Clean Up

“Atten-Tion!” Evans shouted at the remaining members of Second Platoon. Luckily everyone from his squad were assembled there, unharmed. Other squads were not so lucky. “Hand. Salute!”
The Platoon saluted. Captain Gates slowly walked out to the front of the platoon, returned the salute. Evans shouted out, “Ready – Two!” The Platoon went back to attention.
Captain Gates nodded to Evans, “You may return to your squad.” When Evans got to his squad, Captain Gates smiled, “At Ease everyone.” He took a breath in, exhaled, and said, “So… I did not really expect us to get here. Good job. I have never been prouder of soldiers under my command. Now, I have been in radio contact with Regimental Headquarters. All other platoons, including First and Third of Fox Company were all caught up in the retreat from the front. There were scattered pockets of resistance like ours that held their positions. Some like survived, some were rescued, some fell. But because of units like ours being a thorn in the Vledscan’s sides, they’ve stopped. Within the hour, reserve units will begin their counterattack. In another hour, we will be relieved.
“Now, most of Major Thomas’s Squadron. has set up about ten kilometers down the road as a screen. Just in case, I’ll want First Squad to take up a position on the hill and watch the road. The rest of you, consolidate weapons and ammunition so the Quartermaster corps can retrieve them later. Now, let’s move.” Captain Gates smiled and walked away from the formation.
Evans marched out to the head of the formation, “Atten-Tion! Dismissed!”
The platoon dispersed to go about their tasks. Evans quickly ordered his squad to load their weapons and head up the hill.
It took a while, but they eventually made it over the top of the hill, where they could see the Cavalry’s position.
A shot rang out. Evans shouted, “Hit The Dirt!”
Howe shouted, “Pierre!”
And after a few seconds of nothing else, he whispered to the scattered squad, “Everyone all right?!”
There was no answer but for a faint sobbing from behind a bush. Evans pointed for McGilligan to go check it out. She slowly crawled over, to the bush while Evans did a quick check. It was either Howe or Nivelle. They both were out of his eyesight. McGilligan started up a quiet conversation. With what sounded like a woman. After what seemed like an eternity, McGilligan shouted back, “Nivelle’s Dead! Howe’s pretty shaken up!”
Evans’ face went blank. He drew his pistol, stood up, and started firing towards the general direction of the rifle shot. After a few seconds, another shot went off. Evans collapsed to the ground.
Johnson shouted, “Tiscornia, McGilligan, Ollie Suppressing fire on my mark! Callahan grab the Sergeant and drag him back here on my mark.” Just as Johnson was about to shout ‘mark’ she saw Evans extend a fist downwards and push himself off the ground.
Evans dusted off his pistol and resumed his slow deliberate walk to the rifleman, “YOU THINK YOU CAN KILL ME LIKE YOU KILLED NIVELLE?” Evans squeezed the trigger, “I AM THE ANGEL OF DEATH,” Evans fired another round, “I DECIDE WHO LIVES AND WHO DIES,” Evans dropped the magazine while the rifleman fired a shot wide, “AND I HAVE DECIDED YOU SHALL DIE.” Evans slid another magazine into the pistol and hit the slide release. The rifleman got up to run. Evans quickly aimed his pistol and fired a shot into the rifleman’s leg, sending him to the ground, “YOU DON’T GET OFF THAT EASILY!”
The rifleman raised his hands and shouted, “Surrender! Surrender!”
Evans shot the man’s right hand. The rest of the squad could hear what sounded like a loud Vledscan prayer. “YOU THINK GOD WILL SAVE YOU?” Evans reached the rifleman. The prayer got louder. Holstering his pistol, Evans reached for his knife. With each slash of the knife, the rifleman let out a yelp before continuing his prayer. The squad sat in stunned silence.
Tiscornia stood up after the first dozen slashed and aimed his rifle over Evans’ shoulder and fired a shot, “Sergeant!… Evans… Jim… That’s enough.”
With a fluid motion, Evans drew his pistol with his offhand, aimed it towards Tiscornia, who could see the complete rage in Evans’ eyes, “I DECIDE WHEN IT’S ENOUGH.”
“This isn’t you Jim. Where’s that kid from Halton I met a few years ago? Where’s the man Zwev married?”
“This bastard killed Nivelle,” Evans gestured downwards with tears starting to well up.
Howe stood up, tears still dripping from her face, “Please stop Sergeant. This won’t bring Nivelle back.”
Evans dropped his pistol and knelt to the ground. Tiscornia lowered his rifle slowly to the ground, walked forward, and looked down at the body of the rifleman, “He’s dead.”
Grabbing the pistol off the ground, Tiscornia dropped the magazine and racked the slide, “No one say this to anyone. We came out here, took fire, Nivelle was lost, then we killed the rifleman. That was all. This doesn’t need to come out.”
Tiscornia looked over Evans. The bullet that knocked down Evans seemed to have been deflected by his shovel. Tiscornia whispered, “You alright Jim?”
“We survived all that for just for Nivelle to be killed now? I don’t know how much more I can take.”
“Send McGilligan back to get a stretcher for Nivelle. Casualty Collection can get his body home. Then let’s set up our post. Once we get off the line, we’ll get together the rest of the old people, find a bottle of good brandy and drink.”
Evans nodded, “McGilligan, ask Captain Gates for some stretcher bearers to take Nivelle back so we may lay him to rest. The rest of you, start digging foxholes about five meters downslope with ten meter spacing. We’ll dig with a 10 minute rolling watch. Howe, Callahan, Johnson, Madison, Tiscornia, Ollie, repeat if necessary.”

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Major Thomas Vignette

“Five Minutes to contact with town, Raise weapons ready.”

“Raising weapons ready Sir.”

Major Dan Thomas racked the bolt on his Machine Gun. Things had been good for him since the rescue at Belaya Valley. He was quickly promoted from Lieutenant to Captain and given his own Troop. And last month, his own Squadron. He now had ninety six vehicles under his command and six hundred and fifty Hussars, Lancers, and Dragoons manning them. And they were all headed to Rogovaya Obmanka. And, as the lead vehicle in the column, he’d get to test out the new plow he’d gotten a party to weld on.

“Raise Clear City Flag with Flying Wedge. Send radio message, ‘Ride through city at full gallop. At edge of city, Wedge. Dragoons form wall at edge of city, dismount, and clean. Unhorsed report to ranking Infantry Officer present. Out.”

The Signals sergeant responded in affirmative. Major Thomas then leaned to his driver, “Driver, if you see a vehicle, hit it with the plow.”

“Looking forward to it Major.”

They hit the town, moving fast. Some shells were falling in the area, heavier to the front. But, that’s where cavalry does best. Riding through gunfire, saving the beleaguered Infantry, smashing into the enemy line. Major Thomas loved the cavalry.

Once they got to the edge of town, Major Thomas knelt down and started firing at the targets he could see through the slit. There was a vehicle ahead. His Sergeant adjusted course slightly. The armored vehicle collided with the truck, uprooting them both. The armored vehicle tumbled to his side. Reaching back, Major Thomas grabbed the radio handset from the unconscious Signals Sergeant, “Shirl, you have command.” Major Thomas took a deep breath, swung open the bottom escape hatch and jumped out, pistol in his left hand. He fired a shot into a Vledscan soldier. He grabbed the Cavalry Saber he kept on the outside of the vehicle. A soldier came at him with a bayonet. Major Thomas deflected the bayonet upwards, fired a round into the soldier’s chest, and took a swipe out of his neck with the sword.

His driver tumbled out the escape hatch, “I’m right sorry Sir. I hit that a bit wrong. Next time.” He pulled up his carbine and fired at a soldier from the truck.

“Next time.” Major Thomas rallied the rest of his unhorsed Lancers and made their way back to the front line, heading to the Infantry Officer who looked to be in charge.

“Major Dan Thomas. Seahaven Regiment of Horse. I heard y’all were in trouble, so I stopped by for help.”

Captain Gates replied, “Captain Gates, 202nd Infantry. You ruined my glorious last stand, but I guess thank yous are in order. I would shake your hand, but they have got a spot of blood on them, I have been helping with the wounded.”

“Captain Gates, You led 100 rifles and 10 guns into battle against what looked like a Regiment of Infantry with an Armored detachment.” Major Thomas extended his hand, “I will shake your hand.” Captain Gates accepted and the two shook before Major Thomas continued, “Now, I’ve been unhorsed and passed command of the squadron over to my XO, need any help here?”

“Any help with wounded would be best. Your trucks seem to be making quick work of everything.”

Final Approach

Evans climbed back up the tour as the cease fire was ending. He smiled at Johnson, “Well we’re fucked.”

“Quite Sergeant.”

“And if you see a Vledscan Colonel, blow his fucking brains out.”

Johnson fiddled with her scope, “Good meeting then?”

“The things he said about the young Private who carried our flag. She just reminds me of my daughter.”

“Sergeant?” Johnson peered an eye out towards Evans.

“Yes Corp?”

“Every young woman reminds you of your daughter. And every young man reminds you of your sons. Am I going to act like this when I have children?”

The Artillery Observer climbed back up, “Just so you know, the artillery only has enough for three more volleys.”

Evans smiled, “Ah, good, extra fucked then.”

“So we’re going to die?” The observer looked worried.

Evans nodded to the Artillery Observer, “Almost definitely… What do I call you anyways?” He gestured at the rankless shoulders of the Observer.

“Oh right, I’m a Warrant Officer. So Mister Branagan,” He paused, patted himself down, swore, then looked back up, “How are you two so calm?

Evans smiled, took a cigarette out of his pocket and offered it to Branagan, “We’re Infantry Mister, so we’re used to certain death. Personally, my wife has been informed of my death on at least four occasions.”

There was a crack as Johnson squeezed off a shot, “Yes, it’s a frightful bore really.”

Branagan grabbed the cigarette and lit it, “I can’t stomach it. I’m just a University student.”

“And I’m just a farmer.”

“I’m a hunter, so jobs basically the same,” Johnson took another shot, “Except instead of killing deer, I’m killing men who’d rather see me barefoot and pregnant.”

 

The massed enemy infantry started to approach, behind the cover of a few vehicles. Major Sutcliffe fired the last few volleys, but there was no stopping them, The rifle fire could hold them for some time. But Captain Gates was already sending non essentials back to the church to prepare for the final stand. The soldiers downstairs were clearing the broken chunks of stained glass out of the broken windows. Private Madison had been one of the ‘non-essentials’ sent back, and he had taken to the pulpit and started to give an impromptu sermon.

A rumbling started up to the rear. Evans and the Artillery Observer turned around just in time to see a column or Armored Vehicles rush into the town from the West. The lead vehicle had an Ethslin Flag waving from one of its flagpoles and a plow on the front. The column quickly started to whip past the church. Evans couldn’t count how many vehicles were streaming through the town.

Enemy Colonel

Captain Gates adjusted his uniform. He had borrowed an officer’s sword from Lieutenant Welch, which hung uncomfortably at his side. Evans stood at his left and Gibson stood at his right. The three started their way to the hill where the Vledscan soldier was waving a flag. They picked their way through the moaning bodies and burning vehicle. And, after a ten minute walk, they made it to the soldier. He put down the flag, saluted Captain Gates and waved for the trio to follow. Gibson slung the rifle over her shoulder.

A Vledscan officer strolled out from behind the hill, “Colonel Sokoloff of the 16th Guards, at your service.”

“Captain Peter Gates of the 202nd Infantry,” He pointed to Evans, “And this is my Acting Sergeant Major James Evans.”

“And your lovely flag bearer?”

“My escort Private Gibson of the 127th.”

“It is always strange to see women in your army. She looks in similar age to my own daughter, but my daughter is doing her womanly duties and taking care of her husband’s home.”

“And Private Gibson is doing her duty for her nation, which we believe transcends things as simple as gender.”

“Well surely you can see that she would be good for… other activities.”

Evans could see Gibson’s hands clench. Captain Gates responded with some attempted tact, “You have the wrong men to ask. I’m… otherwise interested, and Evans here is quite happily married.”

“Well she is most beautiful,” The Colonel gave Gibson a nod, “Well, on to more pressing matters, such as surrender.”

“I do not think it would be befitting of a Colonel to surrender to a mere Captain.”

Colonel Sokoloff chuckled, “You have fought well Mister Gates. It would bring no shame upon your Regiment if you were to surrender.”

“I have been ordered to make sure there are no enemy soldiers in Rogovaya Obmanka, and I sworn an oath to follow all legal orders. I am afraid that I am duty bound to hold or die.”

“You are a brave man Mister Gates. I will send a post through the proper channels to make sure you get a medal for this.”

“Thank you Colonel, but I plan on turning in a report of the battle myself.”

“Now, I cannot let you simply walk back, may I offer my driver to drop you off.”

“I would not want your driver to see any of my defense Colonel.”

“Of Course Mister Gates, Can your man drive?”

“Yes Sir, Evans is a fine driver.”

“Very well, I shall loan you my staff car. I will pick it up when I get into town.”

“And when you don’t Colonel?”

“You may keep the car, as a gift.”

“Thank you very much Colonel.”

The Colonel led the trio to his staff car. Evans got in the driver’s seat, Gibson in the passenger seat, and Captain Gates in the rear. The Colonel smiled, “Well, once you return, how about half an hour more of casualty collection.” The Colonel and Captain Gates looked at their watches, “It is 13 past the hour on my mark… Mark. See you at 43 Mister Gates.”

Evans started the car and drove his way down the hill. Once they were out of earshot, Captain Gates leaned in, “Well he is a bit of an ass isn’t he?”

“Permission to speak freely Captain?” Gibson spoke up.

“Granted Private.”

“I would rather die than surrender to him.”

“And he has made it very clear. I would be failing every woman in this outfit if I surrender.”

White Flag

“They’re pulling back? The observer pulled down his binoculars, “The Hell?”

Johnson swept over the battlefield with her scope, “Lot’s of bodies, Destroyed vehicles, Everyone who isn’t is pulling behind the hill… There’s someone coming back over with a white flag.”

Shouts of “Hold your Fire” came up from the front line.

Evans could see a few runners sprinting back from Captain Gates’ house. One runner went to the church and shouted up, “Sergeant Evans! Captain Gates Requests Your Presence!”

Evans quickly climbed down the ladder and walked to the runner. She was an unfamiliar Private from the 127th who looked kind of young. He said, “I am Sergeant Evans.”

The Private blushed, “Oh wow, I can’t believe I’m meeting The Sergeant Evans. Is it true you’ve killed 20 Vledscan soldiers with your bare hands?”

Ignoring the question, Evans said, “Let’s go kid. What’s your name?”

“Private Bessie Gibson of Red Sands. I’ve read about all your adventures.”

He started to walk to Captain Gates’ house, “A lot of those stories are wrong kid. I’m not some mythic hero. I’m just a guy from Halton.”

“But some of them are true?” Gibson took off after Evans, “Did you really escape from a Vledscan Prison Camp? Did you really save the Duchess Medway from an exploding ship?”

“It was just sinking, not exploding. It was sinking because of explosions though.”

“So you still swam her to safety?”

“Swam not so much. I can’t swim and, in fact, am terrified of water. But she had a broken leg, so I grabbed her and flailed as much as I could.”

“So you faced your worst fears to save the divine beauty of Her Grace?”

Evans rolled his eyes, “Sure. Divine Beauty.”

Gibson whispered, “So are the rumors of you and Her Grace true?”

“I’m currently married to the most beautiful woman I have ever seen, who is the only woman I have ever been with, and the only woman I will ever be with,” Evans pointed to the building, “We’re here Gibson.”

“Oh, wow.”

The two walked in, Captain Gates was finishing up a meeting with Major Sutcliffe and Lieutenant Welch. The Captain finished up with the two officers before coming over to Evans, “Good to see you’re still with us Sergeant. Sergeant Major Gabriel took a bad hit, so you are going to act as my temporary Sergeant Major. Gibson, you’re going to carry the white flag and act as escort.”

“Major Sutcliffe isn’t going to go Sir?”

“No, Major Sutcliffe, Lieutenant Welch, and I agreed that since I have been acting as officer in charge and have the most full knowledge of the tactical situation, that I should be the one to negotiate,” Captain Gates pointed to Gibson, “Get a rifle, fix the bayonet, and tie some white cloth to it.”

“So what are you going to negotiate Captain?”

“Hopefully a ceasefire to deal with the wounded.”