Boarding the Ship

The Battalion stood at attention at the docks. Major Kestel walked forward onto the podium in front of the ship. The Steven’s Point. The press was gathered nearby to take pictures. Which is why Evans had to spend what seemed like a hours making sure that Major Kestel’s uniform was perfect. He had even sewed weights into the bottom of her skirt so it wasn’t ‘to flappy’ as she had put it.

“And Now, we embark upon the journey we have been training for. Lieutenant Commander Stanley Barrett has agreed to give us a lift in the Steven’s Point. The rest of our regiment is going to be in the Elm Grove, while we share the ship with the ammunition and heavy weapons. We should be landing in about six days. We will be hugging as close as we can to the coast of Liguria without violating their neutrality. Our spies have been reporting on the Vledscan ship movements. According to them, there are two main points of enemy resistance. The first will be about halfway through our journey, when rounding the Ligurian Cape. There is a small amount of Vledscan Frigates that, if the intelligence is correct, are acting as a picket, and will fire a few shots and then flee.

“The second will be the dangerous one. It seems that a large portion of the Vledscan fleet will be about two hours from the landing beaches. There might be some mines around there as well. So when we hit the blockade, everyone should be ready to abandon ship just in case.

“Now, without further ado, let us embark,” Major Kestel pulled to attention, “BATTALION! ATTEN-TION!”

“RIGHT FACE!”

“BATTALION MOVE OUT BY FILES! FORWARD MARCH!”

The Battalion turned started to move out. Squad by Squad, Platoon by Platoon, and Company by Company. Eventually, Evans and Major Kestel were the last two members of the battalion remaining on the dock. She smiled, “Let’s go Jim.”

The two walked, Major Kestel leading, until they reached the middle of the brow. The two came to attention. Major Kestel did a left face and saluted the Ethslin flag. She did a right face and the two walked the back to the end of the brow. Major Kestel saluted the Petty Officer, “Request Permission For Myself And My Orderly To Come Aboard.”

The Petty Officer returned the salute, “Permission Granted.”

The two then walked aboard. Lieutenant Commander Barrett was standing around the corner. Major Kestel saluted, “Captain, The Battalion Is Aboard.”

Lieutenant Commander Barrett returned the salute, “Very Well Major.” He shrugged, “God damn I hate military protocol.”

“You new then?”

“Sort of. Me and my crew are technically Naval Reserve. It’s an exchange. We get special government contracts, but the Navy can requisition our ship and crew at any time for something like this. It really sucks because Navy regs say no booze while underway. God damn them all.”

Cliff Training

“Sir!” Evans saluted the Captain.

Captain Stoddart stood up and saluted, “It seems I cannot escape you Corporal.”

“Well Major Kestel wants us to learn from the best Sir.”

“Well I am hardly the best, I just know the area rather well.”

Evans looked at his watch, “Well Captain, you’re almost on Sir.” He then led the Captain to the side door, where he would make his entrance as soon as Major Kestel stopped talking.

 

“Hello… I am Captain Stoddart. Of the Ethslin Mining Corps. Major Kestel asked me here today to, uh, describe the terrain features that you will encounter during your operation. I, uh, studied that area during my time at university, so I am… I guess an expert. And I agreed to come because my lovely wife Polly is attached to your unit. So, I guess I should introduce what I am going to talk about specifically. The terrain you will be fighting in. You will be landing in an area with about 100 meters of open beach followed by sedimentary cliffs.There a some trails cut into the cliffs, and then mostly flat ground. The soil is about two meters deep before it gets into the bedrock. The top formation is very friable sandstone, so you should be able to just use your shovels to hack through it pretty easy. Ooh,” Captain Stoddart snapped then pointed at Polly in the back corner, “Polly, I just remembered, the formation at the base of the cliff has some ooids if I remember correctly, can you break off a chunk for me?”

Polly stood up and saluted, “Yes Sir.”

Captain Stoddart reached for his hip and yanked a funny looking hammer out. He held it out towards Evans, “Corporal, take this to Polly for me,” After Evans took the hammer, the Captain looked forward again, “Right then.”

Evans stopped paying attention to the lecture. He slowly walked to the back of the meeting hall and looked at the hammer. It had a square head and a pick in the back. The pick seemed hardly big enough to do anything that useful. He flipped the hammer in his hand a few times before he got to the back. He looked at Polly, shrugged and held it out. She didn’t notice for a few seconds because she was enamoured with Captain Stoddart, who was off track again and talking about grain size or something.

She looked at him, grabbed the hammer, and went back to watching. And she was probably the only one in the room who was paying attention. Evans walked back to the front of the room and took out his notebook. For sake of appearances. He was really writing a letter to Anna, but writing looked like writing, so he was good.

It took about half an hour, but the Captain did eventually get to some useful information about the cliffs the battalion would be climbing. He then had Polly come up and demonstrate how to fit proper climbing gear. Which was less useful because the Battalion had only been issued ropes and ladders, not harnesses.

 

The morning after, the Battalion was trucked out to an area with some cliffs to climb. Of course, the cliffs already had the ropes and ladders set up. The training basically consisted of constant climbing and lowering. Soldiers had to practice climbing up to the top in full kit, then hauling up heavy equipment, and then lowering people down in stretchers.

 

Trench Attack Training

First Company was in the trench, ready for the “defense.” Magazines were loaded with blanks, shovels tucked into belts, and, at the insistence of Chief Jackson, Wooden bayonets fixed. Evans could see Second and Third Company waiting for the order. In addition to the blanks and wooden bayonets, each soldier had a practice grenade, and every third soldier had a haversack to carry three more of them.

The practice grenade was new, When Evans was in basic training, the practice grenades were really just potatoes that an officer had requisitioned, and most soldiers had just saved them to eat. The practice grenades all had five second timers that, when depleted, would use a spring to launch a streamer, to signify that the nearest people were now dead. Politics probably also played into this though, the Naval Infantry were the cool new thing and the landings were supposed to be the decisive action of the war.

What the attackers and defenders didn’t know, was that Polly and Evans had stayed up most of the night into the stand-to wiring the entire field with explosives. They wouldn’t cause much damage, just make some craters and throw some dirt into the air. It should shock everyone though, and help the soldiers get used to the sound of explosions.

Major Kestel looked at her watch. One minute to go. She nodded to Polly, who was standing at the  blasting machine. Polly raised the plunger and pushed it down again. There were a few silent seconds before all the explosions went off. The field between the trench and the attacking troops was filled with newly created holes. The attacking officers started to blow into their whistles. The somewhat stunned soldiers started to advance. They walked, in a single line, trying to keep spacing. The soldiers in the trench started firing on their Lieutenenat’s orders. Evans looked at the Major, who was furiously taking down notes. Polly was laughing. Warrant Officer Wright walked over to Evans, “What’s going on?”

“It looks like the troops are trying to fight like they have muskets,” Evans pointed to the attackers, “They are moving way too slow, are way too close together, and are attacking in a line.” He then pointed to the trench, “And over there, we have the soldiers depending on Lieutenant Bridges to shoot. What if he gets killed? Will Chief… Ah…” Evans snapped his fingers, “Lorenzo take over? And when Lorenzo gets hit? And what if someone sees a higher priority target? Do they wait to shoot them and hope the officer doesn’t take cover? The soldiers are also standing up to high above the parapet. I mean, in this case, the attackers would definitely lose in this case, a machine gun could easily sweep the entire line. Then everyone will be dead. The attackers should be dashing from hole to hole and keeping in cover, trying to make sure that they are seen for the shortest amount of time possible. Of course, in a real attack they should be under the cover of artillery fire.”

“Ah,” the Warrant Officer shrugged, “So our basic training is a bit shit?”

“Yep,” Evans looked back at the attack, “But hopefully we can fix this up and not all get killed in the first five minutes.”

 

Battalion Meeting

“Hello,” Evans talked into the weird ball of metal netting and was a bit shocked to hear his voice amplified, “I’m Corporal James Evans, MoE Fourth Class. I’ve been temporarily attached to this battalion to work with your Petty Officers as an instructor and Major Kestel’s orderly. We’ll stay with you guys until Newacre decides we can go home. So… I guess to start off, a little history about me. I’ve been in the Army over two years now. Sort of. There’s a bit of discrepancy in the paperwork because I was officially declared dead for six months of that time. And I’ve fought at White Beach, Urbs, and the Northern Gate. Um… Not good at speeches. I’m also from Halton if anyone’s heard of it.

“I have the honor of introducing your new commanding officer. I’m… I am very sure you all know of her. I have been her orderly off and on for the past year and served under her for most of my career as a rifleman. So… Well…” Evans pulled the scroll out from his back pocket and unrolled it onto the podium, “I am most honored to present The Most Beautiful, Marriageable Lady Demetria Kestel, Heiress to the Duchy of Medway, Major attached to the 1st Naval Infantry Regiment, Medal of Ethslin Third Class, who sheathed her blade inside Baron Semyon of Kalach at Urbs.”

Evans rolled up the scroll, turned right, and walked to a seat in the front row. Major Kestel walked into the room and stepped up to the podium. The gathered Battalion stood to attention, “You may be seated.” She waited a moment for everyone to sit down,  “As the Corporal said, I am Major Demetria Kestel. I have been assigned to lead your Battalion by an interservice program. The purpose of the program is to provide the Naval Infantry with experienced officers. Why do you need experienced officers? Well, in about a month, the Naval Infantry will be taking part of the largest amphibious operation ever devised. We will be landing in the south of Vledsco. The operation will have two waves. We will be in the first wave, in charge of securing a beachhead for the larger second wave, coming a few hours later. Our battalion is expected to push forward, scale the cliffs, and set up a trench line at either half a kilometer from the beach, or at the first heavy resistance.

“Our training over the next three weeks will consist of intense training in trench digging, hand to hand fighting, climbing, moving under fire, and all the other skills you will need to have a chance of surviving. Every evening there will be a lecture in here that will apply to the next days training. Most of these lectures are by Myself or Corporal Evans, but a few are by experienced Officers and Sergeants that are willing to give up part of their leave to train you. After these three weeks, we will take part in two practice landings before finally boarding our ships to earn our place in eternity.

“But tonight, we are going to have a shorter meeting. I will just be explaining tomorrow’s training. Roll Call will be at 530, full battle kit. Your platoon leaders will pass out rifles on your way out of the barracks. Stand-to will be after that until fifteen minutes after dawn. We will then dig trenches until breakfast at nine. At 930, we will go back to digging trenches until 11. At 11, we will practice trench attack and defence, with one company holding the trench and the other two attacking. At 3, we will do a practice barrage. At 4, we will have PT. At 445 we will have dinner. At 5 we will have Stand-To until 15 minutes after dusk. Meeting once Stand-To is over and platoon leaders get to decide what happens after that.

“So, that is it. Everyone not listed now will return to their platoon barracks,” Major Kestel pulled out a notepad and read off the names, “Lieutenants Carter, Cooper, Bridges, Jones, and Hope. Apprentice Warrant Officers Wright and Ferri. Senior Chief Belluci and Chiefs Lorenzo, Jackson, and Edison. All of you come with Corporal Evans and I. Alright. Dismissed.”

 

Major Kestel was sitting at the head of the table, Evans next to her writing in his notebook.

“First off, Since we will not have a trench yet, Stand-To will be in the same field as roll call with everyone lying down. Chiefs, Corporal Evans, and Private Stoddart will inspect up and down the line to make sure everyone is proper. Evans, could you explain the proper way to Stand-To?”

“Yes Ma’am,” Evans stood up and started to get in position when he looked at Major Kestel, “May I have your scabbard for a moment Ma’am?”

Major Kestel unclipped the scabbard from her belt and handed it to Evans. Evans held it like a rifle and faced the group, “So, first off, note how I’m looking somewhat past the sights. I’m not focusing on a specific target, I’m scanning the area in front of me. I do have the rifle ready to fire though. Your head should be as low as possible while still being able to see, preferably aiming through a loophole. For tomorrow morning, just make sure everyone is as low as possible. My middle finger is also the one on the trigger. This way my pointer finger can be on the bolt, so I can fire another shot as quickly as possible. Another important thing is that shovels should be readily accessible for fighting. Bayonets should not be fixed unless there is a trench breach.”

“Corporal Evans,” a Chief stood up, “Chief Jackson. Doctrine states that bayonets should be fixed to defend against an attack, and that’s how we’ve been drilling the battalion.”

“Thank you Chief, but bayonets are more cumbersome to aim with in combat, and not that useful if someone drops into the trench next to you. It might be better for open combat, but in a trench, it’s pretty much only good for clearing long stretches. It’s best to use your shovel to hack into the neck. This also leaves your rifle open for use in fighting.”

 

Settling In

Evans dropped his kit next to the bunk bed in the corner of the tent. The top bunk was already made neatly and a kit was stowed underneath. He then trudged over to the much nicer cot on the other side of the tent and set down Major Kestel’s much heavier kit. The Major wouldn’t be arriving for a few more hours, so he could take his time unpacking her clothes, making her bed, and setting up her desk.

There was a knock on the door of the tent. Evans smiled. That should be the Private, who Evans could probably get to have them make the bed while he set up the desk. He walked over to the door and opened it.

“Polly?”

“Uh… Corporal… Evanston?

“Close, Evans.”

“Right… Shit. Sorry, I’ve only met you like twice.”

“Yeah, no problem…” Evans gestured for her to come into the tent, “So what the hell are you doing out here with the Ligurian Army?”

“Ah,” Polly smiled nervously, “Well, Remember the whole thing with Captain Stoddart?”

“Yes? Did he finally get tired of you and transfer you out here?”

“No,” She smiled, “Actually we got discovered… By someone important… So I was transferred to act as a Liaison to the Naval Infantry. Because I guess I’m embarrassing… On the plus side we were able to get married. Though he was supposed to marry someone less… poor.”

“Oh come on, thats ridiculous.”

“Oh no,” Polly shook her head, “Thats what Winny’s father said. Very loudly. When I was in the room. He also told Winny that if he wanted money for ‘whores like her’ he should have asked. So… Needless to say, his family didn’t come to our wedding.”

“Well shit…” Evans walked over to the bed and dumped out the Major’s kit onto the floor, “So Polly can you make the Major’s bed and organize her closet while I set her desk up?”

“Yes Corp,” Polly walked over to the bed and paused over the pile of the Major’s belongings. She bent down and started to put something into her pocket.

Evans snapped at her, “Polly. Don’t steal Major Kestel’s underwear. That’s weird.”

“Put think of all the money I could make from selling this!” Polly pulled it out of her pocket and folded it, “Plus I’d own something that used to belong to a noble person.”

“Aren’t you technically a noble person?”

Standing up, Polly put her hands on her hips and screwed up her face, “Huh… I guess you’re right.” She smiled, “So can I order you around now?”

“That’s not how the Army works Private. So go make that bed or you’ll be a Lady doing a hundred pushups….” Evans paused, “Wait, I remember talking with Major Kestel once, I think she said that you aren’t a Lady until Captain Stoddart is Second in line for his House. So you aren’t even a Lady anyways.”

“Dammit. I guess I’ll have to make her fucking bed then. But someday when the war is over and Winny is the Lord of Halsey, I will tell you what to do!”

“I’m from Halton. We’re a Free Town in the Duchy of Strongfield. That means we bow down to no mere Lords. We threw off the yoke of our Lord like six hundred years ago. Until, you know, when the Duke of Strongfield came in and took us over. But, in the town charter, it says that no Lord nor Lady shall enter Halton”

“Of course you’re a Strongy,” Polly picked up the sheets, “I’m surrounded by Ligurians, under the direct command of a Westerner and in a Battalion commanded by a Medwayan. Who would’ve thought that I’d miss being surrounded by Miners?”

“Yeah, you’re no longer special here. You were the one infantryman, the one girl, the girlfriend of the officer.”

“There were several other women in the Miners! I know you at least met Breezy and Brynn.”

Evans laughed as he slid a cabinet out, “It’s an old joke out West. ‘Join Lord Mitchell’s Mining Company. Where the Men are Men and the Women are also Men.’ There are also much cruder jokes along those lines.”

“True enough.”

“Hey, other thing, you’ve been with the Battalion for a few days, right?”

“Yeah,” Polly nodded as she tightened the hospital corners.

“Have you figured out the rank system yet? Before she went to her meeting, Major Kestel saluted someone and said, ‘Morning Captain.’”

“Oh God they are ridiculous here. Captain is the same as Colonel, except when you’re on a ship. Then Captain is anyone who is commanding the ship. But also still anyone with the Colonel level rank. Then Commander is a Lieutenant Colonel, Lieutenant Commander is Major, a Lieutenant is a Captain, and an Ensign is a Lieutenant. Then they have these things called Warrant Officers that are between Officers and Enlisted. You don’t have to salute them but I think you still call them Sir. Maybe. Then the Enlisted are even dumber.”

Polly sighed and then started counting on her fingers, “Master Chief Petty Officers are Regimental Sergeant Majors, Senior Chief Petty Officers are Battalion Sergeant Majors, and Chief Petty Officers are Company Sergeant Majors. But you actually have to say the Chief stuff. Next are Petty Officers. Petty Officer First Class is a Sergeant, Petty Officer Second Class is Corporal, and Petty Officer Third Class is Lance Corporal. Able Seaman is a more experienced Private such as myself, and Seaman is a less experienced Private. Also no they don’t appreciate jokes.” Polly paused for a moment, “Then it gets stupider. You never actually say Petty Officer. Every Petty Officer has something called a rating that replaces the Petty Officer part. You can tell them apart by their different hats and when they’re wearing helmets they have little badges on their shoulder boards. I mostly just hide from anyone who’s above Able Seaman so I don’t have to try.”

 

Reunited

“Evans?” Tiscornia walked over and slapped Evans on the back, “I guess you really are immortal… Does Zwev?”

“Yeah, I was given a week at home. She’s apparently due for another kid soon, and our little daughter is doing well,” Evans paused, and stared at his feet. The worst part about coming back, “So… I guess to start, Captain Kestel?”

Tiscornia knew what was coming, “At Battalion Headquarters. Simmons is the Lieutenant Colonel now. Gates is Fox Company CO. Strummer is Colonel, and Darling is now a General.”

“Chilly?”

“Lost a leg to an artillery shell,” Tiscornia laughed softly, “The lucky bastard.”

“Giuliano?”

Tiscornia’s face dropped, “Pneumonia. Two months ago.”

“Sorry,” Evans paused a moment, “Newey?”

“Corporal now.”

“Cain?”

“Ended it in September.”

“Ustinov?”

“Sergeant in First Platoon.”

“Head?”

“Lance Corporal now.”

“Pastor?”

“Died at Northern Gate.”

“Turner?”

“Now in a machine gun team.”

“Boswell?”

“Died at Northern Gate.”

“Wesley?”

“Lost an arm at Northern Gate.”

The two stared at each other in silence. Tiscornia shrugged, hugged Evans, and squeezed, “It’s good to have you back. Now let’s talk about happier things.”

“Right,” Evans smiled, “Where’s Captain Kestel? I’d like to say hi. Maybe see if I can get my old job back.”

Tiscornia snapped his fingers, “Best idea ever. We have a Battalion Inspection in two hours. Since Captain Kestel is the XO, she’ll be leading it. Oh, and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t know you’re back yet. So what do you say? Want to surprise her?”

“Oh god the look on her face will be good,” Evans pointed back at Tiscornia, “I need the worst uniform possible. No rank, unbuttoned, lots of threads, nothing shined, and the wrong shirt. Is it a Battle Inspection?”

Tiscornia closed his eyes and thought, “Yes… Yes it is.”

“Then I’ll tip my helmet over my face so she can’t see me from the front of the formation.”

 

Evans stood somewhat uncomfortably, trying to keep his face down. Captain Kestel was walking down the line. She wasn’t really doing a complete inspection, just looking for major errors. Which Evans definitely had.

Eventually the Captain reached him, standing hidden in the far back of Second Platoon of Fox Company. She grumbled a bit and starting writing on her clipboard, “What’s your name soldier? So I can know who to give extra PT for the next month.”

Evans looked up and smiled, “Lance Corporal James Evans Ma’am. Want me to do some push ups now?”

Her face going pale, Captain Kestel dropped her clipboard, “Bu… But… You died.”

“I got better,” Evans smirked.

Captain Kestel stepped forward and hugged Evans tightly before remembering her place. She stepped back, picked up her clipboard, and made a note, “Fall out Lance Corporal, I want to see you in my office.”

Evans saluted, “Yes Ma’am.”

After Captain Kestel returned the salute, Evans took a step back, and Captain Kestel rushed forward and hugged him a second time, “Screw Protocol. I… I cannot begin to tell you how happy I am.”

When she released him, Evans left the formation and walked to the Battalion Headquarters. After about half an hour, Captain Kestel walked into her office. Evans stood up and saluted while the Captain shut the door. She smiled, tossed her helmet to the side and hugged him again, “How is this possible? Newey said you were…. You were dead.”

“It’s a long story Ma’am. In short… The last thing I remember from Northern Gate was trying to find our lines. When I woke up, I was in a Vledscan Field Hospital. I was then in a prison camp until a few weeks ago. A Vledscan soldier used me to help him defect. Then I spent a week on leave and came here.”

“So… How did Anna react to all this?”

“Well she’s pregnant again. From… uh… leave before Northern Gate. She’s due in March…” Evans’ eyes opened wide, “I just realized I’m 21. Wow. I’m old.”

“Hey,” the Captain laughed, “We are old.”

“Right,” Evans smiled, “Two things now. First, Anna said you came by personally to tell her about what… What you thought happened to me. So thanks. Even if it turned out you were wrong. Second. Um… You need an orderly?

“About the orderly position,” Captain Kestel paused, “I am leaving the Regiment soon. I have been offered a position as the Battalion commander in the Naval Infantry. It is part of a program to get experienced officers before a coming attack. I have been told I can bring an NCO to act as my orderly and to assist the battalion’s… Petty Officers I think… in developing practical combat training and work along with a Private thats already been attached to the Battalion. I was going to decline and let the army decide for me, but now that you are here… “

“I’ve never been on a boat before… Sounds exciting.”