Death of a mortar lorry
“You joining us, Shana?”
Shana slowed her pace as the Viathan Warrior drew level with her. Red sand billowed up from the trucks enormous wheels and clung to her sweat-slicked skin.
“We’re going after The Turpins”. Angela Dike gestured to Norm to slow down so she could speak. “Gonna show them you can’t chase down a runner with rockets and expect to live.”
Shana squinted back towards the wirelink gates in the Somerset fence. “You reckon the boss needs me, Angela? I’ve only run a couple of clicks. Wanted to do at least five before dark.”
“Nah, I reckon were good. The Turpins are just punks anyway. Should be a walk in the park. We’ve even got the med team along for the ride. Boss reckons they could use the target practice.”
Shana laughed. “Last time I saw Sawbones at the targets, he blew out half the windows in Jake’s. The tight-fisted old git nearly had a coronary.”
“I heard that,” came Sawbones’ disembodied voice from deep inside the lorry.
“Good. You were meant to.” Shana waved at Angela. “Happy hunting.”
“Thanks.” Angela lifted the heavy steel baffle in place over the window and the Viathan rejoined the Vanguard convoy as it vanished into the wasteland.
* * *
Enrique Ockendo manoeuvred Velocet through the ochre hills. Here, as the sand dunes around Somerset gave way to the rocky desert, farmers scratched out an existence growing pumpkins irrigated with water piped in from the Elmsfield lakes.
Enrique whistled a tune as he spun the wheel. He relished taking point. Velocet, his beloved Landrunner, could take whatever the punks could throw at her. He enjoyed seeing the fear in their eyes as he punched in towards them, flame belching from the vents in the front grille. If they didn’t surrender, they rarely survived the impact from his reinforced steel bumper. And that was just the way Enrique liked it.
Beside him, Little Ken Cedeno pointed. “What`s that?”
Faint tendrils of red dust were visible peeking over the summit of a low hill.
“Ten bucks says it’s the Turpins,” grinned Enrique. “Call it in.”
Cedeno picked up the radio transmitter. “We got ‘em , Boss. Jes’ round this bend. We’s gonna stick our nose round the corner and see what we’ve got.”
Enrique floored the gas. “Come on, boys. I’ve got ten bucks on you.” The heavy Landrunner bounced across the sand. The roar of the v8 echoed down the valley.
Eight cars, flying the Turpins’ colours, alright. But they weren’t fleeing.
“Boss, we’s in trouble. They’re coming right for us.”
* * *
“Repeat!” called Earl.
He heard the panic in Cedeno’s voice. “They’re coming right for us! Maybe 60 metres away. We’re so screwed.”
“Now listen kid. We’ll be fine, you hear me? Tell Enrique to circle round to protect the Viathan. We’ll perch on that hill and cover you.”
There was a pause. “Enrique says he can take ‘em head on,” said Ken.
“Negative,” said Earl. “Get back and protect the Viathan.”
Earl didn’t wait for an answer. He clicked channels.
“No time to set up. Spin the Viathan, mortar where you can, but you’re gonna get up and close and personal pretty damn soon.”
“Makes a nice change,” said Norm.
Earl clicked the radio off. “Park us on that there hill, Joseph,” he said to the driver, a 19 year old novice on his first run. “We’re gonna have to keep the Turpins off their backs.”
“Roger that,” said Joseph and gunned the engine.
* * *
Angela flinched as machine gun rounds from an Eliminator rattled off the Viathan’s armour.
“Can’t you do something about that Elim,” she shouted.
“Working on it,” called Sawbones. He triggered his rocket launcher. “Damn.” The Elim shook from the near miss and a deluge of sandy gravel clattered against its armour.
Ffa-dum. Ffa-dum. The rear mortars belched flame and two projectiles arced into the sky.
Angela counted under her breath. “1… 2… 3… Impact!”
“Woo-hoo!. Totalled a Blaster.”The ballistics team, Randy and Thunderbird, high-fived in the tail of the truck. “First mortar killed the roof. Second detonated inside. Ain’t gonna be pretty hosing it down later.”
“Good shooting,” said Angela. “Now kill something else!”
“Ain’t got no targets,” said Randy. “All too close to Earl.”
“Line ‘em up anyway. You can shoot it when he moves off that stupid hill.”
* * *
“We got two Scorpions incoming. Joseph, swing the nose around.”
The engine screamed. Scree and stones spewed down the hill and pattered onto the roadway.
“Can’t do it, Boss.”
“Whaddya mean? Swing us round now, goddammit, or those Scorps will get free shots at us.”
“We’re stuck. I ain’t got no traction.”
The Scorps fired. Earl’s reply was lost in multiple explosions as four warheads detonated in the space of a single second.
* * *
“Crap! Earl’s in trouble.”
Angela picked up the radio. “Enrique, can you get to him?”
“Negative. We’re busy, and my flamer won’t reach him anyways.”
She looked at Norm. He shook his head.
“You’re crazy, Angela. We can’t mix it up in no furball. Ain’t no way.”
“And if we don’t, Earl’s history. History cos we were too chicken to help him. What’s it going to be, Norm?”
Angela held the silence for several long seconds. A rocket impacted on the ground ahead, showering the Viathan’s front grille with debris.
“Alright, alright, goddammit. But on your head be it.”
“That`s fine with me.” She raised her voice. “Brace yourself back there. We’re going in.”
* * *
“We’re gonna die,” sobbed Joseph.
“No, we ain’t,” said Earl. “When they hit us again, we’ll trigger all our front weapons. The recoil’ll kick us back over the hill. You ready for that?”
“I said, are you ready for that?” barked Earl.
“Yes, sir!” said Joseph. His knuckles turned white on the wheel as he waited for the volley.
* * *
Forty feet of searing napalm engulfed the Elim. The driver veered right, straight into the path of the Viathan.
Norm gripped the wheel as the heavy truck bucked its way across the remains of the car.
“They ain’t getting up from that,” he remarked. He shifted a quid of tobacco from cheek to the other. “Who next?”
“Just punch it,” said Angela. “Earl’s still in trouble.”
* * *
Rockets detonated. The big Apache rocked. Earl pressed his firing stud and emptied volley after volley of gatling rounds across the empty valley. The recoil kicked the nose of the Apache into the air and the rear wheels bit into the hillside.
“It’s working,” said Joseph as the engine whined.
“Great, now get some fresh armour between us and them rockets.”
The Apache slid down the hill. Joseph wrenched the wheel to the right and turned to bring the front guns to bear.
Another rocket volley hit them on the turn and the Apache flipped and rolled.
* * *
“What the hell was that?” shouted Angela.
“Rear armour breach! Mortars gone, Randy’s out cold,” called Sawbones. “Thunderbird’s bleeding like a stuck pig. I’m on it.’
“This is going to get messy,” said Angela.
“Hang on,” said Norm. “We’re going after those Scorps.”
He punched the gas.
* * *
“You OK?” asked Earl.
“I guess,” said Joseph.
“We’re lucky, we’ve landed on our wheels. So get us moving!” Blood streamed down his left arm. He ignored it and picked up the mike.
“Angela, who we still got in the fight?”
“Two Scorps, that rocket pickup. Enrique’s engaging a couple of Desert Flames. How are you guys doing?”
“Left armour breach. Car cannon gone. Still got the heavy gatling, and Joseph is doing just great.” His voice was drowned out in the buzzcutter roar of the gatling. “… about you?”
“Rear amour out and the mortars are totalled. We’re on our way to get the Scorps.”
The Viathan thundered across the valley floor. It shrugged off the pickup’s attack and zeroed in on the Scorpions. Angela triggered the flamer. The two cars split either side. Norm yanked the wheel and hit one head on. The entire front crumpled and the steering column shot up through the driver’s ribcage.
The other Scorp spun. Its nose pointed straight at the gaping hole Ein arl’s Apache. The Viathan opened up with everything it had – rockets, machine guns, flame – and the Scorp died. But not before its last two rockets streaked out across the desert.
“Got ya!” said Enrique. The second Flame died and he let his situational awareness flow out into the battlefield.
“Earl, you hear me? Earl?”
Enrique threw Velocet into a tight turn and headed back into the fray.
* * *
The shout sent a jolt of fear through Angela. The heavy flamer was still half fuelled. Clouds of black smoke billowed through the Viathan and sent a plume rising fifty feet into the sky.
“Damn pickup musta got lucky in the back,” said Norm.
A scream of pain cut through the air.
“Sawbones! How bad is it?”
Angela turned in her seat. The entire cargo bay of the Viathan was a mass of flame. The scent of roasted meat filled her nostrils and she fought down the bile that surged into her mouth.
“We gotta bail, Norm.”
“Can’t. Got a pickup on our tail.”
* * *
Little Ken gasped.
“Holy crap! The Viathan’s an inferno.”
“Concentrate, kid,” said Enrique. “Just that pickup left and then we’re clear.”
The pickup sent another rocket into the inferno, and then another. Enrique saw a figure, clothes and hair aflame, leap from the truck and roll on the sand.
Kaboom! The Viathan vanished. In its place, a roiling, tumbling cloud of flame and destruction. Enrique ducked as a huge, dark shape flew overhead missing Velocet by inches.
“What the…?” said Little Ken. “I think the Viathan just exploded.”
“No crap, son. Now where the hell is that pickup.”
“It’s gone. The explosion must have flung it a coupla hundred metres over our heads. We’ve won.”
* * *
Enrique stood on the scorched sand. Earl dead. Angela dead. Sawbones, Thunderbird, Randy. Eight Vanguards gone. The pirates lost more, but this wan’t an arena contest. Points didn’t matter a damn.
“Over here,” called Little Ken. “I think he’s alive.”
Enrique raced to the ruined Apache. Joseph sagged in his harness. Crimson blood soaked his coveralls and he was covered in foul-smelling viscera.
“Christ, is that all his?” asked Enrique.
“No. I think it’s Earl’s.” Ken paused and corrected himself. “Was Earl’s, that is.”
“You’re alright, son. We won. The Vanguards won,’ said Enrique.
But at what a cost.
Requiescat in Pace
Robert `Earl` Hickey
`The Hon.` Marcus Tremaine
Norman `Troll` Washington
`Randy` Randall Powell
Thomas `Thunderbird` Tracy
Clayton `Sawbones` Burgess
`Doctor` Jose Lankford
Angeline `Ain`t No` Dike
Based on a true story