APAGear - Volume 6, Number 1 - January 2004

The Angry Armadillos

Part Three: GREL Talk

Dennis R. Johnson

(Continued from part two. -ed)

29 Spring 1938 TN

Morgana Zara looked upon Sven's slumbering form once more before shutting the door. She had become increasingly concerned about Sven's flashbacks. Normally, they just happened when he slept, but now they were coming when he was awake, too. It bothered her, and though she was no psychology student, she knew something was wrong. She had to talk to someone about it. She quickly made her way through the village, stopping to say hello to the occasional friend up this early. When she came to a small hut with an armadillo's harness hanging from a window, Zara knew she had come to the right place. She knocked on the door, and was greeted by a man wearing typical Badlands garb who was in the midst of drying a cawfee cup.

"Hello, Zara," greeted Hans Belzan, the local veterinarian, "What brings you this early in the morning?"

"Morning, Hans, I was wondering if Kim was in?" Isabella Kim was Hans' wife and something of a town therapist/psychiatrist for both the GREL and human population.

"Sure, come on in. Can I get you a cup of cawfee?" Hans offered as he walked back to where a small table sat. At the table sat Isabella Kim, sipping a cup of cawfee, which made Zara smile. She knew well enough no GREL needed cawfee for the caffeine content, but Kim drank it anyway, claiming she liked the taste. Zara also envied Kim's apparent peace with herself. Whereas Zara had to fight her aggressive instincts a good deal of the time, Kim seemed to have completely broken out of her programming, and only her knowledge of GREL and human psychology and physiology remained.

"Morning, Zara, take a seat. What can I do for you today?" Kim asked, her voice soft and gentle. Zara's face twisted for a second before she thought of what to say.

"Its about Sven..."she began.

"I think its time I check up on the herd. Excuse me, ladies," Hans broke in as he made a quick exit. Kim simply smiled and sipped her cawfee.

"Bright man. So what about Sven?"

"Well, he's been having nightmares about Jan Mayen,"

"That's hardly unusual, Zara, we've all had nightmares about that at least once, and I'd imagine you've had more violent dreams than that." "You know that I've had better dreams recently," Zara frowned. Dreams for GRELs typically consisted of mental training or conditioning whilst they slept, helping reinforce the CEF's control over their soldiers. As a GREL "breaks out" of their programming, however, their dreams change to reflect what had happened over the course of the day, as well as the subconscious's own desires. Dream images and symbols, however, are still far more straightforward than a human's, making dream interpretation much easier. Zara first started to have "real" dreams in 1925, after she had made a concentrated effort to "break out" of her programming. As she had been smitten by the son of caravan traders named Sven, most of the dreams focused around him, and the unfamiliar emotions he caused in her. After a dream in which she had a conversation with Sven, her armadillo, Fluffy, and an EGL scientist who created her, Zara promptly ran to Kim, thinking she her programming had gone haywire and she was hallucinating.

"I'm sure," Kim smirked from behind her cawfee cup.

"Oh, for the love of God! Anyway, I came here to talk to you about Sven's dreams. I know the dream itself isn't abnormal for any of us, but what's unusual is that they've been coming more and more frequent, and now he's having them when he's awake. Its obviously tearing at him, but I don't think he knows how to deal with it, and neither do I."

"Well if you ask me, it sounds like he's becoming more concerned the closer we get to the one-cycle anniversary of the Exodus." The Exodus was what the Armadillos called the flight from Jan Mayen. "He's probably still carrying some mental scar or trauma from Jan Mayen, and the anniversary is causing it to weigh more heavily upon him. It could be he's holding it in, and that can cause some pretty severe problems."

"Why would he be holding it in?" Zara asked, puzzled.

"Probably because he feels he can't confide in anybody here due to his leadership status." Zara thought about it, and it did make sense. He was the commanding officer to the Gear pilots and marines, and the Janites looked up to him as well.

"So what can we do to stop it?"

"Well, if he could talk about it to someone, someone close to him. Maybe someone tall, bald and purple..." Kim winked.

"All right, I get the picture. So would the dreams stop?"

"No. If its this bad, getting him to talk about it would stop the flashbacks, but it will always haunt him. Sven's as tough as his nickname, though, and I think he'll cope."

"Thanks for the advice, Kim. For not being a GREL, you sure do know a lot about the human psyche," Zara joked.

"Actually, this sort of thing happens to a lot of Jans, but I had some hypno-training in human psychology. Y'know, for those officers who lead GREL units." Kim replied, "But usually those officers have us or someone else to turn to. Its hard for us sometimes, especially when we don't know who to turn to." Zara nodded. It was all too true. Many GRELs have taken the wrong path simply because they couldn't understand what they were feeling and had no human authority figure to turn to.

"Thanks for all your help, Kim. It was nice talking to you again," Zara said as she stood up, shaking hands with the smaller Isabella.

"It was no problem, and tell Sven we said hi."

"I'll tell him, don't worry," Zara shouted back before she shut the door. She walked back to her bivouac, passing by Hans.

"Its safe to go back now," she told him as she passed by. When she got back to the hut where she and Sven lived, she found Sven still asleep, mumbling quietly. She walked over to the chair and sat down, watching Sven sleep. He stirred a little more before rolling onto his back and speaking out loud.

"So where'd you go?" he said, his voice still heavy with sleep.

"Just over to Kim and Hans' place," she took a deep breath and steeled herself, "Look, Sven, I want to talk."

"About what?"

"Your flashbacks." Sven sighed bowed his head.

"I'm fine, Zara."

"No, Sven, you're not. I'm concerned about you. You wake up in the middle of the night, soaked in sweat, sometimes screaming, and now you're starting to have flashbacks in the middle of the day! That's not normal." Zara took a deep breath before continuing. "Kim says she thinks you might be holding something inside, and that's what's causing all the flashbacks. Is she right? Is there something you're hiding from us?"

"Well, not exactly 'hiding,' but there's just some things I'd rather just not discuss with anyone here." Sven said, cringing in anticipation of Zara's response.

"Not even me? Who then? Your parents?" Zara exclaimed.

"A preacher." Sven answered. Zara sat quietly for a second. Sven wanted to confess! Zara's mind worked furiously to come up with a solution that didn't involve kidnapping a preacher. Perhaps if she couldn't find a Jerusalemite confessor, she could become one.

"Well, Sven, I don't know how to say this, but I don't think we're going to have a preacher visit us for a while unless we kidnap one, and I don't think you'd go for that. But if you would let me, I would be your confessor." Sven looked startled as Zara put forth her idea. She stood up and sat next to Sven, taking his hands in hers, interlocking their fingers. "I know I'm not exactly very qualified for the job religious-wise, I've only been a Jerusalemite for ten cycles, but I made you my confessor cycles ago, Sven. Trust in me, as I've trusted in you, and I promise that I will always be there for you." Zara looked into Sven's green eyes and saw nothing but trust and love, and knew the answer before Sven even spoke it.

"All right, confessor. I place my trust in you," Sven said, barely a whisper. Zara smiled brightly and touched her forehead to his.

"You can count on me, sir." the GREL said mock-seriously. "So, are you ready to confess, Sven Molovski?"

"I am." Sven took a deep breath before beginning. "Lately, I've been thinking a lot about Jan Mayen. I understand its not uncommon for us, but for me, it feels different. I was the one in charge. I led the defection, and the deaths of those soldiers are my responsibility. I just want to know that defecting was the right choice. I know I keep using the Code to justify my actions, but I don't know if I'm upholding the Code or hiding behind it."

"The Code?" Zara asked, "I know the code almost as well as you and we both know you lived up to the Code and still do. Something else is on your mind, Sven. What?" Sven began fidgeting and acting shifty.

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"Yes, you do Sven. What happened out there? At the end, when we took off and left you with those Nagas. You never told me once what happened."

"Nothing happened. We killed them, then came back, that's all." Sven stood up off the bed and began pacing like a caged animal, his face belying his statements.

"That's bull, Sven. What happened, please, tell me!" Zara cried out.



"I got Lansing killed, alright?! He trusted me with his life, and I let him down! I could have saved him, but I didn't. Its my fault for his death!" Sven exploded, agony clearly written on his face.

"How? What happened, Sven? Tell me what happened," Zara said, her voice soft and barely above a whisper. Sven took a deep breath before continuing.

"We took out the first one with our combined rockets, and Sabin took out the other's left missile launcher. But it still managed to get off a missile. It went straight for Lansing. He dodged, but not fast enough. The explosion tore off his Gear's right arm and sent shrapnel into the cockpit. Some pieces apparently...pinned Karl into his Gear. I wanted to try and pry open the Gear's cockpit to get him out, but Karl kept refusing. Eventually, he started shooting at the Naga to get its attention. We killed the Naga, but not before it killed Karl. That's what happened. I killed Lansing." Sven numbly sat on the bed and Zara wrapped her arms around him.

"Sven, I don't think you got Lansing killed," she said softly into his ear, "He was a Gear pilot in a combat zone. He knew the risks, and the added dangers of defecting with you. He followed you because, right or wrong, life or death, you were, and still are, the right choice. I think he sacrificed himself because he knew he was dying and wanted to give you and the others a chance to flee. Before the Naga turned on Karl, what was it doing?"

"It looked like it was trying to get a lock on Siluka."

"And did it?"

"No, Karl distracted it." Realization of what had really happened slowly dawned on Sven's face, "Karl gave his life so that we might still live."

"And do you think that that is an honorable way to die?"

"Second only to old age."

"Do you still think you got him killed?"

"A little, but I feel better now, thank you, Zara. Thanks for being here," Zara gave Sven a quick peck on the cheek, and a soft smile.

"Thanks for letting me listen, 'Armadillo'" Zara smirked.

"Boss!" a voice cried out from the other side of the door before swinging open to reveal Melanie Lancee, her eyes wide with excitement behind her round glasses and her breath coming in ragged pants.

"Good lord, Mel, take a deep breath and calmly explain what's going on." Sven said, a bit puzzled. He knew it wasn't an attack or a patrol that got too close because Melanie would simply sound the alarm instead of contacting him first. But whatever it was had clearly excited his usually unflappable second, and Sven was running every kind of possibility in his head, from the return of the CEF to the amazing reappearance of Anders von Breslau.

"There's a Northern convoy about 45 klicks south of our position on the caravan trail. Radio chatter is consistent for an Honor Guard squad, and it sounds like there's at least one tanker truck and a Behemoth gear transport!" Sven leapt off the bed at the news. A Behemoth and a tanker truck escorted by a single squad was just too good to pass up, even though Sven had a suspicion it might be a trap.

"Outstanding! All right, get everyone in Gear in 15 minutes, and take out an Antelope with at least two Minervas. I'll meet you in the Gear hangar."

"Roger that, boss." Melanie panted before shutting the door. Sven turned to Zara with a predatory grin on his face. "Wanna come with?"

"Wouldn't quite be the 'Angry Armadillos' without the armadillo cavalry, would it?" Zara grinned back. Together they geared up and trotted outside over to where the gutted Caiman/power plant sat. Inside was a small bell and a loudspeaker assembly. Sven grabbed the mike, placed it near the bell, and rang it as hard as he could for several seconds before bringing the mike to his mouth and cried, "Angry Armadillos, gear up and heavy down!" Shouts and whoops came from the village as Gear pilots, GRELs, and Marines all ran towards their vehicles. The lucky ten marines who drew combat duty today sprinted towards the Gear hangar, the other ten assisted the Gear pilots and GRELs in donning their equipment. Sven kissed Zara goodbye before donning his helmet and racing towards the Gear hangar. Inside, techs were rapidly prepping the Gears for battle, arming rocket pods, closing inspection hatches and helping pilots seal the cockpits. Several Gears had stepped out of their racks and were waiting to form up. Sven quickly scrambled up the legs of his Gear before dropping into the cockpit.

"Give 'em Hell, sir!" Koriz, his chief tech said as he helped Sven strap himself into his cockpit and shut the hatch. Ensuring the seals engaged, Sven began running a quick pre-start check. As he checked his systems, he slid the retinal holoprojectors over his visor and plugged himself in. Status icons and readouts began to flicker across his eyes, all reading green and in the norm. Satisfied that all was complete, he started the v-engine, and with a roar and a belch of smoke, his Warrior IV came to life. With a flicker of light, the world came to life around him as his omnicamera activated. Turning his head, he looked up at the cave wall, over at the Gears to his right and left, and then down at 'himself.' Sven grinned wolfishly, took the controls and stepped forward. He marched forward to the entrance to the caves, then gave a quick look around. Behind him, Caporal Siluka in her Brawler Black Mamba, followed by Sergeant Sabin in her Snakeye, and Caporal Markus Dresden in his Black Mamba. Behind Sven's cadre was Sous-Adjutant Lancee's unit, comprised of Lancee herself in her mighty King Cobra, Sergeant Karl Burning in his Spitting Cobra, Sous-Caporal John Natheri in his Iguana, and Caporal Kris Yamato in his Black Mamba. Behind that sat the lone surviving Caiman packed with the ten marines lucky enough to be on combat duty. To Sven's left and right, the armadillo cavalry, the GRELs quietly waiting for the order to move out. Sven saw Zarya at the front of the column, at Sven's right side, and when she saw he was looking at her, she winked and blew him a kiss. Chuckling to himself, he keyed the comlink.

"Angry Armadillos, form on me and roll out."

To be continued...