EL DRAGÓN (50.2)

City of Rangda, Council Building

Around the back of the Council Building pair of Cissean men stood on either side of a heavy-duty steel shutter at the bottom of a concrete ramp descending between the green and street. They pulled on a pair of levers to unlock the shutter and lifted it to gain access. A pair of headlights shone from inside as a heavy truck with a massive, canvas-covered steel bed made its way out of the garage and toward an expectant Von Drachen.

Two wheels in front and six in the back bore the weight of thirty tons of cargo. The Tank Transporter crawled up the ramp at the direction of the two men. At the top of the ramp turned around on the back green of the Council Building. Both men supervising the transporter pulled a slide out from under the bed, attached it to the lip of the bed and allowed it to drop.

From within the tank transporter a spotlight shone and an engine blared.

Tracks distinctively whined as an M4 Sentinel made its way out of the transporter. Painted an absurdly gaudy red with a golden stripe around the turret, this M4 Sentinel was in most ways a standard production M4 with its armored contours gently curving, its rounded turret, and a steep front with a characteristically bulging plate protecting the lower front hull.

Rather than a longer-barreled anti-tank gun, however, this M4 boasted a shorter gun with a wider bore. On the gun mantlet there was a searchlight.

Upon seeing the vehicle fully displayed on the lawn, Von Drachen clapped.

“Leave it to the Barbaros to make silk out of peasant cloth!” He cheered.

Nocht had been loath to provide much in the way of armored vehicle assistance to Cissea, despite pressuring them to support the invasion. Von Drachen’s Azul Corps in Adjar had made do with the Escudero, a variant of a common export market light tank produced in Occiden. Madiha Nakar had then made quite sure that he lost his limited stock of them. When Nocht finally approved M4s for Cissea, they gave up their older early production stock that had been languishing in warehouses, like this big fellow.

However, the engineers of Barbaros Valley always came through. Even the heavy purges of their labor force and academics, hundreds tried and made examples of for supporting the anarchists, did not stop them from largely reconstructing the M4 bottom-up in a few weeks. Von Drachen lovingly called it the M4D Dragoon Sentinel. Without a word more he leaped onto the back of the engine and skillfully climbed atop the turret.

Gutierrez seemed much less impressed by the machine at his side.

“Why is it red? It blends in with nothing. There’s no red terrain.”

Atop the turret Von Drachen looked over his shoulder with disdain.

“Excuse you.” Von Drachen said. “Solstice’s red sands are almost red.”

“They’re a ruddy brown, they’re not watercolor red like this thing.”

Von Drachen shrugged. “We will agree to disagree on the aesthetics.”

Gutierrez stared at him with growing confusion and concern.

Mijo, where are you going? You’re gonna drive that thing yourself?”

“Of course not. I’m only the gunner and commander! I don’t drive.”

Von Drachen smiled and descended into the interior of the machine.

At the front, his driver was already at his post and prepared to move.

He would not be too necessary. Von Drachen intended to do most of his fighting from the Council Building lawn, supported by the mechanisms in front of him, taking up much of the M4’s turret interior. In place of the 50mm anti-tank gun, the Dragoon Sentinel possessed a 75mm howitzer. There was an elevation dial sight for laying, a compass, a telescopic sight, a periscope sight for naked eye perspective on the battle. Von Drachen also brought an urban map of Rangda, and pinned it to the turret wall.

He sat behind the controls of the gun and felt himself surge with energy.

Finally he would be able to challenge Nakar in a military arena. No swords, no standoffs, no barbarity, just two prodigious intellects clashing at last. Granted, he accepted the imperfections of this contest. Madiha was alone, or supported only by a strange pet according to certain whimsical reports. Von Drachen counted on the support of over a hundred men and he had this tank, and, gods willing, he had Mansa’s 8th Division at some point.

Surely once he crushed Madiha Nakar that command would easily be his.

Nonetheless, it was as close as they would come to a real battle of military wills before Nakar’s untimely demise. Von Drachen was quite positive.

He pulled off his officer’s cap and donned a radio headset, connecting himself to the tank’s radio system on his right-hand side. He flicked a switch on the audio control box clipped to his chest and made a call.

“This is General Von Drachen. I want a front-line report of Nakar’s last known position along Council Street and the time of the sighting.”

As he spoke, the M4D started to move across the grass, rounding the corner of the Council Building and around the west wing before moving onto the front lawn toward Council Street. Through his periscope sight, Von Drachen spotted his men huddling near their dead. Many drew their eyes away from the fight to gawk, presumably impressed with the color.

After a few minutes, Von Drachen had marked on the map every spot where Madiha Nakar had been seen. From the ruined mail bank box, he shone his spotlight on the burnt-out wreck of a Goblin tank, half-turned into a nondescript alleyway. Marking that on his map as well, he quickly came up with an appropriate firing solution. He signaled his driver to stop.

“I’ll handle the rest. You leave the tank right in this spot.” He said.

Von Drachen grabbed hold of the turret control handle and began turn the gun toward the interior of the block of buildings just off Council street. He made some rapid-fire calculations in his head. Judging the performance of Madiha Nakar’s young and hale body against the thing in the Council Building, and the state of exhaustion in which she must have been; and judging by the layout of the map, and her goal of reconnecting with her own troops; and judging by the wind, the dark, the cold, and lady luck–

Numbers, numbers, numbers; none of them mathematician approved.

Von Drachen’s internal monologue was mostly a series of half-formed gut feelings that he represented with arithmetic that made sense only to him.

From the rack at his side he grabbed hold of a heavy yellow-tipped shell.

He laid it on his lap like a babe, while he turned the elevation wheel on his gun, a slow and laborious process. He triple-checked the elevation dial as well as his compass. Satisfied with his siting, Von Drachen popped open the breech, and held the shell aloft in front of him. After adjusting the base fuse for timing, loaded the shell and locked the breech securely. He lifted his hands, sat back, and took a deep breath. Firing was done by his foot using an electric pedal system, so he could relax for a brief moment.

Von Drachen laughed, grinning viciously to himself.

Nakar wasn’t the only one with a command over fire.

With his free hands he broadcast his voice over the radio once more.

“All units currently combing the alleys, keep your eyes peeled and beware the sky. Give it a one minute window before you resume your pursuit.”

He then lifted his shoe, and started to bring his sole down on the pedal.

Suddenly he received a call back.

“But sir, aren’t there civilians in Council block?” cried a scared man.

Von Drachen scoffed. “Please trust me better than that. Mansa had them moved to air raid shelters hours ago. Besides, I’m not firing explosives.”

“Sorry sir! Yes sir–”

Von Drachen cut his audio receiver off to quiet the man.

He sighed deeply and slowly worked his way back into his zone.

“Anyway. Firing for effect! Incendiary Airburst going out!”

He slammed his shoe on the pedal and the gun fired.

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