APAGear - Volume 5, Number 4 - June/July 2003

The First Desert Strikers, Episode 1.03: A Rock and a Hard Place

Gail Camaya

Previously: Lt. Griggs of the Death Vipers decide to scout out the depression instead of charging into unknown terrain. His decision was based on Feloma's report that intelligence for the surrounding area was wrong. Their target is a squad of Norlight Gears, lead by Lt. Heiser of the Fighting Badgers. Neither side is prepared for what is about to happen next.

"Kelso," Heiser says, "I am reading two Gears fifteen degrees off our left flank. Probably a patrol. Take Bravo Squad and clear them. We'll continue forward to the encampment."

"Copy, Lieutenant." Mallor says. Heiser watches them as the five Gears break formation and rush to neutralize the patrol.

"Sir," Dortmeyer calls out. "I have TAG on a parked Gear."

"Lieutenant, TAG on a Hopper jet," a second pilot calls out.

"I've got the weapons dump," a third pilot says, his voice crackling over the speaker.

"I also have one of the Gears," the last pilot says.

Heiser calmly targets the nearest parked Gear until the targeting reticule lights green. "I have TAG on the nearest Gear. Everyone, fire at will."

The ground lights up around Heiser's Gear as a wave of missiles flies towards the encampment. Bright explosions and angry flames lick the night sky as a glow of red and orange illuminating the large depression.

Heiser does not pause as his computer shows movement on his right flank. Fighting his instinct to immediately react, he waits for a lock. He fires a rocket when the computer gives him the green reticule. Again, like the previous targets, the moving Gear explodes into flames. He feels proud of himself and his squad as they enter the encampment depression.

What they find changes their whole situation.


"Sir, the first squad fell for it," Feloma says.

"They were probably told it was going to be a clean sweep," Griggs replies. They watch the lead Gear look at the trash heaps shaped into Gears, aircraft, and trucks. His squad looks on from their vantage point, an exit from the Oberon Maze on the south side of the depression. "They go into battle guns blazing and destruction all around. Instead, they take the bait, roll into an empty field full of trash, and not notice the gang of rovers coming out of the hiding spots the Northerners passed."

Feloma's Gear turns its head in mimicry. "Sir, how can you tell that?"

"It's their attack pattern. They're using the Delta formation and they're outfitted with some of the heaviest weaponry around. They have so much power that they can level Peace River if they wanted to."

"So they'll put up a fight, even if they're outnumbered?"

"Yeah, but they just realized that the dozen Gears coming their way are going to clean their servos...wait. They didn't see those Gears, right?"

"They haven't, as far as I can tell," Feloma replies. "Of course the officer Gear just walked back up the ridge and took a peek."

"And our own information was spotty, right?"

"Yes, sir. Not accurate, but close for someone to overlook. Is something wrong?"

"Vipers, we're moving out!" Griggs barks. His Gear stands up and begins the trek through the maze. "Back to the LZ!"

"What's going on?" Feloma asks, still in his prone position. "Sir, this isn't the opportunity we've been looking for?"

"No! This is a trap for us as well. Those Norlights were only following their orders, but we should have been more aware of our surroundings. We were too caught up in our need for stealth by traveling the maze. We're leaving."

"Lieutenant! I have contact!"

Feloma and Griggs turn their heads to Izzley who took the lead. They follow his line of sight to the plateaus above. Two Gears stand with their weapons drawn. They both fire missiles and their cannons, successfully pounding the alarmed Izzley, Gear and all, into twisted metal.

"They have the high ground! Fall back, Vipers! Fall back into the depression!" Griggs orders as he fires a salvo at one of the Gears. Unfortunately, none of his missiles connect. The rovers turn their attention to the rest of the squad while another four rovers stand up from crouching on the plateaus.

Feloma answers with his own autocannon, but forces himself to conserve ammo. Although his training was lacking, he could still aim well if he concentrated on one or two targets instead of the six he and his team now face. They continue their hail of fire, crippling a rover Gear. Feloma and his squad retreat into the encampment below.

Another realization comes to Feloma: what will the Norlights think of them?


"Oh, Sweet Prophet! It's a trap!" Heiser exclaims.

"But if it's a trap, then where are they?" Dortmeyer asks.

Heiser scans the perimeter.

"Change of plans, people," Heiser barks as he scans the northeast horizon. "We got incoming. Bravo Squad, I'm reading a dozen Gears heading our way from heading 0-2-5. What's your status?"

"This is Mallor!" Heiser hears over the crackle of static. "I've taken a hit -- down and fighting -- Kelso cut --", then the connection is lost.

"Everyone, we've lost contact with Bravo Squad. Retreat to the Oberon Maze! We'll make our stand there!"

"Sir, we have company!" Dortmeyer shouts.

Heiser looks south and finds four Gears firing up into the Oberon maze. He notices the shape of the Gears as Southern and dark colored, a tell-tale sign of a black operations unit. At first his stomach churns at the thought of fighting two enemies, but the feeling subsides with a new revelation: the Southern squad is just as trapped as his squad is. Although the Gears from the northeast are not yet within his range, the Southerners' targets are.

"Able Squad, support the Republicans as they retreat to cover," Heiser says.

"Sir, you want us to do what?" Dortmeyer answers.

"Support them! You have the missiles and mortars. Do it! If we can break through to the maze, then we may just get out of this!"

The squad complies. They target the maze plateaus and release their missiles and mortars. Explosions kick dirt and rip Gear limbs to shreds. Although shocked at the volley, the rover Gears nonetheless press their assault, jumping down to the depression edge and continuously fire on the soon-to-be surrounded Norlights and Republicans.


Feloma feels elation when the Northern squad rains their ordinance on the plateaus. He confirms two kills in the resulting counter-attack, but then another three Gears appear on radar. And the rovers press their assault, not relenting a moment. Feloma swears under his breath as he returns fire, still keeping an eye on his ammunition count. He could switch to his laser cannon, but that would be a significant drain on his power. On top of that, he would have to close range with the Gears.

"Feloma! What are you doing? Fire back!" Griggs says.

"Sir, we're pinned. We need to retreat!"

"Where do you suppose we retreat to?" Griggs responds. "The rovers coming from the north will be here shortly to kill us from behind. We either kill the ones ahead of us or surrender. Which would you rather do?"

Feloma starts to form a word on his lips when a Northern Gear to his left takes two missiles to his torso. The resulting explosion shakes Feloma's own Gear and temporarily jars his systems. When Feloma recovers, he finds the Northern Gear slumped over and belching smoke from every crack.

"Well, I've always wanted to die fighting," Feloma says. He targets one of the lead rover Gears and fires three missiles. Only one missile finds its target, and it only smashes the left arm. The rover shakes off the shock, checks himself, and then continues to press forward, firing his gun and causing everyone to keep cover. "They're crazy!"

"Yeah, crazier than us," Griggs says.


"Lieutenant! I'm running low on ammo!" one of the other Northern pilots says.

"Same here," says a second Northern pilot.

"Dortmeyer, please tell me you still have mortars," Heiser says.

"I have mortars, but the launcher's smashed. And I'm fresh out of missiles and bullets."

Heiser sighs. He reaches to his communications control and hails the Southern squad. "This is Lieutenant Heiser of the 29th Gear Regiment out of Merchant's Point. I want to speak to the commanding officer."

"I'm Lieutenant Griggs of the 176th Gear Regiment, Granger City. How are you?" a rough voice says in a gutted Anglo.

"I'm fine, Lieutenant, given that we're about to be crushed. My squad is ready to pull out their blades. Are you still packing?"

"We're about dry ourselves. Between you and me, we've been waiting for this thing to come to fists."

Heiser nods. "Yeah. Well, I don't plan on being taken alive."

A long moment passes. "A word with you, please."

Heiser responds by switching to private communications. "What's on your mind, sir?"

"This may be uncharacteristic of a Republican soldier," Griggs says as several missiles crash into a fellow Gear meters away, "but I promised Feloma over there that he would return home." He points to Feloma who has let loose his last salvo. "If I am to fall in battle..."

"Don't worry, Lieutenant. I'll see your promise through."

"Thank you, sir. I'll die knowing some Northerners are still honorable." Griggs looks out at the approaching rover Gears from the south. Their cannon fire is still biting into the wreckage and ground around the remaining squad members. "I'll lead some of the pilots, hopefully we'll break through with our rush. You'll lead the rest to the Maze, no?"

"Sounds like a plan," Heiser replies in what he hoped was good Indo-French. He switches over to the squad channels. "Listen up, everyone! Lieutenant Griggs will lead everyone out. We're going to try and break through their line. Feloma. Dortmeyer. You two are with me. We'll follow in right behind everyone else. Anyone have any questions?" No one replies. "Good. Okay, Griggs. It's your show now."

"Okay. First squad, we're going to use up what ammo we have left to destroy the center Gears. As soon as we run out of ammo, we rush them with blades and try to spear through the weakened middle."

Griggs turns his Gear to face south. In a very angry voice, he yells, "First squad ready! Fire!"


Heiser wakes up to the sound of squealing metal. His monitors, lights, and 3D display are out. When he fully comes around, he realizes that he is lying, backside down, in his Gear.

Heiser releases the harness and squirms out of his seat. He is crouching when the Gear hatch suddenly opens up. Although it is dark out, he could still see some figures. One of them shines a light into his face.

"You! Get out!" a man's voice orders.

Two of the figures reach down and yank Heiser out of the destroyed Gear. Heiser looks around and is stunned at the scene: he counts seventeen Gears either moving or parked. A few are standing on the depression perimeter standing guard; the rest are moving wreckage and tearing destroyed Gears apart. Heiser looks back on his Gear as he is cuffed and "escorted" to a truck. The remnants of his Gear are being systematically disassembled by mechanics.

The two men toss Heiser into the truck and slam the door shut. Heiser rolls around to look at his cell. Two figures sit at the opposite side of the cell. Both seem cuffed as well. There are no slats and a rusted ventilation grill in the ceiling is the only opening letting air in. Then Heiser notices the subtle, but foul, smell lingering in the air.

"Lieutenant?" one of the figures calls out.

"Dortmeyer!" Heiser says. "Are you hurt?"

"No. I ejected before my Gear burst into flames. I wish I can say our friend here is also fine." She nods over to the unconscious figure. "He said his name is Althern Feloma, but then they knocked him out before he could even complain about the smell."

"Well, at least he doesn't have to contend with that right now," Heiser says.

"Sir, how are we getting out?"

The truck revs its engine. "I don't know. Right now I would worry about survival. Escape will come in time."

I hope, Heiser thinks to himself.

To be continued...