Chapter Fifty-Seven - Night Fight
Mech to mech combat was an interesting game.
With the right kind of ammunition, a single sufficiently-powered shot was enough to take out a mech. Which meant that all it took was one shot in the right spot.
In that way, it was similar to a normal gunfight. I’d seen some tough men go down sobbing because they’d been hit in the leg or struck in the arm. Not lethal wounds, but enough to put someone on the ground and make them reconsider all the mistakes they’d made in life.
A mech was tough, sure, but it could only take so much, and most mechs built for war were designed to deliver a lot more than ‘so much.’
I crouched Rusty down behind the last train car and considered things.
The mech was, I suspected, one of those tracked gnomish warmechs. That meant that it had a turret atop it, a small crew, and likely the ability to communicate with the other mecha that had come out here to play train-bandit.
I probably had better mobility, but worse forward-speed than it did. The turret would have a slower traverse than my gun, but a more stable base and a gunner whose entire job would be to shoot me down. They didn’t need to split their attention the way I did.
What else? Armour-wise, the gnomes had it better than I did. I could remember my revolver round bouncing off their plate. Rusty’s lever-action had a bigger calibre, and packed more of a punch, so maybe that would make their armour a moot point.
They had a stationary gun. A small one, but more than enough to murder Clin and I.
So I had to resort to being better than them. Which wasn’t pleasant when there were more of ‘them’ than there were of ‘us.’
“We’re going around,” I said.
“Very well,” Clin replied easily. “Do you have any more whiskey?”
I spun Rusty around and started heading back towards the rear of the train at a brisk jog. It would be noisy, but they knew I was here already, so there wasn’t much lost.
“Yeah, I do. Taken a liking to it?”
“No, it still tastes like swill. I just... well, getting drunk is seen as terribly uncouth, but I think this situation calls for it.”
“Oh, calm down,” I said. “We’ll get out of this one just fine.”
One of the train cars nearby was this long flatbed, with tall posts on either end and nothing on it. I slowed down, then climbed aboard it, keeping Rusty as low as I could while scanning the desert ahead.
No gnomish mech in sight, but the landscape was dominated by one large sand dune, and I didn’t doubt there could be more of them.
Worse, it looked like the mech that had fired at me had moved forwards. Orange marks left on the sand hinted at where it had been idling before.
Was it trying to come around to fire at me from behind?
Maybe they didn’t know we were armed? Though that seemed like a stupid assumption for anyone to make.
Reddish blobs were moving about, out of the passenger cars. Some of them forming a line, while others grouped up near them. Gnomes, certainly, but with prisoners.
I couldn’t tell them apart, not entirely. Not until some of the blobs pushed those in a line down, then fired at them. People fell onto the sand, the warm colours Rusty’s eye picked up fading away as they died.
A mass execution.
“What a bunch of assholes,” I muttered as I brought my rifle around.
Did they decide to just ignore me as a threat? They must have heard the noise from when I fired, and it was impossible that they missed their own mech rolling by to flank me.
I fired into the largest group of what I figured were gnomes.
Sure, my goal was to get away, not save people. But that didn’t mean that having more dead gnomes would hurt. The fewer of the short bastards were left, the fewer would be able to chase us across the desert.
The red beam cut through the centre of the group, throwing gnomes back and killing a few of them.
I racked the lever and aimed a little higher, towards the next group. Still had to wait for the train car to stop rocking. It didn’t make for a good base to shoot from.
The gnomes split up, some of them running back, others trying to rally the other soldiers. The clever ones ran for cover.
The not so-clever ones opened fire on the prisoners.
I fired at one of the fidiots who was more worried about killing innocents than getting his dumb ass into cover.
The passengers broke, running back for cover, with one or two of the braver ones jumping at their captors and wrestling them to the ground.
I didn’t give them good odds, but at least they’d go down swinging.
I scanned the dunes around us while standing up. I had to keep moving. The gnomes on foot likely couldn’t see us in the dark, but the glowing red dust left in the air would lead them right to us. I didn’t have enough ammo to shoot all of them down if all they did was run at us.
But then, these weren’t goblins.
I jumped off the flatcar and started to circle my way up the dune. The footing wasn’t great, but it wasn’t terrible enough to slow us down much, and I wanted to put some room between me and the train. The gnomes were in disarray; I'd done what I could.
It was only because I was looking ahead that I saw it.
A mech, short and stubby, moving right up to the edge of the dune even as its barrel slowly swung around to point my way.
“Shit,” I swore.
“You never did tell me where that bottle was,” Clin said.
I let Rusty fall to one knee, the motion making everything in the cabin bounce, but at least it lowered our profile a little. I brought my rifle up, and just as the gnomish tank was nearly done turning its barrel, I fired.
The red flash of my gun going off lit up the side of the dune, and a single tight beam traced its way to the side of the gnomish mech.
I held my breath, then cursed.
The mech was still there. A little blemished, and with a fist-sized hole smoking on the edge of its frame, but otherwise it was intact.
A poor, unlucky shot.
The turret finished turning, then lowered... but not enough.
It felt like everything paused for just a moment as everyone involved realized what had happened.
The gnome’s gun couldn’t depress at enough of an angle to do anything but fire above Rusty’s head.
I started to laugh even as I poured magic into an overloaded shot. More than was safe, even. I lowered my aim, and just like that one gnomish mech had done to me some days ago, I fired at the dune right under the mech.
Sand and dirt and stone exploded apart, showering down the side of the dune in a small avalanche. Then, with a heavy crunch, the mech followed.
The pilot was decent. They managed to spread the mech’s legs out, and had the tracks spinning hard enough to kick up sand all over.
I watched them slide down while reloading as quickly as I could.
The mech hit something on the way down, and tipped onto its side, finishing its tumble with a dirty roll and a heavy crash.
I didn’t envy the gnomes in there.
Especially when I raised my gun and fired.
Four shots, delivered with barely a second between them.
Four holes punched into the armour of the fallen mech, each one half a pace apart. There weren’t any grand explosions, unfortunately, but I figured it was out of the count.
My grin turned wooden as I looked up. Motion, near the front of the train. The mech that had followed me around had apparently retraced its steps and was walking around the front of the Sandpiercer.
I started to fumble to reload my rifle. I didn’t want to be shot out here in the open.
I kept an eye on it as the mech stopped and its turret started to turn my way.
“Damn, damn, damn,” I swore as I started to run up the dune. Rusty’s feet slid in some loose sand, and I almost tripped us up in my hurry to climb faster.
There was no way I was going to make it.
And then the Sandpiercer started to move.
Huge legs, each one as big and thick around as Rusty, shifted out of the side of the train engine and slammed into the ground with dull booms.
The gnome mech turned around even as the Sandpiercer rose up and up, hundreds of tonnes of metal rising on eight legs like some sort of monstrous spider.
The gnome fired at it, and I stared as the round glanced off the engine’s side with an echoing crack.
The smaller mech started to race backwards, but for all that it was likely faster, it had a ways to go, and it wasn’t designed to move in reverse.
With deceptive speed, the Sandpiercer scuttled over, huge legs working like massive pistons until, finally, one of them rose up and then came crashing down onto the gnomish mech.
I twisted my head away and shut off Rusty’s eye as a brilliant explosion lit up the night. The gnome mech’s core had gone off.
When I blinked the eye back on, it was all done. The Sandpiercer stood, one leg running through the gnome mech, with smoke pouring out around it as if it was some infernal creature summoned from the depths.
“Well, damn,” I said.