Absolute Pin (21.2)

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This story segment contains scenes of violence and death.

Central-West Sector, Upper Boroughs

KobaSeaside

Koba block was shrouded in a cloud of dust and smoke. Windblown debris and dirt flowed through the air, visible like the velvet ripples on a curtain. In the sky a muted white disc hung directly above the combatants, its light dim against the brown and grey billowing mass.

Somehow the battle was carrying itself out, like a force of nature, inscrutable and inevitable; it was a blur to Kern, and he rushed through it like an animal running from lightning in a storm.

Humble rifles no longer sounded across the streets, drowned out in booming shell-fall caused by Ayvartan 122mm howitzers from the north, and by the shocking reports of 75mm M3 Hunter guns from the south and within Koba itself. Ceilings collapsed under the blasts, the road trembled, gravel blossomed into the air to join the shrapnel from the fragmentation rounds. Building-to-building, the soldiers crawled and jumped and sprinted, into doorways, through windows, into black holes bored into the structures by explosives and shells. They got out onto the streets and charged to the nearest opening to leave them, heads down and hands over their helmets whenever a pillar of fire and fragments rose somewhere nearby.

75mm rounds went through walls and buildings fell on their sides like towers of blocks, stifling even the dying screams from inside; 122mm shells punched into structures at an angle and burst into a cone of shrapnel that eviscerated the soldiers inside; where men fought one another it was at close range, jabbing bayonets in a desperate panic, aware that any wall covering them for more than a minute was a wall liable to cover them for eternity.

Intermittently a grenade flashed within the gloom, thrown haphazardly through a window or a door. Those men that threw it rushed to assumed safety in its wake. Those who saw it from afar charged out into the street for a chance to meet and gather in strength. Often the grenade hit nothing; a few times, it caused harm, but not harm enough, and the men charged in on a group of wounded, furious enemies that welcomed them with pistols, shotguns and bayonets.

Ahead a platoon was lost, half dead or dying, half pinned to whatever rock they had to their backs when their bravery finally gave out; behind them more men jumped into the fray. One company gone; but each Battalion had three. And the Regiment had nine altogether. Kern watched the men from afar and saw them give up, as if choosing right there to die. But more men came behind them. Mortar rounds fell on their enemies. Machine guns blared. Then, as if pushed by an incoming tide, the fatigued, disheartened men ahead began to move once more.

Nocht had a doctrine, they had tactics. Establish a base of fire, and advance under its cover. Mortars and machine guns were the lifeline of the unit; riflemen were pressure, a wall that expanded under the unceasing fire of a Norgler. But all of this was lost on those tight, bloody streets and ruins, so alien to the men invading them. In those tight streets against soldiers entrenched in buildings the Norgler machine gunners were just more panicking bodies. There was scarcely machine gun fire from either side, and all of it hit walls and shadows.

Those common bolt-action rifles arming 80% of Nocht’s grenadiers were even more useless, save for the bayonet lug. Grenades were not issued in large quantity. Melee dominated. Men moved, slowed, stopped, some dead, some not; some moved again when more men appeared.

Were they fighting in 2030 D.C.E? Did they not have science and analysis on their side? And yet house to house in Koba block they were reduced to the savagery of long-gone forebears.

House-to-house the line worked its way in this fashion, screaming and clawing up Koba.

Then the triumphal cry: “We got the spotter! Keep your heads down until it blows over!”

Those who heard the call and knew its implications ducked and closed their eyes and prayed to God as those final shells came down upon the block, that His wrath be stayed; those that did not hear a word in the continuing cacophony kept the battle alive, scampering up windows, shoulder through doors, shooting empty rooms. Shadows taunted them every which way.

There was no gradual silence; it came all at once, as deafening as the cacophony preceding.

Ayvartan artillery quieted, and the world was mute around the men of the 6th Grenadier.

Lone bursts of machine guns from shaken men sounded into the silence. Then they realized that the enemy had been conquered. They shouldered their guns. There was no celebration.

Slowly the cloud settled. Shaken landsers wound their way up the ruins to the end of Koba.

Kern had survived again; he shambled out of a house and tried to find the sun again through the gloom and the silence. Everyone around him had their backs to rock, catching their breaths.

He walked blindly through the clouded street. Then he parted the curtain; he stepped out of Koba into the light. Overhead the sun was shining unimpeded. Concrete cage walls no longer surrounded him. He turned his head and he saw a rocky cliff leading down onto a white beach, a gentle tide rolling in and out. He was on the shoulder of the continent, the dirt road curving along the western edge of Bada Aso. There was grass, green grass flanking the road. It was very open, as though he had found a broad clearing in the concrete forest of Koba block.

Koba’s suffocating, haphazard urbanization burst open. There was a view, there was the sky, there was the sea at his side. Kern breathed in the salty, free air. He coughed from it.

He thought he could see half the city from here; he could not, but he got the impression.

Ahead there was a loose formation of buildings sloping gradually downhill. They were old clay brick houses, five or six of them in a little block several meters apart. A wide, dusty road ran through the middle of them, separated from each street by drainage ditches dug along its sides. To the west was the water, and the land they stood on was maybe 10 or 20 meters above the ocean blue; a kilometer out the other direction Kern could see again the edges of the grey and brown thicket of buildings and houses in the inner city, delineated by a steel fence.

Then there was the port of Bada Aso to the north, at the bottom of the shallow decline, straddling the Core Ocean. Closely shaped to the contours of the shore, a wide concrete wharf with several berths had been laid over two kilometers of coastline. It was broken up into two main platforms, forming a reverse arrow-head shape where they met along the sharp curve of the coast. Nearest to the advancing troops, less than a kilometer away, was a smaller wharf for local fishing and small merchant and transport craft; much farther away was the larger platform, with cranes and warehouses and a long, stable berths to host much larger vessels.

Both of these platforms seemed thoroughly empty from the advancing troops’ vantage.

Kern looked over his shoulder, into the settling dusts of Koba. There were men scrounging through the ruins, cleaning up; and there were a smaller number readying to move forward. They would be advancing soon. With the ocean to the west, and visible objectives directly ahead, it was again time to heave his rifle and do battle. At least he got a quick breather.

Schloss reappeared beside him, peering ahead through his binoculars. He picked the handset from Kern’s radio and started talking nonchalantly, as though Kern was just a prop.

“We broke through out of Koba, we’re at the seaside now. Just one loose block of buildings to go and we’ll be at the port– Yes I can see the defense turrets from here. Yes, we’ll try.”

Turrets? Kern scanned across the curve of the seaside again — then he saw them, over a kilometer away, looking out to sea. Three domes of concrete perhaps ten meters tall, sprouting from a hillock just off of the tiny block of buildings. Each turret had two long, wicked gun barrels. These were 100mm all-purpose guns adapted from old ship artillery pieces.

“They’re not shooting yet but that doesn’t preclude them doing so. Yes, we’ll head out now.”

Kern wondered if those turrets had been used to shoot them before, when they were struggling up Koba; but they were facing the ocean with their guns at a low elevation, so he guessed that they were dormant. He also figured that the Ayvartan artillery, which had a confirmed range of at least 10 kilometers, would not be residing a mere 3 kilometers from its attack target.

Schloss returned the handset into its slot on the box. He pointed toward the little block of houses, telling his men, “move out, we’re on combat patrol. We’ll go from those houses, up to the hillock with the guns and then down to the lower wharf. We can expect air and sea support shortly.” He turned specifically to Kern. “Your callsign is Prospector; Eagle is our air support. Do you recall how to call them in? If you don’t, I can handle that. Just stick close to us.”

Kern nodded his head solemnly. Schloss and his squadron started on the first house, and he followed behind them. Though down several of their original men the squadron had picked up enough stray landsers from the charge through Koba to boast a strength of twenty-one rifles — Schloss had led a successful flanking attack despite the artillery barrage, and he broke Ayvartan suppressing fire. Since then every remnant of the thrashed 2nd Platoon stuck behind him.

Walking briskly they crossed the grassy roadside, the terrain gently rising and falling under their feet as land should. They walked with a building covering their approach, and covered the distance quickly. At the first of the little buildings they put their backs to the side wall. Schloss peered around the corner. He pointed at the house across from theirs on the other side of the dirt road. Ten men peeled from the squadron and broke into a run across the street. They assembled against the wall without problem. There Schloss signaled again, and the squadron split once more; five men across the street moved around the back of their house, and then five of the men near Kern followed their own wall and slipped behind the little building.

“Follow me, kid,” Schloss said. Rifle out and up against his shoulder he peered around the corner again, and then led his own group of five men, Kern included. He followed the older soldier into the dirt road. They walked along the shallow ditch, with maybe a meter of cover along each side. They paused, checked every direction again and got onto the street near the house’s doorway. Schloss and Kern stayed outside while three men charged in, bayonets first.

Across the street Kern saw the other team mirroring them and clearing their own house.

“No one here Schloss! House is clear!” a man called out. Schloss nodded for Kern to follow.

Inside the cramped little two-story house, Schloss promptly started stomping on the floor.

“Hollow.” He said. He started speaking in an alarmed tone of voice. “Pull apart the boards.”

Two of his men drew their combat knives and wedged them in between wooden floorboards, bending them up enough to get a grip with their hands. Together they ripped apart a large section of the floor and found what seemed less like a room below them, and more like a concrete pit trap. Kern cast light from an electric torch across the damp, rocky little space. On one end of it he found what he thought was a path leading right under the street and road.

“A tunnel. We don’t have anything to destroy it, but take note.” Schloss said aloud.

“God. They are like rats, these Ayvartans. When did they dig all of this up?” asked a man.

“I honestly do not know. Why would they dig all over the city like this? It can’t have been a defensive measure. These tunnels are all different and too haphazard. Maybe they were digging for gold at one point? Oil? Who knows. Just remember, and be vigilant.” Schloss said.

Kern suddenly caught a whiff of something nasty while they were standing around.

“Do you smell anything off?” He asked, looking around the men for support.

“Yes, it’s those holes,” Schloss said, “they give off a smell sometimes. Don’t let it get to you.”

“Probably dead shit down there,” said a squad member. “Maybe that’s where all the animals in the city have gone off to. Haven’t seen a single cat or a dog in this godforsaken hole.”

Schloss turned to look across the street. His men had just cleared the other house.

“We’re moving, this house is clear. Keep your eyes peeled just in case.” He said.

Between each house was a little slope just a bit deeper than the ditches, offering a small measure of cover. Instead of following the ditch to the next house, they walked between them. As they moved, Kern saw the team they had sent behind the house had already beaten them across the stretch of open grass to the next set of little buildings. They kept watch behind the back of the house and urged Schloss’ group forward when they saw them coming. Just off their position was a steeper slope down to the last little stretch of sandy beach, just a few meters from where the topography was swallowed up by the water between beach and wharf.

Schloss and his men broke into a run, and Kern followed behind them. Everyone stacked against the side wall of the next building. He tried to look through the windows into the little kitchen, but Schloss pushed his head down. Across the street both other teams made it to their next building, and started to probe the entrances. Kern followed his own team around the front and inside the house again, confirming his glimpse through the window — it was empty.

Despite this they still searched the home thoroughly. Schloss stomped on the floorboards again, but this time they felt solid. He still had the men break them up. Kern wandered out into the street, watching the men across the road do the same. It seemed these houses were all empty. He looked across the lands they had yet to cover, and it all looked empty to him as well.

Down a shallow slope from the buildings the dirt road curled away from the hillock with the turrets and met a concrete road that split, one path perpendicular and stretching farther north, another west to the wharf. Though sprawling, the wharfs had little in the way of buildings save for a few warehouses and the port authority office. The north road led out across a space of grass and sandy trail before connecting to the next urbanization a few kilometers away.

Kern nursed a faint hope that perhaps the Ayvartans had seen sense and abandoned the port. He could see no enemies, save for the ominous turrets atop the hillock. Around the hillock there was only dirt and grass and what seemed like empty lots where houses might have once stood. Everything just off the port was more open and far less developed than inside Koba.

He would have seen the enemy, if there was an enemy out there. Kern turned back into the house. Under the floorboards Schloss had only found solid concrete. There was no tunnel.

“Fancy that. I guess it was just the last row that had a tunnel.” He said. “Pays to know this.”

Schloss made a circle in the air with his finger. Kern nodded and turned around. Again the man plucked the radio from the box like if Kern was but a post carrying the device, but the young landser did not much mind the treatment. After everything that had happened so far he did not see himself as much of a soldier. Carrying the radio and running behind everyone was his lot.

“Sir, we’ve got nothing in the houses just off Koba. Way seems to clear down to turret hill and the first Wharf. Requesting permission to hold position until the company just out of Koba can regroup.” Schloss waited. Kern could almost imagine Aschekind’s unaffected, bellowing voice. He even thought he heard it coming from the handset pressed tight to Schloss’ ear.

Schloss bowed his head a little. “Yes sir. Understood.” He laid down the handset again. His men braced for the bad news already. “Combat patrol out to turret hill. Captain doesn’t care that we’ve got nothing that can put a dent in those turrets. He just wants us around them. They haven’t fired on us yet, so maybe they have been abandoned. Cross your fingers.”

A collective sigh followed. Canteens were collected again, stoppered, put away; rifles were picked up from the wall. Helmets set again on heads. Everyone marched out of the house.

Out on the street, Schloss waved everyone over. There were more men just starting to trickle into the dirt road from Koba. Across the street there were men still checking in the house — but they were in the kitchen. Kern could see them through a window on the facade.

“That a tunnel?” Schloss shouted, forming a cone around his mouth with his hands.

“Yessir!” A man shouted back. They were ripping up floorboards just like before. “It was in the kitchen rather than the foyer room — there’s a big ol’ fuckin’ hole down here too.”

“Shit.” Schloss said. He nodded to two of his men. “Get back in there and check.”

They nodded and took off past Kern and into the house that the squadron had just left behind. Everyone else stood outside on the street, milling around under the sun. Kern could almost feel his helmet cooking his brain after a while. Without the buildings on every side there was a lot more heat coming down on him. He became more aware of his ragged breath. He was tired.

Kern bent over, touched his fingers to his boots. He held on to his knees. He twisted his head, staring at the sideways Turret Hill. He saw the figures moving but he could not place them.

A deep noise shook him; the north-facing wall of the building directly across the street exploded and the building partially collapsed, the roof tilting and folding over its side.

Through the window he saw the men disappear in a blinding flash before the collapse.

Kern fell on his side in shock — something had cut his arm, he was bleeding. A shell fragment had flown out the window perhaps; Schloss knelt down, having suffered a similar wound.

“Scheiße!” Schloss yelled out. “Ayvartan tanks, 400 meters down, the unidentified types!”

He snapped to the north again and got a glimpse of the tanks and men now approaching from around the Hillock, where perhaps they had been waiting all this time, hidden by its face.

From the foot of the shallow sloping road before them the tank guns bellowed once more.

Schloss shouted something to the men more before the shell hit, but it was drowned out. Within arms reach of the squadron the projectile dove into the hard dirt and detonated.

High-Explosive was a misnomer; these shells never merely exploded. When the shell detonated it splintered its casing into hundreds of tiny shards of steel that scattered about the impact area based on the shell trajectory. Frags traveled at incredible velocity across an area dozens of times the diameter of the shell, within less than a second from impact. Kern hit the dirt and felt the heat wave wash over him, and he felt the fragments flying, like a cloud of razor-tipped flies brushing past his body. He was grazed before he even touched ground, caught in mid-flight like a duck brushed by a hunter’s buckshot. He screamed from the sudden stinging and burning.

Along his back, and around his arms, he felt the metal inside his flesh. He screamed and screamed and thrashed in the dirt. He felt hands, tugging him, and he felt the metal stick deeper in him as his back dragged across the dirt. Sweat and blood trickled down his eyes. It stung him even to look at his surroundings. He felt like a writhing knot of flaring pain.

Machine guns sounded, too close; he opened his eyes and briefly saw the trail of dust across the road as the bullets scratched across the dirt. Gunfire streaked just past him. He heard a cry. He was shaking. He could not keep his eyes open, they stung too much from the tears and sweat.

“Kid, come on!” Someone shouted, right in his ear, and he felt like his shoulder would be torn off. Kern’s felt his feet flatten out, his body rise. Someone was lifting him up He planted his feet and twisted around and ran blindly with whoever was tugging him on, tearing him viciously toward an unknown direction. Shells crashed again, and between the billowing of the smoke, the fuming of flames and the thunder of gun reports he heard feet stomping on the dirt.

He felt like he ran a mile headlong, his legs unsteady, his whole body screaming for release. But when finally he stopped and gazed through rivulets of sweat, dizzy from the pain and exertion, he was behind the first of the little houses again. Two of the houses ahead had been crushed. He did not believe anyone in them could have survived. There were bodies, a trio fifty or sixty meters away, gnarled, shapeless. A dozen meters a man twisted on the ground, gushing blood.

A long burst of machine gun fire sliced across the road and finally laid the man down.

Moisture and foul air made his eyes feel cold and they stung again. He wiped them down, flaring up the pain in his arm. His legs were shaking. Kern looked around himself. There were two men with him, staring at him, their own faces red either from exertion and bleeding.

“You ok?” One of the men asked. They helped him to remove the radio from his back.

“I’m injured,” Kern said. He felt stupid. He was hurting so much and yet he could walk, he could talk, he was alive. But he also felt as though he had been mortally eviscerated.

“You’ll live. Check the radio. Is it broken or anything? We need to report contact–“

“Where’s Schloss?” Kern asked. He looked out behind himself. He looked again to the road.

“He’s gone.” The man’s voice trembled and cracked. Kern felt as if the words had gone through his head clean out each way and he did not even comprehend them. He had no reaction. Nobody had any reaction. Both men in front of him were breathing heavy and clearly shaken up but nobody seemed to realize that squad leader Schloss had been killed. He wouldn’t be back!

One of the men shook Kern. “I’m Private Kennelmann. You’re 1st class; you need to call in.”

Yes, Kern recognized this; he was a Private 1st Class. He was promoted. That was correct.

“Then you’re supposed to listen to me.” Kern said. It came out sounding almost pleading.

Kennelman nodded his head deeply. Beside him the other man stared quietly at them.

“We’re listening.” They said. It sounded like a cry; there were tears accompanying it too.

Kern looked up the street. Few of their number remained. There were five men shooting from behind the ruins of one of the houses, but there were Ayvartans in black uniforms advancing systematically upon them from downhill, breaking up into groups, hooking around the house, climbing atop the debris. Scattered little teams that had come up from Koba were pinned behind the standing houses. On the road Ayvartans with submachine guns and light machine guns kept everyone pinned down. Meanwhile the tanks advanced very slowly up the slope of the road. All the fighting was less than 100 meters away and expanding without impediment.

“We’ve got to find better cover than this or we’re done, but we can’t go out in the street–“

Another foreign noise shook him. Kern half-expected another shell. This was different though; the swooping noise, the buzzing propellers. He looked overhead — there was a t-shaped shadow cutting across the clouds with a short blunt head. There was no mistaking what this was.

Kern suddenly crouched beside the radio. There was a tiny hole through it where a fragment had gone through. He felt his stomach sink, he felt a hole growing in him. His fingers shook as he tuned the frequency — the dial went all over the place, it felt loose. There was a weak hum of life inside the machine. It was working on some capacity. He raised the handset to his ear.

He practically begged: “Eagle this is Prospector! We are pinned down! We need help! Eagle!”

 

* * *

For the first time since the 23rd of the Gloom, a combat wing of the Luftlotte took command of the skies over Ayvarta, its fifty aircraft cruising toward the bloody ruins of Bada Aso.

This time no heavy bombers accompanied them — it was all Warlocks and Archers in flight.

Wings in the Nochtish Air Fleet or “Luftlotte”  consisted of three squadrons, and for the day’s tasks each flying squadron of 15-20 aircraft had been assigned to support an important sector of the city as part of Operation Surge. Sturmvogel had the most pressing mission over the Central District of Bada Aso; Eagle and Hawk squadrons took the west and east respectively.

Eagle squadron soared over a thousand meters over open plains stretching between the captured airfield at Azaria and Bada Aso and its pilots watched the territory sliding past them at over 500 kilometers per hour. The Archer was primarily a fighter plane, but with its sturdy-looking cylindrical body, tough wings, and powerful engine, it was a very versatile machine.

Within Eagle, three Flights of five combat aircraft further divided up the workload — one was to fly over the ocean to support a detachment of the Bundesmarine, another was to support the ground attack through Koba and the seaside, and the third would maintain air control.

Though before the mission he thought of himself as Liam Kurz, in flight he was Eagle-3, Flight Leader of the 44th group. Back at the base the ground crew thought of Ayvarta as a hole, a place of patchy grass and shrubs and dirt and crooked-looking trees in the distance. From above, Eagle-3 thought it looked beautiful. He could see herds of horned beasts and even the odd slithering orange drake, larger than a horse, among the expansive yellow and green plains. Trees were solitary and sparse but tall and majestic. A trail of bright green followed the Umaiha’s little tributaries along the middle of the plain. As he neared the doomed city he saw the earth grow gradually green, thick with patchy vegetation along the Kalu hills and Umaiha.

When the city came into view it was almost a dismaying sight. It was a skeleton of concrete, its tiny tar-black and cobblestone arteries pockmarked with shells or pasted over with the ruins of its thousands of collapsed organs. Bada Aso’s lower half was choked with rubble, block after block of blown out buildings blown out again from street fighting. Further north where the city’s congested layout opened up, and the streets were wide and the buildings sparse, there was less damage overall, and splashes of green from the grass and trees made it seem alive.

But the fighting would get there eventually. That he could see it was proof enough of this.

He put his fingers to his lips and then pressed them against a photograph on his instrument panel — a blonde, blue-eyed beauty in a sundress and hat, standing at the pier in Mascius.

“Wish me luck honey,” he said. Within moments he passed over the ruins of the southern districts. He contacted his fighters, and they broke off from the Wing; over Penance Road, where the Cathedral stood solemn, half-collapsed from the artillery battering it received, the Flights divided to carry out their tasks. 40th group headed for the sea, 42nd climbed; 44th headed straight forward. Within minutes they overflew Koba block and passed over the little houses, the clear terrain just off the wharfs, the hillock with the turrets, the larger wharf.

They surveyed the area, lowered their altitude, and went in for another pass to check targets.

Then he received the radio call — he thought the voice could not have come from anything other than a boy, no older than maybe 16 or 17. He answered quickly. “Prospector, this is Eagle leader, Eagle-3. We’ve got you covered, don’t worry about that. Keep your heads down.”

Eagle-3 instructed two men, -4 and -5, to take his wings, and these three craft banked and turned, while -1 and -2 broke off in different directions. He looked below and to his left; a small blue trail from a smoke bomb signaled where Prospector was located, in the farthest of the houses away from the coast; a thinner red trail from a signal flare pointed Eagle-3 to the road.

He took stock quickly. There was at least a company of Ayvartans from his vantage, a platoon already moving up the road and two others following from the hill with the turrets. They were KVW, he could tell from the black uniforms. Behind them were three tanks of the unidentified medium type, advancing in an arrowhead formation. Prospector was trapped. Shells and machine gun bullets flew around his position with vehemence. Incoming support was minimal. As he turned again, Eagle-3 could see a few men moving in thin columns from Koba.

“This is Eagle leader; -1 and -2 strafe the infantry column along the dirt road in perpendicular lanes. Slow them down, quickly. -4 and -5, follow me and use your 20mm. Attack the tanks.”

Eagles 3, 4, and 5 swung around the shore just off of koba block, following the black fence. They started to pick up more speed, but their turning was still calm, wide and easy. In the distance they could see the marine group plodding its way, the two small torpedo boats and the larger destroyer. Eagle-3 and his men dropped altitude further and completed their turn around toward the red smoke. The three Archers launched into a shallow dive together. One and two swept across in front, cutting trails into the dirt with their machine guns. Ayvartan infantry dispersed under the fire and the swooping of the planes. In the middle of the road the tanks were exposed. Eagle-3 held down his cannon trigger, and heard the 20mm crack under him.

His wingmen joined him and opened fire in long automatic bursts, and a hail of high velocity cannon rounds fell over the tanks at sharp angles. He knew he was scoring hits; when he pulled back up at around 600 meters altitude his group had probably unloaded sixty or seventy rounds together and he had seen a few holes on those tanks. He climbed and twisted around, feeling a mounting pressure. Everything around him felt tighter until he leveled out.

Machine gun fire flew ineffectually from below as the Ayvartans tried in vain to scare Eagle off; Eagle-3 and his men flew out toward the city again to gently pick up distance and altitude for another run. Where the green seaside blocks gave away again to the grey urban landscape, they turned around back to sea. He could not see the tanks from his vantage quite yet. Eagle-3 instead called Prospector for ground confirmation: “How was that for an opener, Prospector?”

He heard an explosion on the radio. Prospector gasped. “Eagle, tanks are still rolling in!”

Eagle-3 swung back around, completing his turn. He tipped his nose to get a look at the enemy again and he briefly saw the muzzle flashes on two of the tank guns. They were still alive.

Then the third; a blast in one of the houses belched smoke and fire through the windows.

These were no Goblin tanks. He almost felt bad for the Panzer men fighting these things.

“Ready rockets, we’re going to dump everything on that arrowhead.” Eagle-3 said. Through the radio 4 and 5 acknowledged. Each Archer in his Flight had 2 heavy rockets and a 250 kg bomb.

He would need the bomb for those turrets — so he had to make his rockets count right now.

Eagle-3 and his group started to descend in earnest and picked up speed. Below them Eagles 1 and 2 swept across the roads again, carving an x-shaped wound across the dirt. Eagle-3 and his men corrected their course and swept toward the tanks yet again. They adjusted for the distance the vehicles had covered. Descending to almost under 1000 meters altitude, they released their payloads. Six rockets hurtled toward the column of tanks and exploded, leaving thick black smoke in their wake from the heavy explosive payloads. Eagle-3 pulled sharply up, and he felt like his belts would choke him for a moment. It became hard for him to breathe.

Once he leveled and the world’s forces lessened their grip, Eagle-3 called down again. He turned his plane gently to get a better look at the road while he tried to confirm the kill.

“Prospector, we hit your tanks hard as we could, confirm effect on target?” He said.

As he twisted his Archer fighter around for a better look all Eagle-3 could see was fire and smoke. He thought he had to have taken out those tanks. “Prospector, confirm effect–“

He saw something burst out of the cloud and an explosion several meters up the road.

“One left! There’s one left!” Prospector shouted. Eagle-3 looked down again. Still smoke.

“Can you confirm effect, Prospector? I just unloaded a shitton of rockets on that arrow–“

“I can’t confirm but I know I’m still being shot by a tank gun!” Prospector shouted back.

“Shit.” Eagle-3 muttered. “Men, swing around, we’ve got one still rolling up on ‘em.”

Below the situation seemed almost unchanged. Landsers along the ditches and behind the farthest two houses were still pinned down. They took cracks at the Ayvartans from the corners and windows, and the Ayvartans huddled near the ruins of the other buildings and shot back. Despite the strafing from one and two there were even Ayvartans blithely running across the road with their guns up. Eagle 1 and 2 had killed over a dozen men, but suppressed none.

From the smoke and fire Eagle-3 watched the remaining tank emerge, scarred by cannon fire and with what seemed from afar like a limping track, but undeterred. Thirty meters from Prospector’s position, it turned its cannon around and fired just across the street from him at the other building, at its corner — where at least one whole platoon of men was stacked up.

There was a vicious blast when the shell hit the wall. Eagle-3 grit his teeth as he watched. Several men were butchered completely by the high-explosive, several more retreated in pain. All of the corner they were hiding behind had been blasted open, hot chunks of brick likely contributing to the fragments flying every which way and forcing the grenadiers back.

Men huddled on their bellies for cover, and a few ran screaming toward the sea.

“We’re going down and we’re diving long this time; we’re not pulling up until that motherfucker’s burning, copy?” Eagle-3 radioed. Four and Five responded affirmatively.

Eagle-3 climbed, banked hard, and swung around into a deep dive. As he picked up speed he stiffened up from his neck down to his legs. He had 200 rounds for his cannon and he had probably discharged twenty or thirty. Soon as he hit cannon range at 1000 meters he held down his trigger — it was time to stop caring about how many rounds he discharged. A relentless stream of cannon fire bore down on the tank’s position like a metal hailstorm. He thought he could see the sparks coming off the green beast as hundreds of rounds crashed across its hull.

His men pulled up; he didn’t. At 500 meters Eagle-3 continued to shoot relentlessly.

All of his body tightened, and he felt like he’d burst. His engines and cannons sounded tinny and he felt the world darken. His finger was growing slack on the trigger. Realizing he was unable to take more he pulled sharply up from the dive at under 200 meters this time, cutting it dangerously close. Even as he rose his body was under intense pressure. Breathless, he soared into the sky again, slowly leveling out when he reached a safer height. Even as he started to level the craft, he felt like moving any of his body too much would cause it to pop like a balloon.

“Eagle, I can confirm the kill on that last tank. Thank God you were here.” Prospector called in.

Eagle-3 couldn’t respond. His heart was beating so quick, he needed a moment to rest.

* * *

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