APAGear II Archives Volume 3, Number 8 September, 2001



Lioness of the North

Bryan Lee

"She's going to do what?!"

The look on Elspeths face is priceless. I can't but grin a little at it as I finish checking my backpack. She was the newest addition to our merry band of Rangers and the most inexperienced. A tried and true City Girl, from Innsbruck I think she said, coming up to the wild mountains to live like a Climber for a few years. We get a lot of kids coming up north for a vacation at the end of the school year or they're trying to find themselves. The problem is that most of them are not really ready to spend time in a real wilderness. Rael took one group into the Huron valley on the south side of Logans Peak two summers ago. He said that they were so scared of the deep forests that they were practically jumping onto him when the wind rustled the trees. He said that it was like that for the entire week. We called folks like that Clingers after that little story. Elspeth isn't quite as bad, although it wouldn't surprise me to find her hugging trees. Of course it also wouldn't surprise me to find her spooked by the first Squeeril that we come across.

"Relax El." Rael says, hardly moving from the bench that he was lying on. Half his face was still covered by that silly hat he liked to wear. He had this amazing ability to fall asleep on any surface, like the personnel bench in the Cargo hold of a Goliath transport. People also had a tendency to mistake him for dead when he was totally flaked out. "This isn't the first time that anyone of us has done this. We were all out on the mountain the week before you arrived."

I can just see her face light up in that confused yet nervous look. The one that someone shows when they realize just how crazy their new co-workers really are. We're not really as crazy as I make us sound. We just have different ideas of winding down after a long weekend. Especially when it involves freshly fallen snow.

We were just flying back from a Northern Guard base north of Innsbruck, training with the local Mountain Regiment for a couple of weeks. The idea was simple. The High Command would bring in a bunch of us Climbers and we'd show the Guardsmen something about surviving in the wild bush and on a mountain. It was old hand stuff for us but for the Mountain Regiment guys it tended to be a lot of work. Most just thought that we'd be going on a simple little camping trip but that changed after the first 10km route hike up the rocky face of a mountain slope.

I had been listening to the weather reports for the entire week that we were down there. Several days did not look at all too cooperative, too cold and stormy especially at the mountain peak, but the last couple of days were absolutely beautiful. Perfect weather. So we altered our flight path a little bit. Just out over the mountains a bit more than the original plan had called for. This was my time to wind down and have some fun.

"Spad!" I call out, hoping to be heard over the noisy engines of our Goliath transport aircraft. "What's the word?"

Spad swings down the ladder from the cockpit and bounces gingerly off of the deckplates. He normally pilots our Rock Beetle helicopter but today he is a passenger and having trouble standing still. We're all passengers on this flight today, and it is kind of odd. Normally we are the ones rushing around but for the past 3 hours we've had nothing to do. Spad spent most of his time in the cockpit, probably talking shop with our NorGuard pilots. Rael just flaked out on a bench and played dead. Elspeth...well she isn't quite used to flying Cargo-class. Myself, I had other plans to get ready for.

"Six minutes to drop point Leonie." He says stretching. "Weather looks okay, there was another small snowfall last night. You should have fine powder and weather for the next couple of days."

"And the pack that we dropped earlier?" I ask. This was the key part. I couldn't take all of my gear with me, it would only weigh me down. So we tossed out a large duffel and parachute a little ways back. The hard part would be finding it on the ground, hopefully in one piece, but as Rael said this wasn't the first time that we've done this.

"Transmitters working perfectly. Got a good signal." Spad smiles. He liked to brag about his skill with cargo drops from the Beetle. It was a handy skill to have when you were trying to airlift a badly wounded hiker out of a forest, in a high wind. We had a lot of confidence that when Spad dropped something it landed in a good spot.

The signal is good news and I tell Spad that. I'd home in on the pack with my DataPads tracker module. I'd just meet up with it tonight, use the gear to camp out and make my way over to the Ranger Station in a few days. A perfect plan.

I hoist my pack onto my shoulders and secure the clasps. The thick collar of my winter jacket gets caught under the shoulder strap and it takes a bit of fumbling to get it free. This was important of course. I wouldn't want to freeze on the way down.

"But she's going to do this alone?" Elspeth speaks up again. I'm kind of surprised at just how vocal she is about this.

"Remember how territorial the Mountain Skags are?" Rael says. I can barely see his mouth under that hat. "Well our little Lioness of the North here is just going out to mark her territory."

Spad breaks out laughing. They like to call me the Lioness of the North for some reason. I think it was because Rael found out that my name means Lion. "That's not too crude." Spad adds. "You make her sound like some kind of animal."

"Are you sure that you don't want to come with me Rael?" I coo in my most alluring voice, hoping to get a rise out of him. "Just imagine you and me together, alone in the wilderness."

"I'll pass." He says. To my surprise he actually lifts the hat up and reveals his eyes. "Elspeth and I have a hot date tomorrow. We're going to be working on cliff face rescues."

"Lucky girl." Spad gives Elspeth a wink. I can see that I won't be needed for the next couple of days.

"But what about the reports of Skag attacks?" Elspeths voices her concern. The Skag attacks are something that we have to look in on but that's for later in the week. It was not an unusual occurance for wild mountain Skags to attack hikers and such. We get several attacks a cycle. Mostly it's hikers being stupid. We tell them to be careful when in the mountains but they all believe that they know better than us. For some people the best way is to learn through experience. And an occasional attack keeps everyone else in line for a few weeks.

"I'm going to be in an area with lots of game so I'm not really worried. Besides you know how careful I am." I reply as I pat the underarm holster for my pistol. We always carry firearms out here. You just never know when you may have need for some self defense.

Spad checks in with the pilots and tells me that we're getting near the drop point. I double check my pack and parachute. Everything is where it is supposed to be. I snap my boots into my skiis as Spad punchs a button on the wall to open the rear cargo door. The door opens up like a clam shell and it gets very cold very quickly. Not surprising considering how high up we are.

I step to the ramp and take one last look back. Maybe I'm just hoping to see Raels hat fly off his head but he holds it tight with one hand while holding himself onto the bench with the other. Damn. It really is an ugly hat.

I take a deep breath and push myself off. The bottom part of the cargo door has rollers in it to help load gear. My skiis briefly slide down the rollers before I am falling out of the door.

To be continued...

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APAGear II Archives Volume 3, Number 8 September, 2001