After a few minutes, First Squad had changed into their new uniforms. Evans looked around as the soldiers tucked their old uniforms into their kit bags. McGilligan still had her scarf sitting around her neck. Evans asked, “Should you be wearing that?”

“It’s a light scarf. In the desert, you want to keep the sun off you. And your sweat will be held in the scarf and it will cool you down. If there’s a dust storm, you can pull it up over your nose so you can breathe proper. Helps you filter water. Really it’s the most important part of the outfit.”

“So you were a scarf when you’re home?” Howe asked.

McGilligan smiled as she responded, “I’ve got scarves for every dress I have. My parents hated it, because it meant I was always planning on sneaking off into the desert to read and camp. My mother said I was too focused on reading and being out in the desert and not focused enough on boys.”

“Well obviously you focused on boys enough. To be a fallen woman,” Howe said under her breath.

McGilligan’s face went red. Her eyes narrowed in anger. She started to move towards Howe, fists clenched. Johnson and Madison moved quickly to hold her back.

Gibson looked surprised, confused, and a little bit scared. She took a few steps back to put Evans between her and the action.

Evans glared at Howe and said, “Howe, I’m sure you just had a slip of the tongue.”

Indignant, Howe replied, “You know, I’m plenty interested in men, and I’ve easily managed to stay chaste. All I’m saying is that this whore is lying to us.”

Before Evans had a chance to respond, Johnson had let go of McGilligan and dashed forward at Howe. With a single swing of her fist, Howe was on the ground. Johnson knelt on top of her and kept hitting until Tiscornia physically restrained her. Evans turned around and faced the wall of the train, “Johnson, Howe. Next two meals are cancelled and you are confined to the train at all stops. And if I find out anyone else is sneaking them food, First Squad will be fasting until we reach the Desert.”

Evans turned back to the Squad. Tiscornia had let Johnson go, and she was now in the back corner, comforting McGilligan. Madison and Ollie had moved over to make sure Howe was alright. Gibson walked over to Shep, still looking confused and whispered something to her.

Train West

After about a week at Strongfield, building temporary shelters and watching against looters, orders came down to the 202nd. The rebellion in the Western Desert had been mostly taken care of, but as a show of force, units were being cycled through for ‘training’ in the desert before being sent back to the front. So, the 202nd was to spend a week in the badlands practicing how to fight in that terrain. Sergeants and above had to read a pamphlet on Desert Warfare and how to survive in the Desert, written by some of the top minds in Newacre.While Evans was reading it, Lance Corporal McGilligan and Private Gibson quickly scanned it and told him it was worthless and ripped it up. Each squad had been given half a cattle car with some plywood nailed up as a partition to divide them from the other squad. There was some leftover hay that they could use for beds in addition to their kits.


After the first night on the train, they came to a stop in some plains town. Captain Gates came to each of the cars followed by some soldiers with dollies. One of them pulled a bag off the dolly and tossed it into First Squad’s car. Captain Gates walked up to Evans, “New Uniforms, for the desert. They’re lighter material, lighter color. You should be in uniform by breakfast in two hours. Latest reports say it’s thirty five to forty degrees out there, so drink plenty of water.”

Evans saluted and Captain Gates left. He turned to the Squad and opened the bag and pulled out the uniforms, “Alright everyone, change into these uniforms now. Pack up your old uniforms and put them into your kits.” He quickly called out the names and tossed the soldiers their uniforms.

McGilligan and Gibson had weird smiles on their faces as they tugged on the new uniforms. Johnson tossed a loose piece of hay at McGilligan and asked, “What are you so smiley about Kitty? It’s going to be 40 degrees out.”

McGilligan looked knowingly at Gibson, “I take it you haven’t been to the desert Em?”

Gibson nodded, “In the desert, you’re free. The life is harsh, there’s nothing unnecessary. Every creature and plant is a rugged thing. You don’t have to worry about the trappings of your daily life, just survival.”

“That sounds just terrible,” Howe said.

McGilligan just shook her head, “You don’t understand. I once spent two weeks alone in the desert. Just me and a rifle alone in the badlands. You just can’t understand.”

Johnson shrugged, “I’ll take your word for it Kitty.”

Party Part III

“So, kid,” Moore said to Gibson, “On a lighter note, you have anyone back home?”

Shaking her head, Gibson replied, “No, no one. Actually, before I enlisted, I was reading stories in the papers about a great hero soldier who came from a humble background. I clipped articles about him, and even had a little photo. Then, I get into the Army, find out he’s married, but also,” Gibson pointed over to Evans, “My Sergeant…. Well, after some excitement a little while ago at Rogovaya Obmanka. I was with the 127th then.”

“Ooh, ‘excitement.’ You’re getting the slang down good kid.”

“I’ve got the Sergeant to help.”

“He’s a fucking idiot eh?” Shaw shouted, quieting the room.

There was the sound of glass smashing and Evans slurred, “I am. Good Lorrrrd. I am. Ye know how man… many kids are dead because of me? How many kids have I sent to their deaths?” Evans collapsed to the ground and started sobbing, “I was a prisoner of war, you know? You know what they did there?” He paused, “I wouldn’t want to be a woman in those camps. I saw things no one should fuckin’ see.” Evans grabbed a bottle of whiskey and then slumped to the ground as he took a swig, “I just wanna be home with my family, what am I fucking doing out here? I should be home. I should be home.”

One of the soldiers from the 351st pointed to Gibson, “Hey, kid, can you help Sergeant Evans home?”

Gibson nodded and started to help Sergeant Evans out. He muttered to her, “Don’t tell anyone. I’m su… supposed to be in charge. You know, I’ve heard you. Say you want to marry a man like me. I’m fucking broken. Find someone who hasn’t seen this shit. Find someone who’s still whole. Who’s a good person”

“You’re still a good person Sergeant,” Gibson shook her head, ”I saw you at Rogovaya Obmanka. You tried to do what was best for your squad. You saved Shep from that officer. You’re a hero Sergeant.”

Party Part II

“So, Private, where you from?” Moore asked.

Gibson smiled, “The Western Desert, Red Sands.”

Moore’s face dropped. She looked back over her shoulder, “Steffie, get over here.”

A women walked over. She nodded to Gibson, “Corp Steffie Basset,” She looked over to Moore, “What you want Doe?”

“She’s from Red Sands.”

Steffie looked at Gibson, “You get news much kid?”

“Not really. Not a fan of reading,” Bessie responded.

“Two days ago a group of rebels in the Western Desert rose up and claimed secession from Ethslin. Red Sands was their declared capital. My sources say officers are going around and interviewing all soldiers from the Desert. So be ready to pledge your loyalty, or you’re getting pulled out.”

“My God,” Gibson’s mouth opened wide, “Did they say who’s involved?”

“No,” Steffie shook her head, “Just that they’ve seized a few storehouses of arms.”

“Lord, I hope those rebels get what’s coming. I always heard the talk growing up, but I’d never think they’d rebel in our time of need,” Gibson looked down, “So, is the army doing something?”

“They’ve cancelled the leaves of everyone there and called the militia up.”

“Those militia idiots?”

“Oi!” one of the older soldiers spoke up, “What’s wrong with the militia? I was a Corporal in the militia before the war.”

“Well they just walk around and think they’re important, pretending they’re real soldiers, telling us what to do, even though they can’t shoot straight.”

“I’m a fucking real soldier.”

“Now you are,” Gibson took a swing of the krupnik, winced, and continued, “But now you also have real rifles.”

“I’ll give you that kid, the SER Militia is shit. What genius decided that giving multiple rounds to the militia is a bad idea?”

“What the hell do you mean,” Steffie asked?”

“The army bean counters decided that since the Militia has less training, in any firefight they’d waste ammunition if they had a magazine, so they welded a cutoff in place. So with every shot you have to reload. It’s supposed to ‘encourage marksmanship.’ But since they can only afford about tenrounds a month, most of the militiamen are terrible shots. The only weapons that can fire multiple shots in a standard company are the officers who have Benett Pistols. Each Regiment has exactly one Blaire Gun, with pretty much no training. And that’s in the Newacre, where we have money. I’d guess the Desert has less.”

Party Part I

Evans, Shaw, and Gibson arrived at the building with sounds of revelry inside. They entered a room with about a dozen soldiers, most stripped down to their undershirts, a few wearing their jackets, unbuttoned. Evans saw the two that Shaw had mentioned, Kasia and Fitz, shirtless and arguing. They looked different than Evans had expected. Kasia was skinny, but muscular, with a few dozen scars and pits on her chest. Fitz was lanky and pale. Kasia came over and offered a bottle of krupnik, then slurred at Evans, “A Sergeant? Shaw you shouldn’t have. I am Katarzyna Kowalska, and how would you the chance to go to bed with a famous ballerina?”

Evans took a drink of the krupnik and ignored the question, “So this is what my wife always wants me to drink. Too sweet for me,” Evans passed it back, “So, you’re a ballerina?”

“Yes, if your wife is Silesian she will have heard of me. And she would probably be so proud of you for sleeping with a great dancer of her nation.”

Evans was about to respond when he heard a smack coming from where Gibson was. She had slapped Fitz hard for what Evans guessed was a rude remark. Kasia turned her attention away from Evans and shouted at Gibson, “Good choice, Fitz is tiny down there, you can’t feel anything.”

“All I know is for a ballerina, you are boring in the sack.”

Kasia stormed over, “I’ll fucking show you boring.” She grabbed Fitz’s arm and the two left.

Shaw nodded, smiled, then stepped up on a table to address everyone, “Now that they’re gone, these are our guests from the 202nd. My buddy from back home Jimmy Evans and Bessie Gibson, a private who tagged along.”

One of the soldiers wearing a jacket with the Lance Corporal’s insignia spoke up, “Is he the one with all the medals?”

“I only have like two medals. An MoE Third with two clusters and an MoE First. Then I’ve got the standard campaign ribbons and wound stripes. Plus that Prisoner of War thing I got.”

The Lance Corporal spoke up again, “That’s five medals not two.”

Another soldier spoke up, “The 202nd is one of those units that gets all the awards. If we were involved in those actions we’d get a pat on the head and sent to somewhere else.”

Gibson spoke up, “Isn’t the 351st regular Infantry? The 202nd is Shock troops. We go in when the regular infantry can’t hack it.”

“Those are fighting words Private.”

“That’s what Army headquarters says.”

Shaw started to laugh. After a few seconds of silence one of soldiers stepped forward and offered a bottle of whiskey to Gibson, “Lance Corporal Moore. You can call me Doe.”

Gibson took a big gulp then immediately spat it out, “This is awful!”

Evans shook his head, “You have no taste kid.”

Moore looked around, “Did Kasia leave any of her Krupnik.”

Someone tossed a bottled to Moore who handed it to Gibson. Gibson took a sip, made a face, then nodded, “This is better.”

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.”

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.