Gray Katie (Writchal Edition)

Entry Writchal #3
Tema: Hidup-Mati


Dark fumes rise to the heavens. The field reeks of burnt metals. Caitlyn hesitantly reopens her eyes; she thought the blast consumed her. She screens her face with an arm as she supports her body with her other arm. The battle vehicle that once stood there with all his pride, the symbol of ArC’s ground dominance, is now left in flames. It has become nothing more than a hunk of aesthetically strewn together metals; its parts are scattered all around, never returning home.

Amidst the barren parts is her android comrade lying just several inches beside her, her face is to the ground. Caitlyn crawls to her position and flips her around. The body remains there motionless. Her eyes are fixed to the reddish gradient of the sky, blanketing the field. She let out a deep breath as she reaches for her face, closing her eyes. Inside, she wishes that her storage memory could be recovered. The universal design doesn’t allow that to instil sentience in the Androids. So, when they fell in battle, their memories, personalities, and anything that makes them a person is gone. The unit, if recoverable, will be salvaged and recycled to give birth to a new one.

Caitlyn then catches a growing rumble. A glance to one side brings her a sight of three squad of Vindicators’ Guards supported by their tank, Gauntlet, advancing to her position. They are most likely catching up with the rest of their lines. But that requires them to march past her.

So, Caitlyn stands up to her feet as soon as possible and begin sprinting away from them.

Decisions have always been a gamble, especially amidst the heat of a battle. She thought she could dive through the flank of that exposed Vindicator’s land-ship and deals some damage. The damage however, is negligible, and that maneuver just cost her the entire platoon. Four tanks lost in exchange for nothing.

And now she has three squads of enemy infantries and a tank on her tail, especially when one of them has spotted her.

The Gauntlet’s machine gun opens fire at her. She raises her arms, shielding her head from tiny shrapnel and dust that kicks off as the cartridges fall just short of her. It appears that the shot is not intended for harm, merely to pin her down. But she doesn’t intend to let herself fell captive to those grunts in crimson-outlined armor.

Caitlyn keeps on running. Her effort eventually brought her to a wooded region. There, a concussive grenade round unfortunately struck a tree trunk beside her, toppling her balance, blurring her sight. Then another one falls and her back hits the ground again.

“Ghh…huh…!” She grunts as she quickly attempting to regain herself.

But a squad of Guards is already on her, weapons trained to her heads. She decelerates her breath and, with a heavy heart, she raises her hands.

As soon as one of the Guards is about to pull her up, the ground behind the Guards burst out dirt as far as about a quarter up the tree trunks. Caitlyn screens her face as the dirt rains on her. As the Guards’ attentions turn elsewhere, they are met by a hail of machine gun fire. The barrage takes three Guards down, before the remainder of the squad scatters away like they have just seen eldritch superstitions.

“You, there!” A rough male voice blaring through her utilizer. “At your eight!”

Caitlyn turns around, surprised to find an ArC tank a hundred meters from her, still in his ghillie coat. She makes haste toward its position with no second thought.

“Thank you.” She says, her breath heavy.

“Thank me later, lady.” A voice from the tank says. “We gotta get out of here first. My crew is dead, and I am left on manual drive as they passed.”

She doesn’t need the voice to say it again. They are both in a precarious situation. And the only way out can be achieved through cooperation. Besides, the ArC can’t afford to provide their nemesis with an intact technology of their own. She has to command the tank.

“I’m going to turn on your autopilot.” She says to the voice.

“Yes, hand over my tracks back.”

Caitlyn turns her glance around her for a second before climbing up the tank and enter through the turret hatch. Two motionless body greets her as she reaches the tank’s interior.

“They’re both humans. A rocket scores a direct hit and the shockwaves took those poor souls.” The voice says.

Caitlyn takes a deep breath and casts aside her sentiment for the moment. For if she doesn’t make it, if the tank doesn’t make it, there would be no one to attend their funeral. She steps over them, reaching for the tank’s control panel. Her fingers run swift on a keyboard, typing a command that grants the tank the ability to steer themselves.

“There we go!” The voice yells, seemingly relieved, as soon as Caitlyn pressed a button on the keyboard. A sudden jerk of movement follows, throwing Caitlyn’s head against the tank’s interior nearest to her. “Sorry, for that.”

“It’s okay.” Caitlyn rubs her head. “Now get us out of here.” She says to the voice.

The engine rumbles louder and the interior begins to vibrates as the tank turns and increases its speed.

“By the way,” The voice speaks again. “Since I’m about to go wild to drive us home, get those safeties off me and man the weapons, got it?”

For a moment she thought she is going to be the one who would provide the orders. Instead it’s the other way around. In terms of survivability however, it doesn’t matter who gives the order. One just has to trust the other party they are cooperating with.

Caitlyn taps on some buttons on a panel beside the keyboard and flicks a lever. “Safeties off and manual weapon system on.”

“Here we go!”

She holds on as the tank accelerates past the redline. Safeties off allows enhanced movement feature such as more speed and sensitive turning. Those features have proven to be advantageous in moments that requires quick armoured response. But they are harmful to the tank’s integrity. Using them continuously in a long duration or within short but frequent timespan with no repairs in between could cause significant breakdowns.

Right now, withdrawing is the top priority. So breaking past the tank’s limit is an essential decision that Caitlyn has to take.  She just hopes that he could last long enough until they return to friendly lines.

Suddenly Caitlyn catches a loud rumble. The tank’s hull is being hailed by a rain of dirt as shown by the screens which is connected to the tank’s optic. It appears something is aiming for them but missed.

“Is that a Gauntlet firing at us from behind?” The voice says.

Caitlyn scrambles to turn the tank’s periscope behind. She takes a closer look to one of the screens. There she indeed finds an enemy tank dashing through the trees, slowly creeping towards them.

“Yes, it is.”

Another shell lands near them, barely hitting the tank’s engine compartment.

“For Primus’ sake, that was close!”

“We have to do something.” Caitlyn says.

“I thought we’re rushing straight back to base.”

“Their next shot is going to land at us. I doubt your integrity is enough to withstand an AP round from that thing.”

“Alright,” The voice sighs. “Pull the smoke triggers and hang on tight.”

Caitlyn presses a button that launches smoke grenades from both sides of the main gun on the front side of the turret. Each fragment in a split second they reached mid-air, creating a white smoke screen that should obscure the visions of their chaser. A second later they emerge on a relatively flat plain. The tank turns hard right, drifting in the process. And as soon as its front hull turned, it slams the reverse gear. With the presence of the smoke screen, that Gauntlet won’t discover that the tank’s turret is aimed at their left when it emerges from the wooded area.

Not long after, the screen extrudes and shifts along a metal vehicle that clears through them.

“Fire!” The voice yells.

Caitlyn pulls the trigger. Another rumble followed up by flames bursting from the target vehicle.

“Got him.” Caitlyn wanted to cheer out, but her composure doesn’t allow her to.

“Nice shot, lady!”

Caitlyn just nods.

The tank turns left and cranks up his speed again. As he does so, a voice comes through the interior speaker as well as Caitlyn’s utilizer.

“51st Tank Platoon, are you the friendly triangle behind the crimson line?”

            Crimson line? Caitlyn freezes for a moment. She wishes that the phrase never has to come through the audio system.

“Command, please specify ‘crimson line’ over.” Inside, she already knows what that supposed to mean. She is just still too petrified on what that implies.

“There’s a whole Guards battalion ahead of your position. And a platoon of Gauntlet just broke off to meet you. Contact ETA 30 seconds.”

Just as she thought. As far as her experience went, fate has never been kind to her.

An enemy tank platoon, at the moment, consists of three Gauntlet battle tanks and various support units. Each has more armour than her own. On normal occasions they can still go toe to toe, holding each other in place while reinforcements swing around and deals with the other for good. Usually it is IFVs equipped with AT rockets, but sometimes squads of infantries with anti-tank missiles could do the job as well.

In this case however, the Gauntlets outnumber hers. In addition to that is the wavering hull integrity of the tank, thanks to the rocket hit. She is sure that one or two shots from the Gauntlet could turn her tank into a ball of flame, even from the front.

“Requesting support over. We can’t hand over this tank to the enemy!” Caitlyn replies frantically through her utilizer.

“The 12th Combined Proxy Company shall break through the battalions and hold a point for three minutes. If you don’t find yourself there when that time runs out, destroy that tank immediately.”

“But sir-”

The transmission cuts.

“Damn it!” Caitlyn slams her thigh.

“It’s just you and me now lady.” The voice comes through again. “I believe in you.”

The tank believes in her. For the first time ever, a tank entrusts his life to her. She doesn’t even believe in herself. Not after the shenanigans that costs her an entire platoon. It’s even a fortune that she is here at the moment. And that’s because that concussive round fell on her just some distance from an abandoned tank.

“Hey lady…” Caitlyn raises her head as the tank addresses her. “Have you ever enabled safeties off before?”

Caitlyn recalls her experience of working with tanks of the same design before. “I don’t think I have.”

“Did you know that my loader would also go wild under that condition?”

“If you meant faster…”

Caitlyn’s words are interrupted by a loud rumble. A shell lands just in front of the tank, barely missing him again.

“Contact! Direction 45.” The voice yells. “Yes, yes. I meant faster.”

Caitlyn sees three crimson triangles on the radar screen advancing toward her. Peering through the periscope, the enemy tanks look just as real and menacing. There’s no more time for her to think. She has to make another decision.

She quickly brings up a screen that shows the terrain in a kilometre radius from her. On one corner she spots a sort of an orchard with dense foliage.

“Take us uphill, toward that vegetations at 330.” Caitlyn says while pulling the smoke triggers twice in a considerate interval. The screens not only obscure vision, but also disrupt radar, concealing the vehicle for a brief moment.

“Got it.” The voice replies. The tank turns toward that direction.

Caitlyn fires another smoke screen just as the tank about to enter the orchard.

“Just so you know that’s my last smoke screen.”

“I’m aware of it.” She nods. “Don’t worry, we’ll make it. I’m putting a waypoint on the screen, take up position there.”

“Heading over.”

“Turn off any lightings you have.”

Darkness is already upon them. The tank is still covered in his ghillie coat. With the help of the foliage, those Gauntlets should have a hard time finding them here.

“All flashy things are off.”

If they indeed decide to scour the orchard. Caitlyn doesn’t wish to stay put while knowing a company is bleeding their way to clear a path for her. That’s just doesn’t seem fair to her. She has to put some effort, to do her part. She has to fight back.

“Now we wait.” Caitlyn says, gently touching one side of the interior to her left. “Then let’s see how fast your loader works under safeties off.”

“Understood.”

Then the radar picks up the three Gauntlets ahead of them heading to their left, seemingly unaware of their position. Caitlyn’s gaze falls at the periscope screen ensuring that the enemy tanks are there.

“Do you see them?”

“I see them.”

Caitlyn trains the main gun at the lead tank. Her attention leers for a brief moment to the amount of AP rounds available. It is enough. She then takes a deep breath.

“Here we go!” She says, pressing the fire button hard.

The main gun of the tank roars again. Followed up by another, shortly. And another. And another. Five shells are fired toward the enemy’s lead tank in quick succession. Two falls short. One got deflected and the other two disables the main gun. The other two turns their turret as soon as the shells hit.

“That was fast.” Caitlyn astonished.

“I told you.” The voice replies. “Anyway, no time for cheers. They’re on to us now. What’s your next plan.”

“Charge them.” She says. “Full speed ahead.”

The cabin is silent for a moment.

“What?”

“I said charge!” Caitlyn raises her tone. “Go, go, go!”

The tank jerks forward before going downhill at an incredible speed. The inclination allows them to reach such pace in a short amount of time. Caitlyn brings herself to a seat and straps the safety belt.

“I don’t like the looks of this.”

“Don’t stop!” Caitlyn yells again. She turns the turret ninety-degrees to the left.

The Gauntlet they’re rushing to perhaps know what they’re up to now. But it is too late for them. As they’re turning their front hull to Caitlyn’s direction…

“Arrgh!” The voice grunts

Two pieces of steel collides under the dim glare of the stars. The head-shattering noise echoes to the corner of the plains; every critter that caught them tremble and scatter in terror. The crash is enough to throw Caitlyn’s head to the interior in front of her again. Even in the presence of the tightly strapped safety belt. Of course, being an Android, she is able to withstand the slight metallic bump on her forehead.

Caitlyn hastily releases the safety belt and scrambles to the weapon system again.

“Hit the reverse gear and turn right!” She says.

The tank reverses and turns to the right, circling behind the Gauntlets’ formation. The one that they crashed into doesn’t show any further movement. Perhaps the crash is sufficient to knock out the crew.

“My head is still ringing from that crash.”

“You don’t have one.”

“If I had one.”

Caitlyn turns the turret toward the immobilized tank and fires straight to the engine compartment on their rear. The 125mm AP round shot through a rifled barrel makes a quick work through the Gauntlet’s rear hull and butchered its engine. As Caitlyn turns the turret to face the last Gauntlet, she notices where its turret is aiming. And on a whim…

Stop! Stop! Now!” She yells, slamming on the cabin’s walls while holding tight on something. And just after they stops, the ground in front of them burst dirt to the air. A shell just landed there, barely hitting them.

“That was too close!”

Caitlyn presses the fire button, launching two consecutive shot toward the Gauntlet’s side, slightly to the rear. The enemy tank then burst into flames.

“Ha! Take that!” The voice cries.

“Go, now! Get us out of here!”

The tank swing around, accelerating past his redline again. Caitlyn takes the chance as the tank passes the enemy lead Gauntlet that got its gun disabled, and fires a shot at their tracks. It hits, and now that Gauntlet is no longer near a threat to them.

“We made it! We made it!” The voice cheers.

Caitlyn gaze falls on the screen that shows three disarmed Gauntlet that grows smaller as they get further. They sit helpless amidst the flat plain, lit by the moonlight. Their crimson outlines are still visible within this distance. She takes a deep breath in the absence of their threat. A brief pause that allows her to cool down. And a relief that she managed to get over them and emerge alive with additional kill counts. Fate isn’t so hard on her after all. For now, she just nods and replies gently.

“We made it.”

But amidst her cheering heart and relieving tension, the voice utters something…

“Uh-” Something that she wanted to hear the least.

“What’s going on?” She asks, pretending that it is not a dire concern. It could be one indeed. But pretending gives her a better edge of remaining calm; an attitude expected of all leaders and commanders.

Just as she finished asking, a bang from the rear hull echoes its way to the cabin and catches her attention.

“What was that?” She asks before taking a glance at one side of the control panel. Something definitely goes off, and that doesn’t appear to be good news since the result is the gradual reduction of the number shown by the speedometer.

“That’s my engine.” The voice says as the tank finally comes to a halt. “That’s an example of what would happen if limits are broken for too long.”

“An example?” Caitlyn shakes at what that implies. “You mean there’s more damage you are sustaining?”

“Loader is actually not in a decent condition now.” The voice says. “Sure you can use it, but there’s a high risk of the shell exploding before it leaves the barrel. That should spell your end.”

            Damn.

“I should be able to repair you.” Caitlyn says. She just came out of an engagement victorious, one where she is outnumbered. She is so close. There has to be friendlies waiting on the other side of the prairie. Once there they only have to drive a bit further through the gap that they made, before finally reaching safety behind their lines.

“I’m afraid…” The voice pauses. “That’s not an option.”

“Why?”

“I’m getting target locks from along direction 300 to 60.” He responds. “We’re surrounded.”

Caitlyn climbs up to the hatch as soon as the voice ends his statement. As soon as she does, she finds crimson pointers trained at her. Some of the glare caught her eyes. The infantries lurking in the darkness begins to creep forward, revealing themselves. She takes a deep breath.

“Well, that was a good fight. We’ve resisted well.”

“It’s good knowing you.” Caitlyn says, raising her hands.

When the tank is about to commit a self-destruct sequence, the Guards that surround them suddenly, and collectively, turn their sight to the skies behind them. Caitlyn hears it too, something is splitting the air, across the sea of darkness above. A second later, it falls on them. Particularly on the Guards, hailing them with missiles and gunfires.

Caitlyn quickly ducks, leaving a small part of her head still exposed so she could see the events unfolding. That thing sweeps above them in a split second. But it’s enough for her to make the form of its silhouette.

The ArC’s attack aircraft, Cosmos.

Its flyby is followed by an artillery barrage that scatters the Guards.

“51st Tank Platoon, this is Captain Fort of the 12th Combined Proxy Company speaking.” A voice comes through her utilizer. “We have utility units advancing to your position and commence extraction shortly. Two Vertices squad will reach you prior to their arrival for support. Over.”

“They’re here! We’re saved!” The tank says to Caitlyn. He then proceeds to reply. “This is the 51st Tank Platoon speaking. Allow me to personally express my gratitude for you Captain Fort.”

“Mine as well.” Caitlyn follows.

“That can be done later when we got you out of there.” Fort replies.

All in all, it is safe for her to assume that she is indeed finally safe. She collapses to a seat in her cabin, her head resting on its headrest.

            At last…

It has been one hectic evening for her. She wishes that fate allows her to have her much needed rest for the day. Especially when she hasn’t calibrated herself in the span of the week thanks to the operation.

“By the way, I haven’t caught your name.” The tank speaks again.

He’s right. For some reason, they managed to survive without knowing each other. Perhaps that owes to how overwhelming the odds are against them. But now that they made it, she guesses that it’s the right time to shake hands.

“It’s Caitlyn.” She says to the voice. “Grauwelle Caitlyn.”

“Grauwelle Caitlyn, eh?” The voice says in a tone that should show him forming a smirk on his face if he ever had one. “What a beautiful name.”

Caitlyn grins and shrugs at that response. “Thank you.” She turns her sight down believing that she could do better than that, if only not due to the exhaustion and adrenaline of breaking through enemy lines to withdraw. “How about you?” She asks the voice in return.

“Mine is Protivotankoviy,” The voice speaks with a sign of confidence. “I suggest you find an alternate name based on that, because I doubt you could spell that amidst the chaos of battle.”

She turns to tank’s ceilings while reaching deep into her processor. It doesn’t take long for her to come up with something.

“PT.” Caitlyn says to Protivotankoviy. “I’ll call you PT.”

“Sounds brilliant to me.” PT replies.

“Good.” Caitlyn nods.

“And how about I call you…” PT speaks again. “KT.”

Caitlyn shrugs. That sounds quite unsettling to her. But to honour the tank that has helped her out of the enemy lines, she’ll just let that one pass.  “Fair trade, I guess.”

“If they allow you to be my commander, that’d be our callsigns okay? Just between us.”

Caitlyn waves two fingers besides her head. “Aye aye.”

She then chuckles. Throughout her career, she never thought that the Automatons could develop a personality like PT. It felt like she was conversing with a human or another Android. It comes as a strange tingling feeling to her core. It warms her that she could learn more about PT. At least, when he came out of manufacture, his first battle, and how he got here. And for some reason, Caitlyn wishes that they assign her to be PT’s commander.

Fortunately, fate would have it her way.

–**–

            The Ground Combat Vehicle Mark V ‘Redeemer’ is ArC’s battle tank that have seen deployment countless of times, dating as far as The Primus’ conquest. Weighing about sixty-nine tons, it sports a 125mm rifled gun with an effective range of 4500 meters, as well as an automatic loader to allow rapid and accurate fire volley. However, it can take less hit compared to the TeV’s counterpart, the Gauntlet. In compensation, it is able to move swiftly from one point to another. The Primus demands a quick death of his enemies in battle, and the tank is that demand manifested. They are most devastating when used in cover or to flank enemy positions. Their high explosive shells can damage any enemy equipment, or straight up destroy most of them.

Caitlyn stares out the window of her hab. Three days flew past without PT. She requested several days off to command to rest herself. Mostly a mental concern. She just saw her own platoon got decimated because of her decision. The faces of her dead comrade often come to meet her when she closes her eyes. It’s hard for her to imagine how it would feel for them to lay dead on the battlefield knowing no one would come to extract them; especially for the human personnel, who have families back home waiting for their return. The command granted her request, considering they also need to do something about the 51st Tank Platoon.

The clock eventually hits lunch break for the day. At least that’s how it should be for the human personnel. Nevertheless, she decides to leave for the mess hall. She marches past a crowd of Proxies filling the hallways. Some groups are having conversation on one side, some hurries past in a fraction of a second; stumbling on almost anyone in the hallways. At one point, one of those men nudge Caitlyn’s shoulder. He glances around to state a brief apology. But Caitlyn only leers at him without any words.

The mess hall is even more crowded; A mix of individual chattering and the clatter of dishes being stacked are the noises that dominates the space. Caitlyn utters no second thought as she walks toward a certain fridge on one side of the mess hall and grabs a battery from columns of them stored there.

She rushes to an empty seating around the corner as soon as she spots it. Once she sits down, she plucks the charging tube from the battery. The hatch on her nape opens, revealing a circular notch sticking out from her neck. Caitlyn plugs one end of the charging tube to that notch, and the other toward the notch on one side of the metallic cylinder the size of her grip. She takes a deep breath as azure sparkles travel along the surface of the charging tube from the battery’s notch to her notch. Her core is filled with relief that she even finds a vacant space amidst this space crowded with a mass of personnel.

Caitlyn takes a glance at the brand on the battery.

Prime Respite.

An odd name, she thought. The company have been supplying rations to the men ever since the late period of the first war. A long-time dedication. She sometimes wonders the story behind their dedication to The Primus, especially their name which is apparently an adaptation of his name. Are they an independent company? Or just another property of The Primus? Either way, she couldn’t deny that a lunch break is always delightful with their battery tin.

“Oh, look!” A girl voice coming from her left. “It’s Caitlyn!”

She turns her attention, finding two girls standing just across her separated by the length of her seating.

“How are you doing, Caitlyn?” The other one says.

Caitlyn sighs. They are her colleagues during her times in the NCO school.

“Good day, Alezia, Lyzmy.” She waves to the two of them before grabbing her battery tin and standing up.

“Wait, you’re leaving?” Lyzmy asks her.

“We just came here. Don’t you want to have a bit of a chit-chat with us? This might be the first time we’ve been together ever since we graduated.” Alezia follows.

There are truths in her words. The burden of tasks on her shoulder have exploded ever since she became an NCO. Her duties now involve administering a unit, which have consumed a huge portion of her times. She even barely has times for herself, let alone to converse with others during leisure. She is indeed, free at the moment. But she just doesn’t feel like it. And it’s not that these two girls worsen her burden at one point before. They went through the NCO school just like how they went through various operations and battles. Trusting and supporting each other have been the norm among them. But now…

“I need to be alone, for a while.” She says to them, sharing a brief glance.

Alezia and Lyzmy don’t even look disappointed; instead worries cloud their faces.

Lyzmy sighs. “Fine, take care Caitlyn.”

Caitlyn nods before marching away from them, putting her battery tin in the pocket of her coat. From the corner of her eyes, she can see them conversing with each other. And amidst the hubbub of the mess hall, she could catch some words coming out of their mouth.

“…when…she become this? How?”

“Shh…let her…”

She pities herself that she has to instil worry on her comrades.

Back at her hab, she finds a maid with a blonde hair of shoulder length with small side-braid to her left temple standing in front of her hab door with her sight to her pad. It doesn’t take long for the maid to notice her arrival.

“First Sergeant Grauwelle Caitlyn,” The maid presents a salute as soon as Caitlyn reaches her. “Maid Corporal Genesis Zenith, reporting.”

Caitlyn takes a second look at her. An Android. She is clad in her combat gear. Her sight is sharp and her figure is firm. Given that she is a maid corporal in the frontlines, tough times which mostly involves firearms should be her best friend. And her face doesn’t show any sense of worry or anxiety that she might die anytime soon. She appears more than willing to spill Vindicators’ blood at any times without any doubt.

“How do you know it’s me?” Caitlyn asks.

“I am well informed that this hab here is yours.” Genesis replies.

“How long have you been standing there?”

“Not much,” The maid replies. “Only fifteen minutes. Or less, probably.” She checks the time shown by her utilizer strapped to her left wrist.

Caitlyn sighs. “Very well.” She says gently. “State your business, maid corporal.”

“The command has a new order for you. And I am here to take charge in supporting you.” Genesis says, handing the pad to Caitlyn.

Caitlyn grabs the pad and read the document it currently views. Apparently, reports came to them that some TeVs are spotted moving towards a settlement recently captured by the ArC. A counter-attack perhaps. And she is ordered to provide armoured support for the current garrison of that position, holding them off and buying time whilst command is assembling a unit to consolidate it.

“How about my reinforcement?”

“Command is still taking care of that matter.” Genesis says. “For now, they expect you to make do with what you currently have.”

Caitlyn takes a deep breath.

“And in accordance with that, I shall be the second personnel in your tank.”

“And the Creeper?”

“My colleague is going to operate that utility truck.”

“I assume you are capable to operate the tank.”

“I have been trained in that field, and have gone through plenty of drills.” Genesis nods. “You only need to provide me with directions, ma’am.”

“Very well.” Caitlyn hands over the pad back to Genesis before entering her hab. She unpacks her combat gear, pausing for a second to gaze on her helmet as soon as she pulls it out of her container in the hab. It is the same helmet that has accompanied her throughout her carreer as a tank crew ever since she is a Recruit. It is still there with all of its glories; a witness to all the hard-times Caitlyn have went through. Especially the annihilation of her previous platoon.

Once she has her combat gear strapped, Caitlyn emerges out from her hab and locks it.

“Let’s move.” She says to Genesis.

Genesis nods, maintaining her sharp sight. She locks the metal cap on her head as soon as Caitlyn begins to march away from her hab.

It is time. Duty calls her again. Her break time is over. She once again has to smell death amidst the roaring 125mm guns. But it is so that there can still be foods on the dinner table for those children. At least, with the presence of PT, the smell of death possesses a different flavour.

The garage has always been crowded during operational hours. It is a large space able to hold up to thirteen Redeemers, a number worthy of a tank battalion. Utility-class Proxies and Maid Sections are those often found scurrying inside and within the vicinity of the place. They conduct repairs, inspection, and other labour to ensure the proper function of the combat vehicles in the field.

A laser welder hisses as Caitlyn marches toward her new tank platoon. There she sees a Redeemer, a Creeper, and another maid scrutinizing the Redeemer, probably inspecting him.

“KT!” The tank greets her first as soon as she is nearing him.

“Good day, PT.”

“Come get to know this maid, she has been decent to me.”

Caitlyn raises an eyebrow. “Define decent.”

“You know, good old talks during inspection. Kept me delighted throughout what should be a boring procedure.”

“So you call him PT, huh?” Genesis asks.

“For convenience.” Caitlyn replies, waving her hand at her.

“It appears that your tank has an extraordinary interest in talking with others.” The maid on the tank says. She has a long hair with pale golden hue that is barely reaching her waist. Her two locks that extends to her chest on both sides are tucked into black rings with a chipped side. She is also clad in her combat gear. Her metal cap is already locked on her head.

She jumps down from PT’s hull and presents a salute as soon as she puts her pad aside. “Maid Lance Corporal Charlotte Cavatica, at your service.”

Caitlyn salutes in return. “How is PT doing, Maid Lance Corporal?”

“Last inspection is yesterday. Result is the same. Everything is in check, ready for action.”

“Excellent.” Caitlyn nods. “Everyone assumes your position and let’s head to that distressed grid.” She says to Genesis and Charlotte.

“Yes ma’am.” The two maid replies in unison.

Genesis rushes toward the crew’s cabin inside PT through the driver’s hatch while Charlotte hops swiftly to the Creeper’s driver seat.

“By the way,” Caitlyn speaks through the utilizer as she follows through the turret’s hatch, addressing both maids. “Allow me to call you by name. You can just call me Caitlyn in turn.”

“Understood, Caitlyn. Charlotte should be fine.” Charlotte replies through her utilizer.

“Call me Genesis then, yes?” Genesis says to her directly as she enters the crew’s cabin.

“Can do.” She then proceeds to run her fingers on the control panel. “PT man the gun for now, and keep on watch.”

“Sensor on maximum awareness. Looking out for hostiles.” The tank exclaims.

Genesis pulls a lever. The engine roars. The cabin vibrates though it is barely noticeable.

“Oh, and…” Something suddenly struck Caitlyn’s processor, something that she missed. “I haven’t caught the Creeper’s name.”

“Khorosho Priyom.” The utility truck replies through her utilizer. Her rough voice is of a female in her adolescence. “Thought for a moment there you’re going to forget me.” She says, her humming engine also comes through Caitlyn’s utilizer.

“It’d be a sleepless calibration for me should that happen.” Caitlyn replies.

“I told you, she won’t forget.” Charlotte voice is heard through the channel.

“Garage Control, this is the 51st Tank Platoon currently comprising of a Redeemer and a Creeper requesting clearance for departure, over.” Caitlyn speaks through her utilizer via a channel that can be heard by everyone in the platoon.

“51st Tank Platoon this is Garage Control,” A male voice gently replies to her. “Command wanted you in K8-2-8 to assess the incoming TeV incursion. You’re clear to head there, over.”

“Appreciate that.” Caitlyn says.

Genesis hits the gear and turns to align PT with the garage’s main pathway. The Creeper follows close. The large garage door shifts to the sides. Every personnel on the garage’s main pathway swiftly moves aside and make way for the departing 51st Tank Platoon.

“Here we go.” Genesis accelerates PT to maximum speed.

Caitlyn climbs up to the turret hatch. The light of day falls on them as PT emerges out of the garage. She puts a hand on top of her helmet as the breeze streams against her face. To PT’s flanks are sporadic mass of Proxies and Maids. On one side are the Maids hauling crates into carrier trucks, the Runners. On the other are Direct-class Proxies filling armoured personnel carriers, the Crescents. Caitlyn catches a platoon of them departing the base, perhaps reinforcing another position along the front.

Then a squadron of Cosmos streaks through the skies above her. She watches them disappears in the distance. It must be exciting to see all your enemies from above. The way they move and maneuver in the field. Satellite tracking could only do so much. Sometimes they don’t update hostile presence on the map until after contact is made. Hence ground forces still have to rely on their senses.

“Hey Genesis,” Charlotte voice comes through her utilizer. “Don’t you think you’re driving too fast?”

Caitlyn glances behind her, at the utility truck. She is indeed, getting further and further.

“You’re at top speed already?” Genesis replies.

“You do realize that KP is way heavier than that tank, right?”

“Let us regroup at a point before advancing to the desired position.” Caitlyn opens up her utilizer and marks a point at the map. “There, I’ve marked it for you.”

“As you say, Caitlyn.” Charlotte responds.

“The path that’ll take us there should be secured. There has to be no Vindicators around.”

“Guess I’ll see you there then, Charlotte.” Genesis chuckles.

“Fine.” Charlotte sighs. “But you owe me battery tins if I don’t find you there.”

Genesis continues speeding up as Caitlyn turns her gaze to the front again.

Suddenly a notification on her utilizer. She brings it up and her breath is caught when she finds out that it’s PT.

“Good to have you back, by the way. I suppose you’re feeling well now?”

Caitlyn types her reply. “Why are you sending me text messages?”

“This is personal, ok? I don’t want that maid to eavesdrop on our conversation.”

A tank wanted a personal conversation with her? It sounds weird at first glance. But that peculiarity is sending a warm tingling to her core. One that drives a smile on her face. She decides that she would go his way. He has saved her anyway, and he has yet to receive anything in return from her.

“Fine.” She replies. “What is up in your mind?”

“Still the same question.”

Caitlyn shrugs. “I hope so. Enough to do this one task I suppose.”

“At one point, I was worried that you won’t be able to lead anymore.”

“I need a break, PT. It’s not every day you’re responsible for the death of an entire platoon.”

“Don’t think about it too much okay? The dice just doesn’t favour you at that time, and there’s nothing you can do about it. At least you got me out of there alive.”

“I think you’re right.”

Caitlyn can see the sign. PT is quite a talkative Automaton. He just lost his crew, and his other Redeemer partners as well. It must have broken him, the way the destruction of her platoon broken her as well. She shouldn’t have locked herself in her hab.

“I’m sorry for leaving you alone.”

Silence.

She crosses her arms on top of PT’s turret hull before hiding her face there. She shouldn’t have said that. Her action has left him worried. It is indeed the right thing to say. But maybe it’s not the right time to say that. Caitlyn slaps the turret hull with her left hand repeatedly. PT must feel weird reading that statement, as much as she is cringing for sending it. She wishes that she didn’t write that. She wishes that she could be more patient in sending that message.

But to her surprise…

“Hey, it’s not like I’m your priority.” PT replies. “As long as you’re fine, I can take more hits to my rear than an average Redeemer could.”

His words brought a smile to her face. Maybe he felt that clapping on his turret.

“Thank you.”

“My pleasure.”

They continue their advance as soon as they regroup with Charlotte. A small settlement lies ahead of them. The buildings are hollow and worn down, most likely a product of artilleries and air-strikes. Caitlyn sees some Runners arrayed diagonally along a sidewalk, their front is facing an aisle too small for them to drive through. The Maids are unloading the Runners of their crates. It must be the first wave of supplies that just made it to the place. They drift off the sidewalk once they’re empty, turning to the direction from which they arrived and hit their top speed.

Caitlyn turns to her utilizer and speaks through the local channel.

“This is the 51st Tank Platoon, notifying of arrival. Command has yet to reinforce us, so you only have one Redeemer at hand, over.”

“Good to see you again, first sergeant.” A familiar voice replies. “This is Captain Fort of the 12th Combined Proxy Company. I’m the one commanding the defence of this position. Supporting us is the 94th Foot Proxy Company, and they have Amplifier Proxies entrenched in critical choke points to suppress enemy advance, over.”

“They told me to support your defence. Do you have any specifics?”

“We will hold you in reserve for now. Depending on the situation, you might not need to fire that big gun of yours.”

“Well isn’t that convenient?” PT’s words come through the utilizer.

“We’ll see how kind fate is to you today.” Fort replies.

“Understood.” Caitlyn says. She then switches to her platoon’s channel. “Genesis, Charlotte, we’re going to stand by at the settlement’s centre, over.”

“Command received.” Genesis says.

“Heading there.” Charlotte responds.

“By the way first sergeant,” Caitlyn receives Fort’s words again. To her surprise, he speaks through the whisper channel. “Maid Corporal Genesis Zenith is with you right?”

“Yes, she is with me.”

“Good.” He responds. “Report immediately if you see something strange happening to her, over.”

What?

Caitlyn sets her sight ahead of her. That part of the captain’s words caught her attention. What could he possibly mean by something strange?

But before her processor wander around that topic, her sentiment of obedience caught up. She has to reply to the captain’s words first.

“Yes, sir.”

Not long after, KP pulls up to PT’s left, stopping slightly behind. That is when Genesis emerges out of the second turret hatch just beside Caitlyn. She stretches her arms high overhead, making it looks like she wanted to detach them from her.

“Aah…” She breathes out a piece of air.

Caitlyn puts her head on her left hand as her gaze falls upon Genesis, her left elbow is standing on the turret’s hull. She wonders whether that counts as something strange that happens to her.

It doesn’t take long for Genesis to notice. She turns her glance toward Caitlyn.

“What’s the matter?” She asks.

“Captain Fort asks me to report any strange occurrences centred around you.”

Genesis’ wide-eyed gaze falls on Caitlyn for a moment. She chuckles a few seconds later.

“Eh, it’s just the captain,” Genesis waves her right hand before her face as she tilts away from Caitlyn. “He is always worried about me.”

Her bubbling joy left Caitlyn pouting with a slightly frowned face.

What a naïve girl.

It’s a wonder for one to have someone in higher places constantly concerned about them. They should cherish such blessing since it leads to their higher chance of survival. The command doesn’t really care if she is lost and unrecoverable in battle. The events three days ago show just that. It is only when they see a Redeemer cruising through the field that they begun their contact. Because, obviously, it is an expensive equipment that the command hardly could afford to lose. She however, is not. She is just one amongst millions other Androids that the ArC could arm for the war.

Caitlyn is quick to brush that expression away as soon as she feels like replying.

“You’re such a fortunate one, aren’t you?”

“Not really.” Genesis shrugs. “You are aware that the Maids are sometimes sent into combat, right?”

“Sometimes, yeah.”

“If there is a list of descending priorities of Maids that will see combat, I’d be at the bottom-most one.” Genesis crosses her arms. “Not fair as far as I deem. Charlotte got to be one of the highest on the list.”

Caitlyn smirks at that implication.

“Ah, because you’re the captain’s crown jewel, eh?”

Genesis puts her arms on her waist and bends toward Caitlyn. “I don’t have any relations with Captain Fort, alright.” She then leers away for some reason. “Although to me he is indeed, quite.”

“It is fair, I think.” A calm voice coming from their left. The two glances down and finds Charlotte leaning against PT’s side armour. “As a commanding officer, would you like it if you see one of your men charging the enemy formations by themselves despite the clear order of retreat or withdrawal?”

Throughout her job as a platoon leader, Caitlyn have seen at least one Redeemer that break formation so they could charge the seemingly vulnerable enemy flank. It is the tank commander’s will. He was hungry for personal glory. And his rash action has costed the entire platoon. These kinds of people are indeed a burden, and it always annoys her when it happens.

Caitlyn now turns a curious gaze toward Genesis; one of her eyebrows is lifted. She wonders, whether Genesis is that kind of person.

Genesis returns Caitlyn’s gaze with an apparent, although slightly, worried expression. “Charlotte, come on.” She says, turning to Charlotte.

“Maybe, like me, you could top that list if you spent more time in the sniping range, sweetie.” Charlotte turns to Genesis with her left eye shut and a wide smile to her face.

Genesis sighs while sinking into the hatch. She crosses her arms on the turret’s hull and places her chin there.

“My anxiety always gets me whenever we wait for them to come. So, I thought it would be better to just get it over with.” She pouts.

It appears that murky skies just gloomed over her. Caitlyn understood that feeling. Who is not terrified knowing death is on the other side, slowly marching toward their position? Losing a life means ceasing everything you’ve worked for so far. The longer it takes for that certain death to arrive, the more space available for one’s mind to peer through time, remembering both their past achievement and those that are about to come. And the more reminiscent one becomes, the more willing one is to hold on to their lives. And hence their reluctance to engage the enemy.

It is perhaps this that Genesis despises.

Caitlyn pats her shoulder in an attempt to cheer her up.

“It’s fine, Genesis.” Caitlyn says to her. “We’ve all been through that. It is unpleasant indeed. But this is war, everything is unpleasant. Hence we at least have to think of a course of action that could make it a bit more pleasant on our side.”

Genesis rises back. Her sight gradually turns to Caitlyn. “I guess you’re right.”

“And since you’re my driver,” Caitlyn continues. “I trust you to get me and PT out of this alive, okay?” She raises her right hand; the tip of its index is touching the tip of its thumb.

Genesis straightens her stature and replies with a similar gesture. “I’ll see to it.” She returns Caitlyn’s smile.

“Good.” Caitlyn pats her back.

“You know you could just force me on the wheel and get us out of any pickle, right?” PT voices comes through.

Caitlyn slams her hand hard to the turret’s hull, maintaining her grin toward Genesis.

“You know that doesn’t hurt right?”

Caitlyn tilts her head to the right. “Please forgive the tank.” She says.

Genesis shrugs, turning her sights forward. “No problem.”

“Incoming!” A yelling that comes through Caitlyn’s utilizer.

A ball of flames burst on the roof of a barren house some distance ahead of Caitlyn, followed by a loud explosion noise. Black smokes spew outward, trailing above in accordance to the wind. Charlotte nimbly rushes back to KP, while Caitlyn and Genesis submerge and closes the turret hatch above them.

“There they are.” Genesis says as she scrambles back to the driver seat.

The rumbling continues, some are stronger than the others. The cabin trembles slightly as the shells keep on pounding the ground in proximity to their position. Then huge tremors with deafening roar, that of a bellowing beast, permeates inside PT. Caitlyn and Genesis hold on to something to keep themselves stable as instances of shockwave burst through them.

“We are being shelled, you two are okay there right?” PT asks.

“We’re fine, PT.” Caitlyn replies.

“I hope those Maids got to shelter in time.” Genesis says.

“I’m safe inside here, right?” Charlotte’s voice comes through the utilizer.

“My armour is thicker than that metallic lump with firing mechanism there.” KP says.

“Hey!” PT responds in a raised tone, his rough voice blares through all their utilizers. “Who do you call metallic lump, huh!?”

“It can be anyone. Too bad I don’t have fingers to point that out for you.” There’s a slight chuckle in KP’s tone. One can picture a smug forming on her face if she has any.

“Well I wish you’re not responsible for babysitting me, dirty hag.”

Caitlyn chuckles at what that implies. PT can land a shell or two on that utility truck’s hull. That is, when the command is not looking.

“Smoke screen to the east.” Says a Proxy.

“Another one to north-northeast.”

“And to the southeast.”

Caitlyn checks out the map shown by one of PT’s screens. Judging by the smoke deployment, the TeV is commencing an assault along the settlement’s frontiers. This position must have been essential to them. Hence the defence must hold at all cost. She hopes that more reinforcement is coming to consolidate their position there.

“Platoons of Guards are advancing through the smoke, supported by Carapaces.” Says another voice which is drenched deep in commotions of rapid rifle fire, cartridges ricochets, and 20mm shell impacts.

Carapaces are TeV’s walking metallic shell. Creeping on six legs, they are armed with two 7.62mm machine guns and a double-barrelled 20mm autocannon to provide dense fire support able to tear through fortifications. Their thick armour meant that they can survive even more hits than the Gauntlets.

“There are eight of them coming from this side.”

“An additional four is spotted emerging from the north-northeast.”

Fort’s voice then comes through, “Twelve Carapaces, copy. Direct Proxies, unload your RPGs on those things. Maids get two crates of those rockets to the outposts along defence line beta.”

From PT’s periscope, Caitlyn sees the Maids sprung into action, loading the available Runners with crates supposedly filled with anti-tank rockets. The work is done in such a pace that left Caitlyn’s eyes wide. In fifteen seconds, the Runners, two of them filled with AT rockets crates, have already left the scene.

“You Maids are an impressive breed.” Caitlyn turns to Genesis.

Genesis shrugs. “I mean, our master zips from one side of the battlefield to the other in mere minutes if not seconds.”

“Sir Microv Edward?”

Genesis nods, her hands are tapping on the steering wheel.

Caitlyn heard a story of that man, the second highest authorities in the ArC, one of the few that possess superhuman abilities.

“It’s a basic drill for us frontline Maids. They even gave us enhancement modules to speed up the job by ten folds. But of course, the speed never matches that of our master. He is on a different level.” Genesis continues.

It is said that he personally supports the defence of five chokepoints at the same time during the Siege of Vaniyya in The Primus’ conquest. And whichever point he is in, the Vindicators’ advance there is halted. Such is the power of The Primus’ right-hand-man. She couldn’t imagine what The Primus himself is capable of.

“We owe a great deal to you then.” Caitlyn grins as she crosses her arms.

“Sort of.” Genesis replies, turning her attention to Caitlyn. “But our master has ensured that you don’t.”

But still, such a great feat is worthy of something in return to them from the Proxies themselves. At least, that is how it should be as Caitlyn thought. Because logistics are the backbone of every military force.

“Our recognition should suffice, I guess?” She says.

“But of course,” Genesis turns her gaze ahead, leering at Caitlyn with her left eye shut. “Who wouldn’t notice cute girls in maid uniform running around the battlefield armed with carbines and an emitter katana?”

Caitlyn chuckles. “You are indeed a sight, huh.”

“We have Gauntlets making a run for our position.” A calm voice in contrast with the roaring RPGs in the background, followed by even more bullet ricochet.

“Copy,” Fort replies. “First Sergeant Caitlyn, I believe your tank demands something to shoot at. Go around them from the hills to the north and give them a pounding.”

“I do think demand is an overstatement.” PT replies first.

Caitlyn nods to Genesis the second Captain Fort provides the direction. She turns PT around and drive the tank along the path leading to the hills that he mentioned.

“We’re heading there, sir.” Caitlyn responds.

“Be careful you three.” Charlotte says through the platoon channel as the tank dashes out of the settlement.

They eventually reach the hill. It is an elevated position with a rather lightly wooded area. They could assume a position where PT’s gun just peeks out of the hill toward the two Gauntlets to the settlement’s north-northeast. If they return fire, their shot would unlikely hit them since they have to fire uphill. Even still, PT can survive some hits from the front. And if situation gets critical, Genesis could just hit the reverse gear and bail out of the position.

“Take us there, Genesis.” Caitlyn says, marking a position on the map that’s visible to both of them. “We should be able to fire down on them from there.”

“Taking us there.” Genesis replies.

But as soon as they climbed the hill…

“Ow!” PT cries.

Along with that is the shaking of the cabin in the wake of a missile crashing to PT’s front hull. Unlike the Androids, the Automatons don’t have pain receptors. The way PT responds in such a manner when hit in the face by a missile is probably him being shocked at the sudden reduction of his hull’s integrity.

The cabin shakes again as two more rockets hits PT’s front hull.

“We have contacts!” Genesis yells.

In front of them are two squads of Guards supported by a Carapace armed with anti-tank missile launcher instead of the autocannon. PT fires a shot at the Carapace but that just bounces off its front armour.

“No penetration!? You can’t be serious.” PT exclaims.

Caitlyn pulls the smoke triggers. “Back up! Back up!” She says.

Genesis hits the reverse gear and PT gradually rolls down the hill.

“We can’t support them like this.” Genesis says, glancing at Caitlyn.

“Well we can’t go there without any support either.” PT replies. “Unless of course, you fancy going out in a blaze of glory.”

Caitlyn falls silent. Available forces are all tied down in the defence of the settlement. There’s no way she would ask for reinforcement from the captain. Even if she does, her request would most likely be denied. But she has to take care of those Gauntlets, to alleviate the defences and save as much men as possible. She could send a request for air support, but that is too expensive for such a small detachment facing them.

There is one option left for her.

“Genesis,” Caitlyn turns to her. “I’ll leave those Guards to you.”

“What?” Genesis asks, her eyes meet Caitlyn’s.

“Charlotte claimed that you prefer to charge the enemy. Thus, I assume that you are a capable fighter.”

“Well, sort of.” Genesis tilts her head.

“Then get out there, and take care of them.” Caitlyn says while running her fingers on the control panel, turning the autopilot on. “PT will take the wheel. We will handle that Carapace.”

Genesis nods. “Very well.” She grabs her carbine that is leaning against the left side of the cabin, and loads a magazine. Then she opens the hatch above her and jumps out of the tank.

“We’re counting on you, Genesis.”

Genesis only raises her right thumb as she advances into the smoke screen. As soon as she vanishes into the smoke, Caitlyn hears a barrage of gunshot from beyond.

“Let’s hope she’ll make it.”

“That maid looks tough. She’ll be alright.”

Caitlyn nods as she assumes control of PT’s gun. “Take us a few more meters north, we shall make our return to the hill there.”

The Carapace, seeing that its big target gone, should now be unoccupied. Which means, there is no guarantee that it won’t lay fire on Genesis. She is not only facing hostile fire from the ten Guards, but also the Carapace’s machine guns. Caitlyn grips her fists at that scenario which most probably is occurring at the moment.

Hang in there, Genesis…

They make their climb again on the other side of the hill as soon as they circumvent a small part of it. Caitlyn’s breath caught when they come across a sight of five Guards running to the right, against the direction of their previous climb, followed by the Carapace that slowly creeps backward; its machine guns firing at the smoke screen that’s about to clear up. Caitlyn takes a quick glance to what the walker is firing at. There she finds Genesis cowering behind a tree trunk solid enough to brave the machine gun fire; bracing herself with her head tucked. After a closer look, Caitlyn finds that with her is the TeV’s anti-tank missile launcher.

Unfortunately, her back is against the side where Caitlyn is. So perhaps she is unaware that they have returned to the fray.     When Caitlyn is about to notify her, she emerges out of cover and fires a missile at the Carapace. It hits the walker’s missile launcher, but the damage appears to be negligible. And as soon as she is about to return to cover, three of the machine guns’ cartridges make it through her.

The maid collapses.

“Genesis!” Caitlyn cries through her utilizer.

“You bastard!” PT yells out. “KT, hit that trigger!”

Caitlyn turns and sees that PT has his turret aimed at the walker’s missile turret. Without any doubt, she slams on the trigger.

PT’s gun roars as soon as the Carapace align its front to PT’s direction. The 125mm armour-piercing shell slips inside the Carapace’s launcher barrel, and further into the high-explosive missile loaded inside.

Within a split second of contact, the walking metallic shell burst into flames, its parts rocket as far as the tree-tops before falling down in fiery pieces reek of burnt metals.

“PT,” Caitlyn says as she scrambles out of the tank. “Assume position slightly behind the marker that I’ve previously set.”

“Roger.” PT moves toward the designated point as soon as Catilyn jumps out of him.

She then takes a thousand steps toward Genesis. Electric sparks are leaping out of the holes on her body formed by the 7.62mm cartridges. Caitlyn draws her ear closer toward Genesis’ chest. She could still hear a faint hum coming from within. It indicates that her core is still functioning. Perhaps her consciousness is shot by the shock of bullet impacts. But she is still alive at the moment, and can still be saved.

Caitlyn straps Genesis’ carbine to her, before putting the unconscious maid body on to her back. She trots toward PT’s location.

“Uh, KT.” The tank speaks to her.

“What is it?”

“The Gauntlets are pulling back.” He says. “Their turrets aimed at our position.”

Caitlyn puts Genesis on PT’s hull before climbing it, doing so while processing what the tank words’ means.

“They are aware of us now.” She sighs.

“Well at least we tried.” PT says. “At least they pull back right?”

They indeed pulled back, which provides a breathing room for the defenders. But they will definitely return. And by the time that happens, they would already have this position fortified as to prevent further flanking maneuver such as what they were trying to achieve. It would then be difficult to contain those Gauntlets if the settlement is not reinforced anytime soon.

“First sergeant, the Gauntlets to the north-northeast are pulling back. But I don’t see any shots landing on them.” Fort’s voice comes through.

Caitlyn scrambles down the hatch, laying Genesis down inside the cabin in an as much as comfort deemed possible in such a cramped space.

“Our position has been compromised.” She responds. “They have stationed two squads of Guards and a Carapace prior to our arrival. We took care of them but Genesis is down.”

“Artillery, take cover!” A Proxy voice that spikes as soon as Caitlyn finishes her sentence.

That yelling prompts her to peek out of the hatch. She is met by hails of projectiles trailing through the blue sky, before finally landing at several points in the settlement. The thundering explosions follow a few seconds after the shells land on houses, streets, and decorations. Caitlyn cranes her head up, tracking the trajectories of those shells. Her gaze eventually falls to a direction where the enemy artillery is most probably stationed.

“Charlotte, are you still there?” Caitlyn calls her.

“Still alive. Receiving artillery fire but KP is still holding so far.”

“Genesis is down.”

“What?” Charlotte asks in her calm tone that doesn’t imply any sort of concern.

“She got shot and need attention. PT could use some too.”

“Guess you want me there, don’t you?”

“We’ll rendezvous at a mid-point just like previously.”

As soon as Caitlyn says that, the captain’s voice interrupts.

“First Sergeant Caitlyn, can you see where did those shells come from?”

Caitlyn turns her gaze to the previous direction where her suspicion of enemy artillery presence rings.

“It is about five degree west of north sir, a few clicks from my position.”

“Excellent,” Fort commends with a slightly raised tone. “Now get there and blow them to hell.”

“But sir, Genesis is injured and I could use some repairs on PT.”

“Denied.” Fort states. “This artillery barrage doesn’t stop those Guards from picking us off from the distance. We have to abandon our position.”

“Don’t we have reinforcement coming?”

“I don’t know what the command is doing back there. But there don’t seem to be one anytime soon.” Fort’s voice is mixed with the trembling noise of crashing high-explosive shells, as well as machine gun fire. “We are about to stage a fighting retreat, but with that artillery piece lying around I’m afraid it would take less than a few seconds for it to be a full rout.”

Caitlyn falls silent. Her situation is just like three days ago, the time when she met PT. All alone deep in enemy lines, as her comrades are retreating. Why does it have to be like this? Why she has to be the one that advances while everyone else is falling back? It was a fortune that she and PT made it out alive back then. She doubts that it would occur again for the second time. This time there’s almost no guarantee that there would be allies breaking through to get to them. She might have to break through the enemy lines by herself.

“Hey, KT.” PT calls out to her.

She turns towards one of the screens that shows a wiggly line with peaks that spikes whenever PT speaks.

“We can do this.” He says to her. “We’ve made it before. We’ll make it again.”

“First sergeant!” Fort’s voice becomes louder. “Do you hear me? Are you there?”

Caitlyn shuts her eyes, trying to ignore the captain’s voice.

“I’m not sure, PT.” Her hand touches the screen with the line as she turns her gaze down.

“Hey, listen.” PT’s voice gentle down. “We’ve been through hell okay? That’s why they’re depending on us. They wanted us to go because no-one dares to do that. We can do this, I believe we can.”

A tank asked her to believe that they could make this daring assault. Just like what had happened before. The thought of that left a bubbling impression in her core.

“Caitlyn, what should it be?” That’s Charlotte voice coming through.

“I’m going to take the maid’s word for it. Remember what you’re fighting for, and remember just that, nothing more. Then, we charge their position and show them who’s boss.”

Caitlyn grips her hand that she placed on the screen. If only PT has a hand…

It doesn’t take long for her to nod.

“Very well.” She moves to her seat and man the gun again. “Direction five degrees west of north, full speed ahead.”

“That’s the spirit!” PT exclaims. “Five degrees west of north it is.”

Caitlyn then pulls up her utilizer. “Captain Fort, we’re advancing toward that artillery piece, over.”

“I’ll make sure something is up for you back here, once you are done.” He replies. “Also, there will be air supports for you. They’re going to abide my request for this one.”

“Much obliged, captain.”

“Yeah they better be!” PT yells out.

“Caitlyn?” Charlotte calls for her again.

“I’m after that enemy artillery so you could safely retreat.” Caitlyn replies.

“I wish fate sides you this day.”

“Thank you.”

Caitlyn glances at the speedometer. It shows Redeemer’s top speed. They are now cruising toward the enemy artillery position. There might be some Guards stationed there for protection. But with careful approach, they could sneak up and snipe those damned cannons, and haul away before those Guards could catch up to them. She and PT just needs an elevated position so they could fire down on the enemy position.

And as fortune has it, Caitlyn finds a slightly higher ridge after a careful observation of the surrounding environment. In addition to that is a dense vegetation covering the whole ridge, allowing an excellent concealment should the enemy return fire. Caitlyn orders PT to slow down as to not give away their position. They prowl ever closer on a designated position along the ridge. And as soon as they reached it, as soon as they got view on the enemy artillery position…

“Whoa…” Caitlyn’s mouth gaped.

“What the hell is that…” PT expresses his astonishment with a tone that mimics a whisper.

Down there is a plaza of a barren village. Perhaps it is once used as a place for the townsfolk to gather. And on that plaza are two massive tanks, two times the size of PT. Their large hull is carried by four pieces of tracks, two on each side. Their overwhelming turret bears the weight of two 155mm barrels, something that Caitlyn sure is able to penetrate PT’s side in a single volley. Their barrels are currently angled upward. The implication of that sends shiver down Caitlyn’s spine.

“This is the enemy artillery that is bombarding the settlement?”

“Those shots originated here right? There’s nothing else around here but those two monstrosities.”

            Monstrosities…

Even PT is afraid of that thing.

And the affirmation of their fears is served on a silver platter not long after.

Their barrels roar in turn repeatedly, firing a salvo toward the heavens. The ground rocks in their wake, the trees shed their foliage for each shell that leaves the barrel. Even one of the desolated structures in their proximity collapses. It is as if they brought doomsday with them, a representative of a mythological titan who quakes the world with his raging roar. PT’s cabin vibrates hard. Caitlyn cowers as the tanks keep on firing, tucking her head and covering her ears. She couldn’t imagine what sort of madness that drive one to create what even PT refers to as monstrosities.

The firing soon ends, and Caitlyn collapses to her seat. It feels like she has just gone through the end of the world and survived. But that took away all her energy, her spirit. She is not sure whether she alone could bring such a massive machinery down.

“Do you think we could pierce that thing’s armour?”

“No.” PT replies. There is no continuation to his statement. “We can deal damage. But alone, they would be negligible.”

After finding no Guards around, Caitlyn reaches for the last glimmer of hope of taking that thing down.

“But at least they are artillery pieces, right?” She asks. “They’re not meant for direct combat.”

“KT! Brace Yourselves!” PT yells frantically, as he hits the reverse gear.

Caitlyn attempts to do what he told her, but the movement transition happened too fast that she is thrown to the front side of the cabin.

“Aah…!” Caitlyn yelps as she braces herself in the wake of terrifying shockwaves that quakes PT’s cabin. “PT!” She calls out to him.

The shock is so powerful that it topples PT’s balance. But he quickly regains it.

“What was that?” Caitlyn says.

As the dirt rains down and the dust clouds clears up, PT opens his mouth again if he had one.

“Death…”

From the other side of the dust clouds emerges the same monstrosity that they have observed from the ridge, slowly creeping toward them. Caitlyn’s breath is caught as its size grows ever more overwhelming as the tank approach them steadily. Their barrels are straightened, aimed at them. And in the seconds between life and death, Caitlyn’s processor freezes; her mouth gaping in the sight of that monstrosity.

“That’s it!” PT shouts. “I’m getting us out of here!” His words, and a sudden jerk of movement snaps Caitlyn back to reality.

And just as PT drives away, two shells land on where they were standing.

“Bloody hell!” PT yells again. “KT! Are you there!?”

“I…” Caitlyn stutters, her breath heavy. “I’m here…” She holds on to the vibrating cabin as she tries to recover herself.

“Thank the Primus you’re okay.”

“Get us…” Caitlyn pauses, catching her breath. Her core is still quaking from that last shot coming out of that monster’s barrel. She looks deep to find herself. But all she finds is only the thought of getting annihilated by its shell. “Get us away from that thing!” Caitlyn then cries. “Anywhere away from them!”

“That’s what I’m doing right now! Stay calm and get your processor back in shape.”

As soon as he said that, he suddenly stops. Caitlyn once again got thrown to the cabin’s front as there is no deceleration. PT just stops as if he crashes into a massive boulder strong enough to hold his advance.

“PT!” Caitlyn cries at him as she rubs her head.

“I can’t move!”

“What’s going on!?” Caitlyn asks, her tone is filled with all the concerns that she could come up with. She looks around and finds the displays of the screens surrounding her are getting distorted and covered in statics. “What’s going on!?” She asks again with a louder tone.

“That bastard snared me!”

In the next second, Caitlyn could perceive a backward movement occurring. She scrambles out of the hatch and turns her gaze to PT’s rear. There the monstrosity has its turret aimed at PT. But there is something different about it. There is quite a space between its two barrels. And in that space is a large circular compartment. That compartment is now opened, firing a crimson beam that is holding PT in place.

Even worse, the beam is pulling PT closer to it.

And then the massive tank aligns its front toward PT’s rear. As soon as that happens, some contraptions emerge out from under the front hull. They then unpack, revealing their cylindrical shape that is perpendicular to the tank’s width as well as the sharp thermal blades attached to them. Caitlyn soon realizes what they are as they begin to spin at an uncanny rate.

“PT, drive…” She says as soon as she sinks back into the hatch. “Drive! Drive!” Her voice gets louder with each word.

“I’m at full speed!”

But despite of it, they keep going backward; they are being dragged backward.

Caitlyn scrambles for the turret control and tries to turn it to the tank’s direction. But it doesn’t work.

“Turn your turret and unload some AP on that thing!” Caitlyn yells

“I can’t either!”

Caitlyn can hear the noise of the spinning blades gets louder and louder. She dares herself to peek out of the hatch. And that is a mistake. As she is greeted by the sight of the blades that gets closer, their song for her demise grows ever evident. And she feels that her soul, if she even has one, just departed from her.

“DRIVE, YOU USELESS JUNK! DRIVE!!!” She yells out an order to PT in an unusually deafening tone.

“I CAAAN’T!!!!”

Caitlyn sinks and cowers.

By that point, the spinning blades barely reached PT’s rear.

When suddenly an explosion occurs on the massive tank’s circular compartment. And that releases PT from its grip. He nimbly rolls off, leaving the monstrosity behind further and further in a short time span, as another explosion occurs on the tank’s track.

Two Cosmos streaks past overhead.

“We got you covered 51st Tank Platoon.” Says one of the pilots.

The massive tank should be able to fire on PT. But for some reason, it decides not to.

“Thank…” PT pauses. “You.”

“Where are you going? I thought you’re heading for that artillery.” Says the other.

“Negative.” PT replies. “We have to abort. The enemy have a new toy that caught us off guard and renders my commander combat ineffective.”

“Roger that.” The first pilot says. “Command is evacuating the settlement at the moment. There will be gunships escorting you, they are on their way to your position.”

“I appreciate that.”

Caitlyn only listens to that conversation in silence, all while she is regaining her senses.

“KT…” PT calls her out.

But Caitlyn remains silent. Her hollow sight is turned down. She gathers the remainder of her strength and position herself beside Genesis.

“KT…” PT calls her again, in a gentler tone.

She takes a glance at Genesis’ composed face. Of course, she is unconscious and didn’t experience the horror that she has just witnessed.

“KT?”

The vibrating cabin and the hum of PT’s engine blows a drowsy breeze into the cabin. Too much have happened to her for the day, most that makes it up comes from the recent occurrence, the encounter with that monstrosity. The image of that massive hunk of machinery is still vivid in her processor.

Caitlyn wonders…

“Hey KT, please tell me you are there.”

Whether closing her eyes could make it disappear. Whether following Genesis up could help her forget that monstrosity.

And after taking a deep breath, her heavy head falls on Genesis’ right shoulder and her sight turns dark.

“Hey KT!”

–**–


Writer: PrimDom

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