"You see that smoke plume over there? Look about 15 degrees off to the West. I caught a reflection in the rocks. Maybe nothing. Maybe just a beaner car or something." Captain Jefferson lifted the binoculars to his eyes and adjusted the focus.

"Did you check thermals?" Gondry asked as he unscrewed the top of a hip flask.

"Too far and too hot." Jefferson replied, still fiddling with the focus on the binoculars. "We're just getting big plumes of white off that low smoke."

"Maybe we should send one of the Bradleys over to-"

Jefferson held up his hand.

"Got something. Moving between those rock outcrops." Jefferson adjusted the focus more and caught a glimpse of a white shape ducking behind a sandstone boulder.

He panned the binoculars as carefully as he could to the left and caught another momentary white blur before it disappeared into the deep shadows of an outcropping. Something else caught his eye as he panned the binoculars and he stopped, dialed in the focus, and saw the faintest drifting puff of smoke.

"What in th-"

The carbine round tore out Jefferson's throat and a second hit him in the top of the head as he pitched forward. Gondry recoiled at the spray of blood and soft whack-whack sound of the shots hitting Captain Jefferson. A fraction of a second later he heard the distant crack-crack of the two shots being fired. Gondry turned to yell to Jefferson's gunner and a bullet took him right in the temple, brain matter and blood looking black as they sizzled across the hot road surface. Horrified, Jefferson's gunner let his feet slip out from under him to drop into the tank's interior. The move temporarily saved his life as the bullet intended for the bridge of his nose slammed into his crash helmet and ricocheted up off the Kevlar into the sky. His jaw caught a safety grip on the way down and blood filled his mouth as he sprawled unconscious by the gun position inside the M1A2.

In a mad panic, Boony slammed the hulking battle tank into drive and cruised off down Highway 13. Behind him, the long column of vehicles erupted with violence. Fifty caliber machineguns and 40mm grenade launchers mounted on the turrets of the M1A2s opened fire. The Bradleys began traversing their turrets in the direction the gunfire originated and one after another hammered armor-piercing rounds through boulders and rock formations. In seconds the whole area the shots came from was a cloud of rock dust and impact sparks.

"It'll be alright Mac, it'll be alright!" Boony shouted back to the gunner over the din of the roaring engine and the overlapping percussion of weapons fire filtering in through the open turret hatch.

Despite the volume of fire being laid down on the snipers another deadly accurate shot flickered in and set off the box magazine of a grenade launcher. The grenades in the hopper detonated in rapid succession, flinging the shredded corpse of the tank's commander end over end into the air. Those still foolish enough to be standing in their turrets began to button up.

Unseen, twenty Jerlemain Bondsmen sprouted from the dusty ground by the roadside like weeds and began to stalk quickly towards the tanks. Not a single vehicle in the column spotted their approach. They peeled off, one Bondsman to a tank, and with flashing slices of their bone sabers cut through the dense composite armor of the tanks as if they were wet paper. Some cartwheeled onto the turrets and cut their way inside to slaughter the crew; others simply opened up the armored fuel tanks and sparked deadly fires by running the tips of their saber across the asphalt. Boony continued on down Highway 13, nearly hyperventilating, one of Mac's teeth rattling around the floor of the tank.

Mac groaned and Boony craned his head back at just the wrong moment. The direction of the stick followed the direction of his gaze just a little too closely and the Abrams veered off the road. It bucked down on its nose into a deep ditch just a few feet too wide for tread clearance. The tank's barrel caught on the opposite bank and bent upwards as the 70 ton tank's momentum smashed the rest of it hard into the ditch's bottom. Boony was knocked unconscious by the impact.

Maximillian walked calmly over to the incapacitated tank and gripped the mouth of the turret with both gauntleted hands. With a shrill electric screech the gel motors in his armor provided the force he needed to open up the tank's turret like a church key. Hydraulic fluid in the turret's coaxial mounts sprayed red across Maximillian's faceplate, momentarily obscuring his view of the inside of the vehicle. He reached into the interior blindly, grasping something round and soft and attempting to pull it out. Corporal Ralph "Mac" MacDonald's head and part of his upper spinal column tore free from his body. Maximillian regarded the bloody mass in his hand uncertainly and then tossed it aside to search further.

He came up with the slumped body of Boony. Motion sensors in his suit detected the rhythmic thump of a heart and Maximillian smiled. Information.

"I have one. Bring me two more." Maximillian instructed over his communicator.

"Of course, master." Faayet's words burst into his mind and Maximillian winced.

***************

A formation of four National Guard UH-1 Hueys came in low over the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. They were on a one-way fuel ticket out of Brownsville Texas, loaded mostly full of shit-scared National Guardsmen clutching their M-16s like security blankets. Captain Patrick "Liberty" Henry was crouched in the door gunner's position of the lead helicopter, trying to ignore the sedate chatter of the freshly minted Gamma Strikers seated behind him.

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