The Benghu Tank War III (31.4)

This scene contains violence and death.


Dbagbo Dominance — Benghu Meadows

At the edge of the wood Naya had lain in wait, having spotted the column from afar. Methodically she engaged them, never revealing her position. One shell after another she hurled across the meadow, each shredding the thin armor of the Nochtish light tanks in her path. Retaliatory fire swept past her to no effect. She was entrenched too well into the wall of vegetation, the vines and the roots and the bushes of Dbagbo, to be shot accurately.

In quick succession she scored several kills. This was nothing like firing an anti-tank gun. With every hundred meters the tanks covered she left two wrecks behind. She felt so much in control of the situation. Looking down her sight she identified each enemy vehicle, gauged the distance by herself, seized a 76mm shell and readied to load it into the breech for the killing blow. Within moments there would be a breach in the enemy armor and a smoking wreck. This was no pokey 45mm crew-served gun. It was exhilarating.

Despite the shaking and the smoke she almost didn’t feel like she was inside a turret. Surrounded by armor she felt subsumed into the machine’s skin. Her optics were eyes, her gun a limb manipulating the world around her. She was an organ, a central nervous system, her arms the sinews that pumped blood through the gun to cast fire at her foes.

It felt like running; the good kind of running, where she lost herself in the field.

She lost herself in the mechanical action and she felt power coursing through her.

“Visual on one more enemy tank, Commander.” Farwah said. With the tank stationary he acted as an extra set of eyes, staring out through the vision slit on the front glacis.

Naya turned to take a shell from her ammo rack, readying to shoot again.

She smacked away the old brass, unlocked the breech and set the shell near–

“Commander Oueddai, the enemy is turning tail.” Farwah said, interrupting her.

Naya put the shell back down and looked down her gunnery sight. She then pulled back and used her periscope. It was true through both optics. That last tank in the formation was scurrying away from them, past the burning wrecks of its allies. Running at full speed the tank doubled back in the direction of Chanda, zig-zagging over the meadow.

“Farwah, give chase!” Naya ordered. She deposited the shell back into its rack.

“Acknowledged.” Farwah dispassionately replied.

At once the Raktapata’s engine groaned as Farwah put power to the tracks, pulling the tank out of the jungle and down the meadows. Once out of the thick wood they started to pick up some speed and made it a proper chase — though a medium tank, they quickly breached 40 km/h even in the mud. She was surprisingly stable on the gunnery seat.

Though the M5 light tank had a kilometer-long head start on it, the Raktapata became well engaged in the chase and started gaining on its prey. Naya grinned, feeling a sense of catharsis for finally putting some of these gray helmets on the defensive.

Naya took with both hands the 76mm shell she had laid down and finally loaded it into her gun. She looked down her sight, hoping to see her prey dead center and awaiting death — and she found her reticule swinging a few ticks in every direction. Her target was moving as evasively as it was possible for a tank, swinging side to side. Her sense of her own tank’s movement was uncomfortably acute. Whenever she worked the traverse gear lever to move the turret, the terrain practically danced in front of her eyes.

“Farwah, can we go any faster?” Naya asked, loading a new shell.

“In this terrain this is our top speed. It’s our best ‘muddy flatland’ speed; were the terrain both complicated and also muddy we would be going nowhere at about 20 km/h.”

“Then can we go any steadier?” Naya said, fighting to adjust her sights.

Farwah had a much simpler answer for that, in his casual, unaffected tone of voice.

“No.”

Naya grunted and pulled the trigger lever to discharge her gun. An APHE shell flew well past the enemy tank, hit dirt within a patch of flowers and detonated harmlessly. Ahead of her the M5 continued to move as haphazardly as it could to throw her off.

She batted away the brass casing from the breech bumper, reached for a new shell from her ready rack and loaded it. Looking down her sight she attempted to aim, but it was futile. Her single speed traverse gear routinely whipped the reticle too far to either side of the enemy tank. Half the time she had only a view of the surrounding vegetation, rolling steadily past. Gritting her teeth she pulled the firing lever again; her second shot fell beside the tank, raising a fountain of dirt; and a third shortly after soared past its turret and smashed a rock. Her enemy continued to slip out of her sight picture with infuriating success.

However it was still a tank, not a car, not a motorcycle; it had certain limitations.

Each zig-zagging feat of maneuver cost it some distance against the Raktapata. Unlike the M5, the Raktapata needed only to charge straight ahead. Evading held the M5 back fractions of seconds each time that its pursuer was making good on. With only seconds or minutes into the chase this was impossible to see, but soon it would become evident.

Naya would never catch up. At the closest she would be several hundred meters back.

But that was enough. She just needed to be close enough to get a good shot.

“My ready rack’s empty; I’m drawing from the reserve stowage now.” Naya said.

She bent down from her seat to reach for a shell when she heard Farwah reply.

“Commander, I advice to down periscope and brace yourself, right now.”

It was hard to tell whether he was making a suggestion or raising alarm. His voice gave no clues. Naya trusted him, however, and she acted with little hesitation; she shot back up to her seat and pulled on a wheel above her to lower the periscope lens into its armor cover.

She was just in time. Outside a gun cried and within moments the turret shook.

Naya hit her arm on the ready rack and nearly fell into the reserve basket.

“What was that?” She shouted. There was suddenly more shaking.

“Shots! The M5 turned its turret around to fire at us.” Farwah said.

A third impact rattled Naya, but she was expecting it; bracing herself, she seated upright and looked through her gunnery sight. Ahead, the M5 tank had indeed turned its gun to face her. It still zig-zagged, but between movements it spent a second firing. She saw the puff of smoke from its gun and less than a second later nearly banged her face on her gun sight. A fourth AP shell crashed into the Raktapata to no permanent effect but annoying her.

“Chief Ravan, if you are listening, please install a safey belt!” Naya said.

“Should I attempt to evade?” Farwah asked.

“No. Keep moving forward. Trust me! I’ve got it this time!”

“Those shots won’t penetrate at this distance but they can still harm you.”

“I’ll be careful!”

Naya braced herself on the breech bumper, pulling away from her gun sight. She swallowed and held her breath; moments later another direct hit to the gun mantlet shook her up but substantially less than before. She quickly swung over the side of her seat, pulled up a round from the reserve basket and loaded it into the gun. Before the M5 had a chance to shoot again she was back on her seat, bracing for impact on the breech bumper again.

She barely felt the next shot; after the rattling subsided she went to her gun sight.

Through the lens she found the M5 again, sliding about, its turret turned around so that its gun and the strongest armor on its profile, the mantlet, both faced directly toward her.

She reached one arm around the sliding block of the Raktapata’s gun, and used the other to hold on to her seat as she watched the enemy tank opening fire on her again.

Once more the turret shook, but she had them, she had them this time!

“Keep it steady, Farwah.” She said, pursuing the enemy tank with her eyes.

To fire at her accurately it had to pause, even for a little bit. She did not move her turret to aim this time. Instead she followed its movements, waiting for it to align with her–

For an instant the tank moved into the edge of her reticle. She had it this time.

At the critical second she pulled the firing lever and put a round into the air.

Downrange the M5 stalled with a hole in its engine block. Flames quickly built over the rear of its hull, dancing under the gun barrel. Ammunition cooked off; there was a noise like a firecracker amplified several orders of magnitude. Like the lid off a crushed can the top of the M5’s turret burst open, and fire and choking black smoke escaped.

“You got it.” Farwah said. “I’m going to stop for a moment Naya, my engine heat gauge is a little troubling. I’ll pour some extra coolant fluid. You can replenish your ready rack.”

Naya gave no triumphant response. She groaned something indistinct into the radio.

Doubled over on her seat, she felt a horrifying pain spreading across her back. She held her stomach feebly and felt like she would vomit. Her forehead rested on the gun’s sight eyepiece. Her teeth cringed and her mind was under a sudden and intense pressure.

She felt as though someone had taken her spine and stomped on the vertebrae.

Someone had — she had hit her back on the seat plenty of times during the drive and the ensuing battle. Her arm, that had gripped the breech bumper so valiantly to keep her steady, felt like a noodle, like a dough that had been stretched infinitely long from its socket. All of that dull aching over the past few days became intense pressure pains. Every little pang in her body seemed to have become a nail driving through her flesh.

Gasping for breath, she fell over the side of her seat and hit the floor of the tank.

She felt the impact sharply, though her body had fallen flat. Pain flared up all over.

Surrounded by a dozen shell casings, one still hot, she went fetal, weeping openly, coughing, gasping, her arms around her stomach, her legs twitching in and out.

Farwah rushed to her side, batted away the shell casings, and turned her around, laying her on her back. He checked her breathing. “Naya, can you speak? Are you responsive?”

She barely could. Her pain was obliterating, she felt as though she had to devote her brain power to keeping alive. She had to breathe in a way she did not have to breathe before; she felt as if she had to will her heart to pump, her blood to rush, air to circulate.

Farwah raised his head from her, looking around the interior of the tank.

“We’ve got nothing here.” He said aloud. Naya saw his head moving around, like a jerky blur. He was moving so quickly. He didn’t sound affected, but he was. He was scared.

She tried to speak, but nothing but a groan escaped her.

“Naya this can’t– I am going to abort, Naya. You are hurt, you cannot keep–”

“No!”

Naya reached out a hand. She could see it above her, one of the supporting rods for the gunner’s station. She stretched out her hand, and was quite short of it. Her right elbow; she pushed it onto the ground. Gritting her teeth, nose and eyes and mouth running, she forced herself seated, and grabbed hold of the rod. Farwah sat speechless beside.

She pulled herself up to a stand on shaking knees, breathing heavily.

“We’re going. Pour your coolant.” She moaned.

Farwah stared at her. He looked askance at the floor of the tank.

“Do you trust me?” She said. Her breathing barely allowed it.

Farwah nodded his head immediately, avoiding eye contact with her.

Naya worked with all of her might to put up a smile. She had gone too far for this. She couldn’t let the pain rule her, stop her. It was a fact of her life and she had to bear it. To beat it. To do everything she could despite it. She wouldn’t run from this. Not now.

“See this through to the end.” She pleaded. To Farwah; and to her own body.

Captain Rajagopal’s voice interrupted over the radio.

“Comm lines are growing strained I’m afraid. We got a lot of static and a few odd statements from the two of you. Please report on your status, Raktapata.”

Naya started to answer, but Farwah replied first in his usual deadpan way.

“Naya fell and acted dramatic for a moment. A seat belt may be warranted.” He said.


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