TL: Chapter 9 - Conflict

As soon as the sun rose, the tanks got up. It was an ordinary morning; for many, the first destination was the fuel depot to grab breakfast. The Challenger and Nordic had followed this routine, then wandered off into the lanes to talk about this and that.   “Didn’t think he’d blow his ammo rack —” the Challenger said, but trailed off as someone started yelling somewhere behind them.  You take that back!  That sounded a lot like their team’s T34. The two tank destroyers turned their turrets around in confusion. They heard hurried laughter, followed by the T34’s furious “You little —  The Challenger took a sip from her fuel can.   “Hm.”  

***
 

Stop running!  Four tanks turned around to look at the source of distant yelling. Noob, Sky, Awol, and Arty looked at one of the lanes leading out of the garage spaces, equally confused and clueless about the early-morning commotion. Only Eject — whose garage they were gathered around — didn’t pay any attention to it. He didn’t turn around; not that it would have been possible with his front half being inside the garage.   Only a moment later, someone — a Jackson — appeared from one of the lanes. He raced across the square, past the other tanks, and disappeared into another lane.   “Oh, just you wait when I catch you!” the approaching voice yelled.   Arty frowned after the Jackson, then looked at Eject.   "He's … not serious, right?" Awol asked no one in particular, throwing worried looks at the assembled little crowd.   The T29 closed the door of his garage, seemingly not bothered by the spectacle.   "He won't harm him," he said matter-of-factly. "But I wouldn't be surprised if Axis will wake up tomorrow to find some of his stuff missing."   "What? That's … petty," Sky said, blinking with disbelief.   Eject lingered for a moment, as if that made him think.   "I guess it is," he rumbled.   Another tank appeared on the garage square; Eohelm was driving with his turret traversed backwards. The T34 came into view a moment later, his cannon lowered grimly as he hurried across the square.   "You know how he is," Eohelm told the T34. "No one here really thinks that you like her."   "I'd rather eat my own shells than —" the T34 ranted.   "I know, I know. I understand that you are upset, I would be too. But you and I are both reasonable tanks, yes? We can resolve this quarrel in a reasonable way," Eohelm interrupted gently.   The two tanks drove past. Before they had crossed the square, something appeared in the corner of Arty's field of view. As she turned to look at it, she saw that the Jackson had returned. He waved his cannon at his pursuers, shouting at them with a mischievous voice.   "She loves bossing people around, doesn't she? Isn't that your thing?"   Arty gaped, baffled at the boldness. Sure, he didn't have to fear for his health, but — keeping in mind what Eject had said — aggravating the heavy even further couldn't be beneficial for himself in any way. The T34 swerved out from behind Eohelm to glare at his TD teammate while yelling back.   "Shut! The! Fuck! Up!"   Eohelm turned his turret around halfway and tried to get in front of the T34 again.   "Axis, please!" the Centurion shouted at the Jackson.   Before the TD replied, Eject raised his voice, addressing Eohelm.   "Shouldn't you be on guard duty?" the T29 asked.   Eohelm suddenly halted, causing the T34 to bump into him.   "Indeed …," Eohelm replied. He tilted his cannon. "He's getting impatient already, isn't he?"   "So to speak," Eject said.   The medium tank looked at the opposing teammates, then shrugged and drove off hastily. The T34 remained where he was, looking strangely unsure what to do next. Axis gave him a verbal nudge.   "I bet he'll be devastated when you snag her!" he goaded on.   The T34 obviously remembered what he had been doing in the first place, and charged at his teammate again. Said teammate laughed at him before quickly turning around and fleeing again.   Arty had lost the thread by now. She didn't know the Falkendorf Team well enough to understand who they were even talking about. Then again, it didn't seem important enough to her to ask and have the whole situation explained to her. She turned towards the lane that the other tanks had come from when she heard a new voice speaking from that direction.   "You do realize that he's only keeping it up because you're taking the bait, right?" Fox shouted at the T34. He rolled out from behind a building, with Rex by his side.   The T34 halted and stared at the other heavies.   "What?" he grumbled.   "What are you gonna do once you catch him?" Rex asked.   "I'm gonna …! Uh …" The T34 lowered his cannon with a pensive frown.   Rex snorted with annoyance.   "You're making a fool of yourself!" the VK said.   "But he's wrong …!" the T34 whined, gesticulating at the lane where Axis had disappeared.   Rex and Fox looked at each other for a moment; then, Fox set himself into motion, driving towards Eject and the Tanking League. Rex followed him within a short distance.   "Do what you have to, buddy!" Fox said with a shake of his turret.   The T34 huffed and glared at the two German heavies for a couple of seconds before he turned back around and went back to chasing the Jackson.   Fox watched him leave.   "Who's that guy anyway?" he asked eventually.   "He's new," Eject explained. "All bark and no bite, contributes nothing worthwhile to the team. He claims he acquired his body but I've seen him fight and I'm not buying it."   Fox made a thoughtful "Hm" but then changed the topic. "So, are you ready?" he asked, looking at the Tanking League in particular.   Sky and her team mates nodded dutifully.   The seven tanks started making their way out of the town to the fields outside it. Just as they left the outskirts, an AMX 13-75 dashed past them. He was on the way into the town and didn't even pay any attention to the others, instead agitatedly talking to himself in what sounded like French.   Noob's turret turned as he looked after the light tank.   "Who was that?" he asked.   "It's one of our guys. Eohelm relieved him from guard duty," Fox replied.   "Why is he in a hurry?" Noob asked on. His voice sounded concerned - a hurrying guard usually wasn't a good sign. However, Rex quickly dissipated the worry.   "He's just upset," he said casually, but didn't elaborate further.   'What a strange team,' Arty thought. She directed her optics at the fields ahead, her thoughts drifting around the subject of the Falkendorf Team until they arrived at the previous night. After sleeping on it, the whole near-fiasco felt even more imprudent. The Sturmpanzer blew a troubled sigh through her vents.   Sky had been the opposite of amused after the revelation about her new teammate's recent past; a stern talk had followed the moment the gathering of tanks had dissolved.   "Anything else you didn't tell me? Anything else you did lately that you fucking forgot to mention?" Sky asked. Arty's guilty look didn't do anything to calm the Pershing down. "Actually, I think I don't even want to know …!"   "It's the worst of the things, I promise," Arty tried to placate her leader, although she realized a moment later that it was a poorly chosen defence.   Sky shook her turret with an angry frown.   "You can't just - This is not a thing you casually drop in goddamn parentheses! Teamkill is not small talk …!"   "I just figured-" Arty began to say, but Sky already groused on.   "Hi, I'm Arty! I enjoy a can of warm fuel after a hard battle, the occasional long drive through downtown, and murdering a teammate every now and then."   "That's not how I said it ..." Arty protested feebly.   "You can consider yourself lucky they didn't throw you out right away - and the rest of us while they're at it. Really lucky."   "I'm sorry," Arty capitulated.   Sky looked only slightly less upset, but at least her voice grew a little more diplomatic.   "Why didn't you talk about it to me first before you tell everyone something like that? I could have told you what a fucking awful idea that was," she said with a weary sigh.   "Well," Arty replied, her looks shifting. "It was … pretty stupid of me, I'll admit that …" She scratched her glacis, speaking on a little faster eventually - under Sky's scrutinising gaze.   "I mean, I guess I thought my chances of someone keeping me would be greater if there's a bigger audience, like … Uh … Lob a bunch of shells and one's bound to hit …? You know …?"   Sky stared at her blankly.   "No, I don't know," she said.   With an awkward shrug, Arty went on.   "I don't think I would've been able to keep it a secret forever," she explained. "Anyway ... Can we, uh, forget about it? I mean, nothing bad happened, right …?"   Sky's frown deepened for a moment, giving off the impression that she was trying to make up her mind. After a tense couple of seconds however, she rolled closer to Arty, staring her down.   "I will not forget about it. No one will," the Pershing said. "But I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt for now."   Sky turned away. Arty breathed a sigh of relief, but ducked as the other tank looked at her again and went on.   "I barely know you, but so far you seemed decent. Being part of my team means that I can rely on you - and trust you. Which I do right now. Don't make me change my mind, alright?"   Arty quickly nodded.   In hindsight, the talk had gone reasonably well, Arty realized as she recalled it. And their hosts had taken the situation well, also. Like Sky had said - Arty was lucky. She just would have preferred if it was brains that saved her more often, not always luck.   She took a deep breath, then halted as the Falkendorf tanks indicated that they had reached their destination.   They formed a circle, with Eject driving forward to speak.   "Load your training ammo. We'll do multiple rounds, a tank counts as 'destroyed' once it takes a certain number of hits, the number is decided by how tough the tank is," he said.   He went on to assign "hit points" to every tank. As Arty had expected, a single shell was going to "kill" her, while Eject, Rex, and Fox were allowed to take three each. Everyone was responsible themselves for counting the hits they took.   "We'll just keep the teams as they are," Eject went on. Sky's expression turned somewhat sour.   "How are we going to win that?" she asked critically with a sweeping gesture towards her teammates. "Three heavies against a medium with a low tier light and SPGs is hardly fair."   "For all intents and purposes, our tiers are even right now, you just have to hit the others. Armour and penetration is irrelevant in this scenario," Eject replied.   Sky was still frowning, not completely convinced. She took a pensive look at her team. Arty suspected that she wasn't confident about the skill of the low tiers — if it would be enough to compensate for their lower health pool. Arty couldn't blame her; if anything, Awol was probably the most skilled of the three low tiers due to (presumably) being part of a higher tier team previously. Whether it would suffice was hard to say. Arty … didn't rate herself very high on the skill scale. She doubted that she was going to do well enough, but put up a neutral expression and didn't voice her concerns. After all, it wasn't a serious fight anyway.   "Let's do this," Sky eventually said. Her voice wasn't optimistic, but determined nevertheless.   Eject nodded and explained where everyone would take positions among the rolling hills, which they did. As soon as everyone had signalled that they were ready, the training battle begun.

 
***
 

“Who do they think they are?” the GW Panther snarled.   She was pacing to and fro. As she reached the end of the little square yet again, her hull swung around another time. She didn’t seem to notice that she almost ran over the AMX 13-75 in her blind spot in the process. Not even his little yelp as he quickly got out of the way caught her attention.   “They disappear for months, then come back and think they make the decisions!”   The nearby M40 wasn’t participating in the — therefore — one-sided discussion. He wasn’t even looking into the other SPG’s direction, instead seemingly checking something through his artillery sights. It looked more like he was just coincidentally in the same place. The GW Panther however didn’t seem to be bothered by holding a monologue.   “And Eject? I bet he was just waiting for a chance to play leader!”   Her expression grew even darker for a moment.   “Telling me to shut up …” she growled. “I’m right!”   She spun around, now apparently acknowledging the AMX 13-75’s presence after all.   “I’m right, am I not?” she asked him in a tone that expected agreement.   The AMX 13-75 hastily nodded his cannon. But before he could actually say something, the GW Panther already went on.   “We’re giving away our hard-earned fuel for free … to strangers! It’s a farce. If we told any other team about this, they’d ask us if we’ve lost our minds. And if I point it out, they call me ‘ridiculous’?! Don’t they see that we’re hurting ourselves?”   She halted and fell silent as a bored voice suddenly spoke. Her turret turned towards the M40, who still wasn’t looking at her.   “What’s with that righteous talk?” he asked. “Just say it like it is. Your pride is the only thing that’s hurt.”   The GW Panther shot a venomous glare at him.   “So? What if it is?” she hissed.   “Get over it,” the M40 replied calmly. “Why are you throwing a tantrum about this? You’re acting like it’s the first time they disagreed with you.”   “That’s the thing, though! What if I’m fed up?” the GW Panther said. “What if it was the last straw?”   She started pacing again and talked herself into another rant.   “I wanted nothing but the best for this team! I do everything I can to help, but they never listen. You and me, we’re nothing but guns on tracks for them. Every time I tell them what I think, it’s dismissed!” She looked at the M40 as she passed him again. Her voice grew bitter. “Is it wrong if I want treatment worthy of my intellect and capability? Is it a crime if I demand to be taken seriously for once?”   The M40 didn’t reply. The GW Panther went on.   “We’re destined for better things! When was the last time this team did anything else than sit in this damn town? When did we start pretending it’s going to get us anywhere? We could be so much more powerful. We could be something grand. But instead, we’re rotting here, letting some lousy heavy tanks tell us what to do!”   The AMX 13-75 had been trying to get her attention by raising his cannon and saying something, but she simply spoke over two of his attempts before she finally noticed.   “What?” she asked him impatiently, halting and looking at him.   The light tank dropped his gaze to the ground and shuffled about on his tracks, sounding sheepish as he replied.   “You can change that,” he said with a little smile. “You could start a revolt, and make them listen.”   The GW Panther frowned at him.   “A revolt?” she asked, sounding highly skeptical. She averted her optics, giving off the impression of thinking hard. “A revolt, yes …” she murmured. Her cannon shot up and a radiant smile took over her features. “We can get them kicked …!”   “Careful with such statements,” the M40 said, remarkably unfazed at the proposal of blatant mutiny. His cannon had stopped moving. “You don’t know who might be listening.”   The smile disappeared from the GW Panther’s features immediately. She looked at the M40 with confusion, but then hastily raised her cannon. It darted about for a moment; then she lowered it again, turned around, and was suddenly gazing down a certain street.   Nordic froze. Hidden in the shadows of the urban canyons, he had been secretly observing the whole conversation. Wandering past after breakfast, he had noticed the GW Panther’s voice. When the meeting on the hill had been concluded the day before, he had noticed her storm off, and gotten the feeling she was up to no good. With the opportunity presenting itself, finding out if there was more to it had seemed like a good idea; at least up until this point. Now, the GW Panther was looking directly at him, leaving no doubt that he had been discovered.   “Come out,” she said coldly.   Nordic’s mind started racing as he tried to think of a way to wriggle out of the situation that he was about to face. Just turning around and running was no option, because she had surely recognised him. He slowly started rolling towards the square. The GW Panther kept staring at him with a grim frown. Returning the look with what he hoped was a neutral expression, Nordic halted once he eventually had driven out into the square.   “Why am I not surprised it’s you?” the GW Panther said.   “He’s spying on people again!” the AMX 13-75 said with a glare into Nordic’s direction.   “Me? I was merely passing by,” Nordic said with a charming smile.   Unfortunately, that didn’t fool anyone. The GW Panther rolled closer to him, looking down on him with the same expression he imagined one would wear when they were about to make the body disappear.   “How much did you hear?” she asked.   “Everything,” Nordic admitted, but had a sudden idea how to save his neck. “And I fully agree!” he went on.   The GW Panther tilted her cannon.   “Do you now?” she asked warily.   “You are valuable members of this team, but there are certain tanks who just won’t acknowledge it,” Nordic replied, amazed at his ability to improvise. “You have been mistreated by them, and wronged, many times for just speaking your mind. I understand your anger. I share your views, and I have no doubts that others do too.”  I have,” the M40 threw in, turning towards the GW Panther. “How will you lead a revolt? No one’s going to follow you.”   “Why not?” the GW Panther snapped.   “Because you’re both wrong,” the M40 replied matter-of-factly. “There’s no great injustice, no silent majority of supporters. Contrary to what you’re telling yourself, no one likes you.”   His fellow SPG looked like she was about to jump down his throat for a moment. The AMX 13-75 lunged forward.   “Don’t you dare talking to her like tha—”   The GW Panther waved her cannon at the light tank dismissively, which made him fall silent and look at her inquiringly; she had started smiling ominously.   “There’s an easy way to find out,” she said.   She turned to Nordic again.   “You!” she barked, making him flinch. She went on in a less aggressive tone. “You have a way with words. You’ll go and talk to the others. Find out if they’re on our side, and if they are, convince them to join me.”   Nordic felt a shiver run through his hull. He had only wanted to make her think he supported her plan, not actively take part in it!   “What will I tell them?” he asked hesitantly.   “The T29 and his ilk, they’re traitors,” the GW Panther said.   “… What?” Nordic asked, severely caught off guard by her absurd conclusion. He didn’t know how she expected him to make the others believe that.   “Intentionally harming your team is treason,” she explained. “That’s what they’re doing. Therefore, they are traitors, and we should treat them as such.” Her expression grew dark, but in a sinister way. “Them, and the little pests they brought with them …”   “Treat them as such …?” Nordic asked hurriedly. Excluding them from the team was one thing, but what she was suggesting now exceeded that by far. “But didn’t you say we’d kick them? Traitors are —”   “— killed,” the GW Panther purred.   Nordic stared at her. He was baffled by her drastic response to — what, injured ego? A murderous scheme — the vindication personal offence, under the guise of public anger? She wanted to kill Eject and his friends because they weren’t being nice to her? That had to be the worst case of a head for an eye he’d ever seen.   “Don’t you think …” he said slowly, suddenly feeling like he was tiptoeing around a minefield, “… that we’re blowing things a little out of proportion?”   His optics darted to the other present tanks. The AMX 13-75 just looked enthralled. The M40 on the other hand was showing an expression for once — a frown.   “Alright. I’m out,” the M40 said.   The GW Panther’s cannon jerked around as she looked at him abruptly.   “You condone what they do?” she hissed, flicking her collar. Her voice grew hurt. “How they think of us? How they treat us?”   “How they think of you. How they treat you,” the M40 said. “It’s not because you’re an SPG, it’s because you’re an asshole.”   There was a brief silence as the GW Panther gaped at him, obviously at a loss for words. The M40 went on coolly.   “Go ahead. Blame them for the problems of your own making. Take from them what you pretend you earned. Give them what you claim they deserve.”   He shook his cannon and turned to leave.   “Do whatever you think will soothe you. I don’t care. But don’t call it justice.”   The GW Panther still didn’t say anything as she watched him drive off. The optics of the remaining tanks were resting on her. Several seconds passed before her fury finally returned.   “I’ll call it however I please!” she shouted after the other SPG. He ignored it and didn’t turn back.   “He’s gonna tell them …!” the AMX 13-75 said anxiously.   “I don’t think he will,” Nordic disagreed. His team mates turned towards him. He went on with a tense shrug. “We would already be surrounded if that was his intention,” he said.   The GW Panther nodded thoughtfully. It was not a secret that for the M40, the Falkendorf Team had died long ago. It didn’t take someone as observant as Nordic to know that. She looked at the ground for a moment, but then turned to Nordic again.   “He doesn’t know what he’s saying,” she said in a firm voice. “He doesn’t have respect for himself. But I do. I want this revolt to happen, sooner rather than later.”   “What about tomorrow?” the AMX 13-75 suggested with excitement. “We can attack in the morning! They’ll be sleeping. They’ll never see it coming!”   “That’s a very short timeframe,” Nordic protested cautiously. “I don’t know if I can —”   “You have a whole day, how much more time do you need?” the GW Panther cut him off harshly.   Nordic looked at her silently as he tried to come up with excuses why waiting would be a better option, but then again, wouldn’t he only be postponing the inevitable? Maybe it was better to have the GW Panther go through with her poor excuse of a plan before she could come up with something more cunning — something that would be harder to prevent. Nordic realized that he was being given a chance right there. If he went and gathered the GW Panther’s supporters, he would be able to warn the others. He would know exactly who was on their side and who wasn’t, and he trusted someone like Eohelm to be able to come up with a counter-plan that would allow them to get out of this alive somehow.   “I will try my best,” he said.   “Good!” the GW Panther replied. “Come back to me when you’re done.”   Nordic took a slow bow and turned around to drive off.   “So be it,” he quietly said to himself.

 
***
 

The training had gone on for a while before Eject had decided that it was time for a break.   While the sun was shining down on her plating, Arty was watching him and Sky drive past. They were talking about strategy things, reviewing the training battles.   The T29 had been practically impossible to hit for the SPGs - which was puzzling to Arty. Logically speaking, a cumbersome, big heavy tank should have been an easy target. Rex and Fox had been hit a couple of times; but Eject seemed to know just exactly where to position himself and when to deny the SPGs a good firing angle, or how to time his movements to throw off their aiming calculations. Both Arty and Awol had wasted a considerable amount of shells on missing him. Between the battles, he had also given the SPGs some insightful advice.   Arty hadn't questioned his authority on these matters, but now started wondering after all why he was so much more educated on them than his teammates seemed to be. Her curiosity was sparked.   She looked to her right, where Rex and Fox were sitting a little way off. They didn't seem busy, so she drove over to them. Rex looked at her as he noticed her reaching them, but didn't say anything. Arty casually parked herself next to him.   "Eject is … really knowledgeable," she said after a few moments of pensive silence.   Rex had still been looking at her, but now turned towards Fox.   "I don't know, is he?" he asked the King Tiger in a casual tone.   Arty had to roll forward a bit to catch a glimpse of Fox, who was mostly hidden by Rex standing between himself and Arty.   "Maybe so," Fox replied in the same tone.   Confused by what she was supposed to take away from that reply, Arty just frowned at the two heavy tanks. They looked back at her with deadpan expressions, until Rex suddenly started chuckling. Arty blinked, getting the distinct feeling that she was being made fun of somehow.   "Why do you think that?" Rex asked.   "I mean, about artillery," Arty clarified. She noticed how Rex became more serious at once; he hesitated instead of saying anything. Fox' expression also turned serious. The King Tiger looked at Arty for a moment before replying as Rex remained silent.   "So?"   Perhaps these two weren't the right tanks to ask about the topic. Either they were still fooling around, or there was something secret to Eject's know-how that they didn't want to say out loud.   "Ehr … Never mind," Arty resigned. She was about to make a hasty exit, but then noticed that Eject and Sky had turned around and were purposefully approaching her and the heavies. As they reached them, Arty also spotted Awol and Noob, who had been driving behind them, not immediately noticeable behind the bigger silhouettes of the tanks they had been following.   Sky's expression matched Eject's in terms of grave seriousness. Arty was afraid to ask what had happened, but Sky got straight to the point anyway.   "We're leaving, right now."   Arty had expected a soonish departure, but the tense urgency in the Pershing's voice suggested an incident of some sort. As Arty just looked at her inquiringly, waiting for an explanation, Sky started waving her cannon impatiently.   "Pronto!" she said.   Throwing a quick look at Rex and Fox - whose expressions were alarmed - Arty saluted them as a farewell before she set herself into motion to follow Sky, who had started driving off already. The Pershing was setting a brisk pace; Arty hurried to keep up. She caught up to Awol.   "What's going on?" she asked the other SPG.   "I don't know," Awol replied. "She won't say!"   Arty frowned anxiously. She looked behind her through her artillery sights, half expecting to see pursuers, but there were only Eject, Rex, and Fox, still standing together right where the Tanking League had left them behind. There weren't any signs of an attack by a hostile team either.   "And where are we going?" Arty asked on.   "Away," Awol said.   That also didn't sound reassuring. Arty gave up on learning anything at all about their circumstances and switched back to her normal sights. The four of them were heading towards the edge of a wood. As they had reached it several minutes later, Sky finally slowed down. Her turret traversed from side to side as she was looking for something. She seemed to have found said something soon after.   An overhang at the side of a small hill revealed itself to Arty's optics as she looked past Sky, who had halted. The Pershing turned around to the low tiers.   "Stay here," she told them sternly.   Noob started saying something, but Sky immediately interrupted him.   "No discussions."   She turned to leave into the direction they had come from.   "I'll be back soon."   "What??" Awol gasped. "Are you … going back?"   Sky looked back at him, but didn't slow down.   "I said, no discussions," she replied.   Arty watched Awol wobble on his suspension. He looked at the other low tiers, and seemed like he was about to ignore Sky's command to follow her anyway. Noob drove in front of him.   "She's the leader," he said firmly. "We have to do what she says."   Awol gazed past the Leichttraktor, but then slumped in defeat.

 
***
 

A blitz in the dead of night. A whole team extinguished.   Jagd had fallen.   The town's streets were empty and quiet now. Everything valuable had been taken. Only wrecks were left to tell the tale of the raid — the ones responsible for the slaughter were long gone.   But these wrecks were of great interest for the scavengers that had appeared soon after; drawn in by the sound of a battle, they had cautiously approached the town. As soon as it had been clear that there were no survivors, the caution had been dropped. They scuttled about, looking for the treasures that the attackers could have missed.   One of them was checking one of the side streets — hoping to find something the other scavengers hadn’t yet. She noticed a wreck at the end of the street, approached it, and halted in front of it. She peered at the destroyed tank. She gave it a poke with her claws. A voice spoke up behind her.   “Must’ve been a couple of days ago.”   The scavenger didn’t turn around. She reached inside one of the wreck’s hatches.   “Mh-hm,” she replied as she rummaged through the interior. The other tank rolled up behind her.   “You … think it was them?” he asked.   “Taking on a whole team …” the scavenger said pensively, “Winning … Ain’t something many could do.”   She lifted something out of the hatch; it turned out to be a radio. Looking at it for a moment, she went on.   “And who else leaves behind the dead? In one piece?” she asked.   “But this far south?”   The scavenger lingered for a moment. She looked back at her fellow.   “The hunters are the hunted, sometimes,” she said, and tossed the radio aside.

 
***
 

Tate, Fang, and Siren — these names were known among the teams of the northern parts, their skill and reputation feared there.   But further south, no one had heard of them … yet.   Two of the three TDs were rolling around at a moderate pace, following train tracks through an increasingly hilly landscape. One of them was a Ferdinand whose three-tone camo had seen much better years.  Two days since the last raid,’ he thought.   He looked ahead, where he caught a glimpse of flashy colours somewhere in the distance, beneath the dark sky. The third TD was scouting ahead, not worried about being seen or heard.   “I thought I was gonna drown in my own hull!” the grey Jagdpanther by the Ferdinand’s side complained. As he went ignored, his tone got impatient. “Hey?? Tate? Are you listening?”   The Ferdinand looked at Fang.   “It's sunny now,” Tate pointed out with a shrug.   “Yeah?" Fang said. "And how long is it going to stay sunny this time? What about those?”   He waved his cannon at the horizon. Tate hummed pensively.   “I have other things to worry about,” he said. In this unfamiliar territory, he didn’t know where to go next. He could only rely on Siren — the last tank anyone should rely on when it came to anything but killing. The little E-25 claimed to know his way around here, claimed he had been in these parts before. But just going to wherever he … suspected teams hadn’t worked well for them, so far.   “What if it rains,” Fang went on stubbornly, “and we get stuck in the mud? Is that not something to worry about?”   “… you have a point,” Tate replied after a moment of silent contemplation. He halted, causing Fang to halt as well. He turned to his radio.   "Siren, find us a road."   «Gotcha!» came the enthusiastic reply.

 
***
 

A short time later, the three TDs were standing on top of a paved road. Tate's gaze wandered from one side to the other. To his left, it crossed the train tracks and seemed to go on forever. To his right, it ran into the direction of the brewing storm.   "Where does it lead?" he asked Siren. The E-25 was studying one of the maps that they had acquired from one of the teams in their path. He didn't respond immediately, instead tilted his cannon from side to side.   "Hmm," he hummed eventually. "Not sure."   Fang gave an exasperated sigh.   "What do you mean, 'not sure'?" he growled. He rolled over to Siren and took a look at the map as well.   "What the hell?!" the Jagdpanther shouted after a few moments.   Tate turned towards them and tried to catch a glimpse as well. Fang snatched the map from Siren - who protested, of course - and showed it to Tate.   "Look at this! Why did we take that one? Instead of, oh, I don’t know, literally any other map??" Fang barked.   Taking the map from the Jagdpanther, Tate scrutinised it. His engine rumbled with discontent at what he saw. The map could barely be called one. It showed some rudimentary lines that indicated roads and rivers; points of interest - possibly towns - were marked with crosses. Only a minority featured names, although those were scribbled on in crude Cyrillic letters.   Tate blinked at Siren.   "You've been using this to navigate?" he asked with disbelief.   The E-25 shrugged with a defensive expression.   "It was just … an aid!" he said. "I know the way!"   He rolled to Tate's side and repeatedly pointed at a particular spot on the map.   "We're right here!"   "Are you sure?" Tate asked with a frown.   Siren raised his cannon as if he wanted to say something, but was suddenly pushed aside by Fang.   "Lemme see," the Jagdpanther said grouchily.   His gaze scanned the map.  Assuming he’s right,” he said, “then I guess we’ll end up here if we follow the road …”   He traced one of the lines on the map, pointing at one of the crosses along its course. With a deep frown, he started trying to decipher its caption.   “Ga- … Gata- … Gatas. Mountain.”   “What …” Tate murmured. He squinted at the caption as well.   “Gattersberg!” Siren chimed in.   Tate turned around to the E-25.   “You know it?”   Siren nodded quickly.   “Remember the team from last week? They were talking about it. Some village, or something. They said there’s a fuel stash there!”   “A fuel stash …” Tate repeated thoughtfully. Defeating teams was usually a fail-safe way to acquire the direly needed fuel, but of course something like a hidden fuel stash was a highly convenient alternative source of sustenance. “How far is it?” he wondered out loud.   “Uhhhh …” Siren replied.   “What’s the map scale?” Tate prodded on.   “Impossible to say …”   “If it’s too far away, we’ll risk running out of fuel before we reach it,” Tate said matter-of-factly. In that case they would have been better off looking for a team instead. Which, on the other hand, could also be a fruitless endeavour. “All our skill isn’t helpful when we can’t put it to use,” he murmured to himself.   Furrowing his optic ridges, Tate looked up again. His platoon mates just shrugged. They expected him to make the decision. He was the boss, after all.   “Alright,” he said eventually. “Seeing as we don’t have much of a choice here, let’s go to this … Gattersberg.”   The other TDs nodded, and the platoon drove on.


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Author's Notes

Changelog:
16th January 2019 - Rewrote parts of the chapter, added new scene.


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