Spring break is a chance to cut loose, have some fun, and make some memories! Here are 5 tips for making the most of your week off!
1. Gotta get with your best buds first!!
There is the sound again, a sharp, pricking sound on the edge of hearing that bypasses my ears to echo behind my eyeballs. It whines at first, a tiny sound, but it builds to a shrieking scream that overtakes the dull roar of the trench and the battle and chaos until it fills all of us with the certainty of death. We dive for cover, dice in a craps game playing the odds since we cannot know where the shell will land. Any dive is as good as another, each a sacrament to the god of statistics, the only god that has not abandoned us. I clutch my helmet to my skull, the thin steel edge of it biting my hand as I wait for the howling to end and the fire and death to begin. Michael, the Canadian kid they’ve rotated into the squad, crouches near me, his hands digging into the mud walls of our ditch house as he shivers and prays.
2. Spring Break Means One Thing: Fun in the Sun!!
Outside of Rouen, we are given a 24-hour foraging pass and sent off. We head east, towards the edge of Alliance trenchworks, picking our way across the scabbed-over landscape of past battles. The truck hisses to a stop on the edge of an algae-encrusted mudhole. Peter and Charlie wrap the machine in netting and canvas while Michael and I cut dead branches from the shaggy riot of an abandoned hedge. Since the day in the trench, the kid has decided that I’m good luck, that our standing up and picking our way through the shattered guts of our squadmates after the assault was a sign of divine favor. He sticks close to me now.
We drape the branches over the truck, and the Lieutenant (I cannot remember his name, they tend not to last very long so it is rarely worth it) pulls his pistol and leads the way. We hop ditches and clamber through gardens thick with the powdery ash of Blight bombs. The little village is silent, dead. The squad fans out, checking each house in turn. They’ve all been picked clean, but in the back of one little cottage Thom finds a shelter shed, the sealing pin still in place. We blow it with a grenade, and the smell that rolls out of it, decay and corruption, tells us we have found our prize.
Below, huddled in the corner under blankets, are human remains. We don’t bother checking or counting them. They’d sealed themselves in, hoping to ride out the Blight, but their water filter failed before the air cleared. They’ve left behind a pile of rations though, boxes and boxes of hard-little squares of vacuum-packed mycoproteins. We spend the rest of the day loading our packs from their stores.
We spend the day in the village, and get back to the pond near dusk. A Central Powers air drone had found the truck and bombed it to a smoking ruin. We hike the thirty miles back to the supply dump.
3. Get Your Tan Done BEFORE Heading To The Beach! Hello!!
Desertion peaks at around 25% before they finally figure out how to fix it. In Roman times, apparently, the gravest of disciplinary actions available to the commander was decimation. 1-in-10 soldiers, drawn at random, are executed for the failures of another. The guys they pull from the line might not have done anything, might not have even known what had been done by someone else, but they count off and get pulled from the line and killed right there. They put a twist on it, though; instead of the Company getting decimated, they’d just go through the file of the missing man, find his home town, and send the Home Guard in to decimate the town. I understand there were some scaling issues, what with some guys coming from New York City and others from Podunk Iowa, but that’s what the Army Statistics Division was for. They worked out a scaling function pretty quick.
Of course there were some problems at first. Eventually, they got the Army to concede that they could only decimate towns back home when they’d convicted the deserters in military court, on account of that squad that got trapped behind enemy lines for twenty days, eventually fighting their way back to the lines after capturing a couple of hills and a battle standard. I understand that, even with their shiny medals, they were a little pissed off at finding out they’d been declared “deserters”.
4. You And Your Wingman Gotta Work Out The Strategy Before Hand, Bro!!
Michael, the Canadian, steps on a mine outside of Württemberg. We can’t find his tags, so we just mark him down as KIA in the books. They’ve mined the whole city, but they say it’s got to be cleared so the tanks can get through, so we clear it. The detectors we’ve got don’t really work; turns out there’s barely any metal in the mines anymore, it’s all ceramics and explosives, so we end up having to improvise tapping sticks, seven or eight foot long poles, as thin as you can get them. We pick our way through like blind men, creeping through rubble, tap tap tap. You find one usually by the bony, stony clinking the pole on the mine. It reminds me of an Aunt I had, who tapped her spoon sharply against the thin china cup at each teatime, as if she were going to make a speech. I never remember her saying anything important, though.
Our tappers take too long for Command. They end up herding POWs into the streets at gun point, forcing them to run down the lanes, their bodies flung high into the air with the rest of the rubble whenever they find a mine.
5. Remember: You’re Only Young Once! Carpe the Diem, Doggs!!
Our guns pound their trenches for days, announcing the inevitable charge through the wire and the mines. Their drones overhead drop Hebenon Gas on us day and night. It curdles the blood right in your veins, an ugly death, and of course one of the filters in my mask is on the fritz. I’m busy picking through the pockets of my most recently deceased Lieutenant looking for his spare, when the shuddering of the guns stops. The biofeedback band on my wrist buzzes the signal to me. We’re going over. We’ve got no Officer, but we have to go over the edge, or the MPs will come by and shoot us down in our own trenches for cowardice. I stand up and check my wrist band; air reads okay, so I strip my mask off and cinch up my helmet. I grab the Lieutenant’s pistol and jam it in my belt. My rifle seems heavy.
The rattling on the feedback band increases. Thirty seconds. The guns are silent, and the other side is counting down with us. They’ll have loaded the autocannons by now. Fifteen seconds, and rhythm of the alert from the band changes, slows to a steady once-per-second throb. Mortars, from a few trenches back, lob fog grenades high overhead. They land with a coughing thud a hundred yards ahead of us, their heavy smoke obscuring ground and, hypothetically, our bodies when we start the run. Of course, careful aim is not a necessary skill when firing an autocannon. Five seconds.
The siren wails, and we climb out. We’re all veterans in this end of the line, so we don’t pop up and come out running. Our ascent is careful, our heads low. Crouched, we make a run for the fog bank. If we’re lucky, we’ll fall into a shell crater or a ditch, and can wait out the battle.
Just inside the fog bank, I stumble into a line of razor wire, the blades slicing through my pants and boots and cutting deep into my legs and feet. I tumble to the ground just as the autocannons open up, a screaming hiss of electromagnetically propelled slivers of metal that tear through the men to my left and right. They keep running, their bodies unaware of their death for a half second more, before tumbling to the ground.
I crawl into a low spot, a little swale in the landscape where I can hunker down and get at my kit. The hypofoam works pretty good, staunching all but the deepest gashes in my legs, and a shot of morphine does me a world of good. I lay on my back and watch the tracers arc across the night sky, little comets offering gentle guidance to the gunners upcountry. It has been six weeks since I shipped out, and I am already an old man.