This story segment contains scenes of violence and death, some briefly graphic.
53-AG-30 Dbagbo — Benghu Meadows
There was no road along the meadow stretching before Chanda General School. There was a subtle path where the flowers and grass did not grow — trod on by generations of horses it was a muddy, flat stretch a few centimeters deeper than the surroundings, thoroughly covered in water. As the rain and the wind blew the natural rippling of the water and the quaking caused by armored vehicles became one and the same.
Soon as they appeared around the hills and soon as they drove into the meadow the Panzergrenadiers turned from this path and moved up through the fields of flowers. Sd.Kfz. B Squire half-tracks led the advance, long-nosed, lightly armored, open-topped carriers each ferrying ten men, a driver and a gunner standing behind a Norgler machine gun.
Three Squire carriers moved sharply due east toward the stairway up into the school courtyard, between the buildings, while the remaining three followed the road a little further and then drove several hundred meters due north toward the school field.
Five hundred meters behind the half-tracks, Spoor’s private car pulled up along the edge of the flowers. Safe behind bulletproof glass, he commanded via binoculars and radio while the remaining cars lined the sides of the road. Squadrons of foot soldiers following behind the vehicles ran up closer and took up positions in the flower beds and around the grass.
The Colonel was focused on his spearhead, six squadrons of Panzergrenadiers on their half-tracks. Driven into the little campus, he hoped they could dominate the tight space.
“One vehicle at the head, two behind. Supporting vehicles dismount your men; lead vehicles, your men shall fight from inside. Stand, draw your pistols and keep a lookout,” Colonel Spoor said. “One vehicle climbs while the others watch carefully.”
“Do we take the steps?” asked one of the the half-track drivers.
“Give it a shot. I’d like to have your armor right on the landing.” Spoor said.
Behind them the tanks arrived and advanced past the men, six of them speeding north along the path. They were an advance team meant to put eyes and guns on the rail station as fast as possible. After them arrived the remaining six tanks. Three of them stood along the center of the muddy path, and three others took up the rear. Among this final group was an M5 with a curious sloped hull and a purple stripe, labeled Konigin.
“It’s gonna be tight in there.” Captain Skoniec said. “I don’t envy them one bit.”
“I would not think to endanger your tank in such tight quarters.” Spoor replied.
“Well, thank you. I am glad somebody is considerate of my needs here.”
“I do ask that you survey the proceedings and offer what support you can.”
Captain Skoniec giggled. “I can afford to stop and smell these roses for a bit.”
“Save the smelling for later. And I believe they are actually Cosmos, good man.”
“Oh ho ho ho! Do you also happen to be a flower kind of man, Spoor?”
This question went unanswered save for a jovial clearing of the throat.
Along the slope to Chanda’s main buildings the lead half-track approached the steps. Its contingent of ten men stood up on the bed, supporting themselves with the hand rails while holding their pistols in hand for close fighting. The gunner behind the automatic Norgler, mounted just above the driving compartment, scanned around for contacts. The wheels at the front of the vehicle did most of the work — they were taller than the steps, and there was enough room to grip and climb. Once the wheels had taken enough steps in succession the front and back of the track angled against the steps.
“Hmm, with better track grip this could be less embarrassing.” Skoniec said, amused.
Men from the supporting half-tracks dismounted and started to follow behind the lead half-track as it steadily climbed the steps. They took to the mud on either side of the stairway, digging their feet into the slope before taking careful steps up. A few slipped and fell face first into the mud. They were almost as slow and sloppy climbing as the Squire.
“Spoor, tell them to stop messin’ around and get up there, this is just sad–”
Something flashed from the other side of the school, drawing everyone’s attention.
Soon as they cast eyes toward the playing field there was a similar shock ahead.
Under the Squire the steps exploded from first to last with enough force to punch through the vehicle and flip it over, sending it crashing back down the slope. Pillars of dust, rock and smoke lanced through the machine and spilled its contents across the air. Broken, burning men fell from above whole or not, and they crashed around the grass at the foot of the slope with sickening thuds and crunches, while shrapnel from the car scattered in every direction and lanced through several of the other climbers. A flying hunk of door battered a man into the mud; another three were crushed under the rest of the wreck as it fell.
Smoke rose from across the school, along the slope leading to the playing field.
“Pull back from the steps!” Spoor shouted. Through the rain and the spreading smoke he could hardly see what the rest of his men were doing. “Engage all contacts!”
Huddled behind the bathroom window Leander had a good view of the explosion.
Soon as the half-track went up in pieces he knelt on the toilet with his gun braced on the little windowsill behind it and started taking shots. None of the men had noticed Corporal Jasim just yet. After the wreck had settled and the shrapnel flown there were a dozen men on the slope that looked like targets to him. Some looked whole of body but were actually dead, while others were merely wounded and dazed, struggling on the mud.
He saw one man coming to a stand and stepping up, working the bolt on his rifle.
Leander shot him in the belly, causing him to tumble back down the slope. His spent casing hit a flower pot on a nearby shelf and knocked it over. Leander winced.
“Run you fool!” He thought. He saw him huddled behind the tree and knew not what he was thinking. More men were starting to stand up. Leander started to turn his sights–
Corporal Jasim did not run. Leander saw him cock his pistol and step out of cover.
“Oh myriad gods defend you.” Leander whispered, his eyes drawn wide over his scope.
Standing atop the slope Jasim opened fire on the men. He killed a man and then another, both barely standing. He turned his gun on a third on the floor and insured he laid in the mud for good. Then he started walking downhill. Fool! They were dazed! This was your chance to run! Leander screamed in his own mind. He didn’t understand.
Turning his scope farther afield he saw the two remaining half-tracks and the Nochtish tanks turning their guns. Corporal Jasim raised his arms in challenge, laughing, cursing them. Was he drunk? Was this his idea of vengeance? Leander trained his sights on the nearest half-track, at the men huddled around it, at the gunner atop. He aimed over the gun mount, took a deep breath and pulled the trigger. His shot punched through the mouth of the machine gunner behind the Norgler and pushed his corpse back onto the bed.
Suddenly from the hill to the south there was a flash; a round hurtled out from between the trees. At a low velocity the shell impacted the side of a tank further up the road. An explosion rocked the vehicle and the side armor collapsed under the violence, scattering chunks of track and sheared bits of metal and leaving a monstrous hole.
Enemy soldiers looked over their shoulders in stunned surprise. Another shot followed soon after, this one hitting near a tank to no effect; and this worked up into a slow volley, a round coming every five or six seconds from the hill and falling on the field somewhere.
Jasim laughed so loudly Leander could hear it. He raised his pistol and fought on.
Leander quickly adjusted his aim, swinging his weapon around, sidling desperately atop the toilet to position himself for a better shot. He aimed for the remaining Norgler shooter, pulled the trigger and sent his trigger arm flying off at the shoulder. Screams, blood; the man fell back. Leander breathed deep, and swung his scope around again, laying the target lines etched into the glass over several men, scanning around the battlefield as the shells crashed. If he could just take out the machine guns in the ensuing chaos then–
There was fire, too much. No amount of haste would allow one sniper to save a man from the fate that Corporal Jasim had chosen for himself. Despite the crashing of the shells around their positions the Panzergrenadiers swung back into the fight. They charged through wildly rising plumes of artillery fire with a sudden fury. In the instant after his last kill Leander saw the field come alive with the sawing noises of several Norgler machine guns. A great volley of angry green tracer fire sprouting from beneath the flowers, from behind half-tracks, from the bodies of the remaining tanks, from seemingly every gun.
Like locusts the bullets seemed to swarm over every part of the man they could.
Corporal Jasim fell to his knees and then buckled forward as if in prayer, taking seemingly hundreds of rounds in a moment. His body remained in that position.
As if he was nothing, men coming in from the ground ran past him and started shooting at the window. Leander had been spotted! He heard the rounds striking concrete around him.
He pulled back from his gun and looked out over the field at the enemy tanks.
One tank with a purple stripe on its body was turning its turret toward him.
Quickly he picked up his BKV and fled from the bathroom, throwing the door closed behind him. He dropped on the ground a few meters from the door and covered his head.
There was a loud bang behind him, and the door fell off its hinges and flew on him.
“Leander!” Someone shouted ahead. He groaned in weary reply.
Sharna charged in from across the hall and pulled him out from under the door. Blearily he looked over his shoulder and found the bathroom covered in smoke, and through the smoke he saw holes everywhere, round holes, as if a hundred steel balls had gone through the windowsill, the toilet, the walls and the shelves, it was all in pieces.
“Leander, are you hurt? Are you alright? Did the shrapnel hit you?”
Leander looked her in the eyes with sudden urgency.
“Jasim’s dead. Get the door. I’m ok.” He said weakly, reaching for his BKV.
53-AG-30 Dbagbo — Upper Benghu Meadows
“Six klicks back, they’re going hot I think.”
“Doesn’t matter. We keep going. Take that position.”
“Spread out, we don’t want to get caught all at once.”
“We moving up?”
“We’re moving up. Keep AP ready. Cap says there’s cans out still.”
“You guys hearing this shit?”
“It’s a mess on the radio. They’re in the shit back there.”
“In the shit.”
“That’s back there. We might not see any here.”
“Kinda want to turn around and help. Shit sounds bad Sarge.”
“We got our mission. Take it, Benghu folds. Trust the guys back there.”
Two 3-tank Platoons once following the Panzergrenadiers had now gotten well ahead of them. They ran along the fields of Benghu, having put Chanda behind them. At their right flank there was only green tangle, and far to the left there was the dense, wooded hills that cut Benghu’s meadows into two. They kept a distance of thirty meters between each Platoon, and ten meters between each of the tanks, providing space to maneuver.
“They got Skoniec and his guys back there; it’ll be okay.”
“Skoniec’s a weird em-effer, I’m not convinced.”
“You shut the fuck up. He landed a kill on a command tank from a klick away. What have you done lately Corporal? Sit your ass down in your cupola and eyes forward.”
“Jeez! Sorry Sarge. Didn’t mean to–”
Over the sound of the engine he heard a blast. Smoke blew into the periscope’s field of vision from the far side. Sarge lifted himself up to his own cupola and looked through his vision slits, and found the Corporal’s M5 shrouded in smoke, its turret blown open like a can. Smoke came out of the hatches and tongues of flame played over the engine.
Nobody had survived inside there. That was not a shot from an Ayvartan 45-mil AT.
“Contact! Contact!” Sarge shouted. His helmet mic broadcast everything to the other tanks. “Six o’ clock! Turn to face it and look for flashes, that’s a fuckin’ tank round.”
The M5s stopped moving and turned their tanks around to face the new threat.
Before them along their new direction there was only the implacable wood.
“Can’t see anything. Woods are almost two klicks out Sarge.”
Sarge kept his eyes down his sight.
He saw the muzzle flash and he heard the blast again much closer.
He knew where the enemy tank was. And there was only one.
But it was powerful.
At his flank another M5 was penetrated right through the driver’s hatch.
“Calm the fuck down!” Sarge shouted. “Everyone alive move now!”
Four remaining M5s rushed toward the wood at full speed.
Soon as they started moving they left a third tank behind. Like a red spear the shell punched through the gun mantlet and flew out the counterweight in the back.
It wasn’t two klicks out. The wood was 1.2 klick when they started — then 1.0.
“Load AP and fire!” Sarge shouted.
Three shells sped over the meadow and into the inscrutable face of the wood.
In retaliation the wood returned a much larger shell and smashed apart the entire track from one his remaining tanks, leaving it stranded in the middle of the meadow.
“We’re bailin’ out!”
“The fuck you are! Stay in that tank and cover–”
A second shot from the wood made up for the first. Through the upper turret front on the stranded tank the shell penetrated, and sent the commander flying out of his cupola.
Sarge hadn’t seen it, but it was all his remaining tank was talking about on radio.
“Stay focused! Open fire! Open–”
Conviction did not harden steel. Again through the hull front a hit was scored.
Sarge and his tank went up in smoke.
Alone, the remaining tank swerved away and attempted to speed down the road.
From inside the wood, the Raktapata gave chase.
“She got a surprise attack. It won’t happen again now.” Chief Ravan said.
Outside the workshop the Sharabha command-variant half-track was parked, its ramp open. Captain Rajagopal was seated in the back, surrounded by radio equipment. She had a constant line of communication to the Raktapata. Chief Ravan paced around the interior of the workshop, one hand behind her back and another at her lips where she could nibble on the flesh of her thumb nervously. She almost wore a little circle on the floor.
“Why don’t we offer a little more help then to secure her chances?” said the Captain.
“How do you figure?” Chief Ravan wearily asked.
Captain Rajagopal leaned out of the half-track and pointed at the remaining large object on the far left side of the workshop, wedged into a corner and covered in a green tarp.
“We could sortie the Mandeha behind her for support.” Captain Rajagopal said.
“With what crew?” Chief Ravan said. “It’s a very unwieldy vehicle.”
“I’ve got people in mind.” Captain Rajagopal said. “Prepare the Mandeha.”
“You’re pushing my anxiety to its breaking point with this.” Chief Ravan said.
Captain Rajagopal smiled gently. “Consider it a scientific test, for our very lives.”
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