I remember coming out of the underworld with a start, my eyes shooting open. I immediately regretted that as a splitting headache made itself known, and everything in my vision was out of focus. I closed my eyes and took a minute to collect my misplaced bearings before opening them again. I was crushed up against the steering column of my tank, my face wedged between the forward bulkhead and the front of the tank. As I gingerly extricated myself, I noticed a large bloodstain against the bulkhead where my head had been. Oh great, that explained the sticky feeling on the side of my head. A new pain, this one in my ankle, now announced itself and quickly shouldered the headache aside to take priority in my brain. I tried to work my way back to my drivers seat only to find I had to start climbing to get to the rear of the tank. That meant we were in a steep hull-down position, maybe a ditch, or a sinkhole.
It took me a few minutes to clamber my way back to the turret basket and find a spot I could sit and take stock. I noticed sand pooling in the bottom near the driver’s area. That meant we had a hull breach, which I discovered on the right side forward bulkhead. The metal had been caved in as if it had been cut open and hammered down. My mind was still hazy on how that had happened, but seeing the sand started jogging my memories back into place.
Almost as soon as we had entered the Sinai interior we engaged hostile enemy forces en masse. I hadn’t voiced my opinion to anyone but it seemed almost like they were waiting for us. Things turned into a shit storm pretty fast. We were still funneling our tanks through the pass, a natural bottleneck in the landscape. If the monsters had wanted, they could have picked us off one by one. But true to their nature, they were more interested in prisoners, not fatalities.
I followed Major Hutton’s orders to the letter and had kept the gas pedal pinned to the floor. I could feel the weight of the tank shift on its suspension as the massive turret swung around to engage our left side. Hutton ordered Cabrerra to open fire, and we hit the first target with a HEAT round. The ground shook beneath the tank, letting me know the sandworm was burrowing for another attack. Hutton ordered evasive maneuvers, so I started weaving back and forth. unfortunately the sandworm was wise to that and chose to break the surface again at the worst possible point.
It tipped the Abrams up on one track. Without my other track for steering, all I could do was hold on to my seat. Hutton however, was on top of his game and swung the turret around so the ass-end was airborne, the added weight forcing the tank back onto the ground. My scrawny-ass body was almost thrown out of my seat by the clank, but I held firm and kept moving.
Cabrerra warned about girtas approaching from the right side and swung the outboard-mounted machine gun around to deal with the threat. The sandworm resurfaced again, this time right in front of me, filling my porthole. I yanked the handlebars to the right and locked back my right track. The effect caused the tank to skid around to the right, like a street racer drifting around a turn. I imagine it would have all looked very cool, especially with the dry, sliding sand of the Sinai accentuating the effect, but nothing could have been further from my mind at the time. I had thrown off Cabrerra’s aim by drifting to the right, and more importantly, the maneuver brought the tank to a stop.
In my view port I counted at least seven girtas barreling down on the tank. I disengaged the lock on my right track and gunned the engine just as Cabrerra got back on target and started shooting. He managed to hit five of them, and I crushed one that misjudged the speed of the oncoming tank. The final one however managed to get a purchase on the skirt armor and clambered up on top. I had no time to pay attention, but I heard Cabrerra’s gun swinging around and firing, followed by Cabrerra shouting that we were clear. With the immediate threat eliminated, I yanked back on the handlebars and pulled a left turn to put us back on track with the other tanks.
That was the last maneuver I made, dealing with the girtas apparently gave the sandworm enough time to mount another attack and it made good on it. I remember my heart stopping as suddenly we took a hit from the right, and one of the mandibles of the sandworm pierced through the side armor into my driver’s compartment. Thankfully the armor held. But I remember the most horrifying thing was seeing the pink flesh of a humanoid arm reaching in through the hole and questing about trying to find something, or someone, to grab onto. My foot left the gas pedal as I scooted back in my seat and reached for my P320 sidearm. I yanked the slide back and fired a few shots into the hole.
I was rewarded with the arm recoiling back, followed by a very terrifying scream of pain. The scream sounded almost human. The tank suddenly began to groan and move of its own volition, then bucked backward, dumping all of us back into the turret basket. I crawled my way back to my seat and noticed the open hole. I could look outside and see the dunes below us…aww, shit.
With a jerk, our tank went flying through the air, and my last vision was of the forward bulkhead rushing up to greet my face. That explained the splitting headache I now had as well as the blood against the bulkhead. I looked down at my ankle with trepidation, worried that it might be broken. It wasn’t, but the curvature around the joint told me it was definitely fractured. All in all, I got off lightly for being tossed around in a colossal metal can. I looked around for my crew-mates but they were nowhere to be seen. The hatch was shut, but I noticed it hadn’t been locked down. That meant that at some point they left. Either they assumed I was dead, or one of the others was already too injured to risk going back for me. I could only hope that one of the other tanks in our platoon had picked them up before anything…ungodly…got a hold of them.
Once I had balanced myself, I knew the first order of business was getting outside and taking stock of my position. I reached back into the crew storage to grab an MP7, my sidearm having disappeared, probably buried in the sand at the bottom of the driver’s compartment. I levered myself up to the hatch, ignoring the pain in my ankle, and pushed it open.
I was greeted with a mouthful of sand and howling winds. A sandstorm was occupying my position, and I could hardly see more than ten feet in front of me. Still, there was nothing for it, I pulled myself out of the hatch, and tumbled the eight feet or so to the ground. My ankle screamed in pain, and it was all I could do to bite down on my tongue and stifle a curse, in case any of our monster assailants were still in the area. The pain died down after a bit so I pulled myself up and began inspecting the tank.
As I predicted, the tank was hull down at the base of a dune, the front fifth of it buried in sand. I worked my way around to the right side to inspect the breach. Thankfully, the sandworm’s mandible had missed the tracks, leaving them intact. Trying to fix a broken track pad in this whirlwind was a hell I didn’t need. The frame was clearly bent and I hoped the drive wheels weren’t out of alignment. Other than that there were some significant dings and dents all over and the anti-RPG screening on the turret was toast. But for the most part I hoped that it was still operational.
I crawled back into the Abrams and worked myself down to the loader’s compartment. Under the seat was the access panel to the manual ignition lever. I braced as best I could and threw the lever. The engine sputtered and coughed a couple times. Good, it was still somewhat functional. I threw the lever again. More sputtering occurred followed by a coughing roar as the Honeywell gas turbine woke from its sand covered slumber.
Alright, we’re in business! I clambered back to the driver’s seat and worked myself into my harness so I could actually drive from the almost vertical position. I grimaced as I realized I hadn’t been wearing my harness during the battle, and that explained why I got tossed around like a can of mixed nuts. I braced myself, shifted into reverse, and eased onto the gas pedal. The Abrams, beautiful and lovely machine she was, backed her 70 ton ass up out of the hole and righted herself with a clank. I shifted into forward and urged the tank up the dune in front of me. With a sandstorm raging outside, I didn’t want to get caught in a valley and risk being buried. The tank still had enough in her to get to the top of the dune. Upon reaching the crest I powered her down and sat back with a breath of relief. There was no reason to be driving around in a sandstorm with low visibility, especially when I didn’t have my two extra sets of eyes to look out for hostile contacts. I would just have to wait it out.
Thankfully for me, I discovered my fellows had left most of their gear behind. It was good for me, but it did not inspire confidence in the hope that they had escaped alive. I was worried about whatever had caused them to bail out and leave all their gear behind. Still I had to make the best of my situation. I grabbed an MRE, water bottle, and my woobie. I also raided the first aid kit for the Motrin. I set the MRE to warm up and popped the Motrin with a swig of water, willing my headache to ease up. I’d use my field kit to have a look at the head wound in the morning.
I did shift my way over to the gunner’s seat and flipped on the targeting computer. One lovely thing about the Battlemaster variant of the Abrams, we had an automated, gyro-stabilized machine gun on a pintle-mount where the gunner’s cupola used to be. I switched the action from manual to auto, and placed it in sentry mode. If anything approached my position in the night that the computer identified as hostile, the gun would chop it into ground beef.
My last action was to button the commander’s hatch closed and lock it. Safe inside, I settled back into my seat in the driver’s compartment with my food and woobie. Ah, nice snuggly woobie. I was all alone in the middle of enemy territory, but the camo pattern poncho liner offered a much needed and intimate sense of security.
Well…That and the armored behemoth that was now my own personal mobile home.