APAGear II Archives Volume 3, Number 7 August, 2001


Kensai's Gearbox

Boomslang Anti-aircraft Gear

John Thompson

Job Kensai is a wealthy researcher in the UMF. He is not politically popular, but his work has been sufficiently useful in the past that the UMF government is willing to work with him rather than against him. He regularly teaches small courses in Heavy Gear Architecture at Marathon University, usually in very specialized fields of study. His personal workshop, referred to as the Gearbox, is half advanced computer simulations facility and half grease pit. Every cycle or two, the Gearbox turns out a working one-of-a-kind prototype Gear and the technical specs required for mass production of the machine. Most of these are never used, however, as Kensai's idea of "useful" is usually the brass's idea of "impractical." Nonetheless, every so often one of the machines turns out to be a stroke of genius, and the specialized subsystems produced for Kensai's toys have found their way into literally thousands of applications across the UMF, so the Gearbox remains operational.

"Heya, all, and welcome to my workshop. Siddown, make yourselves at home. Care for some cawfee?" Kensai, a tall, balding man in his mid-forties, gestured to the crowd of sixteen assembled students. His movements seemed spastic, and his hands apparently roamed around of their own volition. "Hey, I know this is probably not your first time in a Gear bay, but humor the old man and sit down, right?" He gestured again toward two rows of folding chairs along one wall.

Hestitantly, almost as if they expected something to attack them, the students moved to sit down. Kensai rubbed his hands eagerly together, an unnerving gleam appearing in his eyes.

"Now, let's get started, shall we? Today is the first in a series of lectures on modern walker technology which I will be delivering to you over the course of the semester. You will pay attention, and you will not take any notes of any kind. Recording devices are also prohibited in my workshop and at my lectures. Simply put, I expect you to actually learn something here, and that means really listening. Now, does anybody need to remove anything before I begin?"

Nobody moved. The students just stared at the odd engineer before them, trying to figure out if he was serious or just deranged. One of them, a woman in the back row, cleared her throat to speak.

"Uh, sir...what do you mean?"

"Excuse me, young lady?" Kensai was beginning to look rather cross.

"What do you mean by 'remove,' sir? None of us is wearing a wristcomp, I don't think." The woman began to look anxious.

"Are you familiar with the concept of an EMP grenade, young lady?" Kensai grinned, holding up a remote control and pointing it at the students. Or, more precisely, at the floor beneath their feet.

"Sweet Prophet!" There was a sudden rush as several of the students removed concealed recording devices. The young woman who'd spoken blushed and pulled a sonic pickup from behind her ear.

"Give them to me, kiddies. That's it. Now, in the future I expect you to bring nothing into my workshop which might set off any of the sensor-detecting alarms I have installed throughout the building. During all subsequent lectures, targeted EMP strobes will be activated by any such disturbance. I suggest that you do not waste your money or time on electronics which will simply be fused on arrival." Kensai grinned again, finding the situation much more amusing than any of his students did. With that, he turned and gestured broadly across the hangar to an articulated crane that looked like nothing so much as a giant spider suspended from a many-jointed arm.

"Now, let me introduce you to my assistant, Bernie. Bernie is the neural-net computer which runs this bay. I designed him myself, based on the Abaline research into Gear 'personalities' and neural network performance." Kensai keyed the remote, and the tremendous articulated arm unfolded, bringing the mechanical grips and their contents closer to the students.

"Bernie operates the crane system, and is remotely linked to several work Gears which live in the building. Say hello, Bernie!" The engineer beamed like a proud father.

An obviously artificial but pleasantly toned voice emerged from speakers mounted in the ceiling. "Hello, sir. May I help you?"

"Yes, Bernie. Please send the Boomslang my way. It's today's lecture material, and I'm sure the students would like a closer look at it." The crane moved closer to the waiting students, depositing its tarp-covered burden in front of Kensai and then retracting to the ceiling. A cable winch in the crane's articulated pod whined, reeling in a filament and pulling the tarp upward to unveil the Gear beneath.

"Now, students. Can anybody tell me what this is?" Kensai gestured at the hulking, round-bodied Gear looming in the bay.

"A Boomslang, sir?" ventured a young man in the middle of the front row, hesitantly.

"Yes, I suppose it is. What is your name, son?" Kensai snapped, annoyance showing on his face.

"Winston Harold, sir." The youth looked like he was wishing he'd kept quiet. The students to either side of him edged away.

"Winston Harold, eh? Lemme guess. You're a woofpee, aren't you?"

"Well, I..."

"Quiet. Well, Harold, I suggest you make a point of not parroting me when I say something. My computers don't do it, and you're supposed to be smarter than they are. Everybody here heard me say the name of this Gear earlier, and I hope that they were listening. However, I will give you this: you must have been paying attention to me. Good lad. So now you get a chance to redeem yourself. Analyze this Gear for me, Winston Harold. What is it?"

The sandy-haired young man gulped audibly, and began speaking, a slight tremor in his voice. "Well, sir, it looks like a Sn... I mean, a Southern model, judging by the rounded armor plates. It bears a passing resemblance to the Constrictor family of Gears, just looking at the legs and torso, and especially looking at the little tiny sensor head. But I've never seen a Southie Gear of this model before, and it doesn't look all banged-up like most salvaged Gears, even the repaired ones."

"Very good, kid. You're off the hook." Kensai beamed with apparent pride, and Harold sighed audibly. Then, with no preamble, Kensai launched into his lecture.

"This is a recent and pitiful development of the Mandeers corporation operating out of the Allied Southern Territories. Now, overall, the design's not bad. Unfortunately, it has some serious flaws, and almost all of them relate to the engine." The engineer smirked, turning his back on the students. "You may be wondering," and his tone rose to a falsetto, "'but however did you get an experimental Gear from Mandeers, mister Kensai? They're Southies. They just don't do that sort of thing!'

"Well, kids, I'll let you in on a trade secret, and you'll have to get used to it in this business." A note of disgust entered Kensai's voice. "Politicians say that the North and South are so ideologically different that they'll never be able to coexist. That's a heap of stale skag dung. Some of my best friends and peers are Southern Gear engineers. Ever since the War of the Alliance, there's been cooperation among civilian scientists between the two poles. What most people don't know is that we engineers very often ignore politicians and go on about our business. It gets the job done faster, and that makes the politicos happy. It lets us do what we need to do."

Kensai turned back to his audience, some of whom looked angry, others dismayed. A few were simply calm, accepting what he said and waiting for him to continue. He did, changing the subject to one more appropriate for his audience.

"Now, you'll note the heavy structure and the lack of any obvious SMS equipment. That's because the structure is drastically reinforced, and there isn't any SMS. As your associate, Mr. Winston, noted, this design is indeed related to the Constrictors, but only in the general design philosophy of the chassis. Frankly, this is a much more advanced machine, one which was intended to bring Mandeers back to the forefront of Gear engineering in the South. I have no idea what they were thinking."

"Bernie, please bring up the holoprojector and activate the Boomslang structural walkthrough show." A hologram sprang to life between Kensai and his audience. He pulled out a laser pointer and began noting specific features of the design on the hologram. "First I'd like to direct your attention to the legs and torso. The hip structure is incredibly heavy, and if you look here, you'll note that the leg actuator system is both heavy and complex. Note that there are twice as many ankle and knee bearing actuators as a standard Gear uses, and almost three times as many at the hips. All this left no room for any kind of SMS unit." The image changed focus, zooming in on the broad, rounded torso and tiny head module.

"Please direct your eyes here, here, and here," he said, motioning with his pointer at the waist, shoulder, and cockpit. "The control systems and pilot are located as far back in the torso as the designers could make them. This is a direct effect of the influence of the Desert Viper, a machine with which you should all be very familiar. It is intended to protect the pilot and allow for very solid frontal armor plating. However, can anybody tell me what is odd about these other two locations?"

Harold, feeling encouraged by his success earlier, raised his hand. "Um, sir, the waist is almost a perfectly round circle actuator system, and it hasn't got anything but rotator cuff actuators. There are no integral elevators in the waist; they're all in the chest and lower back. The arms are the same way. Why did they do that? How did they do that?"

"Antiaircraft duties, Mr. Winston. As to how, design compromises. That's one of the reasons for the heavy legs: the torso is poorly arranged and too damn solid for standard leg actuators to handle on rough ground. The first version of this machine had a tracked SMS but couldn't negotiate difficult terrain to save its proverbial life. As is, the engine doesn't produce enough torque to power the generators necessary to give the machine anything more than standard terrain handling quality."

"Now, watch. Bernie, please run the turret routine." As Kensai spoke, the Gear powered up on remote, taking energy via a set of umbilical cables rather than its engine, and the waist actuators activated. Much to the amazement of the watching students, the torso of the Gear proceeded to turn through a full 360-degree arc twice before stopping in the same place as it began. The Boomslang prototype powered down again.

The crowd of students was silent.

"Remarkable, eh? Even the fuel feed is designed to route through couplings in the center of the waist, rather than hanging off of the backpack. This bastard can track any aircraft's flight pattern. That's why the rise actuators are in the chest: it lets the Gear elevate its torso further than any standard model. With the modified arm articulations, which are very similar, the Gear can fire at any aircraft above it, including those flying at NOE altitudes.

"Furthermore, look at the head. It's just a sensor pod on a set of actuator booms. It folds up inside that little cupola on top of the Gear's torso when not in use against aircraft. Those rabbit-ear booms on the shoulders are the Gear's communications suite.

"The primary armament for this thing was supposed to be a pair of antiaircraft flak rifles on gyrostabilized support arms, held and aimed by the arms of the Gear. A vertical SAM launcher was to be mounted on the backpack.

"Unfortunately, the design's problems are pretty serious, and even a King Cobra's engine won't solve them. So Turen Vercado, the project head at Mandeers and a personal friend of mine, sent me this stripped-down prototype to try and fix the blessed thing. Any guesses as to what I told them?"

When Turen Vercado ran into engine problems with the already hellishly complex Boomslang project, he very nearly gave up in defeat. Unfortunately, his superiors at Mandeers wouldn't accept his reports, and implied grave consequences should the project fail. In desperation, he acquired permission to send a stripped-down prototype to the Gearbox in Marathon, in the hopes that Kensai would have an answer for him. That prototype arrived at the Gearbox in Spring TN 1943.

Over the last seven cycles, Job Kensai and his Gearbox staff had been working on an alternate Gear powertrain layout project on behalf of Paxton Arms and the UMF government. Their results have produced nineteen new engine structures, all variations on existing technology, much to the disappointment of the UMF and the pleasure of Paxton's R&D production staff.

The twelfth of these nineteen designs is a side-by-side double-V-engine unit with variable torque and a disproportionately high pump output. UMF officials had tagged it as useful primarily in industrial vehicles required to operate under very heavy loads, and PARD had been considering its use in a new eight-legged Strider which required very powerful actuators in the middle four legs for traction and towing capacity reasons.

Kensai immediately began machining a customized version of the APTL-12 V-engine for use on the Boomslang prototype. Deciding that an asymmetrical unit would be necessary for the Gear's powerplant due to the space requirements of the weapon support arm, he eliminated one of the two engine blocks and beefed up the other, placing it in an L-shaped arrangement within the casing, and installing a series pump over the horizontal generator housing. A cooling tower tops off the engine, venting hot exhaust directly upwards and behind the Gear. A complex filter system ensures that the exhaust remains within military specifications.

Unfortunately, in return for the increased actuator power provided by the modified engine, the Gear loses a fair amount of electrical power, and the modified prototype suffers from erratic electrical performance and reduced communications range. It is also unable to carry energy weaponry unless the weapons system draws power from an internal battery rather than the Gear's engine, and it cannot be used to recharge energy weapons.

Kensai returned the modified prototype to Mandeers in Autumn TN 1944, after a cycle and a half of work, along with the technical specifications required for production of the modified engine backpack. The prototype performed perfectly in most areas, but still suffered from electrical defects. A quick fix was found by installing a superconducting battery pack to provide the sensors and communications equipment with additional range, but this proved usable only for a limited duration.

The killing blow to the project, however, originated in the Mandeers Accounting Department, which calculated that the cost for production of the Gear would amount to an astronomical sum of money. Mandeers has shelved the Boomslang project for the time being, reassigning all of the engineers involved. Turen Vercado is presently assigned to a training facility as "support staff."

PARD has purchased the design for the new Gear engine, labeled the APTL-20, and has begun research into the field of all-terrain trooper Gears using the design. They are presently negotiating with Mandeers for a production run of the engines for use on a possible Boomslang limited run for the SRA. If negotiations are successful as scheduled, the production run of 350 Gears will begin in Summer TN 1946.

Vehicle Specifications

              Code Name: Boomslang
        Production Code: MHIXHG-23
           Vehicle Type: Heavy Gear
        Production Type: Limited Production (MHI/PA run)
                   Cost: 2,874,286 Dinars
           Manufacturer: Mandeers Heavy Industries R&D
                    Use: Anti-aircraft
                 Height: 7.4 meters
                  Width: 5.9 meters
   Avg. Armor Thickness: 17.3 mm
         Armor Material: Durasheet
    Standard Op. Weight: 7,911 kg
      Primary Move Mode: Walker (37 kph)
    Secondary Move Mode: N/A
       Deployment Range: 480 km
           Sensor Range: 4 km
    Communication Range: 16 km
             Powerplant: Kensai APTL-20 V-engine
          Engine Output: 4500hp

General Stats

           Threat Value: 937
        Offensive Value: 1871
        Defensive Value: 219
    Miscellaneous Value: 721
                   Size: 7
  Original Default Size: 10
       Indv. Lemon Dice: 2
                   Crew: 1
          Bonus Actions: 0


      Primary Move Mode: Walker
           Combat Speed: 3
              Top Speed: 6
Secondary Movement Mode: N/A
           Combat Speed: N/A
              Top Speed: N/A
               Maneuver: -1


                Sensors: +1
         Communications: +1
           Fire Control: +0


           Light Damage: 18
           Heavy Damage: 36
               Overkill: 54

Weapon Summary

Qty	 Name                  Arc  Code    Ammo
2    MHI 12C SAAW          T    MAAC    150 each
1    Desberger 33 Launcher T    ABM/2   2 missiles
1    Antipersonnel GLU     T    APGL    6 grenades
1    Hand Grenade          T    HG      3 grenades
1    Vibromachete          T    VB      -


Name                  Rating Game Effects

HEP: Desert           -      Desert-capable design
Manipulator Arm x 2   7      Can punch
Reinforced Crew Com   -      Absorbs first Crew hit
Rugged Movement Sys   -      Absorbs first Movement hit
Sniper System x 2     -      Antiaircraft FC routine; +1 to MAAC attacks
                               at long-extreme range/no
Tool Arm x 2          2      MAAC support arms; fold against backpack/no


Name                  Rating Game Effects

Annoyance             -      Engine cannot be used to recharge energy weapons
Annoyance             -      Sniper system can only target Flight, Hover, and
                               Space units
Difficult to Modify   -      Penalty to all repair/modify rolls


Name                  Rating Game Effects

Defective Act. Sens.  2      Active sensors "blink" on a roll of 2 or less on 1 die

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APAGear II Archives Volume 3, Number 7 August, 2001