TL: Chapter 17 - Showdown Pt.5

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The GW Panther’s voice filled the radio channel once more.   “Is this what you wanted, Eject?” she asked with rancorous triumph.   Her sights were focused on the motionless T29, her cannon reloading already for the next shot.   “Did you think you’d get away with …”   She trailed off as there was neither a reply, nor any sign of life from him anymore. Her cannon sank. This was … not like what she had imagined.   “… Eject?”   A completely different voice replied a moment later. This one belonged to the T34, and it was full of urgency. His transmission crashed the radio silence in an abrupt and … disruptive way.   «Panther! I’m being shot at!» the T34 wailed.   The GW Panther’s focus remained on Eject for a moment longer, but another, even more urgent «Panther!!» made her tear her sights away and look for her teammate instead.   “You were shot at the whole time!” she snapped, unable to understand what the sudden panic was all about.   «But who’s shooting me?!»   Following an aggressive series of pings, the GW Panther located the T34’s position. She took a strained, but hurried look through her artillery sights. The T34 had backed up into a corner of the central square — not that she could actually see that due to the tall buildings surrounding it, it was just his ping location.   “Where do the shots come from?” the GW Panther asked her teammate.   «North, or some— ACK!»   His message ended with a pained outcry, suggesting that he had been shot again. The GW Panther checked the area north of him, but couldn’t see anyone. All the tanks of Eohelm’s team were still where she had last seen them, as well. Who the hell was shooting the T34, indeed?  

***
  “You can run if you want, but I won't. I'm not a coward.”   The rye fields swayed, rustling softly in the breeze. The two tanks stared at each other, one of them with desperate disbelief.   “Didn’t you hear what he said? They’re going to —”   “It was my last word on the matter.”   The gentle patter of the last rain drops had died down. Eject noticed the absence of them and slowly opened his view ports. A shot somewhere ahead of him made him flinch, immediately calling him back into the events of the morning.   “Eohelm, Eject …” he said into his radio, voice still a bit groggy. Waiting for a reply, he warily threw a glance around. Nothing about his surroundings seemed to have changed. Checking his internal clock told him that only a few minutes could have passed since the artillery had knocked him unconscious. Instead of Eohelm, Fox replied.   «You’re alright, buddy?»   “Yes,” was Eject’s plain answer.   «Honestly, we thought you died on us there,» Rex added.   «No, he did,» Fox disagreed.   Eject raised an optic ridge. Fox went on despite Rex aggressively trying to shush him.   «And I am ten shells richer,» the King Tiger announced triumphantly.   “Incredible …” Eject murmured to himself. He backed up slightly; the movement caused some debris to tumble off his aching turret. He froze for a moment, but there was no more artillery fire directed at him. The GW Panther too must have pronounced him dead. He didn’t intend to draw her attention on himself a second time by notifying her of the contrary.   “What’s with Eohelm?” he asked next. Not replying to a direct message was unusual for the Centurion — just like being this quiet in general during a battle. “He didn’t —?”   «We don’t know,» Rex replied.   «Though twenty shells say —» Fox added, but was interrupted by Sky.   «I told you already that he’s not dead!» she barked.   «You can’t prove it,» Rex said stubbornly.   “Does he need assistance?” Eject threw in.   «I’m on it,» Sky replied.   Somewhat clueless what to do next and not happy with this rather chaotic way of having the circumstances reported to him, Eject decided to clear up the situation properly.   “Who needs to be killed still?”   If anyone was taken aback by his direct choice of words, it didn’t show.   «T34 is running, presumably,» Rex informed him. «We’re taking care of Challenger.»  We is you and Fox, I assume?” Eject asked to clarify.   «Correct,» Fox replied.   «I’ve got that T-150 in my reticle,» Sky said.   «But Panther and Panzer are still up there,» Fox completed the report.   Eject didn’t have any further questions. He set himself into motion. His tracks carried him down the street, back the way he had come from. He knew where to go; he knew what to do.   “Understood,” he rumbled.  
***
  Despite the arguably grim situation, Rex found that he was enjoying himself. He retreated a little after baiting a shot from the Challenger. Using rubble from a collapsed wall as cover, he hid his hull; when it was time to poke out, he rolled out just far enough to be able to line up his cannon with the target in a menacing manner. Angling his armour perfectly was absolutely required during this stunt. With the rear-mounted turret, it was a little tricky — but luckily, Rex was good at this.   His target in this case was not the Challenger herself, but the building corner she had retreated behind. She had managed to manoeuvre herself into a dead-end street — somehow — where Rex and Fox had easily brought her to bay. In an obviously desperate attempt to keep them away, she was shooting at anything that moved. Through the narrow gap in the corner that she was using, it was practically impossible to shoot back at her, but the heavies had other plans anyway. Those plans could have involved simply shooting the corner until it was torn down. They didn’t, because they had thought of something more economic.   “How many shells does she have left, you think?” Rex asked. He was addressing Fox, but instead of doing so via their private radio channels, he spoke loud enough that the Challenger without doubt could hear him.   Fox had taken a position at the opposite side of the street. Immediately after the Challenger’s shots, Fox kept creeping closer. Their panicking enemy probably had noticed already that neither Rex nor Fox had fired a single shot in a while; but Fox’ slow but sure advance kept her fully aware that her situation was growing urgent fast, nevertheless.   “Can’t be many,” Fox mused in reply.   The Challenger chimed in with a shriek.  Shut up!!  “Yep, sounds like it,” Rex concluded.   A shell burst from the Challenger’s hiding place. There may have been an attempt at proper aiming; there may not have been. The shell simply ricocheted off Fox’ turret cheek. Like the times before, the King Tiger now advanced further. A yelp from the Challenger already gave away the content of the message that Rex received a moment later.  She’s in plain sight,” Fox said nonverbally.   Rex watched the other heavy aim his cannon at a point behind the corner. Frankly, he had expected that their traitor teammate would run out of ammo before Fox would actually reach her. This meant a change in plans that Rex realized he wasn’t okay with.   “No, wait!!” he shouted.   Fox really didn’t shoot.   «What is it?» he asked via radio.   “You can’t just kill her!” Rex protested out loud.   «… Why not?»   Instead of answering right away, Rex hurried to kick his engine into gear and rolled towards the other two tanks.   “She’s my kill!” he then explained, but only as he had already closed half of the distance to Fox.   “Wha… What?” Fox asked. He was still holding his fire, and so was the Challenger, apparently — whether she was too baffled to shoot, thought it was pointless, or really was out of ammo mattered little to the heavies right then. Fox shook his turret with disbelief. “You have no claim whatsoever on her!” he said.   “I saw her first,” Rex replied confidently. He reached Fox’ side, which now enabled him as well to see the Challenger. She was staring back at her teammates, backed up into the end of the street. Her trembling cannon wasn’t pointed at anyone in particular, but two large calibre cannons were aimed straight at her in return.   “That’s …” Fox began to say, but trailed off. “You had your chance with the T34.”   Rex knew that his friend was about to fire despite his protests — and there was only one way to stop him from doing that. That way wasn’t verbal arguments. Before Fox could pull the trigger, Rex swiftly shoved the King Tiger’s cannon aside with his own. Fox made a scandalised comment, which however was made unintelligible by the noise of him shooting at the air.   But instead of getting a chance to shoot the Challenger in Fox’ stead, Rex was paid back in kind. Fox bumped into him and pushed back at the VK’s striped cannon, Rex tried to back up to escape this, Fox pursued, Rex accidentally fired at a nearby building, then barked an angry “Stop that nonsense!” as he shoved Fox’ cannon again — but this time purely out of revenge, and this game went on for long enough that the Challenger took the chance to suddenly dash past the bickering heavies.   They both flinched and tried to turn around, but only ended up pushing at each other’s hull while their cannons collided noisily when they met in the middle.   “Watch it!” Rex barked.  You watch it!” Fox replied.   A moment later, they moved backwards and to the side simultaneously. The Challenger was departing fast, though still in sight. The heavies were once again able to point their cannons at her — their line of fire was still clear.   Rex frantically tried to reload faster; Fox took careful aim.   The roar of two cannons met the crash of bursting metal as two shells hit the Challenger’s backside. They tore through the armour and interior, exited again in the front. Clattering to the ground, they landed among the shreds of metal they had taken with them. Rex and Fox watched as the gutted hull slowly coasted to a halt. Fox informed the others of the Challenger’s death, while Rex squinted at her wreck with a frown.   “So does that count as —” he wondered.   “— a half kill, I’d say,” Fox finished the sentence with a sage nod.   Rex turned towards him with a shocked expression.   “What?! Half kills aren’t even a thing!” he shouted.   “You just say that because they don’t look good on your cannon,” Fox teased.   “But —!” Rex went on in a lamenting tone. “You’re telling me in our most important battle in ages I don’t get a single … full kill?!”   “Mh-hm.”   “Oh, yikes!” Rex cried. He immediately started driving off in a hurry.   Fox followed without hesitation; he probably suspected that his friend was up to something reckless.   “Wait!” he shouted after the VK.   Almost at the same time, a shot fell somewhere ahead of them. Rex’ cannon perked up and he stopped. Fox caught up to him, rolled to his side, where he also stopped. They looked at each other.   “Someone’s over there?” Rex said.   Fox frowned.   “No one should be over there,” he replied. He turned to his radio. “Team, Fox. Is anyone going after T34 right now?”   Sky and Eject negated. Rex blinked.   “What do we do?” he asked.   Fox hummed pensively.   “Let’s go take a look.”   Rex started hurrying off again, prompting Fox to correct himself to, “A cautious look!”  
***
  After barely evading the shot and passing the wagon, Eohelm realized that if he'd run to the end of this train now, the T-150 was most likely going to turn around. The heavy wasn't too simple-minded to figure out that Eohelm would show up on the other end, and that he would be able to shoot the Centurion if he simply switched direction. Maybe he had already done that.   Eohelm knew for sure that this wasn't desired in this situation. He hit the brakes. If Sky was still trying to hit the T-150 in the back — and Eohelm sincerely hoped that she was sticking to this plan — having him turn around would do no good. He looked back at the way he came from, and decided to return to the damaged wagon.   Turning around, he hurried back to that spot, then cautiously peeked through the hole. The field of view was tiny, and the T-150 was no longer there; it only took a few moments however until he appeared once again, after all.   For a very brief moment, the two tanks stared at each other. Then, a mighty crash of a nearby cannon made them flinch. The T-150 screamed. Eohelm saw flames burst from the other tank's engine deck. The heavy's optics grew wide for a second or two — immediately before a flash of fire detonated from his turret ring, and the whole turret was sent flying.   A cascade of sparks and flames gushed from the remaining hull; some of it even reached Eohelm, who retreated quickly. He turned around and threw a look down the rails, spotted Sky. She was still at least a hundred meters away, but approaching steadily. As she spotted Eohelm in return, she drove directly towards him. The Centurion turned fully and went to meet her.   As they reached each other, Eohelm gestured at Sky to follow him behind one of the trains.   “I’m assuming the Panther is still watching,” Eohelm said with a nod into the direction of the hill.   “She hasn’t been attacking any of us for a while now, no clue why. But Eject’s off to get her, in any case,” Sky replied. She looked the other tank up and down. “You alright?”   “Mostly,” Eohelm said. “My radio took a hit.”   Sky nodded.   “We figured.”   “What did I miss?” Eohelm asked, but then the previous information fully sunk in. “Eject is ...?” He set himself into motion immediately. “You know what, tell me the details on the way,” he went on in a hurried tone.   “Where are you going?” Sky asked, but was already following.   “Eject is an excellent fighter,” Eohelm said over his fender, “but that is not a battle he should fight alone.”   Sky's confusion was obvious, but she seemed content with not sticking her turret into that can of worms. Instead, she quickly summarised what else Eohelm had missed, and informed the others that he was fine.  
***
  The Challenger’s panicked cries for help had ceased. The T-150’s last transmission had been a death scream. The Indien-Panzer no longer responded. The GW Panther’s hull was trembling as she stared at the central square, where her last remaining ally — the T34 — was cowering from an unknown attacker.   “You worthless morons!” she whined into her radio, using her team's channel despite its almost complete loss of population. “How did we ever win a single battle with you incompetent lot! Completely useless!  She fired a frustrated, hasty shot at one of the streets as she thought she saw something move there, but the shell hit a building.   Before she could release another tirade, she suddenly heard a chuckle somewhere to her right. Flinching, she immediately switched to her regular optics and turned her turret to face the source of the noise.   Only a few meters from her, a small tank destroyer suddenly stood. The brightly striped E-25’s cannon was tilted, but pointed at her. The GW Panther gaped at him.   “Mutiny not going so well for ya, eh?” the E-25 asked. With another chuckle, he added, “Your traitor buddies really did fight like a pack of muppets.”   The GW Panther only kept staring, unable to understand how or when he had gotten here without her noticing … or why he seemed to know what was going on in the town.   “Who are you?” she asked, the tremble of her body seeping into her voice as well.   Yet another chuckle from the E-25 followed, but this one quickly turned into full-fledged laughter.   “You think I’m gonna have a chat until you’ve reloaded your gun?” the TD wheezed. “Oh, but I know you’re not that silly. So …”   The GW Panther didn’t think twice. She turned around and fled, engine howling. Behind her, the E-25’s jarring laughter remained stationary.   “That’s right!!” he yelled after her. “Run, arty! RUN!!


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