Combat

The rumbling and creaking got closer and closer. Evans’ hands gripped tighter and tighter to his rifle. He looked to his right. Howe had a terrified look on her face. He reached out with his right arm, patted her shoulder, and smiled. She looked back and tried to give a smile.

Evans looked further past Howe at Tiscornia. Tiscornia had an almost calm and accepting look on his face.

A few grenades dropped into the trench, but they were quickly taken care of. The plan was working.

This didn’t make Evans feel any better though.

Fuck.

It all happened in an instant. The Armored Beasts rolled over. Whistles blew down the line. Evans lept out of the trench. The surprised Vledscan Infantrymen were breaking formation for the fight. Evans ran his bayonet through a stunned officer. The man had glasses. He looked young. He was holding his pistol up. It hadn’t registered to him that he should fight back. Evans pulled his trigger.

Using his boot, Evans pushed the officer backwards to the ground and off his bayonet. He bolted his rifle and fired a snap shot at a soldier bringing his shovel down on an Ethslin soldier. Another Bolt. Fox Company quickly engaged the second line of advancing troops before turning around to attack the Beasts. Evans put his rifle over his shoulder, took out his shovel and ran towards the nearest one.

There was a hatch on the back. Evans put the blade of the shovel under the latch and pried it upwards. He gripped it and pulled back. Someone else dropped a grenade into the hatch. Evans pushed it shut. There were muffled terrified screams in Vledscan before the Explosion silenced them. Evans could see Major Kestel wave her sword to pull back into the trench to repulse any other waves. He looked to his right up the line, First Battalion’s line appeared to have broken. Some of the Beasts were still moving. Several red flares were shot up from beyond the second line.

Retreat.

Advertisements

Preparing for Engagement

A runner came from regimental headquarters. He talked with Major Kestel. Major Kestel nodded and turned to the unit, “Word from Brigade. Mortars are to fire as before, but from second line. We are to hide until the armored beasts get on top of us. We are then to pop out and engage the infantry that Intel says will be coming behind them. After, we are to take out any of those things nearby by opening them up and dropping grenades in. The Regiment holding the second line will be fighting. Ideally, they will take the fire from the beasts and leave us without heavy casualties. Right now, I want everyone to start digging grenade sumps. Even if they think our line is abandoned, they will likely be smart enough to drop grenades in. In about ten minutes, I will be blowing the retreat command. Do not follow this command. The other companies and Battalions are getting this order as well, so do not worry, we will not be alone out here.”

She paused for a moment and smiled, “Now, I know many of you are frightfully scared. We are about to engage in close battle with the foe. But this is not the 202nd’s first dance. To not make this a long list, I will just call to mind the Battle of the Crater. We held then. And we will hold now. So, everyone. Fix Bayonets. Prepare your entrenching tools for battle. And Lane,” She paused and looked to her personal assistant, “Fetch my saber, I believe I shall need it before the day is through.”

Evans could see the fear turn to momentary excitement. Major Kestel knew how to excite the troops. If it weren’t for her insane belief that a Noble’s place was at the front, she would have been doing a circuit of Ethslin campaigning for war bonds.

Shrugging, Evans got out his entrenching tool and started to help dig a sump along the front of the trench. Grenade Sumps were a simple thing, oft forgotten because they didn’t provide protection from the normal dangers of combat, but when the enemy attack finally came, they were invaluable. The regulation sump for a trench was 30 centimeters wide from the back of the trench, ran along the whole line, and was 50 centimeters deep. When a grenade dropped in the trench, the nearest soldier would kick the grenade into the sump. The walls would then direct the blast upwards, hopefully sparing the soldiers in the trench. If they had more time, the whole floor of the trench would be angled towards the sump, encouraging grenades to simply roll into it. But this was clearly not the time to rearrange the whole trench. With the rumbling growing louder and louder, it was very clear that the Vledscans would be at the trench within the hour. Hopefully they would fall for Brigades ruse. No way to know until it happened though.

The Ethslin Artillery Corps opened up with artillery fire once the Armored Beasts were about a kilometer out, and the second lines machine guns soon after. And, it seemed, that the return fire was directed at the second line, so the plan was somewhat working.

Now, the 202nd Infantry Regiment waited.

Rumbling

It was the morning of 24 June. Before sunrise. The barrage had ended. Major Kestel ran out of the dugout, followed my Evans. She set about inspecting the Battalion, getting ready for the inevitable attack. During the inspection of Fox Company Evans had time to quickly revisit old friends. Tiscornia was inspecting the soldiers under his command. He quickly said to Evans, “You know, my first real battle was here. Tsiv River. Would be kinda poetic if I died here eh? Then I’d get to go home. Mary. Renoir. Stanhope. Sinclair… Have I ever told you about my sister?”

“Yeah,” Evans shrugged, “You said she looks like my wife.”

“Not just looked. Acted. Just the way she carries herself. The way she talks. When I see her… It’s almost like… About a month after I joined up, on the train back to Liguria, she got a fever. A month later…. I’ll see you soon Adelina.”

Tiscornia turned back to his soldiers, who were understandably shocked overhearing this conversation. Evans tried to reassure the soldiers, “Tiscornia helped make me the soldier I am today. Pay attention to him kids and you might make it out alive…” Kids… Evans was twenty one. But these new privates looked so young. God. Was it possible that they were eighteen? They looked fifteen at best. Had he looked this young two years ago at White Beach? Fucking Hell. These were someone’s kids. In less than twenty years this could be Mary or Graham or Paul. And in a few hours they were likely to be dead.

Major Kestel waved him over. Evans was glad for the excuse to turn away. If he looked at those kids any longer he’d start crying.

She was about to tell him something when a rumbling started up over from the Vledscan lines. It sounded like hundreds of tractor engines starting up. Major Kestel moved to the edge of the trench and looked through a mounted periscope. She stepped back with a worried look on her face, “Everyone to the firestep. NOW!” She turned to two of her runners, “Move to the D and E Companies and inform their commanders of my position. Tell them Machine Guns fire at 2 clicks. Mortars at seven hundred meters. Rifles at 500. See if any of them have Charles Rifles.” She turned to a third runner, “Find out from the Colonel what the HECK those things are.”

Evans peaked over the parapet. A long line of large metal… things were spaced evenly on the horizon. Black smoke billowed from them.

He heard shouts from the soldiers of Fox Company.

“The fuck are those things?”

“We’re gonna die.”

“Oh God. Oh God.”

Evans looked at one of Tiscornia’s kids. Her hands were shaking. He stepped over to her and patted her on the back, “Hey kid, what’s your name?”

“I… I’m Anna Sir… I mean Sergeant. I mean. I’m Private Howe.”

Evans smiled and said, “No shit. My wife’s named Anna. Where you from Anna?”

Howe put on a nervous smile, ”Didcot Sergeant. It’s-”

Evans cut her off, “East of Strongfield? I’m from Halton. Must have passed through Didcot a thousand times bringing crops to market. After this blows over, we should get together and chat. Not every day you meet someone from down the road of your hometown.”

“Yes… Sergeant…”  Howe shuddered, “You’re Sergeant Evans, right Sir. I mean Sergeant.”

“Yes Anna,” Evans smiled, “What about it?”

“Is it true what they say about you Sergeant?” She stuttered, “How… How aren’t you afraid?”

There was a short blast of a whistle. Evans could see a flurry of activity around Major Kestel, but she didn’t seem to need him yet. He shrugged and dodged the second question, “What do they say about me?”

“That you-”

“Stop bothering the man Howe.”

“It’s fine Dom. I felt the same way my first show. Plus, what’s really my job right now? The Major doesn’t really need any sewing or typing done.” Evans turned back to Howe, “Continue.”

“That you rescued a intelligence officer by riding a horse through enemy fire. That you escaped a Prison camp. That you saved,” Howe’s voice became quiet, “Her Grace from a sinking ship by swimming her to a patrol boat under fire. That you got hit by an artillery shell and have been shot in the head. That you-”

“MOVEMENT!” one of the Sergeants to the right shouted.

Evans looked at Howe, “Don’t worry kid. You’ll be fine.”

Third Battle of Tsiv River

The First Battle of Tsiv River had taken place in the opening days of the war. It had happened before the trenches had been dug. The Ethslin Army managed to take positions on the Vledscan side of the river and held it. After a few months, the trench systems had developed, and the Vledscan army decided to take back the river. This was the Second Battle of Tsiv River. The battle was known for its ferocity. Some units found themselves with only a few survivors in the chaos. The battle was a complete success for the Vledscans and they managed to drive the Ethslin Army back across the river. They held the river until the Battle of Northern Gate made the whole Vledscan Army withdraw to more defensible positions. In 1328, the Vledscan Army decided that they had mustered enough troops to retake Tsiv River. The General in charge of the operation said that this would be the hammer blow that would break the Ethslin Army for good. Most commentators after the war said that it was the last desperate blow of a dying army.

 

On 16 June 1328, the heaviest barrage of the war began. It started off slow. Enough to get the Ethslin units to take cover. But, as the week wore on, the shelling got worse. The 202nd had to advance up to the frontline under this shellfire. They only suffered about five percent casualties on the way to the line. By 23 June, the shell fire had reached the peak of its crescendo. About a million shells were fired on the 40 kilometer section of front that day, concentrated at a strong point about 5 kilometers North of the 202nd. This heavy shellfire required hundreds of kilometers of supply trains. And on those trains, the Vledscans brought in a new kind of weapon to be fielded in the battle. While they wouldn’t win the war for the Vledscans, they certainly changed the way war would be fought in the coming decades.

 

The 202nd was one of the first units to encounter this new weapon. The Vledscan army sought to punch a hole through the Ethslin lines, flank around the strong point, crush the resistance inside, then move into open war. When the initial attack failed, five months of brutal fighting ensued.

Waiting

Drowning. Drowning. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Evans tried to move up to the air. He started to flail against Captain Ricci. He tried to scream at her, but that just let water in. He could feel the heat from the surface. The beautiful heat. He needed to breath. He was going to die. But Captain Ricci held him firm. Every breath drew in more of the putrid water.

After what seemed like an eternity, Captain Ricci dragged him out of the water. Evans coughed up water as silently as he could. Captain Ricci whispered to him, “The hell is wrong with you Sergeant?”

“I can’t swim Ma’am.” Evans crawled a bit further from the water, “Water fucking terrifies me.”

“Didn’t you win your MoE First by saving Duchess Medway from a sinking ship?”

“Yeah, I grabbed onto a big piece of wood with one arm and Major Kestel with the other. I also did a lot of screaming…” Evans shuddered thinking about it, “So, what did the orders say.”

Ricci took a long pause, “How long are you on the line here?”

“Two more weeks,” He paused a moment, trying to remember further and then said, “Last five days are frontline.”

Her face went a bit pale, “Do you want a transfer? I need someone like you, and… I can’t tell you why, but you should accept.”

“You know the answer Ma’am.”

“I had to ask Sergeant… I’m sorry.”

After about twenty minutes, the Vledscans repeated the flamethrower sweep. Evans was calmer this time. From Captain Ricci’s panic and the Vledscans trying their hardest to kill the two, it was evident that something awful was going to happen within the next two weeks.

The two waited in silence until the sun fell. A few more artillery barrages attempted to find the two. But, once the sun fell, the two were able to sneak their way back to Ethslin lines.

Captain Ricci gave him the standard talk about how he couldn’t reveal anything he had learned. And then, like that, they parted ways. Evans returned to Major Kestel’s dugout. She gave him a hug, told him she was worried, and they went back to work.