Sandstorm in Sinai – Chapter 1

I took an oath once. It was one of protection, of servitude, of sacrifice. I guess you could say I was a bit of an idiot. In fact, I bet you’ve been taught to say that. I know the world as you see it now is all lovely-dovey without a needless war in sight. We soldiers have become a thing of the past unfortunately. Our “new friends” in the world seem pretty adamant that mankind quit all these foolish conflicts, as they put it. I suppose, were I them, I’d understand. War is death, and men dying without reason is a big no-no to them. However, Let me make this clear. I am not them, and if you were to ask me back then I’d have told you that death was the more prefferable alternative. I’d have also told you that it’s madness to make war with monsters.

My war started in a tiny corner of the world known as the Mitla pass. Its a narrow trail leading from the Suez Canal and Egypt into the Sinai Peninsula interior. Thats right, this wasn’t some burned out grid square in Unspecified-istan. The soldiers of almost every major civilization had marched over these desolate plains. If you’re of a mind to listen to the wind, I swear you can hear the cries and shouts of the infantrymen of old within it as the breeze caresses the dunes. This place is steeped in history. I was a history student myself before the war, and just standing out here and taking it all in was a giving me the kind of euphoric high reserved for shut-in academics.

Okay, I wasn’t actually standing. I was huddled up in the front end of a 70 ton armored behemoth known as an M2A1 Abrams Battlemaster, main battle tank of the United States Army. For the first time in four hours my head had found that critical sweetspot of support and comfort against the left bulkhead and I was making the most of it, happily snoring away. Then Major Hutton had to go ruin everything by planting his size fourteen boot in the backside of my helmet, rousing me from the best sleep I’d gotten since we’d arrived in country. Though my mind shrieked in complaint, the Major’s growling made everything clear. We’d been given orders to move east and it was time to get underway.

Hutton roused the loader and gunner as I quickly slid back into my throne in front of the steering handlebars. I flipped the “on” switch. Yes, ignition in the M2A1 is literally just a switch labeled “on”. Fifteen tons of gas-turbine engine roared to life and the steady, familiar rumble of 1500 horsepower settled back into our bones like an old friend. Hutton gave the order “Full Ahead.” and I eased my foot onto the gas pedal. As we moved into our routine, Major Hutton got on the troopnet and informed the other nine tanks in our platoon of our orders. Standard eastern movement was the order of the day it sounded. Hutton let off the bullhorn and switched over to comunication with us.

“Monster Women.” Hutton said. “Any of you believe this shit? I mean, I’ve seen a lot of things, but women horny enough to start a war? Oh, and on top of that they’re all some sort of weird human-creature hybrid? I swear, the whole world must be going to hell.”

We all quietly nodded. We might have laughed about it a month ago, when we’d only just arrived in Egypt, but after seeing intelligence footage and hearing the first hand accounts we all sobered up right quick. The part that hammered it home for me was the footage of an Egyptian Army platoon that was ambushed by a swarm of what had been classified as Khepri. They looked like any other ordinary women, except their limbs all ended in insectile pincers. They hid under the sand, and attacked when the platoon was surrounded. Twelve strong young men were quickly overwhelmed by the swarm. The worst part was watching these khepri strip them naked and drag their flailing bodies back under the sand to a fate I don’t want to imagine. Not that there was much to imagine. One poor bastard in the footage was dragged away with a khepri’s legs already firmly locked around his head. His end alone didn’t bear dwelling on.

“What kind of monsters are we expecting, sir?” I asked the Major as I settled in for the drive.

“Well, Our friends in the IDF say the Sinai is crawling with khepri and girta nests.”

Wonderful. Khepri were one thing but the girtas were even more terrifying. Girta is military shorthand for Girtablilu, a mermaid-esque fusing of a woman with a scorpion’s lower body. They were solitary types, but far more dangerous than the khepri. Their stingers contained a lewd form of tetrodotoxin. Absolute paralysis was almost instantaneous but the senses were left unaffected. The venom also drove the cardio and sexual organs into overdrive, enough to cure even the worst erectile dysfunction.

Still, in my mind, girtas and khepri aren’t much of a threat to tanks. These monster types were strong yes, but they weren’t anything like the hellish monstrosities we’d heard had surfaced in eastern Europe. No girta was going to be able to crack a tank, so we should be mostly safe. Button up the hatch and crush anything in our path, simple right? Yeah, its never that easy.

“Also, Geo-survey detailed an exceptional amount of seismic activity all over the peninsula. That has to mean sandworms, a lot of them. Thats why the IDF asked for extra armored support.”

Sandworms. Shit. That made me want to stop right there and go back. I’ve seen first hand who wins between a Battlemaster and a sandworm. I watched a fellow tank fire on a sandworm with a depleted uranium sabot round. This round is designed to penetrate the toughest armor. It can rip though the 300mm of solid steel plating on a T-72 with 100% reliability. That same round simply bounced off the side of the sandworm, like a nerf ball. Shortly after, the sandworm swallowed the tank whole. I heard somewhere that the crew actually resurfaced several days later. They were found stark naked, without a tank, and the missing driver was declared a POW. How the hell does a sandworm claim a prisoner?

They were a bad sign. We still had no theories on how to deal with them. Our normal high explosive, anti-tank rounds could penetrate almost a meter of armor plating. But if a depleted uranium round couldn’t penetrate a sandworm’s skin, our standard HEAT rounds didn’t inspire much confidence. Had we really gotten this desperate? Why didn’t we just carpet bomb the whole area if it was that dangerous? Oh right, collateral-fucking-damage. We were about to steamroll an area with tanks because the UN had still not cleared us to move in with the heavy bombardment. Fucking politicians and war. Start one, thats fine, but then sit back and let us do our damn jobs.

“I’m gonna be honest with you, boys.” Hutton could barely be heard over the thrum of the engine. “We got shafted on this one. The division is spreading out into tanks-lead formation after we clear the pass, move the rolling wedge across the peninsula like a push broom. We’re in front, boys. We’re the point of the wedge. We see the shit first and send it back. So keep your eyes pealed, take care of each other, and hopefully, we’ll still be in one piece on the other side.”

“Right, sir.”

“Highland!” Hutton shouted, addressing me. “Keep that gas pedal down and move forward, don’t deviate from your line of advance for anything, leave the targets to me and Cabrerra. Painter, load one round, HEAT. If one of those sandworms makes an appearance, I want to be able to react immediately.”

“Right, sir.” we all droned again. Cabrerra, Painter, and myself had been together since training at Aberdeen. Our procedures were second nature by now. And it helped that Hutton was one of the few competent officers and tank commanders we’d had. Fit all four in one tank and we were rolling death on the battlefield. But we were nervous. This was the first time we had the point position. For anyone who doesn’t know, first tank in line usually means you’re the first one to get hit. We had not encountered any monsters that used weapons so far, but that didn’t mean they wouldn’t get wise.

“Coming up on the end of the pass now, sir.” I called. Through my tiny viewport I saw the high cliffs fall away, and the whole of Sinai spread out in front of me. It was an exciting moment, to be the first tank rolling out onto the battlefield and seeing the panorama unmarred by exhaust fumes. I didn’t get much time to enjoy it though. Hutton clambered down into his commander’s seat and sealed the hatch behind him. A clang over my shoulder told me that Painter had just loaded a HEAT round into the 120mm gun. We were ready for a fight.

And as it turned out, that was not long in coming. I had just crested the first dune when, on the down stroke, Cabrerra shouted what we’d all been dreading.

“Contact left! Sandworm! Breaching the surface!”

“Shit.” I muttered and heaved a sigh.

It’s going to be a long day.

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