Advance Wars: Days of Ruin – End of Days
By AtmaDragoon and Kei


"Let the End of Days come, but may I not live to see them, because they will be filled with so much conflict and suffering."
Talmud Scriptures

"This is Fireteam Charlie. Confirmed visual of enemy battalion breaching Whiskey Corridor. Repeat, Whiskey Corridor has been breached."

It wasn't anything that they hadn't expected, but the words over the radio still managed to freeze the blood of those who were listening in the tent. Looks were exchanged as every commanding officer in the command tent tried to gauge the reaction of the person across the table they were standing over, and compare it with their own. Some looked absolutely shocked and horrified, while others merely donned an expecting grimace. The result, regardless, was frightening, especially when they realized that, for what was possibly the first time, none of them were very sure what they could do.

First Lieutenant Lin looked at Captain Will with what, under less formal settings, would've constituted as a determined grimace. "Captain," Lin said immediately as she immediately stepped forward to the table and drew a finger across a green line on the strategic map laid out on the table before them, instantly grabbing everyone's attention as they watched, "Whiskey Corridor was my last defensive option. The valley would've been an excellent killzone…had we taken the time to set it up…" Lin pursed her lips, as if reluctant to say something, before finally admitting, "…We spent far too much time trying to fortify more vulnerable and favorable positions that we left the Whiskey Corridor wide open, hoping the enemy wouldn't make it in time."

The raven-haired, pale-skinned first lieutenant of the Rubinelle's 12th Battalion, nicknamed Brenner's Wolves, was essentially what amounted to the most experienced commanding officer in the battalion. Though only in her mid-twenties, First Lieutenant Lin had seen more combat than anyone else in the battalion; this claim was possibly contested only by Gage, but Gage didn't have the same kind of strategic and tactical mind Lin possessed. This essentially made Lin the master of logistics in Brenner's Wolves; when she talked, people listened.

"What happens after the enemy crosses the Whiskey Corridor?" Will asked slowly, each word devoid of emphasis; he already knew the answer, but Lin's words would carry far more futility and finality than his own.

When it came to strategic or tactical answers, especially those of conventional warfare, Lin didn't flinch. "We engage the enemy position in wide open fields," Lin replied in her cool, never-flinching voice, then, as an afterthought, added, "The most disadvantageous position against sheer numbers."

First Lieutenant Gage tilted his head only a little to indicate he was going to open his mouth to speak. "Our available options?" was Gage's simple question.

"There are no options. We're retreating, now."

Tasha turned to Will with a look of incredulity. "Where the hell else are we supposed to retreat to? In case you haven't noticed, the enemy has taken over the entire continent! We're standing on the only piece of land that isn't overrun by the enemy!"

Will did not seem to hear Tasha as he continued his orders from before, his eyes strangely hard and cool and flinty. Captain Will was the second-youngest of the entire commanding staff, only having reached twenty years of age, but circumstances in their apocalyptic world had brought him to the reins of leadership after the death of their previous commanding officer. Those who remembered him as an eager, wide-eyed idealist, however, knew just how much the previous months had stamped out of him. Even as he sat at the end of the command table, his hands intertwined right in front of his mouth as he contemplated, his subordinates, a mixture of battle-hardened Rubinelle and Lazurian commanders, realized that, as they looked at the young, brown-haired captain, they could no longer tell what he was thinking behind cold, dry, flinty eyes.

Flight Lieutenant Tasha had never been very patient. Brash, impulsive, and quick-tempered, Tasha was somewhat of a foil to the rest of the contemplating, analytical group of strategists, generally the commander advocating action first. Her traits were akin to those of redhead stereotypes, of which Tasha was herself, with short, red hair tied back by a bandana and flight goggles, complete with the traditional braid shared between her, Gage, and Lazurian commanders during once upon a better time before the meteors.

Naturally, for one, Tasha disliked being ignored, and disliked that Will wasn't answering her question. "Hey!" Tasha started once more, "I was saying…"

"Begin loading up our naval transports," Will continued, his voice still devoid of any emphasis on any word, "We're headed west."

There was a universal look of confusion at Will's words, and no one needed to ask why everyone seemed so perplexed. They were at the very western tip of the continent, the enemy having taken everything east, and moving for them. "West?" even Lin seemed confused for even a moment, "There's nothing…" she suddenly paused, as if realizing the meaning of Will's words, then nodded with a grim salute, "…Yes, Captain. I'll see to it right away."

"Put priority on our fighting forces," Will resumed giving orders as he stood up from where he was seated, seemingly preparing to move into action and adjourn the meeting, and the girl clutching at his arm was pulled up with him, "We need to preserve as many of them as they can. Have them regroup here in full retreat. Avoid all confrontation, and have the naval crafts prepare for departure on a minute's notice." Will looked at his arm, or, rather, the girl clutching onto his arm, for just a moment, and, for a fraction within that moment, Will suddenly seemed as if he was extremely vulnerable, extremely broken…but that look disappeared just as quickly as it had appeared, and, ensuring that the girl had stood up with him, began to walk to the exit of the tent.

Isabella, too, was a mere shadow of herself compared to the Isabella everyone knew months ago. Her hair white as a result of insufficient hair pigment through the cloning process, Isabella was not, by conventional means, a normal human being, but there had been a time when she was a happy child as she was. However, like Will, something had happened to her, if not worse. Will survived what the fates had done to him, and still came out kicking, if not hardened. Isabella, however, seemed like a broken shell, with almost nary a word coming out of her lips, and simply clutching onto Will's arm with an expression that sometimes showed fear, anger, sadness, or even nothing at all.

Not happiness, though. Such joy did not grace Isabella's face. Not for months.

"Captain," Gage sounded testy even as he followed behind Will along with the other commanding officers, lagging behind by just a bit, "We need to leave a certain amount of forces behind to buy us some time to retreat. If we commence a full retreat, the enemy will be catching up to us just as fast."

Like Tasha, Gage's hair, blue and spiked backwards with several loose strands covering all but his dominant eye, was braided at the back, indicating his status as a Lazurian military officer. But where Tasha was brash and loudmouthed, Gage was consummate and silent. A sharpshooter eventually given command of an army as a ranking officer, Gage was as professional as they came, even if he lacked the analytical genius of Lin. However, largely considered a field officer instead of a commanding one, Gage, not completely unlike Tasha, was less caring about formality than other military officers. But Gage fell within a different competence zone, and the conditions for commanding his respect of superior officers were difficult to achieve.

"He's right, Captain," Lin agreed swiftly, perhaps noting a slight edge in Gage's voice, "I suggest that we leave two companies behind to stall the enemy and buy us enough time to escape."

Tasha wasn't so keen on the idea. "Wait," she did a double-take, her eyes wide, "We're just going to leave them here for the enemy to pick off!?"

"Tasha," Gage tended to be the foil to Tasha as he spoke in his cool, reserved voice, "we don't have a choice. Either some of us are getting out of this, or none of us. Take your pick…" Gage turned to Will lazily, "…Captain, give the order for two companies to hold off the enemy."

"One company," Will said with uncharacteristic coldness, and then, perhaps sensing impending protest, immediately added as to squelch all potential dissent, "I've said before, we're preserving our fighting forces. We just need to buy enough time to escape, not to mount an actual combat effort. Two companies are too much for my liking; we'd be leaving the rest of our forces with little in terms of manpower."

"Very well, Captain," Lin seemed to agree with Will's assessment after a moment of contemplation followed by a ruthless purge of her personal feelings about the decision, "We'll leave behind E Company." She then turned to the radio, started issuing orders as she turned away from the rest of the group as to hide any doubt that might be lingering on her face. Lin's hesitation was not unwarranted. There might've been a chance, albeit a very risky one, that two companies could hold off the enemy long enough for them to make a full retreat back to the ships; that Will only delegated one company to the task could only mean one thing.

Will wasn't intending to have E Company retreat back to the ships to leave together. He expected them to face the brunt of the enemy offensive…and then he was going to leave them behind.

Lin wasn't the only one who picked up the subtext. Tasha looked away uncomfortably and muttered something inaudible. Gage seemed to look at Will unflinchingly, but a careful inspection showed even some apprehension in his expression.

"Our withdrawal window is half an hour," Will finished, "We've practiced these drills before; the soldiers should know what to do by now. If they aren't in the transports by the withdrawal window, they stay here."

Grim nods from all around. All of them had envisioned this scenario and prayed to whatever they believed in that it wouldn't happen.

It was happening. Now.

Lin turned around from the radio, seemingly having completed her tasks. "E Company knows what to do, sir," Lin reported as she joined the group once more, paused once, and added, with a bit of finality, "They will be holding Whiskey Corridor."

Will didn't seem to share Lin's reservations. "Then we'd best get the hell out of here," Will said simply as he opened the folds of the command tent, stepping out along with the rest of the command staff into the muted sunlight behind thin clouds of dust that blanketed the skies in a brown-and-gray veil as they prepared to evacuate to the transports…

The sky bloomed with tracer fire.

Will ducked in reflex as he instinctively covered Isabella, who also dropped to the ground and screamed, instinctively hugging herself and covering her stomach, as two Lazurian fighters performed a hard, low-altitude, supersonic intersecting thrust while executing a loose four point roll with only meters to spare right above them and the command tent, a move that was, at best, considered suicidal. Their motivation for such was immediately apparent as flashes of angry orange and red filled their visions, and a rain of 20 mm tracers came down, barely missing the Lazurian fighter jets and striking the ground not more than ten meters away from the entrance of the command tent. At this range, the impact of the rounds felt more like grenades going off around them, and Will knew that if the 20 mm rounds, practically the size of a soda bottle, so much as grazed him, he was going to end up as a pile of tomato juice.

Will looked up fast enough even as the sonicboom almost overpowered his senses, and watched as four pursuing enemy fighter jets angled in pursuit into the sky. The fighter jets were not the only ones soaring to the clouds above; anti-aircraft rounds from Rubinelle AA emplacements were also hard at work aiming at a sudden host of aircraft flying across the skies like a mad swarm as Rubinelle-Lazurian intercepting fighters broke up the enemy flying formation, and, already, Will could see insane lines of exhaust twisting in impossible patterns as aircrafts and missiles twisted and twirled and spun and weaved in massive intersecting formations in the sky, resembling a massive, tangled ball of yarn. This was only complimented by slightly arcing orange lines of fire as AA emplacements tracked their targets and fired rapid, massive rounds into the sky at what they perceived to by enemy aircraft, dividing the sky into sharp, violent proportions. Every now and then, the exhaust would end with an explosion, followed by black smoke, indicating that a missile or enough machine gun rounds had found its mark. Will tried counting the amount of planes in the air, and gave up just as quickly; there had to be several dozens of aircraft in the air.

"Captain!" a Rubinelle infantry fireteam was barely heard across the explosions and gunfire that had suddenly engulfed the area as they jumped across the battlefield at ground level, a barren wasteland of canyons and mountains and deserts, "Captain, are you alright, sir!?"

Will barely managed to make it up to his feet along with Isabella clutching ferociously onto his arm, and he realized that her death-grip of fear was truly starting to hurt. They were both helped up by a corporal leading the fireteam. "Corporal!" Will demanded in a cold, unforgiving voice that was just loud enough to be carried over explosions and thrusters in the sky above as he nearly grabbed the man's collar with his free hand, "Why the hell do we have enemy planes this far in!?" The fireteam, despite not seeing any ground enemies in sight, established a defense perimeter around the command tent even as Lin, Gage, and Tasha also began to stand up and recover from the nasty surprise.

"Sir!" the soldier shouted back, struggling to make his voice heard as fighter jets passed low again, and a missile found its mark, detonating a Lazurian fighter craft into a smoldering ball of fire, "The enemy is adopting a blitzkrieg strategy along the Whiskey Corridor! This is believed to be their first wave!"

Will, in a blinding moment of truth, knew exactly what that meant. A blitzkrieg was not necessarily the best strategy against a cornered opponent, but Will knew that the reason why they were utilizing such a strategy was also why they were in trouble. They know what we're up to, Will thought. The blitzkrieg would follow up in three phases. The first phase would allow fighter jets to mop up or preoccupy Rubinelle-Lazurian fighter interceptors in the area. Once that was achieved, the second phase, bombers, could go ahead and target AA emplacements and other anti-air weaponry, not to mention ground units such as tanks as artillery. The third phase, tanks, would mop up the rest and declare it a ball game.

Will couldn't afford to let that happen.

"Get me a radio with HIGHCOM access," Will ordered as he made chopping motions with his hand in military hand signals, telling Tasha to take command of the airborne forces, who, not needing to be told that the situation was bad, responded with a grimace and a nod as she ran quickly for the nearest jeep to take her to an airport, then, in an afterthought, added forcefully to the corporal, "Now."

"Yes, sir," the corporal nodded, then called to one of his men, "Private Ashley! Radio!" One of the privates, maintaining a corner of the perimeter of the area, quickly ran over to their position, saluted, then handed Will what seemed to be a handheld transistor radio, compact, but powerful. Will absentmindedly plucked it out of his hands as he watched the sky battle erupt above and began to move for the western coasts, towards their naval assets at port. Already, he was worried about whether or not he should be expecting bombardment in the form of rockets and artillery.

"Sir," the corporal said to Will and the rest of the brass, meaning Will, Lin, Isabella, and Gage, "Please stay here for a moment; we're hailing evac and getting you a transport chopper right away." He prepared to turn away to call for another radioman, but Will grabbed his shoulder before he could give the order, clenched it hard enough to make even the tough corporal wince.

"Excuse me," Will said, stopping his jog for just a moment to look at the corporal in a venomous manner, his eyes narrowed, not sounding or looking apologetic at all, his voice icy, thin, and very dangerous, "A transport chopper? A transport chopper? Do you see how many fighter jets there are in this goddamned airspace?"

The corporal did a double-take. "Uh…" he tried to form something intelligible from his mouth, but ground infantry were generally pretty lax when it came to air combat theory.

"Get me recons," Will said coldly, and, once again, used a voice surprisingly devoid of emphasis, or perhaps emphasis on every word, "Now. Before the bombers arrive."

"Y-Yes, sir," the corporal gulped, and barked orders to Private Ashley, who produced a primary, larger, more powerful transistor radio. Will took the chance to turn around and look at Lin and Gage. Gage was stoic, as always, and expressionless, but Lin, while remaining mostly reserved, seemed to carry a slight frown on her face that indicated even she thought Will was being uncharacteristically hard on the troops.

Will didn't care all that much at the moment. He wanted everyone out.

"This is Captain Will to all Rubinelle-Lazurian aircraft," Will said calmly into the receiver even as he continued the jog, somewhat annoyed that Isabella insisted on clutching to his arm while he jogged, "The enemy is conducting what seems to be a blitzkrieg on us. We estimate that bombers should be showing up on radar shortly; those will be your primary targets. Until then, we need every aircraft in the area to stay alive, or we'll be overrun by enemy tanks when their bombers take out our units. Repeat, stay alive until we can take out the bombers. All aircraft are to return to designated carriers at port when bombers are disposed of. Get to it, and stay alive."

Will didn't wait for the rest of the battalion to reply; Will expected them to get the job done. He was already beginning to move on foot towards the ports, with Lin and Gage following, and Isabella still attached to Will's arm. The fireteam quickly followed, covering their positions even as a fighter jet, Rubinelle this time, came spiraling to a violent crash into the forests nearby and detonated explosively, the trees shielding the group from any potential shrapnel flying in their direction.

"Sir," the corporal nodded to Will after conferring with Private Ashley, "I have recons inbound, ETA one minute."

Will merely nodded; already, he could see the entire battalion initiating what seemed to be a massive exodus, infantry and tanks and anti-air emplacements and cars all struggling to make best speed towards the shoreline. They all knew the same thing Will did, the command staff did, coming from practically a year of experience with the enemy.

They took no prisoners.

"Captain!" Tasha's voice suddenly crackled over the radio, urgency clear in her voice as she fought to scream over what sounded vaguely like the engines of her fighter jet during takeoff, "Bombers inbound!"

Will's head snapped east as he squinted his eyes and looked for the skies. Immediately, past the dogfight sprawling itself out in the air, he saw large, plane-shaped silhouettes moving in close. Very close. From the distance, they looked like a massive swarm of angry locusts. With their limited air coverage, fighter jet escorts, and sheer numbers, there was no way their forces would be able to adequately defend against the bombers. Already, exhaust trails were crawling their way from the Rubinelle-Lazurian fighters and making their way to the swarm of bombers, even as enemy fighters ruthlessly pursued them.

"Corporal!" Will snapped at the corporal, his voice a verbal whiplash, "Where the hell are those recons?"

No sooner had Will said it, five recon jeeps, four-wheel drive vehicles sporting machine gun emplacements on the roof, were suddenly heard closing in as they passed a series of bluffs, taking a few more seconds before managing to come to a skidding halt meters beside the group. The commanding officers, mostly Lin and Gage, didn't need to be told that they needed to split up as they all headed for different jeeps; it was a ball game if a bomber got lucky and hit the one jeep carrying all the command staff. The only exception was Isabella, who refused to let go of Will's arm, but that was something everyone expected.

Will whipped an arm in front of the driver and pointed at the forests just slightly south of them as soon as he and Isabella got into the jeep, followed by the fireteam corporal that had jumped into the jeep with them as a quick means out of this hell. "Into the trees, now!" Will commanded, "Before the bombers hit us!" The driver obeyed as he steered his jeep towards the forests, hoping to get some cover. But, already, as Will looked to the sky, he could see three bombers decreasing altitude towards their direction…probably to avoid the initial blast of the missile salvos from defending fighters, and to get closer to the recon units. Will scowled; the enemy was annoyingly persistent.

"How long until we get to the naval ports?" Will demanded on the driver.

"Driving through these trees?" the driver responded, "I'd say about six minutes at top speed."

Will spoke in combination with a dark scowl. "Make that four, or I'm throwing you out and driving myself," Will growled as he picked up his handheld transistor radio once more, giving further commands, "All fighters, break and disengage from enemy fighters, and proceed to divert all weaponry against bomber aircraft. All anti-aircraft units, proceed to fall back at speed level three, adopt Pattern Sigma, and cover your fellow airmen by taking out all enemy fighters."

The strategy wasn't quite brilliant, but definitely a sound one. Essentially positioning their forces in a five-point formation, it allowed for sufficient air coverage with three groups of anti-air units towards the fighters, and two more groups in reserve. It was a good defensive strategy, ensuring that all the anti-air units wouldn't be destroyed in a single bombing run, but it also served another purpose: Already, the mass exodus was underway, and Will wanted a controlled evacuation instead of a congested traffic jam. Two groups of anti-air units trying to load onto carriers was a lot better than all five trying to get on at once. Couple that with the rest of the 12th Battalion, and it was a mess as is.

Will's commands were interrupted with what sounded like a great roaring, something that Will identified as a distant explosion. Correction, Will thought as he squinted his eyes in concentration, realizing that the sound was growing gradually louder from behind them, multiple explosions. It sounded, in fact, as if the explosion was getting closer, but Will, listening closely enough, was able to tell that they were explosions, plural, getting closer.

The enemy was trying to carpet bomb them.

"Faster, corporal!" Will yelled at the driver, trying to look up past the canopy of trees to catch any glimpse of the bombers above from their jeep in the forest, but could not to do so. He did, however, see the bright flashes of light in the distance, indicating the bombers were getting closer. However, their bombing formation, sporadic explosions all around them at distant areas, seemed to indicate that the bombers didn't exactly see them, and was bombing randomly in hopes of actually hitting something.

Will had only started getting hopeful when an explosion from a bomb went off a mere one hundred feet from their left side. The distance would've meant a lot less had the bomb not had a lethal radius of fifty meters; even in the jeep, with armor and bulletproof windows, Will could still feel the jolt of the explosion press against his left side, and he instinctively brought an arm over Isabella, as if to protect her.

"Lucky bastards," Will scowled darkly, straightening in his seat as he watched flames erupt left and right from cluster bombs the bombers were unleashing upon them. Another explosion, even closer, rocked the jeep, but Will was much more prepared for it this time, and didn't flinch even as he kept his free arm, the one Isabella wasn't clutching, around Isabella's shoulder. Will didn't delude himself into thinking that he could actually protect Isabella with an arm; a bomb close enough was powerful enough to ignore several centimeters of bulletproof armor, and even if the plating on the recon jeeps held, chances were that they were going to be sent flying end over end and crashing into a tree, something that Will was definitely not looking forward to.

A blast in a rear sounded extraordinarily close just as Will swiveled his head backwards so hard that he thought he heard something crack. His eyes managed to catch the scene just in time to see a wall of fire erupt from a bomb that had exploded no more than seventy meters behind them, rushing through the trees towards them…and devour three recons behind them, including the ones that Will knew Lin and Gage were riding on. The wall of fire didn't reach Will's recon, but the shockwave did as it nearly sent the jeep flying off its wheels, the driver struggling against the steering wheel as the explosion pushed the vehicle more than the engine did, trying to regain friction with the ground as the tires skidded across uneven terrain…before, with an abrupt bump, the jeep righted itself once more, continuing on its path, but slower this time. Either the jeep had experienced some damage, or the driver was wondering if Will wanted to go back to see if there were any survivors from that explosion.

From the flames, only two recons emerged; from the distance, Will could see that the jeeps had practically been charred black and battered, and couldn't tell who was inside, or whose jeep it was. The jeeps were obviously thrown out of the fire rather than it driving out by itself; one jeep skidded for quite a distance on its rooftop, tearing the machine gun emplacement on the roof to shreds as it slid through the forest terrains, miraculously missing trees all around, while the other recon was airborne, upside-down when it had emerged, managed to flip sideways around in the air and land tires-first on the ground. It looked as if the recon was going to do another flip after its first landing, but its journey was interrupted by an abrupt halt in the form of a collision with a rather large tree on its side.

Nothing else emerged from the explosion.

Will whispered something inaudible as he tore his gaze away from the explosion, settling his sights instead straight ahead.

Isabella turned to Will, seeming surprised, if not shocked, that Will had yet to speak up or show any display of emotion over the explosion that just might have killed Lin and Gage. "We have to go back and pick them up!" Isabella cried out, speaking her first words in what Will vaguely recalled seem to be a week.

"No, we don't," Will amended pragmatically, an edge in his voice, "We need to make it to the transports…" then, to the driver, in an equally hard voice, "…Keep driving, corporal."

Isabella clearly disagreed with Will's train of thought. "You can't just abandon them…!" she exclaimed.

"We'll get another recon unit to survey the area, locate survivors, bring them to the transports," Will's voice was eerily devoid of emotion, "We need to make it there first."

Isabella's eyes had been shocked open, her eyes so wide Will wondered if her eyeballs might pop out. She couldn't believe she was hearing this from Will, of all people. "Will!" Isabella protested, "That was Lin and Gage…"

"We get to the ships now, or we all die," Will cut in slowly and thinly, his voice almost sounding like a hiss, as he looked at Isabella with an uncompromising glare, his voice carrying just a tinge of urgency and anger. Isabella could only look back, distraught, her face filled with horror…before the expression became one of anger and hatred. Yet still Isabella refused to relinquish her clutch on Will's arm. If anything, her grip became even harder, almost painfully so. Will wondered if Isabella intended to punish him by trying to crush his arm.

"Sitting in silence at an impasse" was not necessarily the best term to use to describe the two of them, however; the scenario was far from silent, not with explosions going off all around them, distant sounds of gunfire cracking over the din now and then. Will broke the impasse as he quickly grabbed the radio, relaying further orders. "First Lieutenant Lin and Gage are down," Will said into the radio, "I repeat, Lin and Gage are down. I want a recon at my current position, the forest at sector…" Will consulted a map that he had been pulling out of his breast pocket, "…thirty-five twenty. Comb the area until we need to pull out. Tasha, I'm having some problems with bombers here; I could really need some air cover here."

"Yes, sir, on our way, sir," a soldier quickly replied over the radio, indicating search and rescue was on the way. This was followed moments later by two clicks of static on Tasha's frequency…her way of saying that she was complying with the order. That she couldn't even speak over the COM channels, and had to resort to clicks, meant she was straining her mind and reflexes at the absolute limits; she had no error margin for talking. Will could only imagine what kind of hell was transpiring in the skies.

The recon finally burst out of the forest as it made of a bit of a jump over a small hill, then landed on the beach, revealing the transports, a long line of massive naval vessels already docked at the shore, practically a kilometer ahead. They weren't alone, either; like a stream of insects, retreating Rubinelle-Lazurian forces were also cramming themselves into those transports, making sure that they didn't stay behind in this hellhole. Full transports were already making their way to a cluster of battleships, cruisers, and carriers two kilometers west.

And directly above them were the bombers, already circling around to make another bombing run as they had visual confirmation of Will's recon. They wouldn't be bombing so randomly now.

"Tasha, I need that air cover!" Will bellowed into the radio. One hit from those bombers, and they were goners.

Trails of smoke crisscrossed across the skies, both white and black. Will looked up just in time to see a mess of colored smoke drawing arcs across the sky like the world's biggest airborne tapestry as Rubinelle-Lazurian fighters, trailing black smoke due to damage, fired streams of white smoke with missiles at their heads. The school of missiles, like a swarm of bees, made impact across the skies as it detonated against bombers, creating plumes of black explosions and fires. But new streams of white smoke appeared right behind the Rubinelle-Lazurian fighters, more missiles…headed towards them.

Tasha's squadron wasn't without pursuers.

Will watched, stunned, as the Rubinelle-Lazurian fighters flew for the skies, gaining altitude, distracting the enemy aircraft from Will's recon below, while missile launchers and anti-air flak guns aimed for the skies to target the massive amount of enemy fighter jets that had suddenly appeared out of nowhere, a swarm of thirty, maybe even forty, fighter jets in pursuit of Tasha's squadron of seven damaged aircraft.

"Disperse and evade!" Tasha shouted in her never-flinch pilot voice over the squadron radio, "Keep the missiles away from each other, confuse their guidance systems…"

Tasha didn't get to finish that sentence.

Through the massive amount of aircraft in the skies, Will was not able to exactly pinpoint the fighter jet Tasha was in, but with the net of missiles, the sight of multiple explosions, a cloud of fire completely blotting out his sight of any Rubinelle-Lazurian fighter jet from his perspective, Will was not feeling very confident; he practically felt his stomach drop and not hit any bottom as he watched the spectacle.

"Tasha, respond," Will demanded as he fumbled with the radio, trying to raise Tasha on the line, "Tasha! Talk to me!"

The radio crackled, static filling most of the speakers; Will and Isabella watched the radio intensely, waiting for any sign of response. "Heh," was Tasha's chuckle, barely audible through the noise, "Looks… really overdid…" Most of her words were lost in the static that interfered with the transmission.

"Tasha," Will ordered, thumbing the radio, "Eject. Eject now! Get out of there!"

"…blown," Tasha continued with no indication as to whether or not she actually managed to hear Will at all, "I think…stuck. Can't…out…two of…pursuing. They…want…flying around."

Will wasn't sure how to respond to that. Right beside him, Isabella made a tear-choked sound as she tried to mouth something, but no words came from her throat.

Tasha made what sounded like a chuckling sound again, strangely calm even as the static, as well as disturbingly indicative sounds in the background, practically drowned out her voice. "Well…looks like…going out swinging…" Tasha's voice barely managed to make out.

The line went dead.

Will barely felt the bump of the recon as it finally angled up the ramp of the transport ship, finally reaching their destination, nor did he really feel Isabella's arms going limp around his own arm as Isabella, seemingly completely dumbstruck and devastated, dropped back against the back of the seat, her eyes abnormally large in shock, giving her a look that bordered on insane as she became completely nonresponsive. One of her arms instinctively clutched gently around her stomach as she absentmindedly rocked back and forth. Will wasn't sure he liked that.

"Sir!" a group of soldiers quickly crowded around the recon, opening the door and helping both Will and Isabella out as the recon finally came to a full stop onto the transport, and the boat began to spin its propellers, moving the ship away from the beach, towards the naval group two kilometers out, away from the battle behind them, several other full transport ships immediately trailing behind them in a retreat. Will felt Isabella's arms slipping away from him, and, as he looked in her direction, he saw that she was being helped by a medic, gently carrying the seemingly-traumatized Isabella into the ship where he could help administer medical aid. Will wondered, with everything that was happening, if Isabella would pull out of it this time.

His train of thought, however, was momentarily interrupted as a young girl, looking not too different from Isabella herself aside from the shorter hair, pranced onto the deck with what seemed like a little dance, a teddy bear looking like it came out of hell in each hand. Like Isabella, her ivory hair was attributed to the clone's insufficient hair pigment, but whereas Isabella was kind and reasonable, it clearly evident that Penny was completely insane, a condition that was native to the little girl's mind ever since Will had met her. Seemingly indifferent, or at least unaware, of the situation they were in, she instead ran around the deck in an excited manner before looking up at the planes, the same patch of sky where Tasha's fighter was last seen.

"Planes!" Penny screamed happily as she jumped up and down on the deck of the carrier, waving her arms up and down like a bird and flapping the teddy bears in her hands while she was at it, acting as if she was the biggest target for a well-placed missile or bomb in the world, "Planes and missiles and bullets make things go boom! Mr. Bear likes planes…but hates missiles! Missiles spin and spin and spin and make Mr. Bear dizzy! But so do planes! …Does Mr. Bear hate planes?"

Will had a sudden urge to shoot Penny in the head and get it over with.

"Take her down to…somewhere," Will managed to breathe to the officer closest to him, feeling a bit too dizzy to recognize the man either by rank or name, as he gestured weakly towards the seemingly Penny, deciding that he really didn't want to see Penny at the moment, "Anywhere. Just get her out of here."

"Yes, sir," the officer saluted as he prepared to turn and bark out orders, but Will immediately latched on his shoulder, pulled him back into speaking range.

"I also want a sit-rep, now," Will demanded, "I want to know what forces are still engaged in combat, how we've handled evacuation, the status of Easy Company. I want it now."

"Yes, sir," the officer nodded again, gave orders to two accompanying privates, who then jumped to move Penny far out of Will's sight, "Sir, as far as I have heard over our channels, evacuation of our forces has been completed by sixty percent. Easy Company held out the initial tank assault, but after the enemy began an indirect bombardment of the area, they dropped back a single click to regroup. We're experiencing casualties from enemy air units, but, at the moment, they're being held back by our forces in Pattern Sigma. However, it's only a matter of…"

The officer did not finish his sentence; he was interrupted as both of their attention spans were suddenly diverted to what seemed to be a brilliant light rising from the east. The deck went silently still as Will turned abruptly towards the source, his eyes shielded from the alien light as he raised an arm to his eyes, wondering why he was watching sunrise well into the afternoon.

That was when he realized that the light was not a sun at all.

The tactical nuclear warhead exploded, and light engulfed Will's world.