Trench Attack Training

First Company was in the trench, ready for the “defense.” Magazines were loaded with blanks, shovels tucked into belts, and, at the insistence of Chief Jackson, Wooden bayonets fixed. Evans could see Second and Third Company waiting for the order. In addition to the blanks and wooden bayonets, each soldier had a practice grenade, and every third soldier had a haversack to carry three more of them.

The practice grenade was new, When Evans was in basic training, the practice grenades were really just potatoes that an officer had requisitioned, and most soldiers had just saved them to eat. The practice grenades all had five second timers that, when depleted, would use a spring to launch a streamer, to signify that the nearest people were now dead. Politics probably also played into this though, the Naval Infantry were the cool new thing and the landings were supposed to be the decisive action of the war.

What the attackers and defenders didn’t know, was that Polly and Evans had stayed up most of the night into the stand-to wiring the entire field with explosives. They wouldn’t cause much damage, just make some craters and throw some dirt into the air. It should shock everyone though, and help the soldiers get used to the sound of explosions.

Major Kestel looked at her watch. One minute to go. She nodded to Polly, who was standing at the  blasting machine. Polly raised the plunger and pushed it down again. There were a few silent seconds before all the explosions went off. The field between the trench and the attacking troops was filled with newly created holes. The attacking officers started to blow into their whistles. The somewhat stunned soldiers started to advance. They walked, in a single line, trying to keep spacing. The soldiers in the trench started firing on their Lieutenenat’s orders. Evans looked at the Major, who was furiously taking down notes. Polly was laughing. Warrant Officer Wright walked over to Evans, “What’s going on?”

“It looks like the troops are trying to fight like they have muskets,” Evans pointed to the attackers, “They are moving way too slow, are way too close together, and are attacking in a line.” He then pointed to the trench, “And over there, we have the soldiers depending on Lieutenant Bridges to shoot. What if he gets killed? Will Chief… Ah…” Evans snapped his fingers, “Lorenzo take over? And when Lorenzo gets hit? And what if someone sees a higher priority target? Do they wait to shoot them and hope the officer doesn’t take cover? The soldiers are also standing up to high above the parapet. I mean, in this case, the attackers would definitely lose in this case, a machine gun could easily sweep the entire line. Then everyone will be dead. The attackers should be dashing from hole to hole and keeping in cover, trying to make sure that they are seen for the shortest amount of time possible. Of course, in a real attack they should be under the cover of artillery fire.”

“Ah,” the Warrant Officer shrugged, “So our basic training is a bit shit?”

“Yep,” Evans looked back at the attack, “But hopefully we can fix this up and not all get killed in the first five minutes.”

 

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Battalion Meeting

“Hello,” Evans talked into the weird ball of metal netting and was a bit shocked to hear his voice amplified, “I’m Corporal James Evans, MoE Fourth Class. I’ve been temporarily attached to this battalion to work with your Petty Officers as an instructor and Major Kestel’s orderly. We’ll stay with you guys until Newacre decides we can go home. So… I guess to start off, a little history about me. I’ve been in the Army over two years now. Sort of. There’s a bit of discrepancy in the paperwork because I was officially declared dead for six months of that time. And I’ve fought at White Beach, Urbs, and the Northern Gate. Um… Not good at speeches. I’m also from Halton if anyone’s heard of it.

“I have the honor of introducing your new commanding officer. I’m… I am very sure you all know of her. I have been her orderly off and on for the past year and served under her for most of my career as a rifleman. So… Well…” Evans pulled the scroll out from his back pocket and unrolled it onto the podium, “I am most honored to present The Most Beautiful, Marriageable Lady Demetria Kestel, Heiress to the Duchy of Medway, Major attached to the 1st Naval Infantry Regiment, Medal of Ethslin Third Class, who sheathed her blade inside Baron Semyon of Kalach at Urbs.”

Evans rolled up the scroll, turned right, and walked to a seat in the front row. Major Kestel walked into the room and stepped up to the podium. The gathered Battalion stood to attention, “You may be seated.” She waited a moment for everyone to sit down,  “As the Corporal said, I am Major Demetria Kestel. I have been assigned to lead your Battalion by an interservice program. The purpose of the program is to provide the Naval Infantry with experienced officers. Why do you need experienced officers? Well, in about a month, the Naval Infantry will be taking part of the largest amphibious operation ever devised. We will be landing in the south of Vledsco. The operation will have two waves. We will be in the first wave, in charge of securing a beachhead for the larger second wave, coming a few hours later. Our battalion is expected to push forward, scale the cliffs, and set up a trench line at either half a kilometer from the beach, or at the first heavy resistance.

“Our training over the next three weeks will consist of intense training in trench digging, hand to hand fighting, climbing, moving under fire, and all the other skills you will need to have a chance of surviving. Every evening there will be a lecture in here that will apply to the next days training. Most of these lectures are by Myself or Corporal Evans, but a few are by experienced Officers and Sergeants that are willing to give up part of their leave to train you. After these three weeks, we will take part in two practice landings before finally boarding our ships to earn our place in eternity.

“But tonight, we are going to have a shorter meeting. I will just be explaining tomorrow’s training. Roll Call will be at 530, full battle kit. Your platoon leaders will pass out rifles on your way out of the barracks. Stand-to will be after that until fifteen minutes after dawn. We will then dig trenches until breakfast at nine. At 930, we will go back to digging trenches until 11. At 11, we will practice trench attack and defence, with one company holding the trench and the other two attacking. At 3, we will do a practice barrage. At 4, we will have PT. At 445 we will have dinner. At 5 we will have Stand-To until 15 minutes after dusk. Meeting once Stand-To is over and platoon leaders get to decide what happens after that.

“So, that is it. Everyone not listed now will return to their platoon barracks,” Major Kestel pulled out a notepad and read off the names, “Lieutenants Carter, Cooper, Bridges, Jones, and Hope. Apprentice Warrant Officers Wright and Ferri. Senior Chief Belluci and Chiefs Lorenzo, Jackson, and Edison. All of you come with Corporal Evans and I. Alright. Dismissed.”

 

Major Kestel was sitting at the head of the table, Evans next to her writing in his notebook.

“First off, Since we will not have a trench yet, Stand-To will be in the same field as roll call with everyone lying down. Chiefs, Corporal Evans, and Private Stoddart will inspect up and down the line to make sure everyone is proper. Evans, could you explain the proper way to Stand-To?”

“Yes Ma’am,” Evans stood up and started to get in position when he looked at Major Kestel, “May I have your scabbard for a moment Ma’am?”

Major Kestel unclipped the scabbard from her belt and handed it to Evans. Evans held it like a rifle and faced the group, “So, first off, note how I’m looking somewhat past the sights. I’m not focusing on a specific target, I’m scanning the area in front of me. I do have the rifle ready to fire though. Your head should be as low as possible while still being able to see, preferably aiming through a loophole. For tomorrow morning, just make sure everyone is as low as possible. My middle finger is also the one on the trigger. This way my pointer finger can be on the bolt, so I can fire another shot as quickly as possible. Another important thing is that shovels should be readily accessible for fighting. Bayonets should not be fixed unless there is a trench breach.”

“Corporal Evans,” a Chief stood up, “Chief Jackson. Doctrine states that bayonets should be fixed to defend against an attack, and that’s how we’ve been drilling the battalion.”

“Thank you Chief, but bayonets are more cumbersome to aim with in combat, and not that useful if someone drops into the trench next to you. It might be better for open combat, but in a trench, it’s pretty much only good for clearing long stretches. It’s best to use your shovel to hack into the neck. This also leaves your rifle open for use in fighting.”

 

Settling In

Evans dropped his kit next to the bunk bed in the corner of the tent. The top bunk was already made neatly and a kit was stowed underneath. He then trudged over to the much nicer cot on the other side of the tent and set down Major Kestel’s much heavier kit. The Major wouldn’t be arriving for a few more hours, so he could take his time unpacking her clothes, making her bed, and setting up her desk.

There was a knock on the door of the tent. Evans smiled. That should be the Private, who Evans could probably get to have them make the bed while he set up the desk. He walked over to the door and opened it.

“Polly?”

“Uh… Corporal… Evanston?

“Close, Evans.”

“Right… Shit. Sorry, I’ve only met you like twice.”

“Yeah, no problem…” Evans gestured for her to come into the tent, “So what the hell are you doing out here with the Ligurian Army?”

“Ah,” Polly smiled nervously, “Well, Remember the whole thing with Captain Stoddart?”

“Yes? Did he finally get tired of you and transfer you out here?”

“No,” She smiled, “Actually we got discovered… By someone important… So I was transferred to act as a Liaison to the Naval Infantry. Because I guess I’m embarrassing… On the plus side we were able to get married. Though he was supposed to marry someone less… poor.”

“Oh come on, thats ridiculous.”

“Oh no,” Polly shook her head, “Thats what Winny’s father said. Very loudly. When I was in the room. He also told Winny that if he wanted money for ‘whores like her’ he should have asked. So… Needless to say, his family didn’t come to our wedding.”

“Well shit…” Evans walked over to the bed and dumped out the Major’s kit onto the floor, “So Polly can you make the Major’s bed and organize her closet while I set her desk up?”

“Yes Corp,” Polly walked over to the bed and paused over the pile of the Major’s belongings. She bent down and started to put something into her pocket.

Evans snapped at her, “Polly. Don’t steal Major Kestel’s underwear. That’s weird.”

“Put think of all the money I could make from selling this!” Polly pulled it out of her pocket and folded it, “Plus I’d own something that used to belong to a noble person.”

“Aren’t you technically a noble person?”

Standing up, Polly put her hands on her hips and screwed up her face, “Huh… I guess you’re right.” She smiled, “So can I order you around now?”

“That’s not how the Army works Private. So go make that bed or you’ll be a Lady doing a hundred pushups….” Evans paused, “Wait, I remember talking with Major Kestel once, I think she said that you aren’t a Lady until Captain Stoddart is Second in line for his House. So you aren’t even a Lady anyways.”

“Dammit. I guess I’ll have to make her fucking bed then. But someday when the war is over and Winny is the Lord of Halsey, I will tell you what to do!”

“I’m from Halton. We’re a Free Town in the Duchy of Strongfield. That means we bow down to no mere Lords. We threw off the yoke of our Lord like six hundred years ago. Until, you know, when the Duke of Strongfield came in and took us over. But, in the town charter, it says that no Lord nor Lady shall enter Halton”

“Of course you’re a Strongy,” Polly picked up the sheets, “I’m surrounded by Ligurians, under the direct command of a Westerner and in a Battalion commanded by a Medwayan. Who would’ve thought that I’d miss being surrounded by Miners?”

“Yeah, you’re no longer special here. You were the one infantryman, the one girl, the girlfriend of the officer.”

“There were several other women in the Miners! I know you at least met Breezy and Brynn.”

Evans laughed as he slid a cabinet out, “It’s an old joke out West. ‘Join Lord Mitchell’s Mining Company. Where the Men are Men and the Women are also Men.’ There are also much cruder jokes along those lines.”

“True enough.”

“Hey, other thing, you’ve been with the Battalion for a few days, right?”

“Yeah,” Polly nodded as she tightened the hospital corners.

“Have you figured out the rank system yet? Before she went to her meeting, Major Kestel saluted someone and said, ‘Morning Captain.’”

“Oh God they are ridiculous here. Captain is the same as Colonel, except when you’re on a ship. Then Captain is anyone who is commanding the ship. But also still anyone with the Colonel level rank. Then Commander is a Lieutenant Colonel, Lieutenant Commander is Major, a Lieutenant is a Captain, and an Ensign is a Lieutenant. Then they have these things called Warrant Officers that are between Officers and Enlisted. You don’t have to salute them but I think you still call them Sir. Maybe. Then the Enlisted are even dumber.”

Polly sighed and then started counting on her fingers, “Master Chief Petty Officers are Regimental Sergeant Majors, Senior Chief Petty Officers are Battalion Sergeant Majors, and Chief Petty Officers are Company Sergeant Majors. But you actually have to say the Chief stuff. Next are Petty Officers. Petty Officer First Class is a Sergeant, Petty Officer Second Class is Corporal, and Petty Officer Third Class is Lance Corporal. Able Seaman is a more experienced Private such as myself, and Seaman is a less experienced Private. Also no they don’t appreciate jokes.” Polly paused for a moment, “Then it gets stupider. You never actually say Petty Officer. Every Petty Officer has something called a rating that replaces the Petty Officer part. You can tell them apart by their different hats and when they’re wearing helmets they have little badges on their shoulder boards. I mostly just hide from anyone who’s above Able Seaman so I don’t have to try.”

 

Reunited

“Evans?” Tiscornia walked over and slapped Evans on the back, “I guess you really are immortal… Does Zwev?”

“Yeah, I was given a week at home. She’s apparently due for another kid soon, and our little daughter is doing well,” Evans paused, and stared at his feet. The worst part about coming back, “So… I guess to start, Captain Kestel?”

Tiscornia knew what was coming, “At Battalion Headquarters. Simmons is the Lieutenant Colonel now. Gates is Fox Company CO. Strummer is Colonel, and Darling is now a General.”

“Chilly?”

“Lost a leg to an artillery shell,” Tiscornia laughed softly, “The lucky bastard.”

“Giuliano?”

Tiscornia’s face dropped, “Pneumonia. Two months ago.”

“Sorry,” Evans paused a moment, “Newey?”

“Corporal now.”

“Cain?”

“Ended it in September.”

“Ustinov?”

“Sergeant in First Platoon.”

“Head?”

“Lance Corporal now.”

“Pastor?”

“Died at Northern Gate.”

“Turner?”

“Now in a machine gun team.”

“Boswell?”

“Died at Northern Gate.”

“Wesley?”

“Lost an arm at Northern Gate.”

The two stared at each other in silence. Tiscornia shrugged, hugged Evans, and squeezed, “It’s good to have you back. Now let’s talk about happier things.”

“Right,” Evans smiled, “Where’s Captain Kestel? I’d like to say hi. Maybe see if I can get my old job back.”

Tiscornia snapped his fingers, “Best idea ever. We have a Battalion Inspection in two hours. Since Captain Kestel is the XO, she’ll be leading it. Oh, and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t know you’re back yet. So what do you say? Want to surprise her?”

“Oh god the look on her face will be good,” Evans pointed back at Tiscornia, “I need the worst uniform possible. No rank, unbuttoned, lots of threads, nothing shined, and the wrong shirt. Is it a Battle Inspection?”

Tiscornia closed his eyes and thought, “Yes… Yes it is.”

“Then I’ll tip my helmet over my face so she can’t see me from the front of the formation.”

 

Evans stood somewhat uncomfortably, trying to keep his face down. Captain Kestel was walking down the line. She wasn’t really doing a complete inspection, just looking for major errors. Which Evans definitely had.

Eventually the Captain reached him, standing hidden in the far back of Second Platoon of Fox Company. She grumbled a bit and starting writing on her clipboard, “What’s your name soldier? So I can know who to give extra PT for the next month.”

Evans looked up and smiled, “Lance Corporal James Evans Ma’am. Want me to do some push ups now?”

Her face going pale, Captain Kestel dropped her clipboard, “Bu… But… You died.”

“I got better,” Evans smirked.

Captain Kestel stepped forward and hugged Evans tightly before remembering her place. She stepped back, picked up her clipboard, and made a note, “Fall out Lance Corporal, I want to see you in my office.”

Evans saluted, “Yes Ma’am.”

After Captain Kestel returned the salute, Evans took a step back, and Captain Kestel rushed forward and hugged him a second time, “Screw Protocol. I… I cannot begin to tell you how happy I am.”

When she released him, Evans left the formation and walked to the Battalion Headquarters. After about half an hour, Captain Kestel walked into her office. Evans stood up and saluted while the Captain shut the door. She smiled, tossed her helmet to the side and hugged him again, “How is this possible? Newey said you were…. You were dead.”

“It’s a long story Ma’am. In short… The last thing I remember from Northern Gate was trying to find our lines. When I woke up, I was in a Vledscan Field Hospital. I was then in a prison camp until a few weeks ago. A Vledscan soldier used me to help him defect. Then I spent a week on leave and came here.”

“So… How did Anna react to all this?”

“Well she’s pregnant again. From… uh… leave before Northern Gate. She’s due in March…” Evans’ eyes opened wide, “I just realized I’m 21. Wow. I’m old.”

“Hey,” the Captain laughed, “We are old.”

“Right,” Evans smiled, “Two things now. First, Anna said you came by personally to tell her about what… What you thought happened to me. So thanks. Even if it turned out you were wrong. Second. Um… You need an orderly?

“About the orderly position,” Captain Kestel paused, “I am leaving the Regiment soon. I have been offered a position as the Battalion commander in the Naval Infantry. It is part of a program to get experienced officers before a coming attack. I have been told I can bring an NCO to act as my orderly and to assist the battalion’s… Petty Officers I think… in developing practical combat training and work along with a Private thats already been attached to the Battalion. I was going to decline and let the army decide for me, but now that you are here… “

“I’ve never been on a boat before… Sounds exciting.”

 

Interrogation

Immediately after their daring escape through the Vledscan lines, Radek and Evans had been thrown into separate jail cells and left there. It had been two days and the only human contact he had had was the Private who brought food and water twice a day.

“James Fucking Evans?” A familiar voice yelled into the cell.

“Cadet Chambers. Officers should not use familiar language.”

Wait. Chambers? It couldn’t be.

Lucy walked into the cell, wearing an officer’s skirt, shined boots, a blouse with a rainbow tie, and red insignia showing her status as an officer cadet. She smiled, shut the door, and waved, “How’s it going Goldfish?”

“Um… I’ve been better. I just spent half a year in prison, then spent a week on the run, and now I’m in prison again. And I’m pretty sure everyone I know except for you thinks I’m dead,” Evans sighed, “On the plus side, it turns out that you aren’t dead.” He pointed to her shoulder patches, “So what’s up with this?”

She sighed, “Well, after all my surgeries were done, it ended up I could still walk. Not enough to fight, but enough to do office work. And the army wants more able bodied junior officers on the front, so they’re commissioning some injured enlisted to fill behind the lines roles. I’m now training to be an intelligence officer.”

“You’re an Intel officer?” Evans stroked his chin, “The same woman who couldn’t do basic addition?”

“But, I know Vledscan and Moravian,” She paused, “Well, I am fluent in Moravian, and I’m pretty good with Vledscan.”

“Huh, hidden depths,” Evans sat back on his cot, “Now why are you here and why am I not headed back to the 202nd?”

Lucy pulled a notepad out of her blouse and read the first page, “Um, well, it looks like they don’t believe that you are who you say you are. They think you are a spy. Because, well, you really seem like one. You claim to be from the most famous unit in the army and claim to have served under the most famous captain and claim to be a medal winner who was killed months ago. It basically looks like some idiot picked up a newspaper and read the first article they saw.”

“Well, good thing I have you here then…” Evans paused, “So what happened with Radek?”

“We have you two separated so we can compare your story. Someone else is interrogating him now. Once we determine that you two are telling the truth, we will let you go, and send Radek to be further interrogated before we let him go,” Lucy sat down next to Evans on his cot, swung around, and laid down behind him.

“And why are you hanging out in here instead of letting me go?”

“Guh…” Lucy held her legs up and attempted to touch her fingers to her toes, “It’s really boring Goldfish. Once I’m done with this I have to do like a ton of paperwork. So I’m keeping that door closed for at least two hours.”

“So what are we doing for the next two hours? You guys have kept my cell very empty.”

“Well what did we normally do back in Urbs?” She swiveled around and sat up next to Evans, “I annoyingly try and convince you to have sex with me while you stoically refuse?”

Evans sighed, “I’m still married.”

“Well you are still technically dead, and dead people can’t be married.”

“Yes, I’m sure that would go over well with Anna. ‘Yes I had sex with her, but it didn’t count because I was dead’” Evans sighed, “And wouldn’t that make you a necrophiliac?”

“A Necra what?”

“It means you have sex with dead people.”

Lucy shrugged, “I’m an officer, I could order you to do it.”

“I am very sure that’s illegal and would get you stripped of your rank and thrown in prison.”

“Well,” Lucy drummed her legs, “Because you’ve been in prison for six months, are very horny, and want to fuck your very attractive friend?”

“Wow, great point, I’m glad I married my very attractive friend so I can do that when I get home,” Evans stood up and walked to the other side of the cell, “Why am I friends with you again?”

“We’re friends because the narrative demands it,” Lucy stood up and mimed holding a pistol out, “I’m the dashingly beautiful quirky hero and you’re the bumbling sidekick.”

“Oh, you’re the hero and I’m the bumbling sidekick,” Evans started to list things on his fingers, “I’ve saved your life way more than you’ve saved mine, I have done things far more impressive than you, I have spent most of my time far away from you, and I hardly feel like a hero should repeatedly try and sleep with the bumbling sidekick.”

“But I’m an officer, and everyone knows officers are better,” Lucy put her hands on her hips, “And I fit the look of a hero. I’m beautiful, except for the tragic scar on my face,I’ve also got the right figure for it, and I can make some pretty exaggerated gestures.”

“Oh moving pictures don’t count,” Evans sighed, “Those things are just popular because of the novelty.”

“You only think that because you’re from Halton or whatever. When you get a Movie Hall your mind will change…” Lucy was interrupted by a knock on the door. She quickly calmed herself down and opened the door, “Sir!”

Evans couldn’t see the officer through the door, but could hear him, “I was updating your file and saw that you used to be in the 202nd. Is that true?”

Lucy blushed, “Um, yes Sir.”

“And did you know the Lance Corporal personally?”

“Yes Sir.”

“Is this James Evans?”

“Yes Sir.”

“Go do your paperwork Cadet,” The officer pushed past Lucy as she left the room. He was a tall Major with short, cropped, blond hair, “Sorry about the suspicion Lance Corporal. Your Regiment is in Newacre if you want to rejoin them, and I’ve given you a weeks leave before you have to get to the train. And, since this is a bit weird of a circumstance, I’ve been authorized to discharge you from service if you want.”

“I’ll take a weeks leave Sir. I just have one question Sir,” Evans paused. He wasn’t sure he wanted to hear the answer, “Is the Lady Demetria still alive?”

“Yes Lance.”