“ARTILLERY! GET DOWN!” Sergeant Griffith shouted to the platoon as they stood along the wall for Stand To. A split second later, Evans heard the telltale whistle of inbound shells. He sprinted into the dugout. A few seconds after he dived in, the first shell hit. It was the loudest sound Evans had ever heard.
As the dirt clumps fell around him, Evans crawled towards Zwev, who was huddled in the corner. He tried to yell something towards her. She shook her head while yelling something back. So the two of them decided to sit and make gestures at each other for about half an hour while the shells rained down above.
When the shellfire began to die down Evans and Zwev stopped their mute conversation and looked around the dugout. Sergeant Griffith was standing near the dugout exit looking at her watch and counting on her fingers. Three. Two. One. “MOVE! MOVE! MOVE! GET ON THE LINE!” She unshouldered her rifle and ran out the dugout.
Evans got up and grabbed his rifle from the dugout floor. He reached to Zwev and helped her up. She grabbed her rifle and they moved out onto the line. The trench was mostly intact, though a few shells had torn up the wire in front of the trench. Evans and Zwev took up positions next to each other and aimed down over No-Man’s Land.
Simmons yelled to the platoon, “STAND READY!” He turned and talked to Lance Corporal Green, “Run down to the Captain and tell him Second Platoon is at full strength.”
Evans looked over the Vledscn line. It had been almost a full minute since the artillery had stopped firing. He could see the Machine Gunners almost ready to fight and their was nothing from the Vledscan line. Could this be a false barrage? To shake them up? He whispered, “Hey, Zwev, shouldn’t they be attacking, Corp Hardin said that heavy barrages are usually followed by an attack.”
“Yeah, it’s really fuckin’ weird,” Lance Corporal Bailey whispered from Evans’ other side, “Usually Vleddy doesn’t use shells on fake outs.”
Evans shrugged and continued watching the line. He heard a faint whistle. A roar. Men started to appear over the tops of the Vledscan trenches. Lieutenant Simmons yelled out to the Platoon, “HOLD UNTIL MACHINE GUNS!”
Evans checked the bolt and safety on his rifle. A few seconds later, he heard a burp of fire from one of the Machine Guns, the other guns followed suit. Evans aimed at the nearest silhouette and pulled the trigger. Without even looking to see if his shot had hit, he bolted and fired another round.
In a few seconds, the attack had stopped, and a few dozen Vledscan soldiers lay dead.
Green ran back into the trench and looked to Simmons, “Captain Jackson says same across the board. Hold the line at all costs.”
Evans watched a man he think he shot. He had collapsed in an odd way, and he was still propped up in the middle of No-Man’s land. He had a red bandanna around his neck.
A whistle. Another wave started to rise. Lance Corporal Turner got excited and opened fire with her automatic rifle early. Evans opened fire at the formation. The machine guns quickly opened up from the wings and the Vledscan troops. They quickly fell dead.
Evans stood their shocked. Why had the second wave charged, why hadn’t they even fired one or two mortars. Evans was distracted by a commotion further down the trench line, he turned to see Tiscornia mounting the parapet.
“WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING! YOU ARE THROWING YOUR LIVES AWAY!” a bullet whizzed past Tiscornia as Lance Corporal Giuliano and Private Renoir attempted to pull him back into the trench. “GODDAMMIT ARE YOUR ORDERS REALLY WORTH IT?” Tiscornia turned around and jumped back into the trench as the whistle blew. Evans turned and opened fire once more.
The rest of the stand to was eerily silent. Their wasn’t even a mortar round from the Vledscan side. Evans took the time to look around No-Man’s land once again. The wire in front of the trench had been almost completely destroyed, it was just a tangled mess, the p
ieces large enough to see. It seemed like all the Vledscan shells had fallen in front of the trench.
The Vledscan lines were mostly unchanged, with the exception of the piles of bodies a few meters from the from the front of their trench. He wondered about this for the rest of the stand to. Once it was over, he walked to Corporal Hardin to receive his breakfast.
“Here you go, first meal after combat. Now your a soldier.”
Evans walked on and found Zwev, who was eating with Renoir and Head in the dugout. They all sat mostly in silence, until Head mentioned the topic on everyones mind.
“What the fuck…”
Renoir leaned back, “Decimation.”
Zwev threw her knife point first into the dirt floor, “What? That’s not an explanation…”
Renoir shook his head, “No, it’s an old leadership strategy. I heard a rumor going around about a Vledscan colonel doing it… You see, He lined up his regiment after a failed attack. The third wave hadn’t gone over the top after the other two had been destroyed…” Renoir looked Head in the eyes and counted on his fingers, “One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, BANG! Every tenth man in his regiment he killed. Personally, walked down the entire line.”
Zwev shuddered, “Why didn’t they run? Surely it was clear after the first few soldiers what was happening.”
“He had machine gun teams aimed at the regiment. When one platoon ran, they were cut down before they had gone ten paces,” Renoir pulled a cigarette out of his breast pocket and lit it with a match, he offered it to the other three, who all declined.
“Fuck…” Evans shook his head and took a bite from his jerky.
“How do you know so much about the Vledscan’s Renoir?” Head cocked his head and looked at Renoir.
“Ustinov. We were chatting, He manned a listening sap on our last tour.”
Evans replied in a confused voice, “Ustinov, isn’t that a Vledscan name?”
Zwev perked up, “Yeah, his family immigrated when he was young, he’s on watch now.”
“You should really get to know him,” Renoir laughed a little, “He’s probably the funniest guy in Fox.”
Lance Corporal Green walked into the dugout, “Sergeant Parker, Corporal Davis, Lance Corporal Chilcott, Lance Corporal Tiscornia, Privates Ustinov, Cook, Alden, Evans, Anna Zak something, and Geary, you are needed in the Lieutenant’s dugout now.”
Renoir called out as Evans and Zwev got up, “Ustinov is on watch!”
“Well then congratulations, your replacing him, Move.”
Renoir grumbled as he got up, “Merde. Should have known better than speak up.”
Evans ducked down a little while walking through the trench. He followed the line in front of him into the Lieutenant’s dugout. The dugout was more furnished than the enlisted dugout, and Lieutenant Simmons was sitting at a desk, looking at a map. After a seconds, he looked up at the gathered soldiers, He then looked to Lance Corporal Green, “Is this everyone Jenny?”
Lance Corporal Green nodded as Private Ustinov entered the room and shouldered his rifle. Lieutenant Simmons nodded and looked to the soldiers again, “Tonight, y’all have the luxury of going on a mission over the top. The Captain decided that we need to strengthen our wire and wants me to lead the party. I’m dividing our party into two teams, Team One lead by Sergeant Parker and Lance Corporal Tiscornia, and Team Two will be led by Corporal Davis and Lance Corporal Chilcott. Team One will be Privates Ustinov, Geary, and Cook. Team Two will by Privates Alden, Evans, and Zakrzewska.
“Team One will be in charge of setting up the wire. Team Two will screw in the stakes. We are starting out at First Platoon and move down to Third. We should work fast, and if all goes well, we should be done within an hour. We kick off at midnight, so you should get some rest after stand to tonight.
“When midnight comes however, make sure you are at First Platoon’s trench, our exit sap is there. Privates, you should leave your rifles behind, if the fire gets to heavy, we have two machine guns ready to respond. Lance Corporal’s and above will have rifles as well. Don’t bring canteens, bombs, or anything else that will rattle.
“Lastly, if we start getting shelled, dive into the nearest shell hole and pray you don’t get hit. Dismissed.” Lieutenant Simmons went back to his map.
The wiring party left the Lieutenant’s dugout into the trench, where the rest of the platoon was working on fixing parts of the trench destroyed in the barrage. The wiring party joined in and helped with the improvements until the time came for stand to. The stand to was unusually quiet, with only a few machine gun bursts. Evans and Zwev went to their blanket and laid down with their heads against the dug out wall for a few hours rest.