Rex and Fox halted. They stood right at the entrance of the big junction now, the unfamiliar Jagdpanther on it still glaring at them. Rex cut to the chase right away.
“How many of you are there?” he asked harshly.
The Jagdpanther looked at him, but instead of an answer, all Rex got was a growl of the engine. Rex started returning the glare.
“Alright, buddy, pal, Bruder, …”
It seemed like the Jagdpanther’s resolution was crumbling at that, though it was more likely that the arrival of two more tanks at the scene was the actual cause for it. Rex took his optics off the captive tank destroyer for a moment. Sky and Eohelm had appeared next to Eject and were pointing their cannons at the stranger as well. His gaze met Eohelm’s. The Centurion nodded.
“Shame,” he said with a shrug.
Suddenly, the Jagdpanther spoke up.
“Wait!” he shouted, raising his cannon in surrender. “I’ll talk…”
Already about to pull the trigger, Rex stopped himself just in time. He gave a small huff. Yet again, no kill for him. He looked to Eohelm again as the Centurion spoke.
“It’s only the two of us, … now,” the Jagdpanther said.
Eohelm nodded. He turned to Fox and Rex again. “Can you handle this? Eject and I have some … urgent business to attend to.”
Rex didn’t miss Eject’s surprised look, but didn’t comment on it.
“Gotcha,” he said to Eohelm instead.
Eject drove silently. His turret was turned around backwards to cover the area behind himself and Eohelm, who was watching the front. Their optics kept a close look on all other directions. Neither of them doubted that the GW Panther was still here, and that she was probably just waiting somewhere nearby to cause more harm.
But as they proceeded to climb the hill, nothing happened. The tense silence became overbearing, just like the questions on Eject’s mind. He eventually allowed his attention to shift to Eohelm for a moment.
“Why are you with me?” he asked, putting his thoughts into the most straightforward question he could think of.
Eohelm exhaled leisurely, his vents blowing little puffs of mist into the cool morning air.
“How long have we known each other now?” the strategist asked calmly.
Eject didn’t reply right away while he tried to remember.
“… a long time,” he eventually said.
He expected Eohelm to speak on, but it didn’t happen. As Eject looked ahead, he spotted the reason for that.
They had just reached a part of the road that was flatter, and behind the crest of said flat section, a tank was standing. Eohelm halted immediately. Eject did as well, and hurried to turn his turret back around.
“Took you a while,” the GW Panther said with a slight smirk.
Eject didn’t say anything or move, but Eohelm nudged him quickly, as if he was trying to keep him from doing even that. The Centurion must have noticed what Eject yet hadn’t — that the rumble of Eject’s engine was picking up pace. Not that such a small gesture would have any effect if Eject was really intent on acting … but even though his cannon was loaded, he didn’t do the one thing he had been hoping to do the entire battle — putting this SPG’s life to an end. He couldn’t fathom the reason for his hesitation, but at least managed to growl out a low “Panther
Only then he noticed that her cannon was not pointed at them.
“I was close to just telling you where I am,” the GW Panther complained, “to keep me waiting like this …”
Eohelm spoke, since Eject had fallen into baffled silence.
“… are you surrendering?
” he asked.
“What else does it look like?” the GW Panther said. “The battle’s over, I accept my defeat.” Somehow, she managed to say this while sounding like she meant the opposite.
Eohelm seemed speechless; this was probably not one of the many outcomes he had accounted for. But his bewilderment passed quickly. He sent a silent message to Eject.
“Careful. I know what she’s trying to do.
Eject only had a vague idea, but he didn’t even reply. His whole attention revolved around the SPG before them at the moment. He glared at her.
"Give me one good reason not to kill you."
The GW Panther gave him a patronising smile, confident as if she wasn't being held at gunpoint.
“I just told you, the battle’s over,” she said.
“How does that m—” Eject tried to say. She didn’t let him finish.
"We’re no longer enemies. Am I not your teammate anymore? Killing me would be quite rude
, don’t you think? Also! Don't you know? Killing teamkillers is forbidden," she said.
Eject rolled a bit closer to her. He couldn't have heard that right.
"Killing ... what now?
" he asked.
"I'm neither an enemy, nor a traitor," the GW Panther said firmly. "I’m not trying to hurt you. I'm not guilty of running away, or of cowardice."
Eject and Eohelm just stared at her, dumbfounded.
"I only killed Nordic," the GW Panther went on. “So that makes me a teamkiller, if anything."
Eject couldn't hold back a growl.
"You didn't only kill Nordic. You're also responsible for the deaths of many teammates, you tried to kill the others. You tried to kill me
… If that doesn't make you a traitor at the very —"
"Traitor this, traitor that. How righteous you must feel, how just. Thinking treason isn't a matter of perspective."
Eohelm did a double-take at that.
think it works that —" he said.
"I don't care what you think," the GW Panther interrupted him with calm assertiveness, "I did it all in good conscience, and I would do it again. Do I deserve to be executed for doing what is best for my team?"
Eject replied instead of Eohelm.
"You did your best to doom what is left of it," he said grimly.
In the following loaded silence, Eohelm got a word in again.
"So, Panther, … if not execution, what punishment do you think
The GW Panther shrugged.
"A teamkiller's. Exile."
Eohelm shook his cannon.
"Only you could be this nonchalant about it," he sighed with disbelief in his voice.
"Don't act surprised," the GW Panther replied, her tone suddenly cold. "It's all your doing. After everything that happened, I realized I won't mind never seeing you lot again."
Eject didn't feel impressed or bewildered in the least.
"You were planning to get rid of us for a long time, weren't you?" he asked, mirroring the GW Panther's coldness.
"That's not true!" the GW Panther shouted, losing her composure for a moment. "I always wanted the best -"
"Oh, shut up,
" Eject cut her off.
Eohelm must have felt that something drastic was brewing between the two tanks, because he hurried to intervene.
"Let's get this over with, yes?" he said, and it felt like he was addressing both the GW Panther and Eject. He threw a concerned glance at the latter, then turned to the GW Panther again. "You want exile. Then leave."
She only snorted, still looking at Eject.
The T29 returned the look with a glare, feeling his fuel tank turn in a way it hadn't done in a long time. He wanted to say something, but a turmoil in his mind kept him from finding a coherent way to express himself at all.
Three cannons were pointed at Eject. He didn't know which one he preferred to stare into.
"But - ... What is our crime?" he croaked out.
One of the tanks answered harshly.
"Your leadership was wrongful."
"We're better off without you!" another one added.
"Did I ... not act in our best interest?!" Eject replied.
"How would you know anything about that?" the third tank snapped.
"Enough talk!" the first tank said. "Run, save your pathetic life."
The GW Panther didn't move, and Eject's verbal shove was delivered in a choked tone.
It had to be obvious that he expected of her not to say anything else and just leave already — for her own good. But she didn't. She sighed.
"You know … In hindsight, I would have loved to have a last chat with that little Sturmpanzer …"
"Stop talking," Eohelm said, almost pleading.
He was ignored by everyone else.
"To poison her mind as well?" Eject growled. He had managed to force the images of the past back to where they belonged, and his voice had become firm again.
"To tell her the truth!" the GW Panther snapped back. "You think I don't know what you'll tell them about me? That I was insane? A ruthless outlaw?"
"Panther, …" Eohelm continued his attempts to hit the brakes on whatever escalation was going on.
"That's your legacy, you deserve nothing else," Eject interrupted.
The GW Panther didn't respond right away; then, she gave a quiet chuckle.
"I wonder," she hummed. "Are you lying, in denial, or can you just not pull the trigger while I look at you?"
Eject frowned in confusion.
"You told me to go," the GW Panther said. "But I know you're not going to let me ... So, I wonder, do you know that as w-"
"We both explicitly told you to leave, what else —" Eohelm tried to cut her off, but Eject hushed him with a gesture.
"No, no. Let's hear her out," the T29 said, adding a quieter, "… for once." He looked at the GW Panther, his frown deepening.
"What makes you think that?" he asked, almost calmly.
She gave him a radiant smile.
"It just feels too nice to be on the other side of the barrel, doesn't it?" she said.
The other tanks stared at her, both of them equally speechless now; but Eject's silence was a different one than Eohelm's. In the absence of other noise, birdsong accompanied the sounds of their engines.
The GW Panther's smile grew triumphant as the seconds passed. No shell of hers could have been as well-aimed as her question; she knew this. She knew that she had hit where it hurts.
Eject finally responded. He returned the favour, but in his case, it was
a shell. And he
knew that it hurt more
, even without aiming much.
Following the echo of his cannon, the silence returned. This time, the birds were quiet as well.
Gazing through the hole in the GW Panther's motionless hull, Eject could see the rising sun. His engine's rumble idled down to a steady hum. He set himself into motion, driving past the wreck.
Eohelm caught up to his slow driving speed effortlessly.
"You hesitated," the Centurion said, his tone straddling the line between question and statement.
Eject didn't reply.
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