Disclaimer: I don't own Code Geass


I

Four days it took us. Four days heavy march through the heat and the sand and the dust, before we reached Tubruq. Naturally, we were already half a day too late, and the army of the EU had reached the port; Eighteen-thousand angry Frenchmen stood ready to chase us all the way back to Cairo. As soon as we got there, we turned round, fleeing back across the deserted countryside with our tails between our legs. I'm not ashamed to say, that by this time, all the men thought that we were doomed to be cut down in the middle of the desert, hundreds of miles from civilization.

Our army was in tatters. Half of the 19th Regiment of Foot had been ordered to aid in the evacuation of civilians from the Nile Delta, led by two of Prince Lelouch's Knights; Sir Gino Weinberg and Dame Kallen Stadtfeld. We had around one-hundred-and-twenty KMF's in working order, each carrying spare energy fillers. All in all, we were fourteen-hundred tired men and women in a foreign land with little hope of rescue.

On the second night of our retreat, we camped outside the town of Mersa Matruh. It was there that Prince Lelouch decided that he had had enough. He called the officers together into his tent, where we spent the next night poring over sets of maps, charts, radio reports and dispatches sent by our Indian Ocean Fleet. As dawn approached, I could see a glint in the Prince's eye. He had a plan, but he couldn't just tell us; we had no idea who might be listening. He began directing us individually to certain points on the map, granting us each a certain number of men, with the instructions to hold the line. There was no second set of orders from the Prince; there was no forlorn promise of reinforcements from him.

"There'll be no retreat from here." The Prince told us.

"If needs be, Sire, we'll die were we stand." One of the older officers replied.

The Prince didn't reply. Instead, he called up half a dozen of the more senior officers to him, and told them to each pick four men to be ready to move against the enemy immediately. He then summoned a handful of junior officers; ensigns, lieutenants and the like (myself included), and called us to draw up the sixty best Knightmare Pilots from the 7th Dragoon Guards and meet him outside the city.

I don't remember much of what happened in between the meeting and our departure. Everything was a whirlwind of motion. All around me, people were grabbing bandoliers of ammunition, checking energy fillers, cleaning land-spinners. What I do remember, is what the Prince said to Jeremiah Gottwald, who he had left in command of the men at Mersa Matruh.

"Major." He said, keeping his address proper in front of the men, "If, after five days you do not hear from me, assume my demise and… tell my sisters that 'I'm sorry.'"

Reading it now, fifty years on, it doesn't sound like much… but back then, in the cool desert night; with all the men looking on silently at their Prince… it was heart breaking. Without another word, he mounted his KMF, the ever-imposing Titan, and moved off into the night. The sixty of us he had summoned, plus the other twenty-four that were travelling with us in our Knightmares, scrambled to follow him, a pink Sutherland in the lead.

We followed the road, which we had travelled twice in the last week, throughout that day. As night approached, we were forced off the road and into the desert in order to circumvent the massive European force that was approaching us. The land-spinners became all but useless in the sinking sands, and we were forced to switch to manual walking; where the pilot is forced to physically walk inside his machine for it to imitate his movements and move forwards. It was a slow and arduous process; the heat inside the cockpit grew intolerable, even in the night. To save energy, we had to shut down anything that we didn't need, including the internal cooling systems. It was a hellish trip through the desert. For two whole days we marched through the sands, only stopping to rest for a few hours when the sun was at its highest.

On the evening of our second day's march, more than a week since we left Cairo, we emerged from the desert to find the city of Tubruq…

The Secret 7th: The Formation of the 22 SAS, Colonel David Stirling, 3rd Artist Rifles


Four figures dressed in black dropped down from a building onto the street. Hitching their guns up onto their shoulders, they vanished like shadows in the wind, each figure heading in a different direction.

"Detail-A, approaching operations point."

The radio crackled quietly, as the first figure waited for a response. The silence was almost deafening, as the man crouched closer in to the wall of a building. A bored female voice sounded from the radio.

"Detail, proceed with the assigned mission, then move on to the rendezvous point."

The man shivered at the sound. The woman at the other end of the radio was by far the most feared member of the Prince's entourage. Nobody knew her name, or what she looked like. She never showed her face, instead hiding behind a black mask that looked oddly reminiscent of the king on a chess board. Many of the men, while on kitchen duty, had described the sheer terror of hearing the nonchalant voice from behind them, before seeing a flash of green, and being knocked unconscious. Without fail, they had all woken up a few hours later, to find that the pantry had been raided and all of the frozen pizza missing.

Worse still, was that she was in charge of this mission.

"Understood, ma'am." He said respectfully, careful not to enrage her in any way.

The man slinked through the city, under the cover of darkness, approaching a small tower on the outskirts of the town, by the docks. Ripping open his backpack, he knelt swiftly at the base of the tower, before pulling out a set of charges and placing them carefully at each corner of the tower. Half an hour later, he stood and left quickly, checking the timer that he had connected to the detonator. He had thirteen minutes before the charges would go off, taking the radio tower, and a large chunk of the surrounding area with it as well. Dumping the now empty rucksack, the man slipped away from the tower, moving through the darkness, as he made his way through the city, and towards the point where the rest of the army was camped.

He quickly made his way through the city, soon finding himself at the tall buttress of earth and stone that marked the edge of the town. Without even bothering with a rope, he clambered rapidly up the face of the wall, the cracks in the mortar providing him with plenty of hand holds. He scoffed silently as he pulled himself over the edge. They hadn't even bothered posting a watch to look over the city, thinking that their enemy lay far from their city. He hadn't seen any indication of a military presence since he entered the city. He dropped himself to the floor, rolling as he landed, his feet kicking up the dust. Glancing left and right, he took off running towards the dunes, behind which his Prince was camped.

'Too fucking easy.' He smirked.


"Oi Lelouch, they're all here. Now pay up."

Without blinking, Lelouch slid a plate full of pizza towards the masked witch sitting next to him, before he turned back to the reports in front of him. His fingers slid across a map, lingering on certain points on the sheet.

"Sir, all twenty-four targets have been hit successfully, with only two casualties. Reports say that all hostiles have been put down with extreme prejudice."

"Excellent, Corporal… Stirling, was it?"

"Yes sir. All communications are down. We hit the radio towers, telephone lines and the cell towers. We cut the fibre cables and we have signal jammers in place around the city. There's no possible way that the garrison can get a message out."

Lelouch grinned, clasping his hands together, as he stood up from his chair.

"Very well done, Stirling. Very well done indeed."

"Thank you sir. I live to serve."

"I'm sure." Lelouch said dryly. "In any case, how would you like to make this a permanent arrangement?"

"I'm not sure I follow, sir."

Lelouch gestured wildly. "You know… to do jobs that the regular lads can't. Special operations and the like. Infiltration. Sabotage. Counter-terrorism. Reconnaissance. High risk missions that nobody else could do. You could operate behind enemy lines, as commandos." He was pacing around the tent quickly, his thoughts gaining steam.

"But what about our regiments? Our commanders?"

"Don't worry about them. You'll have a new hierarchy and answer to me alone. You'll all get new training, uniforms and a designation as a new regiment. How does that sound?"

"That sounds… bloody fantastic, sir! If you'll pardon my French."

"Now all that matters is a name… err… Stirling, what regiment were you enlisted in initially?"

"The Parachute Regiment."

"Impressive. How about naming it the 'Special Air Service', then?"

"Are we to be an Airborne Regiment then?"

"Oh no, definitely not… but it can't hurt for our… 'enemies' to think so, can it?"

"Why not give us a detachment designation then? Make it seem like there's more of us than there really are."

"A nice idea. Welcome then, Corporal Stirling to the 'L' detachment, Special Air Service brigade."

"Thank you, sir."


"You have got to be kidding me."

Kallen sighed irritably at yet another outburst that had sprung from her unruly charge.

"Your highness, please-"

"It's a camel." Guinevere's voice was deadly quiet, cold even. "It's a bloody camel!" She spat.

For the hundredth time, Kallen cursed the flip of the coin that had landed her the honour of escorting the First Princess from Cairo. Taking a deep breath, she calmed herself before attempting to reason with the stubborn woman.

"It's Prince Lelouch's orders; you are to be extracted from Egypt, and taken to Jerusalem where escorts will be waiting to take you back to the Homeland."

"Yes, I know that! But why must I be taken on a camel? I see no reason for it!"

"You cannot be taken by air, as the French have control of the skies between here and Damascus. We cannot take you by sea, as the fleet is currently engaged in the Med. We cannot take you in an armoured vehicle, because we have none! Your knights are not here, which means that I am in charge of your safety, and we will be going. by. camel."

"Why not by car? I'm sure we still have some jeeps around here."

"It's far too obvious. Also, there is no guarantee that we will be able to make the whole journey along the road, and camels work far better than jeeps in the desert." She said nonchalantly, 'Also your brother is a vengeful bastard who doesn't like being called the Peasant Prince.'

Kallen could see that the older woman was still fuming, but for the life of her, she just couldn't bring herself to care. Tuning the other woman out, she turned to survey the city, as a lord would survey his land. From her vantage point high on the palace walls, she could see the droves of citizens fleeing their homes. Egyptians and Britannians fled together, brought together by a shared fear of the oncoming invasion.

To the East, she could just about make out the plumes of smoke that were steadily being released into the air. The mass evacuation had brought panic to the citizens of Cairo, and naturally there were those who sought to take advantage of that. Looting and riots had broken out in some of the poorer areas of the city. Gino had quickly taken care of the rioters, as per Lelouch's orders, and now found himself organising and directing the civilian evacuation.

Kallen gritted her teeth as she thought of Lelouch. Despite her position as his personal Knight, Lelouch still believed that neither her, nor Gino for that matter, was fully ready to take a life. Kallen knew that she was a good pilot, a great one even. Her presence on the battlefield could easily mean the difference between loss and victory, and yet she was stuck here and left to babysit his pampered elder sister. Battle wasn't something that she wanted, but Lelouch might need her.

She started at the thought. Why should she care if he needed her? He had all but snatched her away from her family; her brother didn't think that she should trust him. She sighed internally. Regardless of what Naoto would think, she was still deeply indebted to the young Prince. He had done more for her country in two weeks, than she had done in two years. It pained her to admit it, but she needed his help, for more than just the liberation of Japan.

Insufferable bastard though he was, they were still friends. Nobody else could tease her like he did, make her feel angry and happy at the same time, or make her turn that specific shade of puce with just a few whispered words.

Her eyes wandered over to where the First Princess sat, arms crossed over her chest, pouting haughtily. A four day trip with only Princess Guinevere and a few silent soldiers for company was not an entertaining thought.

Kallen's eye twitched.

'If Lelouch makes it back alive, I'm going to fucking kill him!'


Five-hundred miles to the West, one poor Prince sneezed, as he mounted his Knightmare.

"I must be getting a cold." Lelouch shrugged.

'Oh, you poor bastard.' Thought C.C. knowingly.


II

On the first day after the Prince's departure, we toiled endlessly to prepare our defences. The Major, now lovingly referred to as 'The Orange Plague' by the men (probably because of the orange-ish dirt that he made every man rub meticulously onto their equipment for camouflage), became a hellish taskmaster.

Sometime past noon we were gifted with the sight of watching the 2nd Mediterranean fleet of the Royal Navy sail hurriedly past our encampment, eager to seek out and do battle with the dreaded French Navy. The very same French Navy that had defeated Admiral Nelson at Trafalgar, and ousted the Britannian people some two-hundred and eleven years previous.

We dug trenches into the sand, starting at the walls of Mersa Matruh and stretching South, further than the eye could see, all the way to the cliffs. We piled banks of rock and mud, and dug pits for our old tanks and any artillery pieces that we wouldn't mind losing. None of these weapons would stand up to a proper KMF in a one-on-one fight, so we dug them into the defences, leaving the long barrels of their weapons sticking out through the other end of the sand banks.

The road, we left untouched. Apparently, the major had a plan for the Frenchies that involved the road, but we weren't told nothing. In front of the trenches we poured soft sand, up to a point about one-hundred metres in front of our lines. The ground was treacherous for any machine to cross, as we sowed parts of the field with anti-tank mines. They would do little against a KMF, but they would stop almost anything else in its tracks. The sand would do more damage to the Knightmares; getting stuck inside their landspinners, and causing the leg joints to seize up. Any remaining KMF's had their landspinners removed, which would allow them to move about better than the French KMF's when it came down to close combat.

We worked from dawn till tea, before the Major called a halt.

"Rest up, lads! They'll come with nightfall, you can be sure of that!"

The rest of the day, we did nothing. The grog ration was passed out early; they didn't want some youngster who couldn't hold his liquor to be drunk when the enemy reached. We sat in the dust, whittling away at the time, talking idly between us.

The more level-headed of us wrote letters to anyone and everyone we knew, to be delivered should the worst happen. The RSM would wander by every half an hour and yell at us to inspect our weapons, while the more senior officers spent their time dressing themselves in full battle regalia.

Looking back on it, everyone had their own way of dealing with the fear.

An hour after night fell, the officers formed us up on a makeshift parade ground. They all looked so very dashing and debonair in their uniforms; their maroon coats and gold trim just catching the flickering neon light.

Less than half of them would survive the night.

"Gentlemen." The major began his address. "Scouts report that the head of the French column is less than an hour to the West of us. They have also informed me, that our enemy numbers almost twenty thousand men."

Murmurs of unrest rippled through the ranks, unencumbered and unfettered.

"The 11th Division of the French has been joined by a regiment from Malta as well. Similarly, the 3rd Home Fleet has left port, and is heading eastwards to provide support. Simply put, gentlemen, they intend to wipe us off the face of the Earth."

He paused as he looked at us, and I could see in that moment why the Prince had chosen this man as his second. He was a wolf; dangerous and tenacious, the very attributes that have so often been aligned with Britannia.

"Our enemy expects us to run. To flee. To abandon our duties and our people, just to save ourselves. In his haste to destroy us, our enemy has forgotten one thing, one desperately important thing…"

He grinned wolfishly at the men, pacing back and forth along the dirt, in an unconscious mimicry of the Prince, our Prince.

"WE ARE BRITANNIANS!" He roared, throwing his voice to the heavens, like an old lion snarling out a battle cry against a younger foe.

"We fight because we must. For our Prince, for our people we must fight; it is our solemn duty to Britannia. We shall never retreat, nor surrender to the tyranny that seeks our demise, for to surrender means relinquishing our duties to our fellow countrymen."

The men were hollering now, yelling their approval. After all, what soldier doesn't dream of being the righteous hero now and again? The Major waited for us to calm, for our tempers to cool before he spoke again, his voice solemn and full of sincerity.

"Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the armies of the Holy Britannian Empire and the Areas last for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour'."

'Diaries from the Front: The First North African Campaign,' BBC, 2022


Lance-Corporal John Rouse Merriott Chard was not unused to death. His whole family had been in the military, and he had been brought up with tales of an honourable and glorious death on the battlefield, in service of the Empire. When he was a child, his parents had placed a framed copy of 'Dulce et Decorum Est…' above his bed, just to remind him of his 'duty to Britannia.'

He hated his parents.

As the second son of a second son of a minor noble house, he had wanted for little as a child, but similarly had been given little either. He had essentially been raised by his elder brother; a towering behemoth of a man unlike any other he had ever met, or was likely to meet again. As a child, his world had revolved around his big brother; his word was law as far as Rouse was concerned.

The lumbering giant had been the one to teach his brother how to read, how to ride a bicycle, how to play rugby and enjoy the finer points of chess (the two favourite pastimes of every true Britannian). Rouse loved his brother dearly, more deeply than he cared to express. He had been the only person to truly care for his little sibling, and had always been the sturdy rock that Rouse could always count on. His brother had been the one to give him a reason to join the military and follow in his illustrious footsteps.

Albert James Chard II was shot dead on 7th April 2009, on guard duty in Area 14.

Rouse had been notified almost three weeks later, after returning home from Basic Training. Nobody had cared to notify him earlier. The only thing his parents said was that with his death, Al had done 'his solemn duty to Britannia.'

Hearing his parents' words echoed back to him by the major had been a stark reminder of a childhood he had tried to leave behind, of memories he had tried to forget, of emotions he thought he had buried.

Sitting in the dusty trench in the Egyptian desert, in pitch black darkness, Rouse felt true fear for the first time since the passing of his only brother. He could hear his comrades behind him; laughing and joking nervously in the dark. The major had finished his address a little more than an hour ago, and still there had been no sign of the enemy.

"Oi. Rousey." How he loathed that nickname. "You alright?"

He forced a thick smile onto his face before he turned to regard his youthful companion. Lenny was a good sort, but he was far too young and dumb to understand the gravity of the situation. Having just turned seventeen, Lenny was one of the few still caught up in the bravado and bluster of the major's speech.

"Just fine, Len. Now pipe down or the captain will have our hides."

"Nah, he's checking his equipment; he won't be back for a few minutes."

Without invitation, he plonked himself down in the sand next to his friend, before he reached for his canteen.

"Want some?" He offered as he took a swig. "I swear it's only water."

A wry smile graced Rouse's face. "I'm fine, thanks."

His smile disappeared as he saw his friends hands shaking as he screwed the lid back onto his flask. His fingers slipped over the cold metal, fumbling for the clasp, as he stared into the inky blackness. Maybe he had misjudged Lenny. Maybe the runt was smarter than he let on.

"Don't worry about me." Lenny must have noticed his scrutiny. "I always get nerves before a big event. It's just excitement." He finished weakly, barely getting the words out.

Rouse placed one warming hand over those of his shivering friend, and gave him a comforting nod.

"Yeah… You're just excited."

There was no need for Rouse to pry any further. Each man in the army would have to confront his own fear and find a way to deal with it. If Len dealt with his dread through stubbornness and false bravado, who was he to question that.

They huddled in the sand for what felt like hours, slipping in and out of a restless sleep.

They were abruptly awakened by the dull boom of distant artillery fire. They could hear men crying and yelling in the far off trenches as the French bombardment began. Fiery red flashes lit up the battlefield, as the shells exploded in front of the Britannian lines. Soon they began to hear the whining crack of machine gun fire, much closer to them, as the EU forces approached their position.

"Up! Everybody up! On yer feet!" The Captain roared hoarsely, as he pulled an unfortunate Corporal to his feet by the scruff of his neck. "To yer stations!"

Rouse slung his rifle across his back before he grabbed Lenny by the arm and hauled him towards the makeshift mortar that they had set up earlier in the day. Lenny quickly got to work, grabbing one of the ridiculously oversized mortar rounds from off the ground, as Rouse adjusted the angle of the tube.

Lenny's nervous fingers fumbled over the bombs, his hands slipping as they shook in fear. His first attempt to load the mortar failed miserably as his shaking simply dropped the mortar at his feet.

"Careful!" Rouse roared, indignantly, before he shoved Len into his recently vacated position. "I'll load, you aim. Got it?"

Len nodded fearfully, before he crouched down, head in his hands, in the traditional brace position.

"Fire in the hole!" Rouse howled, before he dropped the mortar into the tube, whipping his hands away from the danger.

The mortar soared high into the air, disappearing very quickly from view, before a blinding flash erupted a few hundred metres in front of them, catching a group of advancing French infantrymen. As the field of view flashed in and out of view, Rouse caught sight of a single Knightmare, bogged down in the sand, unable to move.

"New target! Bearing: 020 degrees right, two-hundred metres ahead."

Len got to work adjusting the mortar, as Rouse smoothly loaded another shell. "Fire in the hole!" He yelled again, completely unnecessarily (but Rouse loved saying it, even at such a dire moment), and watched with morbid satisfaction as he saw it explode on the chest of the Knightmare, casting its smoking carcass onto the dunes.

Their work carried on for almost an hour more. When they couldn't see the French soldiers, Rouse would send up a white phosphorous round; illuminating the battlefield and half-blinding him. His section of the line had been relatively quiet. They were well away from the road and nicely protected from KMFs and tanks by the generous swell of the sand banks in front of them.

Rouse's hands had begun to bleed and blister from his work. Blotchy burns dotted his arms, showing that he hadn't always moved himself far enough away from danger to escape completely unscathed.

Arcs of fire and lightning streaked across the sky, trailing death and destruction, as the larger guns behind them set to work. The men could still hear the dull ominous explosions occurring over the next dune, they could still see the fires that were burning in the no man's land between the two armies. For about five minutes, they heard nothing but the shouts and screams from the other trenches, the groans and cries of the countless dead and dying that littered the dunes and trenches, and the metronomic sound of the Britannian guns.

Compared to the havoc of the previous hour, it was almost peaceful.

Rouse should have known that it couldn't last.

With the mechanised roar of heavy artillery, the ground in front of the trenches erupted, spraying hot sand in the faces of the Britannian defenders. French shells whined terribly overhead, as the skies darkened with artillery fire. Burning metal split apart the darkness every few moments, as the French field guns rained fire and brimstone on the defenders.

Rouse heard a scream, not far from where he was standing, as a section of the trench just vanished under the withering gaze of the French guns. The twenty men that had huddled there for protection were instantly burned to ash, as their barricades were blown to pieces around them.

The Britannian guns roared their response; a pounding volley that delivered deadly retribution for every Britannian life lost. Over the sound of the punishing ordnances, Rouse could just make out the wail of a shell, growing in pitch and strength. Before he could make out what was happening, he was tackled to the ground by Len, his head tucked firmly into his friend's chest in a protective embrace.

For a split second there was silence, quickly followed by the inhuman sound of an explosion, right next to them. The two soldiers were thrown back through the air, slamming heavily into the trench wall, where they lay limp, still holding each other tightly, as if to shield the other from the blast. Flames followed the blast, ravaging the once strong defences as they spread mercilessly on a desert wind.

Silence fell once more upon the trenches.


Darkness.

"… pen … eye … ousey..."

Screams.

"… get… up… bastard..."

Fire.

Rouse wrenched his eyes open forcefully. He stared blankly up at Len, unable to make out more than a few words of what his friend was saying. A shrill ringing echoed around his head, drowning out the sounds of the battle around him. Blind panic set in as he reached his hand towards his ears before they were gently caught by Len.

"Come…. on…. we … nearly… there." He could just about hear his friend over the infernal droning that still racked his head. His drowsy thoughts drifted aimlessly, as he let himself get dragged towards the safety of an overhanging sand bank.

Over the sharp ringing noise echoing in his ears, the sounds of battle began filtering through. Screams and crying and the ever present sound of gunfire could be heard once more.

He felt himself being propped up against the mud bank, all that was protecting them from the enemy fire, and wedged upright by his old army rucksack. He blanched as he took stock of the situation around him.

Their trench was gone.

The blast had collapsed the back of the trench onto the bunker hidden beneath them, most likely suffocating any poor soul trapped beneath. Burning debris littered the crater that had, only a few minutes previous, housed more than a dozen men. The blackened remains of the mortar stand remained upright, protecting the two young soldiers from the worst of the blast, but the firing tube had been almost completely destroyed.

"You just sit there, mate, and get comfy." Len said.

An outraged guffaw slipped through Rouse's lips, followed quickly by a hacking cough. "Dear Lord! You're treating me like an invalid." He regarded his friend's visage. "I daresay you're in a worse condition than I am."

Len grinned cheekily. "You're not wrong."

His face was caked in blood which was still oozing lazily from a sloppily bound head wound. The slowly spreading dark patch on his shoulder centred on a few razor sharp slivers of metal that had shredded part of his body armour and embedded themselves in the shoulder beneath.

"You're a lucky man Len. I reckon you've got hurt bad enough for them to send you back to Blighty (1)."

"That'll be the day."

Rouse nodded firmly back at his friend, a small smile on his face. "Have we got a radio?"

Len shook his head. "Benson had it, but he got fried."

Rouse winced heavily. "Nothing for it, then. Help me up, we've got to report to the Major. Get some reinforcements or something."

Len grabbed Rouse by his shoulder, grimacing as his torn muscles groaned in protest to the sudden exertion. Hefting him up onto his feet, they began trudging along the wreckage of their trench. They leant heavily on each other, both unable to walk unaided over any kind of distance.

They made slow progress across the deserted battlefield, both hindered by their wounds. Halfway through the rubble Rouse dumped his battle rifle, instead pulling a hand gun from the corpse of one of the officers. It was a fine looking weapon which the officer had probably bought with his own money, to replace the poorly made standard issue pistols.

Rouse stumbled when he pulled the gun from the corpse, but Len caught him quickly. "Easy there, Rousey."

He pointed off towards the North, where fires were still burning and the sounds of battle could still be heard. In the flashing glow of shells erupting and the flash of gunfire, Rouse could only just glimpse the towering structure of the G-1 Mobile Base, bunkered down on the broken road that lead back to Cairo.

"Almost there, mate." He grinned happily. "We're almost home."

His smile was infectious and Rouse felt the corners of his lips twitch and form a lethargic smirk that probably looked more like a grimace than anything else. He grasped Len's shoulder a little tighter, in an attempt to convey his gratitude to his friend.

It's incredible how situations can change so quickly.

A single shot rang out in the dark.

Len slumped limply to the floor, slowly dragging Rouse to the ground with him. Trapped under his friend, Rouse felt a wet warmth drip slowly, languidly down the back of his neck. He pushed his friend off of him, with the last of his strength, dragged himself over to a discarded pile of sandbags, propping himself up against them.

He dragged his pistol out of his holster and aimed it in the general direction that he had heard the shot from. Looming tall, a dark grey Knightmare broke through the shadows and flames that surrounded the rubble. It stood proudly, despite its blackened and dented exterior, in particular the obvious mortar wound on its shoulder.

Rouse pressed himself closer into the sandbags, before letting go of his pistol and letting his whole body sag and appear lifeless. He held his breath as the Knightmare took stock of the area, examining the bodies of the defenders in detail.

The Knightmare ground to a halt in the centre of the crater, before falling onto one knee and slowly powering down. With a hydraulic hiss, the KMF opened up and a figure dropped down to the ground.

In the shadows behind the Knightmare, Rouse's heart was in his throat; this was his chance.

The pilot crossed the field quickly, making its way towards a figure lying prone on the ground, a corpse, Rouse had assumed previously but evidently not. The pilot discarded the helmet as it walked, revealing long chestnut coloured hair that hung down to her waist.

Rouse blanched. The pilot was a woman. He wasn't a sexist, but the idea of killing a woman disturbed him greatly.

She reached the body quickly, before nudging his wound with her foot to see if he was alive. A soft whimper escaped from the body, but that was enough for the pilot. Pulling out a hand gun, she ruthlessly emptied the gun into the body. Not even bothering to look at the corpse, she turned back to her KMF, sliding another magazine into her gun as she walked.

Clambering nimbly back into the cockpit, she closed the hatch, sealing herself once more inside the machine. With a hum of electricity, she powered up the machine and pushed off.

She never noticed the grenade stuck underneath her chair.

The explosion tore through the cockpit, wreaking havoc on the machinery inside. Outwardly, the KMF barely shuddered as the grenade went off. The metal walls of the Knightmares skeleton were so thick that scarcely a sound escaped. The KMF stood frozen in the centre of the battlefield, thin tendrils of smoke winding their way out of the hatch and into the air.

Rouse stumbled tiredly towards the body of his friend. His muscles burned in exhausted protest as he turned the body round and laid Len on his back.

A perfectly round hole, about the size of a two pence piece, had been blown clean through his head. Rouse gagged, his stomach churning violently at the sight of the body. Len stared up at him, through sightless eyes, the ghost of a smile etched permanently onto his face.

Mechanically, he leaned forwards to close Len's eyes, folding his hands together over his chest as a mark of respect. In a numb stupor, Rouse detached Lens helmet from his belt, before placing it on his head to cover the gaping wound.

Turning away from the corpse, he began to trudge northwards through the mud and sand, towards the command centre. Far off in the East, the suns light had just begun to peek over the towering dunes, banishing the darkness in its path.

The first battle of the war had begun in earnest.


AN: I've left this story alone for a while, but I'm not finished with it. I thought that the slightly more visceral second half of the chapter was necessary, as previously most of the battle scenes had been from within KMFs, where I don't think the full damage of battle is seen.

(1) Blighty: Colloquial term for Britain, popular in use for soldiers in both World Wars. I've used it here to mean Britannia.

R&R.

Thanks,

Penhaligon