The night was dark; clouds were obstructing the view of the stars and the moon. The Pershing they called Sky stood on top one of the hills at the border of the base, her gaze resting on the distant mountains. What was left of her team lay asleep behind her, except for another tank, who was standing by her side.
“Please don’t go,” the Hellcat said. He didn’t look happy; he hadn’t liked the idea from the very start, and Sky was wondering if she should have never told him about it in the first place. Now he was a confidant, and if anyone found out about it, he would be in trouble. He had been trying to discourage her from putting her plan into action the whole evening, and this was his final plea.
“I have to,” Sky replied, shaking her turret.
She couldn’t be convinced to stay. Her brother had went missing during the battle that had happened earlier, and she had to find him. She felt that he was still alive, but had no way of knowing for sure until she went and followed those track marks. Sky didn’t blame him for running; it had seemed like the enemies would overwhelm and kill them with ease. That they had managed to fend them off in the end still seemed like a miracle of sorts, but it had been a miracle that they had paid for dearly. There were only a handful of tanks left of the team and they had more important things to worry about than finding a low tier artillery. They also needed every gun right then, which added another layer of complication to Sky’s intentions. She lowered her gaze as the Hellcat spelt out what her leaving now meant.
“They will see you as a traitor. Even if you find him, you might not be able to come back.”
Sky remained silent for a moment. She felt the Hellcat’s optics rest on her. He was probably hoping that this would change her mind after all, but he was mistaken. Her mind was made up. She blew a determined huff of air through her vents and looked at him.
“I know,” she said. “I’m sorry.”
He frowned at her, and she returned the look with a brave smile for a moment before she turned towards the mountains again and drove off. The Hellcat watched her leave, but didn’t try to stop her any further.
Night had turned into day, the clouds vanished for now, as Sky made her way through a narrow valley. The cliffs were rising up high on both sides. Bushes and rocks lined the path she was following. In the distance, she could hear the brawl of a waterfall, but there was no sight of it yet. On the ground, there were two sets of track marks. Sky knew one of the sets very well — it was her brother’s. She had been following it the whole time. On the way she had run straight into an enemy base, but managed to escape before the majority of the team had noticed. At some point, a second set of marks had joined the first one. Sky didn’t know what exact model they belonged to, but judging by their size it had to be a low tier. It seemed unlikely to her that whoever was making these marks was holding her brother hostage, so he must have found a companion.
Sky had been trying to reach him on the radio for the past hour, feeling like she had to be close, but it seemed like the reception here in the mountains was incredibly bad. She couldn’t get any signal, not even the public radio stations. She kept messing with the frequencies anyway, hoping that she would eventually leave the dead zone. Until then, she’d have to keep following the trails and hope she’d eventually catch up.
The journey had been quiet and peaceful except for the brief encounter with the other team, and Sky was in cheerful spirits. She was sure that she’d find her brother soon enough — in one piece — and then they’d figure out what to do next. She was thinking about their options when she suddenly noticed a particular feeling. It was the distinct feeling of someone being nearby. Some tanks had this sixth sense of sorts, and right now Sky’s was tingling. She quickly drove behind the nearest rock, and hid there. Her gun sights trained on the path, she sat there and waited while the feeling got stronger and stronger. It didn’t take long until she could actually hear a tank approaching. Sky kept her focus on her sights, and seconds later, an oblivious Sturmpanzer II drove right into them. She waited until her aim was dead centre on the other vehicle’s flank before she announced her presence.
“Don’t move,” she growled menacingly.
The Sturmpanzer froze; she halted immediately. Sky rolled out of her cover slowly.
“Why are you following me?” she asked.
Before the SPG could answer, voices could be heard behind her. Sky kept her cannon aimed at her and took a look with her view ports. She saw two moving shapes further down the way she had come from, approaching her and the Sturmpanzer. The voices grew louder, but they were still too far away to make out the words. Sky turned her hull towards the unknown tanks.
“Are these your friends?” she asked the Sturmpanzer. The SPG raised her cannon, presumably taking a look at what was going on behind her. It took a moment until she finally answered.
“I don’t know them,” she said calmly.
“And then you shoot them in the butt!
Noob was gesticulating wildly with his gun as he explained his superior battle tactics to his new friend. Awol was mostly confused and drove along without saying much. He wasn’t really sure if he had any actual use for all of these moves, being artillery and all. But the Leichttraktor was so excited about telling him about them that it was hard to not be endeared. Awol was looking at him the whole time and listened closely. Only as he noticed something from his peripheral field of vision, he averted his optics from the light tank for a moment. He looked around him, feeling like these particular rock formations that surrounded them were awfully familiar. He could have sworn that he had been here before, even though it was his first time travelling through this area.
Suddenly, Noob stopped. Awol noticed and halted as well, blinking as he followed the other tank’s gaze, which was now fixed on something ahead of them. What he saw was terrible. He caught a brief glimpse of two tanks — most likely high tier — further down the valley.
Both of the low tiers screamed in unison and rushed for cover, driving behind a bush. They sat there, parts of them sticking out on each side, with their suspensions quivering.
“We’re dead!” Noob said, his voice hoarse as he was trying to turn a shout into a whisper. He stared at Awol fearfully.
Awol didn't even manage to say anything at all at first. He stared back at the light tank. Eventually he gulped out an almost hopeful, “Do you think they've seen us?”
Sky wasn't completely certain what she had just witnessed. If those were supposed to be assaulters, they had to be the worst assaulters she had ever seen. She relaxed a little, not feeling as worried about their presence anymore. She watched the bush they were trying to fit behind for a moment longer, and could hear them talking to each other, despite their obvious attempts to keep their voices low.
“Hey, you goofs over there! I can hear you!” she shouted eventually, and the two other tanks fell silent at once. It was obvious now that these strangers posed no real threat, and Sky figured that she would go ahead and eliminate whatever little chance of them being even slightly dangerous after all was left … and have a little fun while she was at it. She turned back to the Sturmpanzer, who had turned around in the meantime.
“Play along now,” Sky whispered to the SPG. Then, she shouted again.
“My friend the GW Tiger here is aiming right at you guys right now, so you better don't try anything stupid!”
The Sturmpanzer seemed to feel charmed by the over-dramatisation of her tier and raised her cannon menacingly.
“A GW Tiger!” came a desperate outcry from behind the bush.
“A wha—” followed a blissfully ignorant comment from the other stranger.
“Should I fake a shot?” the Sturmpanzer asked Sky quietly.
“Yes, do it,” Sky responded gleefully.
The Sturmpanzer aimed close to the actual position of the two unknown tanks. The shell impacted somewhere behind the strangers, missing intentionally but not failing its purpose. Two shrieks could be heard.
“See that?” Sky announced. “That was just a warning shot! Next time she won't miss, I can guarantee that! Come out and surrender, now!”
Awol was too scared to even think of returning the fire. He stared at the crater that the other SPG’s shell had left only a couple of meters behind his and Noob’s position.
“We should do what they say …!” he said urgently, turning to look at his new friend. But said new friend was already in the process of doing exactly that. He raised his cannon in defeat and rolled on top of the bush, flattening it in the process. Now both of them were exposed and could only hope they wouldn't be killed. Awol joined the Leichttraktor after a moment of hesitation, raising his cannon as well. They drove towards the strangers slowly.
They didn’t get far until he suddenly realized something. Only one of the two tanks ahead of them was a stranger. He stopped abruptly and his optics grew wide as he recognized the Pershing at the same time as she recognized him. Neither Noob nor the Sturmpanzer knew what was going on as the Pershing and the Wespe suddenly sprinted towards each other, forgetting everything around them for a moment.
“It's you!" Sky shouted as she reached Awol, and gave him a hug. “You’re alive!”
Awol looked down on himself, positively feeling alive.
“Yeah,” he mumbled and returned the hug. He sighed with relief, but immediately felt a pang of conscience as he was reminded of his escape. He backed up and looked at the ground. “I'm so sorry. I ran away.” He knew exactly what the punishment for desertion was. A traitor was considered the enemy and shot on sight. The rules in the world of machines were strict and sometimes cruel, but they were necessary to ensure their discipline and survival. Sometimes exceptions were made, but Awol didn’t expect his team mates to feel that kind of sympathy for him.
“Don’t say that,” Sky growled, “You shouldn’t be sorry, you only did what you had to do to survive!” She went on in a softer tone. “I’d rather be the sister of a traitor than the sister of a dead tank.” Awol was still keeping his optics avoided, and Sky turned around. “Now let’s go home.”
She turned to leave, but Awol didn’t move. As she noticed this, she halted and looked at him again.
“I don’t think they’ll let me go back,” Awol said quietly. His frown grew deeper with a thought. He looked up, looking at Sky with a troubled expression. “Did they let you leave to look for me?” he asked, but doubted it. Sky confirmed his suspicion as she shook her turret. Awol dropped his optics again. “You shouldn’t have done it. Now you’re a traitor too.”
He felt his sister give him a long, scrutinising look. As he finally returned it, she spoke.
“We don’t have to go back. Most of the team is gone, anyway. We might as well form our own.”
“I approve!” Noob chimed in, and Awol nodded with a smile. Sky turned her turret around and looked at the Sturmpanzer, who had been quiet the whole time.
“What about you?” she asked the SPG. “Will you join us? If you don’t, we’ll have to kill ya, you know.”
The Sturmpanzer tilted her cannon thoughtfully.
“I'll join you,” she decided eventually. “But we have no base.”
“We’ll go find one,” Sky said. She turned around again and started driving again, into the direction she had been going originally before the other tanks had appeared. She raised her cannon. “Alright boys and girls, let's get a move on,” she said with vigour.
The other tanks followed her without discussion. Noob drove next to Awol again. For a moment it seemed like the Leichttraktor didn’t know what to say, and Awol feared that he would now ask about the whole traitor thing. But he was surprised.
“Man, your sister can be really scary,” Noob mused.
Awol laughed sheepishly.
“I guess,” he said.
They continued the conversation that had been interrupted by the encounter, but after a while, Sky fell back to the two low tiers and shooed away Noob. He didn’t mind the interruption and saluted cheerfully before he accelerated ahead. As soon as he was gone, Sky spoke.
“So, how come that we are basically still following your tracks while you turned up behind us?” she asked. Awol gave her a blank look. Then, he threw a quick look to Noob.
“We must have gone round in circles,” the SPG replied thoughtfully, then shrugged.