Threw in a little Zeonquest reference because why not. Still, let's not kid ourselves: there are way too many people fanboying the folks who killed half of humanity out there.

Fife And Gun

"Zekes really coming?"

"They're really coming, Cat. IR fritzing out didn't clue you in?"

"That son of a bitch Minovsky ain't got nothing to be proud of. Be thankful your low-light scopes still work." The Type 61 Main Battle Tank's hatches were closed, as they had been for the last two hours. They were dug in, deep, on a low hill, only the turret showing. It was an older model, 61A3, with a three-person crew and 150mm cannon, unlike the newer 61A5 with their two-man crew and 155mm guns. Zeon forces had landed in Mexico four days ago and were pushing up towards their position in Texas.

"We were going to get shielded IR next month too. Why the fuck would you invade Earth anyways?" Cat Williams, 23, lance corporal, driver. Five years in the EFGF. Got busted from sergeant over striking a superior officer after failing to get a transfer spaceside when the balloon went up.

"Zekes ran out of people to kill in space. The Sides got hit real bad in the early going, Corp." Ritchie Smith, 20, PFC, gunner. Was visiting family on Earth when his colony got gassed during Operation British, enlisted in the EFGF the same day. Left a degree in high-energy physics in the rubble.

"You can bet the Zeke gear works just fine, so pay attention. There'll be time enough for jawing when the shooting's done." Jeannette Montange, 24, sergeant, commander. Cajun, not proper French. Six years in the EF military, two as one of the rare tank drivers in the colonies, four as a tank commander on Earth.

"Movement, three o'clock, one kilometer, in the treeline." The driver's optics are just as good as the gunner's in this case. Better, arguably, since the driver has eyes on the back of the tank for reversing that the gunner doesn't. God knows why they removed that from the A5.

"One of those Wappa things. Coax up."

"Hold your fire. He's way out of range." Jeannette zoomed in closer. "He doesn't even have night-vision gear. That's not going to be very helpful-" A shell, a starshell, burst over the position of her platoon.

"Driver, back to Alternate One! Popping smoke!" The night resounded to cannon fire, but it was a solid miss, three meters over the top of their turret. Some Zeke gunner too used to trying to range on a colony with all the wonky physics of a rotating structure. "Gunner, target tank, at the treeline, four o'clock." Jeannette prayed the Willie Pete smoke cans were everything they were advertised to be, or they'd be sitting ducks to thermal viewers.

"Loading sabot. Up! On the way!" One barrel only of the tank's two. Dual linked was a waste on most targets.

"Lost him in the smoke!" Enemy, and friendly, artillery pounded the position they'd just vacated. Jeanette checked where the rest of her platoon was; lieutenant's tank was on the left, guns elevated, Strunk's beyond that. White should be somewhere to her right, but he wasn't visible. Damn, already? Probably just can't see him. She scanned the horizon to her front, and her heart skipped a beat.

"Target Zaku, direct front!" At least they were too tall to hide in the trees. And too tall for the low-hanging smoke clouds, intended to conceal tanks and IFVs from other tanks and IFVs, to work. Damn, damn, damn!

"On the way!" The Zaku sidestepped the shot; at over a kilometer and a half, the time of flight was just too long. "Reloading!"

"Miss! Driver, displace. Left fifty meters." We got scouted. I told the damn captain we should have stayed with the 215!

"Holy hell!" The position they had been in was annihilated by the Zaku's full-auto 120mm gun. At least ten rounds, maybe more.

"Less watching the pyrotechnics, more driving!"

"Tw-fo-r," the radio was scratchy, Minovsky interference, but at least some meaning could be divined. Sometimes. "Move t-ph-line delta."

"Back to the next phase line, quick as you can. Gunner! Target tank, coming out of the smoke, eleven o'clock!"

"On the way!" Still only one barrel. If you missed, you could always correct your aim and fire the second.

Christ, she could see two Zakus now, and some of those armored car things the Zekes liked. "Hit! Took his track off-crew's bailing. Target weasel, eleven o'clock!" The Zeon amphibious recon vehicle was actually called a "Weasel", but because of its battlefield role of surveying the area and running away to tell others it probably would have earned that name anyways; along with less complementary ones.

"You sure, Sarge?" Ritchie asked.

"Yes! Goddammit, don't question me in a fight Rich!"

"On the way! Reloading!"

"Hit! Tore his turret off, he's running." God, those Zakus were fast. The first one was getting awful close. She lased it; six hundred meters! "Target Zaku, twelve o'clock!" Jeannette switched to the platoon channel. "That Zaku is getting real close, Lieutenant!"

"Two fo-targ-the-aku!" the lieutenant's voice replied. The Zaku was shooting, off to the left.

"Up! On the way!" Both barrels this time.

"Hit! Hit!" The Zaku stumbled as three shells crashed into its legs, two from them, one from the right. It retaliated with a burst to either side of Jeannette's vehicle, but didn't seem to see them. It also didn't seem any of the shells had penetrated, just bounced off the leg armor. "No effect! Aim higher, Rich! Cat, pull us back so he can get it in the torso, fast as possible!"

"Up! On the way! Reloading!"

"Hit! Hit!" Two rounds into the center lower torso. There was a flash, and the Zaku went down only three hundred and fifty meters away. "Confirmed kill!"

"Take that Zabi!" Ritchie yelled. "Send you all back to Side Three in pieces!"

"Pipe down! Target, weasel, one o'clock!" Jeanette snapped.

"Up! On the way!" Ritchie sounded at least a little bit contrite in this.

"Hit! Kill!" The round had gone straight through the light armor on the recon vehicle, in the front and out the back. It started to brew up. "Target weasel, direct front!"

"On the way! Reloading!"

She couldn't see the second Zaku anymore. The Zeon amphibious armored car popped smoke before the tracer reached it. "Lost him in the smoke." She couldn't see anything that looked particularly like a Zeon unit at all, in fact. Where had they all gone? "Cat, get us to our position on delta."

It had started to rain, if one was generous; really it was more like a light mist. The sky was also lightening slowly, though it was not yet dawn. They had waited at phase line delta for ten minutes and seen no friendly units. At fifteen minutes two guys on foot, Gutierrez and Chan from Two-One, had showed up. Now they were riding on the bustle while the tank headed to the rally point specified for if everything had gone wrong.

Jeannette stood in her open hatch, hands idly gripping the commander's MG mainly just to have something to hold on to. "It was painted like a skeleton?"

"Yeah. Went through Three Company like they were nothing sarge. That Zeke pilot was loco, ran straight into cannon fire like he didn't care. His buddy started in on Two Three and our platoon, threw his heat hawk at our tank. Cut the engine in half." Gutierrez explained.

"First Sergeant Jenkins told us to bail out and run." Chan added. "We made it about twenty meters before the ammo storage blew. I didn't see the Top bail out."

"Me neither." Gutierrez agreed. "We headed for delta, looking for friendlies. Damn glad we caught you before you pulled back sarge."

Jeanette nodded, her eyes scanning the sky. The lighter it got, the more she had to worry about aircraft; both Zeon's Dopps and her own side's Fly Mantas and Toriaries. The pilots could not always be trusted to tell the sheep from the goats. "You see what happened to the captain's tank?"

Chan grimaced. "He took a hit from a Magella Attack in the opening volley. His tank didn't brew up or anything, but I didn't see it move again."

They should have passed through a friendly artillery battery on this little cross-country trip, but they hadn't yet. No sign of any friendlies. "Sarge, four o'clock." Ritchie said.

Every good tank commander has a pair of binoculars, at least until the turret monster eats them and they have to get new ones. "Looking. That's...a Fanfan." The ground-effect rotor vehicle was rare on Earth, usually deployed in colonies. It was sometimes a recon vehicle in the EFGF, but usually those were Bloodhounds. Captured vehicle was a real possibility. "Load HEAT but don't put the guns on target." Again she switched to radio. "Any Earth Federation unit, this is Sergeant Montange, Two-Eleven Armored Battalion. Please respond."

Back to intercom. "Behind that bump on the left and halt, Cat." That'd put them down far enough that they'd be invisible.

"Montange, can yo-uthenticate?" The Minovsky interference was lesser after a ten-mile trip.

"Negative, no way. The codes died with my lieutenant." Jeannette grimaced to herself. The EFF was still adapting to the era of Minovsky warfare, where it was easy to get separated and lost.


"Cat, takes us around the hill and advance at ten klicks an hour." She lowered the commander's seat until she was just peaking over the edge of it. "Chan, Gutierrez, you might want to dismount. If these are Zekes, tell my dad he was a shit."

Chan hopped off the tank, but Gutierrez looked at her like she was crazy. "You serious, sarge?"

"Why do you think I ended up in the army? Now get off my tank, soldier." Jeanette replied testily.

The 61A3 crept forward. Glancing down at her turret optics and sweeping them back and forth she could see more vehicles, now; a couple of 74-model hover vehicles, not the truck type, but the IFV model, the Wolfhound.

"Montage, halt." That transmission was clear. She ducked down but didn't close her hatch. One of the Wolfhounds darted up and its commander popped out of the turret, so she raised her head again. "Is New Orleans at the mouth of the Mississippi?"

Trying to ask a question only an Earther from North America would know? You're lucky, Strunk would have failed this. "No. It's upriver, on Lake Pontchartrain."

The Wolfhound commander grimaced. "Welcome back to the army, Sergeant. We're with the Two Fifteen Mechanized Infantry. Anyone else from your unit make it out?"

Jeannette swore softly. "Couple of guys behind that hill there, but they bailed out their tank. Beyond that, I haven't seen anyone else from the Two-Eleven since we got hit by the Zekes three hours ago. For all I know the Zekes are five minutes behind me."

"All right," the Wolfhound commander spoke into his mic for a moment, directing another vehicle to pick up Chan and Gutierrez. "There's a dirt road two hundred meters that way," he pointed. "Once you hit it, turn left and follow the road until you reach pavement, then head north. The Colonel wants to talk to you and the other survivors."

Jeanette nodded. Survivors. They hadn't met anyone else, then. She looked at her hands. They didn't shake, and she wasn't sure why. The entire battalion in one fight. Fuck. Fuck!