Battle of Zane

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Backstory

The noonday sun rose up above the hills southwest of Zane. In a wooded valley, an ancient comm tower greeted the light, rusty and resolute as ever.

A pulley squeaked, and a bundle of machinery worked its way up the tower on a rope, as a tall, green figure grabbed the device, and started fastening it to the skeletal tower's infrastructure.

"How's it looking?" Asked the woman on the ground.

"Not bad," Rumbled Dask, fastening his screwdriver to his belt, and starting to rappel down. "We should get a good signal. We'll be able to tap into the comm channels for both armies, s’long as Breaker's doin' a good job."

"That stoned stunty better be. I hear Watcher confiscated his still yesterday, just to make sure he'd be sober for this." Smiling, the woman reached up a gloved hand to help Dask down. The thin orc grinned, took it, and hopped to the ground before bowing over it in a parody of a kiss. "Moi lady."

"Stop that. We don't have time, and this DEFINITELY isn't the place."

"Mmm. I'm just glad Watcher gots us safe passage."

"Yeah, even THEY listen to the radio, I guess. So tell me, who are these people fighting near our auxiliary broadcast tower, and why are they pissed at each other?"

"Y'ever hear o' Lund? S' a place west of here. Tween the Crater an' the ruins that's Colum."

"People actually live out there? They must be tough as nails."

"Yeah. And they gots a deal where they help guard n' police settlements, n' exchange for supplies. Zane was a part of Lund's li'l Holding. Then they got stupid."

"What happened?"

"The Zanies got crazy. Hurr! Word is they went n' killed a Lund official, a high-up called an Arbiter. And they screwed up and let Lund hear 'bout it. You don't kill no arbiters, not like that! Evvryone knows it's just askin' for trouble. So Lund sent out a small army. Rumor is they're here to level the town."

"Christ. For ONE official?"

"Arbiters are like circuit judges an’ knight-errants, an' secret agents rolled inta one."

"Like what what and what? Is that some of that old-time history bullshit you're always reading?"

"Yeah. Nevvamind. Anyway, that's one army."

"So what's the other one?"

"Heh, get this. After they get winda Lund sending an army out all dis way, the Zanies realize they're fracked. So they go cryin' for help. And Hall-Mart picks up the ball."

"HALL-MART? Corporate motherfrackers, I should've known. They get to play the hero, and the town gets put into economic slavery."

"Yep. And Lund loses respect in da eyes of everyone who hears... And mebbe other crazies start thinkin' they can kill arbiters, and other Lundsfolk without fear. And mebbe a few more settlements break from Lund, and start talkin' to Hall-Mart."

"Bad situation. Glad we're not anywhere near the middle of-"

BOOM.

The wind whistled through the trees, as a star bloomed in the sky, in the middle of the day. The woman gasped and grabbed at her goggles in panic, before realizing that she wasn't blind, they had just turned entirely black. They'd instantly polarized, probably saving her eyes from flashburn.

After a few seconds, once the wind had died down, she looked at Dask, who looked back. His skin had gone pale, and he was sweating.

"Shitshitshitshit what da 'ell was that?" The ork asked, sitting down and leaning against the tower.

"Nuke. Small one. Airburst, probably for EMP." The woman said, checking over the equipment at the base of the tower. "Yep, we got some ugly EM going on... Signal's going to be useless for a few hours. But we should be able to get a broadcast back once the particles settle... Thank God for this tower. It acts as a booster, without it we'd be quiet. Stuck in Dead Air."

"That- That was a nuke? You sure?"

The woman smiled, and ran her fingers across her cheeks, reminding him of the old burn scars that were half her face. "Reasonably sure. Relax, it was a ways off and it was small. We probably only ate a few rads. What's a few months off your life?"

"Lots if yer an orc."

"Pussy. Anyway, we're probably good right here. Perfect spot, actually. Without the tower, we'd be entirely without communications. Heh, that EMP probably took out whatever comms the armies are using, come to think of it. A nuke this close doesn't discriminate."

"Whoa. Waits a minute."

"What?"

"So. We gots dis tower."

"Yeah..."

"Dat's probably the only place around that can put a signal in the air."

"Yeah..."

"And is in clear view of both armies if dey take the high ground, which doubtless dey have."

"Umm...."

"Who are themselves witout communications."

"I don't like where you're going with this..."

"And would probably feel a need to have, oh say, a comm tower so's they can talk to their army."

"Shit."

"Yeah. The animal byproduct is about to hit the rotating air circulation device."

"So why are we still here?"

"Beats me. Let's pack up n' run!"

"Agreed! Looks like Radio Free Omega is sitting this one out..."

And the two of them rushed to fold their equipment back into the travel packs, unaware of the eyes already watching them from the underbrush...


Aftermath

"Aw, fuck me." Dask swore, putting the binoculars down.

"What do you see?" Asked the scarred human woman, lying next to him on the wooded rise.

"Not much since ya rubbed dat black goo on my lenses. Still, what I seen ain't good." Said the orc.

"Can't be helped. If they spotted the gleam, they'd send out scouts after us. If they're as good as you say, they know what to watch out for."

"Evvidently dey ain't that good. They're diggin' in around the comm tower."

"What? Oh those idiots. Those poor damn idiots." She glanced up, at the setting sun. Not long now.

"Yeah. You'd a thought the sign was clear. No animals, old bones under the brush, ticks everywhere..."

"Hang on. The scanner's blinking, someone's broadcasting. Low frequency, too... Not one of Hall-Mart's bands."

She rose and moved over to her backpack, undoing the clasp and raising the antenna. A few minutes of work with the radio, and she waved Dask over. Through the crackling, hissing static, a voice emerged.

"...Say again, this is force Righteous Hammer...have failed....Stone injured, falling back....Field units regroup... location zulu... Home. Say again, ....Hammer, and we have failed... Arbiter Stone..."

She shook her head, as she turned the radio off. "Poor bastards. How many in camp when you scoped'em?"

"Bout eighty. Lotsa wounded, ain't countin' 'em."

"Squads full of troops, drones, and weirder things were fighting over that turf all day long. The ground's soaked in blood, and the corpses lie unburied still. The stink of gunsmoke will take hours more to fade, and there's plenty of equipment down there for the picking. And the poor bastards setting up a redoubt down there have no clue what's coming. Hell, we had to barter a full arm for safe passage. Now, after all that bloodshed, there's no holding THEM back. THEY'LL have been down in their holes, smelling it all day, with only the sunlight holding them back. Even the sane ones'll be thinking of nothing but their hunger, now..."

The orc sighed.

"We can't tell dem, can we?"

"No. Damn it, now. You know Watcher's rules. We're neutral. And after today this bunch is on edge anyway... They'll shoot at any stranger who comes close. I know how armies work."

Human and orc eyes watched, as the sun started to sink below the horizon. Soon it was gone, and the first screams, audible even from four miles away, rose up from the land around the comm tower.

"Hey. Hold me, would you?" Whispered the woman.

"Sure. C'mere, Arclight." He gathered her up, and the two of them sat in the dark, staring down at the distant valley.

After three hours, the screaming stopped.

"So. Extraction plan?" Asked Dask.

"Maestro and Bismarck."

"Huh. Terrain's no good for dat."

"Yeah. We have to move. Got some flares to signal him. I just- They deserved that much, you know? They came all this way to die."

"Yeah. But we're alive. C'mon, let's keep it dat way."

And this time, no one was there to see them creep away through the trees...

Hall-Mart Report

) HALL-MART FORM 8522 :)

MANDATORY BATTLE REPORT SECURITY LEVEL: AQUA COMMANDING OFFICER: GENERAL PURITY S. VAE SECTOR: 684 OPPOSING FORCE: HOLDING OF LUND

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY:

Hall-Mart transports arrived in town uncontested at 1200. At or about 1210, a small yield nuclear detonation was witnessed in the west. No casualties, detonation's purpose was theorized to be electromagnetic interference. Strong EMAG disabled Hall-Mart communications, and prevented wireless drone initialization.

Main force was readied to fortify and defend western outskirts of town, a task which they carried out well. Artillery was deployed... Despite lack of electronic spotters, obsolete sighting methods using semaphore were utilized by Captain Haaken. Recommend promotion of Cpt. Julius Haaken, as artillery turned the tide during initial rush, which lasted period of time from approx 1300-1500. Casualties and material loss during this period equal to approx. 15%.

Also during this time, deployed task force under command of Lieutenant Captain Lumberg to secure local infrastructure, in attempt to restore communications. Cpt. Lumberg's force met strong resistance from Lund forces, but managed to secure communications for period of time no less than 030 minutes, granting us time to repair and activate the provided drones and deploy them in suitable locations. These were not wasted minutes. Cpt. Lumberg's task force took 40% casualties, but managed to achieve performance goals. It is the opinion of this commander after reviewing the reports, that Cpt. Lumberg's stellar leadership and masterful grasp of tactics and motivation were responsible for this success, and the personal risks to life and limb that he undertook while storming the tower should be rewarded with no less than .065 shares of stock.

At 1500, the rush of Lund forces drew back. With communications and drones partially restored, our forces were able to push them back, which we did until 1700. During this period, resistance was encountered in the form of guerilla tactics from forces unknown. Several discrepancies in the appearance, tactics, and combat capabilities of the guerilla forces from the opposing force composition lead this commander to conclude that they were not allied with the Lund forces. Several creatures were spotted that bore resemblance to CLASSIFIED, which hitherto have not been reported in this area. It is estimated that they caused casualties equal to 12% during this time period, mostly due to a shortage of CLASSIFIED in our force, and their resistance to bullets. Heavy weapons specialists and flamethrower squads were deployed to perform counter-guerilla tactics, and were forced to clear large tracts of land to the northwest and southwest of sector 684. Comm sets deployed during this time picked up a strange signal broadcast, that seemed to cause epileptic fits and psychological damage to assorted individuals within our force, particularly our CLASSIFIED senstives. The signal ceased after seven minutes, and Cpt. Lumberg's squad soon restored communication. When asked of the origin of that signal, they spoke wildly about hordes of CLASSIFIED, and a CLASSIFIED leading them, roaring about a feast and devouring the fallen. Later reports from Cpt. Lumberg confirmed that information as hysterical hallucination. The Captain was on the field that day throughout the entire operation, and did not witness any evidence of CLASSIFIED. This commander is forced to conclude that the two incidents are unrelated.

The guerilla attacks of the unknown force were beaten back, and Lund was driven to the southwest. The last Lund forces left the vicinity of Zane by 1800. Oddly enough, when interrogated, Lund troops denied the use of any nuclear devices, insisting that Hall-Mart forces were responsible for the emag-generating nuclear explosion.

At this time, the guerilla force fell back. Attempts at pursuit were hampered by mobs of CLASSIFIED, and their masters were long gone by the time we eliminated the obstructing forces. Believe more out there.

Estimated casualties and losses to Lund forces: 65% Total Hall-Mart casualties and losses: 37% Estimated Guerilla losses: Unknown.

Am assuming command of sector 684 and declaring martial law until status of guerilla force is confirmed. Request CLASSIFIED team to assist with discerning origin and extent of threat from guerilla force.

PERSONAL COMMENTS:

The Lundsmen fought like demons, but they just didn't have the gear to prevail against our superior logistics. This guerilla force has me worried, though. Something's going on here, and the townsfolk are way too innocent for my tastes. They're hiding something. Have gotten some ideas of what they may be hiding from Lund prisoners, but without evidence, can't act on any of it.

We're now an occupying force. Victory in battle is one thing, but occupation is another. Soon enough the natives will forget how we saved their asses, and start grumbling about the taxes, and the shareholder privileges, and the restrictions. We need faces down here pronto... I'll hold it together until then, but don't keep me waiting. Especially with these too-friendly townies around. If they're up to something, we could be in trouble. A lot of our weaponry got scavenged off the field, and not by Lund forces, I'll tell you that.

Still, it's not all bad. We've got a trustworthy member of the council, a Mr. Arget Lamb working with us. Now that the outcome's clear, he's informed me that the townsfolk are slaughtering pigs, and hauling out hidden food supplies to celebrate our victory. He's promised us one Hell of a Feast...