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Reinventing the Struggle

Prologue

Mark Poe

The majestic cock
Writing Champ
Yep, I'm once again writing trash isekai. What's new?
-------------

Setting prologue/intro​

The End of Days was not the end, at least for those on Novita who lived through those days. It wasn’t to say that the ancients were necessarily wrong about the times they lived in, just that the passage of centuries had dulled even the most horrific of apocalypses. Scars fade, peoples repopulate, and societies rebuild. To the casual eye, it was as if nothing had ever happened.

But it did, in small but noticeable ways. Much like a healed bone, the lines were still there if one knew where to look, and some things were never the same after.

Of course, there has to be someone with the relevant frame of reference to point that out to begin with...

------
Story prologue​

Life… life’s pretty good, all things considered. James thought to himself as he crawled into his bed. It’s a thought that he often had, usually more to keep a perception of the state of his life. He has a job, his own place, and generally reasonably content.Things could be better, but on the whole he was in the middle of the pack. At least, that’s what his gut instinct says in spite of everything he sees on social media and those around him. It’s best not to think of that.

As his mind drifted off to sleep he made his regular to do list for the coming day. It’s mostly the same as before, differing in only minor details.

He never woke up from that sleep. The rather unhealthy lifestyle of the average modern human being just happened to have caught up to him a bit faster than others. Just another datapoint on some statistic, another number on some document.

Nothing of importance was lost. Generic young adults are a dime a dozen, easily replaceable in the world and the multiverse.

But that doesn’t mean another world gained nothing either.

------​

Years later (as if time between worlds has any relevance), somewhere in the world of Novita...

“Clarke? Is your mind still here?” The stern tone of the instructor snapped Walter out of his idle musing.

“Yes, senior instructor.” Walter mumbled sheepishly, slowly realigning his head back to the front to where he’s supposed to pay attention. His mind still not fully committed, and whatever shards that were happened to be filled with disdain.

The shards of his mind that felt not fully of his own.

Those shards first appeared around a decade ago, when he was barely 6 years of age. At first there were the short bursts of incomprehensible nonsense, daydreams making less sense than his normal dreams. The doctors tried everything, including things that he found out later from the shards that were not exactly healthy for him.

That was the shards’ doing too. They only got longer as the years went by. Less intrusive, but they're there all the same. Moreover they began to paint a coherent picture. A picture of another world, a place called earth. A vastly different world in appearance if not substance. Yet for all that an undeniable feeling of… kinship? Affinity? He does not know, and the shards were as maddening vague as ever. It was as if it was the memories of him, just from a previous life in another world. In effect an almost completely different person.

“Feeling ill again?” The instructor asked sarcastically. Walter shook his head lightly.

“No, instructor.” Walter lied flatly. The instructor shrugged, going along with the obvious nonesene. They’re all like that, the children of the aristocracy. Spoiled brats going through the motions. It has been centuries and the subsequent generations of those who were willing to do unspeakable violence have become as soft as their ancestors dreamed of the afterlife. Of course, it wasn’t as if he was any better in that regard, but at least he doesn't pretend to be, unlike his students.

However, Walter Clarke, second son of the Marques of Creeksenville, was a bit different. One could say that he’s somewhat… off. Sure, there were moments of absentmindedness, but it was far less than most of the other students. That was actually one of the reasons he called him out more than the rest: at least he has the potential to not be a lost case.

The more troubling aspect of Clarke was all the weird pre-existing notions that he’s got. Honestly he has no idea where the dumb kid got them. It sure wasn’t from existing popular fiction, because none of the other students had ever even given a hint of anything like that, not even those from the other agricultural estates. Then again, the Clarke estate was a particularly outlying one and lacking much in the way of military prowess… but regardless, his notion of the viability of the arming tractors against kriegmeisters is beyond farcical, yet he defends his insanity with the intensity of the mad. At least, until he was threatened with expulsion from the class for insubordination. Still, he could still see it in his eyes: that rejection of what’s being taught to him.

Yet puzzling this insubordination did not extend to anything else outside of that particular subject: he has been oddly polite and attentive in the other subjects, sometimes even giving the occasional insightful observation.

Oh well, everyone’s a little weird at the end of the day, especially those from the frontiers.

“Well then, as you have nothing in particular to add this time, we shall continue the lesson.” The instructor said dryly as he continued the lesson of the day.

Within minutes Walter’s eyes started to glaze over as his mind began to wander off again. The pictures the shards painted of the other world refuse to leave his mind alone…

------​

Some months later, the harvest season. Location: the estate of the Clarke family

Walter looked on from the agrav observation platform at the orderly row of tracked tractors as they drove slowly onwards, harvesting the seemingly endless lines of grain. Though officially in charge of the harvest as part of his duties, most of the actual supervising is still in the capable hands of the master supervisor Mr. Antony Centon. Not that there’s even much of a need for such supervision, the farmers knew their craft well, and carried on with their work as smoothly as the flowing of a stream.

Not bad for an industrial feudal world, not bad at all.

There it is again, that weird thought brought upon by the shards, where did even the word feudalism come from? Certainly not what he had been taught in the academy. The world and society just works the way it does. That’s all he had ever known, and his father before him, and his father before him, on and on for generations. The world worked in a fair manner, an appointed role for each and every person, the comfort of knowing that tomorrow will be like yesterday… well, barring the rather high chance of violence. Which is why there’s a handful of kriegmeisters on standby, their imposing and jarring bulks standing silently a short distance away. The household guard units, and in the event of actual fighting, he would be piloting one of them.

A task that he hoped to never actually do in real fighting conditions.

He himself will be the first to admit it, he absolutely sucks at piloting those mechs. Despite all the schooling at the academy and even some lessons from his older brother Martin hasn’t really made any noticeable impact. By this point his parents had already given up on him ever achieving any sort of glory in the fields of battle even as a mere standard warrior.

Hence supervising the harvest. Normally it would be an insult, a punishment for those who are not worthy of being on the fields of battle or tournament. And he felt the sting, even if the shards imply otherwise.

Weird thoughts in the head or not, it still sucks to be seen as a disappointment, especially by family and community. What makes it worse is that, if he admits to himself, he’s okay with not being good enough to be a real warrior. There’s enough of those already. Martin’s already the one, and he himself merely a spare to the heir, and like most spares his upbringing was more of a support role at best and something to be tucked away in a corner when the time comes.

The issue though, was that he was even failing at being a backup. As a member of the nobility, it is his duty, no, identity, to be a warrior. To be able to hold his own on the field of battle, to win glory for his family and country (though the latter being far more abstract, given the dysfunctional and deadlocked nature of the Imperial Grand Council and how pointless the whole thing being most of the time).

And at the end of the day, he was a product of his upbringing.

“Dreaming of your struggle wagons again?” Antony asked, with an air of bemusement. Walter shrugged.

“Not really.” He replied. “I was thinking, thinking about my future.”

“Really now?” Antony asked.

“Yes really.” Walter answered. “Soon I will be of the age of adulthood, and… I felt as if I’m not prepared for such shouldering of responsibilities.”

Antony chucked. “You and everyone else since time immemorial, and here we are all the same.” He patted the teen on the shoulder. “You’ll be fine enough.” He assured the young soon to be man.

In truth, the supervisor thought of the younger Clarke as overly dramatic, just like the rest of the aristocrats if he were to be honest. The world in a sense could be described as ‘stably unstable’. Yes, wars are as common as spats between the various noble houses, if only because the vast majority of them are caused by them in the first place. Despite the impressive display of agricultural productivity they are overseeing at the moment, the threat of food insecurity is always on the minds of many, especially those who do the actual work. Again, most of those fears stem from the same source as before...

Human life would be so much more sustainable if there’s no human factor, or at least no human factor from the top. But then there’s the horror stories from the lawless continuous trash fire that is the Turiac People’s Directorate so it’s not as if the alternatives are necessarily better...

However, at least young Clarke here is a lot more sensible than most of his counterparts, being far less obsessed in martial glory or bloodlust, and actually seemed to be content with managing agriculture and the household. It would probably have been better for him to have been born a girl. Then there at least wouldn’t be those same expectations of battlefield competency forced onto him…

… but then again, he does have that weird interest with the whole arming of the tractors. So there’s some battlelust in him yet, regardless of how misplaced it is.

It’s understandable to a certain extent, the Clarkes were not a rich family by any means, yet as Marques they were expected to possess martial prowess… which they don’t really have on the material side of the equation.

Not after that debacle a couple of decades ago.

“You’re probably right.” Walter nodded in seemingly agreement, the words more to convince himself than anything else. It’s reassuring to hear that from another actual human being, as even though the ramblings of the shards have been screaming the same things for a while now, but in his head they didn’t sound all that sane.

It was at that moment when the two were interrupted from the ring of a call from inside the agrav platform.

“Wonder what could it be…” Antony muttered as he picked up the receiver. A short conversation followed between him and whoever’s on the other side of the line, which Walter quickly realized was his father.

Even before the call ended he knew what was about to happen. “War is coming?” He asked rhetorically as Antony put the receiver back in its slot.

“Some scribes and bards will call it that years later, but I doubt it’ll be anything too exciting.” Antony shrugged. “It be like that these days. Look on the bright side though, you’ll get to make up a good yarn to brag about to all your friends when you come back.” He flashed a casual smile, which seemed genuine enough.

Walter simply nodded, though he wasn’t as confident as the supervisor. Beneath all the pomp and festivities of most conflicts lies violence and bloodshed. Somebody has to die, often overly pointlessly so.

He hopes he won’t end up being one of those unfortunate ones.
 
Chapter 1: a fish allergic to water

Mark Poe

The majestic cock
Writing Champ
Chapter 1: a fish allergic to water​

The weather was miserable, the ceaseless pouring rain from the iron grey skies continued unabated, which among other things had made the nominally dirt roads into rivers of mud. The cargo tracks were trudging along with some effort while the odd agrav, as usual, floated above completely unaffected. The kriegmeisters were somewhere in between the two, their feet sinking into the mud but their height making it not really an issue. The shards in his mind blabbering about symbolism and incoherent rage, almost as if ripping straight from Turiac babbling.

The world is really not that complicated. There weren’t paved roads everywhere leading to all the nowhere simply because there’s not much of a point. The Agrav caravans don’t need them, and there’s not much reason for the lesser vehicles to wander off so far from their home garages.

Which sucks all the more for fringe cases such as the one he’s part of now. For most estates, war tithe and obligations are done by the cream of the crop, the finest sally forth on their magnificent kriegmeisters and supported by their agravs. The Clarke family on the other hand, was not sophisticated enough to afford those standard gear in the quantities as befitting their social position.

Thus all the tracked vehicles currently wallowing in the endless mud. Something simple enough to be produced even without the secrets of the ancients, and thus befitting the status of the unblessed and unwashed masses. So for a supposed aristocratic family, it’s not a good showing no matter how one slices it.

Yet despite all that, a little piece in the back of his mind still felt a shred of pride. It was through his efforts that the estate was able to scrounge up the necessary forces for this war tithe, though he had to admit that his efforts in that were mostly nagging Antony and the other guys in charge of farming to make more and bigger tractors and other such tracked vehicles.

It was degrading work, and the greater productivity from the results of their efforts weren’t really in anything that could be traded for better or more socially useful things. After all, there’s only so many basic things that the local and regional economy needs, and moreover there are some people that are just too foreign to be trusted. But the supervisor and the rest of them indulged the young spare of the Clarke family, as far as eccentric hobbies went, expanding lowly vehicle production was almost benign, certainly harmless.

Then came the call to war. For various reasons both sensible and otherwise, the elder Clarke didn’t want to send the best of the estate to what’ll most likely just be another border conflict that’ll only bleed out previous resources and skilled warfighters. So lucky for him he and his toys were being sent to the conflict zone, the bare minimum of a tithe to fulfill social and political obligations.

It was also a testing of the waters, as in better times such a force being sent would have been insulting. Peasant material levels of equipment are at best a last ditch defense, if even that. After all, change in the lordship means little in the day to day lives for most, regardless of how that change occurred.

The sudden screams of a rocket, shooting dangerously past the lead agrav, snapped Walter out of his internal monologue. The convoy promptly grounded to a halt, the hissings of the various machinery almost as if the vehicles themselves were glad of taking a break from their trek. The buzz of comm chatter talking about the rocket quickly dwindled into silence as large figures came out of the woods in front of them.

Those figures, of what must have once been kriegmeisters, now more shambling husks than knights of mechanized might, patched all over with grime covered scrap, yet still deadly all the same, as their warning shot had proved.

Bandits.’ Walter thought to himself, knowing that similar thoughts are in the minds of everyone in the convoy. Though the term bandits wasn’t exactly the correct term either. Actual bandits as popularly imagined would never be able to acquire the necessary tools and skills to maintain those things, even in their disheveled state, something that those popular fiction also tend to downplay. If anything, there’s a sliding scale from desperate bands of marauders to hired goons of regional lords… despite the shabbiness of their mechas, these bandits were probably closer to the latter than the former. There’s a rich patron behind them somewhere...

“Surrender your wares, you filthy rabble.” An arrogant voice boomed over the unsecured waveset. “You know the law, the tolls must be paid.”

“This is Walter Clarke, of the Marques of Creeksenville. We are on a mission of utmost importance in support of the war effort.” Walter said, mustering all the confidence he would find in his voice even as he discreetly passed the order for everyone to click off the safeties of their weapons. There are worse fates than dying in a hopeless fight, after all.

“Ha! With this rubble of a trash heap?” There was more than disdain in the voice, but then again even outright mockery was to be expected. “It won’t even be worth the effort to hold a runt like you for ransom.” The words were barely over the airwaves as the lead bandit kriegmeister fired its main cannon.

The general purpose HE round slammed into the upper leg unit of Walter’s much smaller kriegmeister, instantly shredding the complex machinery and sending the whole thing crashing into the thick mud, which thankfully cushioned the fall, if only a little.

The forest promptly exploded in a cacophony of violence as everyone fired everything they had. The tracked vehicles in the convoy, armed with little more than simple autocannons on turrets with equally outdated gear, fought in what ways then could. The thing with bandits of the ambushing kind is that they tend to not take prisoners, and in this case, when even the possibility of ransoming the nobility is out of the question, dying while fighting became a far more practical choice. A choice made for them sure, but for those who never knew of a different world, it’s a moot point.

Thus armed with weapons more suited for wildlife control, the convoy was slowly getting shredded by the bandits as they shot vehicle after vehicle, taking them out with a sadistic leisure all the while shrugging off the few shots that landed on them. From his wrecked mech Walter could only watch helplessly as everything seemingly burns into the sea of mud, making graphic his failure as a member of the Clarke, and as a human being in general. About the only saving grace was that some of the vehicles were managing to crawl their way into the surrounding woods. Still an overall low chance of survival given the nature of things, but better than nothing. All the while the few small kriegmeisters of the convoy fight a futile rearguard action, to buy precious seconds with their blood.

Then suddenly the lead bandit kriegmeister stopped in mid motion, an explosion rocked from its back. As the smoke cleared the neat hole punched through the main body. In the following seconds time itself seemed to have slowed as the now crippled mecha first stumbled, then collapsed onto itself as the mass sunk into the mud. Even as it fell more shots rang out, and in a handful of minutes the rest of the bandits joined their leader, wrecked and destroyed in the river of mud. The few bandit pilots who managed to bail out of their ruined mechas attempted to flee, but were quickly stuck in the same mud and soon cut down by the now vengeful track drivers.

Soon the sounds of combat died down, replaced with a silence. The silence of shock, of exhaustion. The faint smell of gunfire and scorched metal hangs in the trees nearby, while tension hangs in the air itself: after all, somebody or something took out the bandits as easily as those same bandits had been taking them out… There are damn good reasons why large chunks of the forests were still not tamed, even centuries after their rebirth since the End of Days.

Just as Walter managed to kick open the hatch of his wrecked machine and poked his head out he saw it: a large, slender, yet curiously misshapen kriegmeister lugging a massive long range rifle.



The lanky mecha spoke (or rather, the pilot inside spoke through it). “If this is the reinforcement being promised then we are truly forsaken...”

And Walter couldn’t disagree: it was true, they couldn’t even defend themselves against a pack of bandits.

“Well,” The stranger continued. “I suppose that’s part of my sin too.” The mecha turned directly at Walter. “Sorry that you got dragged into this, and what’s to come, but such is fate.”

Walter continued his silence, the continuous pouring rain falling on him a reminder of his failures, and the burdens he still must bear.

After all, duty spares no one.
 
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Chapter 2: a collection of the shunned New

Mark Poe

The majestic cock
Writing Champ
Chapter 2: a collection of the shunned​

They were a sorry sight as they entered into the military encampment: the line of broken vehicles and shattered men. The wounded vehicles towing the husks of their dead brethren, some still with the traces of smoke, as if the last of their souls have not yet exited their corpses. The personnel were a similar story, though their dead were buried in the woods where they fell, thus leaving the living, wounded and otherwise, to contemplate the aftermath.

Then again, the encampment wasn't in that great of a shape either: a series of hastily built wooden structures surrounding an equally hastily packed dirt field. That by itself wasn't anything unusual, field fortifications being the temporary affairs they are supposed to be. The actual matter at hand though, was the drab atmosphere. It was the sum of its details, a flood of minute things that on their own warrant no attention, but collectively they cried out in despair.

All in all making it [relative] safety did little to raise the spirits of the levies of the Clarke estate.

......​

"If this is a joke, now would be your last chance to admit to it." Earl Marshal Kurt looked at the disheveled figure of Walter with open contempt and disdain. The ragtag group of scum and misery shambling into his camp was far less than the promised reinforcements that he was promised. While he knew better than to expect what he was promised in full, to expect something to work with was at least within the bounds of reason…

"The widow who gave her last coin gave more than the rich lavished their spending money." Walter blurted out, much to his own surprise. The shards were getting worse, sometimes taking over at the most inappropriate of times. Fuck, he has no idea where in the universe the shards ever nabbed that rhetorical flourish from, because he sure as heck didn't learn anything like that from his years of his education, or if he did it was promptly discarded and forgotten.

"Intentions mean nothing without results!" Kurt roared. Walter barely flinched, whether due to existing exhaustion, resignation, or something else not even he himself could tell. "Your word is piss for all the good that it does, and your excuses even less!"

"Then give us the chance to die with honor." Walter replied, with an air of exhaustion. For once his mind was not nudged on by the shards. If anything the shards were more than a bit unnerved by the possibility of dying… again? Or at least dying in a potentially painful fashion this second time around…

"You are already disgraced without hope, just get the hell out of my sight and be useful in the way of the peasants that you are!" With a wave of his hand he sent Walter out of the command hut.

Even as he trudged out the door and into the courtyard the sting of the marshal came back in full force as the smoke of the ruined vehicles in the distance came across his sight.

"You'll get used to that." An oddly familiar female voice muttered behind him. As Walter turned around he saw her: a blond that even the shards in his head admit is beautiful, and the shards (as far as he's aware) weren't affected by the temptations of the flesh so to speak, which begs the question of what metric the shards were using to make its judgment…

"Used to what?" He asked, not really believing the platitudes that he expects to come out of her mouth. It's the same meaningless words, uttered more to reassure oneself than to soothe the recipient.

"Used to the fact that your best effort isn't enough." She replied in a much clearer voice, taking him by surprise. "Oh, I haven't introduced myself yet. Therese Albrecht, the kriegmeister who saved you and what's left of your convoy."

"Thanks for saving our hides I guess." Walter mumbled as the name reminded him of something.. "Hold up, aren't you-" He asked before she cut him off.

"The crown prince took a fancy to some newcomer, and I incurred his wrath when trying to make him realize the political consequences of his notions of romantic love taking precedence-"

"Sorry, you were fated to lose that one." Walter blurted out, to Therese's surprise. Once again the shards called out things like they were (in this case whatever that happens to be, Walter himself has no idea really) with total disregard for tact or politeness. After a moment of awkward silence Therese responded.

"Valid. Blunt, but probably valid." She conceded with a frown. "I'm also assuming that mouth of yours is the reason you are also here then?"

"I guess." Walter shrugged. "What do you mean though, being here for a reason?" He asked, realizing there's something that he might not be aware of.

"Penance for transgressions. That's all of us really, even the old marshal himself in there." She said, pointing a finger at the command hut he had exited earlier. "Everyone here has done something that could not be merely forgiven or forgotten, but our ingrained loyalties meant that it would be a waste to simply dispose of us akin to common criminals."

"Even the common levies?" Walter asked. Therese stopped for a moment again, before replying in a quieter voice.

"Not them." She said in a somewhat reluctant voice, seemingly more annoyed than anything. Whether from her own forgetfulness or the expected dismissal of the masses he couldn't tell.

"And they'll be the ones who will suffer the most." He simply said. Therese narrowed her eyes.

"And you actually care?" She asked, suspecting the intentions behind his words. Walter doesn't blame her, nobody above them cared for the masses of peasants: at best they're seen as slightly lower than that of the animal herds, while the more detached of the nobles sees them as a necessary eyesore for their lifestyles. It has been that way since the day before forever, and so were the occasional outburst of seething rage from the masses to their overlords. For the most part though most peasants simply didn't care, as the matter was so far above the plane of existence in which they could do anything about it.

"It takes one to know one." Walter spat back, once again the shards taking over the dialogue to the detriment of the conversation. It's not even as if the shards were a peasant in a past life, that much he was pretty sure of. Worse is that he sort of empathizes with those lunatic ramblings at times, whether due to the similarity in personalities of the both of them or something else he also could not tell. It's just maddening like that.

Therese waved a hand, as if to dismiss the tangent. "This isn't making any headway, nor helping in solving any of our crises." She said, dragging the conversation back to where she wanted to be. All that talk of the peasantry was rather uncomfortable, to put it mildly. It felt like a personal attack to her character.

She shook her head to clear those thoughts. Now's not the time to be obsessed over the personal, not to mention it was that kind of thinking that was part of what got her in the current predicament in the first place.

"I might have an idea, but you will probably not like it." Walter said. Therese raised an eyebrow.

"Say it then, this isn't the time to tease about it." She said curtly, not having the patience for the indirect ways of communication that's one the hallmarks of the imperial court. She could play the game as well as anyone, but here far away from civilization there's preciously little tolerance for that.

"Wrecks are plentiful here aren't they?" Walter asked. "Especially heavy weapons now without a mount?"

"Yes?" Therese wasn't sure where this line of inquiry was going. At least he seems direct enough…

"Then we mount them out the tracks." He simply said, as if it's just that simple. "A fighting chance to die a meaningful death."

"Oh great, you actually have a death wish." Therese groaned. But it's not that bad an idea.

Undignified, sure. Stupid? Certainly. Humiliating? Obvious.

But there's no harm in letting the fool do that. The worst thing that could happen is his death, and that's what he wants. No, what he needs.
 
Chapter 3: Success in Failure New

Mark Poe

The majestic cock
Writing Champ
Chapter 3: Success in failure​

Well, it could be worse. Walter thought to himself as the line of tracks rumbled out the main gate, on their way to the frontlines. The guns slapped onto hastily welded turrets, some of which were occasionally swirling to one side like nervous ticks.

There’s a lot to be nervous about.

It had been a handful of months since he arrived at the base, and the situation on the frontlines had not improved since that time, if the seemingly continuous stream of broken kriegmeisters and sullen & depressed faces were any indication.

The silver lining was that it meant more resources and materials to work with, as there’s a consistent shortage of spare parts to fix up the kriegmeisters, and with meaningful reinforcements and resupply being nowhere in sight due to some internal political bickering in the neighboring estates… well, the stupid idea of arming the humble tractors began to seem almost reasonable.

Reasonable in the sense of getting rid of some undesirables and problematic people, Walter was under no illusions as to which category he’s in. With a sigh he crawled back into the turret of this track and shut the hatch. His own kriegmeister still not fixed as others had much higher priority. In any case, it wasn’t as if he would make much of a difference in a kriegmeister.

“Let’s go.” He muttered the order with a weariness that mildly surprised even him. He hasn’t been doing all that much in terms of physical work.

“Ja.” The driver acknowledged in a resigned voice as he gunned the engine and the command track rumbled forth, joining the rest of tracks on their way to almost certain death.

It’s hard not to be pessimistic about all of this. None of this has been tested, Not even the theories (whatever babblings of the shards of the other world is of no relevance here and now).There was simply not enough time for that nonsense. Heck, the idea of testing a new weapon system outside of the field of battle had been an idea of the shards, and equally nonsensical. The chaos of the battlefield is a far cry from the heavily sanitized tournaments that the nobility loves to amuse themselves with, just another part of their debauchery…

In any case, there wasn’t enough time or resources for that kind of thing, nor the inclination from the leadership, who balked at the concept of cuddling cannon fodder like that, not to mention almost everyone else’s distaste at the concept of the ‘armored struggle bus’ in the first place.

As the ceaseless rumble and clanking of the tracks continued on their way Walter began to ease in his seat and reflect on what they had accomplished so far. From the outside perspective it was childish: with turrets nicked from stationary redoubts and other fortifications, guns pilfered from the kriegmeisters who had given up the ghost, and other random dudads homebrewed in a way that’s beyond the cringe… but that’s just the problem with appearance, and outside of the eyes of their betters none of that matters.

According to the shards though, these lumbering examples weren't that bad, a bit oversized and overweight perhaps, but it’s a different world and more relevantly a far more different infrastructure and combined arms dynamic… Well, the part about the combined arms remains to be seen. In this case the shards were of little help, and the visions of abstractions of a world devoid of kriegmeisters as usual wasn’t useful.

“Are the forces in position?” Therese asked over the comms. The question snapped him out of his fruitless musings, and dragged him back to the mission at hand.

“We are.” He replied as he squinted at one of the displays, where the IFF signals of the tracks were mostly in position. Low tech as the tracks are, they are reasonably fast in comparison to the infinitely more expensive kriegmeisters, at least, over long distances. Burst jumps and jet boosts tend to skew the equation on the battlefield side though…

Now the question remains as they are of any use in the actual fighting.

“Good. May you die with purpose.” Therese replied crisply as she cut the link. Walter assured that she was also in position. The situation has deteriorated to the point that she was the only kriegmeister around that could be spared.

Walter hopes that she’s right. The shards screamed the opposite but for all its imbecilic screeching it had little control over the matter. For all his patheticness Walter still knew and experienced more actual combat than the shards, and after a while, as always, the shards conceded the point: experience trumps theory, at least on the small scale.

It was still needlessly annoying though, which already makes the waiting more tedious than necessary. Thankfully the ramblings were only a problem in his head, everyone else simply had to deal with dreaded anticipation that comes with the waiting. Dying glorious in battle is a privilege reserved for their betters in the kriegmeisters, not for the common fodder.

But duty is god, and so they stood.

After what seemed to be forever but probably was only a handful of hours when a voice cracked over the comms.

“Enemy kriegmeister sighted.”

The tracks suddenly became animated as their crews began the process of target acquisition. Turrets turn with the whines of the gears and barrels tilt upwards. After a handful of seconds a series of booms echoed as the guns fired.



“Hit!” The words echoed from the various gunners as they found their mark. The actual sounds of the rounds impacting being drowned out by the general chaotic sounds of battles, the din of the tracks moving, the crunching of vegetation, and the beeping of various machinery and displays.

As he popped open the hatch and looked out he dared hope for the best, only for said hope to be dashed to pieces immediately: the enemy kriegmeister was barely scratched, and it looked merely inconvenienced if anything. Even as the tracks began to disperse the kriegmeister brought its gun to bear.

Once again he felt that sense of pained helplessness as he watched the tracks being blown up one by one, even as they desperately fired back while evading as best as they could. Yet it was as if they were throwing pebbles at the mountain. Bigger pebbles than before perhaps, and sometimes even having an effect, but pebbles all the same.

They were certainly living up to the name of the struggle. Not really the armored part yet, and it looks like he’ll never get there either.

Before he knew it he saw the massive gun barrels of the enemy pointing at his track, and even as the driver made a split second turn he knew it was too late as the guns fired.

It was an almost miss, one of the rounds slammed into the front of the track and obliterated the entirety of the front. The turret was thrown into the air as if it was a child's toy. As luck would have had it Walter was thrown out of the turret, slamming into the ground with an impact that most certainly shattered bones.

As he lay there in pain and wished for the sweet release of death, he saw the enemy kriegmeister staggered back, rocked by an explosion from some powerful weapon.

Took her long enough. He thought to himself as he lost consciousness and everything faded to nothing…

------​

“Congratulations, you failed.” Therese said in a cheerful mocking tone. Walter simply stared back at her with dead and empty eyes.

It wasn’t as if he could do much else, given his body, or rather what’s left of it, was wrapped up in a bio cast. While normally someone of his status would have been given the use of one of the more advanced regen-pods he was still disliked enough by Marshal Kurt that he was denied such a privilege. Only those who won glory on the battlefield are entitled to such luxuries, so the reasoning went.

It was all fine with him. They weren’t wrong about him being a failure. At the end of the day it was still Therese who fired the killing blows, thus preserving the status quo.

“It’s still too early for you to die.” She continued, “You still have some unfinished business in this world. Your honor, your dignity, your vision.” The last two words came out in an almost whisper, as if she doesn’t want to acknowledge it.

He merely snorted, then coughed as the simple action brought quite a bit of pain to his chest. She simply nodded, as if understood what he wanted to say.

“It’s going to be a while until you can leave that casing. Don’t worry, your little vanity project is safe… for the moment.” She frowned. “The supply situation is still in rather tight straits, to put it mildly, but fodder and scraps are plentiful so Kurt wants to put that into use somehow. Be glad there’s a lot of people wanting to die the good death.”

With that she turned and left the field hospital room, leaving Walter to stew in his thoughts along with the shards. It was just as well since the shards had been raging a storm, sending stabs of pain all over his head and causing the headache of the ages.

It wasn’t supposed to end like this, they weren’t supposed to be annihilated, panzerkampfwagens are supposed to be so superior as a concept that they could close the technological gap of a thousand years.

Then again, it’s not the end, but the beginning. There will be more chances, and perhaps in the end he might even get what he wished for: a chance at redemption.

For some reason the shards weren’t too happy with that.
 
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