This story takes place a month or two after Jacinto’s Remnant, before the relocation to Vectus Island, and before the events of Snowblind.
To whom this may concern,
It had been nearly a months now, since we’ve been running consignments to the newly COG occupied base on the south coast of Port Farrall. I’ve been getting new shipment orders almost every other day, searching for anything and everything to be relocated to the base, but we’re starting to run out suppliers.
Ever since Jacinto fell into the sea, the people have grown desperate, often waiting for the rigs to come in with supplies we would gather from abandoned facilities that have been longed ravaged by the Locusts. I’ve lost count the many times we had to call in COG personnel to help us unload the shipments, trying to shoo off the desperate civilians, ransacking the crate of rations before we could even unload it off the trailer…it’s a pitiful sight.
Although I would have never thought I would be dragged all the way out here, there has always been talks about coming to Farrall, but things have changed, just over the past five years, while at the same time, some things stay the same. It has always seemed like an endless waltz of war, ceasefire, small skirmishes, and then back to war again. If it’s not one thing, it’ll be another…now, we’re having to take routes to avoid certain towns that contain Stranded gang lords, Locust outposts, or areas that have been known to be occupied by the Feral. Every day, I would always inspect my rig, code named, Pegasus, coming across a new dent caused by a ricochet bullet, or embedded pelts from buckshot. Now I wonder if the others regret their ambitions about coming to Farrall, and it’s only been getting harder for all of us.
Fortunately, I’ve managed to run into some help, a couple of young girls whom lost their parents from some Stranded raids a year back. I managed to take them in, cut their hair, and gave them names that would make a couple of believable thirteen year old boys, working along the Santa Fe, Mining Corp., to transport ammunitions, medicines and supplies to the military bases presently stationed at Fort Block. The last thing they needed was to be thrown into some, military sanctioned breeding camp, to be treated like a couple of phillies, bred to some Joe Blow stud, or dragged to some underground Stranded brothel, where virginity was sold for a handsome price.
So far, we have not run into any problems as long as I made the shipments on time and kept the consignments in check, following the usual protocol while keeping our profile low, concealing the identity that are all too common for the likes of us.
I had always hoped for better, a happier ending for the girls, but I never would have thought in a million years that these recent events, would ever take me there.
- Jack Gembry
Wild Horses Edit
…twenty nine hours after rig deployment.
Of all the training Private Dante’ Raphael had to endure during basic, nothing had prepared him for this. Staring blankly directly into the barrel of a forty-five revolver, he could feel the metallic taste in his parched, dry mouth, glaring at the cold, alloy metal revolver, staring right back at him as Jacque pointed the pistol directly into his face, while Billy and Tommy just stood back in awe, completely detached from the reality happening before them.
It hit Tommy the hardest as she watches helplessly from abroad, peering through the falling snow at Jacque holding Raphael at gunpoint. She couldn’t help to wonder…where is the Sergeant?
Dom slowly lifts his head from the snow-covered ground, catching up with the events that had transpired before he was knocked unconscious. Realizing what had happened, Dom reaches into his left holster, but his Snub wasn’t there; awe shit…bad timing there Santiago…very bad.
Glaring dizzily from the ground, Dom could tell that Raphael was sweating bullets, succumbed under the tight spot Jacque forced them into, keeping everyone on a tight leash, including the girls. With Raphael being held at point blank range while the two, unarmed girls huddling to the side, and the Sergeant nowhere in sight, Dom had nothing to fall back on…well we sure as hell didn’t see this one coming…how the hell did we end up like this?
Chapter 1: The Riders Edit
One week after the relocation to Port Farrall, at the shipping dock…four hours before rig deployment…
Walking along the snow covered, wooden deck, out in the icy breeze, that has been getting worse as each week passes, Sergeant Lucius Jacquin waits patiently for the supply rigs to finally come in for transfer.
One of Sante Fe’s, old gunships, MacBeth, is docked nearby, waiting for the supply rigs to come in to pick up crates of medical equipment, blankets, ammunitions, and rations. Although Fort Block contained it’s own infirmary storage facility, many of the equipment there have since then been seriously outdated and have become obsolete, or non-functional. With a sudden rise in a flu epidemic, many of Jacinto’s remnant have been waiting out for anti-biotics, syringes, and ointments to treat external infections that where also on the rise, not to mention a growing number of cases of pneumonia.
To make the situation even worse, the rigs have recently been under constant threat of attacks by rebel Stranded, often robbing the trailer of their supplies, and in some cases, killing the driver and his crew. There has since been three major cases where the COG lost several rigs, resulting in a calamity that has cost lives due to the lack of rations and medicines. Since then, Colonel Hoffman had no choice but to take initiative to make sure their supply rigs were protected.
Hoffman soon assigned Lucius to the job, along with four other men from Epsilon one, Delta one, and Beta five. Captain Miller was generous to assign some members of his squad to assist the Sergeant while convincing Lieutenant Stroud to coerce Sergeant Fenix into also contributing some of his men to the menagerie.
Although many of the Gears loathed the idea of babysitting a handful of supply trucks, Lucius managed to convince some, of the importance of making sure the trucks got to the Block with their shipments in place.
Since the remnants of a once prosperous society, now taking refuge at a cold, long abandoned facility with little food, medicine, and heaters, the death toll among the elderly and infants was staggering. It was a cheerless forethought that people were dying, despite efforts being made to try and get the supplies into the COG storage houses, before the Frost worsened to the point the rigs could no longer ride the icy roads to Fort Block.
Looking out to the road nearby as the gray, overcast sky loomed over the terrain, Lucius couldn’t help but to wonder how much longer the rigs can last this hard weather. He could recall in the past, that the supply trucks were, for the most part, indestructible. Designed to withstand the wind capacity often delivered by typhoons, the big rigs held there place on the road well, without wavering, while their tires were sheltered with armored plates that hung from the chassis, shielding them from flying debris.
As of late, Lucius read up on some reports, giving some detail about how the Stranded insurgents were taking out the back tires, where the armor offered little, if any, protection. In one incident, a few Stranded followed the rig on motorcycles, taking turns shooting with Gnashers at the back of the rig, while a passenger in a lone pick-up, would make the final blow with a armor piercing round from his rifle, causing the back two tires to rupture, as the trailer would buckle, causing the rims to drag on the road, decimating the rear axle from the unstable force from the weight. They’re becoming more, and more proficient…this has to be the orchestration from some, hierarchical posse…they are way too organized to be just a handful of drifters, trying to get by from freezing and starving. This is a covert job.
Looking up from his thoughts, Lucius could hear the familiar sound of a Dill making its way towards the dock site parking lot as it moved up slowly before coming to a halt. As Lucius made his way to the Dill, he could hear the parking break valve, compress from under the hull as the latch to the door turns and opens up from the front. Familiar voices could be heard coming from the cabin, a sound that Lucius welcomed after being isolated from headquarters for two days,
“…where the fuck did you learn to drive, Spades?”
Lucius instantly recognized the voice as that of Corporal Damon Baird, grudgingly stepping out of the Dill while moving around, dropping to his hands and knees, inspecting the suspension on the driver side tire,
“…when you see a pothole, you drive around it, shitbag!”
“Yea, yea…bitch, bitch, bitch…just for that, D, I’ll be sure to drive right through it next time…” Corporal Hades Bjork yelled over the driver side console while Private Raphael was the next to step out of the APC.
“…you break my Dill numbnuts, I swear…”
“It’s not your Dill, Damon, it’s taxpayers’ property,” said Captain Miller as he followed Raphael, stepping out into the slushy snow and turned over to see Sergeant Jacquin waiting patiently to the side while Baird continued to rant,
“…and most of those taxpayers are dead, Captain…”
Shortly after Bairds’ comment, another APC pulled up and parked next to the first one. The front hatch opened up, as the warm air from the inside of the cabin quickly seeped out while Epsilon’s medic, Corporal Grimes stepped out, shuffling his short blonde hair after sleeping in the shotgun seat, while Dominic was the next to follow, bringing his hand over his face to shield his sober eyes from the light, after sitting in a dark Dill for awhile.
Captain Miller was the first to greet the Sergeant while the others were still getting situated,
“So what’s the word, Lucius?”
“The rigs should be here shortly…I have schematics of the route we’re taking to the Block,” Lucius responded, holding up a bonded book that mapped out the roads and terrain of Port Farrall, “…so who’s coming?”
Shortly after Lucius asked the question, Miller walked up to him, scratching his forehead while joining up with the six foot, four, Sergeant, whom towered over Jon as soon as he joined him.
In the distance, the Gears could still be audibly heard as the group mingled next to the parked Dill’s, making small talk or ranting about one thing or another, mostly from Baird’s assessment of his prized APC.
“This is the last time I let you drive my ride, Spades…”
“Pfft, that’s what she said,” Bjork retorted while laughter followed shortly afterwards.
“For crying out loud, Baird, it’s just a Dill…” Dom could be heard, while Baird stood back up from evaluating his precious baby,
“…and it’s one out of eight, functioning Dills that we have left, Santiago…out of twenty from a month ago! Do the fucking math on that!”
The argument continued as the Captain sighed, turning his focus back to the Sergeant, reevaluating the squadron’s placements.
“I got you teamed up with Raph, Dom, and Welche…you’ll be riding on the Pegasus…and from what I can gather, the driver goes by the name of Jack Gembry, and has a two man crew…” Miller elaborated as he looked up at the others briefly, making sure their little spat doesn’t go beyond just talking trash, “…and then I’ll have Sergeant Fargaus, Gaiman, Bjork, and Grimes, escorting the Appaloosa…and the driver is actually the company frontman, Henry Dalquist.”
“Dalquist? Now why is the manager sticking his neck out on this one?” Lucius questioned.
For years, Santa Fe had renewed their contracts with the COG, year after year, often supplying their resources because they had the means to provide the better bid. However, what they made up for in dollars, they lacked in efficiency in the management dept. It wasn’t uncommon for the rig drivers to have a better instinct with proficiency, keeping the operations running smoothly, while the higher ups just provided a face for the sake of presentation. It wasn’t usual for the manager to go on a “ride.”
After the Lightmass offensive, the company was hit hard by Locust attacks, decimating several plants, and had to fall back on the Fortification Act, by willingly surrendering their vessels, while conscripting their contracted employees, including management.
“They relinquished their assets to keep the company afloat…after recent events, shit, I would,” Miller responded, knowing that if it wasn’t for joining up with the COG, the company would have dissolved along with many others that suffered economic blows from the Human/Locust war.
As the two men could still hear the Gears shoot the breeze, Lucius evaluated the numbers as he turns his glare back to Miller, whom hoped to find some approval from the veteran Sergeant.
“I’m hoping a two squad escort will be more than enough to get these rigs safely to Fort Block,” Miller added.
“…two squads?” Lucius reiterated Miller, as the massive Sergeant briefly glanced at the squadrons with qualm, and then returned his gaze back to the Captain.
“Look…Lucius, I was lucky to manage get some Gears with field experience…if you haven’t noticed, we’re running thin on veterans here, and the recruits are just too, damn green for a mission of this caliber…”
And he was right. Recruits were beginning to outnumber the vets, while the latest statistics of Gear longevity, as of recent, was staggeringly low. Some call it skill, others say it was luck, and no one of the group knew this more than Miller, Dom, Lucius, Baird, and Bjork. Whatever fate had in store for them, it just wasn’t their turn…or at least not yet.
“Sigh, understood Captain…we’ll make this work,” Lucius grumbled, nodding in compliance, while Miller nodded in return as he too turned his gaze to the Gears nearby, two of which were kicking up snow against “Baird’s Dill,” as the sound of ranting could be heard from the cantankerous mechanic,
“Hey, hey, hey…will knock that shit off? Especially you Spades, Langston…oh, don’t even get me started with you, Dom… ”
Lucius gestured in compliance as the Captain let out a long sigh, turning his attention back to the Sergeant,
“Look on the bright side, Sergeant,…at least you‘re not having to put up with D…”
Chapter 2: Pegasus’ Philly’s Edit
Although I can usually count on Henry to keep things in perspective for the sake of the company, the idea of consigning to the GOC is a bad joke that’s been told one time to many. Can’t imagine what the other drivers feel like since it varies between whom stands to lose the most.
Well, it’s official now, so no use in bringing it up anymore, other than just moving along to keep the peace…
The girls have been doing ok, considering I’ve had to put up with their adolescent tendencies, as expected with any teenage girls, except I’m having to deal with twice the potency. Although Tommy is for the most part submissive, maybe too submissive, occasionally Billy will question my authority, which is expected from someone of her caliber. She reminds me so much of myself…stubborn and bull-headed at the same time. Maybe God is trying to tell me something.
- Jack Gembry
Macbeth’s ship Captain, stood from the dock as he noticed Pegasus and Appaloosa parked long the loading dock, waiting for loading. Opening the back doors to the trailers, the rig crews lowered the ramps from the loading console, operating the mechanism from the inside of the trailer.
The rigs had a sturdy build, layered with armored plates that could withstand small to medium rounds from most pistols and assault rifles. The trailer was latched to the rig, in contrary to the old “hitch and link” for more armored protection for the freight, and could be detached from the truck with a security code that only the driver knew, and him alone. With an, over ten thousand horsepower, semi-automatic, engine that sat in front of the drivers’ cabin, the rig had a ten ton capacity, up to sixty miles per hour in normal road conditions.
Santa Fe spared no expense in the construction of these freight transports, making sure that they could handle driving through uncompromising conditions, especially since it wasn’t unheard of that supply trucks would sometimes end up running into skirmishes between the COG and UIR. Santa Fe had long grew wise to the political clout that hung over the nations of Sera, often threatening their base of operations more times than they could keep count. They often would strategically relocate their vessels and crews to a temporary territory, moving into another location when the zone was no longer a safe haven.
As the Captain walked over to greet the rig crews, Henry jumped from the trailer ramp with open arms,
“Captain Bastion…I’d never thought to see your sorry, ugly ass…”
“…not as ugly as yours, Henry…you could’ve made a livin’ working in the circus,” the Captain laughed as he wrapped his arms around Henry, patting him on the back.
“Well, there’s not going to be a circus for awhile, so, I’ll have to refrain myself from making a career change,” Henry responded as he turned his focus back to the Captain, “…but it’s good to see you again, Mic.”
Mic chuckled as he patted Henry on the shoulder, looking up at the loading ramp that was connected from his ship to the dock.
“So whach’a got going on here, Henry?” Mic asked as Henry pulled off his hat, scratching his dry scalp that has been aggravated from the cold,
“We have to get these supplies to the Block…they have a handful of what was left of the civilians from Jacinto waiting there, and they’re running low, Mic.”
“You already lost Clydesdale and Shire, Henry…is it worth losing another lorry, or another shipment for that matter, which I shouldn’t have to remind you that these armaments were not easy to find…”
“…the COG has stepped in to beef up our security, Mic…”
“Wait…the COG? They’re actually giving you, military escort?”
“That’s right Mic…”
“Shit, you know Gembry isn’t going to like that…”
“…yea, well, Jack doesn’t hold the pink slip either…I do…”
The Captain chuckled slightly, knowing that Jack Gembry never liked the idea of submitting all operations to the COG, for the sole purpose of keeping assets, but for the sake of Sante Fe’s future as a shareholder, Henry knew that company interests had to be priority.
As the men looked up towards the ship crew, moving crates towards the ramps to the rigs, the sound of a familiar voice could be heard,
“Jack wants the rations loaded first…”
Henry, turned around and noticed young Tommy, skittering around the cargo crates while the men from the ship crew began loading the freight rig, otherwise known as Appaloosa.
“Tommy…come here boy…” Henry yelled over the crates as Tommy turned around and noticed them. Seeing Henry waiving his hands, Tommy pulled the hoodie from over her head, revealing sloppily cut, blonde hair, shuffled in different directions, while waving back. Tommy runs over to the two men, huffing through the cold, dense air.
“Jack wanted the crates…”
“Yea, yea, I know that Jack prefers the ration crates first…” Henry interrupted before he turned Tommy’s attention to the Captain, “…Tommy, I wanna introduce you to Captain Bastion…”
“Hello there son,” the Captain replied to the kid, while Tommy’s face beamed with rosy cheeks, layered with a faint film of grime and frost.
“Damn kid, did Jack cut your hair?” the Captain soon noticed,
“…yes sir.” Tommy replied.
“…yea, Jack isn’t much of a barber…” Henry reiterated, noticing the uneven strands of bangs that framed Tommy’s smooth, pale face, “…and I take it Bill got the chop too?”
“Both of us needed it…the barber we used to go to is no longer there…”
“…I can relate to that,” the Captain could recall, missing his barber that he would go to for nearly fifteen years in Jacinto…not anymore.
“Look, Toms, the reason I called you over here is that we’re going to have some Gears escort us down FM 45, to Fort Block…”
“Whoa, for real? Does Jack know about it?” Tommy beamed at the news.
“I already gave Jack the low down…I just wanted to make sure you, and Billy understand something before we depart…” Henry reiterated as Tommy nodded in return, “…speaking of which, where is Billy?”
“Bills was in the cabin the last time I saw him,” Tommy answered.
Billy was one out of the three man crew that rode the freight rig, Pegasus, with Jack Gembry as the head driver. Billy was only a year older than Tommy, and more cynical, while Tommy for the most part, timid. Despite their differences in character, the two got along well and worked well along with Jack, whom always looked out for them in more ways than one. The only one who anything of the duo’s identity was Henry, which was a cause for concern especially since some Gears were going to be riding with them.
“Well, when you go back and find him…and tell him to meet me behind the dock…ya got it, kid?”
“Yessir…” Tommy nodded in compliance, and then turned to run off, looking for Billy.
“That there’s a fine kid, Henry…where did you say Jack found them?” Mic asked.
“Awhile back, they lost their folks to some Stranded riff-raff, running around, causing all sorts of trouble, which consequently resulted in their parent’s deaths.”
“Son of a bitch…and I take it your expecting to run into some riff-raff along the way?”
“…and they’ve been attacking your rigs?”
“Yep…that’s how we lost Volare and Germaine…those bastards also tore up the suspension in the rigs and ran off with the supplies. I’ve never seen it this bad before, Mic…”
“Well hopefully you’ll have a better chance of getting through this time around, Henry.”
“We’ll see…” ________
Sitting underneath a roofed dock port, the Gears took refuge from the falling snow as they huddled up for debriefing before the two rigs they intend to provide security, deploy to Fort Block.
“Listen up men…” Captain Miller could be heard over the creaking noises of the docked Macbeth, and the racket coming from the loading docks as they transferred the cargo into the rigs,
“You are to protect the freight transport, specifically, the Appaloosa and the Pegasus, at all cost…this is a priority one objective, it is imperative that these rigs get to Fort Block.”
“What should we expect, Captain?” Dom asked as the others listened inventively,
“A few weeks ago, Santa Fe lost two of their freight trucks, driving towards Fort Block from the Port. When the rigs were finally discovered, they were ransacked of cargo and crew…we eventually found the crew, whom apparently where decapitated and dumped not too far from the immobile rigs. We have reason to believe that some Stranded co-op group is chasing the rigs, taking them out by their back tires, causing the vehicle to break down.”
The Gears murmured to each other while others groaned in disgust. As if it wasn’t bad enough that the relations between Stranded and the Gears was fragile at best, the events of recent only added more fuel to the fire that may dissolve the relationship between the two factions completely.
“Assuming they’re armed, what are they using to take down the back axle?” Corporal Bjork asked,
“They’re use a combination of Gnashers, with armor piercing rounds…”
“Yea, that’ll do it..” Bjork reiterated, knowing that the combination between busting out the back end, succumbing to the weight of the rig on icy roads can cause the back axle to snap.
“Obviously, these people are armed and they’re shooting to kill…you know the policy, and you know the objective men…do I make myself clear?”
“Yes sir,” the men responded in unison, gathering their armaments,
“We will be in radio contact at all times…” Miller confirmed.
“Affirmative to that,” Dom recapped as the others nodded in compliance.
“…then we’ll see you at the Block…dismissed!”
Chapter 3: Moving The Herd Edit
I always wondered who or what a Gear was…although I've seen them on TV and the recruitment posters, I never thought I would ever get to work with one, and up close! Jack doesn't seem to trust them though…although I don't fully understand all that Jack has been through over the years, I guess I could say that bad things have happened to all of us after E-day…I just wish Jack would open up to us about it.
It can get pretty lonely out here, always hanging around some old guys all the time that like to call me "boy" or "kid"...shit, ya know, I'm only seventeen, I'm not a friggin kid anymore! Thank God, I have Billy to talk too, but Bills can be a bit bland in dramatics, like Jack is sometimes. I just wonder how much longer can we do this…how much longer are we going to have to pretend...cause, I'm getting tired of looking like some goofy boy with a bad haircut.
"Since we have Gears riding in the cabin, expect the possibly to be in the crossfire, so be sure to wear your helmet…I don't want to be picking your brains out of my upholstery…"
…Jack Gembry announced through a malfunctioning mouthpeice in his helmet, which had a slight ring through the voice projector, every time he spoke through it. Billy and Tommy instantly recognized the shrilling voice to be Jack's, as they subconsciously did as they were told, scrounging the cabin for their helmets. It wouldn't be the first time Jack made them wear them, since it wasn't all that unheard of for a rig to take on gunfire.
As the Gears began to approach the rigs, they instantly saw Jack, doing the usual routine inspections to make sure the tire inflation pressure was in regulation, while Billy tested the air brakes, as Jack listened for the release valve.
Lucius looked up at the rigmaster, watching him kneeling under the suspension while taking a glance at the rig as a whole. The Pegasus was an impressive armored freight transport, littered with dents and scratches from small arms and rapid fire, glancing the armored plates. The lorry itself had similar appearance to the COG Dills, with exception of the side doors, verses the front hatch. The windshield was partially protected by an armored shield, giving the driver some visual access to the front elliptical mirrors located on opposite sides of the hood. The paint on the chassis, for the most part, was fading with a partial silhouette of a horse with feathered wings, was still visible.
Lucius then approached the rigmaster, as Jack stood up from looking behind the rim. The onlooking Gears behind him could tell that Lucius towered Jack by a good foot, and Jack certainly wasn't as burly as the Sergeant, but it has been long said that Jack Gembry's reputation, as being one of Santa Fe's most efficient drivers, preceded him. Wearing a thick coat and hood with wool lining, utility pants and steel toe boots, Jack looked the part of a typical rigmaster. It wasn't unusual for most drivers to wear tool belts and utility attire for the convenience of carrying wrenches, a tire pressure gauge, needle nose pliers, and spare fuses. It especially wasn't uncommon for the drivers to wear helmets, since they spent the past thirty years often driving through war zones. Jack's helmet, however, looked as if it had seen better days, with the glass shield scratched, and a few dents along the side, not to mention the squawky voice emulator. It was apparent that Jack experienced a few close calls in his nine-year career.
Acknowledging the Sergeant's colossal presence, Jack looked up to Lucius,
"Are you Jack Gembry?" Lucius asked in a low, mellow tone while Jack gave him a nod,
"That would be me, soldier…" Jack responded, in his high, off-pitched voice, in contrast to the Sergeant's,
"My name is Sergeant Lucius Jacquin…and this is my squad, Corporal Dominic Santiago, Private, First Class, Frank Welche, and Specialist Dante' Raphael," Lucius introduced the others as Jack looked them over briefly, "…we're under orders to escort your rig to the Block."
"So I heard…" Jack huffed under the shrill of his voicebox, coming from his helmet, "…then I will not delay you further, Sergeant…"
Jack gestured to the Gears, stepping back and pointing to the rig cabin,
"…there's enough room in the cabin for two of you, and there's plenty of room in the trailer quarters…make yourselves at home, gentlemen."
Taking another sweep of the Pegasus, Lucius turned to the other three Gears,
"Dom, you and Welche take the trailer…"
"You got it, Sarge!" Dom responded while Lucius continued,
"Raph, you'll ride with me in the cabin…"
The men dispersed to their assigned locations while Lucius stood behind, watching from a distance as the other crew members, Billy and Tommy, made their way out of the cabin. Jack yelled out towards the two boys,
"Toms…Bills…come over here…"
The two straggly boys, wearing loosely fitting attire to cover their minuscule figures, with their heads covered in scarves and beanies, made their way to Jack, panting in the heavy, cold air.
"…all systems are ready to go, Jack," Billy was the first to speak, hoping that Jack would take notice to the fact she had been working all morning to get the rig ready and up to par, "…we can leave at anytime."
Being the more assertive of the two, Billy didn't fall short from speaking her mind, but she had always known that Jack called the shots, regardless if the methods were questionable or not. Billy didn't doubt Jack's experience.
"I understand that Bills…boys, this is Sergeant Jacquin...he and his men are going to be riding with us, so I expect you to cooperate with the Gears. Remember to keep your focus, this is no different from any other ride and you know the drill, understand boys?"
"Yes…sir," Tommy managed to squeak out while Billy on the other hand was hesitant to Jack's tone, but complied anyway, knowing that Jack had their interest in mind,
"Yes sir," said Billy, with more confidence than Tommy's demeanor.
Jack turned his attention to Lucius,
"Was there anything you wanted to add, Sergeant?"
"I believe we all understand our place, rigmaster…I do not question the competency of your crew," Lucius responded.
"In that case, get to your stations, boys…"
Tommy and Billy nodded and then proceeded to their posts, with Tommy taking shotgun in the lorry, while Billy went into the cabin.
"How long have they been riding with you?" Lucius asked, noticing that the boys couldn't be any older than fourteen years of age, if even that. So young, but they probably had no other place to go.
"…since I found them, a little over two years ago…with no parents, no future; I figured they would make productive hands, rather than drifters, stealing rations to survive, among other things." Jack replied.
It wasn't uncommon for older children to take up small jobs, just to keep their idle hands productive, rather than destructive. Lucius could relate to that, since he too was subjected to labor at an early age, to keep him out of trouble, especially since it was trouble that put him there in the first place. He could respect Jack's means of taking the boys under his wing.
"If something was to ever happen to me, one of the boys can operate the Pegasus…I've been teaching them the ropes in case of any emergencies, especially in times like these…" Jack reiterated as Lucius turned his gaze, watching the boys unhinging the fuel pump to the rig gas port.
"Have these boys ever seen a firefight?"
"Mild skirmishes, but nothing of the caliber of what it used to be before the Lightmass Offensive…"
"Can they operate a firearm?"
"Small caliber pistols…I have a thirty-eight in the front compartment, but I keep my twelve gauge on the side of my seat…I haven't taught them how to use that…and they most certainly have never seen, much less operate, an assault rifle."
"Understood…what other arms do you have?"
"Isn't that rather a bit intrusive, Sergeant?"
"I just need an overall assessment, Gembry, in the wake of someone possibly trying to hijack this rig…no offense, but the safety of my men come first…"
"…before the safety of civilians?"
"According to Santa Fe documentation, all company assets and resources are under control of the COG, therefore, you're employer is under COG jurisdiction…"
"…and just as equally expendable, I got it Sergeant," Jack sneered while tapping the last back tire with his boot, after reading the air pressure gauge. After the routine inspection, Jack placed his equipment back into his duffel bag as he soon looked back up, noticing the Sergeant towering over him, like a watchdog, chained to a pole.
"I'm not interested in your assessment of Santa Fe and COG relations, rigmaster…my concern is making sure your rig, and rig crew, along with the cargo, is safely transported to the Block, using whatever means necessary to make sure this objective is accomplished," said Lucius, without conceit, and Jack could tell he was being serious, "…we have civilians dying daily due to malnourishment and disease…infants, young children, elderly, the list goes on. My men spent the last week, burying the dead in the bitter cold, trying not to get sick themselves…the need for these rations and medical supplies is dire, rigmaster."
"Well, I appreciate your concern for the lives of others, Sergeant…" Jack began as Lucius soon interrupted,
"…appreciation doesn't even cover the amount of loss we have endured in the past few weeks, Gembry…please save your empathy, because you're going to need it in the next six hours."
Quickly loading the duffle bag over his shoulder while, Jack gave the Sergeant a glare for a moment before giving the tire another kick, making sure the tire pressure wasn't at risk, before turning back to the Sergeant.
"Well then, with that said," Jack continued, "...I would suggest you take your position in the cabin Sergeant…I'm under orders to leave in less than ten minutes."
"Would it be feasible to set up a comm. link to others on the Appaloosa?"
"…do whatever is necessary, Sergeant…from what I understand, that is your primary objective," Jack reiterated, while coming across as somewhat tenacious at the same time, and Lucius could sense it. But instead of rebuking the rigmaster, he simply nodded and went over to the passenger side of the Pegasus, opening the door, only to find Tommy testing the radio frequency on the console.
"Oh…I'm sorry I'm in your way…here, I'll move," Tommy responded to the intimidating Gear,
"It's ok, kid…continue checking your equipment. The last thing we need is for the radio to go out," said Lucius as he effortlessly climbed into the cabin while trying to squeeze in as much as he could, enough to shut and latch the passenger door. Peering over his shoulder, he could see Raphael setting up the comm. link,
"How's it going, Raph?"
"We're good to go…just doing one more check," said Raphael as he played with the frequency on the portable console, while bringing the receiver towards to his ear, "…hey Spades…can you hear me now?"
"Yea, I can still hear ya…it's not like I'm getting paid any more for this shit, than patrolling the ass-end of Farrall's borders…" Bjork griped as Lucius responded to the enigmatic Corporal,
"Keep the griping to a minimal, Spades…or else I'll have you reassigned to guard duty on the picket fence, next to the porta potties…and I might even consider talking to Fenix about putting Baird out there too. You could use the pleasant company..."
"Hey, listening to D whine about guard duty and our dwindling supply of toilet paper is a hell alot more exciting than hanging out with these jerks any day…"
"Shut up Spades…" a voice could be hard in the background while Lucius let out a slight chuckle from the conversation coming from the Appaloosa,
"…c'mon, Grimes…you know you wanna piece of this…"
"Corporal, put your damn pants back on…there's children and a priest, present," Sergeant Farguas could be heard coming from the other line,
"…so you can hear us, yes Corporal?" Lucius reiterated while Raph tried his best not to laugh,
"Roger that Sergeant…sorry for the delay, but someone told me to pull up my damn britches…"
"I'll be sure to document that in my log, Spades…Jacquin out."
Raphael chuckled while finishing the final touches to the transmitter, setting the frequency for the time being until they deployed from the port. Although Raphael was the rookie of the group, he managed to fit in like a glove amongst some of the most eccentric Gears that made up Epsilon One, including Corporal Bjork and their medic, Gerard Grimes.
It was long rumored that Epsilon One was the longest running squad, or at least since Lucius could remember since the day he joined the Gears, shortly after District 17 fell under siege to the Locusts. Lucius could remember the first time he came across Epsilon while trying to fight off Locusts in the line of duty, using his precinct issued shotgun and Snub pistol. Miller was a Sergeant at the time, and Bjork was a Specialist, but Doc Grimes stayed the same. The three stooges, literally in this case, have worked together perhaps for too long, so it wasn't uncommon for Hoffman to break up Epsilon on occasion, often splitting either Bjork or Gaiman to work under Lucius, whom soon picked up on their ambiguous quirks, but they were good at what they did, and they did it well.
Doc Grimes was for the most part easy to work with, once his superior officer knew that the man literally drank coffee like it was water, while Bjork on the other hand was a misfit "techhead" with a tendency of an antsy teenager without his ritalin. As long as he was given something to do, he stayed out of everyone's hair, and had a way of dishing things at random that would leave most people befogged, with the exception of those whom knew him, and that consisted normally of Grimes, Miller, Baird, Lucius, Cole, and Gaiman. Anybody else didn't stand much of a chance against Spades' rhetoric. Miller was one of a few officers whom could tolerate Bjork's forte,' and used him at optimal capacity, but Miller relied on Lucius for keeping morale, and it was something that came rather naturally to the humble Sergeant. He was good at dealing with people, and could get a point across without mincing words, while Miller was the better of the two when it came to "diplomatic" objectives, especially since the man had an uncanny ability to sweet-talk almost anybody into doing something constructive.
Raphael finished tweaking the transmitter to a broader frequency while Tommy watched him with his curious, wide blue eyes. Lucius soon caught on to Tommy's ogling as the kid glared at the younger Gear, whom Tommy thought probably couldn't be any older than twenty years of age. Lucius soon broke Tommy's focus,
"Are you done with your radio test, kid?" Lucius asked, startling the youngster from watching Raphael setting up the console,
"Um…yea…I was just…watching him put up that…um…exactly what is that?"
Raphael looked up at the kid, watching from the front seat as Raphael stood up and moved to a seat next to the side compartment, allowing some space for Tommy to hop over the front seat and take station in the seat opposite of Raph's.
"It's a portable com emulator…it allows us to broaden the frequency of our tac-coms when out on mission…"
"Sooo...what makes it better than our radio?" Tommy asked, feeling the eyes of the Gears staring at the straggly kid, curious as to why they're equipment was better than theirs,
"It's not necessarily better, per say, it's just a precaution…that, and it only works with our coms. It's standard issue for every squad to carry one with them, especially when moving out of a certain range…"
"Oh…well…I guess that would make sense…" Tommy concluded, no longer wanting to burden the Gears with anymore questions, before the noise of someone opening the driver side door could be heard as the breeze brushed into the cabin, along with some snow.
Stepping into the driver seat as the cool air whistles along the door frame, Jack hops into the seat and slams the door shut while getting situated, turning over to the Sergeant in the passenger side,
"Bad news, folks…" Jack began while starting up the rig ignition, getting the engine warmed up before departure, "…apparently we lost another rig that was dispatched last night…"
Tommy's attention turned to Jack as the boy sat up from his seat, quick to reply…
"The Shire?" Tommy asked, choking on the words as a resonance of grief hit her chords, trying her best to sound like a squeaky, adolescent boy "…what of Maddie…and Stew?"
Jack sat in silence for the moment as Tommy's words still hovered in the tight space between the Gears and the rig crew, while the noise coming from the grumbling engine was all that could be audible, before Jack broke all other silence with an assessment of the situation,
"It never made it to the Block…by now, the lorry is probably immobilized, the crew is either dead or going to be dead, and the cargo, ransacked…it would be pointless to try and salvage them…especially in this climate."
Although the rigmasters were conscientious for their own, they didn't underestimate the statistics either. Any rig crew knew of the risks they took, especially when it concerned cargo of vast importance. It was a sobering concept that once you were out, you were on your own, literally. Jack knew this, and have often reiterated this to both Tommy and Billy, hoping that when in the event that shit would hit the fan, the two would be better equipped to face the worst. Although Jack insisted on Billy to make the decisions in the event of his absence, Jack still took the initiative to prepare Tommy for the worst as well.
"What was the cargo?" Lucius asked, knowing that the Shire left late in the middle of the night, believing it to be the safest time to deport. It wasn't usual for any rig to venture out that late, so the cargo must have been a large concern.
"Sigh…firearms," Jack answered gravely, "…the Shire was carrying firearms…Boltoks, Plancers…I have an extensive list of what types and caliber. The only good news that I can tell you was that there was no ammunitions on this ride."
"..so whoever ransacked the rig has no ammo," Raph observed, sitting up while turning his gaze over to the Sergeant,
"It's company policy to never put all of your eggs in one basket," Lucius pointed out as Jack added,
"Exactly…we learned long ago to never put weapons and ammunitions in the same freight…always separated for calamity's such as these…"
"So I guess the question now is who's carrying the ammunitions?" Lucius asked, knowing all to well what may end up happening on this route, as Jack replied to the Sergeant,
Chapter 4: The Bitter Trail Edit
Sergeant Lucius Kilroy Jacquin
5th Infantry "Redarms" Special Forces Regiment
Fort Block, Port Farrall, Area Code 87730
-Log date: 4 Weeks after Fall of Jacinto 14 A.E.-
It has been nearly an hour now and as I look out into the cold wilderness, I am often reminded the desperation between the human race and the elements. We're about a month into Frost and I'm not entirely sure how long the civilians can withstand these bitter, freezing temperatures.
Sante Fe has been more than generous in trying to get these desperately, needed supplies to Fort Block, however, a (what I believe to be) a Stranded gang has been delaying these shipments by taking out the rigs and crew, one at a time on the main road, exiting the Port. We have attempted to dispatch these rigs at different times of the day to thwart any hijacking attempts, but it never seems to fail, these Stranded are annoyingly prolific. I'm beginning to wonder how they know when these transports depart and their routes. There has to be something I'm overlooking or missing, because this is the second week in a row and we have lost three major rigs.
Presently riding on the Pegasus, when and if the situation calls for it, I intend to get these rigs to the Block by whatever means necessary, reiterating Captain Miller, especially since he made a point to the rest of the squads to use those very same means, when and if, such situations call for it. I'm getting weary of burying dead old ladies and malnourished infants.
…and on a side note, we seriously need to either find or construct a more practical means of trouser adjustments. For some, possibly contrite reason, Corporal Bjork can't seem to keep his pants on.
~End of log~
Driving through the snow buried terrain, Lucius kept his eyes peeled while holding his hand on the com as he routinely continued to keep contact with the Gears on the Appaloosa, driving a few kilometers behind them. The rig would bump occasionally, driving through the snow layered road as the fresh, ridged tires clung to the surface to avoid hydroplaning.
Feeling the slight shimmies of the rig, plowing through the slush, the Pegasus' rigmaster, known to the Gears as Jack Gembry, would change gears constantly, to orient the drive chain to the road conditions.
"Bjork…you read?" Lucius reiterated on his com, as the snow began to fall again, making visibility difficult as Jack slows down the rig,
"Roger that Sarge…"
"We're slowing down due to change in weather conditions…"
"Understood Sarge…we're starting to get it too."
"Keep in contact every ten minutes Spades…"
"Roger that…Bjork out."
Tommy was on the edge of the seat, trying to eavesdrop through the helmet Jack made her wear, somewhat restrained by the lap belt, while Raph continued to test the radio frequency, listening for other potential signals that happen to cross paths. Between the on and off static ringing in his ear com, while his other would keep an audio wake to Lucius' deep voice, Raph would occasionally exchange a few words with Tommy, whom seemed to be a little more than interested in his work.
"So…have you ever picked up, um…other radio frequency's?" Tommy asked through the functioning audio piece in the helmet.
"Oh yea…all the time. You just have to keep tweaking the frequency, especially since they always bounce in between channels," Raph answered, keeping his gaze to the com while watching the graph for changes in the sound waves.
"Have you ever picked up…you know…something…important?" Tommy managed to summon the courage to ask.
"…the last time I picked up something, that was…life-threatening…was back in Jacinto, before it sunk…" Raph responded, bringing his gaze to Tommy's glass shield, observing his own reflection, slightly distorted while it shimmied from the occasional jerking of the rig.
Before the conversation could be carried further, the truck radio began to sound off as Jack picked up the piece
"Jack…this is Henry…do you copy?"
Jack let out a sigh while still peering through the windshield, keeping the receiver in hand, Jack brings it to the receiver on the side of the helmet,
"Yea, I here ya…are any of your boys picking up any outside frequencies?"
"We're getting some faint static, but nothing conclusive...but Sergeant Farguas here thought it would be best to inform your crew..."
"Understood Henry. Thanks for the heads up, Jack out."
Just as Jack finished the conversation, Bjork chimed in through Lucius' com,
"...did you hear the news, Sarge?"
"Roger that, Spades...that I did. I'll have Raph keep his ears peeled. Jacquin out."
As the rig shimmied slightly form the rough road, Jack changed gears, again, slowing the rig down a bit more to accommodate the terrain. Raph stayed deathly quiet, trying to listen to the open frequency over the sounds of the rig, as Jack was changing the gears, feeling the G-forces of the machine, pulling the crew forward, then back again.
Lucius turned to his com,
"Santiogo, Welche...you guys ok back there?"
Static could be heard for a moment, but it cleared out as Dom broke through,
"Roger...Sarge...We're just sitting here under a nice warm heater. Can't wait to tell the guys back at headquarters that we sat in a cozy rig cabin all weekend."
"...I heard that...Jacquin out."
Lucius couldn't help but to chuckle, knowing that it would probably annoy Marcus slightly, not to mention pissing Baird off, not that it was very hard to do to begin with. Although occasionally Baird would gripe to Lucius about one thing or another, normally about the lack of the appropriate tools or supplies, Lucius would often refer the crotchety Corporal to Bjork, and that alone would shut him up for an hour or two; or at least until he found something else to complain about, but at that point, he would fore-go Lucius altogether and just go bitch about it to someone else, and that other someone was usually either Cole or Sergeant Mataki. I swear, the man is seriously running out of people who would be willing listen to him bitch.
Lucius braced himself with his hand on the dashboard, while Jack turned off the headlight, trying to peer through the falling snow that rained over them and the road ahead. Lucius began to feel the pit of his stomach fall into his gut, sensing an epiphany that bulldozed into his head as he discovered that they have slowed down dramatically from sixty miles per hour, to forty.
"Gembry...is there a problem?"
"Just...trying to keep the rig on the road Sergeant...are you seeing any issues with that?"
"By slowing this thing down, we're putting this vehicle in a vulnerable position, rigmaster..."
"...then what would you have me do Sergeant? If I speed up, I'm putting us at risk for flying into a ditch, and that's the last place you'll want to be...trust me."
And Jack was right. When and if a rig would slide into a snowy ditch, it was very seldom that the rig could pull itself back out, making it immobile. Lucius contemplated to himself, going over scenario's in his head while collecting his thoughts, trying to be proactive as he turned to his com,
"Hey Dom...Welche...you there?"
A few seconds passed as a faint voice came through the static,
"Can you hear me, Corporal?"
"...now I can, over."
"I need you guys to be on the alert...we're slowing this rig down due to the weather conditions, which is going to put us more at risk, so I'll need you on the offensive, gentlemen."
"You got it, Sarge...Dom out."
Just as soon as Lucius got off the radio, a sudden phrase of panic shot out from Jack's voice box,
Stomping on the break while quickly changing gears, Jack blurted again,
"...grab onto something, NOW!"
The crew could feel the g-forces thrusting them forwards while Lucius managed to stop himself, placing his hands on the dash, while Raph and Tommy grabbed the edge of their seats, bracing the momentum with their feet planted on the rear of the front seat.
"Fuck..." Tommy blurted out as the rig started to swerve to the left side of the road, when a sudden explosion could be heard from the outside of the cabin.
"Aw, damn...that didn't sound good..." Raph groaned as Jack managed to get the vehicle under control, and slamming it into a complete stop. The sudden halt, threw the crew backwards as the seat harnesses subdued their weight from the whiplash.
Still shaking as the moment of silence that was hanging in the vicinity around them, Jack suddenly grabbed the com, shouting,
"Appaloosa, this is Pegasus...Appaloosa, we're stalled, I repeat, we've stopped...please acknowledge..."
Just as Jack sounded off the radio, Lucius grabbed his shotgun from his holster on his left thigh while Raphael, pulled himself from the seat, keeping the receiver to his radio on, listening attentively for some faint frequency.
"Pegasus, this is Appaloosa...we're slowing down now...what's up, over..."
"We've hit a pic snare...I caught glimpse of it before we ran right over it, damnit!"
"Fuck...what's the damage?"
"Cannot confirm as of now, Henry...please be advised they're may be more..."
"Understood, rerouting...taking sideroad, 610..."
"We can't afford to lose both rigs, Jack, you know that..."
"Oh, you have got to be fucking kidding me," Raphael blurted out as Lucius grabbed his com,
"Bjork, you there...come in!"
A brief moment of silence before someone could be heard,
"Roger that, Sergeant..." Bjork yelled through the com as voices could be heard in the background, shouting over one another. Sergeant Farguas could be heard over the array of voices, audibly distinct from the others as the men argued over initiative.
"Corporal...get Farguas on line..." Lucius barked.
As the noise could still be heard from the other side of the line, a frantic voice was heard,
"We can't separate Sergeant...this is NOT in our fucking directive..." Farguas bellowed as he exchanged some choice words with the driver.
Over the blur of noise coming from both sides, Jack suddenly blurted out through the squawky voice emulator,
"They can't stop...it they come into our position, they too may fall into the trap..."
"This is why you have militant support, rigmaster..." Lucius growled, "...I have direct orders to get both these rigs to Fort Block!"
The tension could be felt between both rigs on the line, listening to the arguing on the other side as Sergeant Farguas finally managed to somehow convince the driver of the Appaloosa to stay on the road, and veer off to another destination.
Lucius quickly turned to Jack,
"What did we hit?"
"It was a pic snare...a road length rod with seven inch spikes, designed to bust out the front tires...and we probably lost at least three tires, according to the brief explosions that I heard from the outside..."
"We have spares, Jack...we can go out and change them..." an antsy Tommy chimed in as Jack quickly turned around,
"NO...whoever put this out here is most likely waiting for us to come out and do just that, so they can take out the crew...I'm willing to bet that's what they did, last night!"
"...ambush the crew members, picking them one at a time..." Lucius muttered as Jack's gaze met with the poised Sergeant,
"...yes...I believe they may be doing the same...which is why we need to wait for the Appaloosa. They can provide some support," said Jack as Raphael sat up from his seat, blurting out,
"I got a signal Sarge!" Raph bellowed out.
"Where?" Lucius directed his attention to Raph,
"It's...southeast of us...it's faint, I can't make out any conversation, but it's there..."
"...which means someone has their radio turned on, they're just keeping it clear, avoiding us from picking up on the conversation..." Lucius observed as he turned his gaze back to Jack.
"But how...do they know about our radios? The rigs have very short, encoded frequencies..." Jack began, while Lucius picked up the com again,
"Dom...Welche...we got a code 23...I repeat, code 23..."
"Roger that, Sarge..." Dom could be heard, as Lucius turned back to Jack,
"Is there an emergency hatch in here?"
"On the roof...further back into the cabin," Jack responded, pointing towards the back of the cabin while both Raph and Tommy looked towards the ceiling to the emergency hatch above.
The noise of another rig could be heard coming from the outside as Jack peered into the rear-view mirror on the hood of the rig,
"It's Appaloosa...they're here..." said Jack as the headlights began to dim while the Appaloosa came to a halt, partially beside the stalled Pegasus.
Peering through the falling snow, Jack quickly checked his tool-belt, making sure everything was in place before running out into the open, hoping the Appaloosa will offer some cover from whomever set this up. Meanwhile, Lucius climbed over the seat while checking his shotgun, making sure it was loaded and ready to go.
"I take it Appaloosa is here…" he motioned to Jack.
"Yea…they've pulled up along the side of us," Jack responded.
"Where do you keep the spare tires?"
"…four on top, two underneath the chassis…"
Lucius turned his attention to Tommy while continuing to address Jack,
"How fast can you change tire on this thing?"
Jack let out a sigh, feeling the weight of Tommy's demeanor, knowing that the man power the Pegusas crew had, was most likely insufficient under the immediate circumstances, but Jack wasn't going to sugar coat it for the Gears' sake, much less the "boys."
"We can change one tire in less than ten minutes."
"Say what?" Raph blurted out shock.
"These tires weigh easily about fifty lbs each...it takes three of us to change out one and put in another...and on top of that, the rig takes at least five minutes just to raise the autojack underneath the chassis," " Jack explained as Lucius turned his glare from Jack to Tommy.
"...so it takes you two, and Billy, to get a tire changed?" Lucius reiterated, making sue he understood the situation.
"That...would be correct, Sergeant..." Jack confirmed, "...understand Sergeant, we're truck drivers, not beefed up, hormone fed Gears!"
"Yea I get it," Lucius responded in annoyance. He turned his attention to the com,
"Dom...Welche...I'm going to need code, five...I repeat, code five..."
"Roger that, Sarge...just give us the word when you're ready," said Dom on the other side of the radio.
Lucius then turns his gaze back to the rigmaster,
"I have an idea, but I'll need cooperation from you, and the boys..."
Grumbling slightly from the helmet while looking into the rear-view mirror, Jack then turned to Lucius,
"...alright…I'm all ears, Sergeant."
Chapter 5: Bait and Switch Edit
I haven't had an appetite in recent weeks. You would think with all of the running around Marcus and I've been doing lately, I'd be stuffing my face with rice and some of those beans, Private "Father" Giaman, likes to cook, but I still don't have an appetite...I'm not sure if I ever will again.
It's been a few weeks since I found Maria, and some days, I'm having a hard time pulling myself together, like I'm choking on air. I never spoken of it, nor do I care to, but I've been having these dreams, and it's as if I don't want to wake up to this anymore...but I have to. Marcus is all I got, now...the guys, Gus, and hell, maybe even Damon, is all I have left now. Occasionally Bernie will sit with me to shoot some bull to preoccupy my mind from the anguish, but I can still get sidetracked.
But this would be the first time Marcus and I have separated since Jacinto. He talked me into going with Sergeant Jacquin and escort some supply rigs, especially since we haven't been able to get a decent shipment after a week because of the raids. Not to take away from Lucius, I mean, he's just as competent as any officer, if not more so. I swear, he can really keep his cool, considering the others he has to work with...I mean, Raph is good, but he's still a kid…there's Epsilon's medic, Grimes, but we all just call him Doc, and he's usually pretty good as long as he has coffee; then there's our sniper, Private Welche, Gaiman, our cleric (literally), and of course, Spades. They're kind of a group of misfits in their own right, but hell, they're Gears...and they do what they're trained to do, and they can work in sync with the Sarge...but I just don't know how I can stay in focus, ya know… especially without Marcus.
I dunno, man...Marcus wants me to take a break from routine, to go and literally baby-sit these freight rigs from being hijacked by some Stranded assholes. I'm not saying it's a blow-off job because we need the supplies and we're more than capable with handling Stranded. After all that we been through, what could possibly be worse than the Locusts?
The snow fell heavily, blurring all in its path as the two lorries sat in the middle of the road, slowly layered in the accumulating snow. The slight breeze brushed the flakes across the vicinity, covering everything in a soft, white haze. Any attempt to wander under the white veil of the blistering Frost wasn't going to be a walk in the park by any means.
With the Pegasus sitting idle for the moment, the Appaloosa sat along the side, with engine still running, keeping the components warm while waiting for something, something that eluded the watchman hiding in the forest, sitting on a cliff while peering at the two lorries, parked out in the middle of the road. Shit, I thought the other rig was supposed to take the other road...damnit, I can't see shit in all of this.
"Psst...hey, Gomer..." one of the loitering Stranded quietly called out to another a few meters beside him.
Gomer lifted his head from his cover in the brush, signaling to him, "Stay in position, Agnes..."
Agnes nodded his head and turned his attention to the other Stranded nearby, passing the message along,
"Frank...wait up..." said Agnus. Frank gave Agnus a nod while the three turned their attention back to their group leader, sitting on the other side of the road.
Clarity was impossible at this point, watching carefully for movement between the two monstrous rigs with their cargo trailers. The sounds of the purring engine, coming from the Appaloosa made it difficult to hear anything, while the warm exhaust hovered in between the masses of the rigs and the trees along the side of the road. Whatever the insurgents had in mind, they needed to act quickly.
The leading Stranded lifted up his arm and signaled for the three to move.
"Belton just gave us the go...let's move," Gomer said quietly, as he signaled to both Agnus and Frank.
The three Stranded began to flank the parked rigs while carefully peering through the trees and falling snow, keeping their audible paces under the cover of the running engine, while moving into the vicinity with shotguns ready. All was still quiet, and radio silence was nerve-racking; why did they stop their communications? Why are they not coming out to change the tires? With the much, needed supplies just a few meters from their grasp, they had to take the chance. They began to move in.
As their leader, Belton, watched the other three closing in from the brush nearby, the Stranded insurgents moved to the passenger side of the Pegasus, checking to see if the cabin door has been opened, but the truck was still latched and shut, with the trailer intact and locked with no sign of movement. The falling snow disrupted their depth perception as they meandered through the snow-covered road, slowly accumulating with each passing minute. Belton watched carefully through his scope, but the snow disrupted his focus point, impairing his peripheral vision in the lens. He could only see a small portion of the area at a time.
Without warning, a sudden loud multi-pitched burst, coming from the air breaks underneath the hull of the truck, was released; startling the three, marauding Stranded as they backed off from the rig, but another explosion detonated behind them, knocking them forwards, closer to the cabin.
"FUCK..." Gomer blurted out while the other three were choking on the smoke coming from a detonated Smoke grenade. The gases hung heavy in the dense, cold air, making it even more difficult to see, much less breathe, while the three were temporarily impaired for the time being, just enough time for someone to take advantage of the situation.
The cabin door, quickly swung open as two Gears hoped out and managed to succumb Frank and Agnus nearby. Dom quickly grabbed a coughing Agnus by his coat collar, dragging him rapidly underneath the hull of the trailer, while Welche did the same with Frank, keeping their mouths and nostrils closed to avoid unintentionally inhaling the smoke still hovering in the air. Gomer was on his stomach, trying to drag himself away from the area, coughing violently while his eyes watered profusely, blurring his vision.
The leader, still watching from the sideline, started to panic, feeling the sudden rush of adrenaline pulsing through his system as he raised his rifle, trying to look for a target, anything moving while his arms were shaking, making it even more difficult to pin-point a target. Suddenly he turned around, trying to find another position, when he looked up and came face to face with a shotgun pointed directly at him with a massive Gear, holding it towards him.
Frantically, Belton tried to dodge to the left of the Gnasher, but the Gear spun low to the ground with Gnasher in hand, sweeping Belton off of his feet as he lands flat on his back, consequently knocking the air out of him. As the diaphragm cramps, Belton struggled to breathe while the Gear kicks the rifle to the side, out of Belton's reach, and kneels down to quickly sit Belton up before he choked on his own saliva.
Only coughing and wheezing could be heard from the disoriented Stranded sniper, while Lucius pulled his hands behind his back and cuffed him with a zip tie.
"Fuck…my hands hurt, you COG pig…" the man protested while Lucius sat up, looking out towards the top of the rigs, watching two Gears quickly remove a spare from it's compartment.
"…then shut up and quit moving them," said Lucius, unsympathetically while being practical at the same time, "…you're going to injure yourself if you keep squirming in this climate."
As Gomer's continued to squirm away from the disarray, a sudden click could be heard from behind him. The cold touch of a titanium based, muzzle could be felt pressing against the back of his head. Ahhhh shit!
"Hold it right there, fucktard…" a voice could be heard while Gomer started to groan in between the coughing,
"Fuck…you…man," he managed to spit out.
Bjork planted his foot over Gomer's back while keeping the muzzle of his shotgun pressed against the back of Gomers' head. Turning over his shoulder, Bjork blurted out,
"Hey guys…I found us a piñata to hang from a tree and beat around until candy falls out…"
"Yea, maybe we'll get some of those chewy sour belts you always like to eat…with two nuts and a spleen…" Grimes hollered back while meandering around the ruckus, with Raphael standing guard from the back of the cabin.
Brushing between the two rigs, Jack, Tommy, and Billy moved frantically to get under the chassis of the Pegasus, and started to remove one of the spare tires from the compartment under the carriage. Dropping it from its niche, they roll it to destination while two Gears manage to carefully access the other spare from the top of the rig.
Moving as quickly as their freezing hands would allow, Sergeant Farguas and Father Giaman were unhinging the bars to access the rim bolted to the top, cabin compartment.
From the near distance, a coughing Gomer could be heard spitting out profanities with his wrists duct taped behind his back, while Bjork dragged him by his coat towards the gap between the two rigs, ignoring Gomer's ranting. Moving closer to the trailer ladder on the side of the chassis, Sergeant Farguas leaned over from the roof of the rig and started to hollar,
"Corporal, will you please shut that piece of shit up?"
"You got it, sir," Bjork chuckled as he dropped Gomar on the snow, slush ground and whipped out his roll of duct tape, peeling a piece off of the role and rips it off with his teeth. Tossing the roll back into his tool compartment, he rolls the fidgety Gomar onto his back and slaps the piece over Gomar's mouth.
"…that outta do it…fucktard," Bjork mused with a condescending smirk, shifting his goggles that was hanging from his neck.
From the top of the rig, Gaiman throws a rope down, ready to lower the spare for the rigmasters while Bjork moves over to aid in catching it and anchors it over his shoulder, wrapping it around his forearm for a more accessible drop off. Raphael runs over to aid Bjork
"Watch the rope, Father…we don't want it to tether," Bjork yelled towards the top while Gaiman was slowly lowering the spare with a rebtle-fiber rope, wrapping it over the shoulder and around his waist, straddling his stance for support.
The dense, cool breeze fluttered around him, causing him to sway slightly as Gaiman widened his stance, trying to keep his equilibrium centered to avoid being knocked over. Despite the rubber band keeping his long Mohawk tied into a pony-tail, the breeze was brushing it against the side of his face. Shaking his head a few times to push his hair and snow from his mouth, he continued to lower the tire to Bjork and Raphael. Sergeant Farguas went over to help Gaiman with the rope.
"The weather is not going to make it easy, Corporal," Gaiman yelled back.
"Ah, don't jinx it, man…" Bjork yelled back while carefully catching it from below, along with Raphael while Sergeant Farguas grumbled.
"Shut your pie-hole Spades…and get that tire on the ground," he yelled out.
"Yethir," Bjork muttered sarcastically before he let the tire drop to the ground.
He knelt down to untie the rope from around the rim and tosses it next to the rig.
"You got it Spades, Raph?" Gaiman asked.
"Yep…you can take the rope back…" Bjork responded as he looked up to see Raphael nod in return, "…ok, on a count of three?"
"Got it, Spades…" said Raphael. He knelt down and placed his hands in between the thick treads as he looked back up to Bjork,
At once, the men strained as they lifted the massive, five-foot tire onto its treads,
"Goddamn…this bitch is heavy…" Bjork growled as he attempts to catch his breath in the dense cold air, while Gaiman could be heard from the ladder as he climbs down,
"I heard that Spades…"
"Yea, yea, I'll flog myself in the back later…"
Moving up from under the hull of the anchored Pegasus, Jack approached the two men with an upright tire,
"Hurry…roll it to the driver side, rear cabin…" said Jack.
"C'mon Spades, quit flirtin' with the holy man and let's move this bastard," Grimes blurted out from under the hull while Raphael was still holding the tire in idle.
"Hey Father…you think you could lend your miraculous works and help us get this thing on the rotor, please?"
"…since you asked nicely, Spades," Gaiman chuckled as he moved ahead of the bunch with socket wrench in hand.
Bjork and Raphael soon managed to get the tire moving, with Jack guiding the treads, making sure the tire didn't lean too much on one side to avoid collapse. Grimes went back under the chassis to help Dom and Welche.
Moving along the tight corridor, nestled between Pegasus and Appaloosa, the men carefully rolled the tire in the compact quarters while Gaiman helped Tommy and Billy remove the previous rim, carefully dislodging it, pulling off the torn treads from the exposed rim.
In the meantime, Dom and Welche kept Agnus and Frank in custody as Grimes soon joined them, noticing their captives were anything but cooperative. As Dom kept Agnus' arms barred behind his back, Frank kept mouthing off like a sailor on shore leave, despite Welche pressing his knee against his back, holding him facedown in the slushy ground.
"Hey Doc…you think you could stitch that asshole's mouth shut?" Dom blurted out, while Frank kept complaining about his maltreatment.
"…you fascist jerk-off's are going to get it when Big Bear gets a hold of ya…" he sneered as Welche thrusts his face back into the snow,
"Shut the fuck up, Stranded bitch…"
Walking down a snowy incline with a defiant Belton over his shoulder, Lucius gave Sergeant Farguas a nod, lifting his legs over another snow heap before making his way back onto the road, after Farguas gave him the signal to come back out. The others could hear the commotion as they looked up and watched Lucius join them in between the cover of the two rigs,
"…fucking Gears…get your fascist hands off of me!" Belton continued to sneer, kicking and squirming like a defiant child, while Lucius met up with the others. Dom, Welche, and Grimes pulled the other two from underneath the rig, and moved them to meet up with Lucius.
With Belton still squirming, Lucius finally had enough and dropped Belton on his ass into the snow-covered road.
"Shit…" Belton yelped after he landed ass first into the cold slush,
"Is that better?" Lucius growled, finally relieved from getting the foul scented Stranded off of his shoulder.
Belton only replied by spitting on his boot.
"Fuck you man…"
Glaring at the scruffy men, layered in ragged clothes that probably have not been washed in months, the three men resembled typical straggly Stranded. Whether they reeked of body odor or booze, the scents of the darkest of human endeavors brought back foul memories of the past.
Back in the day, working in District 17, Lucius could recall every wino that lived under the city bridge. He knew them by scent, he knew them by the gin they drank, and he knew them by alias. Majority of those aliases went by rank, since nearly half of them were Pendulum vets. They were either too old to fight or too traumatized to care. They were just men trying to function the best they could, finding refuge in dissidence, wallowing up to their armpits in their poisons of choice. The funny part that Lucius could remember about it all is that he couldn't blame them.
You're drafted into the service for your country to serve your time, and all that you have to show for it is a purple heart, memories of burrowing weeks at a time in trenches, swimming in the blood of your brothers-in-arms, and a two year severance package, compliments of the COG retirement program. That's right, two years of security. But when the money dried up, they were left to their own vices; to wither in misery, confusion and shame. The only thing they new they could do well was to kill. They didn't have any other life skills to aid them in the job market, so they collected drink cans, or bottles to take to the recycling center for whatever pocket change they could get, and then step into the nearest grocery mart to buy their booze for the night and cry themselves to sleep. It was the same shit, day after day, until Constable Jacquin would walk the street that ran under the big bridge, often listening to their stories and their complaints. Lucius would go to the corner store before work to buy them a deck of cards to help them pass the time. It was a safer alternative to walking the streets late at night, as long as the gambling didn't get out of hand. Hell, you be amazed how ornery old men can get about their last roll of toilet paper they probably stole from the public, park bathroom.
But Stranded, they were not like the winos back home. At least winos still had some accommodations, like the free coffee at the police station, or access to a warm meal at least once a week at the local mission not far from the P.D, and some clothing at the charity center when they needed a coat for the bitter winter.
The winos still had some basic luxuries, while the Stranded, on the other hand, had what was left, and it wasn't much, if anything at all. They would fight, or even kill, for a dead rabbit lying on the side of the road that could feed them for a day. When desperate enough, they could be just as dangerous as any Locust, and Lucius saw it in their eyes. He could feel it in the tone in Belton's congested voice, every time he cursed.
Looking out into the terrain, tuning out Belton while overhearing Dom trying to shut him up, Lucius looked past the white veil that separated the road from the wilderness around them. This is more than the work of five desperate men…these guys are just peons, acting out of spite.
His focus was soon interrupted when unfamiliar footsteps could be heard coming from between the two rigs,
"Sergeant…" a crackling, voice emulator called out as Lucius turned to find Jack coming towards him with a shotgun hung over the shoulder and a socket wrench in hand, "…were almost done. We should have mobility within five minutes."
Under the trance of Jack's faulty voice emulator coming from his damaged helmet, Lucius looked past the rigmaster when he noticed Henry Dalquist coming up one of the apprehended Stranded and started to beat him with his closed fists. Watching carefully as Gaiman and Sergeant Farguas try to pull the irate manager off of the defenseless Stranded, the two men collapse and roll into the knee-deep snow.
Within a few seconds, Lucius quickly moved passed Jack, his joints acting out of impulse that has long been drilled into his subconscious since his police academy days, as his blood started to boil while his head began to clear and redirect his focus to the confrontation ahead of him.
It wasn't long before Bjork caught the oncoming Sergeant from the corner of his eye and was quick to dodging out of the way, knowing how quickly the tranquil Sergeant could move in fluidity and diffuse almost any fight. Bjork always thought of him as a school principle, an authority that could hush a hall filled with antsy teenagers with just a whisper, and has made some good money off of the Sergeant every time Lucius was called in to break up a skirmish, which was becoming more frequent ever since the COG enacted conscripts into the ranks.
Dom was struggling, trying to pull Henry off of Frank, until Lucius placed his hand on the Corporal's shoulder, giving him the signal to let him go. Dom quickly backed off as soon as he was able to free his arm from around Henry's jacket, and Lucius moved in along side of Farguas. Just as Dom moved out of the way, Lucius quickly stretched his hand behind Henry's exposed head after his beanie fell off during from earlier in the skirmish, and placed his middle ginger and thumb against the gape directly under the ear against the jaw, and applies pressure to activate the nerve. Within seconds, Henry squirms in pain as he quickly sits up to grab his head from Lucius grip. Just as Henry sat up, Lucius moved his other hand to clutch Henry underneath his bearded chin and carefully pulls him off Frank, whom was lying and coughing with a bloody nose.
"…murdering bastards! You killed some damn fine, good men, you assholes," Henry was yelling, despite the pain that ran down his back from Lucius grip on his pressure point, while Farguas pulled Frank up onto his feet, keeping his arms behind his back while stabilizing his balance. Lucius sat Henry up as he turned to the irate rigmaster,
"Beating the shit out of him isn't going to bring your men back…" said Lucius as he let go of Henry, giving the old man some room to recompose himself while he dusted the snow from his jacket.
Jack ran towards the group to see what the commotion was before the squawky voice emulator began to sound off again,
"Damnit, I can't leave any of you meatheads by yourselves for ten, fucking minutes," Jack blared out from behind the helmet while pushing through the crowd as Jack glared at Henry through the glass shield, "…don't forget I have two boys on this rig…and the last thing they need to be seeing is grown men acting like a bunch of diaper-pissing toddlers…"
"Yea, we heard ya, Jack," Henry grumbled while wiping the snow from his hair, "…just…I'm sorry ok man…but these sons of bitches are probably the ones that took out Shire…"
"We don't know that as of yet, sir…" Farguas reminded him while still holding onto Frank, "…we need to take these men back to the Block, and then we can question them about the whereabouts of the other rigs."
It wasn't long before Billy joined up with the group,
"Jack…we're good to go," Billy suddenly paused as she got a glimpse of Frank and his bleeding nose, "…what happened?"
Jack quickly extended his arm, redirecting Billy's attention to the rig,
"Billy, you and Toms get back into the Pegasus, and get the engine running. We need get moving again…"
Billy gave Jack a blank stare before Henry reiterated Jack's orders,
"Do what Jack tells ya, son. We're just putting ourselves in danger the longer we camp out here…" Henry ordered. Billy gave Henry a nod before she darted back into the cabin to check the air brakes again.
"Before we move on, are there any more ambushes that we need to be aware of?" Jack growled from behind the helmet, glaring at Frank whom was staring back at his own reflecting in the glass shield. Frank just shrunk back while Belton started to sound off again,
"Don't tell him shit, Frank…" he sneered while Bjork chimed in,
"Yea Frank, you keep listening to this dickweed, you might as well kiss your balls goodbye, once the COG finds out that you were an accomplice to the murder of seven COG personnel…" Bjork mused.
"We…they're not COG, they're truckdrivers…" Frank responded. Lucius walked up to Frank, towering the man by almost a foot,
"…whom are under the COG's jurisdiction. Anything that is or was Santa Fe's, including personnel, belongs to the Coalition. If they find out that you had anything to do with the death's, as well as damage to COG property and theft to COG supplies, I can guarantee that they won't think twice to save ammo, and just take you out to hang by a noose, the old school way. We don't do firing squads anymore."
Frank sat in silence, feeling the powerful presence of Lucius mellow voice, while the Sergeant continued,
"Now…the COG is willing to be reasonable if you can provide us any information to help get these supplies back to the Fort…"
"Go fuck yourself Gear…he won't snitch on Big Bear…" Belton sneered before Welche smacked Belton upside the head,
"Why don't you shut up…"
"Wait…" Henry stepped in as he approached Belton carefully, "…what is it about Big Bear that we're supposed to fear?"
Belton glared at Henry, his eyes shifting between Henry and Frank, wondering if this crazy old coot is going to beat the snot out of him too.
"Who is he, and why is he taking out our rigs?" Henry asked. Although it's not unheard of for Stranded to gather in numbers and form gangs, but somehow, these Stranded managed to take out five, heavily armored lorries and their crew in the bitter cold temperatures. They had to have help and intel that told them when the rigs departed and what routes they were taking.
"How the hell should I know, nobody sees him!"
"Oh that's a bunch of bullshit," Farguas growled as he turned to Lucius, "…these guys know more than what they're letting on."
"No wait…" Frank started to speak, "…he's right. Nobody has seen Big Bear…but he gives us orders…"
"How?" Farguas asked, turning his attention to Frank,
"It's…through Morse code…on a covert frequency…" Frank stuttered between shivers. It seemed as if the air was getting colder, feeling the breeze pick up pace while the snow started to fall profusely.
Farguas gestured to Lucius as the two men moved away from the group, along with Henry and Jack as they huddled together, keeping their voices low,
"So whatta ya think, Sergeant?" Farguas began as the others turned to Lucius. Breathing heavily in the dense cold air, Lucius looked out for a moment and then turned to the group,
"I…can't make out the extent of their involvement until we get back to the Block."
Jack turned his gaze to the Sergeant as if he was appalled.
"Oh c'mon Sergeant…this has to be a covert job. These morons are too stupid to have taken out these rigs by themselves. They couldn't have accessed those pic snares without some help…those things weigh a good seventy-five pounds each."
"I'm gonna have to agree with Gembry, Sergeant," Henry jumped in, "…somebody knew that we were coming, and I'm willing to bet they know the cargo we're carrying."
"Shooting a gun isn't rocket science, Gembry…" Lucius added.
"…but hacking into our coded frequency requires some encryption skills…skills I seriously doubt these guys have," Jack added, "…which leaves me to one conclusion; somebody is relaying information to them…and I'm willing to bet it's someone from the inside…"
"Whoa, whoa, so you're saying that someone within the company is responsible for this?" Farguas reiterated, "…did I just hear that right?"
"No wait…" Henry interrupted, "…that actually makes sense, son of a bitch! As much as it pains me, Gembry may be onto something here. Shit, why didn't I see this coming sooner?"
"Regardless the how or why, we need to get these rigs moving ASAP," Lucius added as the others looked up in astonishment before Henry backed Lucius up,
"The Sergeant's right. We can't hang out here too much longer…" Henry added, "…but we need to change our strategy…something that whomever may be out there and waiting, will not expect."
Lucius turned to Henry while Jack's gaze met with Henry's, bemused to the old man's means of salvaging this trip. Farguas stood in cold silence, feeling the cold nipping at his face as he turns to Lucius. Wasting no more time, Lucius turns to Henry,
"Alright Dalquist…what did you have in mind?"