The One Who Will Die (35.4)

This scene contains violence and death.

Dbagbo Dominance — Benghu Rail Yard, Center Yard

Charging past each other, the Raktapata and Konigin whipped around their guns to target each other’s vulnerable rear sections, where the armor would be thinnest. Aiming cannons over their own engine blocks, they each hoped to end the battle in one strike. At such close ranges and against the least amount of armor on the tank, these shots had deadly force.

Naya stuck to her sight. She had a big target and close. The Konigin’s blocky ear hull was covered in a thin sheet of metal armor that sloped around the back in the shape of an upside down ‘u’. Her gun sight shook violently as the tanks charged past, and even more as she tightened her grip on the shooting lever, but the rear hull occupied most of the reticle.

“Engine temperature is rising sharply!” Farwah warned.

His plight was only barely heard.

In the next instant, Naya slammed down the firing lever and unleashed her shot.

“Firing AP-HE!”

The Konnigin fired its own shoot almost concurrently.

Everything happened too quickly for Naya to grasp at first.

Chief Ravan had done a sloppy job on the engine. Shooting directly over the engine block shook the poorly attached engine cover loose. Half-turned screws flew right off.

As red tracer crossed green tracer, cutting the distance between the tanks in a fraction of a second, the Raktapata’s engine cover burst open, issuing a thick cloud of steam.

The enemy’s APCB shell sliced through the metal armor cover as it rose.

Angling poorly off this premature penetration it became embedded in the upper hull.

Naya felt a thump, and she panicked at the sight of the steam.

Behind her the engine spat and sizzled, much too hot for regular operation.

But nothing exploded; no fragments became embedded in her. There was no effect.

Meanwhile her own shell fell too low and bit into the track guard.

Despite this the effect was much more dramatic.

The AP-HE detonation split the Konnigin’s track, and dislodged several of the left-side bogeys and wheels. Spinning right off the drive wheels the track peeled off in several pieces, littering the ground as the hull slid out of control, unable to stop. Pieces of the suspension spilled from the vehicle, and sparks flew as the raw metal of the track parts slashed through concrete propelled by the vehicle’s unreal burst of speed. At last the machine crashed into a brick column between two shutter doors on a nearby warehouse.

A grinding noise issued from the Konnigin’s suddenly jammed turret ring.

A few dozen meters away the Raktapata screeched to a halt as its engine shut off.

Hot steam got into the fighting compartment, and Naya and Farwah coughed violently.

Hatches went up; Naya climbed partially out of the tank, pistol in hand.

The Konigin stirred. Its own top hatch rose.

Someone climbed out, too uncanny to be real; the first Nochtish soldier she had really laid close eyes on. Did they all look like this? This person had a certain charm to their face, smiling, a wicked little grin playing about their face. She pointed her pistol at them; they raised their hands. That elegant delicacy of their features, their pretty hair, their little grin, laughing: it struck her. Like finding a fairy amid battlefield charnel.

Naya knew that this was the tanker who had caused all this trouble.

By all rights, they deserved to die here for this mess.

Her fingers hesitated on the trigger.

She thought about demanding a surrender instead.

Across from her the fairy’s bright eyes drew suddenly wide.

Aldricht! Nein! Lassen!” They shouted, waving their arms.

Someone had arrived.

Hearing the tracks crunching behind her, Naya dropped back into the turret.

Everything rattled as a shell struck and deflected off the front of the Raktapata.

She searched through the steam for a shell, loaded it, and found through her gun sight another M4 tank, having come out of the alley perhaps hoping to rescue its ally. Owing to their game of chicken, however, Naya’s strongest armor faced the lower yard alleys. In any other situation the tank could have ambushed her rear, but they were face to face.

Reaching for the traverse gear, she swung the turret sharply back around to the front.

Another shot from the M4 deflected off the slope of the turret armor.

No effect; the 76mm KnK-3 was brought to bear on the new enemy.

Naya hit the shooting lever.

This M4 was not like the Konigin; one shot through the glacis plate dismantled it. A hole the size of a human head smoked black as fire and smoke rose from the hatches of the tank. There were audible bursts as the ammunition cooked off. That was all she needed to hear.

She did not stay to celebrate the kill. Immediately she reached for the handholds.

Hurrying back out of the tank, she found the Konigin empty, hatches up, abandoned.

She glanced around, pistol out, but found no trace of them anywhere.

“Farwah, turn us around! They’ve escaped!” Naya cried out.

She looked over the front of the turret and found Farwah seated on the hull.

He shrugged. “Our engine’s cooked. Let’s agree to be happy we’re still alive.”

Naya slapped her own hands against her face.

She wondered if she would come to regret not shooting when she could.

It was a train of thought she dropped quickly.

Instead she pulled herself out of the turret, sat on the edge, and patted Farwah on the head in a friendly fashion. “Try calling the rail yard for a tractor tow.”

“Okay.” Farwah said.

He paused for a moment, looking at her over his shoulder.

“What is it?” She asked.

He pulled open the driver’s hatch, letting out the collected steam.

“I am thankful to have had you on the turret.” He said in a shy little voice.

Naya grinned and patted him on the head again.

“I’m glad you were on the sticks, buddy.” She replied.

Nodding, Farwah descended into the tank once more.

Over the Benghu Rail Yard the sun was well into setting.

Once grey skies took a reddish tinge as the sun descended.

Owing to the magic of radio it didn’t take long for the various units clustered at the rail station to discover that they had somehow resisted the enemy’s attack. Though the shells had only constituted intermittent background natter for most of the battle, their absence created an atmosphere of great relief in the train yard. Soon the Mandeha and Raktapata were gathered again at the lower yard, and ready to be loaded into the train.

Naya leaped out of the turret once the tractor dropped them off, and waved her hands.

All around her, various engineers and soldiers clapped and cheered for her.

There was a little crowd gathered to celebrate her heroics.

Chief Ravan and Captain Rajagopal headed the little greeting party, clapping too.

Naya turned to them, excited for praise.

Rajagopal made a cheerful-looking hand gesture Naya could not read.

“Next time, could you not destroy my tank?” Chief Ravan cheerfully said.

Not what she had been expecting.

“Wow, I can’t catch a break.” Naya replied, grinning.

On the platform, cranes struggled to load the Mandeha’s enormous turret into one of the cars. Its hull would have to go in separately. Isa, Karima and Lila approached from the flatbed tank cars, clapping their own hands for the new arrivals. Naya in turn clapped her own hands for them. After all they had fought too, and even saved her life. She had noticed that shot fired behind her as she fled from the machining yard duel with the Konigin.

“Thanks for having my back there.” She said.

“You’re welcome.” Karima replied in a surly, self-satisfied voice.

Lila elbowed her gently, giggling.

Meawhile Farwah nonchalantly extricated himself from the driver’s compartment, ambled toward the crowd, and slowly wound his arms around Isa, resting his head on his fellow driver’s chest. Not once did his expression alter — as he rubbed his head on Isa’s chest he had a completely neutral face. Isa laughed, and cuddled up to him a little himself.

Soon all of the attention seemed to turn to them. It was a cute scene.

Naya sighed fondly. She really couldn’t catch a break.

But it was fine, because she knew how all of them really felt now.

Everything that happened had proved to her that the Vijaya folk were her folk.

She turned around, looking for Aarya, but not expecting to find her.

That was fine too. They had time and space now to mend things.

Somehow, despite everything arrayed against them, they had survived.

They had come together, trusted each other and beaten the odds.

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