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Hell in the Trenches

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a part of Hell in the Trenches, by Irish Wolf.

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Irish Wolf holds sovereignty over Earth, giving them the ability to make limited changes.

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8 Characters Here

Guy Bonnet [1] Corporal in the 9th Laufland Fusiliers
Brian Taylor Smith [0] Private of the 9th Laufland Fusiliers
Mattie Smith [0] War is never easy; neither is picking up body parts
Aleksandr Borodin [0] Town boy and son of a blacksmith
Stanislav Petrov [0] About as raw of a recruit as you can get.
Alexei Titov [0] Corporal in the 9th Laufland Fusiliers
Martin Isaac [0] Private of the 9th Laufland Fusiliers

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"You! What’s your province and platoon number!”

“Merov training platoon one-seventy-four” blurted the baby-faced youth, who had the unlucky position of being in front of his thirty-five companions, as he stared at the small man who had yelled at him, “Ahh….Corporal”

“Carry on” snarled Alexei, as the kid struggled in his full kit to make a salute without dropping his rifle. He was a mixed sneer and brooding rage. He had been waiting at the Laufland Central Train Station for a few hours now. Trains from all over his home province and those to the west, carrying supplies and troops stopped here, to have their cargos placed on trains heading towards the front lines. The train carrying the newest batch of Lauflander soldiers was supposed to have arrived fifteen minutes ago and training platoon two-fifty-three was supposed to report to platform fifteen. Which is where he and his fellow, Corporal Guy Bonnet, were suppose to get them on the train heading to the Clovis Line, which was in the northern part of the front lines, instead of the south, where most of the Lauflander regiments had been posted.

The little Corporal had gotten a telegram last week, ordering him to collect the platoon of replacements when his liberty leave was over. He could only assume that Corporal Bonnet had gotten such message, as well or he would have caught the train leaving for the town of Chkalov, two hours ago. Thrusting a ling fingered hand into the pocket of his green breeches, he pulled out the gold watch he had looted from the body of a Laudikian major and glared at it.

“You! What’s your province and platoon number!”

“Merov training platoon two-o-three” came a cheery, pride filled voice.

“Damn” muttered Alexei, shifting the straps of his rifle and pack. There was a very muffled clinking sound, as the bottles of booze, wrapped in his clothing and blanket, touched. Also hidden in the pack were; cigarettes, cigars, paper packets filled with marijuana or opium and small vials morphine, to name some of the semi-illegal contraband he was carrying back to the front lines. He only drank but the rest of the stuff could be traded for more food, medical supplies, new boots or extra socks and a number of other things a soldier needs but rarely gets.

“You!” he shouted, pointing a long, thin finger at a new group of conscripts, “What’s your province and platoon number!”

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#, as written by Phidius
The train station was in one of the few cities in Laufland Province, and Aleksandr Borodon found it to be a huge, amazing place. The sheer size was intimidating, even to Alek with his unusually large build, and he was happy to be with thirty-five other people from his province.

Nervous anyway, Alek put his large, calloused hands into his trouser pockets and looked at a space on the concrete platform about a yard in front of him. He was wearing a full kit of his country's uniform, and found it a bit uncomfortable still. It wasn't that it was particulary heavy to him, just awkward and unusual. In his pack was the standard bedroll, rations, etcetera that was given with the uniform, in addition to a hatchet his father had given him and half of a loaf of bread his mother had given him.

As the platoon assembled in a motley group, Alek found himself in the front row closest to the loud and intimidating NCO going down the line . .

“You!” Alek looked around, his heart pounding, and saw a short, thin, rodent-looking NCO pointing a finger seemingly right at him. A nervous flush came to his face as the NCO continued. “What’s your province and platoon number!”

"Er . ." Alek began, "Laufland, training platoon one twenty-four!" He rattled out in his soft baritone voice.

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Guy Bonnet shivered through tunic, sweater, and wool underwear as he leaned against a post. If it got any colder, he'd have to unstrap his greatcoat from his pack. He slung his shotgun, got out his matches and cigarettes, and tried to light up. He cursed when a gust of wind blew out one of the precious matches. No one carried lighters anymore; you couldn't find the petrol for them, not with the war on. When he got it lit, he raised the cigarette to his mouth and drew on it a full five seconds, until an inch of white paper was consumed by the ravenous glowing ember. Hot smoked flooded his lungs, driving out the cold. Christ, he thought, that's good. It seemed that the only time he was warm any more was when he was drunk or smoking.

Faintly, as if from a long way off, Guy heard, "Laufland training platoon one twenty-four." When he looked up, he saw that Alexei was ten yards away, snapping at a platoon that was as fresh as new milk. He shook his head. Two years of rifle and shotgun work, of sitting through hours-long barrages in paper-thin dugouts, and his hearing was scarce half what it once was. By the time his twenty was up, he'd be deaf. Not like that was much of a worry; he'd be dead in three, five if he was lucky.

He took a last hurried drag and snapped the butt at a passing recruit's head. It exploded in a shower of sparks. Guy exploded in laughter. The boy turned around, looking like he wanted to fight. Guy punched him in the sternum and shoved him back into formation. The recruit's own sergeant bawled him out for breaking formation, and Guy walked off, still laughing.

"Alright you new meat!" Guy roared. "Wipe those dumb looks off your fat fuckin' faces and form up in a column of files. My name is Corporal Bonnet, and this is Corporal Titov. We've been ordered to escort your cherry asses up to your new home. Welcome to the war!"

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Martin Isaac adjusted the way his kits weight sat on his shoulders, the train ride having not been so kind to him. They had finally arrived, after the training and particular brand of fun that came with it, and looked at the sheer amount of bustle and chaos going on, and kept any expression off his face.

The size of the whole enterprise and apparent lack of control could of been amazing, if he hadn't already noticed it had gotten cooler out already. He was in full gear, of course, the entrenching tool he had cut apart and rebuilt on his hip rather than in his kit, the rest of his issued rations and such on his back. He didn't mind the bustle and the crowded nature of the station platform, nor having to fight at times to stay with the other recruits from his province, as he was certainly not looking forward to dying. He was already used to his uniform, having run more than a few disciplinary miles and other such punishments in it, so it wasn't awkward yet. He had situated himself in the middle of the group of fresh recruits, not at the rear where he could get snagged for whatever reason, and not leading the way to avoid having to deal with officers and NCO's. He would be bound to do something stupid.

Yelling at the front of the group attracted his attention. Some ratty NCO was yelling at the front guy, big but nervous, for province and platoon number. What, didn't ratface know who to look for? He would of rolled his eyes at that, but that habit was beaten out of him long before getting this far, so he kept his peace for now. Of course another NCO made his way over and introduced himself and ratface, or Corporal Titov as Bonnet so mentioned, and he fell into formation with the order, not looking to make enemies just yet. His main goal for now was to keep his head down and avoid trouble, so he did his best to look like someone not worth wasting time on chewing out. He just had to hope it would work.

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Stanislav looked around the bustling train station, completely dewildered though his face didn't show it. It was so different for the small town and peaceful hills he had just of his home in northern Laufland. His bewilderment was probably why he had gotten separated from his training platoon so quickly. He spent a good ten minutes trying to find them, being jostled around my the hordes of men and women packing the station platforms. Finally he spotted one of the men of his platoon, a tall man like himself, but he was much bulkier. Stanislav made a beeline for where the man and he assumed the rest of the platoon would be.

As he worked his way towards the platoon he noticed a pair of NCOs yelling at the rest of the men. Stanislav tried to slip into the back ranks of the platoon without being seen, not an easy task for a man his height. Hopefully the NCOs would be distracted enough to notice him. He hated being yelled at, which he was sure to happen to a late comer like himself, but he had long since learned how to deal with it. His face now always carried the same stony expression. His mother always said when he was younger that if he kept making faces they would get stuck that way, and now it seemed his expression had truly become stuck. The only way a person would ever see any inkling of what he was feeling was through his eyes. Try as he might, he just couldn't get his eyes to be as stony as his face.

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“You can forgot that Laufland training platoon shit” said Alexei is a rather loud sneer, so that everyone could hear him, as he thrust the watch back into it’s pocket. His voice wasn’t made for shouting or having that nice, near sergeant like bellow, which his fellow corporal pulled off nicely. He scanned the platoon and came to focus on the recruit who had answered his question. The big lummox had singled himself, so to serve as the corporal’s punching bag and to make sure the rest of the platoon followed his orders or at least until he handed the recruits over to an officer. He wasn’t sure of Guy would take to tormenting the big fellow or if he pick someone else but that wasn’t his business.

“Your now part of Ninth Laufland Fusiliers” the rattish man continued, “First battalion, second company.”

For a moment, Corporal Titov turned his head and looked at the train. The sneer cut deeper into his face, as he turned back to glare at the platoon. Behind him, the station conductors, most of whom were older men missing limbs, had closed the doors to the boxcars. Now the only choices left for transportation on the rail line were a number of cattle cars. Thankfully, most of those didn’t have scrawny cows in them. With the chill of winter heavy in the autumn air, he was going to have to unstrap the greatcoat from his pack for the hours they were going to spend traveling to Chkalov.

The weather would be changing soon. It would start raining over the Clovis Line, starting in a few days or maybe a few weeks if they were lucky. Then it would turn to freezing rain, then sleet. They might get snow around the middle of the winter but it would turn back into freezing rain and then more rain during the spring. Then the summer would be muggy and they’d all wish for sleet again.

“Now then” said Alexei, “You will follow me and Corporal Bonnet. You will do this smartly and in formation, seeing as your dawdling has already cost us a nice seat, out of the weather.”

“You” he continued, pointing at the big recruit, “Will move to the end of the platoon and make sure everyone makes it into the train car. You will answer to us, if we don’t get thirty-six slabs of new meat back to the regiment and then you’ll answer to the Captain and then to the Colonel.”

Nodding to Guy, he pointed at a car that didn’t have anyone pushing into it yet, mostly because it was near the end of the train, which would have a rougher ride, then those in front of it. Alexei wasn’t about to spend hours pack into a train car with a bunch of Merovians and Kascin bastards, without getting to pick his own spot to sit.

Shifting his rifle once more, the small Corporal lead the way, pushing throw the gaps between squads and platoons, until he was able to jump into the cattle car of his choosing. Finding that straw covering the floor was fresh and lacking in piles of cattle droppings, he pulled his pack and rifle from his shoulders and sat down in the front left corner, which would protect him from the worst of the wind. Propping the pack besides him and the rifle between his crossed legs, the rattish man settled in for a long trip.

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#, as written by Phidius
Alek should have been used to being yelled and snapped at from the training camp, but this man, Corporal Titov as he'd been introduced as, seemed truly bitter, not like the drill sergeants who were just egging them on. He winced as Titov snapped at him, making sure to maintain eye contact and nod or shake his head at the appropriate times.

When he was told to bring up the rear, Alek simply nodded and carefully counted the members of his platoon, doing so repeatedly as the shuffled in a marching column after the corporals and into a big box car empty of anything but straw that smelled of manure. Being in the rear of the column, Alek was the last aboard, and so had to settle with sitting in one of the few spots left: a spot of wooden floor with only a small amount of straw that happened to be near the veteran corporals. He guessed the rest of the recruits liked their new supervisors about as much as he did.

Shrugging his pack off and carefully laying his rifle down with it, Aleksandr sat cross-legged and stared at the far wall, trying not to be noticed despite his height of over six feet while he retreated to a corner of his mind where he was just conscious of himself, being quiet as he had a reputation of being.

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Guy stood by the cattle car door, cursing and shoving men roughly up into it and keeping a running tally on his fingers. Whatever Titov had said to the meathead, he would be taking no chances. If one of the sorry bastards bolted and had to be ridden down by the feldgendarmerie, it would be both their asses. He was too old and cold and carrying too much shrapnel for this shit.

As Alek filed up to the door, Guy grinned wickedly and crowed, "Move along, bubble butt," and gave the big boy a particularly nasty open-handed jab to the kidneys, propelling him upwards with a yelp. Guy swung up after him, and stood among the huddled and apprehensive soldiers - some of whom looked one further shock away from vomiting. He puffed himself up in front of them and said, "Alright, you sons of bitches, settle in and keep quiet. We're stuck on this train together for three hours, and I won't take any shit from any of you."

He found an empty spot, close to but not quite beside Titov. Neither man much liked to be touched, not when it could be avoided. They had spent too many nights in crowded dugouts, being nibbled at by rats while they listened to the shells impact all around them and waited for one to crash through the earth-and-timber ceiling. He took his pack off, unstrapped his seven-pound wool greatcoat, put it on, and lay down on the slat floor with his pack under his head. He laid his shotgun on his chest, safety off, stock at his shoulder, muzzle at his knee, hand touching the comb of the stock. If the bastards tried anything smart - a mutiny or some other nonsense - he could empty the gun and send 54 .32-caliber buckshot downrange in the time it took to draw a deep breath.

Last thing before a nap, Guy fished his cigarettes and matches out of his tunic's breast pocket. He stared forlornly down at the empty pack. Shit. He'd been sure he had one more in there when he put them away.

"Alright, you assholes," he growled. "Who's got smokes on him? Cough 'em up."

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Bunch of rays of sunshine then, Martin thought with a bitter feel as he followed after the two NCO's, both whom enjoyed taking shots at the big guy it seemed. Well let them, better someone else than him, and he would prefer to keep it that way. In all reality, he would be getting yelled at sooner or later anyways, so he figured he might as well save it for when it would make sense. He didn't let the brutality of the treatment shock him, he had bore the brunt of similar treatment as part of his numerous punishments during training. He swung on and promptly found a corner of the cattle wagon. Cattle didn't pack into corners, at least that was what he was told from the few farm boys he had talked to during the training camp, and sure enough his spot wasn't hiding a nasty all natural cow surprise. He set the rifle between his knees, pulling his coat tighter around his shoulders to further ward off the cold. Hell already, and they were not even there yet. Whoever had come up with the line that war was glorious and they should be honored to serve needed shot.

Having settled into a half doze, he was still awake enough to avoid looking annoyed when the NCO ordered smokes to be produced. He had gotten some in a trade, and he didn't need them. It would free some space up. Producing the pack, he called out his first words to Corporal Bonnet. "Sir, here. I don't smoke."

Sure he had the man's attention, he tossed the pack across to where he had settled down, mentally noting the shotgun. Doesn't trust us, frankly, he can't be surprised. He didn't expect any sort of thanks or the like, possibly being bitched out for daring to speak up so boldly so soon. But he was loosing dead weight that would give him more room for additional items he could use. More importantly, it removed the temptation to start smoking. He didn't like the habit, mainly because his bunk for many years had smelled of stale smoke in the home, a memory that gave him negative outlooks towards the habit. He settled down again, backing into the corner best he could before trying to resume his half doze. Three hours, could start catching up on lost sleep from training.

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Stanislav followed the rest of the platoon to the cattle car, not saying anything and most definitely trying not to make I concact with either of the NCOs. He already disliked both of them. They were both crude, rude, and vulgar. He wouldn't be at all suprised if one of them "accidentaly" got shot during an assault by one of there own men. He'd been a shepherd long enough to know that nobody, man or beast, responded well to cruelty and abuse. It only provided the abuser short-term gratification and harmed everyone in the long run. If those two were any indication of what a few years at the front could do to you Stanislav couldn't help but hope he died early on. Not that we wanted death, he fully hoped to live. But if life at the front destroyed a man in this sort of fashion, death was almost better.

Upon entering the cattle car Stanislav moved to the corner farthest from the two NCOs. It would be the coldest part of the car, especially once they started moving, but they had been given their greatcoats for a reason. He found himself sitting next to a soldier who immediately started dozing off. Stanislav would have prefered to write something, but he got the distinct impression that his two new NCOs would be the kind that would ridicule such pursuits. In his short time in the army he had only found one man who thought it a worthwhile thing to do, a captain who said that such works would always be important to save for history. The other NCO climbed into the car last and settled himself down next to rat-face. Almost immediately he was bellowing at the men to give him some cigarettes. He was quickly answered by the dozing man next to him who through the bellower a pack of cigarettes saying that he didn't smoke. Stanislav didn't smoke either, but he was loathe to give either of the NCOs his cigarettes. He'd rather them go to someone who would appreciate it as a kind gesture from a comrade, or even to use them in trading. Settling down for the trip Stanislave removed his back and used it as a back rest, leaning it against the train car's wall. Removing a small rag from a pocket, he started to gently clean and polish Ludmila. He'd need her to be in top condition for when they reached the front.

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Alexei looked through the slats of the cattle car, past Laufland Central, to the city of Dogue. The city had grown up from a small town as the rail lines converged here, transporting a sleepy farming community into an important hub of trade and manufacturing. Over, with the war, the factories had been striped of machinery and turned into vast warehouses, filled with bullets, bandages and bombs, all destined for the front lines. A small army of clerks and quartermasters had replaced the once proud factory workers and merchants. The streets, though cleaner then they had been, now lacked the cheerful sound of children laughing and playing.

For a moment, the small corporal wondered if and when the war was over, would the workers and machines return or would the gutted city finally be allowed to die? Then the engine let out a loud, high-pitched whistle and the train jerked forwards. The heavy thump of the pistons and the sharp squeal of the axles could be heard clearly, as the train began to move and pick up speed, before slowly getting lost in the wind.

Feeling the chill, the rattish man yanked his greatcoat off of his pack and wrapped the woolen garment around his scrawny body. The steady chug of engine was calming, almost a lullaby, as the train reached it’s top speed. The landscape blurred past, as the wind cut through the open slats of the cattle car. All around them, men and women shivered. Three more platoons had been squished in with the Lauflanders but even press of bodies wasn’t enough to generate any heat.

Snug in his coat, Corporal Titov caught the last restful sleep he was going to get for years to come.

----------------------

Three hours later, they reached the town of Chkalov.

Waiting for them, was a row of tractors, idling in the muddy ‘street’, each with a long wagon attached. In the not-so-far distance, the guns could be heard. Artillery pieces bombarding the enemy lines, either to soften them up for an attack or in response to a bombardment they had suffered. As the train slowed to a crawl and stopped, men of the feldgendarmerie throw open the doors to the box cars and cattle cars, ordering the soldiers out, yelling for them to get on the wagon for their assigned regiment.

“Come on new meat” called Alexei, getting up, the NCO slung his pack and rifle back on his shoulders, “Its time to go to war!”

Suddenly a deafening roar came from behind them. One of the mighty twenty-inch railway guns had opened up, sending the whole unit sliding back fifty feet along a stretch of track. Besides the weapon that had already fired, two more great guns were being raised into position, ready to belch death across the miles between here and the enemy trenches.

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Guy stood beside the door with his shotgun in one hand and shoved the men out at a brisk pace, whistling the Infantry March as he did. He was almost cheerful, and when the scar-faced boy who'd given him cigarettes stepped up, Guy grunted and told him to tighten up his pack straps, it would ride better that way; high praise from him. Alone among every soldier int he army, he was in a hurry to get back to the front. At least there he had a purpose. This leave had been no good at all. He'd been looking forward to it the whole two years, but when it came, it was a disappointment. The women had been tawdry and sad, hollow-faced and skeletal from the short rations, and anyway he had no idea how to talk to them. He lost himself in the familiar: drinking and fighting, and by the time the leave was up he'd had his nose broken twice. That last night, he'd found himself in a mill worker's bar; drunk to hell and gone, he'd coldcocked a fellow for no reason at all. Two of the guy's friends jumped in, and they went to the floor. He'd won, but barely; his ribs ached, and his front teeth were loose.

Last out, he jumped down, just in time for one of the guns to fire. At the roar and the blow-like force of the shockwave, he instinctively hurled himself to the ground. A moment later, curled up in a fetal ball in the mud, he realized it was outgoing, not incoming.

"Smooth, Bonnet. Real smooth. Way to impress."

Guy jumped up, tried to knock the mud off before giving it up as hopeless - he'd soon enough be living in a world of mud - and turned to glare at the men. Someone chortled, and Guy saw red. He grabbed him by the tunic front and jerked him up off his feet.

"You spend two years playing hide-and-seek with one-fifty-fives, then you come laugh at me," he snarled, eyes wide, nose flaring. He didn't much like to be laughed at. "Now move out - get your asses in the wagon."

***************

Guy and Alexei left the platoon outside the Company HQ dugout. "Stay put, and don't do anything stupid," Guy said off-handedly, as he ducked inside the dugout. Thank Christ, he thought, as he stubbed his cigarette out on the dugout wall. The dumb bastards were no longer their problem. They were back among real soldiers, who didn't need constant looking after.

The CO was behind his desk - an ancient half-rotted house door set on top of two stacks of wooden ammunition crates. He was a tall, slender 20-year-old first lieutenant. He'd been a second lieutenant last time Guy had seen him. The officer turnover rate in line companies was through the roof. He'd be a major in another two years, if he survived that long. As he rose from his chair, Guy snapped off a crisp salute; Alexei's was something less than parade-ground perfect.

"Sir, Corporal Bonnet, returning from leave with a platoon of replacements."

"Corporal Titov, reporting."

The CO returned a half-salute and waved them at ease. Despite his youth, he had dark circles under his eyes and the wrinkles of a forty-year-old. A cigarette was clutched between his knuckles, and an ashtray made from a shell casing sat on his desk, overflowing with butts. Running an infantry company is not the least stressful of jobs.

"What did you see coming in?" he asked.

"Looked like the rail artillery was really giving it to 'em," Guy said.

"Yes, they are. They were moved up to support the division a week ago. We've been hard hit since you've been gone. This company is down to half-strength. Third platoon is a shell, a fucking ghost."

"Merovich?" Guy asked.

"Double amputee."

"Shit." Merovich had been his platoon sergeant, and a man he respected, even if he didn't particularly like him. "So what happens to third?"

"They're done. Morale's shot. The survivors will be distributed out through the other platoons, and the platoon you brought up will be redesignated third platoon. You two are now acting squad leaders."

"Sir, who's the PS?"

The lieutenant ground his cigarette out on his desk. He looked very old and very tired. "I've got no one to give you. Cooperate."

"Fuckin perfect," Guy said, as he dug for his cigarettes.

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#, as written by Phidius
As he stared aimlessly at the wall, Alek found himself dozing off to the rhythmic sound of he train and decided he was very tired. He slept for the remainder of the trip, a quite restful and dreamless sleep . .

Next thing he knew, the corporals were yelling at them again, this time to get off. He looked around and realized the train had stopped and they were at a new city. Getting onto his feet, Aleksandr looked out and saw some tractors waiting for them. Following everybody else, he hadn't taken two steps after getting off the train when a tremendous roar hit him, nearly making him jump out of his skin.

He was still calming down after the roar when he saw one of the NCOs go over to someone in his platoon and start yelling about playing hide-and-seek with one-five-fives or something like that. Afterwards, they were shuffled onto the wagons and brought to the front.

Alek didn't like the look of it from his first sight of it. It was all mud and craters and ditches. Not teh complaining type, he simply followed orders and his platoon until they were outside some kind of dugout, a 'company HQ' or something, and told to stay put. The NCOs were in there for several minutes before they came back out and detached a couple of squads from his platoon, one of them Alek's, and brought them to a place on the line.

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It hadn't taken as long as Martin thought to arrive at their destination, even if it had been three hours, it was a fast three since he had managed to avoid disturbances to his rest. The NCO hadn't said anything when he got the smokes, and he hadn't expected any thing, so it was a moot point. They were being kicked off the train and onto a wagon now, towed by tractor. Hearing the advice on shoulder straps, he nodded that he heard and did just that, tightening the pack straps. Guess that was the repayment for the smokes, a bit of advice he would of otherwise learned the hard way.

Seemed they were not that far off from the fighting, and he said nothing when Bonnet dove for cover from these so called one fifty fives, despite it being allied weapons firing. He had almost jumped out of his clothes when it fired, and he had this nasty feeling it was something he would have to get used to. Seemed some others didn't have the brains to keep their mouth's shut, so they got hoisted and yelled at for their trouble. Not the time to make commentary, and sure as hell not the time to be making enemies that were not in the enemy army. So he mounted up on the tractor pulled wagons, settling in for the ride out to wherever the hell they were going now. Lots of artillery on their side was firing, gave him a minor headache already.

Welcome to Hell, was the only thought in Martin's head regarding the sight he was presented with. But he still had the common sense and brain cells left to not make any comments about it, and would leave that for someone else to poke at and get yelled at for. Seems their chaperons had taken into the dugout, leaving the lot he had come in with standing around waiting. He had orders though, so he just kept silent and waited for them to return, glancing at the others around him. All fresh as him, and while he couldn't speak for the others, he did not want to be here for one second longer than necessary. War over in a year or so? Didn't buy it then, sure as hell didn't buy it now. He just followed as they were taken wherever at this point, watching where they went as well as how fast.

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The train ride to the front was rather uneventful. Stanislav eventually did pull out his notebook, writing what came to his mind and making sketches of what the inside of the cattle car looked like. The inside of the car became downright frigid during the ride, even with the mass of humanity packed inside of it. The greatcoat he was wearing certainly helped, but even it couldn't keep the cold at bay for three hours. When the he felt the train slowing down Stanislav quickly stashed the notebook and pencil in his pack, grateful that he would be able to move again soon.

Stanislav was getting out of the cattle car when the big railway gun fired. Startled, he missed the step and tumbled down into the mud. Luckily he landed on his back, protecting Ludmila from being hurt. The first thing he did when standing up was to check her, to make sure she was ok. He'd undoubtedly need to sight her in again, the fall would have jostled the scope, but other than a little mud she seemed fine. Some would probably call him crazy due to the emotional attachment he had to his gun, but it had been the only constant he had had during the long months of sniper school. He knew he hadn't been the only one to name and become attached to his weapon, a lot of other men had also. The regular riflemen might think him crazy if, or probably when, they found out, but they also probably didn't realize the connection between a sniper had his gun.

Stanislav climbed into the tractor-pulled wagons with the rest of his squad and once again pulled out his cleaning rag, cleaning Ludmila even more thoroughly than before. While he did so he took in his surrounding, trying to memorize his first impression. Mud. Gray. Death. The sound of artillery seemed to be constant, its roar taking on an almost musical sound, each gun adding in it's own unique sound and beat. It seemed that there was some beauty is war. He'de have to wait and see about the glory part. He watched with detatched curiousity as the two corporals walked into a bunker of some sort when the wagons stopped, but mostly his attention remained on Ludmila.

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“Fuck me” groaned Alexei, both at the lose of third platoon and at the fact that he still had to babysit the new meat. Now, he had been part of second platoon but Merovich and his boy’s had pulled second’s bacon out of the fire more then a few time. Plus, some of them owed him money or he picked things up for them, which weren’t really of that much value. Comrades and money lost, what a wonderful way to return to the front line.

With a sigh, he unslung his pack and set it down on the floor of the dugout. Not even trying to hide the fact he was transporting contraband, the small man pulled out a bottle of fortified wine. Not smiling but with a lessening of the sneer, he placed the booze on the Lieutenant’s desk.

“Free of charge Sir” said the corporal, “I think you’ll need it.”

“Take your platoon down to section two-nineteen” said the CO, placing the bottle out of sight, “I placed a squad from first platoon there to over the gap. Relieve them and get settled.”

“Yes Sir” replied both Corporals, as all three men traded salutes.

“You lot” called Alexei, as the NCOs came out of the dugout, “Have been placed in our tender care, as third platoon of second company, first battalion, ninth Laufland Fusiliers. Its is our great fortune, that second company is currently serving on the front line, rather then sitting on our arses back in reserve. You’ll be following us down to trench section two-nineteen, where the beds are softer then the King’s and we’ll eat better then lords.”

“Big fella” the rattish man continued, pointing his finger at his chosen victim, “Back of the platoon, keep ‘em all together.”

Turning, Alexei started down the twisting, slowly deeping supply trench. With each step, the wood used as the floor either became a piece of green timber or threatened to fall apart from rot. The walls were no better. A mixture of rotting or green board and rusting or poor quality wire mesh. After some time, they reached the zigzagging fighting trench, which was designed so that exploding shells could only effect small sections or to prevent a raider from aiming all down the line.

After a brief meeting with old comrades manning their spot in the line, the small corporal slipped passed a gas screen and into the dugout for the platoon. It was roughly cut from the earth, eighteen feet below the surface. A single, flickering light hung from an exposed wire in the ceiling, which swung from side to side with the impacts of shells down the line. A lantern sat on the solitary table, joined by two candles. A mixture of cots and bunks dug out of the walls provided spots to sleep in. He went to a cot, right in the back of the square chamber and set his gear down on it.

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#, as written by Seraph
“You lot” called Alexei, as the NCOs came out of the dugout, “Have been placed in our tender care, as third platoon of second company, first battalion, ninth Laufland Fusiliers. Its is our great fortune, that second company is currently serving on the front line, rather then sitting on our arses back in reserve. You’ll be following us down to trench section two-nineteen, where the beds are softer then the King’s and we’ll eat better then lords.”

Brian sauntered along the laid wooden planks that were emplaced to help keep the traction a soldier's boots would surely loose in the muck and grime of the mud in a heavy rainfall of the trenches. He held his rifle by the heft past the weapons slide chamber. His shoulders straight, squared away with feet; a mere 1-inch 'hat' atop his head. His uniform was itchy, but he was by this point, accustomed to it. The four week training program he was rushed through made him used to its discomfort.

Turnng his head, Brian's eyes caught the glimpse of the setting sun beyond this ditch he was in. So part of him asked himself, what was he even doing here? Had God intervened ad lead him on this path? Had he inexplicably, force him on this journey or had he himself lead himself to this point? With a forlorn expression, Brian would sigh in silent lament. He couldn't necessarily abandon those around him that needed him. He wasn't afraid of being accused of treason if he had gone AWOL--more, what his comrades would think of him. Their opinions meant more to him, than his meager existence. It was getting late now, ad the chill of the late evening gales and zephyrs had begun to blow across the carved out paths of earth.

It was terribly silent now. Somewhere, lurking just above the hill crest, was the enemy. He was out on patrol, watching the side paths from creeping enemy that would attempt to flank and overwhelm their positions. Brian came to a juncture in the trench, where it split into two other paths excluding his own. His head turned one way; troops lining the dirt cover walls- roots from blown apart trees sticking out, the stumps acting as added cover. Looking the other way, a retreat into the earth itself, acting like a bunker of clay. Brian never really trusted them, he was always cautious because if an artillery shell had struck enough times it would inevitably collapse.

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Stanislav followed the rest of the platoon in silence as the two NCOs led them into the trenches. The trench systems seemed to be quite elaborate, but what ever awe that might have once had on a person was lost with the mud and the rotting wood. The wooden floors didn't look at all safe, some even looked like they might collapse if they got hit by a raindrop. He followed the Corporals down the zigzagging trenches, and was soon completely clueless about where they were in relation to the supply trench they had come in from and the company's headquarters. Finally they reached where they were supposed to be. Corporal Titov chatted a little with the men they were relieving and then led them into the bunker.

The bunker itself wasn't particularly impressive and Stanislav quickly claimed a bunk near the door as his own. He didn't pay much attention as the rest of the platoon settled in. Instead he focused on Ludmila, making an even more thorough examination than before and paying special attention to the scope to make sure at was securely attatched. When he was convinced that everything was in order he gently rested Ludmila on his bunk and looked up at the rest of the room, his eyes focusing on the ratty figure of Corporal Titov in the far back of the room. "So what are our orders, sir?" He asked mildly, but loudly and clearly enough to be heard. Obviously they were supposed to hold this section of the trenches, but what all would that entail? And specificly what was he supposed to do? When was he supposed to start his deadly work against the enemy and where was he supposed to be when he did it?

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#, as written by Phidius
As the platoon reached the section of trench they were supposed to hold, Alek found himself, once again, last into where they were going. In this case, it was a bunker buried underground. As he got down into it, Alek looked around and saw that a mixture of cots and bunks filled it, and it was dimly lit a bare electrical light as well as a lantern and some candles. Father was right. It's nothing like home, nothing at all, Alek thought to himself, as he did so often.

Standing at the entrance, he looked around for a place to sit. Hearing someone speaking clearly, asking a question to one of the NCOs, Alek turned his head and saw a fastidious-looking man holding a scoped rifle. Deciding to try and get the bunk above that man, Alek walked over and put his stuff on the top bunk before asking, "May I use this bunk?" He indicated the place his things were.