To the Party

Evans and Gibson entered the tent that Shaw said to meet him at. There was no sign of drinking, but Shaw was standing in the center, “I see you brought the kid.”

“She needs to learn to drink like an adult sometime,” Evans smiled, “Plus, she reminds me of my daughter.”

“Isn’t your daughter like two?” Shaw cocked an eyebrow.

“Are we going to drink or what?”

Shaw waved for the two to follow him, “We’ve got an abandoned building a few minutes away. Nice and hidden from all the officers. Just gotta give you a few warnings first. One, kids gonna be lowest rank there. It’s all the old hands. Two, one of us, Kasia, will hit on you very unsubtly. Even with your thick head.”

“Keeping in mind my thick head, how will I identify the one who will be disappointed by my monogamy?”

“Oh she will be topless. First thing to fucking go when she drinks. Says it’s unfair that women can’t go shirtless but men can. I of course agree and think men shouldn’t be allowed to go shirtless. Apparently this is the wrong answer,” Shaw turned to Gibson, “Kid, you’re young and pretty, so Fitz will say something rude about your body. I advise hitting him hard on the face. He will, not to be outdone by Kasia, also be shirtless and then encourage you to follow suit. So hit him hard in the face. Fitz and Kasia will then insult each other sexually, then leave with each other.

“The rest of them should be fine, expect some ribbing about how you’re a kid. And bulshitting about units.”

“Why, you guys are insecure that you’re in the 351st? Maybe you can get transferred to a better unit.”

“Well once we get wasted we’re doing a competition. You and the kid versus us.”

“How many you guys have?”

“Fourteen or Sixteen. Depending on Fitz and Kasia.”

“So me and the kid versus fourteen of you guys. That’s hardly fair Shaw. The kid alone could beat you six ways from Sunday,” Evans snapped his fingers, “I don’t even care what it is. She could do like a thousand push ups without falter. ” He paused a moment, “I may be slightly drunk already. Plus she’s only been in the 202nd for like two weeks. We absorbed her unit after our platoons teamed up to fight off an attack by an enemy regiment.”

“Huh, I seem to remember a time when my platoon fended off a battalion all on our own.”

“The 202nd at about half strength held off several waves of attacks in a crater with only a few rounds of ammunition a person and a visibility of less than ten meters. The only reason I missed it was I had been shot in the head and captured by the Vledscans. After months in prison, I escaped and crossed back through Vledscan lines to rejoin the 202nd.”

Gibson held up her finger, “I cut out that article.”

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Talk with Gibson

“Gibson, can we go for a walk?” Sergeant Evans waved in such a way to indicate that wasn’t an option.

Gibson nodded, “Yes Sergeant.” She then followed him outside

Evans started walking and made a few inane comments about the weather while they walked out of the camp and made their way into the rubble and he got to the point, “How old are you Gibson?”

“Sergeant?” Gibson paused, “I’m nineteen.”

“What year were you born?”

Gibson paused a moment screwed up her face while trying to count back.

Shaking his head, Evans said, “How old are you actually?”

“Sixteen sergeant,” Gibson looked down in defeat, “Don’t send me home Sergeant. I can’t go home.”

“You shouldn’t be here kid. You’re too young for it,” Evans kicked a broken piece of concrete, “You should be back with your family.”

“They hated me there Sergeant. You ever notice how I never receive letters from home and never send them?” Gibson looked west, as if the Western Desert were just over the horizon, “My parents are both smart. They’re both educated. I’m not. Failed every class I ever did. My father…” Gibson looked down, “Hit me. Beat me. I can’t go home Sergeant. And if they find out I’ve been fighting for Ethslin…”

“Why wouldn’t they want you fighting for our country?”

“They’re patriots. They want a free Western Desert. I’m sure Lance Corporal McGilligan could tell you about it. It’s a big movement. When my parents found out that I was keeping newspaper clippings… About you Sergeant. I said I wanted to marry someone like you Sergeant. A hero. A good father… They hit me. Nearly killed me. Mother said I was to marry a good patriot. They ‘arranged’ something for the next day. Said that he’d make a ‘proper’ woman out of me. I snuck out and ran for the next train. Hopped on board and left. If I go back there, at best I’m gonna be dead Sergeant.”

“So you’re nineteen Gibson… That your real name kid?”

“It is now Sergeant,” She smiled, “Bessie Gibson, proud Ethslin soldier. Born in 1309. I choose my family from here on out.”

“Very Well Bessie. When all this is over, I hope you find your family.”

“I already have Sergeant. Now, is that all you need to know Sergeant?”

“We’re good Bessie,” Sergeant Evans pointed back to the tent, “Now do you want to go get wasted with the 351st kid?”

“Get drunk with my dad?”

“I’m your dad Private?”

“I’ll see you tonight dad,” Gibson did an about face and went back to the tent.

Meeting Shaw

Evans was sitting in the Squad’s tent flipping a pen. A General somewhere in Newacre had decided that a selection of the soldiers involved at the Strongfield recovery should be interviewed psychiatrists, to see how it was affecting everyone. First Squad was selected because of the 202nd’s extensive combat experience and use as Shock Troops. Evans had gone first then came back to the tent. There would be nothing to do until the whole squad was done, so Evans just had to wait.

After a few minutes Gibson came in. She waved, “Sergeant? Do you know anyone from the 351st?”

“Yes, are they in town?”

“Yes Sergeant. I gave one of them directions to us. It was a Lance Corporal… Shaw I think?”

Evans smiled, “Oh that idiot’s coming by?”

“At least I ain’t a fucking farmer!” Lance Corporal Shaw walked into the tent.

“At least I ain’t a fucking farmer Sergeant.” Evans corrected before standing up and extending his hand, “How you doing Jack?”

Shaw took his hand and shook it, “Getting by. And you Jimmy?”

“Well this is the closest I’ve been to home since I joined up.”

“Yeah, you should get back there. Everyone in Halton talks about the great hero James Evans. And your parents want to see you more.”

“Hey, I have a wife and kids in Medway now, I have to go see them on leave. Anna’d kill me if I spent all my time avoiding her.”

“Yeah, that to,” Shaw smiled, “You go off to war and marry some exciting foreigner. Izzy seemed pretty disappointed that you’re not available. And once those medals started rolling in it got worse.”

“Really? I always thought Izzy liked you. Always hanging around and muttering your secrets together.”

“Lord, now I know why they made you Sergeant. You’re fucking thick. Our only secret was she wanted to get me to hint to you to ask her,” Shaw laughed, “Hey, you free tonight? One of the old hands in my platoon got their hands on quite a bit of whiskey and we’re getting plastered.”

Evans turned to Gibson, “Kid, can you go to the Captain and get orders?”

Gibson nodded and ran out. Evans turned back to Shaw, “I guess we’ll find out when she gets back.”

Nodding, Shaw asked, “How old is she?”

“Nineteen I think, Why?”

“We had someone in our platoon named Austin. After he… After Belaya Valley, we met his parents. He was seventeen and had lied about his age to join the army when he was fifteen,” Shaw looked sadly at the ground, “She looks young Jimmy. You should talk to her. Make sure there isn’t a family that’s gonna get news that their kid has died before she’s 18.”

Before Dawn

Lance Corporal Dominic Tiscornia was sitting on the edge of a burned out building. The revolver weighed heavy in his hand. He looked out over the dead city. Fires still raged in the distance. It was three hours before the squad was supposed to wake up. But Tiscornia couldn’t sleep.

Every time he closed his eyes he saw Mary.  He saw Adelinia. He saw every person he outlived.

Tiscornia dropped all but one cartridge from the revolver and spun it. The cylinder finally clacked to a halt and Tiscornia put the revolver to his head. Click. He heard footsteps behind him. Tiscornia lowered the revolver.

“Dom,” Evans said quietly.

“What are you doing up Jim?”

“I can never sleep off the line. Just go back to Urbs in my head,” Evans sat next to Tiscornia, “Anna hates it. She doesn’t really understand. Thank God she got out before she’d have to understand.”

The two sat in silence for a few moments before Evans picked up the revolver and pointed it in the air, “You’ve gotta spin it straight up and down, otherwise the bullet will settle at the bottom.” Evans spun the cylinder, held the pistol to his head and pulled the trigger. The hammer fell on an empty chamber. He spun again and clicked the hammer on an empty chamber again. He offered the revolver back to Tiscornia who refused. Evans tossed the revolver off the edge of the building into the rubble below, “Is this all worth it?”

“The Vledscans shelled that town.”

“And because of the war… Hell, I don’t know how many towns have been utterly destroyed. Fuck, Strongfield is gone. Like Shepard, Everyone she grew up with is gone,” Evans kicked his feet a little bit, “I killed a man yesterday. One of our officers.”

“That was no man. That thing betrayed its oath as a soldier and betrayed its basic sense of humanity,” Tiscornia looked back to the camp and said, “I’ve got a bottle of brandy tucked into my bedroll.”

“Sounds good.”

“I’ll wake Turner.”

“Are you and her?”

“No, I can’t feel that way about anyone anymore. We still, you know… But it’s just an attempt to feel something,” Tiscornia said as he got up and started to walk down the stairs.

Evans stayed on the ledge for a little longer. He opened his right fist and looked at the cartridge. He had slipped it out when he grabbed the revolver from Tiscornia. Hopefully, that would keep Tiscornia from killing himself. Fucking Hell.

Looters

“We’ve been tasked with going in behind the firefighters and securing the area from looters. The areas have been cordoned off. So anyone who is in your area and not in uniform can be considered a looter and arrested, or, if they resist, shot on the spot. First Squad will move North on 500 East. Second Squad on 600 East. Third on 700 East. Fourth on 800 East. There will be an MP Officer along your road to give you further orders. When someone is arrested, handcuff them and bring them back to the station,” Lieutenant Welch pointed to a pile of crates and continued, “Handcuffs are in that crate. Two per person.”

The squad moved out

“There. Looter. HALT!” The MP Lieutenant shouted, “He’s running! Shoot him!”

The MP Private responded in a shaky voice, “It’s a little kid Sir.”

The Lieutenant drew his pistol and leveled it at the Private’s head, “You will follow orders or you will die. And then I will take your rifle and shoot the scum. Your choice.”

The Rifle cracked. “You just got it’s leg. Now we’ll have to finish it off. But-”

The Private dropped their rifle, grabbed the Lieutenant’s pistol, shouted, “God Forgive Me,” put it in his mouth and fired. The Lieutenant was sprayed with bits of blood, brain, and skull while the Private’s body crumbled to the ground.

The Lieutenant saw First Squad a block away, “You there! Are you the infantry sent to assist me? Get over here!”

Evans waved the squad forward. They slowly walked until they reached the Lieutenant. Evans reported in a blank voice, “First Squad, Second Platoon, Fox Company, 202nd Infantry. Sir. No one spotted on our way here.”

“Then you were not trying hard enough. Sergeant, I want a rifle monitoring every street. Your marksman team to the roof of that building. The rest of you build barricades.”

Corporal Johnson looked up at the burnt out husk of a building, “Sir, that building’s going to collapse if we go up there.”

“Well you might spot a few looters if you go up there before it collapses.” The Lieutenant pointed at Shepard, “I’ll need her to clean my uniform. Get the stains from,” He kicked the body of his Private, “This useless thing out.  Then I’ll be using her for stress relief afterwards. It may take a while Sergeant, especially if she’s good, so I might hold onto her for a while.”

Evans stared in stunned silence.

“Are you dumb Sergeant? Speak Man.”

Evans walked up and punched the Lieutenant in the face. The Lieutenant fell to the ground. He attempted to yell out for help, but Evans put a hand over his mouth. Evans kept raining blow on the Lieutenant. After a what seemed like an eternity, the Lieutenant stopped struggling. Evans picked up a brick and started smashing with that. He stopped when he saw brain.

There was silence but for the raging fire further to the North. Standing up slowly, Evans took off the belt that held his pistol and handcuffs and held it out to Johnson, “I believe I am now under arrest Corporal. You have command.”

“I did not see anything Sergeant,” Corporal Johnson said while the rest of the squad nodded in agreement.

“Sergeant,” Callahan spoke up, “There appears to be two dead bodies. The MP’s we were supposed to meet with I believe. What are your orders Sergeant?”

Evans smiled, “Callahan and Shep, get that child to an aid station. Say they were shot by looters or something,” He put his belt back on and looked around, “I guess we hold this position. Madison, take the pistol from that poor Private’s hand and put it back in the Scums holster. Make sure the poor kid’s family get’s death benefits. Tiscornia, report to Lieutenant Welch in a somewhat panicked state that we found the bodies and the child here. Make no Speculation. We’ll fortify this position as if to prepare for a fight. Howe, I think I might have broken my hand, could you wrap it up?”

Everyone was about to start going about their tasks when they could hear screaming from the North.

Evans looked down the road. About a dozen firefighters were sprinting down the road with a wall of fire behind them. One of them shouted, “THE WIND’S SHIFTED! THE FIRE HAS TURNED! RUN!”