Thankfully, when I woke up my headache had subsided to manageable levels. Not so much for the pain in my ankle. The throbbing had increased to a slow burn, and reaching my hand inside my boot told me the entire leg below the knee was burning up with heat. I gingerly pulled myself back into the turret basket to get my field kit. It wasn’t much, field tourniquet, blood pads, the usual. But I could use a couple of the wrenches in the tool kit to make a splint with the gauze, which should hopefully help a bit.
The process took the better part of an hour, especially with the ankle shrieking in pain every time I tried to get it set in the right direction for the splint. With that handled, I popped a couple more pills and waited for the morning cobwebs to completely clear. With my breakfast meal out of the way, I had a new problem. MRE’s do bind up your digestive track better than Portland cement, but even it has to go somewhere eventually and my body told me it was ready for evacuation. Only place to do that was outside. I grabbed my MP7 and the two precious wads of complimentary MRE toilet paper and prepared to do battle with the demon within.
A quick pop of the hatch and a mouthful of sand told me the goddamn sandstorm had not abated, wonderful. I tried to move to the leeward side of the Abrams, hoping there was an air pocket in which I could drop a deuce in peace. No such luck, sand down the pants it is.
With business concluded I was just preparing to mount up again when the ground began to shake. I immediately squashed myself up against the tank, arming the MP7. Not that the tiny bullets would do anything, but at least it helped me cope with my own helplessness. The quaking increased until I couldn’t maintain my already weak footing and fell to the ground. I continued to hold onto the tank in case the sandworm causing the quake was going to breach right under me. I was determined to make sure the tank went in first.
With a roar, the sandworm broke the surface not ten yards away like some sort of dune submarine. The automated .50 Cal immediately whirred to life and opened fire. I could already hear the bullets pinking off the tough scales which were more like plates of armor. After a few shots however, the .50 stopped firing. The sandworm, I noticed, was not moving. only a 50 foot segment of the worm had broken the surface, the rest of it’s bulk still buried under the sand. And it was completely still.
If I had any sense of intelligence about me, I’d have immediately squashed the curiosity that suddenly jumped into my mind. But, like an idiot, I decided to indulge it. If the thing was dead, I wanted to get a better look, maybe identify a couple weak spots for future reference. Still, I was well aware that this could be a trap. I hauled myself back up into the tank, again being ginger with my damn foot, to grab a few items. Namely a couple of grenades that Cabrerra had bartered one of the sand-humping infantry out of. Cabrerra was always trying to get his hands on more weapons, twitchy, psychotic fucker that he was. He was the one who always left the .50 on manual override, as if the kills weren’t worth it unless he was doing the shooting personally. You know what? In hindsight, I do kind of hope some monster chick laid that guy, he really needed to de-stress.
In the event this thing attacked me, I was going to give it some nasty, fragmenting metal casing indigestion. I crawled my way back out of the tank, screaming a loud “FUCK!” when my damn foot caught on the hatch rim. I tumbled off the tank and probably cracked a rib as the angular butt-stock of the MP7 jabbed me in the chest. You’ve probably noticed I’m not being stealthy anymore am I? Well the pain was quickly reminding me that the grid square in which I gathered my last supply of fucks was several miles back, and there was very little chance of me getting back there alive, without support anyways. If this damn sandstorm would let up, I could at least radio my position to home base and get a medivac. But my luck sucks even on a good day, so that wasn’t happening.
I managed to free the four foot long torque bar that we use to change the tracks on the tank out of its side holder. It would have to do as a crutch for now, not that it was much help in the sliding sand of the Sinai. I slowly worked my way over to the bulk of the sandworm. Damn, this thing is massive up close. Just from the ground it was easily a 20 foot climb if I wanted to get on top of it, which my foot quickly reminded me that I didn’t. Still it was fascinating. Nothing in history described anything like this. I hobbled to the end of the thing, which I assumed was the mouth. There were six mandible plates closing the end of the worm. Partially closing, I should say. They were cracked open a bit, and some clear liquid was oozing out into the sand. As I got closer I noticed the clear liquid was tinged with a bit of red. Something had managed to hurt the damn thing? This merited some further investigation, but before I could get started, a loud groan escaped the mouth of this monstrosity as the mandibles slammed open.
My MP came up out of reflex, already on burst, ready to shoot any sort of tongue or tentacle or whatever. What ended up flopping out onto the ground in front of me however was entirely unexpected, despite the enemies I’d been facing since we arrived in Sinai. It was definitely a woman’s body, mostly. The lower half just under the hips seemed to be absorbed into a mass of pink, writhing tongues. The upper half however was humanoid. She had pink skin, the same color as the blob of tongues to which she was attached. Face-down, there wasn’t much more I could identify, she had long, slimy looking hair that was about the same shade of bubblegum pink. There were two odd, red gems that seemed to be set into the skin of her shoulders, and there were some weird symbols tattooed down her arms. They looked ancient, like Egyptian hieroglyphs. Yeah yeah, I know, I’m a history student, give me a break.
So these sandworms were monster women too. Well, that explained why the driver of that other tank never came back. Everything in my left-sided logical brain told me to ensure the kill and double tap this freak of nature. But the woman wasn’t attempting to attack me, yet. More over she was groaning and whimpering like a hurt puppy. That annoying right side of my brain that somehow always escapes my emotional purging was quietly and reasonably reminding me of my humanity. It would have to be a cold sonuvabitch that would shoot this thing dead while it was lying there in agony. Like Cabrerra, if this happened to him, he’d probably be creaming his skivvies right now. Me? I’m not above sympathy, and if this thing was dying, it didn’t deserve a bullet in the face as its last view. So I took a chance, rested my gun arm, and got down on my knees because fuck crouching on a fractured ankle.
“Um, Hello? Ma’am?” I called out. Hey, I don’t know! What the hell would you say to a sandworm lady? She stopped groaning as my words hit her ears, and she raised her head to look up at me.
Red Alert! Shut it down, Shut it down now! Get back in your cell, Right brain, none of your hormone addled nonsense, you get back in there! Close the floodgates and reel that aroused shit in! Now, Private! My conditioning kicked in but it had to go through that whole routine because the face that looked back at me was…well it was pristine. Especially those eyes, those damn eyes that were giving me the deer-in-headlights look. They were glistening and had the same shade of ruby-red those gems in her shoulders had. Those eyes, plus what I could see of her body, were trying to activate those annoying urges that reminded me I was a human with primal instincts. I managed to suppress my right brain quickly enough to avert the involuntary chub, but not quickly enough to keep from dropping my guard and giving in to sympathy.
“Are you alright, Ma’am? This ain’t the best time for you to be out and about, if you know what I mean.” Well, aren’t I just the smooth and charming type?
She moaned again and tried raising an arm. My hand slid to my MP just in case, but she made an agonizing whine.
She jerked a thumb back over her shoulder. It was lost on me though because jerking her thumb back gave me a full frontal shot of her chest. And boom, Right brain was back for round two, this time with steroids. Her bust was nice, I couldn’t deny that. It fit her proportions perfectly, not small enough to be confusing, but not like the shrink-wrapped bowling balls that all the rest of my platoon mates seemed to fancy. Goddamnit, Right brain! I told you to get back in your cell! Get back in there, now! Get!
This time I did have a half-chub that needed shrinking, so I took in a deep breath, not easy to do with all the sand, and asked the now crying sandworm-girl what had happened.
“One of those little crawling things hit me with something! It felt like fire piercing into my body. It still burns…It hurts. Please…help.”
From the direction she had jerked her thumb I guessed that her wound was on the left side of her body. I raised my finger to tell her to wait and began to push my way through the sandstorm around to her left side. It didn’t take me long to find the scorch marks and a large hole in a bit of loosely hanging scale.
Yowee! That was definitely the impact from a HEAT round if I’ve ever seen one. Now that I knew what was causing the pain, I really felt bad for the sand-lady. A HEAT round is a complicated chain reaction from hell. Its a penetrating warhead with a copper cone and a secondary charge behind it. When the penetrator impacts and explodes, it creates an incredible amount of pressure that literally forces the armor plating apart, like one badass gas ax. Try saying that five times fast. After this the secondary charge goes off. This liquefies the copper and… shoots it through the hole. I can hear you lot snickering now; this was always going to get a bit saucy. This molten copper wreaks hell with anything behind the armor, destroying vital electronic systems, setting ammo stores alight, burning any fleshy beings, the like.
The effect essentially turns a tank into a large pressure cooker, leaving the contents inside tender and juicy. And I’m not just saying that because of the state this sand-lady was in. Seeing the effects of a HEAT round on flesh targets is a horrifying thing, I couldn’t even begin to imagine the pain this lady was in. I stood there for a while thinking about how I was going to help this lady. I’m not a medic, and I don’t even know how one would treat a sandworm. In theory, as a part-monster, the wound would hopefully heal itself over time. But right now it risked infection from the sand getting in the open wound. If I could somehow clean the wound and seal it against the elements, it might be alright.
Then I remembered I had a tarp in the tank that Painter had managed to scrounge from one of the fueling battalions. That plus some of the duct tape in the tool kit would seal the wound off nice. I could use some water and some clothes to clean out the gooey bits inside the wound, and one of the paint brushes we used for camo detail would help sweep any extra loose sand out of the hole. My left brain reminded me this was a monster and that this could possibly come back and bite me in the ass, but the rest of me was made up. I hobbled my way back up to the front of the sandworm-lady.
“Ma’am.” I took as big a breath as the storm would allow me. “You’ve been struck by a High Explosive, Anti-Tank round. I can’t heal the wound, but I can clean it and put something on it to keep it safe from the sand. It will hurt a bit more though. I just want you to know I’m not trying to cause you more pain, I’m just trying to help. I need to get some things out of my vehicle. I’ll be right back.”
She simply gave me that deer-in-headlights look again, as if she didn’t believe me for a second. Eventually she nodded, and I set off for the tank, my brain already a turmoil of warring opinions.
Christ I hope I’m doing the right thing.