This scene contains violence and death.
City of Rangda, Umaru Park
A hundred 76mm shells and something on the order of fifty 82mm mortar rounds had fallen on Umaru Park, and that had been enough almost to wipe it from the map. Trees splintered and burned and had to be put out. Through the gouges in the earth one could trace lines from the edge of the park right to its center, almost like a star pattern with many arms. It was as if a perfect stencil, a flawless artillery dispersion chart, like the ones Adesh had drawn for practice in camp, had been superimposed right on the park.
There was nothing left but corpses, stirred earth, blood and water from broken underground pipes and smashed fountains, turning the soil to mud. Intermittent patches of grass looked eerie amid the wasteland. Not much of the little park wood was left. Perhaps three or four stubborn trees, their crowns mostly burnt or smashed off.
It was a scene as if from a nightmare, but it was real, and Adesh had helped cause it.
And yet it stirred little emotion in him. He sat on the track of the Chimera, parked along one of the roads framing the park, waiting for further orders, with a head that was mostly clear. He felt like he was daydreaming on the border to Adjar again, just staring up at the wide open skies without aim or ambition. There was bustle around him. Motorcycle infantry stood guard around the approaches, and a security detail from the rear arrived to help clean up bodies and to pick through the area for survivors, supplies, anything.
Nnenia leaned down from the side of the Chimera. Atop the vehicle, Eshe was talking with Rahani, perhaps about what responsibilities being an artillery officer entailed.
“Are you?” She asked again.
“I’m fine.” Adesh said. “Maybe too fine.”
Adesh smiled. Even the smile felt strange. “Nnenia, how do you deal with this? I don’t know whether I’m going insane by stressing about it or going insane because I accept it. My head feels really empty right now. And my heart’s all a mess of emotions.”
“I’ve dealt with worse.”
“I can’t imagine there’s worse.”
Nnenia’s eyes trailed off, as if she couldn’t bear to maintain contact.
“I’ll tell you sometime.” She said.
Adesh bowed his head. He hoped he hadn’t offended her. “Alright. Sorry.”
She shook her head. “It’s ok. You have a reason to fight?”
That was perhaps the longest sentence Adesh ever heard Nnenia string.
He really did not feel like he had a good answer.
“I just want everyone to be ok.” Adesh said.
Nnenia shrugged and pulled herself back up to the Chimera.
Adesh sighed. Perhaps nobody had an answer.
It was almost frustrating. Training was fine; in fact, training felt empowering. He felt ready to fight, ready to walk alongside everyone. He didn’t feel scared of Nocht. Yes, there was some trepidation fighting the 8th Division, because they were Ayvartans too. But this felt different. He felt an overarching unease with war that he could not afford. He was a soldier. And on some level, he wanted to be. He wanted to destroy all of these bad people.
He remembered the anger he felt toward that pilot in Adjar.
He still felt that anger.
He just didn’t know exactly what to do with it; or whether it was right to feel at all.
Fighting should have been the place where he felt most at ease with these emotions.
But it was hard to subsume it all even as he did the mechanical actions of fighting.
He could ignore it, but he couldn’t make it completely go away.
And right as he was getting lost in these thoughts, he heard banging on the metal.
“Adesh, come up, you need to hear this!”
He heard Eshe’s voice, and leaped up onto the track and climbed into the compartment.
Everyone was huddled around the radio. Sergeant Rahani was trying to adjust it.
He finally seemed to turn the dials the correct way once Adesh climbed on.
Adesh donned his headset, and heard the call come in.
“–This is Tank Commander Caelia Suessen, calling for artillery support! We have a desperate situation in University Avenue! Come in! I know this is the right–”
She sounded very distressed. There was a lot of noise in the background.
Sergeant Rahani cut her off. “This is Sergeant Rahani of the 1st Self-Propelled Artillery Battery. I’ve got three guns ready to answer. Please call back with targeting data.”
As Rahani spoke to her he waved his hands toward the instruments.
Nnenia, Eshe and Adesh hastily took their places.
“Okay. Let’s see if I remember this.” Caelia took a deep breath on the radio. “Fire Mission, TRP,” she paused, and Adesh heard paper shuffling, “32917, fire for effect! Hurry!”
Sergeant Rahani signaled for Adesh, and then hailed the other two vehicles in their group.
Adesh picked up the map from the utility box inside the Chimera. He found the correct Target Registration Point. It was the end of University Avenue. Part of the TRP number was map grids, part of it was specific landmarks within the grid square coordinates that had been specifically numbered for quick prior registration. Once Adesh knew what the TRP was, he could run the math in his head to orient the tank toward the correct location.
“Kufu, swing forty degrees north-northwest. Nnenia, adjust elevation by twenty.”
Kufu, surly as usual, offered no response, but the tank started moving.
“Feeling better?” Nnenia asked.
“I’m dealing with it. Adjust elevation, please.” Adesh gently replied.
Nnenia nodded and turned the wheel.
Eshe stared at them for a moment before loading in the first shell.
“Alright, Tanker Suessen, we’re coordinating fire. Please hang on.” Rahani said.
“I’ve got no other choice!” She shouted back. Distinct rifle reports sounded near her.
Adesh felt nervous from the sounds, and from the general situation.
It was not panic; panic was for the war near one’s skin.
It was just a strange disquiet about his role.
There was a battle happening somewhere far that he was now involved in.
Her life, and that of her comrades, depended on him now.
And he could only hear her cries and the noise on the line.
Checking his instruments, he found everything aligned as it should be.
Adesh nodded to Eshe.
“Firing High Explosive!” Eshe called out.
Almost in unison, the three Chimera opened fire into the distant sky.
Adesh prayed he had done his math right.
City of Rangda, University Avenue
The 8th Division’s Lion Battalion were starting, against all odds, to attack.
Caelia could think of no other reason why she was seeing what seemed like dozens of soldiers and horses and even a tank gathering at the end of University Avenue.
Cavalry officers with swords in hand paraded around the arriving marching ranks. Dismounted fast attack troops with long, bayonet-equipped rifles formed up behind the third defensive line, taking what appeared to be a broad box formation. As the cavalry got ready to attack, the third defensive line gathered machine guns and mortars and anti-tank weaponry, and brought heavy fire down across the avenue at the former attackers.
Such was the volume of building fire that the second defensive line, captured by Red Squadron before, was completely abandoned. Red Squadron huddled inside a nearby building and Caelia crawled atop its roof, binoculars in hand, a radio at her side, praying that she was not discovered. Meanwhile Blue and Yellow squadron troops began to arrive and took up defenses behind Green, but all of them were stalled. Though they might repulse the incoming attack, it was going to be bloody unless something was done.
And the crown jewel of the enemy arsenal was that tank. It was an old Orc, antiquated compared to Harmony, but as a medium tank it was powerful in ways that mattered. Two rotund machine gun turrets on its front defended it from infantry, while a 76mm short-barreled artillery gun on its drum-like turret enabled it to lay down devastating fire on fortifications. It was an old tank, but it could still outshoot Harmony in direct combat, and was a deadly threat to the infantry while sequestered behind enemy lines.
Whenever that 76mm fired, Caelia could almost feel it under her own flesh.
Every minute or so it fired one thick, broad red tracer across the avenue.
It had hit their sandbags twice, and it had struck around Green Squadron’s wall too.
Now it was turning its turret before firing.
Caelia winced immediately upon seeing the direction of this next shot.
Bracing herself, she clung on to the roof as the building shook from a shell impact.
She heard screams under her and grit her teeth. There was nothing she could do.
“Come on, come on.” She mumbled. She was not a trained artillery observer, but she received enough cross training in it that she knew vaguely how to call for fires.
Now it was up the artillery to deliver. Holding her binoculars up, she watched with held breath as the tank’s turret continued to point their way, as the soldiers started marching, as the bulk of a spirited enemy attack began to make its deadly way down. They must have had at least a Company, and a Platoon was all that could meet them at the Avenue.
Then Caelia heard the tell-tale whistling of a shell flying overhead.
Nothing on their line had fired at her; so it was her own artillery.
Soon as she repositioned her binoculars and fixed on the enemy, she saw three large plumes of smoke rise around the tank and sandbags. It was instantaneous, as if it were not shells falling but explosives set off that were already there. Sandbags collapsed out onto the floor in front of the defensive line, and wounded soldiers shambled from the blast area in disarray, bleeding and dazed. A machine gun was silenced, a mortar blown up, and the cavalry assembling behind the defensive line started to split up for safety.
Behind the smoke the enemy Orc tank started to limp back from the craters.
“Confirmed effect on target!” Caelia called over the radio. “Adjust fire five north!”
“Acknowledged! Adjusting fire mission!” replied the pleasant but firm voice of the gun unit sergeant, Rahani. Within a few seconds he called again. “Shells going out!”
“Watching for effect on target.” Caelia called back, recalling the observer’s rote.
Almost as soon as she said this, the effect played out rather effectively on the target.
Though the shots were spread a little farther apart and the succession was much more deliberate, Caelia could not quibble with the results. She watched the first shell crash right behind the sandbags and scatter the defenders, destroying their machine guns, killing their gunners, and almost instantly relieving the pressure on Green Squadron.
One shell seemed to fall off the road, hitting nothing.
The Orc backed right into the final shell.
Like a spear fallen from heaven, it smashed through the turret roof and exploded inside the tank, ejecting its hatches, detonating the two front turrets as if in a chain reaction and setting fire to the tank. From the gun, a plume of smoke and tongues flame spilled out as if was equipped with a flamethrower rather than a cannon. It was catastrophic damage.
“Kill confirmed.” Caelia replied. “Good kills 1st Battery.”
Caelia was almost ready to breathe easy and call off the fire mission.
Inexplicably, the 8th Division’s Lion cavalry did not feel the same way.
With a great clamor, a united shout and raised fists, the assembled masses of the Lion battalion rushed past their defeated tank, vaulted over their crushed sandbag walls and dead gunners, and began an all-out death charge against the lower sandbag wall and against Red Squadron’s little stronghold off the road. Horses rode alongside them, spurring Lion’s fighters to action. Rifles and submachine guns flashed with the stoked fury of their wielders. A hundred men and women, it seemed, were running down.
Bullets started to whirl past Caelia, and she ducked and backed off the edge of the roof.
“Continue Fire Mission! Adjust fifteen down! We’ve got a column marching past the previous targets! I need all available guns, now, right now!” Caelia shouted.
“Acknowledged! Adjusting fire mission!”
Traces of gunfire flew out from under her, from inside the building. She briefly glanced and saw tracers from Red and Green taking small bites out of the mass, but the charge continued unabated, closing in meter by meter, undaunted by the resistance.
There were maybe eight people in fighting condition in her building and maybe twenty in the first defensive line. They could not hope to turn back an enemy this vehement.
Within the cacophony and panic, she felt the disquiet of her own heart to an ever greater extent. Her hands reached for the radio and she wanted to turn the knob, to call Danielle, to just tell her, to just admit to herself what she wanted, to throw away the fear. She, who had always known what to do with herself, what she wanted to do; how did she end up in this situation? How did she go from sound to silence in such a stark, maddening way?
Despite everything the fingers would not move over the dial. She wept. She couldn’t–
An operatic boom annihilated her every thought.
For an instant, feeling the roar of the shells, she thought they were meant for her.
Her beating heart and untouched flesh proved quickly otherwise.
It was University Avenue that was suffering this punishment.
Shells started falling from the sky like a shower of stars.
Within the fire and the smoke the charging warriors of the Lion Battalion disappeared.
Explosions swept viciously across the road and street like the successive stomping footsteps of a monster smashing and smashing away at cockroaches or ants, trailing meter by meter, a creeping barrage that saturated what felt like the entire Avenue with high explosive shells. It was only a select section, the section Caelia had called during her adjustment, but the saturation fire was so immense it seemed world ending.
Dozens of shells fell in intervals of four or five seconds each, a rate of fire that seemed impossible, inhuman. Amid the charging ranks, the blasts turned men to mush, the fragments clipped runners like an invisible tripwire, and vast swathes of humanity seemed to vaporize, there one moment and the next gone into smoke and fire.
And the sounds, oh the sounds! It was almost operatic, the rhythm, the vicious drumming of fire and force on concrete, the sifting of skyward dust falling back to earth, punctuated by the helpless, scattered reports of rifles, the almost tinny sounds of machine guns. Caelia felt like she was in a macabre orchestra. Had she done this? Was this her piece?
She had thought there were hundreds of men coming for her and her comrades.
Now it seemed that all of them were gone. That maybe they were never there.
“Kill confirmed, Tank Commander Suessen?” Rahani jovially asked. He sounded confident, despite being too far to see the handiwork of his troops. “Everything sounds mighty peaceful over there, so I hope you’re alright. We can’t do another of those.”
Surveying the devastation in shock and awe, Caelia could only call in the usual rote.
“Good kills, 1st Battery.”
Her fingers were still tempted to switch the frequency, to call Danielle and confess.
But the urgency was past. Instead, she just wanted to quietly contemplate the scene.
Her mind was still trying to turn the whole thing into music.
What would she title this piece? She had always been bad at titles.
Perhaps: “The Way Into Muhimu Shimba.”