APAGear - Volume 5, Number 5 - August 2003

The Angry Armadillos

Dennis Johnson

24 Spring TN 1938

The four Heavy Gears returning ducked under the entrance to the cave, slowly making their way to their assigned cradles carved out of the rock. Any hand-held weaponry was stowed in a special rack at the mouth of the cave to be checked and cleaned later. With expert precision, the Heavy Gears turned and slowly backed up into their waiting berths. As soon as the Gear's rumbling v-engines shut off, technicians swarmed over the machines, checking for any signs of damage or undue wear. A more thorough check would be done later, but for now the technicians were checking for any major damage. The Gear pilots then popped the hatches, clambered out, and lept to the ground. All but one immediately headed for a small tunnel that would eventually lead to a sort of small village. Sous-Lieutenant Sven Molovski, however, headed in a different direction. Leaving his Warrior IV in the good care of his chief tech, he headed across the cave to a converted Caiman APC. Inside, the troop space had been ripped out and a kind of command center had been set up, complete with a map of the area. At the center of the chaos sat an orange-haired, bespectacled woman, a soft smile on her tan and freckled face.

"So how'd it go, boss?" asked Sous-Adjutant Melanie "Blacktongue" Lancee, Sven's second in command and leader of the second gear cadre, Blacktongue Cadre. At 26 cycles of age, the young protoge of the leader of the Angry Armadillos had made a name for herself as a very capable cadre commander. A former Humanist Alliance protector, she was very serious and deadpan when behind the controls of her gear, but typically mischevious and playful when not on duty. She was also the only one to call Sven "boss," as opposed to "Armadillo." For her, when the time came to decide to stay with Sven and defect or stay with the MILICIA, it was all too easy.

"Nice, quiet, and boring, as usual," Sven replied as he pulled off his helmet and unzipped his harness and uniform halfway. He stepped up to the map and pointed to several locations. "We've got a caravan from Erech headed out to some homesteaders right here," Sven indicated on the map with his finger, "and a MILICIA infantry patrol based off a small landship here. Also, it looks like we've got a tempest coming, so we'd best pull inside and button up." Melanie nodded and picked up the headset laying nearby and keyed it on.

"Sentries one and two, stand down and come back inside. Snipers one and two, close the entrance," Melanie listened for another minute before she put the headset back down. "All right, boss, they're coming in. Anything else?"

"Yeah, where's the nearest fighting around here?"

"Uhhhhh...about 100 klicks north of here. Apparently the 127th Carrion Serpents clashed with the 13th Doom Prophets again and got trounced real good. They're making a withdrawl attempt, but it sounds like the Death Knells, I don't know who they are, are giving good chase." Sven peered down towards the map.

"If the 127th is destroyed by the Death Knells, that'll give them a clear run down the Serpentine range, but if the Serpents manage to do enough damage to get clear, these Death Knells will probably draw back to lick their wounds while the Serpents escape for friendly territory. Again."

"Okay, so we should help the Serpents get away, but how? We're only eight Gears and maybe a squad of light infantry against at least a full Gear company. We might help, but we'd lose half of us, and we can't get replacements easily."

"You're correct, of course. What do you recommend we do?" Sven wanted to see how Lancee handled strategy, and decided to test her with this problem.

"Well...I'd want to wait. We'd need to strike at a critical moment when the battle can sway for the Serpents, preferably without them knowing about it. I say we keep an ear out and the Gears prepped to go at any time." Sven ran the idea through his head several times, then nodded.

"Good thinking, Mel, go ahead and tell the techs to keep the Gears ready to go." Sven turned to leave, paused. "One last thing, where's Zara?"

"She took the springer out with a couple of farmers about 2 hours ago. I think they went to go sell those leftover waterroots we had. Should be back any minute now." Sven walked down the ramp and looked out towards the exit as the two sentry Gears ducked under the now shrinking entrance. The two snipers, former MILICIA marines, had clambered down from the top of the entrance of the cave and were pulling down the dark brown cloth that would cover the cave entrance and prevent a large amount of dust from entering the cave.

"She better, or she's in for a real rough ride home. Call me if that opportunity comes up. Later, Mel."

"Later, boss." Melanie said and got back to her work while Sven strode across the cave to a tunnel entrance that would lead him towards the living area. A few minutes later, Sven emerged into a second cave, larger than the entrance cave(known as the Gear hangar), and lit with powerful electric lamps powered by a Caiman APC converted into a massive generator. It would never move again, but it would be a reliable source of power for a very long time. On one end of the cave wall sat a small cluster of bivouacs, huts, and other simple living quarters, with marines, gear pilots, and Badlanders all moving about in between them. Also moving amongst the humans were the easily recognizable GREL soldiers. While some were still wearing their old CEF-issue flak suits and combat gear, most wore the simple clothes of a Badlander, and some had gone so far as to decorate themselves with tattoos and piercings. It was impossible, however, to disguise the fact that you were a 6-8 foot purple superhuman. They went about their business as well, interacting with the other Badlanders with no problem. Pretty much what you'd expect of former members of Jan Mayen. On the other side of the cave was a stream which leads deeper into the McAllen network where the waterroot fields and other crops were grown, along with a fenced-off area for the armadillos. In the center of the cave, illuminated by a single lamp, sat a small memorial. Upon a small rock sat a Gear pilot's helmet, a Marine's boots, and a 24mm anti-Gear rifle, and on the side of the rock a plaque had been attatched. It read:

"In Remembrance of those who died on 33 Spring 1937 TN at the mesa city of Jan Mayen. They gave their lives so that others might live, and this small shrine stands to honor their sacrifice."

Below the inscription were the names of the 59 Gear pilots, Marines, and GRELs who died in the escape from the Great Experiment. Sven stopped and bowed his head as he offered up a small prayer to God for his fallen comrades. Even as he prayed, he could still hear the sounds of the battle, from the harsh bangs of the anti-Gear rifles, to the deep rumbles of exploding ordnance and rockets, to the shrill screams of the pilots and Marines under his command. Sven finished his prayer and made his way through the village to his hut. Small and spartan, the only furnishings in his room was a foot locker, a bed for two people, a desk with a datapad and a small Jerusalemite shrine, and a single chair. He sethis helmet on the desk, along with his gloves once he removed them, and slung his harness over the chair as he made his way to the bed. He unzipped his pilot's suit all the way and fell back onto the bed, a tired sigh escaping his lips. Sven closed his eyes and tried to quiet his mind long enough for him to drift to sleep, but knew it would be impossible for a long while. Eventually, however, he managed to drift off to sleep, and the images that haunt his dreams.

Sven was awakened from his dreams of Jan Mayen by her presence. Not by sound, for she was a silent as the grave, save for the small tinkling noise made by the chain that ran from her left nostril to her left ear. Not by sight, for his eyes were closed. Not by smell, for the damp smell of the cave overcame everything. But by her simply being near him, he somehow sensed, and awoke, albeit slowly.

"Have fun?" Sven asked her, not bothering to open his eyes yet.

"Oh, yeah. Spent time with a bunch of good-for-nothing caravan traders trying to rip us off, then nearly got caught in a tempest on the way back. Real fun." Zara's disgusted voice filled Sven's world, and he smiled. She wasn't angry because of the traders, or the tempest. She was frustrated because nothing happened. No rover ambushes, no running gun-fights. Nothing.

"What's so funny?" she demanded.

"You" he felt her sit down beside him and he opened his eyes to look upon her. She was trying to glower down at him, but she was betrayed by the look in her blue-grey eyes. He smiled, then snickered, then laughed. Zara tried to hold it in, but she lost the battle and laughed with him, rolling on top of him, pinning him to the bed with her imposing frame. A former member of Jan Mayen, Sven knew her since his family made their first caravan run to the mesa city. In fact, she was the very first Mayen to greet Sven. First to break his nose, too. In her defense, however, he shouldn't have called her a "vatfreak." Morgana Zara, formerly of the CEF, member of Jan Mayen's armadillo militia, and Sven's lover, smiled down at him and studied his features.

"Dreaming again?" she asked.


"Jan Mayen?" Zara asked as she rolled onto her side next to him, placing a hand on his chest.


"Can't forget it, can you?"

"Can you?" Sven asked. Sven's whole life, everything he believed in, he saw shattered that day. Shattered along with the city he had come to know and love. Not to mention all the friends he lost that day. Friends who died to help him and the others escape.

"No, I can't. But I'm glad you were there." Sven didn't answer, but merely placed his hand on hers and squeezed gently as he remembered that fateful day. A day of betrayal, of honor, of heroes, of cowards, and of loss...

To be continued...