For someone who was used to fighting and hanging out with a very familiar team, suddenly being part of an alliance of three entire teams full of strangers felt awkward and kind of unsettling to Angler. One of the teams was a complete ragtag pack which was, in Angler's opinion, only held together by wishful thinking and incomprehensible ambitions. The other team was some sort of artillery self-help group that dramatically got out of hand when they decided to not improve themselves but instead the world at large. Compared to these folks, Angler's own team seemed like a band of perfectly sane individuals - which was an impressive achievement when one looked at what the Scavengers had been up to recently... though frankly, even before that. But Angler wouldn't have dared to call himself the Best Scout Of The Entire Known World if he couldn't do his job just because the composition of his team was out of the ordinary. He was doing that job right now, in fact. The teams were hungry, and something had to be done about it. Sitting behind some bushes and peeking through with his binoculars, Angler was observing what he hoped would be a suitable source of fuel. It was still early in the morning, but the sun was rising behind him so it wouldn't be a nuisance. If anything, it was helping him stay unnoticed more easily. Trees and bushes rustled in a stiff breeze - it was pretty windy. Angler hoped it wouldn't change direction, because right then, it was blowing towards him and carrying the noises of the targets to him instead of the other way round. Thick clouds above promised soon-to-arrive rain, but it would probably still take an hour or two until it'd set in. Overall, the conditions were acceptable for what the light tank and the ones accompanying him were going to do. Not the whole conglomerate of allies had joined him with his endeavour - it would have simply been too many tanks to manage without getting an inappropriately large amount of tactics and logistics involved. This was just a simple little raid on an unsuspecting team; no need to mobilize the whole force. Somewhere further in the back, a King Tiger and a VK 45.02B had taken positions between a group of rocks, in a slightly elevated position. They belonged to the ragtag pack that called itself the Tanking League. Angler had been repeatedly assured that they were more than capable of pulling their weight in an encounter. He was skeptical about these claims, but less skeptical than he could have been - he saw those particular two tanks fight before and they had seemed competent. He just wished they would bicker less constantly, like they were doing at the moment. Something about owing shells and money. Angler really couldn't care less. To the right, at about the same distance as the heavy tanks, a Patton and a Pershing were hanging out behind some hills. Those were part of the artillery team, also known as the Rainmakers, despite not being artillery themselves. Luckily for Angler, they weren't bickering - at least not anymore. They had been doing it on the way here, so the Chaffee had feared he would have to listen to more of the pointless discussion about how many kill rings you could paint on your cannon before it started looking tacky. (Which had most likely been vague-tattling about the VK, whose cannon was completely covered in them, but he hadn't seemed to realize that.) Currently, they were pretty silent and just waiting for Angler's sign to attack. Also waiting for that sign was the indirect fire support even further in the back. Angler hadn't really deemed it necessary, but a FV304 and a leFH18B2, a bit more representative members of the Rainmakers, had been utterly insistent on joining the raid. The FV304 in particular was already getting on Angler's nerves. He wasn't talking all too much, but his current radio transmissions were impatient questions when the fighting would finally start. The leFH had been quiet the entire time after he had told Angler that he would be joining the raid; the way he had said that though, overly calm but just repeating it over and over until Angler had been weirded out enough to agree, had left an impression. Not necessarily a good one. The FV304 was asking again what they were waiting for, but Angler didn't reply. He focused his sights on the camp that was a good 800 meters away, in some sort of dip in the terrain. It was right next to a pond, which was connected to a streamlet that ran past near Angler's current position. Angler had a reason for not calling the attack yet - he was waiting for the perfect moment. From his position he couldn't clearly see the other team's composition - he could only assume how many tanks were there and which models. They didn't know yet that the reason why their only guard was not noticing any intruders was that Angler had made sure it wouldn't notice anything ever again. It would only be a question of time, however, until they'd figure out that something was wrong. And as soon as they'd come looking for their missing teammate, it would be easy to spread some chaos and overwhelm them. Until then, it was a waiting game. And this FV304 was really not good at that game. He sent another radio transmission... «Jeez. Chaffee! Any idea how much longer? I think my tracks are striking root.» ...and what made it worse was that the leFH was now becoming impatient as well, apparently. He spoke up for the first time since they had departed. «How many targets are there, anyway? I bet we can beat them without all of this whole... ambush charade.» Blowing a highly exasperated puff of air out his vents, Angler bit back an angry reply. He counted to ten, then responded calmly.... at least that was the plan. In actuality, he was still mad after those ten seconds. "I. Don't. Know." he growled. «What? How can you not know?» the leFH replied immediately, in a tone that was much calmer than Angler's. In fact, it was annoyingly calm, considering the words it was saying. «What have you been doing over there the entire time?» "Oh, you know...," Angler snapped back. "Twiddling my thumbs, watching the clouds-" One of the heavies, the VK, chimed in. «Wait, really?» "NO! Of course not!!" Angler blurted out. He flinched as he realized that he should probably not be raising his voice like this unless he wanted to get detected. A much quieter addition followed: "I'm not telling you how to do your job either, am I?" To make matters even worse, now the Pershing also got himself involved. «I'm getting tired of this, too. Let's just go in and whoop their asses.» Angler couldn't believe what he had to listen to. "You're just gonna attack them if you don't even know what you're dealing with??" «Well, how about you finally tell us then?» the Pershing replied defiantly. "I can't!" Angler hissed. «Why the hell not?» "Because I can't see them!" The Pershing, obviously thinking himself the better light tank, snorted and replied in a boasting tone. «Maybe if you stopped taking a nap in your bush and did some proper scouting-» Angler interrupted. "Oh, you wanted me to do proper scouting? Should have just told me right from the start!" The Pershing stayed silent, apparently taken aback by the biting tone. Angler stowed away his binocs. He started his engine and kicked it into gear, simply driving through the bushes. He picked up speed quickly as he went forward. «Wait, what are you-?» the Patton asked with heavy concern in her voice. She and her Pershing buddy had been able to see Angler's hiding spot from their position, but now that he had moved out of it, their line of sight must have been blocked by the hill ridges. «Oh no, he's doing something stupid...,» the King Tiger sighed. He and the VK were also able to observe the light tank's sudden change of heart. «What? What's going on??» the FV304 asked. The SPGs were the only ones who weren't able to see what was happening. They couldn't use their special sights at the moment, as it could have given them away to hostile artillery. «I didn't mean that!» the Pershing barked. Angler didn't reply to anyone, and instead purposefully headed straight towards the enemy camp. But before he could reach it, he quickly swerved behind a large rock right next to the streamlet. Only when he was sure none of the other team's tanks had noticed him approaching further, he sent another transmission. "Don't worry, guys. I'm not as stupid as you think I am," he said sourly. "Hah! Five shells, Fox! That's five shells!" the VK said triumphantly. «Hmm, I guess. You still owe me seventy-five,» the King Tiger rumbled. Angler blinked. Had they been betting on him throwing his life away for real? How rude. The FV304 also had something to say again. «So, you can see them now, right?» Angler grumbled a quiet "Working on it." He rummaged through his stowage to produce the binocs again, but realized that even though he was much closer now, he had effectively maneuvered himself into a position where he could see even less than before. The large rock was very in the way. He inched towards the edge of the rock, and tried to peek around. But before he could do that, he heard the sound of an engine, worryingly close. "Oh crap-" he hissed and backed up again. His turret swung from side to side as he looked for the best escape route. «What's wrong?» the leFH asked. Angler was ready to run, but then noticed that the engine noise was moving further away again. He waited for a bit longer before he replied to his makeshift-teammates. "It was just-" he started to say, but then something suddenly moved to his left. Angler recoiled and yelped at the rush of motion so close to him. He hurried to switch to his sideways-facing optics. There was- "...a duck!" he gasped. He was staring at the bird that had just landed right next to him and was staring back at him. It seemed just as surprised to see him here as he was surprised to see it. Angler held perfectly still now. If he startled the animal, whoever was on the other side of the rock would know that someone was here. «A duck?» the leFH replied after a few seconds of Angler and the bird staring at each other. "Yeah it's-... it's right there," Angler whispered. «Where exactly...?» the leFH asked on. Angler was confused why the SPG was so urgently in need of knowing that detail. What was he gonna do, blow up the bird? "Very-" he started to say, but that made the duck flinch. "...close to me," he continued in a nonverbal text message. The King Tiger also contacted him now. «Can you handle it?» he asked. Angler very slowly extended two arms from his hull and tried to reach out to the bird. It turned its head slightly as it skeptically observed the limbs approaching it. "Not sure," he replied, still nonverbally. «Tell us the position.» the leFH said, with that same weird super-patience in his voice that he had used when asking to join the raid. Angler felt uncomfortable. He pinged his current position, figuring that maybe the others were just trying to come help him get out of here. But he realized a second later that this was not the case, and the actual case was very Bad News: In precisely the second that the leFH, with a horrifyingly cheerful tone, announced, «Firing.» It was in that moment that Angler knew he had messed up... and that he and the bird had at best about 5 seconds to get out of here. Composing another message to tell the leFH to hold his fire would have taken too long. He grabbed the duck with such a fast motion that it didn't even have time to react, turned around, and frantically set himself into motion. "You idiots!" he cried as he darted back towards his teammates, holding a screaming duck, and the leFH's shell detonated just behind him. Now the hostile team also realized that Something was going on - a moment later, they started shooting. «What the...?» the FV304 and the leFH asked in unison. Angler zig-zagged for his dear life and yelled into his radio. "It wasn't an actual duck!!" he whined, now that he figured out that there had been a crucial misunderstanding. His teammates must have thought he had been discovered by the tank that the bird got its name from: an AMX 40. Shells whistled past Angler, but now from both directions as his teammates started firing as well. The light tank joined the duck in screaming. He hurried on, finally reaching the hills. There, he rushed right past the Pershing and the Patton, who had crested their hills and returned the enemy fire. Both medium tanks turned their turrets with obvious bewilderment as they watched the strange duo zoom past them.
***The fight was not a long one, since Angler's companions managed to take the startled enemy team apart pretty quickly. The duck was dropped off at the streamlet again afterwards and seemed unharmed, if a little ruffled. When the tanks returned to the others, they had looted loads of valuable fuel and spare parts, but their favourite takeaway from the battle was their new, highly entertaining campfire story.
A/N: No animals were harmed in the telling of this story.