaian had done thirty cycles ago, and they were only an actuator company.

Kay went off to motivate the engineers to work faster, mostly by calculating- verbally- how much money they were going to make. It was pure speculation, and they all knew that, but the idea of hundreds of thousands of marks rolling in each cycle was exciting. Even if it was probably fantasy, the possibility was worth unloading a bit faster for.

The meeting went well. Almost too well. Mr. Nils was a good negotiator, but the terms were already so generous that there was little to discuss. Susan was a little thrown off by the contract- it was for a military gear, and from the looks of it, one that would be used in the South, since it called for waterproofing and several other oddities. It also had to be easy to maintain, which lead her to imagine it was either to be used by the South as a patrol Gear or by another faction as a deep ops unit. She hoped it was the former. As a Northerner, she had no great love of the AST, but she also didn't want to see the Interpolar War start up again. The threat now was to the planet, and they all had to stand together, or be destroyed.

The final specifications and advance were, according to Mr. Nils, to arrive the next day. The whole Jacob's Ladder team spent the day unpacking, setting up, and refurbishing the Gear garage they were using as a production center. The night was spent in a small party- everyone knew they weren't out of difficulty yet, but it was an excellent start. Better than any could have hoped for. As Susan jokingly said, if Jacob's Ladder kept up luck like this, Paxton may never get back in business. Of course, nothing goes so well as that.

Much to everyone's relief, the advance arrived on time, and the next two weeks were spent making very good time towards a completed design. A lot of the details of the specifications, though, seemed- odd. Almost as if the Gear were expected to operate under unknown conditions most of the time. While the best protection needed to be given against desert and short term, fairly low depth underwater conditions, the design had to be stable for short periods under high or no pressure. It was fairly apparently a deep scout or extended operations design, but they were specifically told not to include a satellite uplink. The components had to be shielded against detection and the drive kept quiet. One of the major problems the team was having was keeping the wheeled SMS waterproof- until Kay asked why they were bothering. He got a lot of odd looks- especially as he was there as an assistant, being more interested in driving Gears than designing them- until he explained that they didn't really need a SMS.

Two nights after Kay had made his suggestion, he was staying late to work on another problem. Though their integral supply companies could produce nearly all the pieces they'd need, and were already starting production lines for the unusual ones, there were a few parts that they would have more difficulty getting. Most of all, they needed to find a way to get a military NNet for the prototype. If it did well, then they probably wouldn't need to worry about producing more- their contractor could buy them separately, or they would make more than enough to set up an agreement with a NNet production company to get a regular (and discounted) shipping line. For the prototype, though, they needed one badly, or all they'd have to show was a hunk of metal. As he tried to think up ways to get one- and examined lists of second-hand sources, he failed to hear the side door open. He did hear it slam shut, though, when the wind blew it closed.

Standing up, he glanced around the deserted garage. It was probably just the wind- it could have blown sand into the latch until it opened. They were right on the fringe between the Badlands and the North, and strong winds were fairly common. He probably would have held onto that idea, except for the quickly suppressed hard breathing he heard from the CAD terminals.

"Hello? Is anyone there?" He slowly walked towards the source of the noise after opening his desk drawer and pulling out the 6mm pistol stored there. No one in the Badlands didn't keep a gun nearby. "Hello?"

A quiet click was all the warning he had before a figure, dressed all in black, launched itself sideways from behind a desk. It was holding an assault rifle, and started firing as soon as it was clear. The first shot flew wild up and behind him, the second scraped his arm, taking a part of his skin with it. Even as he dove to the side, he knew the next shot would hit, and the shot after that, kill- but they never came. The rifle clicked empty after the first two, but the black clothed figure- he thought it was a woman- didn't seem to notice and kept holding the trigger down, until she finally collapsed onto the floor. She began to laugh, a chilling sound Kay never hoped to hear again- the laughter of insanity, hysterical, maniacal, and unrelenting. He walked over to her and pushed her over with his foot, his gun trained on her head. She opened her eyes behind her black mask for a moment and saw the gun.

"Go ahead! Shoot me!" she screamed between bursts of laughter. "SHOOT ME!" He reached down quickly to pull off her mask, keeping the gun trained on her, but she barely seemed to notice except to stop laughing and stare at him with insane eyes, grinning. He yanked it off and froze. She was a GREL.

To be continued...

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