This scene contains violence and implied death.
On the lower platform, the Vijaya team was scrambling to put all their secret weapons back together. Engineers hauled ammunition out from test stocks, and funneled fuel into the tanks. Captain Rajagopal hid behind a light car, parked alongside a small tractor as a makeshift barrier, murmuring things into the radio. In the distance the shells fell closer and farther. Team Vijaya was making good progress — the Raktapata had its turret set back into its ring with a crane, and the Mandeha’s engine hatch was quickly and decisively shut.
As Naya arrived, Chief Ravan was diving into the Raktapata’s turret to make the final adjustments and ensure everything was done properly. Farwah was standing beside the tank with a flat look on his face, while behind him a few engineers cleared the Mandeha for operations. A sharp metal thrumming signaled the engine starting; the tank turned around in place. Isa sat at the controls with his head partially out of the front hatch.
Lila rejoined Karima at the side of the much larger self-propelled gun. With a final little wave at Naya, she climbed the massive turret using steps bolted onto the rear.
“Alright, everything is ready!” Chief Ravan said, her voice echoing in the tank.
She climbed out, threw a few tools on the ground, and approached.
Suddenly she took Naya’s hands in hers with a gentle look in her eyes.
“Are you feeling up to one last test, dear?” She asked. Several grease stains marred her face, and her hair too. Somehow she managed to appear strangely graceful regardless.
In the distance, a column of smoke rose as a shell hit between empty warehouses.
Everyone stared at it for a moment and then turned again toward each other.
“More than ready, ma’am!” Naya energetically replied.
Chief Ravan nodded her head, smiling at the private’s vigor. “Good! I fixed the turret ring problem and the engine overheating, so you should be good for this operation!”
“‘Fixed.'” Behind her, Farwah raised his hands and made little air quotes.
“Hmph!” Chief Ravan glared at him. “I ameliorated them! I did all I could right now!”
“I appreciate it.” Naya said. She turned to Farwah. “Ready to go, driver?”
Farwah nodded once. He gave a parting glance at the Mandeha before moving.
Using a step-ladder on the side of the platform, Naya and Farwah climbed onto the Raktapata. Dropping down the hatch, Naya caught the a strong whiff of chemical lubricants, somewhere between burnt plastic and fresh gasoline. Seemingly every surface was slick with lubricants and degreaser. Naya was forced to don gloves to touch her instruments.
As soon as she settled on the gunner’s seat, she hooked herself into the radio.
“I’m at my station and ready to go.” She said, broadcasting to all of ‘Camp Vijaya’.
When the engine started below and behind her it drowned out the distant explosions.
She stretched her hand back, touching the ammunition rack. She ran her fingers across the length of the gunnery lever, and the turret gear, and the breech lock. She looked down the gunnery sights. In front of her the Mandeha was moving out along the road.
On the periscope, she panned around. Chief Ravan joined Captain Rajagopal behind the light car, and donned her own radio headset. Naya saw them holding hands and smiled.
She felt no pain. She felt energy, vigor, rushing through her muscles and sinews, down her back, across her arms, brimming at the tips of her fingers. She felt strong; ready.
It wasn’t just the medicine. It was the unburdening; the acceptance; the resolution.
Naya Oueddai had found the legs with which she could run forward again as she used to. They happened to be tracks this time, perhaps, and surrounded by thick metal.
But they ran forward all the same. She knew it even without the wind directly in her face.
“Raktapata, are you ready for your mission?” Captain Rajagopal asked.
“Yes ma’am!” Naya replied. “Let’s teach them not to stalk behind Camp Vijaya!”
“Good! You’re full of spirit.” Captain Rajagopal said. “Here’s the situation: a detachment of Nochtish armor has been hellbent on following us from Chanda. They’ve snuck in from the meadows, and unfortunately our rear guard was dozing off despite orders to maintain a high alert. Reports are coming in of six or seven tanks, including a large, self-propelled gun type tank we have never seen before. Most of them are M4 mediums.”
“Can the KnK-3 gun deal with them?” Naya asked.
“We’re not sure.” Chief Ravan interjected. “I think you should be able to penetrate the sides on any of those tanks from 1500 to 2000 meters with your 76mm, but you won’t have the benefit of getting a well angled shot unless you break out into the meadow.”
“Which you won’t be doing.” Cpt. Rajagopal said. “Naya: You will appear along the edge of the rail yard and meadow, taking what shots you can and then retreating. Our objective is not the total defeat of the enemy, but to buy time and create the condition for a retreat. Lure the enemy into the first warehouse row and trade shots with them. The Mandeha will stay near the track along the second warehouse row to block the way to the train.”
On the radio, a fourth voice, Karima’s, broadcast into the same conversation.
“Ma’am, if the Mandeha catches sight of any of those tanks, it can kill them, right?”
“With a 152mm gun, I should hope so!” Naya said.
“The Mandeha is only loaded with high explosive ammunition, not armor piercing.” Chief Ravan said. “However, factoring in the sheer size of the gun, a direct hit on the armor from a high explosive shell would likely cause fatal spalling or knock out the crew.”
“Yes ma’am. Thank you ma’am!” Karima said. She was all business.
“Alright then.” Captain Rajagopal cleared her throat and put on her most authoritative voice. “Raktapata, deploy and advance! You are free to fire at your own discretion!”
Naya grinned. She leaned under the gunner’s seat, procuring a 76mm AP-HE shell from the rack on the lower underside wall and lifting it effortlessly back up onto her lap.
“You heard the Captain, Farwah! Move out at full gear, and watch out for corners!”
“Yes ma’am!” Farwah replied. Even he sounded faintly energetic.
Drive wheels spinning relentlessly, the Raktapata dropped down the platform ramp and rushed down the paved road between the first and second rows of buildings. The Mandeha followed slowly behind them for a short distance before separating from the Raktapata and running between the track and the second row of new warehouse buildings.
Now split up, the two elements of Camp Vijaya were fully underway.
After crossing one block Naya scanned along her right flank using her periscope and caught the first hint of green from the meadow, though the way was barred by a discarded rail car. There was lingering smoke everywhere and several shell craters all along paths between the parallel warehouse rows and the alleys between each perpendicular block of buildings.
There was enough space between the rows of buildings to turn around, and some of the warehouses had open shutters through which a tank could fight. She had sightline about about eight hundred meters long from one end of a row to the other. However, she expected that combat maneuver would be limited to shooting around the corners.
As they passed another alley, Naya found it closed off only by a metal crate.
“Farwah, reverse and turn into that alley! I need to see into the meadow.”
The Raktapata braked, retraced its steps, and swung backward and left, turning to face the alleyway. Pushing through the crate and knocking it out into the connecting meadow-facing street, the tank moved clumsily out onto the concrete path encircling the outer edge of the rail yard, free from the corridors of buildings and paths within the rows and alleys.
Naya made contact with the enemy as soon as the front hull left the alleyway.
Under the reddening early evening sky, partially obscured by grass, seven of the enemy’s tanks crept closer to the rail yard. They were less than 500 meters away and moving in an amorphous formation, slowed down by the mud and puddles underfoot. As she watched them, Naya felt her eyes drawn toward a specific, glinting stretch of metal.
Two of the tanks were lagging behind the formation by a dozen meters. They stopped, raised their guns, and fired on the rail yard — self-propelled artillery. Isolated.
In the next instant Naya pushed the shell on her lap into the gun and aimed.
The Raktapata had a clear shot at the exposed side armor of an M3 Hunter.
She centered the markings on the lens around the side of the vehicle.
Her gun sight rocked from the recoil action; when her reticle finally settled, the target was obscured with smoke. She perforated the 38mm armor and the shell erupted inside, causing every slit and hatch on the tank to force open and flash red. Smoke blew from the gun and the engine ventilation, and flames played atop the engine compartment.
Several guns peering over the tall grasses swung sharply around to face her.
Naya spotted puffs of smoke and bright muzzle flashes in the meadow.
Green tracers soared over the hill and the turret shook violently.
A shell slammed the front of the gun mantlet and nearly threw Naya off her seat with its violence. Two shells flew past the tank and punched into the corner and wall of the adjacent building. A fourth shell crashed in front of the tank and put a hole in the floor.
“Farwah, move as fast as you can to the other end of the row!” Naya shouted.
Screeching to full speed, the Raktapata charged atop the slope, rushing along the rail yard’s outer road. Enemy guns harassed them every meter. Green tracers lit up the air around the tank, their trails rising over its turret, behind its engine, in front of the track guard. Chipped cement, flying brick, broken glass and pillars of smoke discharged in their wake.
Naya spun the turret gear and whipped the gun around trying to put the other M3 in her sights — she had to stop that artillery from shooting into the rail yard and endangering the train. Doing that might force the rest of those tanks to hurry into the buildings.
Front and center among the enemy however she spotted that large new tank.
She found herself drawn to the immense size of its gun.
And as she did she saw it traverse and elevate.
A sizable flash, an ominous boom and a thick cloud of dust accompanied its shot.
In front of her a building wall burst open from the impact.
Debris cast a shadow over them as if the whole building was falling.
Much of it was.
Dozens of bricks launched off the wall and this debris bounced off the Raktapata’s turret armor and crunched under the drive wheels. Like a smothering hand the roof and wall of the building swayed and toppled over the tank. Naya felt everything shaking as the ruin smashed them over them, tin and brick and wood coming to lie over the turret and hull.
Accelerating, the Raktapata smashed through the falling debris and escaped.
Behind them a salvo of green tracers chopped through the remains.
Naya almost felt her foot touch the grave from that attack.
“One direct hit from that and we’re dead! Farwah, don’t stop for anything!”
“I need to slow down to take the corner ahead.” Farwah said calmly.
“Figure something out!” Naya cried at him.
Accompanying the new tank, the four M4 Sentinel mediums moved toward the slope with their guns raised and firing every few seconds. Despite the prodigious amount of steel flying her way the Raktapata was moving at a good enough clip to avoid the shots.
Hoping to stem the tide, Naya launched her own attack.
A red tracer discharged from the Raktapata’s gun and soared right past the enemy.
It overflew the new tank, causing no effect.
“Too unstable.” Naya grit her teeth. Her gun was shaking too much while on the move.
From the field a concerted salvo launched in response to her attack.
Several AP shots dug into the road and the slope once more; well behind her a second building was smashed open by the large gun, and she barely felt the shot this time.
Was she somehow leaving its aim behind?
Everything rocked suddenly as a shell slammed hard into the side armor.
A dent formed on lower hull superstructure through which a pinprick of light entered.
Naya glanced at it briefly. She swallowed a lump in her throat.
Turning back to her shaking gun sight she just barely managed to spot the culprit.
It was that tank; purple stripe, with the letters on it. Only now, it was an M4 Sentinel.
“Farwah, that damn tank from before got bigger somehow.” Naya shouted.
“That’s not possible.” Farwah tonelessly said.
She transferred over to her periscope, which she kept parallel to the road.
They were almost to the corner around the eastern edge of the rail yard.
That was the end of the road for them.
“Farwah, I’m going to need to stop for the briefest second to shoot.” Naya said.
“I have a better idea.” Farwah replied. “Move your gun parallel to the hull again.”
“What? What kind of idea is this?”
Cryptically, Farwah replied, “Naya, the ground here is wet.”
Raising her brows in confusion, Naya obliged him and swung the turret back.
Barely had he given the warning when the Raktapata veered sharply.
Naya almost hit the turret wall.
Seconds before reaching the edge of the cement path the tank jerked toward the interior of the turn. Its right track stopped completely; the mechanical vibrations of the tank, felt acutely inside the turret, now concentrated on its left side. Displacing water, the tracks slid over the slippery cement even when power was cut. The Raktapata’s rear swung suddenly out toward the enemy’s approach while the hull front turned into the corner.
They were hydroplaning on the wet concrete.
Power cut from the left track and intermittently returned to the right, then left again.
Farwah was correcting and correcting the course, working the sticks feverishly.
Completing a wild spin, the tank’s rear crossed the outer corner, swung inside and hit the building wall. The Raktapata came to a stop with its glacis plate facing the meadow.
“Shoot now!” Farwah called out.
Though it lacked grace, the result was inarguable.
Just like they had seen it before — a tank sliding over the open ground.
Naya would have to congratulate him later.
She returned to her gun sight, sighted the M3 and opened fire.
Her 76mm shell crossed several 50mm shots from the M4s in the field.
All of the enemy’s attacks impacted the Raktapata.
Seconds earlier they would have hit the exposed rear.
Now they hit only the thick front.
She clung on as the gun mantlet and glacis plate deflected the shots. In quick succession the turret banged and shook as each shell smashed apart in front of her.
Her own shot was much more decisive.
Striking the left of the M3’s gun mantlet, her own shot penetrated into the interior.
Inside the tank the ammunition cooked off, turning the vehicle into a fireworks display.
“Alright! Draw back into the buildings!” Naya said.
Having pounced on the artillery, the Raktapata backed away into the shadows.
Nocht would not give up, however. One particular tank was poised to follow.