|APAGear II Archives||Volume 3, Number 6||July, 2001|
Girard wiped his brow in the humid afternoon miasma of the Mekong jungle and reseated his camouflaged hat for the umpteenth time, then checked the action of his rifle once again. Beside him on their sturdy platform high in the sapa tree, his guide, the adventurer Marcel, passed him a canteen full of water. "Drink."
Girard drank, the cool water doing much to alleviate the heat and the humidity, but not for long enough. "You're sure they hunt here?" Girard asked.
"Yes, yes. This place is widely shunned by the surrounding villages for fear of attracting the beasts' attention." Marcel gestured vaguely at a map held fast to the platform floor by the careful placement of stones; the map showed the small river valley in which the pair found themselves.
A minute blue-tail crabfly buzzed Girard's head, and he swatted languidly at it. He sighed wearily. He and Marcel had spent much of the morning and already three hours of the afternoon in their perch in the tree, waiting for one of Terra Nova's most fearsome predators, the pack lizard, to appear. Girard was manager of a product development group at Humboldt Technologies, Inc., which was one of the South's largest audio systems manufacturers. He had come to the Mekong Dominion on vacation to bag himself one of the beasts for his trophy collection back home in Siwa Oasis. He had a long-standing competition with the vice president of marketing, who boasted the head of a glass shark in the foyer of her mansion. Girard was ready to one-up the woman.
In the distance, a cacophonous clamor arose as birds and beasts of all kinds cried out at the unexpected presence of a threat. Marcel nodded at Girard: pack lizards were in the area. The sounds of the jungle wildlife ringing out their alarms rapidly approached the pair's location, and Girard tensed up in anticipation.
In moments, a tumultuous riot erupted from the foliage beneath them and into the small clearing. A Manx barnaby, bleeding profusely from a dozen deep wounds, lumbered full tilt into view, stumbling side-to-side and bellowing in rage. A brilliant, emerald-green shape with vivid red and orange markings leapt through the air from behind the barnaby, shrieking a challenge as it soared over the beast and landed in front of it, hissing: a pack lizard.
Girard brought his rifle to bear. Beside him, Marcel did the same.
The barnaby crashed to a halt, stumbling on its forelegs, and began backing up slowly, growling at the pack lizard, which advanced with measured hisses. Behind the barnaby, two more pack lizards stalked from the cover of the jungle, hissing as loud as their packmate. The barnaby turned slowly, trying to face all three lizards--
It was over in a flash, blood and gore everywhere, the jungle eerily silent except for the trio of pack lizards feasting on the carcass of the barnaby.
Girard sighted the lead pack lizard carefully, and then fired. The kick of his HR-38 rifle nearly broke his shoulder, and he knew he'd have an awful bruise the next morning, but his single shot found its mark and the pack lizard toppled backwards, dead.
The remaining two looked directly at Girard and snarled. While he fumbled to chamber another round, a sharp crack from beside him rang out, and Marcel dropped one of the pair. The other quickly leapt backwards into the jungle and disappeared.
Shaking from the excitement, Girard moved to the ladder that would take him to the ground. Marcel placed a hand on his shoulder, staying him, and shook his head. He took aim at the foliage on the edge of the clearing and fired. A furious rustling in the branches and leaves indicated that the third lizard had still been on hand, but was beating a hasty retreat. After a few moments, Marcel nodded. "Okay, now it is safe." He chuckled. "A nice bonus, no? One for you, one for me."
Girard snorted, unable to speak, and waited for Marcel to descend the ladder first.
On the ground, the pair -- each certain a round was chambered in his rifle -- inspected the scene carefully, wary for any signs of fresh activity. Finally convinced that all pack lizards were either dead or nowhere in the vicinity, the two hunters shouldered their rifles and surveyed their handiwork. "Not bad," said Girard, congratulating himself. "Not bad at all."
"Very nice, indeed, eh," said Marcel turning to face Girard.
"I should say so," said a third voice -- a woman's -- from behind Girard. "Quite a fine catch. Very entertaining."
Marcel's face paled, and he reached for his rifle. Girard, reacting quickly, reached for his.
"I wouldn't do that," said a fourth voice, this time from in front of Girard and high in the trees.
"Indeed," said the woman, still behind Girard. "It'd be a shame to have to damage the merchandise. Ken would be somewhat displeased. Turn around."
Arms in the air, Girard slowly turned around to find himself face-to-face with eight men and women in black body suits, a single white insignia of some kind on each person's chest. All eight were dangling from sturdy lines reaching high into the canopy above them, but each had an assault rifle trained on either Girard or Marcel.
"Shit," said Marcel.
"Who--" Girard was dumbfounded. "Who are you people? What do you want? I have a permit, you know."
"No doubt," said the woman who had spoken earlier; she detached herself from her line and dropped to the floor.
Beside him, Marcel whispered, "Slavers."
"Slavers?!" exclaimed Girard. "You're kidding!"
The woman glided lightly up beside him. "He is not. Though we usually think 'slavers' is a rather harsh term."
"No we don't, Shouko," cried a voice from behind Girard.
"Eh?" The woman -- Shouko, apparently -- scratched her head. "Well, I guess we don't, come to think of it." She grabbed Girard by the shoulder and pushed lightly, turning him around slowly. "Hm..." she muttered.
"Hey, you can't do this," Marcel said. "We have transient stock." Transient stock -- the equivalent of a visa -- was supposed to guarantee a non-resident's safety while visiting the Dominion.
"Aw, shit," cried the voice from high in the trees. "Stock!"
"Hm," agreed Shouko. "You have proof of this?" asked the woman.
Girard relaxed a little bit. "Yes. Yes, we do. If you'll just let us..."
He reached into his pack and withdrew his papers, as did Marcel.
The woman accepted them from the pair and gave them a quick look-over. "Hey, Takiichi!" she hollered.
"Eh?" replied the voice in the trees.
With one swift motion, the woman set the papers on fire and tossed them over her shoulder. "These poor boys don't have any stock after all," she said.
Before Girard could even panic, she slammed something into his abdomen. A faint smell of charred clothing and flesh reached his nose at about the same time he realized he'd dropped to his knees on the jungle floor, and then he blacked out.
The Black Riders are a small band of brigands that operates in the jungles of the Mekong Dominion. They are usually found in the region controlled by the Oni (see Mekong Dominion Leaguebook, page 31), but they don't consider themselves to have a limited territory of their own, and they roam wherever the feel the need. They have even been known to wander into the Badlands from time to time to prey on the folk near the borders of the Dominion.
The Riders mostly concern themselves with slavery, capturing unwary travelers and selling them off in the slave markets of Hsi Tsang. They occasionally engage in property theft, however, especially when they need to re-supply. Individual members of the gang will sometimes hire themselves out for murder when their leader, Kuroi Ken, permits it.
A mobile group, the Black Riders have no permanent base of operations. Instead, they transport their camp and supplies from site to site via a pair of trucks outfitted for jungle travel.
The Black Riders gang consists of a leader, Kuroi Ken, his personal bodyguard, Kawaguchi Noriko, and two combat teams. (See the Heavy Gear Miniatures Rules, page 87 for Rover organization.) Members of the Pounders combat team drive the supply trucks when the group is moving to a new campsite. In general, at least one combat team stays on hand at the site during operations. If an operation is large enough to require all members' participation, camp is broken and the supplies locked inside the trucks.
The Black Riders are one of the few bandit gangs that have an actual formally defined uniform. Their combat suits are always jet black, as are the light flak suits that the heavier infantry members wear over their combat suits. In the center of each uniform's chest -- and in the center of the flak breastplate -- is the Mandanese kanji for "black," written, ironically, in white. The uniforms bear no other insignia. Each member of the gang bears the kanji on his or her body, as well, either on the chest (for the men) or the base of the spine (for the women).
The gang's vehicles are similarly painted entirely in black. On the unit's few Heavy Gears, the insignia is found on a shoulder plate. On the trucks, the Wallabies, and the Caïman APC, it is found on the front armor plating.
Kuroi Ken is the leader of the Black Riders. 45 cycles old, Kuroi is a surprisingly amicable man for a thug and a slaver. He is careful to keep close to the men and women of his gang, knowing full well that no one in his profession has much of a sense of loyalty or duty. The instant Kuroi lets his people down is the instant they abandon him -- or worse. He is fairly confident of his longtime friend, Kawaguchi, however, who backs him up with more than just a pretty face.
Kuroi was born and raised in Hsi Tsang. As a youth, he was part of the resistance movement during the CEF occupation of the city, and he narrowly avoided death the night the CEF made an example of Hsi Tsang. Never a member of the Yakuza or any other organization, Kuroi remained an independent man throughout the entire conflict. He left the city to form the Black Riders shortly after the CEF's surrender and abandonment of the planet. He started out tracking down and hunting remnant CEF forces left stranded behind, eventually realizing he could make a decent profit by selling them as slaves in Hsi Tsang's underground market. After several cycles of focusing solely on CEF troops, Kuroi found his target growing scarcer in number and began preying on native Terranovans as well.
Kawaguchi, 46 cycles old, is Kuroi's longtime friend and confidant. She also served in the resistance movement, but unlike Kuroi, she joined a military organization immediately after the War and became a member of the Peacekeepers. Gradually honing her skills, she rose in her unit's ranks and managed to become her regiment's Duelist. After a surprising defeat at the hands of a rival regiment's Duelist, Kawaguchi resigned from the position and returned to Hsi Tsang. While wandering the city as a civilian, she happened upon Kuroi engaged in rapidly deteriorating "negotiations" with some of his troops in a bar. Recognizing her friend's situation, she immediately lent him her hand -- and her fists, a couple of well-placed kicks, several broken bottles, a bar stool, a very accurate steak knife, and a neon sign hanging in one of the windows of the bar. The troops slowly but surely realized they had been in error and admitted that their leader was indeed best suited to run the organization.
Since then, Kawaguchi has stood by Kuroi whenever he has needed her support, and she provides private advice and counsel as well. She has no interest in leading the band herself, however, and enjoys her role as the gang's Duelist. She rarely has to Duel -- certainly few other gangs have Heavy Gear Duelists of their own -- but she has had two notable fights against Peacekeeper Duelists since joining the Black Riders. Her favorite -- and that of the rest of the gang -- is without doubt the moment she mortally bested the upstart that had removed her from her post several cycles previously.
Kawaguchi favors called shots against specific locations (crew and movement systems).
The Pathfinders combat team is a light recon unit. It consists of a ten-person squad of light infantry led by Shang Duc, who pilots an old Basilisk Heavy Gear. The infantry ride Northern Wallaby ATVs acquired through illicit means many cycles ago. There are only five ATVs, however, so they must double-up on them. The two members who man the unit's 9mm machine guns always ride as passengers on two other members' ATVs, allowing them to fire on the move if they need to. The infantry are all highly trained in jungle fighting operations, and they often hide high in the jungle's canopy, suspended from lightweight, durable cables from which they can fight if need be. Because of this fact, the Pathfinders' infantry are usually called "kumo" or "spiders."
The Pathfinders typically scout out likely targets and, if the opposition appears weak enough, will often engage the enemy directly. Otherwise, they relay information to the Pounders, who move in for the kill.
The Pounders, led by AWOL MILICIA officer Rochelle Draft, are the Black Riders assault combat team. They handle most of the gang's direct fighting. Draft pilots the Rattlesnake she stole from the MILICIA when she abandoned her post five cycles ago. She usually prefers to use a Rucker Group RF-12 rifle in place of the usual Riley RS20 autocannon. The rifle suits her measured, patient style of combat over the "spray-and-pray" tactics often employed with autocannons.
The infantry unit rides to the battle site in and is supported there by an old Caïman APC. The unit is driven by the gang's two mechanics, whom Kuroi would rather keep out of combat. Having the Caïman supporting the infantry, however, is hard to argue against, however.
|APAGear II Archives||Volume 3, Number 6||July, 2001|
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