APAGear II Archives Volume 4, Number 8 October, 2002


Black Talons Episode 8: Cold Reception

Harman Meyerhoff

[NOTE: Continued from Part Seven, which appeared in Volume 3, Number 10 of APAGear II. -ed]

Caprice. Never thought I'd see it.

Always wanted to, though.

Someday, I want to see Homeworld too. Old Earth. One-point-zero gees, supposedly perfect climate and air pressure and humidity, plants and animals that feel just right...

The NEC sure isn't taking visas anytime soon, but someday before I die, that'd be nice. Supposing they do something about the thermonuclear fallout, the nations of homeless refugees, and whatever lingering bioweaps haven't gone inert the way they were supposed to after the Third Earth World War...

In the meantime, Caprice is and was enough for me for a couple decades, excitement-wise.

There's some boring but classified bits I should leave out about our insystem capers, so I'll fast-forward down to the planet.

The Fury slipped in with a fake transpoder and our latest recruit- Helene Del Pulciano. Green hair, not bad looking, bit of a rapid-fire accent to her anglic, like a Paxton Exec. Came aboard in transit, but don't ask questions, because nobody but nobody should know the how what and why. Not even the Cabinet's cleared, I think.

But we slipped in, taking the flight course of a Samson water-freighter the resistance had faked crashing with some devious trickery. Apparently the caprician Samson (remember, there's a transport copter here on TN that has the same name- I can fly one) has a modular cockpit, so if the heatshield breaks, the pilots can punch off before their cargo goes up in a steam explosion.

So somebody got paid off in heatshield installation, somebody else put a little RAM mix into the paintjob on the escape shuttle, and we followed it in. About a hundred-twenty kloms short of the Vega Starport, they popped the charges in the heatshield, faked their mayday, and decoupled the shuttlepod from the lifting body.

We veered off and went into even sneakier stealth mode, and the shuttle waggled its wings, swapped IFFs, and headed off toward somewhere, leaving the freighter body to fall a ways, then pop off all three fusion tubes and go all mushroomy when it hit dirt like a thrown brick.

Meanwhile, we were cruising down towards surface, where we were gonna establish basecamp and hunt us up some allies.

No. I know it seems like we shoulda had a rendezvous set up, but Del Pulciano's bunch apparently wasn't in contact with the dirtside folks, or something. All I knew was there were potential allies down there, and I was gong to have to go out and find them, because they didn't necessarily know we were dropping in, because their mujhadeen tactics necessitated stay-quiet-move-often drill.

Ah... C'est la vie...

Aanyways... We hit dirt, the Fury did a nice clean VTOL and dropped the landing jacks, and we dropped the RO/RO (roll-on, roll-off) ramp and got busy. Or at least me and Wallace did. While you've doubtless heard we mighty Black Talons went in with fancy Dark Gears, here's something you probably didn't know- we had a Engineering Spit and a Engineering Grizzly on board too. Partly they were spare parts for our heavies (we couldn't take parts from the smaller Gears) and partly because while a high-performance commando Gear can probably do backflips, it's not so hot at moving boxes with pallet forks.

But they are good enough at heavy-careful that we got to help with the sensitives. So I got to unpack the com rig and the mess tent, and Wallace helped drag out our generator and set that up.

Meanwhile, everybody else was busy doing manually-unintensive things like cooing over Malliaux or telling us to be careful with that box! (crunch...)

Malliaux was fine, by the way. His encounter with earther high-output optics had only blown off some of his armor and the brake-thruster pack bolted on his Gears' chest, ripping his conductor loop powerpack free and leaving him only power-dead.

Thankfully, we were interrupted in our labors when excavation of The Lost Cargo Hold (B) exposed the Death Kitty, the Spare Jaguar, and Megara. Which excused me to go play soldier.

The Spare Jaguar went to Pulciano, in case we needed our Stalwart Native Guide at a time when Unfriendly Natives might be shooting at us and the Fury Deluxe Noncombatant Passenger Shuttle dared not show it's blocky but oh-so-tender hide for fear of stranding us fighting types without a bus home.

That was the thing I noticed right off- genius me, Caprice is colder than that female XO with a whitewall and a black skull tatoo on her arm. Frigid like my jaunt Up North, but worse. When I went out smashing minions in the arctic circle, I had on a full temp-controlled bodysuit and a turtleshell inside a (supposedly pressurized and heated, rather than snake-infested and leaky) armored cockpit. And it was cold.

Now, thanks to some genius at Bee-Tee-Arr-and-Dee, I was wearing the single most shamefully revealing full-body coverall I've yet seen on anyone since Snarky went Ashanti with a transparent trash bag as a concession to modesty. I refer, of course, to the Supersuits. Twenty milims thick, heated and cooled, full spacesuit skinthin capability, rad and electrical resistant, mildly bullet-resistant, self sealing, and tighter than a metaphor unsuitable for print.

I've lived in wetsuits as a PIM, and I've worn sandsuits as a pilot, but nothing prepared me for the psychosomatic reaction I got when I stepped out onto the barrens that first time.

Y'see, the problem with the supersuit is it's thin, flexible, and almost unnoticeable. Y'feel nekkid as a 'Shanti. And caprice feels cold even when your thermostat is set for thirty-five. The thin whistle of the wind, the twinkling starlight and lack of clouds, the barrenness, the long shadows. Clenching, retracting, and other reflexes.

So the comforting bulk of my turtleshell over top of my suit became SOP from landing onward, and while it got strange looks, I didn't care. It felt warm and comfy, what with all the ceramite and flakpads snugging me into my cockpit like a particularly well-armored cork. The others mostly just wore their supersuits and enjoyed the extra cubic, though there were also some benefits to morale...

Back on topic, I had Vesping and Pulciano mount up in their Jaggies, and told Malliaux and Wallace to keep awake while they worked.

Meanwhile, Vesping and I went out at a trot, with Pulciano tromping along in a rookie stepstep-stretch-stepstep-stretch-step arrythmic method of locomotion that worked, but not much else.

So, while our comrade got a handle on her tin legs, I popped off a spy-eye drone from my command rig. They're not exactly classified, and I could probably make one after a trip to a hobby and electronics store and a few hundred dinars, so no harm telling...

The spy-eye is basically a quarter-kilo omnicam-equipped sensor cluster with a very lightweight tow-wire and three tiny electric impeller jets, one for each axis. You launch the little bugger up, it trails out the wire, and bobbles up at the end of the tether (about twenty or thirty meters, but it's adjustable), sending back wobblecam footage in visible, lowlight, thermo and EM, and can act as a synthetic-aperture listener. Launch up two, and you can hear a hopper thinking at four kloms. The batteries only last about five minutes, and they're prone to getting smashed when they enter "braking and recovery phase" and fall out of the sky, but they're a nifty and useful gadget. You can even use them to LOS lasercom with basecamp over hills or other obstructions, allowing you to send your immense wealth of sensor data back to get processed.

I did so, and was gratified when I didn't see a damn thing on the readout overlay in my HUD.

Unfortunately, I also was transmitting back to Morgan, and he had to spoil things. "Commander, I'm getting sporadic EM traffic and what might be coms up ahead, bearing oh-two-seven at about two-point-nine kays. See if you can get a better reading for me, please?"

So I reeled in my popup eyeball and trudged obediently toward the appropriate hillcrest, gesturing Vesping to watch over our initiate while I investigated.

A short jaunt to the hummock, a looksee, and I'm not sure if lady luck shot a flirting smile or put a metaphorical knee in my balls, because a stray rocket whistled overhead, a HT-68 screamed around a bend in the canyon I was overlooking, and something ripe exploded, sending a geyser of flame about a hundred meters straight up.

At least the damn tank wasn't aware of my presence, being too busy launching burst-rockets and particle blasts at a group of fleeing vehicles, but still... It's got that whole predatory more-agression-than-traction thing going for it when you see one burning at full throttle, banking near ninety degrees for turns and still shooting straight while the jets rip tracks out of the ground and kick up pillars of dust and gravel. And when a second follows after, it's like a pack of hungry dawgs going after a springer.

But, being the humanitarian I am, I patched both Morgan and my lovely entourage into visual-tactical-sensor feeds, signalled basecamp to wake the hell up (just in case) and prepared to donate the earther down below a tracking mortar shell.

Just then, Morgan cracked the encrypt, and I could hear the earthers, one yelling at a Minerva for taking the turn too hard, and asking something about not needing to eliminate the Liberatti, while his superior yelled something back along the lines of "don't-question-orders-and-shoot-the-damn-things-before-they-shoot-your- dumb-chatty-ass."

Not exactly stunning eavesdropping, so I plunked one tracking 86mm armor-piercing mortar shell onto the air after the leader and drew a lead on the other with my laser rifle.

I squeezed the trigger, the gun made a favorable electrical noise, and the front-left quarter of the hovertank glowed red and disintegrated. The turbine casing practically stretched apart like a sapa-candy as the beam boiled foam-metals and melted important vitals into the globular chunks the ensuing explosion broadcast over a wide radius.

But, having reduced the local target population, some genius down below launched a rocket at me!

Fortunately, it wasn't a seeker (or airmed well, for that matter) and I quickly sought cover further back from the canyon edge.

Meanwhile, Vesping and Del Pulciano had approached, and Pulciano had opened her coms full bore, chattering something out that sounded like equatorial and bad anglic in a blender, all over the airwaves. It offended my stealthfullness hearing her shout across so many channels, but similar rapid-fire gibberish began to echo out of the canyon. I caught enough of it to understand, but the comprehension lag meant I was in no shape to respond anywhere near well enough not to get shot at again.

"I trust you've introduced us?" I muttered, crawling to the edge of the canyon and extending the little fiber-optic periscope on the tip of my sensor horn so as to see the Liberatti without being shot.

"Yes. They speak Anglic, as well. " Pulciano replied calmly, her lack of being-shot-at leaving her utterly unruffled as she carefully walked her Gear closer to to the edge and waved at those below.

"Allright, then. Let's get the introductions out of the way. People of Caprice, I'm Commander Harik Kzyn, of the First Black Talon Strike Recon squad, representing the good peoples of Terra Nova via the Westphalia Cabinet. We're here to gather information, improve your resistance efforts, and generally just help you squish earthworms... " I trailed off, then decided that I damn well deserved to say more than the prepared speech.

Taking a deep breath, I stood my gear up and waved at the ragged column below. "And, if I might ask, who's the dumbass that shot at me?"

To be continued...

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APAGear II Archives Volume 4, Number 8 October, 2002