After trying to kill each other, two strangers get stuck with helping each other survive.
The red houses around her looked terrifying. The Sturmpanzer II trundled ahead cautiously, her nerves strung almost to breaking point. A town was no place for an SPG. Especially not when she was alone, but her teammates seemed to have disappeared. After a previous encounter, her radio wasn’t working properly anymore either.
She anxiously looked around a corner, her cannon shaking. There was no one there. She drove on. Next corner. Again, no one was there. The enemy team must have taken great losses already, otherwise she couldn’t explain how she wasn’t running into anyone. She didn’t even hear cannonfire. She whispered into her radio again, but there was still no answer, only static.
At this point her objective was only to get out of here, and she started hurrying. There was a short burst of a radio transmission identifying two light tanks near her, and she came to a screeching halt. She had no intention of running in front of their guns. Shaking as a whole now, she backed up slowly, looked left and right in fear. They were most likely moving, and she didn’t know if they knew about her presence.
All of a sudden, she noticed movement, and a turret appeared behind a pile of rubble. She yelped, turning towards the light tank as fast as she could. A shot hit the ground just in front of her, and she rushed to take aim and fired.
The scout’s turret was blown off and the Sturmpanzer let out a triumphant “HA”, but her moment lasted only for a second as another light tank turned the corner. It didn’t miss her. A shell pierced her armour. She screeched as the Covenanter raced to her side and shot her again, right in the engine fans. Said engine stalled and the Sturmpanzer fell silent with a choked sound. The light tank seemed to have pronounced her as dead, and it drove a little further until it reached the corner and stopped to peek around it.
The Sturmpanzer was feeling like she was fading, internal temperature rising fast, but she had a vengeful desire to do one last thing before she'd pass out and most likely die. Painfully slowly, she turned around. The light tank didn’t notice. Her cannon was reloading. As soon as she finished turning, she shot the Covenanter in the back.
She didn’t know if that had killed it, because she fainted immediately afterwards.
Out cold, she didn’t see the end of the battle. Only afterwards she started slipping back into and out of conscience, noticed movement around her. TRVs had come to scavenge the wrecks after the fight. The SPG got muffled impressions of them driving around and eventually driving up to her.
“These two are still alive,” she heard one of them say. She had trouble making out the words.
“We could put them down and take the parts,” another voice suggested.
“Nah,” the first voice said.
The Sturmpanzer fell unconscious again and didn’t get to hear the rest of the conversation.
The SPG woke up. She felt, most of all, dizzy. Heat was dancing on her armour, which felt like it was still full of holes. But there was no pain.
She slowly opened her optics and took a look around her. There were dunes. And more dunes. And no town. The dunes she was used to already, but they were always accompanied by the sight of teammates and never a total absence of knowledge where she was. Nearby, there was a wreck of a now unrecognizable vehicle. The yellow sand below her tracks was a disarray of trails leading into all directions. It was hard to tell what had happened here. But it must have somehow led to the unconscious Sturmpanzer getting left behind.
It took her a moment to realize that the wreck wasn't the only company. On top of one of the dunes, another vehicle was standing. Its back was turned towards her, it seemed. This one was alive - as she focused, she could hear the sound of its engine. The Sturmpanzer immediately got ready to shoot it, should it show any signs of aggression. But it didn’t even seem to be aware of her presence, or it didn’t care. She lowered her cannon and watched it for a moment. The heat was making the air squirm in diffuse ways, making it look like the strange tank’s armour had no clearly defined boundaries.
“Hey!” the Sturmpanzer called out eventually. The tank turned around and drove down the dune to her.
It was the Covenanter from earlier.
“Took you long enough to wake up,” he said curtly. The Sturmpanzer stared at him as if she was seeing a ghost. It took her a moment to shake off the surprise, but then she pointed her cannon at him. The Covenanter didn't return the gesture. He just went on nonchalantly.
“You missed all the action.” He tilted his cannon thoughtfully. “A shame.”
“... a shame?” the Sturmpanzer asked.
“'Cause if you didn't see it, you're not gonna believe
what went down there.”
The Sturmpanzer kept staring at the other tank warily. His confusing words only added to her disorientation. She was waiting for an explanation, and specifically one that would change her mind about sending this enemy to the afterlife after all.
“In any case we’re stuck with each other now,” the Covenanter said dryly. “The guys who … saved us are gone. So is our stuff.”
The Sturmpanzer hadn't realized the latter. She hurried to check her supplies, but except for one can of fuel, not much was left of them. A quick glance told her that the other tank didn't have anything more than that on him. Another fuel can was all that she could have stolen from him.
Before she could say anything, the Covenanter added, “That’s just my luck. Getting stuck with arty…” He sighed.
The Sturmpanzer's look turned sour.
“Getting stuck with a snobby light tank … just my
luck,” she retorted. A moment later, a thought crossed her mind. “Actually,
who says that we're stuck with each other?” she asked, snubbed that he would even assume she was willing to stick with him.
The other tank wobbled on his suspension, but then haughtily turned up his cannon at her.
“You’re right. I’ll be fine on my own,” he snapped. “Go ahead, leave.”
The Sturmpanzer snorted.
“Fine,” she said and started driving, rolling past the light tank. He stared after her with a dark look.
She laboriously made her way up the nearest dune and past its ridge, skidding down the other side. The procedure repeated itself several times. She always stopped before she reached the crest, peeking over it before she dared to cross it. Enemies could be everywhere. She drove on like this for two hours, seeing nothing but more dunes, before she noticed that she was being followed. As she hurdled the next crest, she waited behind it instead of driving on, aiming her cannon at the top of the dune. A few moments later, the Covenanter almost bumped into her. He gasped and hit the brakes hard.
“I thought you wanted to travel alone?” the Sturmpanzer asked.
The other tank was obviously struggling for an answer.
“I’m just coincidentally going in the same direction,” he replied sullenly.
“Of course you are,” the Sturmpanzer said, rolling her cannon.
“Maybe … we should stay together after all. It’s safer,” the Covenanter said after a moment of silence and staring at the ground.
Tanks didn’t like to be alone. Especially light tanks and SPGs. Deep inside, there was always a desire for company.
“Maybe,” the Sturmpanzer said after a long, scrutinizing look. She had to admit that she’d feel more at ease having a second gun and another set of optics on her side. Most tanks here were perfectly camouflaged and hard to make out for an SPG that couldn’t see far to begin with. A Covenanter's optics were better.
They looked at each other for a moment, and there was the silent agreement that they wouldn’t need to be able to stand each other, but that they would help each other anyway, even if it was only out of necessity.
They turned back towards their original path and the Covenanter drove ahead.
“Searching for signs in the sky,
” the Covenanter sung quietly. The soft breeze that had emerged carried his words to the Sturmpanzer. “Bleed and wonder as you die.
The SPG didn’t know the song, but it was catchy and she found herself humming along.
“We fight and we don’t know why. Bleed and wonder as we die.
They had been traveling for hours now, never seeing anything but more dunes. It was dull, and every so often they thought they saw a different landscape in the distance, but it always turned out to be an illusion. Other than talking or singing or listening to the other singing, they couldn’t do much. They simultaneously hoped that they would meet someone soon and that they wouldn’t. If it was someone who was lost like them, or a platoon, they could maybe take them on, but if it was a whole team, they’d have no chance. They would only be able to try and beg for some fuel. Most teams didn’t like to see beggars, though.
Soon, it got dark, and they decided to take a rest in one of the valleys created by the dunes. There was no way to make a campfire, so they prepared themselves for a very cold night.
“If we don’t find anything soon, I’ll go crazy,” the Covenanter said as he sat opposite of the other tank. “Where’s the towns? The roads? The oases? All we see is those damn mirages.”
The Sturmpanzer just shrugged. She didn’t know either why they were having such bad luck. The light tank slumped with a sigh.
“You’re no help,” he said glumly. “I’m going on guard.”
With that he drove off to go and keep an eye on the dunetops. The Sturmpanzer stayed behind and decided to get some sleep. The temperature had already fallen drastically, and she felt cold, wrapped her tarp more tightly around herself. The chilly wind didn’t help, made the whole situation only more uncomfortable by blowing the sand into every gap of her armour. But she eventually fell asleep nevertheless, dreaming of a more hospitable place.
She was woken up by the sunlight heating up her armour again. The sun was only rising, but it was already getting hot. The first thing she noticed was that the light tank wasn’t anywhere to be seen. She kicked her engine into gear, feeling a small pang of fear, and crested one of the dunes. In the distance, she saw the blue and yellow Covenanter driving on top of another one. He was still keeping guard, it seemed.
The Sturmpanzer waved at him, and he actually noticed it, turning towards her and driving into her direction.
“Are you ready to move on?” he asked as he reached her. She nodded. He waved at the direction he had come from. “I think I saw something over there, not too far away.” The Sturmpanzer didn’t really believe that it could really be anything this time either, but she set herself into motion.
But she was surprised.
The ‘something’ had turned out to be a team. They were crossing their path, and were about the same tier as them, as the Covenanter found out upon observing them for a while. They seemed to be resting, but as they didn’t move at all, the whole thing started getting suspicious.
The Covenanter cautiously drove out into the open. The Sturmpanzer stayed behind, expecting him to get shot any moment. But no shots fell. He got closer, and still no one even twitched. There was only one possible explanation: They were all dead.
The light tank motioned at the Sturmpanzer to come as well.
“Let’s see if any of them have any fuel left,” he said, but the Sturmpanzer didn’t have high hopes. If a whole team just died on the spot, it was most likely that they had gotten lost and starved. It turned out to be true; not a single one of the strangers had even a drop of fuel left in their tanks.
The Sturmpanzer and the Covenanter shared an uncomfortable look. The implications were dire. If the whole team hadn’t been able to do anything about running out of fuel, what were the two of them supposed to do? They were just as lost, and would soon have to start using up their last fuel cans.
The Covenanter’s cannon sank.
“We might as well sit down amongst them and wait for death,” he moaned.
“You can do that, but I don’t have any plans of going like that,” the Sturmpanzer snapped.
“So what are you gonna do about it? Conjure up some fuel?” the Covenanter asked sarcastically.
The Sturmpanzer gave him a glare and turned to leave.
“Wasting time standing here isn’t going to help,” she said sternly, “So stop with the self-pity and let’s keep looking.” The Covenanter sighed deeply but nodded and they drove on, leaving the dead team behind them.