Interlude

The 28th of April. Evans was coming home. It had been several long months since the last time he had seen Anna. All the way back in November. Oddly enough, he had consistently received letters from her during his time at the front, but as soon as they had entered the months of offensive training far into Western Ethslin, the letters had halted. Something about secrecy. He laughed a bit. Nine months since he had married Anna, and he had barely spent any time with her.

The Taxi pulled to a halt in front of the apartment complex. Evans reached for his money, but the driver shook his head, “No, Thank you for service.”

Evans smiled, opened the door, and started to drag his kit bag out of the back seat when the front door of the apartment complex burst open. Anna burst out, looking significantly larger than Evans remembered her. She pushed Evans back into the Taxi, sat down, pointed at the taxi driver, and shouted, “Hospital Now!”

As the Taxi pulled out, she grabbed Evans’ face and kissed him, “Good Timing James.”

“Wait, Why are we going to the Hospital?”

“Remember? Like, nine months ago?”

It slowly dawned on Evans, “Wait, if the Baby is coming now, we should go back home!”

“We’re not farmers James! Real people are born in hospitals!”

“Wait, I’m a farmer and was born in a barn, am I not a real person?” He paused. His eyes widened, “Oh My God, We’re having a baby!”

This idiotic shouting match continued until the taxi arrived at the hospital.

 

Evans waited impatiently outside the room. He kept hearing screaming, but he couldn’t do anything. After what felt like forever, a Nurse opened the door. She looked at him, “You can come in now Mister Evans.”

He smiled and pushed past her. He looked at the bed where Anna lay. She was smiling, holding a bundle of blankets.

Anna looked up at him. She turned the bundle towards him and squeaked, “It’s a girl! We made a little girl!”

Grabbing the little bundle, Evans kissed her head. He then looked at Anna, “What do we want to name it?”

“Mary. Her name will be Mary,” She smiled absent mindedly, “You can name the next one.”

Evans kissed Anna on the forehead, “Well I’ve got leave in two months on the 28th of June. We can make one then.”

 

Digging Party

“So Corp, we’ve never really talked. I’m sorry, what is your name?” Evans was standing with Sergeant Gabriel’s Corporal watching the Team’s Lance Corporals and Privates digging out the dugout. Sergeant Gabriel had gone to talk with the other Sergeants.

The Corporal smirked. “Corporal Canina, but you can just call me Alida. And you’re Jim Evans, right?”

Evans nodded, then screwed up his face, “Wait, Alida Canina? That’s your name?” He laughed, “Alida Canina. Sorry.”

“I get that a lot. When my Husband proposed to me, he said, ‘Alida Hewitt, want ditch Hewitt and have the dumbest sounding name in the world?’ I can tell you one thing, my kids will not have any ‘i’ sounds in their names.”

“That’s why I have a nice, boring name like Evans, planning ahead. And I even saved my wife, her last name was Zakrzewska. That name is impossible to pronounce,” Evans pulled out his shovel, “I’m gonna go make some quick wall scrapes for the Captain, Boswell, and I.”

“Right. You want a little help? I’m a little bored watching the excavation.”

“Alright Alida Canina. Cap’s a bit short, so she can deal with a pretty small one,” Evans knelt and started hacking at the frozen wall of the shellhole. Canina got down next to him and joined in. After about half an hour of hard work, they had excavated barely enough space for the Captain to sleep in. The two stepped back to look on the progress of the rest of the party when the Captain walked in.

She walked over to Evans, “So how’s the progress on my dugout James?”

Evans looked over, “Looks like you’ll be sleeping in a scrape today.

“Very well, I think I will be turning in now, Wake me when Lieutenant Gates has a proper report, right lad?”

“Yes Ma’am.”

“And if you clear the dugout wake me.”

Evans snapped his fingers, “Oh yes, Cap… I could procure a blanket for you if you need one. Sleeping on the surface can be quite cold Ma’am.”

“Be quick about it James.”

“Righto Ma’am,” Evans tucked his shovel into his belt and walked down the line looking for any blankets. He eventually found a wall scrape that had a tattered blanket hanging down. He ripped it off and wadded it up. A soldier inside started to whine.

Evans rolled his eyes, “Fuck off, this is going to an officer.”

The soldier sat up, fluffed her hair, and sarcastically said, “But is this officer as pretty as I?”

“It’s Lady Demetria of Medway.”

The soldier snapped her fingers, “Damn. I can’t top that. I guess I should feel honored. A noblewoman is stealing my curtain.” She paused a moment, “Wait, Lady Demetria is here? Like nearby?” The soldier stepped out, “Can I… uh, go with you to… Make sure this gets to uh… Her Grace?”

Evans shook his head, “No, she gets really annoyed at this. She is just Lady Demetria now. She isn’t called Her Grace until she actually becomes Duchess. Apparently there are a bunch of really weird rules for talking to her.”

“Is that a yes then?”

“Sure, whatever. Fine.”

She smiled, “Best day ever. She’s my hero.”

Evans rolled his eyes, “Ugh. So, what’s your name?”

“Private Pollard. My friends call me Polly.”

“Alright Pollard, with me. And I’m Lance Corporal Evans.”

The two then walked back to the section of line where Captain Kestel was in. She was lying down, attempting to sleep when Evans tapped her on the shoulder. She rolled to face him, “What Lance? Got a Blanket.”

Polly smiled and held it up, “It’s my blanket Lady. I’m so honored to meet you. I’m Ann. Polly. I mean Private Pollard Ma’am”

The Captain nodded, “Thank you very much Private Pollard. I will return this if I am able.” She scribbled a quick note into her notebook, ripped it out, and handed it to Evans, “Give this to her commanding officer.”

“Yes Cap,” Evans stuffed the paper into his pocket and looked to Pollard, “Can you show me where your officer is?”

She nodded and started walking, “It is a bit weird with him though, I’m temporarily attached to the Miner’s as a security detail, so we might have to go underground to find him.”

“Right, At least we’ll be out of the rain, eh?” Evans gestured back to the recent shell hole.

“Yes indeed. I would rather be in your company though, under the command of Lady Demetria.”

Evans shrugged, “Eh, sometimes, I have to deal with annoying people who treat my officer like an animal at a zoo.”

Polly mocked him a little then pointed to the entrance to a tunnel, “Here we go. We need to find a Captain Stoddart. He’s a bit crazy, but he’s a good officer.”

Evans paused, “Wait, Winston Stoddart the Third?”

“Yeah? You know him?”

“He was my platoon leader before Captain Kestel. And he’s a good officer now?”

“Yeah, He really knows a lot about mining and really passionate about rocks. Sometimes, during our special meetings, we won’t even do anything, he’ll just talk about the different rocks he encountered while mining. Plus there’s this weird thing called Uniformi… something. And that is wrong according to him? It’s all really complicated.”

“Uniformitarianism is not wrong, it is just flawed Polly. Everyone treats it like gradualism is the only way, while I am here, digging through what is obviously evidence that Catastrophism is somewhat right. Now of course in a few weeks it will all be blown to Hell. Which is of course even more evidence that Geology happens fast sometimes. I’m about to make a huge crater that would take erosion untold millennia to make. I did most of my research out here until my Professor told me to knock it off and not make waves,” Captain Stoddart paused and stared at Evans for a few seconds, “Private Evans?”

“Lance Corporal Evans Sir. I have a message from Captain Kestel regarding Private Pollard’s blanket Sir. Captain Kestel has requisitioned it for her purposes while her dugout is being excavated, and, it will be returned as soon as possible,” Evans held out the piece of paper to Captain Stoddart, “Here it is Sir, signed by the Captain herself.”

“Very Well Lance Corporal,” He smiled, “I should like to meet her sometime, her families land has some interesting structures from the Carboniferous that I have wanted to look at.”

“Right Sir, Am I dismissed?”

“Yes Lance Corporal,” Captain Stoddart gestured to Private Pollard, “Now that your up Polly, I need to talk about something.”

Change Over

“I’ll take this up, right Ma’am?” Evans hoisted the Captain’s Kit Bag onto his shoulder.

Nodding, She finished up the handing over checklist, “Yes James, and make sure Lieutenant Gates does a proper takeover, I do not want arrive only to find that we have no shovels or something.”

“Very Well Captain,” He walked up the stairs and made his way down the line. Luckily, the shelling was rather light that night flares weren’t even doing their normal criss cross, and Evans could see the stars in the sky. He was jealous of those lucky bastards coming off the line through the underground sap though. No chance of snipers or machine guns. And unless they got a direct hit, no problem from artillery. At least those fuckers didn’t get to see the stars. He did wish he could smoke right now. Nothing better than smoking on a cold night looking at the stars. Stupid artillery spotters.

It took a few minutes, but he found the dugout. Evans walked down the stairs and set down Captain Kestel’s bag. He saluted the Captain in the dugout, “Sir.”

“You from the 202nd lad?”

“Yes Captain, is Lieutenant Gates not here yet?”

“No lad, you mind popping out to look for him? He was supposed to be here a few minutes ago,” The Captain tapped his clipboard, “And this takes a bit of time.”

Evans nodded, “Alright Captain. Mind if I leave Captain Kestel’s bag here?”

“That’s fine lad. Now go get that Gates fellow. I am Captain Thompson by the way.”

Evans ran back up the stairs and started to track down the Lieutenant. He ran back up towards Fox Company and looked around for anyone in First Platoon. How the Hell was he supposed to find the Lieutenant? These were confusing enough as is without having to look for someone.

He eventually found a Sergeant from First Platoon, “Sergeant, do you know where Lieutenant Gates is?”

“Isn’t he at the new position?” She screwed up her face, “The Lady told him to get down there. Wait, aren’t you her kid?”

“I’m her assistant, yes. And Lieutenant Gates is a bit lost. Or dead.”

“Hope he isn’t dead, we’re starting to get a reputation for losing officers. Shit, it will be really bad when the Lady kicks it.”

Shrugging, Evans ran back through the communication trenches until he saw a Lieutenant looking at a map, “Sir!”

“Evans?” Lieutenant Gates folded his map and put it away, “Would you happen to know where I am supposed to be?”

“Yes Lieutenant, the Captain you have a meeting with sent me.”

“Damn, this is so embarrassing, can you not tell the Lady about us?”

Evans gestured towards the second line, “Shall we Lieutenant?”

“Alright Lance, Thank you very much.”

The two started walking down the communications trench. The artillery started to get heavier, so Evans started to crouch lower. They approached Captain Thompson’s dugout. A quiet whistle started to come over the rest of the artillery. Evans turned around and dived onto Lieutenant Gates.

There was a deafening roar followed seconds later by a shower of dirt and timber.

The Lieutenant laughed, “A bit forward, but it is nice to know someone else shares my view on romance. Now, take me to that meeting.”

Evans got stood up and shook the dirt off of him. He then extended his hand and helped up the Lieutenant. When he walked around the corner to Captain Thompson’s dugout, it was gone. That whole section of line had been replaced with a large crater.

“Oh fuck,” Evans pulled out his shovel, ran to where the entrance was and started to dig. Lieutenant Gates ran up next to him and started throwing pieces of timber out of the crater.

Another Lieutenant ran in, “Dan! Dan! Fuck! You There! Sergeant! I need a team here! Now! Captain Thompson’s dugout has been hit!”

Lieutenant Gates stepped back when the team came in to start digging. They kept digging until Evans hit something squishy. Rubbery. Not again. He felt the revulsion from that first week in the trenches those long months before.

Stumbling backwards, Evans started to vomit. The team dragged out what was left of Captain Thompson’s body. Lieutenant Gates helped Evans up, “Tell Captain Kestel that Captain Thompson and the dugout have been blown asunder.”

“Yes… Sir? What does asunder mean?”

“It means apart. What are you, a farmer?”

“Yes sir I am sir.”

Lieutenant Gates nodded, “Right, I forget sometimes. Tell her I am doing the hand over with one of their surviving Lieutenants.”

“Yes Sir,” Evans ran back up to Captain Kestel’s dugout. He ran down to the bottom and saluted. The Captain looked away from the incoming Lieutenant and saluted.

“What do you need Lance?”

“Lieutenant Gates sent me. Captain Thompson was killed before we could talk to him. He is talking to one of the surviving Lieutenants. Your kit bag was also lost Ma’am. The dugout was ‘Blown Asunder’”

“I guess Gates was the one used that term, but very well, get Sergeant Gabriel’s team to try and dig it out again. Also, build me a wall scrape just in case.”

Raid

The party was gathered at the end of the sap. Captain Kestel was looking at her watch. Evans looked at the pistol in his left hand. He slid it back into its holster and hefted the trench club. Hopefully he wouldn’t have to use either. He felt a tap on his shoulder. He looked up and Captain Kestel nodded. He turned around and tapped Corporal Giuliano on the shoulder. She turned and continued the chain.

Shells started to rain down on the Vledscan line. Three quarters explosive, the rest smoke. Distracting machine gun fire opened up to the right, hopefully drawing the attention of any Vledscan soldiers on watch. Two flares went up a bit further down the line to add to the confusion

The Captain then disappeared over the edge of the sap. Evans quickly followed. Slowly the party worked their way towards the bunker, dashing from shell hole to shell hole. They got halfway there when the Captain stopped. She looked back and whispered, “Long flat up ahead. About ten meters. Evans first, Lewis second, Tiscornia third, Giuliano fourth, Riley Fifth. The rest of us will stay here and provide fire if need be. You have all the equipment, so you should be able to set the charges in place. Move.”

Taking a deep breath, Evans drew his pistol. He wasn’t really sure why. It wouldn’t help him in any way. He scrambled over the top and sprinted as fast as he could. He dove down and took a deep breath. Lewis dropped in behind him with the bag of explosives. Tiscornia came across with the wire and smiled. There was a burst of machine gun fire and Giuliano tumbled in.

Tiscornia’s eyes widened, “Marie? Marie?”

“Ow. That hurt a bit.” Giuliano stared blankly at the stars

Riley dove in next with the blasting machine, “Oh shit.”

Lewis started to pat down Giuliano, “She’s hit in the chest. Very Bad.”

“She’ll be alright?” Tiscornia leaned next to Lewis.

“I do not know.”

“Dom?” Giuliano stared through Tiscornia, “I love you.”

Tiscornia snapped, “Lewis, you’re a pastor. Can you marry us?”

“What?”

“Marie, will you marry me?”

“Of course. You might be a widow soon though.”

Lewis looked at the two, “I can do this quickly. Riley, can you try and patch up the Corporal?”

“Alright Pastor,” Riley put down the machine and started to apply gauze to Giuliano’s wounds.

“Lance Corporal. I mean Dominic. Do you take this woman to be your wife?”

“Yes.”

“Marie, do you take this man to be your husband?”

“I do.”

“I know pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride.”

Tiscornia bent over and kissed Giuliano. He then grabbed the bag of explosives and plugged one end of the wire in. With a quick motion, he drew the pistol from Giuliano’s holster, “I’ll be borrowing this honey.”

Hefting the bag, he rolled over the top.

There was a beat.

Evans blinked.

“Oh Fuck,” Evans poked his head over the edge of the shellhole. Tiscornia was running as fast as he could while trailing the wire behind him. Evans saw the Tiscornia disappear into the bunker and heard four muffled gunshots.

A few seconds later, Tiscornia emerged from the bunker and sprinted low. He tumbled over as a bullet caught him in the leg. Tiscornia then dragged himself slowly towards the shellhole and rolled in. He looked at Giuliano, “You’re right, bullets hurt.”

Giuliano coughed, “I told you so. Riley. Do it quickly.”

Riley nodded and connected the end of the wire to the blasting machine. She raised up the plunger and slammed it back down. An explosion ripped through the air.

Evans poked his head back up. The bunker had been ripped apart. Machine guns from both sides started to strafe back and forth over the bunker.

Giuliano spoke up, her voice slowly getting softer, “Riley and Lewis, Help Dom run along. Evans, I am afraid that I can’t really walk right now, so can you carry me?”

“Yes Corp.”

“Right. Riley and Lewis, move out now. Evans and I will join you in a moment.”

The two Privates nodded and put Tiscornia’s arms over their shoulders and ran across. The machine guns didn’t seem to notice them. Evans bent down to pick up Giuliano. The warmth of her blood was somewhat of a surprise to Evans as it trickled down the back of his neck. He then stumbled as fast as he could towards the shellhole the Captain was in. He slid into the hole and looked around.

Rifle grenades started to fall nearby. Captain Kestel drew her pistol, “I’ll provide cover with my pistol. Fall back to the sap. I’ll come back once this fire dies down.”

Evans put the Corporal down slowly, “Ma’am. I should stay with you.”

“If you insist James. Nazarri, take the Corporal with you,” She shrugged, and pulled a cylinder out of her greatcoat, “I’ve got one smoke. Evans, want to toss it?”

“Yes Ma’am,” Evans grabbed the grenade and pulled the pin. He ran up the edge of the shellhole and threw it onto what looked like an open flat. It shot out and slowly billowed. He waited for the rifle team to leave and then pulled his pistol and fired it wildly towards the Vledscan line. The Captain joined him and they fired until empty. The machine guns focused on the pair, while the rifle team escaped unmolested.

Three white flairs went up and rifle grenades started to rain down. The Captain and Evans slid down to the bottom of the shellhole and waited. After about an hour, the fire died down. The Captain looked at Evans, “Shall we?”

“Alright Cap. To the sap?”

“To the sap,” She climbed to the edge, “Last one there is a rotten egg.” She then vaulted over and started sprinting. Evans followed a few seconds later and ran as fast as he could machine gun fire started to whiz past. Shrugging, he drew his pistol and fired blindly as he ran. A bullet slammed into the pistol and shot it out of his hand. “Holy Fuck!” He kept running. He eventually slid into the sap moments after the Captain. He stared at her and burst out laughing, “Shit that was a rush. I did lose the pistol though.”

The Captain put on a serious face, “You dare use that language in the presence of a Lady?” She laughed, “Let us head back James.”

“Yeah, le…” Evans paused and listened, there was a whistle. Evans knocked the Captain to the ground and attempted to cover her with his body as much as possible. The shell burst and Evans felt a few impacts onto his back. He patted his back, feeling where shrapnel had embedded in his haversack. He looked into the Captain’s face, her eyes, which were centimeters from his, twinkling under the light of the flares. He whispered, “You alright Captain?”

She smiled, “No, there is this guy on top of me and he’s really heavy.” The Captain laughed, “Also, I think you pushed me onto some barbed wire.”

“Sorry Cap,” He nodded towards the newly formed shell hole, “That was one of ours that fell short. We should wait a bit in case they haven’t adjusted their range.”

The Captain looked at him, accidentally hitting his nose with hers, “Can you move then James?”

“I’d rather have a shell hit you than me Cap. All the other Orderlies will make fun of me if I get you killed,” He bit the air in front of her face, “Ooh, if I kill you, will I become a Duke?”

“Ugh, You should know this. One, I am not the Duchess yet, and two, if I was, that is not how titles pass down. Think, if I killed you, would I become a poor peasant farmer?”

“Damn, it would have been a cool surprise for Anna, ‘Hey Honey, I’m home on leave, also, I am now the Duke of Medway.’”

Another Ethslin shell burst nearby. The Captain craned her head back to see where it hit, “Back in the good old days, I could have you beheaded for all this. You tackled me, you refused to let me up, and now this talk of assassination. Actually, I might be able to get you executed if I really push it.”

Evans shrugged, “I think they’re done Ma’am. Let’s scram.”