No words were said as the Indien-Panzer followed the GW Panther up the hill.
He wasn't sure why she had chosen him of all teammates to be her guard. They weren't friends. Even acquaintances was too familiar of a word. To be frank, he had somewhat avoided her this whole time. For him especially, it was difficult to live with someone as cantankerous as the SPG.
Each of her words always felt like poison. Her glares always made the Indien-Panzer shirk. The bitterness in her every thought was obvious; she was the polar opposite of him. But as it had turned out so surprisingly, she had a vision. Maybe she was just using him to achieve it. Maybe she was using everyone.
But the Indien-Panzer saw his future in this vision. Hadn't he dreamed of a better life? Wasn't he sick of being surrounded by constant hostilities?
The GW Panther had made him realize that things didn't have to be like they were. Everything could change. She and her followers had the power to do it — by carrying out one easy plan.
'Just kill them, and we'll figure it out from there,
' Nordic had said. 'No big deal.
The price she made them pay for their goal seemed crass, at first glance. At this point, however, the Indien-Panzer was willing to pay it.
After all, their very own brave new world was in reach. Was it wrong to get rid of the few who stood in the way of it? Or was it wrong of them to deny everyone else it?
The answer seemed clear to all his accomplices. So why would he hesitate to make the decision for himself?
Just kill them.
No big deal.
He had made up his mind, and didn't want to think about it any longer. Directing his attention at his surroundings again, he turned his turret as the two of them reached a spot from where the town was in view again. There was nothing unusual about it that night. At least so he thought, at first.
As he let his optics wander across the roofs and streets, he suddenly noticed movement. Easy to miss, and only briefly visible. But he was sure that he had seen it. It was difficult to make out anything through the rain, though; it could have been anything.
Without halting, he kept staring into the dark. It was probably nothing. But what if someone had sneaked past the guards? The Indien-Panzer switched to his gun sights — and again, caught a glimpse of movement, not far from where he had seen it first. This time, however, he could see what caused it.
That was … Nordic. Even though the Indien-Panzer only saw the Hellcat's rear disappearing behind a building, he was sure about the tank's identity. What was Nordic doing outside of his garage? Before he could tell the GW Panther about it, the Indien-Panzer got a message from another tank who should have been asleep — Eohelm.
«Panzer,» Eohelm said, through nonverbal speech. «Can you talk privately?»
The Indien-Panzer hesitantly replied, using the same silent method.
«I need you to stay completely calm now. What I'm going to tell you will be upsetting, but whatever you do, don't show it.»
That sounded ominous. The Indien-Panzer immediately did the opposite of what Eohelm had asked of him, and got nervous. Luckily, the GW Panther wasn't looking behind her, and didn't notice his worried expression.
"What? What is it?
" the Indien-Panzer asked.
«First off: We know what the Panther is planning. Secondly, we're not going to let it happen,» Eohelm said soberly.
"Who is 'we'?
" the Indien-Panzer asked on. His message didn't reflect his complete bewilderment in any sufficient way. Even though he had more pressing questions, he only had time to finish sending that one before Eohelm's reply already got through.
«Eject. Sky. Rex. Fox. Nordic. Myself.»
With every name that Eohelm recited, the Indien-Panzer's dismay increased. Even Nordic? Was that the reason why he was still sneaking around the town? The Indien-Panzer quickly did the math, and suddenly nothing was 'no big deal' anymore.
«We know that you're with her,» Eohelm went on, in a patient tone. «And there's something you need to be aware of.»
"What do you mean?
" the Indien-Panzer replied.
«You will die if you stick with her.»
It took a moment, but then, suddenly clicked. The Indien-Panzer stopped dead in his tracks.
The GW Panther noticed that
of course, and she halted too, turning around to look at him with puzzled optics.
"What?" she asked.
Seconds passed before the Indien-Panzer was able to speak. Even then, however, he couldn't stop himself from stammering.
"I— … We— … N-Nothing."
The GW Panther frowned at him.
"Just say it," she hissed.
There was a decision to make right then, one that he could have mulled over for hours on end. But he had to make it very quickly. He surprised himself with his next words.
"Just … thought I'd seen something," he hurried to say. "It's nothing."
It looked like the GW Panther was skeptical. She turned to look at the town below them for a moment. With every second, the Indien-Panzer got more tense.
The GW Panther was still looking as the Indien-Panzer received another message from Eohelm.
«Are you still there?»
At that point, there was one question left.
"How can I not die?
«Help us. Kill her when the battle starts.»
Having found nothing apparently, the GW Panther was looking at the Indien-Panzer again, and for a moment longer before she turned back around. She went back to driving up the hill. The Indien-Panzer stayed behind.
Being told that his death was imminent — but not inevitable — made the best course of action seem obvious. He messaged Eohelm.
"I will try.
«You won't regret it,» Eohelm replied.
The Indien-Panzer set himself into motion again, even though it felt
like he was still standing in the same spot.
They reached the top of the hill soon after. The GW Panther parked herself in her usual spot; the Indien-Panzer wasn't sure how close was appropriate, so he kept a few meters between himself and his teammate.
He watched her absent-mindedly. As she stood there, she looked more at ease than he had ever seen her before — completely oblivious to her impending doom. She was probably looking forward to the battle. The Indien-Panzer couldn't help but feel the irony of him being the one who was going to end her dream. But what about his own dream? Would it die with her?
What if he let her live? Eohelm's tanks probably already had a backup plan to take care of the job if he failed. And if he already hesitated to kill the GW Panther, the Indien-Panzer didn't know if he could kill anyone
who'd show up, either. Basically, she was dead either way. And no matter what he
did, he would have to hurt someone. But who did he prefer betraying?
A strange resignation took hold of him.
"You shouldn't have brought me here," he said into the growing noise of the pouring rain. "Why didn't you take someone else as your guard?"
The GW Panther didn't turn around to look at him as she replied.
"Having doubts, now?
" she asked.
Even though she didn't see it, the Indien-Panzer kept looking at her with sorrowful optics.
"No, I want to do this," he said. "But I don't know if I can."
As she didn't reply and still didn't turn around, he eventually lowered his optics.
"… If they reach us," he said. "… If it's down to who shoots first …"
His teammate finally seemed to pay her full attention to him. He heard her turn and looked up, now meeting her gaze.
"Is that what you're worried about? Pulling the trigger on them?" the GW Panther asked, but her voice wasn't a strident as usually.
"They were my teammates," the Indien-Panzer said quietly. He went on despite the harsh gaze this earned him. "I … don't know if I could —"
He trailed off.
can. They will," the GW Panther said. It seemed like she wanted to say something else, but she looked away and didn't. The Indien-Panzer watched her glare down at the town, until he was sure the conversation was over for her.
With her words occupying his mind, he remained silent as well.
Siren sighed with exasperation. A quick glance into the sky told him … absolutely nothing. There were no stars, no moon. Only rainclouds. No way to tell how late it was, or how many hours he had wasted already just motionlessly sitting in the same spot.
He went back to intently gazing through his binoculars. Nothing was moving anywhere along the borders of the town — as had been the case ever since that Centurion had entered it. For some reason, no one had left it afterwards. Siren had been wondering why there was apparently no night guard.
Fang — hidden several hundred meters away — had claimed that Siren had just missed whoever had been assigned. This had resulted in a brief argument, because the E-25 had then claimed the opposite was the case. Dresden had, as per usual, broken up that argument, but Siren was still disgruntled about it. It didn't help his mood that all the while, his fuel tank was rumbling unpleasantly. The gauges were all on ‘reserve’.
'Looks like I'm gonna starve,' he thought. Upon further consideration, however, he added, 'But I'll probably die of boredom first!'
When would Dresden finally decide that it was a good time to attack? What was he waiting for? A host of Wardens descending from the sky and smacking him with a broad hint? Siren was getting more fidgety with every second that passed.
"Sulfur! This sucks," he said out loud into his radio.
«Shut up! You wanna jinx it?» came an instantly furious reply from Fang.
«Siren, I told you not to say that,» Dresden, who was lying in ambush even further away, added.
«Don't make me come over there.»
Siren was, for once, wise enough to not chance his platoon leader actually doing that, and sat down lower on his suspension.
"Boo," he said to himself.
He let his binoculars sink. The moment he did that, something crashed into him.
Siren yelped, and so did the something. He immediately spun around to face whatever had hit his side, and found himself staring at a completely dumbfounded light tank. The AMX 13-75 backed up immediately, but Siren pointed his cannon at the other tank, which made him freeze.
Siren slowly rolled forward until they were almost bumping into each other again.
"I bet you're about to report me," he said with a sweet smile, "but you better don't." He then turned to his radio. "Found the night guard!" he let his brothers know cheerfully.
"W-What?" the AMX 13-75 gasped. "Where did you — When —"
"Shhhh. I'm the one asking the questions."
The AMX 13-75 actually fell silent. An easily intimidated tank this one was, it seemed.
«Good job,» Dresden replied sternly. «I'm sure he can tell us a few things about his team.»
Siren paid full attention to the AMX 13-75 again. He didn't have to think much about what to say to the light tank, since he had the necessary routine regarding interrogations.
"We're going to attack your town," he said soberly, "and kill everyone in it."
It was quite hilarious how the AMX 13-75's optics went wide at that. Really, the reactions were always fun. Siren had found that it worked best when he delivered the line in a deadpan voice like he had just done. He went on.
"Of course, we don't want to go in and find something that will ruin our day, you know? So, how about you tell me what your team's up to, and I might let you go."
The AMX 13-75 still didn't say anything. Siren tilted his cannon.
"… You can speak now," he said.
It still took a moment, but finally, the AMX 13-75 replied.
"I'm … not betraying them."
"Are you sure about that?" he asked. His voice grew impatient, which made the AMX 13-75 visibly more nervous. "Whose life do you value more? Theirs … or yours?"
He started smiling again as the light tank slumped and told him everything.
A few minutes later, Siren was alone again; the AMX 13-75 was long out of sight. If he was smart, he wouldn't return anytime soon.
Siren himself had stayed behind, and kept hidden for now. But the prospect of the coming fight, and the knowledge that he'd get a plentiful meal soon had chased away his bad mood about that fact — thoroughly.