Out Of Time

Outskirts of Avalon City
New Avalon
Federated Suns
July 3rd 3069

Lieutenant Mark 'Dutch' Holland looked out of his sights as the last of his lance mates disappeared in a boiling ball of smoke and flame, debris falling around the crater pocked battlefield. He muttered a silent curse as he recalibrated the sights, trying to grain a lock on the Blakist VTOL that had delivered the fatale blow.

The war had been a sudden shock; after the hellish struggle of the Davion Civil War, no one had wanted to take up arms again so soon, but fate had dealt humanity a cruel hand, and for two years of war had left the planet a smoke-shrouded mess. But still fresh troops were fed into the meat-grinder, young recruits like Dutch, and now he was the only survivor of his entire Battalion, trapped in a crippled tank as the Word of Blake made yet another push to try and take the capital city. Dutch knew from experience just what would happen to the civilian population if the city fell, and that his RCT had been the only real defence they had.

Dutch took a moment to look around the crew compartment of his Challenger X Main Battle Tank; Sergeant Jim Costello, his driver, lay slumped across the controls, almost peacefully, as if he was only sleeping. But it only took a glance at the tick sliver of armour sticking out of his back to show that his war was over. Private William Hurst, the original gunner lay in a headless heap on the floor, the laser blast that had taken out the primary sight killing him before he knew what was happening. Private Otto Von Burgstad, the radio operator was nowhere to be seen: the explosion that had finally crippled the tank had vaporised him in an instant. It was only his combat survival suit that had saved Dutch, but the radiation counter on the arm indicated that he had already taken a fatale dose.

One way or another, this was going to be his last mission.

The smoke and fog obscuring the battlefield parted for a moment and the prowling VTOL came into view. Dutch didn't even try and get a solid lock with the targeting computer: he stabbed the axillary fire controls as soon as the targeting radical started to flash. The entire tank shook as the Gauss Rifle fire, a lightning like streak connecting the tank and the hover-skiff for the briefest of moments, before the raw kinetic energy ripped through the lighter crafts armour like it wasn't there. The VTOL exploded instantly, raining burning debris across the already scorched country side.

Not wasting a moment, Dutch started to scan the battlefield for more targets, and his blood ran cold as a number of dark shapes came into view. The Blakist tanks were smaller and less well armed than his, but they could move, and had fresh armour. For a moment he considered abandoning the tank and trying to make it back to the city on foot. But then he remembered the sickening sights that had greeted them when his Regiment had liberated a small town, half way around the world. Closing his eyes for a moment, he offered up a prayer to whatever higher powers might be listening that his younger brother wouldn't be foolish enough to enlist. Opening his eyes, he looked at the words Costello had etched into the armour above his seat:

Out of fuel - become a fortress

Out of ammo - become a bunker

Out of time - become a hero

Gripping the controls with renewed determination, Dutch set the anti-missile system to automatic and flicked switches that sent the last of his own missiles flying through the air, the Artemis IV FCS

seeking out any target not broadcasting the correct IFF code. With a groan like some wounded beast, the tanks turret traversed to the left, bringing the first Blakist tank into line with the main gun.

Dutch pulled the trigger, sending a stream of cluster-munitions across the broken landscape. The target exploded with a deafening roar, the force of the explosion sending its turret high into the air. But Dutch didn't see it; he was already seeking out another target as the first burst of return fire slammed into his tanks still relatively thick front armour with enough force to move the stranded war machine back a full meter. If he noticed, he didn't react; the Gauss Rifle barked as quickly as the reactor could cycle enough power through the banks of capacitors.

The dull wine of the pulse-lasers was lost in the background as the few Blakist soldiers brave or foolish enough to try and make their way across the battlefield were cut down. The high pitched whistle of incoming artillery announced the arrival of a hailstorm of high explosive death that shook the lone Davion tank, but Dutch continued to fire again and again, each blast killing or disabling a enemy tank.

He took no notice as the smoke started to fill the crew cabin, or as the flames, fed by the critically damaged reactor, began to rise around him. All that remain in his would was the gun sight and the firing stud, right up until the darkness finally enveloped him.

The End