Your mind will be destroyed
This article (Awakening), or a section of this article, deals with mature content or language.
Though nothing one couldn't find on the internet anyways, we felt it necessary to warn you.
December 25, 1968Edit
The car raced down the highway. A woman drove while her male companion sat in the passenger seat, staring out at the Tennessee hills with nostalgia. Both wore military uniforms, and to an observer familiar with the insignia, could read their allegiances like a book. The woman’s uniform proclaimed her to be a captain in the 2nd Armored Assault Group of the Peacekeeper Corps, and a veteran of hard fighting in Europe. The man’s uniform identified him as a lieutenant colonel of the 101st Airborne Division and a decorated veteran of Europe, the assault on Japan, and the new war in Vietnam.
The man’s uniform was merely years out of date and slightly embellished. The woman’s was a complete fabrication.
“The Grand Inquisitor isn’t going to like this.” Lady Maria noted.
“The Grand Inquisitor can shove it up his ass.” Crusader Harold Moore replied. “I missed Christmas the last three years, and I am not going to miss it this year.”
“I wasn’t criticizing your decision, although I fail to see the relevance.” Maria answered with a shrug. “I think you made the right choice, though I doubt the Grand Inquisitor will see it that way.”
“This one of your famous ‘hunches?’ And the reason why you wanted to come along?”
“Lovely. You never really celebrated Christmas growing up, did you?”
“Not as a time of celebration or festivity, although I understand that Americans place a great deal of value on it.”
“Over here, it’s a time for family. You never forgive yourself for missing one Christmas, much less the five I’ve missed over the years.”
“That has something to do with the significant number of fanciful articles of clothing, children’s toys, and other personal effects in the back of the car, I assume?”
“It certainly does. My whole extended family gets together at my brother’s house for Christmas, and I wanted to bring at least one present for everyone.”
“So should I simply return the car to the rental agency after I drop you off?”
“You’re welcome to come in, Maria. I’m sure my family won’t mind.”
“Not even your wife?”
Moore laughed. “What, you’re worried that she’ll think I’m cheating on her or something? Carol isn’t like that. This is our exit, by the way.”
“If you’re sure…”
“I am. Turn left off the interstate, then stay in the right lane…”
It was hard to miss the Moore home. Harold Moore’s brother was a horse rancher, and a successful one by the size of the house and surrounding ranch. Several cars and trucks were parked outside, and the house was bedecked in a stunning range of Christmas lights, inflatable snowmen, and other decorations. Even from outside the house, Lady Maria could hear the sounds of intensive festivities on the cold Christmas morning.
Harold Moore took a deep breath as he got out of the car. Communication with his family had been sharply limited and monitored by the Inquisition ever since he’d joined the Order. Doing so had been the right decision, he knew, but that didn’t mean it was without cost. Fortunately, the Chamber Epistolary had done a very effective job of fabricating a cover that Moore was still in the Allied military, only involved in the shadowy underworld where operations don’t officially happen and could cause international incidents should they ever be acknowledged.
That Moore actually had firsthand experience with that side of the Allied Nations before he left only made the cover easier.
He took a deep breath and knocked on the front door.
A moment later, a tall and slender blonde woman around twenty years of age opened the door, accompanied by a beagle scrambling to get around her ankles.
“Dad!” Sarah Moore cried and threw herself into a hug! “You really did make it home for Christmas!”
“I promised your mother I’d make it home this year.” Harold confirmed as he hugged his daughter. “Come hell or high water, I told her I’d make it home.”
Sarah’s cry had alerted the rest of the family, and the next several minutes were a confused daze of family. The last to arrive was Caroline Moore, Harold’s wife. Caroline was a small, brown-haired woman who bore a distinct resemblance to a mouse, and her glasses perched precariously on her nose.
“You certainly took your time coming home.” Caroline said sharply. “Even Thomas came home two days ago, and he flew in from Germany.”
Harold’s eldest son, Thomas Moore, was a wet-behind-the-ears second lieutenant in the Peacekeeper Corps.
“I had to fight tooth and nail to come home as it is.” Harold answered evenly. “A certain pain-in-the-ass general wanted to keep us all on station, in case something happened on Christmas that needs our particular brand of attention.”
“Don’t care.” Caroline replied, then broke into a grin and embraced her husband. “Could you try to come home more often? I do appreciate how regularly you write, but it’s just not the same.”
Harold was tempted to rattle off the usual justifications a member of the Order gave for their duty, but held his tongue. Caroline still thought he was in the 101st Airborne. And telling her about the Order would be a very quick way of either getting one or both of them killed, or otherwise have their lives severely messed up. He’d seen it happen. Entire families kidnapped, their deaths faked, and dumped into a heavily guarded home in Jerusalem until they were indoctrinated. Harold didn’t want that to happen to his family.
“I’m sorry, Carol.” Being honest and telling the whole truth are rather different things. “I really do wish I could get away more often, but… what I do is important.”
“I know.” Carol admitted. “But that doesn’t mean I’m going to let you off the hook that easily.”
“Should I leave the two of you alone?” Maria, who had been completely ignored by the Moore family, inquired quietly.
Carol, and for that matter the rest of the Moore family, looked from Harold to Maria and back again.
“It’s not what you think.” Harold laughed. “Carol, this is Maria. She’s a friend of mine, and we’ve worked together for the last few years, including some very tight spots in Asia. Her family died several years ago, and she didn’t have anywhere to go for Christmas.”
“Please.” Maria shook her head. “I only offered to drive him here because I suspected he would be too hung over to drive in the morning. The general was very clear that if your husband was to go home for Christmas, he would be coming back in one piece. I drew the short straw, as it were.”
“Nonsense!” Carol smiled at the young woman. “Any friend of Harold’s is a friend of ours! Come on in, and we’ll make room for you at the table for dinner tonight.”
Very hesitantly in the face of the Moore family, Lady Maria nodded and followed them inside.
Lady Maria suffocated under the weight of the Moores’ hospitality. Seemingly every member of the extended family wanted to meet her, shake her hand, congratulate her on the victories she had supposedly won as the Allied tank captain her cover stated her to be, and welcome her to the American South. And then there was the food and drink – seemingly endless platters of cookies, cornbread, sweet corn, and God only knew what else. Plenty of drinks, too, from some obnoxiously sweet concoction the Americans called eggnog to types of tea Maria had never heard of. And what was with all the sugar? The Americans seemed compelled to put it in everything. Everyone wanted to make her welcome, consider herself at home.
It didn’t take long for Maria to politely excuse herself, trip over an attention-seeking beagle and get slobbered over as she tried to get back up, and finally disentangle herself from the Americans. Finding genuine peace and quiet seemed a lost cause, but she eventually settled on a rocking chair on the house’s back porch.
“You’re not used to this, are you?”
Lady Maria almost jumped out of her skin. Carol Moore grinned at the younger woman and handed her a glass of some unidentified beverage.
“Was I that obvious?” Maria asked sheepishly.
“You have no idea.” Carol confirmed. “This is a drink called a mint julep, by the way. It’s a little early for alcohol, but you look like you need it. Badly.”
Maria hesitated for a moment, and took a sip. It was… interesting.
“I didn’t have much of a family to speak of, growing up.” Maria nodded as she settled back down in the chair. “This has all been overwhelming to say the least.”
Carol waited for several long moments before answering. “Maria, I know you’re not a Peacekeeper. You work with my husband, and I have no doubt that he was telling the truth about the two of you fighting together, but if I had to guess, there was nothing normal about your upbringing or what you do now.”
“I was told as soon as I could talk that I was born for a higher purpose.” Maria again nodded, though she was starting to grow uneasy with the other woman’s gift for perception. “My… family, I suppose you would call it, although it bore no resemblance to what you and Harold have here, did not celebrate Christmas like this. Or have any festivities of note. Truth be told, I was worried that you would think that your husband had been dishonest with you when I arrived with him.”
“What, you thought I’d suspect him of cheating on me?” Carol doubled over in laughter. “Maria, you are so straight-edged I don’t think you’re capable of having an affair with someone. Take some friendly advice: don’t pretend you’re capable of something like that, because I don’t think you are and I expect that you’re a terrible liar in any event.”
Maria wasn’t sure how to respond to that, and her indecision showed.
“Maria, have you even had a boyfriend in your life?” Carol asked with a knowing smile.
“Ever wanted one?”
Maria only had to think for a moment. “No. I have a higher”-
“Horse manure! I’m a good Christian girl, and God knows I wanted a boyfriend growing up! Or do you find men to not be your type, as it were?”
“Of course not!” Maria shot back defensively. “What’s the point of this?”
“My point, Maria, is that I don’t think you have a clue what it’s like to be a normal person.” Carol shook her head. “Telling a kid they’re born for a higher purpose sounds like a good way to produce a screwed-up person. God, how did you get through puberty?”
Maria blushed heavily, recalling… those times, and what it was like to undergo those developments in the all-male Order. It had been… difficult.
“I’d ask you for the names of the people who raised you so I could go tear them a new one if I thought you’d answer.” Carol apparently read the Talon officer’s mind. “I’m not a stellar mother by any means, but even I told my daughter what it meant when she got horny for the first time! Not like I could stop her from thinking about boys and practicing solo, and I didn’t beat around the bush with her on that, either.”
Maria at this point was incapable of turning a deeper shade of red on her face.
“Maria, one of the happiest days of my life was the day Harold and I got married?. You want to know one of the big reasons why? We could finally do something I’d been dreaming about for a while. God made sex feel good for a reason, girl, and enjoying it ain’t nothing to be ashamed of. Anyhow, my point in all this is that I think you need to learn how to be a normal person. Sure, maybe you do have some big purpose, but let God handle that when the time comes. God expects us to be human, Maria. He made us human, after all.”
Maria shook her head. “I don’t think my colleagues would see it that way.”
“Stuff your colleagues!” Carol shot back. “What you do with your life is between you and God in the end, no one else. God gave us brains for a reason, Maria, just like He gave us free will. We weren’t born to be sheep, unless someone’s been shearing me when I’m not looking.”
Maria had no answer for that, only a slight nod.
“Let’s try this another way, Maria. What do you do for a living, really?”
“I’m a soldier.”
“Uh huh. Interesting answer. Most people would say they’re in the Army, or the Peacekeepers. You didn’t. So you’re a soldier. What are you fighting for?”
Maria’s response was automatic. “For the Lord God.”
“Good answer for Sunday school, no good here. Try again.”
Again, automatic. “To make this a better world.”
“Closer, but still no cigar. My son Thomas wants to make this a better world, but he wants to do so by removing the scourge of Godless communism. What about you?”
This time, Maria did not answer for a long time. One of her “hunches” was telling her that this, somehow, was an important moment… the Grand Council would probably not be happy, but as the woman implied, they were irrelevant…
“The human race is out of control.” Maria finally said quietly. “We’re advancing too far, too quickly. Too quickly for our spirits to catch up with what our own ingenuity has wrought. Not even a century ago was the first airplane launched, and now we’re exploring the heavens. Human minds have been linked with computers. Entire human beings have been cloned en masse. We’ve unlocked what is essentially pagan magic. There are machines that can think for themselves. I believe that the Lord God created the universe and everything within it, including everything scientists could ever hope to discover, but humanity is not God and needs time to adjust. I don’t believe it’s an accident that material progress is far outracing mankind’s spiritual development. And I hope to return mankind to its proper pace.”
Carol raised an eyebrow at Maria’s explanation, but answered between sips of her mint julep. “Do you intend to reduce humanity to technological stasis? Bring us back to the middle ages, perhaps?”
Maria shook her head. “God gave us brains, as you said. The righteous need not cower before the drumbeat of human progress. Though the challenge of yesterday fades into the song of tomorrow, God still watches and judges us. Evil lurks in the computer circuits as it lurked in the streets of yesteryear, but it was never the streets that were evil. God created the universe, and created how it works. Scientists can discover only the clockwork by which God animates the universe.”
“And this is what you and my husband both fight for. To protect mankind from itself.” Carol replied quietly.
Maria froze, and Carol chuckled. “I’m not stupid, Maria. Harold and I have been married for twenty-one years as of last October. I know him, and I know his moods. And you know what? I love him, and trust him. He’s a good man, and I believe you’re a good woman, even if you were raised by barbarians. I’m not sure I completely agree with you, but I see your point and why it’s an appealing ethos. Certainly there are worse things to fight for.”
Carol Moore stood up, collected her drink, and faced the doorway back into the house. Then she looked back at Maria.
“There’s no shame in humanity, Maria. If God didn’t want us to be human, he wouldn’t have made us human. It’s time to start opening presents, and I understand if you’d prefer to stay out here. But you are welcome here, no matter who you are or what you were raised to be. Oh, and complain about the cooking all you like, but dinner won’t be till evening.”
Maria remained on the back porch for a long time, rocking back and forth in the chair as she thought. The mint julep helped.
It was a cold Christmas morning in northern Scotland. Local records for snowfall were in danger of breaking, but it suited the Winters home, Lydia thought. On the mantle above the fireplace was a picture of her husband, Fergus Winters, killed in action at the head of his tank company in Switzerland. Next to his picture was one of Fergus’ father, Bryce Winters, also killed in action less than a month ago at the helm of the ANV Minotaur by a Soviet wolfpack in the North Atlantic. Major Lydia Winters herself had had a few close calls in recent months…
As a matter of fact, about the only figures in the house who seemed to be happy were the dogs and a hulking brute of a Maine Coon cat aptly named Goliath, all sprawled in front of the fireplace. The latter belonged to Lydia’s sister-in-law, Deirdre. Lydia’s own bulldog, Patton, yawned lazily as a little Scottish terrier named Champ snuggled in closer.
"Any idea when your, ah, significant other will arrive?" Lydia finally asked.
"She should have been here already." Deirdre shook her head, then took another sip of hot tea. "My boss would have called if there had been a problem with the Empire. Not that I’d have blamed the Empire for being more cautious after that little stunt we pulled a few weeks ago."
Lydia’s eyes narrowed. Deirdre and her distinctly Japanese girlfriend were notoriously secretive about who they worked for and what they did. It didn’t take a genius to realize that they were ACIN officers, though how the ACIN had so thoroughly co-opted a national of an empire the Allies were at war with was a mystery itself. The ACIN officers Lydia had met in her work in Allied military R&D loved their little games and cryptic references.
Still, she couldn’t help herself. "You pulled 'a little stunt' on the Empire? I thought that theatre was pretty quiet since the assault on Tokyo."
"It is." Deirdre agreed. "But a few weeks ago, we slipped back in, wrought some havoc, bagged our target, and slipped back out. Intercepts confirm that the Empire has no idea who was responsible, so rather than face the shame of having been completely outfoxed by somebody, their official stance is that nothing at all unusual happened on the northwest coast of Japan a few weeks ago. Nope, nothing at all unusual like, say, an unidentified enemy wiping out a military research station, completely bushwhacking the response force, and getting out with nothing left behind but some unconventional ammo casings."
"How in God’s name did you pull that off?!" Lydia demanded. "I’ve seen the reports on their sensor networks! How the hell did you do that?!"
"Magic!" Deirdre answered with a wink.
Lydia was not amused. "No, seriously, how?!"
"If I told you how we did it, you’d know and be tempted to do the same thing yourself, or pass it along to someone else." Deirdre chuckled. "Then the Empire would learn, and we wouldn’t be able to use the same trick ourselves again. Call it a trade secret. Not to mention my boss will be mad as hell if he finds out I told you about our little visit to Japan in the first place."
Truth without being remotely honest. That was the way of Deirdre’s true allegiance, the Order of the Talon.
"Eleanor, your daughter is being a cryptic ass again!" Lydia complained to her mother-in-law.
"Deirdre, please stop teasing your sister-in-law." Eleanor Winters ordered as she joined the two younger women. Her terrier immediately bounded into her lap.
"But it’s fun!" Deirdre complained. "Little miss I-invented-orbital-death-rays needs a lesson in humility every now and then."
"Which you seem intent on providing every time the two of you meet." Eleanor shook her head. "I swear, it’s like living with a pair of small boys when the two of you get together."
"Can I help it if I think she’s wasting her time and talents in the army?" Deirdre chuckled. "We could use you, Lydia. No doubt about it."
Lydia shook her head. "And spend the rest of my days running around, doing spooky things to hapless people? My satellites are at least useful."
Deirdre agreed, though it probably wasn’t a good idea to inform Lydia that she had unwittingly been a significant help to the Order’s hijacking of one of Lydia’s beloved Athena satellites.
"Is that why you’re getting reassigned from front-line combat to the spooky labs where you keep cooking up ever-more horrific ways to kill people with science?"
"How did you know that?!" Lydia demanded. "That was supposed to be a surprise, damn it! Yes, a new high-energy research laboratory is coming online just a few miles away, and I’ve been reassigned as its chief of research and development."
"I hear things, in my line of work." Deirdre winked. "A ghastly business, some of the things you work with. Make tesla coils seem downright humane. Besides, there are plenty of eggheads ready to make the laws of physics cry uncle. The real protectors of our way of life always have openings for smart, capable people."
"If Commander Lissette was one of yours, then no thanks."
"She wasn’t, actually." Deirdre grinned. "We try very diligently not to let our officers go as off the rails as she did. I don’t even want to think about what a nutcase with access to our kinds of technology and information could do."
"Sense, from you of all people." Lydia chuckled. "I’m in shock. If you’re actually serious about offering me a job, well… I’ll consider it. I’ve seen some of the prototypes and new toys the real freaks have been coming up with, and they make my Athena satellites look like cheap parlor tricks. It might just be time to put my talents to better use."
"Oh, God." Eleanor laughed. "I don’t want to think about having three spooks in the house."
"Masoko isn’t a spook." Deirdre answered defensively. "She’s, well… an engineer who moonlights as a spook. She was actually pretty handy during our visit to Japan a few weeks ago. We have some good language schools, but nothing beats someone who grew up speaking the language and doesn’t have to fake an accent."
As if summoned by Deirdre’s words, the door to the house opened and Masoko Okamura came in amidst a gust of snow and freezing cold. Fortunately, before she could be lynched for that crime, she immediately shut the door, and placed a peculiar weapon against the wall – a wooden staff with a long, curved blade at the end.
After a warm and tender embrace with Deirdre, the rogue Imperial dropped into the remaining chair by the fire with a heavy sigh.
“Sorry for being late. According to the radio, it’s official: worst snowfall in ten years.”
“You don’t look happy.” Eleanor observed as she brought a cup of hot tea over. “Did your return to Japan go badly?”
“That’s one way to put it.” Masoko agreed and took a welcome sip of the tea. “My boss will be happy at least. According to the Empire of the Rising Sun, I’m officially dead. KIA during the assault on Tokyo and they just now identified my body. Considering that my only identification papers now belong to a dead woman, I’m now something of an un-person. Might be best that way.”
“What happened?” Deirdre asked. “I thought you were going back to try and reconnect with your family.”
“That was the plan.” Masoko nodded, then explained for the benefit of Lydia and Eleanor. “My parents weren’t happy when I told them I really did want to be an engineer for a living, not go to college just to meet some rising executive or other and become a housewife. They didn’t like it at all, but at the time Shirada Shipworks had enough pull that they could keep me on. I, ah, didn’t inform my family when I chose to follow my conscience and leave the Empire. For the past six years, I’ve been officially missing and presumed dead in the Empire. I got permission from my boss to re-enter the Empire very unofficially and let my family know that I’m alive and well. It… didn’t end well.”
Another long drink of tea. “They were happy to see me back, until I explained that I haven’t served the Empire for a long time and had no intention of returning to stay. That was harder on them than the fact that my little sister and one of my two brothers died during the war. Death in battle is something that Imperial culture honors, even glorifies. But in the Empire’s eyes, and I suppose they are accurate, I’m a traitor, and that… well, that particular accusation was one of the kindest words my father had for me. To make a long story short, my father arranged for the salvage crews in Tokyo to identify me amongst the dead, working on a black project for Shirada Shipworks. A dead child in a time of war is nothing to be ashamed of in Imperial society, but a child who is a traitor…”
“I’m sorry.” Lydia offered.
“Don’t be.” Masoko shook her head. “I chose to leave the Empire a long time ago. Not that it didn’t hurt some when my father announced that his eldest daughter died in Tokyo a month ago, but I knew the cost of my decision when I made it. The Empire is a rotten, decadent mess awaiting a good kick to deposit it in the dustbin of history.”
“Even so, what is with the glaive?” Eleanor asked, looking over at the weapon Masoko had brought in with her.
“It’s called a naginata, actually, but yes it’s basically the same thing as a glaive. It’s the traditional weapon of Imperial women from wealthy backgrounds, and in recent decades the particular tradition has been to start training such women with the naginata once they become adults. I didn’t have time to retrieve mine when I first left Japan, but my mother arranged for it to be delivered to me before I left this time. Don’t get the wrong idea, though. I’m nothing special with it and it doesn’t have a power generator or anything like that built into it. But it has a lot of sentimental value to me.”
“Sentiment’s a good reason to keep anything.” Deirdre agreed. “At least it’s a bit more practical than the claymore our coworkers keep expecting me to be proficient with.”
Lydia’s head turned sharply. “Why in God’s name would you be expected to use a claymore?”
Deirdre chuckled. “Oh, you don’t know the people I work with. There’s a big emphasis on always having a backup weapon available, and for some reason that tends to mean swords. My boss in particular thinks that since I’m Scottish, I should have a claymore as a matter of course.”
“She’s not kidding.” Masoko agreed. “A couple of the people we work with have actually won awards in fencing and swordsmanship competitions.”
“And for some of our coworkers, a sword is actually quite practical.” Deirdre confirmed. “Good in close quarters, much quieter than a shotgun, can’t run out of ammo, excellent for opening stubborn doors and the like, and looks quite stylish. The Empire wasn’t completely retarded when it equipped its front-line troopers and its infiltrators with swords.”
Lydia shook her head. “You people are insane. I was just guessing before, but now I know for sure.”
“Oh, come on.” Masoko teased. “What’s a little mental instability between friends if it’s for a good cause?”
“With all due respect,” Deirdre somehow managed to keep a straight face, “Sane people do not do the things we do. A certain degree of madness is both inevitable and expected.”
“And you’re trying to convince me to join your band of lunatics?” Lydia laughed. “That is in and of itself testament to how crazy you spooks are.”
“You’d fit right in!” Masoko taunted. “You design orbital death rays for a living, for God’s sake!”
“Settle down, children!” Eleanor ordered sharply. “Now that we’re all here, I actually made us quite a nice dinner. Deirdre, Masoko: you will stop taunting your sister-in-law. Lydia, you will get an extra helping of my famous cherry cobbler for putting up with the two of them like this.”
“Yes, mother.” The three younger women answered in unison.
Crusader Albin Canavan struggled to remember what had happened the night before.
Then he remembered, and muttered an ever-more creative series of less-than-polite expressions as he staggered towards his salvation.
One of the Order of the Talon's most capable battlefield commanders then proceeded to make sweet, sweet love to the porcelain goddess.
Christmas Eve had been fun, reuniting with his old IRA buddies and drinking. And drinking. And singing. And drinking. And some grotesquely undignified behavior that could quite possibly get him fired from his position. And drinking. And eventually passing out.
All of which had predictable consequences on Christmas morning.
Merry Christmas, Dublin style.
Now where were his pants...
According to the Soviet officials in eastern Syria and Allied officers in Turkey, the Nephal was a myth. A smaller cousin to the silver Behemoths that occasionally stalked the sands of the Middle East? The Behemoths themselves were an absurd tale, no doubt reports of some world power's war machines undergoing testing in the desert. But the Nephal? A create with skin of iron that disgorged servants of God to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ by giving gifts of food, water and clothing to the villagers struggling to survive in the Middle East? Preposterous.
Such officials would be less amused to see the favorite toy of Erik Svensgaard, Master of the Forges. A heavily modified Charger Assault Transport, the Nephal replaced the standard Charger's steam engine with a thermobaric rocket, and the machine raced across the desert sands. In the back, Svensgaard carefully monitored and adjusted the rocket's systems, and Grand Master Adrien Poisson took turns with Domina Arianna Matella in shoveling more fuel into the reaction chamber. Up front, Saint Veritan the Thunderer steered the machine.
"Allied patrol ahead!" Veritan shouted at the other members of the Nephal's crew, seeing the shapes of Allied vehicles on the horizon.
A trio of Multigunners and a Guardian tank. Not an uncommon patrol in the no man's land of Syria. But they could not be allowed to learn that the Nephal was quite real.
Poisson nodded to Matella, and the Domina dropped her shovel and climbed up a nearby ladder into the Nephal's pneumatic crossbow turret. Meanwhile, Veritan brought the Nephal around to an intercept course.
The lead Multigunner never knew what hit it. One moment Corporal Meade was cresting a sand berm, the next moment an infernal silver machine collided with the armored car with an effect not dissimilar to a can of soup getting hit by a sledgehammer. Sergeant O'Hara of the Guardian tank Warwind fared no better. The Nephal's low, angled prow fitted under the Guardian tank and separated it from the sand. For a few seconds, the Nephal actually carried the tank with it, mounted on its prow, before a reactive mine on the Nephal's prow, placed for exactly this kind of situation, detonated and blew the Guardian backwards and off the transport. The tank landed heavily on its own turret, and the Nephal hit again less than a second later. Sergeant O'Hara's brain was still trying to process what had happened when the Nephal hit broadside and utterly obliterated the tank.
O'Hara was soon joined by the other members of the patrol. Matella was lethally accurate with the crossbow turret, and a superheated foot-long metal dart to the engine block does horrible things to the vehicle and everyone inside. One of the Multigunners actually survived for almost a minute, frantically reporting that the patrol was under attack by an unknown enemy before Matella scored a direct hit on the driver and split his head like an apple.
About twenty minutes later, the Nephal arrived at a small village on the bank of the Euphrates River. Svensgaard killed the rocket, and the crew jumped down to start unloading supplies of food and clothing for the stunned and thankful villagers.
It was at times like this that Grand Master Adrien Poisson felt rather like a demented Santa Claus. He made a note to find out the names of the Allied personnel they had dispatched and send consolation gifts to the families.
I know I made a continuity error here: there are Hanzo Z and Kitsune mecha in Raid on Rebun Island, which according to Awakening happened in early December or late November of 1968. Those units didn't appear before the end of the war. Goof on my part, but not significant enough to warrant rewriting.
The Nephal should NOT be taken as canon. It's artistic license for a heavily modified (or high-ranking) Charger.