APAGear II Archives Volume 4, Number 4 May, 2002


Killing Time

Jules Considine

"You know, Carl, some say we're being to harsh on the Earthers. After all, they're just as human as the rest of us."

"Sigmund... You're full of springer. They aren't human like the rest of us, and I sure as hell don't like those of them that are. And how in Mamoud's good name do you think you can say we're to harsh on them?"

"Carl, Carl... What about these Black Talon teams, these Badlanders in arms, these rogue Duelists... Can you honestly say this isn't enough and beyond? Can't we finish our affairs at home before embarking on some gallavanting little jaunt towards interstellar war?"

"Oh, we should finish our affairs at home alright. But when we're done with them, then we'll take it to an 'interstellar war'."

"Carl... You're full of it."

* * *

The modified Warrior pulled itself out of the pit it had dug earlier, jamming ECM going to maximum power as the signal intangibly rang out. Tracing its way up the fiber optic line that fell away in a motion not unlike that of a lizard discarding its tail, it was a seconds worth of a message, a single word.


The autocannon rose as the left hand stripped the protective sheeting from the barrel, revealing the black depths within. It was not the autocannon itself that then boomed, but the underslung fragcannon that let loose with a burst of rimfire and a spray of flechettes.

The converted truck sprayed blood out of one side, a torrent of bodilly fluids and a slurry of gore; out the other side sprayed shrapnel and reflected flechettes. The makeshift APC rocked back from the impact, settled on its untouched suspension, and exploded as the gas tank dramatically liberated its contents over exposed wiring.

Rising from a pair of similar dugouts higher on the opposite side of the ravine, the Jaguars let loose with their autocannon and raked the GRELs that were on foot. The fragcannons that they carried slung on their fuel tanks would have made it easier to hit the elusive figures as they ran for cover, but the spacing of the infantry had lent to the use of the autocannon, a fact decided earlier in the planning. The Warrior, watching through a small electronic camera that peeked through the layers of soil and dirt, had quietly decided to use the underslung of it combiweapon.

As suprise evaporated like dew under the morning sun, the assembled soldiers from either side began to wheel around each other, spinning in the ever moving dance of death. Gears abandoned their pits as anti-gear rifles swung to bear on them, and rockets began to arc overhead from makeshift mounts on several trucks. Following the path traced by the bullets of light vehicle mounted machineguns, the rockets exploded around the locations where Gears had once stood, impacting in a rippling string of fire.

But the Gears were running, weapons erupting with destruction as they strafed away from their positions and circled the infantry where they crouched amidst their vehicles. Unlike the lightly armored truck that had died at the onset of the ambush, many of the vehicles were not only heavilly armored but resilient to even the manipulator held weapons that slaughtered unarmored GRELs where they stood.

For instance, the captured Visigoth at the head of the convoy. The Earthers must have spent some of their many years of abandonment cracking the codes on that one. Yet it lay at the head of the road, a burning wreckage surrounded by its own flaming wreckage. It had died from the Black Mamba that had risen from the ground in its path.

When the plans were lain for the ambush, it was expected that one of the two tanks that accompanied the convoy would lead. A sniper was considered, but it was decided that the best chance of taking the tank out in a single instance would lie with the brutal and powerful explosive weaponry that could only be used at close range. The team's squad leader herself had elected to take that position, citing her willingness to lie in the path of a multi ton behemoth, and her preference of the single shot weaponry that would be essential for disabling the tank. Because she doubled both as commander and as anti-armor specialist, their commander had consented. As she was also the first in line for a sniping position, the tank would be hers regardless.

To herself, however, she admitted that she dreaded the ambush. Thinking of, dreaming of, either of the tanks crossing over her position as the signal went out, flitted through her mind like an ill wind through her body. Especially worse was the thought of the Hun, with its wide treads, squeezing down on the Gear where it was hidden in the soil, flattening it into a shallow grave that only the others would know about. Maybe the crushing weight wouldn't kill her, maybe she might only be buried alive. But the tank, whichever it was that rolled over her position, would be a fury brought down upon the Jaguars and the Warrior. Leaving her in a subterranean coffin, alone.

But when the time had come, and the signal silently traced itself through the emissionless fiberoptic cable, the tank was a safe twenty meters away, bearing down at but a leisurely pace. It was the Hun, treads tearing up the ground around it rather than blowing up clouds of dust as the turbines of a hover tank would, but it was no terror. Sighting down the first of her panzerfausts, she let the heavy warhead fire, aiming it to the juncture of the turret and the body of the tank. Trust in the panzerfaust to take the tank down in a single hit, and she had let a few moments pass by as she aimed the shot. But the tank rolled on, and the turret swung over and dropped its barrel down as she dropped her Mamba back into its dugout. An annoyed and intact tank was a dangerous tank, and the backup weapon arrived in the snub cannon. Pulled from a shallow and covered over trench, the long barrel had a dull sheen as the free hand of the Gear steadied it by way of the lateral grip attached near the muzzle. Praying her finger was faster than that of the Earther gunner, she squeezed the trigger.

The tank stopped, exploded, and burned in a pier as the top hatches blew. Exhaling, she counted heartbeats for a moment, then swung the cannon around for the next target as her Gear made its first step out of the ditch and into the battle in front of it. Twenty drumroll heartbeats, and she had risen and killed the tanks. Breathing through her mouth, she moved out and into the fray. Passing the tank, she admired the tiny hole just offset the driver's hatch, and smiled quietly to herself.

The Jaguar pilots didn't count time with heartbeats, however; they measured its passing with ammunition, squeezing out small bursts that were brutal mimics of an hourglass's sandy grains. It had been two changes of ammunition, the first reversing the clips to feed from the clip bolted alongside the first, the second introducing a fresh clip from storage. Time slowed, however, when they stopped firing, and bulelts no longer slipped from open chambers to fly through the air towards a target or an obstacle. During that passage of no time, the Jaguars slipped closer to the barricade of trucks and haulers that GRELs used as a bunker. Weaving in a slipping and never straight course, they moved closer and closer as the GREL gunners searched for them. But they could not see through their own cover, and for a moment, it was a hindrance. Then, time returned for the Jaguars as they hauled back their arms.

Underhand throws rolled Gear-scale handgrenades into the midst of the GRELs, and the Gear pilots smiled inside of their helmets as they began to count time again. When a vertical gout of fire erupted from inside of the circled vehicles, their grins deepened, stretching from ear to ear.

Describing a circle around the now burning ring of metal and plastics, the Gears searched silently for survivors, weapons ready for prisoners or less. Halfway to full circle, they each rolled a grenade into the carcass of the hovertank for demolition; it had been taken out with over the hill missiles that had homed in on an infantry squad's laser TAGing.

Now, it was only a matter of waiting for those same marines to arrive and comb through the wreckage, and silently hoping - no, mentally actuallizing, that the other teams as well, were successful.

* * *

"Nothing to do... Let's kill some time."

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APAGear II Archives Volume 4, Number 4 May, 2002