Another shot felled an Estharian soldier, but as he dropped to the ground, Gorman sprinted towards Goronovich's car. He leapt behind the vehicle, a bullet thudding into the ground where he'd been seconds before.

'Sir, sniper's in the bell tower of that church,' Gorman yelled across the road. Zell peeked up towards the south, seeing the church in question.

'See him?'

'Not yet, sir.'

'Shoot him when you can.'

Gorman scanned the roof of the tower first, before rolling the rifle gently down.

From the tower, there was a muted flash, and another bullet struck the body of Major Boradenko.

In a window two floors down from the tower's roof, Gorman's target came into view, betrayed by the flare of the rifle. He lined the crosshairs up with the target's head, adjusted a few inches westwards to compensate for the light easterly wind, then fired. The SeeD marksman watched through the powerful scope on his rifle as the target four hundred yards away kicked back slightly as the round went home. The rebel's rifle fell onto the church roof, the magazine flying loose.

'Target's down, sir.'

Zell raised himself off the ground to a crouch, and quickly ran to the dead body of the major in the centre of the crossroads. It was then he noticed that the sniper's shot had not been aimed at Boradenko's body, but his radio and his link to the satellite relay.

'Fuck! Son of a bitch took out the comms.'

'The communications with satellite relay are destroyed?' Goronovich asked.

'Right through the damn thing. Is there a spare?' Zell asked in Estharian.

'Corporal Petrov had a spare set,' one Estharian trooper shouted from over the street.

'Where is he?'

The trooper pointed at the burning helicopter.

'That tower's the tallest thing for a couple of miles, Captain. We get up there we can maybe spot our SAM sites,' Gorman shouted.

Alright, everyone on me. We're heading for that church.'

The Estharians took point, moving in spaced formations to prevent one grenade or rocket killing an entire squad of men. About two hundred yards from the turn to the church, a vehicle emerged, apparently coming from same place the allied troops were headed. It was a technical, an improvised fighting vehicle made by taking a pickup truck of four by four, and bolting a machine gun, heavy rocket launcher or other crew-operated heavy weapon to the vehicle. The soldiers dived for cover as the converted pickup truck opened fire with the machine gun mounted crudely to the rear. The SeeDs readied their AT rockets, and two streaked along the road into the target. The first flew wide but the second slammed into the driver's side window, and the technical flipped onto its side. As this occurred, the Krastovian Militia charged around the corner, screaming a guttural war cry that roughly translated from Krastov to "freedom for Krastovia and death to the enemy". Only a few dozen of them, they ran forward firing their Liberation Rifles, simple standard-configuration stamped rifles with plastic or wooden furniture that were a cheaper mass produced variant of the Dusanian Type 65 from the hip with little accuracy. The allies returned fire with short, controlled, and more importantly, aimed bursts which soon eliminated the small group of rebel fighters.

'Move forward!'

The Estharians took the lead once more, rifles ready and eyes glancing at each window. Soon, they passed the wrecked technical, and neared the corner that led to the church. An Estharian trooper glanced around it, only for a hail of bullets to thud off the wall beside him.

'Yebat!' the Estharian cursed as he leapt back.

'What have we got round there, I wonder...' Zell asked hypothetically, sliding along the wall to where the Estharian had just retreated from. Zell fumbled in a utility pocket of his tactical vest, producing a small mirror attached to a thin folding metal rod. He had broken his optical wand last week when looking through a door into the muzzle of a shotgun, and had resorted to plan B. A quick glance around the corner with it revealed a machine gun nest sitting on the steps of the church, a fairly small and nondescript murky white building surrounded by a damaged white wall, only identified as a church by the large cross above the double doors. He replaced the mirror, and grabbed a smoke grenade. He motioned for a grenadier to stand beside him

'On three, throw another two with me,' he ordered nearby SeeDs. They complied, readying their own canisters. 'When they do that, wait for smoke then fire a grenade out. That'll give us some cover, and the four of us can make a break for the wall just over the street.'

Zell hurled his smoke grenade round the corner, getting the expected burst of fire slamming into the ground and wall. A few seconds later, the three canisters kicked out a thick cloud of white smoke which began drifting gently east. The grenadier dashed forward, firing his grenade as Zell and the other two SeeD sprinted for the wall. The explosion rang out from the direction of the church, and a few seconds later, faint screams of pain came from the direction of the machine gun.

A few moments later, the smoke cleared, and revealed the nest had been hit head on by the grenade. However, five more rebels had moved forth and two had re-manned the gun. The four SeeD leapt up, the three rifles and another grenade being fired at the five rebels. All five fell without firing a shot.

'MOVE IN!' Zell screamed, and the allied soldiers stormed around the corner. Up the steps and into the church, Zell shot a rebel running through the front doors before the startled insurgent had even had time to think about raising his rifle. Another two could be seen in the church proper, one by the pulpit and another standing in the aisle. Estharian fire eliminated them, and the allied soldiers burst into the church. One last rebel standing at the stairs leading to the bell tower was cut down by the combined fire of four rifles.

'Gorman, Thompson, you two get up the tower after me and set up over-watch. Goronovich, try and find anything useful in the church grounds.

'They had three technicals outside, Captain,' the Estharian replied. 'We can use those to hit the furthest SAM sites. Shouldn't be too tricky to hotwire them, they're all ancient.'

'Good idea. Take your men in them, we'll spot them and guide you there.'


Gorman and Thompson were in position, and had located all three SAM sites. The Estharians were speeding to the furthest away site, and also were to handle the second. The other ten SeeDs were to take the closest SAM, a few blocks away on top of an old tenement block. A lone guard stood at the doorway in, and the SeeD team was mere feet away from him, concealed at the corner of the building. Zell dropped his rifle, the sling making it fall to his left hand side, and drew his handgun. His S3 had a barrel shroud allowing for the quick attachment of a suppressor. Two other SeeD beside him copied his actions.

Zell rounded the corner, squeezing three bullets into the rebel. He and the two others with suppressed handguns moved to the door, and into the building.

It was only three floors high, and much of the northern wall had collapsed. The three SeeD soldiers slowly made their way up the stairwell, until they finally reached the door to the roof. Downstairs, the rest of the squad began slowly clearing the building of any other rebels that may have been present, as the three holstered their pistols and readied the assault rifles.

A kick to the door made it fly outwards, and Zell fired a burst of fire into a rebel standing beside the camouflage-netted launcher. Another raised his rifle, and was cut down by another SeeD. All three SeeDs shot at the man on the other side of the missiles, knocking the unfortunate rebel off the roof.

'Captain, building is clear,' came a voice over the radio.

'Alright, everyone clear the building, setting charge for thirty seconds,' Zell announced over the comms. He readied a small explosive charge, attached to the missile body, and joined the rest of his squad in quickly running from the building. Thirty seconds later, a ball of smoke and flame flew up from the roof, and the rumble of collapsing concrete heralded the destruction of the launcher.

'Goronovich, how are you doing?' Zell asked, switching to the Estharian frequency.

'Goronovich, respond,' he tried once more. Nothing.

'Gorman, Thompson, do you have eyes on the Estharian objectives?'

'Roger, both are up in smoke.'

'Can you see the Estharians?'


The SeeD team made their way back to the church, and as they neared, the rhythmic sound of metal clanking off concrete reverberated. Nearing the corner where the smoke canisters had been thrown from, the sound grew louder. The SeeD soldiers sprinted to the church steps, just as the source of the sound appeared. Clanking down the road parallel to the one the allies had came to the church via, was an X-ATM092ME. The squad dived for cover, the robot not noticing them.

The first Experimental Attack/Tracking Mechanoid 092 was a Galbadian made test weapon in the form of a four-legged "Spider-drone" equipped with a short ranged laser cannon and two close combat claws, in addition to a limited self repair function which, after a poor performance in Dollet, had another fourteen better armed 'Mass Experiment' models built.

A little smaller and built sleeker with better protection against lighting magic and electrical attacks, armed with a single heavy machine gun in place of the ineffective laser, supplemented by two racks of six short-ranged smart missiles and painted green, twelve of those had been destroyed or otherwise lost in combat when despite numerous attempts to reprogram, the AI frequently became locked on its target and did not pay attention to anything else nearby: disastrous when up against a tank and out of missiles. In addition, at least three had became locked onto a destroyed vehicle or dead body, letting enemy troops get an easy kill as the machine fired on a harmless target. And then there was the fact the AI would get extremely confused if someone lobbed a smoke grenade at it, a flaw that the tech-workers just couldn't get rid of.

The project had been abandoned and Galbadia had phased out its unreliable robots, for only a few had ever really been capable of independent operation under an AI such as the GIM52 prison defence mechanoid and SAM08 support cyborg, but somehow, one had found its way to Krastovia. This one showed signs of having had crude but efficient repair work having been performed upon it, and was pocked with dents from attacks that had simply bounced off the armour. Zell now knew what had happened to the Estharians.

'Sir, we've got a warmech moving towards the church,' Gorman radioed in.

'Use your rockets on its top armour.'

The two snipers prepared their own antitank rockets, edging carefully to the edge of the tower. The robot kept clanking forth, the scanner eyes sweeping left to right along the street as indicated by the green and red oscillating lights on the front of the robots "head". Below, the SeeD soldiers carefully moved into cover, preparing their own weapons.

'Be patient, guys. We'll put a smoke down and confuse it, hit it when you have smoke.'

'Roger that, sir.'

'Everyone else, when Gorman and Thompson let loose, hit the thing with lighting if you have it. If they don't destroy it the impact should throw off the surge defence systems,' Zell told his team. The eyes swept left and right

However, as the two snipers readied their AT weapons, the mech stood slightly higher, the eyes stopping their left-to-right circuit. The eyes both locked in the centre, staring right at the tower, and the mechanoid launched a single missile. It hurtled into the church tower, and the top floor exploded in a shower of rubble and dust. Zell swore, and readied his own rocket launcher, certain his two marksmen were dead. His shot streaked towards the war machine, and slammed harmlessly into an armoured leg.

'Smoke!' someone yelled, hurling a canister streaming yellow smoke. It bounced off the top of the

The robot turned, the scanners sliding wildly. They locked onto a SeeD hiding behind a short wall, and it fired a short burst. The SeeD dived

The robot turned to the church steps, and opened fire with its machine gun. Heavy calibre bullets slammed into stone, and a SeeD screamed as she had her leg shot out from under her as she tried to fire a rocket. The robot's next burst silenced the woman.

'Shit! Eona!' another female SeeD yelled in vain at the death of the woman Private. She stood, enraged, and fired her own rocket at the machine, but it glanced off the front carapace with a dull flash and a bang.

'Try and hit the joints or the front!' Zell yelled as the SeeD ducked down after firing her rocket. Zell lobbed a grenade at the robot in the hopes of maybe shaking the sensors for a second or two, letting someone drop that all-important smoke grenade into place. Three more rockets were fired, and each glanced off the robot, though the third managed to cause the three remaining missiles to detonate. Despite this, the robot kept firing.

Zell hurled a smoke grenade in front of the robot, obscuring its sensors, and the confused machine ceased fire for a second. Using that break, Zell grabbed the AT rocket the dead Private Garvie had dropped, and took aim at where the front of the mech should have been behind the smoke. It was guesswork, but he was reasonably sure if he fired now, he'd hit the scanner eyes. Probably.

It then exploded.

The confusion set in first. Zell sat there for a few seconds, wondering what had just happened before he heard, and then saw Gdetoan tank trundle up from the west of the burning robot. Zell dropped the launcher, and walked down to the tank. A red-bearded tank commander popped out of the turret.

'Good morning, Captain! What are you doing so far forward?' the tank commander yelled down over the roar of his tank engine.

'Same question, Lieutenant. Our objective is the arms dump five blocks away. How did you get here?'

'We came in from the west. The rebels were too busy in the north, so we just smashed through. I see you were having a spot of bother with Boris there?'

'Boris?' Zell asked, puzzled.

'Yes! He's the rebel mascot around here. They always claimed they had a robot spider wandering around, we all just thought it was a myth.'

'That myth killed three of my soldiers plus an entire platoon of Estharian special forces!' Zell yelled up angrily. The tank commander took no notice of the anger.

'At least the bastard is dead now, yes? We can take you to the arms dump, but we'll be joining your attack.'


A few minutes later, they were there. Gdetoan conscripts charged forward as the tanks bombarded the factory.

A maze of steel gantries and strong-walled buildings, it was clear to see why this factory had been chosen by the rebels for an arms dump and ammunition factory. A well dug in defence could hold off an army here.

A squad of Gdetoan troops ran along the streets, and crossed over a pile of rubble made from collapsed buildings straight into the fire of a machine gun. The conscripts, despite the fact it was suicide, kept going. The SeeD squad running behind them simply hurled half a dozen grenades over the pile of rubble before charging over to find the rebels on the other side dead or close to. A few shots finished the dying survivors off.

A building in the north of the factory complex rumbled, and a second later, detonated, flattening three others beside it. Clearly, the Gdetoan shelling had hit something.

'Well, we know this much. There was plenty of ammunition in there...' Zell said to Sergeant Kelly.


A few moments later, the rebels had surrendered, and Gdetoan troops marched them towards the church. The SeeD team followed behind after planting their charges, and as they reached the Church, the arms dump behind them disappeared in a dozen fireballs. A few minutes later, a jet zoomed past, and the few ruins still standing in the devastated factory were flattened.

The Gdetoans had run into Krastovian Militia, the attack on the city having apparently succeeded. Zell and his team walked over to the church steps where a line of prisoners were kneeling, only for a Krastovian to shout

'You there! Who are you?'

It was Major Buchsenrov. Buchsenrov was an ineloquent thug with the delusion he was a brilliant tactician who ran his small company of soldiers as a personal death squad. It was claimed he never took surrender from rebels, and rumour had it he would execute prisoners. Zell knew the man by reputation, and had seen the violent officer march a few soldiers past earlier in the day.

'Captain Zell Dincht, SeeD. Major Buchsenrov I presume?'

'Do not presume anything, captain! And why are you not salute? I outrank you, no?' Buchsenrov enquired in poor, but comprehensible, Balambian.

'Well, sir, my orders indicated that the client who had hired SeeD was the Estharian Military, not the local militia.'

'Well, I don't see any Estharian Military here right now, so fucking salute!' the Krastovian yelled.

Zell slowly gave a sloppy salute to the thug.

'Better, prick. Now, what the fuck are you posers up to?'

'Well, Major, we-'

'Sir, fuckhead. I am major, you are captain, you call me sir.'

'Our mission was to destroy the arms dump.'

'The one that blew up just there? Congratulations, you win, now fuck off back to Balamb for tea and biscuits.'

'As soon as I've recovered the three dead on my team and my helicopter arrives, I intend to leave.'

'Okay then, Captain Sink. Hope you enjoyed stay in Krastovia and consider it next year for your holidays,' the local officer said, walking in front of a prisoner. He then drew his pistol and shot the rebel through the forehead.

'Major, these men surrendered. Under international law, you have to detain them,' he said. Buchsenrov started at Zell like he had suggested the Krastovian man have anal intercourse with a chainsaw

'What? Are you mad, Sink? They're terrorists! No uniform, no squad markings, I can execute them,' he said, shooting another. 'If I like.'

Zell glared at the major, who simply grinned and shot another prisoner.

'Is that your helicopters arriving? We've fetched your corpses. Take them and go back to Balamb and come back when you grow some balls and want to do some real fighting.'

'Pardon me?' Zell said, walking up to the major.

'You only lost three men, and you mercenary assholes won't even bother to mourn them. You want to do real fighting, lose three hundred a day. Maybe then you can come here and tell me about international law. And I'll ignore you, Sink.'

'If you were a SeeD, I would be in some serious shit for striking a superior officer,' Zell replied coldly, as the helicopter arrived. He waved his remaining soldiers towards it.

He then punched the major, knocking the Krastovian down with a single blow.

'Lucky you're just an asshole,' Zell said to the dazed major as he boarded the helicopter. The Gdetoans howled with laughter as the helicopter lifted off. A few Krastovians joined in. Major Buchsenrov simply sat on the floor, bleeding from his broken nose, outraged into stunned silence.