.CHAPTER 3. Moving The Herd
“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…”
I always wondered who a Gear was…although I see them on the recruitment posters, I never thought I would get to work with one, and up close! Jack doesn’t 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. Thank God, I have Billy to talk to, but Bills can be a bit mellow dramatic, like Jack sometimes. I wonder how much longer can we do this…how much longer are we going to have to pretend we're someone we're not? I’m getting tired of looking like some goofy boy with a bad haircut.
…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 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 winds, was still visible.
Lucius approached the rigmaster, as Jack stood up from looking behind the rim. The onlooking Gears could tell that Lucius towered Jack by a foot, and he certainly wasn’t near 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 Private 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, as he stepped back and pointed 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 he 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 his mind, but he had always known that Jack called the shots, regardless if his methods were questionable or not.
“I understand that Bills…boys, this is Sergeant Jacquin, and he and his men are going to be riding with us, and I expect you to cooperate with the Gears. Keep your focus, 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 incase 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-two snubnose 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
“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 duffle 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 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.”
“Well then, with that said, 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 being 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.
…I’m…sorry…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 consol, “…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, 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…”
“Hey, listening to D whine about guard duty is more exciting than hanging with these jerks anyday…”
“Shut up Spades…”
a voice could be hard in the background while Lucius let out a slight chuckle from the conversation coming from the Appalooosa,
“…c’mon, Grimes…you know you wanna piece of this…"
“Corporal, will you please put your 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 britches…”
“I’ll be sure to document that in my log, Spades…Jacquin out.”
Raphael chuckled while finishing the final touches to the transmitter as Tommy watched him with his curious, wide blue eyes. Lucius soon caught on to Tommy’s ogling as the kid glared at the young Gear, who probably couldn’t have been any older than nineteen years of age.
“Are you done with your radio test, kid?” Lucius asked, startling the youngster from watching Raphael setting up the consol,
“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 comm. emulator…it allows us to broaden the frequency of our tac comms when out on mission…”
“So 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 comms. It’s standard issue for every squad to carry one with them, especially when moving out of a certain range…”
…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 doorframe, 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…
Tommy asked, choking on the words as a resonance of grief hit his chords, “…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.
“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 like for any rig to venture out that late, so the cargo must have been a large concern.
…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,