|APAGear II Archives||Volume 3, Number 5||June, 2001|
[NOTE: Continued from Part One, which originally appeared in Volume 3, Number 2. -Ed.]
"Oh if y'see me comin' best step aside, lotta men din't an lotta men died. One fist o' iron, other o' steel, lefone don' getcha, Right One WILL!"
Mordred Remler howled, brandishing one of his Razorback Gears' massive paws for emphasis.
The sad part, Jace reflected morbidly, was Mordy was being cautious and wasn't transmitting. The sound somehow wanted to escape so badly it had clawed its' way out of his partners' cockpit and across three meters of intervening space, to finally die ringing in his tortured ears. Those Sorrento Revisionists had better know about this and have some sort of afterlife ready for both of them, because he was just about ready to kill Mordy, and deserved sainthood for enduring it for so long.
"Mordy, shut the hell up. I swear if the singing doesn't kill the southers outright, it's going to make them very fricking annoyed and they'll try to kill you, just like I'm about ready to, damnit!"
"Christ, Muhammed, Khodaverdi and Buddha... Jace, you're a seething cauldron of hatred, y'know? Nye kulturny, my granma'd say. No 'preciation for history or taste in music. That song's about four thousand years old, and you just hate it out of course."
"I hate your fricking voice, asshole. The song's not half bad."
"You're a very evil person 'ace. Your words sting to the very core of my being."
"Cut the shit for a sec, think I got something..."
"Bearing oh-five-niner? Yup. I got something too... Think it's a sentry."
"Rog that, probably a Jäger or somethin'."
Guard duty sucked, the Jäger pilot thought, and that opinion had no chance to be dislodged before a beam of coherent light impacted the Jägers head, and ensured niether pilot nor gear would ever have to guard anything ever again.
"Damn nice shot Jace..." Mordy conceded, his Razorback (ironically also named Becky) awkwardly crouched alongside his companions' limber Jaguar, already slithering along on its' belly as it closed with the down-but-unexploded Jäger.
"Covering." Remmler noted, Faukland II chaincannon resting on the boulder Jace had just used as a prop for his subtler sniper laser.
"Thanks." Jace mentioned, an odd grunt punctuating the gratitude as his gear lurched forward to its feet, jarring the breath from his body as the restraint webs automatically tightened around him.
"Ivers, I'm at nav, what's the status on the first and second cadres?" Marius intoned, waiting for the message to be compressed, encrypted, sent, received, decrypted, decompressed, checked and responded to.
"Gav's set up with Bayer and Ward and Andrews are rearming. Wombat might be a loss, sir. Kara says she's ready to provide fire support, and she's sending Nika down to help out."
"Nika? Y'mean Saunders, the redhead with the XMG?"
"Err, yes sir. She's powering up now, and has orders to pair with you to quote 'Keep Marius' dumb polar ass from getting kicked.' Endquote." Ivers paused self consciously. "Um, no 'fence sir, those were her exact words..."
"No prob Ivers." Marius chuckled, then sobered at the prospect of being paired with Mika Saunders, habitually referred to as Queen Mave for her temperament.
Her gear Hecatomb was almost as notorious, a hand-me-down from her retired father and boasting eighty-nine kills to its' credit.
"Tell Kara thanks for Saunders and that I'll take it out of her hide later."
"Don't bite her, sir. Wakes the rest of us up." Reynolds monotoned back, cutting the channel before Marius had a chance to react.
"Elljay recon two, reading incoming zhree niner, make hwo Nordthers, a Rahzorback with a junglemower and a Jagghuar vith a pulz lassur. Ah'm falling back and staying clear." An oddly shaped southern gear reported tersely, then slithered back down the obscured side of the dune, bounding away from the remains of it's Jäger companion and its two supposedly-concealed assassins.
Feeling mild sadness at the passing of Caporal Bayard and his Jäger, the modified DartJäger pounced away from the interlopers, the pilot silently urging his gear to run faster, acutely regretting the lack of skatewheels on his vehicle. A twin to the heavily modified DartJäger that'd been smashed earlier, this gear was another LuftJäger -- a DartJäger that'd been equipped with a hypercompressor turbine engine. Unfortunately, it had also sacrificed its' SMS skates for the oversized hydraulics that helped it survive lading after one of its' trademark jumpjet-pounces, limiting its' top speed despite a sizable increase in foot speed.
"Roger Elljay recon two, acknowledged hostiles inbound. Evade and continue to report. You've a mortar, no? Ahh, it says you do. If you have the opportunity, you are authorized to take them out from range. Unfortunately, we've lost contact with Elljay Recon Alpha, so make sure you make it back. We'll need you if they make it to the Dolmen Forest."
"Helldamn, you surely do not play around, do you, you northern bas'tards..." The Brahmin Cobra pilot mused, his huge machine idly crouched over the wreckage of his lieutenants' Snakeye Mamba. The unfortunate victim of Ward's lucky autocannon burst remained silent, now little more than a smoking char half sunk into the dune.
"I make remains of a railgun here, looks like that's what took out Leriman, Commandant. It's pretty much embedded in his cockpit right now. I also see remains of a rocket pod and, damn, an entire arm of a Hunter.
"Very good, Lieutenant." The leader commented, then turned to the Command Jäger nearby. "Order all units to secure for defensive in the Pillars area and contact Tactical Air Command for immediate pickup." The Brahmin directed as it spun on one massive hoof, crushing underfoot the charred remains of its one time underling.
Turning a few strides away, the giant Gear paused and half turned.
"Yessir?" The Gila responded.
"Salvage the Neuralnets and electronics packages and burn the bodies. Then destroy the Gear remains. Command would be displeased if we allowed modern equipment to fall into the possession of rovers, let alone the Northers."
"Oww! That stings!" Ward protested, perched on the knee of his mangled gear as Nika Saunders, leaning out on the edge of her XMG's pilot hatch, applied astringent and mediskin to his bruised and scratched face.
Squirming, Ward continued to protest, too dazed by his contusions and flooded with painkillers to really notice what was even happening to him. Andrews, however, was much more focused. While his gear's cockpit was still buttoned up, he'd leaned Mjolnir against Ward's Hunter, one hand draped across its shoulders. Like a guardian parent watching its child treated for a skinned knee, Andrew's gear projected caring concern as the massive omnicam stared, unblinking, down onto the two humans below.
In reality, the omnicam was only focused on Saunders, and to be specific, her unbuttoned flak vest and the nicely filled out tank top beneath. While his gear presented the outward appearance of caring, he and his sensor system were busily discovering that cotton was pervious to target image enhancement.
Oblivious, Saunders finished tending to Ward and disappeared back into the denlike darkness of her cockpit, a silhouette on the infra as her Gear seemed to swallow her between the metal jaws of its cockpit hatch.
"Let's go gentlemen, there's doubtless something better for us to be doing." She announced as her Gear rose from its knee and helped Ward's crippled Hunter back to its feet.
"Ladies first..." Andrews suggested, his Gear uncomfortably shifting the Riley-220 heavy autocannon, as if uncomfortable with the lightweight weapon replacing its truncated railgun.
"Ward, you stay here and guard the ammo can. No sense in busting up your gear worse trying to fight in it." Andrews decided, halting his mangled partner with one iron fist.
"Hell, new girl might actually move at top speed..." He mused, patting Wards' gear companionably on its' curved head as he turned back to the dunes before him.
"Just try an keep up, Andrews..." Saunders replied caustically, her Gear seeming to somehow become more menacing as it hunched its' shoulders and firmly grasped its autocannon before turning to disappear amid the sand dunes.
"I see 'em. Tracking and fading." Jace monologued, only now becoming aware of the hostile shadowing them, always staying just out of sensor range, a taunting ghost leading them along as they closed on Cardiffs' nav point. Unfortunately, there was nothing to be done now. They were spotted, and there'd be little advantage on continuing stealth as the southerners prepared an ambush.
"Chief, Ivers, this is Mordy an Jace, we're spotted. Cut coms and carry on." Jace announced bitterly, keying it to a scrambled frequency nonetheless.
The Dolmen Forest loomed in the darkness, six meter granite pillars reaching to the sky like supplicants for divine mercy as they reared from the bowl-like depression in which the Southern batayon had encamped. The thin gleam of Hope barely illuminated the sands around them, giving one only the impression of great size, somehow magnified by the darkness that concealed them.
Among these pillars the southerners had entrenched. Already the southern Section had sent its smaller gears winding through the labyrinth, seeking and ferreting among the dolmens. Now the cold desert air warmed to the hum of the heavier Gears, as the Mambas and Spitting Cobras relieved their smaller Iguana and DartJäger brethren.
Winding and twisting through the stone forest they came, hulking hungry shapes, rounded sinuous lines of shadow broken only by the flat forms of weapons and the blood red glow of a cyclopean omnicam.
The southerners were forewarned, and now they were ready, having only to lay in wait for the northerners to come as if compelled, their orders forcing them ever closer to the place of their preordained destruction, even as their base instincts rebelled.
"Section report!" Marius whispered, tapping the call-off hyperpulse into his com rig. Around him, Megara was bowed and ready. The Gear's lithe lines seemed predatory and a mechanical hunger palpably emanated from it as the machine crouched on a hill overlooking the crater, autocannon held in a death grip as it slowly panned it's sensor eye across the intervening desolation as if in search of prey.
From his vantage, the crash zone seemed a living thing, a maw ready to swallow his three cadres within its' gaping darkness, a mouth fringed with silicate cilia and hungry for blood and steel.
Ping! went the first contact, signifying Kara was in position, Kalibah and its brethren somewhere out in the darkness, ready to volley screaming mortars down onto the southerners in support of their comrades. A similar ping announced similar results from his cadre, as Mathers, Remmler, and Ivers responded to his electronic summons. The, forlornly, only the lights denoting Andrews and the now-brothers Gaav winking to life as the unlit dots failed in signifying the loss of Cor, or of the mauling Ward had endured.
Keying another switch, he sent an engagement warning to Cardiff and switched to local band. The time had come for battle.
"Pow'rin up." Cardiff muttered, switching from superconductor auxiliaries to main turbine as Sneek lithely extricated itself from a bower amid the stones and began to stealthily pad towards friendly territory.
Nimbly darting from pillar shadow to pillar shadow, Ivers relaxed, relying on his sensors and intuition as he avoided a lumbering Brawler Mamba and darting Anolis, each time killing his gear and waiting as the rounded southern machine drifted past like an already occupied angel of death.
Coming clear of the pillars, Cardiff muttered silent thanks to the Divine Prophet and pushed Sneek up to maximum speed, fluidly hurling the three-ton war machine to an effortless sprint.
"Commandant! Outbound from the Pillars!" Someone shouted as the Brahmin Cobra and Gila crested the last ridgeline.
Cries of "Stop him!", "Cannot get lock!" and a resounding "SHOOT AT HIM!" echoed across the com bands as Cardiff made a break for freedom.
Around him, autocannon tracers streaked through the night, casting strobing flashes across the already weird landscape, twisting the ubiquitous pillars into yet another guise- groping fingers sending clawing, reaching shadows after the fleeing Cheetah below, a tiny metal mouse on the dunes compared to their igneous omnipotence.
From his vantage, the southern commander calmly watched the fleeing northern scout, then carefully tagged the tiny target with a spotting laser and muttered a short order into his coms.
As if to further express their hatred and hunger, the shadows of the crater erupted in a bellowing of thunder and streaks of lightning as the squat horned shape of the Artemis crested the lip of the canyon. Like a hideous dragon crawling from the pits of hell, the chaingun tank raised its bulk over the edge of the crumbling rock, crushing stones beneath massive clawed treads as it's spiked head slowly tracked on the tiny figure below. An unblinking sensor eye stared for a moment, extrapolating vectors and relaying information. Then, with a sinister hissing the ammunition spools wound up, preparing to feed the ever-hungry quartet of autocannon as they slowly traversed. Then, with a slight bucking, the cannons caught their first rounds, accepting the shells and ejecting them amid clouds of flame and deafening sound, even as they hungrily accepted more. Contemptuously, the mechanical horror paced Cardiff's path below and gouted fire accordingly from its skull-like turret, sending a fiery hail of damnation after the minute and nimble form of the fleeing Cheetah.
Cardiff screamed again, rattling inside the suffocating confines of Sneek's cramped cockpit as his V-engine armor absorbed another errant round. Despite the best combined efforts of him and his machine, the occasional impacts rattled them as they hurtled across the moonlit dunes, sand billowing from beneath their steel hooves as they fled.
Then, with a sudden concussive explosion Sneek caught a round in the back of its left knee in midstride. As the Gear transferred weight to that leg it buckled, snapping sideways as it collapsed beneath the fleeing war machine and pilot. With a grinding wail they spun and fell, landing in the loose sand with a grinding wheeze.
The impact nearly shook Cardiff's head from his neck, and ensured his entire body would be a bruise the next day. It also crushed Sneek's fuel pack beneath its' weight, the musical tinkle of spilling gasoline mingling with the dying whine of the fuel-starved engine.
Frantically, Cardiff cut power, yanking the emergency hatch release even as he greedily fumbled to free his AI case. Finding the handle with his gloved hand, he leapt from his Gear and pulled his neuralnet after him. Pausing a moment, he cast aside his now dead helmet and gasped in the cool desert air as he staggered and stumbled frantically away from his wrecked Gear.
Hearing a fait thunder, he apprehensively glanced over his shoulder. The solid yellow lines of the Hydra's 20mm chainguns barely registered in his mind before a seemingly solid wall of depleted uranium scoured the flesh from his bones like a swarm of hungry locusts and the miniature suns that were phosphorous tracers charred his ragged remains to ash.
"Damnit! Damn! Sneek is down, Cardiff dead!" Gaav growled, the seething rage left over from his brothers' death boiling over as he saw the afterimage of Cardiff being shredded and incinerated dancing across his eyes. Clenching his fists around his control sticks, he gritted his teeth and watched the glowing green tactical map projected over his view, trying hard not to still see the last seconds of his friends' life run a grisly cycle over and over again in the depths of his mind.
"All squads, move for'ard and prepare for engage." Marius called out, using ping/squeal to compress and send his message in a snap-crackle-pop of hard to detect EM noise. Beneath him, Megara began to rev slightly, ready and eager for the coming battle.
Sighing under the weight of command, Marius reluctantly wrapped his gauntlets around the controls and slunk towards the implacable enemy.
"Squad form on my nav, let's go." He growled, designating a beacon point and loping toward it. It seemed sick to put value on Cardiffs' murder, but his last gasp telemetry had given them a slight edge. With his last few seconds alive, the cheetah had raised active sensors and painted everything, providing a huge barrage of tactical data for the fire support cadre, giving ID signatures and drawing the Southerners out of position, leaving them vulnerable.
"Tac sigma vee. Fire missions confirmed. Fire at will." He barked, Megara now up to full speed and dashing from cover to cover with the grace of an untiring metal gymnast, always ready to dodge, fire or retreat as the situation warranted.
Marius was almost completely engrossed in the pre-battle. Megara ran nearly by her own volition as every cortex in his mind was bombarded with raw data. Tactical maps, fire vectors, hostile contacts, sensor abnormalities, projected enemy weapon loadout lists, all like ghosts vying for his attention, transparent green and blue lines and symbols seeming to be downloaded directly into his head.
From afar the sounds of rocket volleys and mortar fire edged into his consciousness, subliminally tagged with glowing labels, notations of AASRP/HRP, HRP, 65mm LGM and others seeming to only flicker on his retinas before assimilating directly into his brain.
Before him he could see the flashes and strobes of his two cadres opening fire, the southerners reciprocating from their cover, but failing to suppress the northern advance as Kara's cadre rained mortars and rockets down on them from the flanks.
"Hesuchreisto!" Elljay Recon Bravo (2) muttered, snuggling his bazooka onto his shoulder for the second time in twenty seconds, vainly trying to find a good vantage from which to fire without being fired upon.
A swirling, roaring whoosh began to grow in the distance, and unthinkingly LJ-Bravo triggered his turbines, leaping above and away purely on reflex. That reflex allowed him to dodge the rocket barrage just before it hit, unlike Peaugots creaking Basilisk, which finally failed its old pilot. What through the entire War of the Alliance it hadn't been hit so much as twice, a single incendiary rocket casually and utterly eradicated, a high-powered thermite shell punching through the armorplast cockpit dome and immolating the pilot, all while nearby rounds cut into the nearby pillars, toppling them onto the burning hulk.
Midbounce, LJ-Bravo spotted a target, firing a snap-shot at the northern Mad Dog before it was occluded by a pillar.
"Tac, gimme a vec, we've got northers in the pillars!" The southerner shouted, landing with surprising grace as his gear's retros puffed dust and his rocket cannon fired another ineffectual shell against the dodging Mad Dog
"What the hell!" Colins Toliman exclaimed, watching the misshapen DartJäger drop behind a dolmen.
"Damfino..." Gaav Preston responded, a light autocannon held ready in each of his Warriors' hands as he slowly compassed the rock forest, followed at a safe distance by the hunched over Mad Dog.
"Don't get paid enough for this shit..." Toliman remarked, his Gear nervously shifting its' heavy autocannon as he covered their rear quarter.
Suddenly his gear rocked, and alarms screeched in a mechanical parody of agony as something sharp punctured his cockpit, cleaving through him while he screamed a warning.
Surprised, Gaav swung Lancer around just in time to see the Razorfang tear its' vibromachete free of his companions' gutted Gear, and he reacted without need for thought, bringing both 20mm cannon up and clenching the triggers with a death grip.
The twin cannon were relatively light, but at such close range the Mambas' armor put up only mild resistance, less as recoil walked fire into its' vulnerable head, sawing it off with a solid line fire at the armored neck joint.
The Mamba fell convulsing, arms flailing wildly even as Gaav continued to empty his cannons.
Finally his left weapon clacked empty, its fifty rounds all embedded in the smoking southern gear. The sudden silence on one side broke his berserk, and he released his right trigger, finally realizing the mamba was dead.
Then, calmly, he nosed the cannon against the shattered crew hatch and triggered the last few rounds, rewarded by the sudden flicker and flash as the shattered fuel tank caught, blasting searing gouts of fire out the ragged neck hole.
"Gotcher back!" Andrews yelped, his massive Razorback skating after Saunders' XMG. While his pride wouldn't admit the second-generation Hunter was faster, he noticed she seemed to be gaining distance, no matter how far he throttled up his SMS turbines.
Maybe it's the gun. Gotta be the gun, not enough weight on my treads... He thought futily, unwilling to ask for a slower pace as Saunders took flying leap off a shale slope and disappeared from view.
Cresting the slope, Andrews was shocked, freezing for a quarter second as he took in the three southern Gears, the nearest, a Command Jäger, already down and burning as Nika closed, firing ineffective bursts of 35mm at the dodging enemies.
A sudden gout of rocket fire erupted from the largest gear, a Brahmin Cobra, but at such close range Nika simply pirouetted Cereberus into a spin, continuing her forward motion as she swung her gear around in a circle, autocannon held out by the stock like a baseball bat as she aimed for the surprised Gill's head. Coming in at such an angle as to endanger the Gila every bit as much as herself if the Brahmin retaliated, she gleefully hit for the fences at the armadillo gear.
And just as gleefully, with no apparent surprise or hesitation, the Gila dropped to one knee, curling its arm across one shoulder and deflecting the blow into a glancing impact as its other hand grasped the hilt of a blade at its waist.
As the club missed its impact and grated across a rounded armor shoulder, taking an ornamental barnaby tusk with it, the Gila uncoiled like a vengeful demon.
With one fluid stroke it unsheathed the vibro-falchion and hacked at Hecatomb, ripping the sonic-enhanced machete through Nika's unprotected and extended leg, sawing the appendage off with a screech of metal and cloud of sparks where it separated.
Horrified but occupied, Gebhardt continued his charge, firing a burst near point-blank into the side of the Cobra before ramming it broadside like a giant linebacker.
The huge gear went down flailing, its antitank pod gouging into the dirt and snapping off as it skidded on its back, crushing its fuel tank beneath it.
Gebhardt was more fortunate. Despite damage to his leading arm and shoulder, his Razorback had neatly transferred almost the entirety of its kinetic energy to the southerner, and had managed to remain standing after the collision.
With a cold sort of efficiency he raised his autocannon and centered it on the stunned southerner, only to have his gear stagger as something from the direction of the Gila impacted the side of his cockpit.
Glancing his sensor pod over to the afflicted area, he had only a millisecond to realize what had happened before the adhesive-coated emag grenade detonated.
With a sinister sizzle of blue white energy the grenade released its unstable electrical potential, bathing the gear in oscillating pulses of magnetic force.
The shriek of tortured mechanicals sounded all around as Andrews' gear twitched and collapsed, shuddering and flailing as delicate systems were electrocuted or wiped by the auroralike waves of the high-gauss pulse.
Blowing his emergency bolts, he had just managed to his cockpit hatch when a loud and ominous "Shak-chuck" sounded, and a very large autocannon muzzle gently nosed the armor plate the rest of the way open.
"Oh Shit!" Mordred Remmler screamed, hurling his Strike Grizzly forward as the descending mortar round began to veer their way. Beside him, Jace's Jaguar was already pulling ahead, pulse laser held close with both hands as he crouch-sprinted toward the source of the mortars. On the Jaguars' back the ECM pod was already working its magic, spinning furiously as it sent out waves of false sensor traces and blanketing static towards the enemy artillery.
"Track sig vee, cobat sens lockon." Jace screamed in combat shorthand, diving to cover behind a hillock as another shell screamed down nearby, geysering sand and pebbles high into the desert night.
"Gratsi. Remmler responded, his Gear dropping to one knee in a crouch to avoid the worst of the shrapnel. "Firing," he mentioned casually, using the opportunity to quickly fire off two mortar rounds, each giving off a satisfying "thub" as they hurtled from his shoulder launcher and arced towards their target.
Wasting no time, Mordy and Jace were already back up, running towards their attackers.
With a roar and flicker-flash Mordy's mortar burst struck, but the resounding "thub whup, thub whup" of more fire announced that they hadn't succeeded, at least not completely.
But suddenly more sounds impinged, the unmistakable sounds of '24s. The growling, snarling, tearing roar of Anti-Gear assault rifles and the sibilant barks of infantry rocket launchers grew suddenly, interspersed with the panicked-sounding barks of gear-caliber autocannon.
Gesturing caution, Jace extended a small sensor periscope from his gear, letting the tiny prism rotate around as he and Mordy remained hidden.
"Hey everybody!" A booming voice suddenly singsonged, and both pilots felt the cold shock of liter upon liter of pure adrenaline pouring into their systems as they bolted to their feet, gears each automatically covering a 180 degree fire arc as primal fight-or-flight and years of combat training overrode their conscious minds and moved their gears automatically, weapons up and hunting for targets to be instantly and remorselessly eradicated.
Only to find Ivers and Minx squatted down on SMS behind them, a platoon of infantrymen flanking them while another furtively sprinted from cover to cover or roared on Wallabies from the direction of the now-deceased southern fire support.
"Goddamnit Reynolds!" They both screamed in unison.
"Alph lead, this is brav-four, we've got friendly grunts at grid niner-alpha-alpha. I'm here, and we just toasted the souther fi-sup cadre. Advise and direct, over."
The news was welcome. Autocannon already depleted and armor smoking from dozens of ineffectual hits and shrapnel shards, Megara was crouched behind a pillar, vibrosword and pack gun held ready as Marius gladly assimilated the news.
"Great, brav-four, our thanks to the mudfeet, but tell 'em we could use a hand yet up here."
"Acknowledged, Alpha leader. See you soon"
To be continued...
|APAGear II Archives||Volume 3, Number 5||June, 2001|
Heavy Gear is © 2001, Dream Pod 9, Inc. All rights reserved. APAGear is not affiliated with Dream Pod 9 in any way. Submitted material remains the property of the creator.