Hike Part 2

Sheppard quickly dropped her pack, stripped down to her long underwear, tied her uniform into a bundle and put her boots and helmet neatly on top. She took a deep breath. It had been about two years since she had last gone swimming. Her family had gone down to a lake for a weekend. Sheppard thought of home and waded into the river.

 

Nivelle was standing pretending to watch the perimeter. In reality, he was watching Sheppard wade through the river. She was hot, he was dead tired, and after her top had gotten wet and started to rather flatteringly cling to…

 

Striking a rock with her foot, Sheppard slipped. She struck her head on a boulder. Blood started to spew from her head. There was a moment where no one reacted. Sheppard was floating away.

Evans shouted, “MADISON! THROW HER THE ROPE!”

While Madison was tossing the rope, Nivelle dropped his pack and dove into the river. Fighting the current, he swam towards Sheppard. Aftere what seemed like an eternity, he caught up to her body, wedged next to a log, blood still pouring from her head. He flipped her onto her back then, with Sheppard held firmly with his right arm, started to swim back to shore. They arrived at the sandy bank about twenty meters from where they started. McGilligan and Madison were already there with the first aid bag. Once Nivelle thrust Sheppard onto the shore, he collapsed, exhausted, onto the bank.

After a few moments rest, he felt some prodding. Howe was kneeling over him, attempting to smile. She said something, but Nivelle was too exhausted to hear anything, so he just nodded. Her canteen appeared before his face, so he accepted it, with most of the water going on his face, but managing to make a few gulps.

Looking left and right to make sure she was clear, Howe quickly bent down, gave Nivelle a quick kiss, muttered something, blushed, and then ran off. Nivelle would have been happy about it if he wasn’t exhausted, so, instead, he just closed his eyes to rest.

In a few minutes, he sat up and opened his eyes. McGilligan and Madison were bandaging Sheppard’s head. Corporal Johnson was shouting orders and getting a stretcher made. Tiscornia was waving a red flag. Sergeant Evans was nowhere to be found. Nivelle slowly stood up. McGilligan waved him over. She was wearing a scarf that she wasn’t before.

“Nivelle, Help cradle her neck, once we get the stretcher-”

There was so much blood, Nivelle couldn’t even listen. What if he had been too late? She could… Nivelle ran over back to the river and puked. Hell. He had been at the Third Battle of Tsiv. He had seen people die. He had killed people. Nivelle puked again.

 

“HEY!” Evans shouted towards Tiscornia’s flag from the road. Only about 300 meters away, “I’VE GOT A TRUCK WITH A NURSE!”

Tiscornia shouted back, “WE’RE ALMOST DONE HERE! JOHNSON’S JUST INSPECTING THE STRETCHER! SHE DOESN’T LOOK GOOD!”

Fuck. Not even their first engagement and already a casualty.

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Hike Part 1

Evans leaned his back against the tree and pulled out a few pieces of hardtack and his canteen. Tiscornia sidled up next to him, “So, how long before we move out?”

“About fifteen minutes I think. Or whenever I finish lunch.”

Tiscornia dropped his pack and pulled out a tin of meat, “So why the hiking?”

“Well, if my experience has taught me anything, it’s that our trucks will break and we’ll have to march from town to town,” Evans replied before he muddled the hardtack in some water and ripped off a chunk with his teeth. After he chewed a little, he looked at Tiscornia, “So, you and Turner?”

“Nothing serious. Just distraction. Might as well have fun before we all die,” Tiscornia pulled the can opener and spoon out of his boot and continued, “So, Johnson and McGilligan are getting along?”

“I don’t know why, but ever since our evening off, they’ve been wonderful.” Evans slung his mapboard off his shoulder, oriented it, and pointed at a topographic high about three kilometers to the Northeast, “I figure we get to the top of this then head back to base. Probably will have a nice view.”

Tiscornia pulled out a protractor and plopped it down on the map, “051 degrees about.”

“I figure we take the fun direct route.”

“Through a deep valley with a river at the bottom?”

“I could go for a swim Dom,” Evans said with a smile, “It’ll be fun. Plus we might need to cross a river in the field someday, so might as well practice.” He yawned before finishing his hardtack and went on to his meat. They sat in silence for a few minutes before they both finished eating. Evans stood up, grabbed his training rifle, and raised his voice, “Alright! Moving out. Tiscornia takes point.”

First Squad grumbled a bit while getting their packs on and picking up their training rifles. They had hiked about twelve kilometers through rough terrain since sunrise. Most people were still somewhat hungover from the night before. Sheppard had barely enough time to put on her makeup. Even with that, and how much she drank last night, she was probably the best performing on the hike. She had only puked once, always kept pace with the front of the group, and never once complained.

With her rifle scores back, Evans had pretty much decided that she was the ultimate infantry soldier. She could go far if she stayed in the army. If she survived long enough for a promotion to happen.

The rest of the squad had some sort of flaw that Evans had to watch out for. Johnson still acted superior to most people. Tiscornia was too depressed. McGilligan was too timid. Callahan was more focused on women than war. Ollie got distracted easily. Howe was focused on Nivelle. Nivelle was focused on Howe. And Madison wanted to act fatherly even though he was one of the youngest. Plus, there was something in Evans that made him trust engaged or married people.

It took the squad about twenty minutes to reach the river. There was more grumbling. Evans dropped his pack and said, “We need to cross this river. Callahan, your team sets up. Everyone else, security.”

“Yes Sergeant.” The squad responded in unison.

Evans decided to watch Callahan set up the crossing. Callahan dropped his pack and walked to his team and said, “Shep, you’re doing the crossing. Get the rope around your waist. Madison, get the other end and tie it around that tree. Shep, once he’s done, cross and tie it around that tree across the river. Make sure the ropes higher on this side, and make it taut. Bowline this end and Three half hitch on Shep’s. Move.”

Party

With the Vledscans on the run, most of the enlisted soldiers in the camp got together for a celebration before they went back into action. Evans stayed back at the squad tent to write a few letters… just in case.

“Sure you don’t want to come Evans?” Tiscornia said as he leaned on the door frame, “Should be fun. Get you to feel normal for a while.”

“Nah,” Evans said as he leaned back in his chair, “I’ve got things to do.”

“Are you sure? A few people from the 243rd have got pretty big stock going that they need to clear out before we head to the front.”

“Wish I could.”

“Ah well, I’m gonna go grab Turner then head over.” Tiscornia waved goodbye and left.

Evans then worked and waited for the rest of the squad to come back, keeping the door open. First back was Madison, who immediately went to bed.

Howe and Nivelle came back next. Howe stopped in to babble at Evans while Nivelle went to bed, “Evening Mr. Sergeant. I have had too much to drink. Isn’t Nivelle nice? I wish we met at a different time. He’s so cute. I could marry him and we’d make adorable babies. Stupid war. Sergeant. I go to bed now. Johnson is teaching me more about shooting tomorrow early before muster. Bye Sergeant.”

Johnson and McGilligan came after. They both stopped in and seemed sober. Evans waved at them and the two walked into his office, “Evening Sergeant.” McGilligan said with a smile.

“You two go to the party?”

“No, we went for a walk around the compound,” McGilligan smiled and looked at Johnson, “Em taught me about hunting.”

“Next leave we’re planning on going up to Medway and going on a hunt,” Johnson smiled.

“Sounds nice, I’m glad you two are getting along,” Evans replied, “So Corporal Johnson, I heard you’re teaching Howe about marksmanship?”

“Yes Sergeant, she shows real promise, Now, we’re going to bed if you’d relieve us.”

“Very Well Goodnight.”

The two soldiers turned and left. It was half an hour before Turner rushed in, dragging Tiscornia behind her. Turner gestured for Evans to get out of his office, “Dom and I are gonna make a mistake. We need your office.”

“Just clean up after yourselves and keep it down,” Evans grabbed his papers and sat in the squad room while the two proceeded to not keep it down.

Callahan, Ollie, and Sheppard came back next with four other soldiers, all visibly drunk except for Callahan, “Hey Sergeant, we’re playing some poker if you wanna join us.” He then leaned in and whispered, “I’m gonna take these kids to the cleaners.”

“Nah, I’m good.”

“Righto Sergeant. So, who’s in your office having a time?”

“Some friends Lance, let’s leave it at that.”

“Sergeant Turner and Corporal Tiscornia then,” Callahan said while laughing.

“Ignore it Lance. Thats an order.”

“Very Well Sergeant.”

Evans then finished up his letters while Sheppard managed to beat everyone at poker while taking swigs from a bottle of gin. Callahan then started drinking, attempted to hit on Sheppard, who pointed to her ring.

 

The Next Day

Evans got out of his office and walked into the common area. Johnson was boiling some water for coffee. Evans said, “Morning Johnson.”

“Oh!” Johnson jumped a bit in fright and grabbed at the knife on her belt, “Sorry.”

“A bit excitable this morning Corporal?” Evans pointed to the knife, “Any reason you’re wearing that?”

“Just want to feel safe Sergeant.”

The door to McGilligan and Johnson’s room opened and McGilligan came out looking rather tired.

Johnson looked over, “Good morning Kitty, want some coffee?”

“That would be lovely Em, Thanks,” McGilligan looked to Evans, “Morning Sergeant.”

“You two have a good time last night?”

“I would rather not talk about last night Sergeant,” Johnson looked away from Evans, “But you shan’t worry about Kitty and me anymore.”

“Very Well,” Evans left the tent to go to Captain Gates tent.

A Corporal in the Military Police waved to him, “You Sergeant Evans?”

“Yes Corporal, Need me for something?”

“You have a Corporal Emily Johnson and a Lance Corporal Catherine McGilligan?”

“Yes Corporal.”

“Good, Can I borrow them for a few hours?”

“Reason why?”

“They’re part of an investigation. Don’t worry, they’re not in trouble, and they’ll be back once they make some statements.”

“Very Well.”

Evans shrugged, guess that had something to do with it. He then walked to Captain Gates’ tent. There was a meeting that the Captain seemed a bit flustered about calling. So when Evans got into the briefing room, there was an air of worry. He took a seat next to Turner.

She whispered to him, “You know what this is about?’

“No, I was gonna ask you.”

The Captain walked in, uniform a bit askew and a bit flustered looking. The gathered soldiers stood to attention and saluted. Once her returned the salute and everyone sat down, Captain Gates started the meeting with an apology, “Sorry about my state. I’ve been at meetings all through the night. Very Well. As of 12 hours ago, the Vledscan army has abandoned most of it’s front line positions and has withdrawn about fifty kilometers. Our troops are in a chase to reestablish the front line. Because of this, they are bypassing several towns, cities, and villages. Several Regiments, including the 202nd are being deployed to clear these. We’re going to be separated into Platoons with two trucks each. Second Platoon, since your Lieutenant is still on his way, I’ll be attached to you for the time being. We move out in two days at 0500, so make sure your squads are ready. All leaves are cancelled. All passes are cancelled. Training sessions are cancelled and are replaced at the discretion of the Squad Leader. Regimental all hands meeting will be tonight at 1900 in the parade grounds. Full combat kit inspection. Officers and Platoon Sergeant meeting afterwards for orders to be passed out. When we finish the town clearings, we’ll not be coming back here, so everyone should pack anything not combat essential and collect it to be shipped to our next base.

Savior

McGilligan lay in bed trying to sleep. The Battalion had been given the night off of any duties and the rest of the squad  had left  for an evening in the nearby town. And since she hadn’t been welcome among most of them for the past few days, McGilligan had stayed, read a few chapters of a book, then went to bed. It was nice to be alone. No one shouting slurs at her. No whispers.

She then heard voices. One was Johnson. Fucking Johnson. Constantly acting like she was someone better than everyone. Especially the whore McGilligan. Maybe if she tucked her blanket over her head, Johnson wouldn’t see her and try to give her a lecture about her evil ways. The other voice was unfamiliar. Some man.

 

Johnson was a bit intoxicated, but luckily a nice man named Harold had offered to help her back to the tent. Harold was a Corporal in another regiment. He was a farmer from Halsey. They had met at the bar, and talked the whole night through. When they got back, Johnson let go of Harold and grabbed onto the tent door, “Thank you Harold. I can get back to my bunk myself.”

“Nonsense, I’ll help you in Emily.”

“Thank you very much.”

Once they got to the door of the bunk room Harold grabbed her arm tightly and whispered, “So, we’re back at your bunk. Now what?”

She whispered back, “I am going to bed silly.”

“What about me? You think I came all this way to wander back alone?”

Johnson’s face flushed, “Oh no, I’m not that kind of person.”

“Well I guess you’re going to make an exception tonight,” he said as he covered her mouth and pulled her into the room.

 

McGilligan had plugged her ears to ignore whatever Johnson was saying. It was probably just more insults. But she eventually heard the door open. The weren’t any candles lit, so Johnson was probably going straight to bed. She heard some sort of struggle, so she peaked out from under the covers. It seemed like there was something on top of Johnson. A flash of light caught Johnson’s eyes. They were wide open in terror. There was a squeak that was quickly silenced.

Shit. McGilligan knew what was happening. She slipped out of her bed as silently as possible. She pulled the shovel out from her webbing and stepped closer.

Johnson shouted,”HELP!”

In the moment of distraction, McGilligan brought down the flat of the shovel onto the man’s head. She pulled the unconscious man off of Johnson.

Johnson lay there in silence, so McGilligan sat down on the side of her bed and buttoned Johnson’s uniform back up.

“I am forever in your debt,” Johnson’s voice trembled.

“Don’t worry about it Johnson.”

“Call me Em. And I am sorry.”

“Then call me Kitty. And sorry for what? No woman should be blamed for an evil like that.”

“I am sorry for saying those things about you Kitty.”

McGilligan walked over to light a candle, “Don’t worry about it Em. Now, we need to turn this man into the military police. Can you help, or should I find someone else?”

“I don’t want to be alone.”

“Very Well, I’ll bind his wrists and feet, then we can pick him up.”