(Warning: Human Death, Cussing)
His hands trembled, just for a moment, as he laid them across the console. His breath felt hot in the cool warehouse, and he loomed into the cockpit, tail flicking behind him. ‘Just a routine patrol.’ The watchman before him had told him to keep his guard up- something he hadn’t heard in months.
Attikias let out a shuddering breath.
It was probably just words, right? But he’d been stationed with Petre for over a month now, and it was the first time he’d said it, and that got the elf’s mind working.
It must just be a precaution. Maybe he saw a deer out in the wilds or something, got spooked. That sounded right.
‘I can hear you worrying from here,’ Ahnura’s airy voice chimed in.
‘Sorry. I’m fine.’ He would be fine, anyways, as he clambered into the cockpit and sat back into the seat. ‘Are you set to go?’
The affirmative across their link plucked at his brain, and Attikias nodded. ‘Let’s get to business.’ Reaching up, Attikias’s fingers danced across the numerous inputs on the roof-affixed dashboard. His machine- a tank model he’d stolen nearly a year ago- shuddered into life, its mechanisms flexing their newfound nerves.
A stuttering visual flicked into view at the corner of the windshield. Snow-capped trees whizzed by from an aerial view, a visual Attikias saw through his mind’s eye more than anything. With his link with Ahnura being so new, this precautionary measure was good, supposedly- besides, it helped record any visual movement of the Abrendese.
Attikias reached behind himself and locked the seat belts into place. Twin cylindrical chambers rose before him, clicking once they were situated, and the elf methodically reached forward and slid his forearms through them. They latched effortlessly, and one side of the vehicle began to dip as Attikias leaned his arm to the side.
”Everything’s in working order… Moving out,” he muttered, bringing the tank to a slow crawl forward. Its sleek, black chassis had just enough room to fit through the makeshift garage and out the automatic door, and its six wheels soon crunched through the snow as Attikias directed it into the wilds.
‘We haven’t checked the north-west perimeter in a while,’ Attikias idly thought. The tank lurched to the left at his command, as did the viewport from Ahnura.
Except… Attikias stopped.
‘Ahnura, where was Petre earlier?’ Attikias’s head turned to the side as he reached for a memory, but the man hadn’t said anything about where he had been patrolling. A frustrated pluck of emotion returned to him at the question, and Attikias sighed, his tail twitching uncomfortably against the pleather seat. ‘You’re right. Let’s continue.’
The tank whirred back into motion as Attikias shoved forward, easing it forward to a good speed. It had plains and plains to go across, the desert of a tundra flat with the treeline fading behind him fast. In the corner of his mind, he could see the deep color of his tank against the snow from Ahnura’s feed, and Attikias could feel his muscles tightening. ‘We need to paint the tank,’ Attikias worried.
Attikias nodded, turning his head forward and focusing back on his mission, deftly avoiding a crack in the ice. It would be some time until they reached their destination, but it was time to think, time to plan, to think about what paints they might need, and, eventually, what that dark thing to the right was.
Ahnura’s tug for attention came late as Attikias glanced over to the object, noticing it once they were nearly to their objective. It was dark, much like his tank, and kicking up snow behind it. It was matching their speed.
And it was getting closer.
‘Ahnura, get higher.’ There was no way to know if the approaching vehicle noticed her, but it was worth the effort as Attikias pulled back one arm out of the controller and fumbled with ancient controls. ”Come in. Come in- halt your approach immediately.” Attikias worked quickly as the communications monitor beeped back to him, its radio producing nothing but static.
‘How fast-‘ But Ahnura already supplied his mind with the visual, with the approach being in just a few seconds.
Attikias’s gut dropped. ‘They’re faster than us.’ Reeling his hand back from the console, Attikias jammed it back into the controller and shoved both arms forward, the tank lurching with a boost of speed. ‘Get ready for a dive.’ He had no time to wait for a response as his machine lurched forward again, a hideous clash of metal bashing in his ears.
”Shit!” His heart pounded in his chest as he leaned forward, putting every ounce of weight he had into his controls. ”Ahnura! The alarm!”
They had been discovered.
A deep thrum of noise sounded behind him, and Attikias barely had enough time to twitch the tank to the left, narrowly avoiding a blindingly white light. It arched to his right, and Attikias whipped his head back, glancing to the rear view feed.
”They have a fucking light cannon!?” Why would a scout have that kind of weaponry! Baring his teeth, Attikias shoved his right arm forward and the left back and spun the tank on place, turning his direct visual to his pursuer with a fair dose of whiplash.
The triggers creaked as he squeezed them as hard as he could, the familiar rattling of the twin-mounted guns firing in tandem. Light shot back at the offending tank as it swerved to the side. It was moving too much for Ahnura to latch on, and Attikias could feel the rising panic in his mind settle in. He had to get it on a straight path, so with a hard jerk, he put his tank into reverse and let go of his firepower, letting the enemy come at him from head on.
He didn’t have much time. From here, he could see the light cannon spinning up again, and the dread settled in more and more until the tank straightened out just for him. Any moment, and… ‘Now!’ Like a bomb going off, Attikias felt the unbridled emotion of rage release from his dragon, talons outstretched as she dove from thick clouds. Thick titanium gauntlets latched onto the cannon and shoved it back as it began to glow, its shot going to waste in the sky. ‘Yes!’
Attikias let out a heavy breath as Ahnura drove her helmet into the glass of the tank like a battering ram, a sickening crack ringing out as the tank swerved left and right, going in circles to buck the dragon off. It didn’t work. One more bash and the glass caved in, bending and shattering far into the pilot’s chamber.
Death was sudden for the Abrendese. At least, from what he could glean from Ahnura’s delayed thoughts, they didn’t struggle much. Their tank continued into the distance without stopping until Ahnura lurched forward, armored talons digging into the windshield to pry it open. It was quick, precise work, and the body was flung to the side as Attikias turned and readjusted to catch up to his now suddenly stationary dragon.
‘You could have a little more care,’ Attikias pressed into Ahnura’s mind as he passed the body, earning a frustrated snort from her.
‘They don’t care about us. Either they kill you, or you kill them.’ Ahnura’s head flicked to the side as she stepped away from the vehicle, bright eyes staring through the one-sided glass to Attikias.
The elf sighed. His tank rolled to a stop, and he pulled his arms from their holsters, reaching up to flick one lever before releasing the windshield of his own vehicle. ‘They could have been a defector.’
‘Look at that,’ Ahnura growled as she shoved her snout forward. ‘They still have their identification tags.’
”Anyone would still have them,” Attikias argued as he stepped out of the tank, sliding over the front into the snow. ”I still have mine.”
‘You don’t display them proudly like that.’ And it was true, and Attikias rumbled, approaching the body and leaning down to turn it over.
Their chest had caved in, but they seemed to still be put together as Attikias patted over the coat. Sure enough, their dog tags were around their neck, and Attikias gently removed them from the body to inspect them. ”Jean Thronby,” he read out loud, wiping the blood away with snow. ”She’s been in service for a while.” He glanced up, tail curled in close as he kneeled down before her.
‘Does she have an address?’
Attikias turned the cold metal over, placing it on one glove. ”Not on Shérok,” he spoke, waving the tags to get the melted snow off of them. ”I doubt we’d be able to get her body back in good time.”
‘Worth it to try.’ Ahnura stepped forward, her hard armored talons digging into the snow.
”I thought you just said we shouldn’t care about them.”
‘This is different. I don’t care, but I’ll still respect her.’ She stared down at the body. ‘We’re better than them.’
”Yeah,” Attikias sighed out. ”Come on. Let’s check the tank.” Shoving up, the elf shoved the dogtags into his pocket as he approached the vehicle. ‘Not a lot of damage,’ Attikias thought as he ran a hand across the scuffed front.
‘It could be a new alloy,’ Ahnura spoke as she twisted back, watching her rider.
”Yeah.” Reaching up, Attikias pulled himself in to study the cockpit, his gloved hand running over the bloodstained on the holsters. ”I don’t see any damage in here, either. Seems like Petre’ll finally get the tank he’s wanted.”
Ahnura tugged at their connection, urging him towards the communications console. ”Right.” Her rider leaned in further, reaching through the missing glass and looking over the inputs. ”It’s not on,” he rumbled out quietly, flicking a few buttons and pulling on a latch to free the blackbox. ”I don’t see any records of attempted communication, either.”
‘Odd.’ Ahnura’s snout came into view as she weaseled her head under his arm, her whole face nearly taking up the entirety of the cabin.
”Let me work,” Attikias said as he shoved her back out, tail reaching back to balance as he pulled back the blackbox. ”Shep will wanna see this.”
‘Here comes Petre.’
Attikias straightened up and glanced back, a dot in the distance amplified by Ahnura’s thoughts. ”That’s not Petre,” Attikias spoke as he leaned forward, his hand coming up over his eyes.
‘It’s Petre’s snowmobile,’ Ahnura argued.
”It’s too small to be him. That’s Kira.”
‘Oh.’ Ahnura turned to face the approaching Shéar, following Attikias’s movements as he retreated away from the damaged tank.
One arm shot up to wave frantically to Kira. ”It’s safe!” He called out, cupping his hands over his mouth over the growing roar of the approaching machine. Snow plumed before them when Kira swerved to a stop, skidding across the icy plains and tumbling out of the seat.
”Is everything okay?” Her voice was panicked, and she sprinted to Attikias and grabbed his face, turning it this way and that. ”You didn’t get hurt, did you? How’s Ahnura?”
”We’re fine,” Attikias huffed out with a single laugh, pulling Kira’s hands away from his head. ”We got a new weapon, too.”
That got Kira’s attention. She cut away from Attikias and turned fully onto the machine, gasping and raising a hand to place on its sleek metal. ”No way- a light cannon?”
”I don’t know how much money’s gone into this thing, but we’ll certainly have some good firepower with this on it.”
‘If the Abrendese don’t take it first.’ Ahnura’s scales flared as she glanced away, her white teeth flashing in a grimace.
‘They won’t. I don’t see any tracking on it,’ Attikias promised, shooting a pointed glance to his dragon. She huffed, standing and stepping around them as Kira clambered into the cockpit.
”Can you drive it back?” Attikias turned his attention away from his scowling dragon, leaning against the cold metal with his thick winter jacket. His arms folded over the lip, and Kira was grinning madly, her hands flying to the various knobs before her.
”I can certainly try!” The tank whirred and jolted as she depressed a button with a click, its label reading ’LC’. Sure enough, the light cannon had retracted into a small compartment, the light shining below the button flicking to an angry red.
Attikias leaned back. ”Careful about pressing anything. Uhh- Petre’s got first dibs, doesn’t he?”
”Sure,” Kira spoke, ”but that doesn’t mean I can’t have any fun with it.”
”Riight.” The elf unlatched himself from the tank, sweeping away a few errant shards of glass. ”How’re we gonna get the snowmobile back?”
”I figured Ahnura could watch over it.” At her name, the dragon whipped around and stalked closer, staring over the tank and glaring at Kira. ”– if she wants to, of course,” Kira added with a nervous waver.
‘Fine.’ Ahnura’s eyes rolled and she stepped back once more.
”She says fine,” Attikias translated, looking back to watch his dragon pout in front of the much smaller vehicle. ”I don’t think she’s happy about it though.”
‘I’m NOT,’ Ahnura whined as she rolled her head to look at Attikias, glaring daggers into him. ‘But I’m not leaving our machines alone.’
‘If only you were bigger, then you could just fly it home.’
‘I wouldn’t fit in the room, then,’ she retorted, sticking out her pink tongue.
‘You win.’ Attikias raised his hands in surrender, stepping back to his own tank. ”I’m gonna take this blackbox back to Shep. See if he can do anything with it.” At the mention, Attikias lifted the box up from its resting place in the snow and brought it to his vehicle, sliding it inside.
”What about the body?”
Attikias turned around, arm stuck into a storage bin. He had to think. ”It might be better if I take her back, too.”
Kira peered out from the side of the vehicle, silent for a good moment. ”Did you check her pockets?”
”I’m not stealing from dead people, Kira.”
”She can’t use it any more!” She argued, her voice carrying over the flat plains. ”Besides, I like her jacket.”
”People will think you’re Abrendese. You’re not taking her jacket.”
‘Kira’s right. It’ll just go to waste,’ Ahnura gently nudged into Attikias’s mind, watching the two of them as her rested on the snowmobile.
”I’m not scavenging from her. You’re free to back at the base, if you’re so inclined.” Attikias stepped back from his tank to lift the body up from the armpits, hefting her into the cockpit. ”I would rather get rid of her as soon as we can.”
‘I’ll start a grave,’ Ahnura spoke sarcastically, rolling her eyes and looking off into the distance.
”Did she have any dogtags?” Kira’s tank raised on its six wheels as she adjusted her arms inside the holsters, staring down and feeling for the reaction to her movements.
Attikias’s hand drifted down to his pocket. ”She did. Might be best to let the alliance handle it, though. I’ll make sure to send a wire once we get back.”
”Does this mean your patrol’s done?”
”I don’t know. I’ll ask Petre about it,” Attikias said, clambering into his own cockpit. ”Can you see if the communications console works?”
”That’s… This thing, right?” Kira’s left hand hovered towards a storage bin, but she was soon startled by a resounding snap from Ahnura.
”It’s to the right. The– by the windshield? Or, where it was.”
”Oh! I see it.” Kira placed her other hand on it and pressed in a button. ”Huh. It was off.”
”Hm.” Attikias rumbled as he tuned through his own radio. ”Check frequency 64.5?” Static came through as he switched it over to the same numbers, dialing it carefully. Soon, a twin static came through, until Kira’s idle humming came through the receiver.
”Checking?” Her voice was faint, but definitely there.
”Hmm.” Attikias nodded. ”Can you hear me through the speaker?”
”Yep!” She placed her arm back into the controller and pulled back, her grin coming back anew. ”Damn, this thing’s in such working order! Why’d they just throw a lone one at us?”
”I think she was a defector,” Attikias dejectedly spoke. ”No tracking, systems off… It sounds like she stole it and was running.”
”There’s not a base around here, though, is there?”
The silence that came from Attikias said more than he ever could. His throat tightened, and he leaned back, arms jacking into their holsters as his tank’s windshield lowered. ”I don’t know,” he admitted after too long, his voice quiet.
”Huh.” Kira, for once, was quiet too, though he could hear her shuffling in place.
Attikias paused. ”Hey. Can you check your mic sensitivity? You may need to lower it some, you’re coming through a bit oddly.”
”It’s barely lighting up with talking, though. Not like yours does.” Kira leaned to the side anyways, fiddling with a knob at the top of the box. ”H–” Her mic crackled. ”–t now?”
”Nope,” Attikias spoke. ”Turn it back up. I’ll take a look at it back at base.”
”Cool.” Kira’s tank jittered forward. ”Shit, this thing’s sensitive. I’m sure I can handle it, though.”
”You should be able to lower the sensitivity at the top, I think… Third handle down from the middle?”
There was a quiet noise from Kira’s end as she adjusted in place, leaning up to twist down a knob. With her other hand still in the controller, she felt for the movement, her tank rocking back and forth as she explored her range. ”I think that’s good. Ready to head out?” She looked back to Attikias’s tank, approximating wherever he was inside of it.
”Ready if you are.” Attikias straightened his back as he slowly brought his tank to a cruising speed, turning around Kira and Ahnura. ‘Be back soon,’ he offered to Ahnura, who only offered a brief mental acknowledgement in response. Attikias’s mouth went askew as he watched Ahnura draw farther and farther away.
Kira’s machine jostled forward, and soon she was at his tail. ”Right behind ya.”