The SRL Robespierre and its corvette escorts had been forced from the field by the vanguard of a northern battlegroup. Leaving elements of their gear and armor patrols stranded in the canyons of the northern region of Aquitaine, the Robespierre was a protagonist in one of the South’s most shameful debacles. Seizing the opportunity, the North’s capital ship Vigilance deployed the Tornado-class cruiser Harbinger, along with a handful of recon and support units. The ensuing bombardment shattered the remaining southern forces on the ground. – Terra Nova Military History, Volume VII.
The landscape before Caporal Giraud was deep canyons and ravines, sculpted out of eroded bedrock. The red sand, as fine as ash, swirled and hung low to the ground like a fog. He was watching the corridors that ran like a maze, under arches and split by columns, from the mouth of a large cave. He couldn’t see them, but he heard them.
The Scorpion was still nearby; the subsonic thump of its rotor blades and the smell the rocket smoke still lingering in the air gave it away. Then the sound changed its pitch, reaching for a higher octave and quickening its rhythm. Its shadow swept overhead, kicking up sand as it flashed by before fading out of sight and earshot over the canyon’s edge.
For a while, when the only thing to hear was the wind’s howl racing through the gorge, Caporal Yuliano Giraud of the 33rd Regiment, citizen of the Republic, leaned heavily against a cave’s wall somewhere in the trackless Badlands. With a hand on his brow, the young man tried to take stock of his situation. Next to him, the oil slick and the drag marks led into the cave in one direction, and in the other to the rocket detonations scorching the sand, along with the entire left leg and the right ankle of his Jäger in the center of the blasts. Further away, the broken machines of the rest of his cadre were scattered along the ground.
The static of the signal decrypter built into his helmet’s receiver startled him; he immediately recognized the voice at the other end. It was his commander, Sergent Gomz.
“To any republican unit within range, this is second recon of the thirty-third gear regiment. We require immediate assistance near point theta. I repeat, we have suffered casualties and require immediate rescue–”
There was a pause; a gust of wind tore into the radio waves.
“–We’re near point theta, half a click east. Any unit within range, please acknowledge and assist.”
“Sir, this is three, I’m here”, Giraud replied by pressing the transmit button on the PDA at his wrist. “Where are you?”
“Yuli’? Blessed be. Help me, the cockpit is jammed. I can’t get out.”
Giraud jogged out into the scything wind, a storm was brewing overhead. He could barely make the shape of Caesza’s own Gear lying on its side.
“One, three; I’ve got a visual on you, I’m on my way”
“Good man, three. I’m not on fire, am I?”
“No, Ma’am; you’re alright.”
“Great, I might just make it out of this one yet.”
While he jogged Giraud had to lean into the swirling wind, stopping when it gusted just to stay on his feet. Once he was in the shade of his commander’s gear he was sheltered from the gale. He banged on the modified Iguana’s chest half-buried in the sand.
“You’re wedged at an angle into the sand here”, Giraud grunted as he tried to bodily push the machine, “It’s stuck there good. Can you move the left arm?”
“I’m on battery power. That damned chopper busted the turbine. I don’t have any hydraulics so you’ll have to flip me onto my back on your own” Gomz called, voice strained. “Find the release bolts on the elbow joint and blow them”
“Got it”. Giraud set himself to work, crawling onto the shoulder and then to the limb’s casing, grasping onto the ballistic cloth between the armor panels when the wind tried to claw him off his perch. The tip of his knife served as a screwdriver in his attempt to remove the access panel.
Not far from where Caesza’s gear smoldered another Iguana remained on its feet, hunched over like a warrior who died standing. Legendary heroes die like that often, not yielding even as they gasp their last breath. Sergent Mikael Quixote, however, was just a soldier. He listened to the conversation over the radio, but he chose not to say anything. Too proud, like Caesza, who was so much younger than him. It was something he didn’t want to share.
Out there, after meticulous instructions, and the small detonations of a few explosive bolts, Yuliano was hanging onto the shoulder of Caezca’s Gear, making it rock back and forth in its hole. However, it never tilted far enough to dislodge itself.
He smiled in the dark at the voices of his comrades. They were good people, very much alive. Over the years, he came to draw warmth from the sound of voices like theirs, during moments like this one. Half an hour would go by while he bled in silence.
“Wait”, Caesza said. Mikael opened his eyes. Yes, he knew that this is usually what happened next.
“I’m picking something up over the emergency channel”, she murmured, “I’m patching it through”.
Soldiers of the Southern Territories, you are isolated, far from home, and with no way out. Surrender your weapons peacefully and you will be treated with dignity, given food, water and medical attention. You have nothing to fear from surrender. Your safety and well-being is guaranteed by the revisionist church. – Pre-recorded message used by the NorLight and NorGuard forces produced by their Psy-Ops. First used during the Summer 1908.
The signal stuttered, breaking up, fading in and out, but the recording was already familiar to the South’s pilots.
“It’s a corpse wagon”, Mikael spoke over the channel.
“Should be a few miles out”, added Caesza.
The gale’s wail filled the silence that followed.
Giraud stopped trying to pry Caesza’s gear free.
“That isn’t much time…”