Barrage

The listening sap was about fifty meters from the Vledscan line. Evans looked at Captain Ricci. He could just see her under the flickering light of a star shell. Her face had been darkened with mud. She was gripping her pistol tightly in her right hand. Her left hand was in the haversack that held her camera. She was wearing a bit of a motley uniform. A regular helmet, with her Captain’s insignia. She had an Enlisted jacket with her Officer’s insignia hastily sewed on. A scarf and goggles around her neck She had a bandolier over her jacket, mostly with extra magazines, but in the bottom it had a loop that held a smaller folding camera that she had taught Evans to use. She wore high cavalry boots with leggings tucked in. And, oddly enough, she still wore the officer’s skirt. Evans whispered to her, “Ma’am, I’ve been wondering all the way down here, Why the skirt? You’re out of uniform everywhere else.”

“It started off as a way to mock the uniform, but at this point, it’s become expected of me. Plus, it’s like a good luck charm,” She shrugged, “And it probably confuses the hell out of the enemy.”

Evans shrugged. The two sat for a few minutes listening to distant gunfire. Captain Ricci glanced at her watch and took out her camera.

The thunder rolled.

He could hear the shriek of shells overhead followed by sudden bursts. Looking up, he saw… well… What he imagined Hellfire was. A burst of burning white acicular flames. Other shells burst on the ground spreading burning white smoke. He looked at Captain Ricci. She was poking her head over the crater with her larger camera. She slid the camera back into the haversack and whispered “Protection on.”

Reaching to his neck, he slid his goggles over his eyes. He wrapped the scarf around his face, covering any exposed skin. Then he pulled his gloves on and clipped them onto his jacket sleeves.

“On.”

“Weapons ready.”

Auto Gun was ready with one in the chamber. He tapped the Pistol in the holster. Yep. He checked the quick release latch on his haversack filled with… grenades. Good. Shovel was well in place too. Fuck this was really happening.

“Ready.”

The barrier barrage started up. It was forming a corridor of constant artillery fire around the section of trench ahead of the pair. About 100 meters to their right, about 100 meters to their left, and a 150 meters ahead. Not much margin of error.

If only he were allowed to smoke.

“NOW!” Captain Ricci shouted over the roar of shellfire.

Evans took in a deep breath and dashed forward. It had been a while since he paid a visit to Hell.

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Armory

“So this is the armory,” Captain Ricci said as she opened the steel door, “Take whatever you want Sergeant.”

Evans looked around the room. To his right was a rack of Standard Ethslin Rifles, the most commonly issued firearm of the Ethslin Army. Next to that were a few Blaire Auto Guns, a kind of machine gun that was light and fired pistol rounds. It was across from the Automatic Ethslin Rifle, about the heaviest gun a single person could operate and still be able to run with. It fired rifle rounds as fast as a machine gun, but still could be carried on the attack. There were also a few Frost Guns, the standard issue pump action shotgun of the Ethslin Army. There were also a few Bennet Pistols in a cabinet.

There were a few that Evans couldn’t identify. He looked at Captain Ricci, “What’s the other rifle?”

“New, just introduced last month. It’s… Semi Automatic. That means every time you pull the trigger, it shoots one bullet, then automatically cycles the next, but you still have to pull the trigger again to shoot again. Like with a Bennet.”

“And what are those SER’s with the weird bolt?”

“A failure of sorts. It’s a bolt redesign that fires Semi Automatic. But it fires pistol rounds. So while it is more accurate than an Auto Gun, it’s larger and heavier. And while it fires faster than an SER, it isn’t as accurate and is prone to jamming. Plus it’s damn expensive.”

“And the–”

“Yeah that was a terrible idea. We’ve been testing it the last few weeks and it is a hard no. It’s a cut down Blaire Medium Machine Gun, with air cooling and a harness to go over your shoulder and an attachment for a box containing the ammo belts. So it would constantly overheat, and only about the strongest people could fire it at a target. They could stumble forward slowly, but only on flat, hard ground. Reloading on the move is basically impossible without help. And Joshua forbid you take fire while carrying this fucking thing. The only reason we’re still testing it is because some fucking General’s kid is a wannabe inventor and we can’t just dismiss it outright. My orders were to basically keep this “in trials” until he gets distracted by someone else. They were tested in Newacre, but the guy kept hanging around the testing facility.”

“And the big metal boxes?”

“Grenades. We’ve got a few types. First is the regular five second fuse shrapnel. Second is impact. It goes off once it hits the ground, but it can be a bit finicky. Third is Incendiary Grenades, which are a no. Could be confusing in the pictures. Fourth are Concussion. They don’t chuck shrapnel, three second fuse. They have to land close to someone to work though.”

“Alright then. I’ll just go with the Auto Gun, a Bennet, and regular old Shrapnel bombs. Don’t want to accidentally blow myself up with any fancy new Bombs.”

“You know they’re called grenades. At least officially.”

“Yes Ma’am. I’ll use your fancy name Captain.”

“It’s not my name, it’s just proper language Sergeant,” She paused, then said, “Do you know how to operate a camera Sergeant?”

Evans shook his head, “No Ma’am. We don’t have much of that fancy stuff out in Halton”

“Very Well then. I’ll have to make sure not to die then.”

Artillery

“Is there a Sergeant James Evans here?”

Evans yawned. He took his feet off the desk and stood up, “Yes Corporal. What you need?”

“You’ve been specially requested for a mission.”

“What’s it about? Do you have the paperwork?” Evans was kind of confused.

“This is top secret and I can’t tell you more than that.”

“We’ll have to wait for Major Kestel to come back. Or at least someone else who can talk to the Major.”

The Corporal sighed, pulled out a notepad, scrawled a quick note, and dropped it on Major Kestel’s desk, “Alright. I left a note. Now can you come with me. This is Time Sensitive.”

“OK Corporal,” Evans stood up, put on his helmet, and reached for his rifle.

“You won’t need that. We will supply you with something better.”

“Alright then Corporal. If you say so.”

Evans followed the Corporal out of the dugout. He saw Major Kestel coming in. He saluted, “Major!”

“Evans. Where are you off to?” Major Kestel returned the salute.

The Corporal answered for him, “Sergeant Evans has been requested for a special mission. He will be returned as soon as possible.”

“I did not receive any request forms. I need more warning if I am to give up an important member of my staff.”

“Your Grace, you do not have the clearance for this. I can’t give you any information about why Sergeant Evans is needed and why you haven’t been given warning. I can only say that this is a request in name only. If my Captain wants something, she will get it. I have… “ the Corporal reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a sheet of paper and handed it to Major Kestel, “Is this enough for you?”

Major Kestel handed back the paper in somewhat of a shock, “James.” She hugged Evans, “Stay Safe.” She looked back at the Corporal, “Fine. Take him then Corporal.”

“Very Well Ma’am,” The Corporal then led Evans up the trench line until they reached a dugout by one of the artillery batteries. They started to go down. This dugout was deeper than any Evans had ever seen. When they reached the bottom, there was a large steel door. The Corporal knocked three times. A slat on the door opened. The Corporal said, “Swordfish.”

The steel door swung open. Evans entered the dugout. The dugout was heavily reinforced. Communication lines criss crossed the room. He could hear the clacking of dozens of typewriters. In the center of the room, a Captain stood receiving a report. She wore the skirt of a staff officer, a rare sight for someone this far forward. She turned around to face Evans and the Corporal. The face was familiar.

The Corporal saluted, “I’ve brought Sergeant Evans Ma’am.

Evans saluted, “Captain Ricci.”

Captain Ricci returned the salute, “Good to see you Evans. I’m going to guess that you’re wondering why you’re here.”

“Yes Ma’am.”

“Well follow me,” Captain Ricci led him to a side office. She sat down behind her desk. Evans sat across from her. She reached into a drawer, pulled out a file, and handed it to Evans.

He started to look through it. It was filled with information about him. From promotion dates to citations to small news articles mentioning him.

“I’ve been following your career since we last met. Impressive. Now. I need you to do something for me,” Captain Ricci pulled another file out of her desk and handed it to Evans. Leafing through it, he saw pictures burning buildings, artillery shells, and strange diagrams with words Evans didn’t understand.

“It’s a new kind of Artillery Shell. It burns… well everything. We’ve tested it on various buildings and mock trenches, but… Well… Not people. For obvious reasons. That’s going to change tomorrow evening. We’re going to bombard a front about three kilometers North of here. Afterwards, I need to dash in there and take pictures of the damage. I need a guard, which is why you’re here.

“Why me Ma’am? You seem to have plenty of staff.”

“Well, my staff is great, but most of them haven’t fired a rifle since training. I have by far the most front line experience of anyone on my staff. So I’m outsourcing to you. Because I trust you, and you have experience. We aren’t bringing a full team with me because this needs to be fast.”

 

Working Party

“Alright, two teams. Penn, you take Mason, Carter, Brooks, Walker, and George. Reilly, you have Simpson, Russell, Thompson, Davies, and Bradley. Reilly, your team is going to be carrying supplies. Penn, your team is going to do the actual repairs. We’ve been assigned to help 3rd Battalion 137th. We’ll start with the Battalion headquarters. Reilly, go to the 137th staging area and grab tools and sandbags the bring them to where the rest of the party is. Penn, follow me.” Both Lance Corporals responded in the affirmative. Penn’s team then followed Evans down the trench until they ran into a Lieutenant. Evans Saluted, “Sergeant Evans Sir. With the working party from the 202nd.”

The Lieutenant returned the salute, “Good Sergeant. You can start on this communication trench here.”

“Very Well Lieutenant,” Evans turned around and looked to Penn, “Alright, get the kids to start clearing the trench of the debris. Just dump them outside of the trench.”

Penn turned around to the privates, “Alright, start clearing. Any questions?”

Carter raised his hand, “You’re Sergeant Evans?”

“Yes Private.”

“The invincible Sergeant Evans who saved the Duchess’s life multiple times and has several MoE’s?”

“The Sergeant Evans who will make sure you are on Latrine duty for the next few months if you don’t start working right now.”

“Yes Sergeant,” The privates started to clear the trench.

Evans took Penn to the side, “Keep your eye on the guy who asked that dumb question.”

“Isn’t that true Sergeant?”

“Yeah, but you aren’t supposed to ask a Sergeant something like that. It’s dumb. I’m not supposed to be their friend.”

“Fair enough Sergeant,” Penn sighed, “So, any suggestions on leadership Sergeant?”

“Be decisive. I’ve seen a lot of people killed because their NCO’s or Officers can’t decide what to do. A somewhat shitty decision now is better than a perfect decision when you only have five people because everyone else is dead.”