"In other news, veterans of one of the bloodiest openning battles of the War of the Alliance returned to the ruins of the Badland city of Ision to visit the memorial for the last stand of the 103rd Tank Hunters, one of the many units to be completely annihilated by CEF forces. Its' memory is upheld for the part they played in guarding the retreat of Colonel Roger Berton from the remains of the disastrous Battle of the Tower 21, and the destruction of CEF pursuers. Stay tuned in for more details. In other news, the Westphalia Cabinet has announced contracting..."
* * *
The speedometer had run out of room for the heartbeat pace of the needle long ago, leaving the speed of the Badger to be at anyone's guess. The hill, however, still had a little ways to let the APC run. Not that it mattered to the driver anyway; a tight grimace with lips pulled taut showed clenched teeth and runnels of blood.
The distance left in the hill ran out abruptly, however, as the APC hit the end of the slope and buried its bumper up to the lower edge of the windshield, dirt flying up in a curtain. Unperturbed by the cascade of rocks and dirt that flew outside of the thin layer of plastic, or even poured in through the gaping hole to his left, the driver continued to hold the pedal down as the first wheels followed the front of the APC off of the hill and onto level ground. With a heave that sent the ruin of the bumper into the air at an angle as high as the APC had gone low, the Badger was off. Oscillating back and forth, the oct-wheeled chassis pushed back at the driver as he rode the wheel hard to the left, attempting to steady its path.
Coming forward from behind, another of the crew members tried to steady himself against the wall as the Badger went over the rim of a blast crater; he failed when the wheels touched down inside of it, and his face smashed into the headrest of the auxillary driver's seat. Pulling himself up by a metal grip, he used a gloved hand to clear the fragments of his goggles and the bloody mask off of his face. His goggles had been shattered earlier but the jagged edges had dug into his face when the APC had run askew, and much of the remainder had snapped off and dug into his face. Looking down at the mess of his glove as the Badger went through another obstacle, he spat a curse as he realized what the driver had done. Recentering his headphones over his ears, he grabbed a headrest with his free hand and transferred the other from the wall to the back of the driver's seat. Leaning over, he began to yell at the driver, placing his head as far towards him as he could.
White knuckled grip still unloosened, the driver didn't notice, continuing to push the Badger as far as it could go. The other yelled again, voice running into hoarse tones as he exhausted his breath again. Swearing as he breathed in again, he angrilly punched the bank of the driver's headrest, hoping that the physical force would reach him. At the least, it was an outlet for his stress and anger.
Head swinging forward as a result of the punch, the driver turned around, swivelling his head to see the other man. Recognizing him as the com officer assigned to him, he nodded hurriedly before turning back to the path ahead. The com officer let his jaw drop in suprise and frustration, and he prepared to resume yelling to the driver's back. Perhaps even begin hitting him again, if that was what it took to get his attention.
But the other faced backwards again, tapping an exposed ear as he blankly looked back. Fear had long since removed any other objective from his mind, and the trickle of blood that traced a path down the side of his head told the story of his actions. As the driver turned back, the com officer closed his mouth and hung his head, recognizing that the other man was deaf and could not be blamed. But he still had to get his message through.
Leaning close, he pulled the remnant of the other man's earflap away from his unexposed ear, which itself also appeared to have ruptured its eardrum. Leaning close, he shouted into it.
"You can't keep this up! You're going to kill all of us! Especially him!"
The driver blinked, and then turned completely around, leaning as far backwards as his restraints would allow, and looked down the length of the Badger's cabin. Looked down the length of Hell at the mess of man and machinery to where the APC's charge lay in the arms of one of the infanry. A mess of braid, rank tabs, and bloodied uniform.
The Badger slowed, and began to drive more carefully as it exitted the battlefield.
Leaving the driver's back, the com officer made his way carefully back towards the most intact of the consoles, stepping around the ragged edges that now defined the interior. Seeing how the seat had come unbolted from the deck, he kicked it aside and crouched in front of the interface, hoping that the driver's new method could be trusted. Looking at the inward bulge immediately to the side of the console with a lazy eye, he began to activate the system, breathing a prayer to Mamoud that it still worked. The jagged gash on the other side of the console wasn't any better to look at, either. Focusing on the task at hand, he left his mortality in the Revered One's hands, and set about broadcasting in search of help.
Crossing his fingers, he wondered if the Earther's would pick up his signal and come for them. But as the system settled onto the appropriate frequency and tuned in, he allowed a breathed "yes" filter out. A word that turned sour on his lips as his ears were filled with the chatter of cannon and the screams of the dying seeking help. Switching frequencies again, he wondered if perhaps Mamoud would be busier with the other men before him. As he began to broadcast his message, a plea for help to save if not him, but his commander, he hoped that he would never need Mamoud's help again.
* * *
They were almost out of the battlefield, now. The driver was gladdened by that prospect, though he knew that they could be escaping that much quicker. But he understood what the other had meant, as he realized that he would surely kill the officer at his pace. But soon, it wouldn't matter, and they would be out and free.
Movement to the right caught his eye, and he swung left by instinct; he would probably have noticed it earlier if the sensor head on the bow of the Badger was working, as the lowlight sensors would have showed him earlier. But all he could look out was through the narrow slit of a shattered windshield, and his nightsight was gone from the glare of the highbeams. The highbeams; a bullet magnet if there ever was one, but a necessity. He wished he had night vision goggles. Still turning away, he swore as a shadow appeared in the wash of the headlights, and grimaces as the APC careened over it, a juggernaut of metal.
The trench came into view, an infantry dugout that stretched out to each side, with a Gear crouched inside of it. Rolling over the gaping hole in the cockpit and crushing out the last traces of a human shape in it, the Badger rolled over it and onto the opposite side of the trench. For a moment, the rear wheels spun in the air emptilly, but then the front dragged the back forwards and the chassis was down on all eight of its wheels once more.
Still moving, the Badger's driver looked out to the side in shock as rimfire illuminated the interloper for who it was. A massive form hunched over on four legs, the Thunderhammer represented the last of the artillery division that he knew was in the area, firing to cover the APC as it passed. A stretch of five plumes of fire marked five shells onto their arcing paths upwards; then the breach closed emptilly, the last of its feeding ammunition gone. Around it, the last of its support vehicles were destroyed, heaps of jagged metal and torn ceramics. Loaders lay with their armatures strangely jointed, and ammunition carriers lay in a massive crater dug with the explosion of their own munitions.
He couldn't quite hear, but as the Thunderhammer stopped firing, and the light faded away, he could feel a ringing in his ears. He blinked, and another light came into view: the corpse of another Thunderhammer artillery strider, burning from counterbattery fire that had openned and tincanned it. With that light, he watched the last intact Thunderhammer as it turned to the darkness, standing over the body of a shattered Spearhead, the fire co-ordinator of the division. Facing the yet unseen enemy, its' autocannon swung out to track the inevitable targets to come.
The driver blinked, and realized that it was an hour past when the last lights of Helios had disappeared over the horizon in sunset.
* * *
The communications officer slammed his fists against the console, sending it into a fritz, as a wave of static filled his headset. Broken off in midsentence, he knew that his mesage hadn't gotten out. It was worse then if he hadn't been able to transmit; now, others could have only the worst in mind on his and the rest of the Badger crew's fate.
Fiddling with the equipment again, attempting to cajole reception out of it, he crossed his fingers as he changed frequencies and then returned to the original. Neither worked, and he stopped trying, yelling an expletive and punching the screen.
In the pause that followed, he tensed. He could feel it, the ringing in his ear and the buzzing in his head. The subtle, inexplicable charge to the air of electronics warfare; some felt it, others did not. And he assuredly felt it. ECM.
Swearing, he ripped off his headset to the whistling wind over the broken body of the Badger, and leaned over to where the infantry squad's lieutenant sat with a body in his arms. The body still breathed though, and he queried the other. Good, still going, however weakly. Wasn't falling away from them anymore, but wasn't walking anytime soon.
That's good. Cause there isn't any help coming soon. We're on our own as far as we know; hell, we're not even here as far as anyone else knows. Yah, tell me about it.
The lieutenant was a Jerusalemite, but he was a pretty decent guy; but he forgot his faith when he heard the news and swore. It went on.
Inside, the com officer wondered about the second half of the equation. He had still transmitted, however briefly. He had no doubt that the CEF knew where they were.
For a moment, his mind blanked as he recalled the screaming whine of death's pale horse as it roared through the formation.
Then his cognition resumed as he once more began to wonder how far the CEF could be behind them.
To be continued...
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