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The Trench
Posted By: Jake Trommer<wedgefan@comcast.net>
Date: 19 August 2010, 9:20 pm


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The Trench
Dispatches from a Marine trying to desperately retain his sanity
NOTE: DUE TO ONI SECURITY PROTOCOLS ALL MARINES HAVE BEEN IDENTIFIED BY THEIR NICKNAMES

"I gave twenty years of my life to the Corps. I don't regret any of it: humanity needed every able body it could muster, and better they be someone enthusiastic about what it is they're doing. Of course, romanticism played a big part of it, how could it not? I wanted to be a Marine, wear the BDUs and dress blues, carry around a rifle, and I did long enough to make E-5. Then I came to Zeta II, and that was when I had my first experience with what war was really like."
      ---SgtMaj Dan Henderson, UNSC Marine Corps

Welcome to the Trench
      It was dawn on the Inner Colony world of Zeta II Reticulii, and the Covenant had already opened fire on us fighting men of the UNSC.
      This did not sit well with me; I didn't and still don't much care to be shot at.
      "Hey, will you bastards quiet down! We're trying to sleep over here!"
      An amused Corporal Scope shot a glance down from the firing step. "It's morning hate, Sarn't. It's as much a tradition in trench warfare as shitty food."
      "That doesn't mean I have to like it."
      Corporal Scope was a mean-looking thin man with a heart of gold. He loved the war, probably the only man in my squad who did so, and wrote long, sappy love notes to his wife and child. He also collected stamps, something he managed to do even in the muddy confines of the Trench. We hadn't gotten a care package in months; no one had figured out how he'd been able to do it. He was, in short, a bipedal contradiction.
      "Your call, Sarn't. Me..." He paused to trigger a burst from his battle rifle at the Covenant lines. "I'm gonna enjoy killing every single one of the bastards."
      An unamused PFC Zitface looked up from where he had been heretofore napping. He'd more than earned his moniker; a somewhat stocky kid, his most defining feature was the horrific acne covering his visage. "Can't you use a silencer, Corporal?"
      "Quiet, PFC. Us zitless can do whatever we want."
      PFC Zitface looked rather bemused; Corporal Scope relented. "Also, I don't have a silencer."
      Yawning, PFC Zitface stood to and grabbed his assault rifle. "Might as well join in the fun."
      I shrugged. "Might as well wake the rest of the squad, then."
      My boys were already on their feet, roused by the sound of gunfire. PFC Top Gun was rubbing sand out of his eyes, moaning and groaning as usual. He'd failed out of flight school, and the experience had left him quite bitter. "Hey, Sarn't, can you tell the Covenant we want to go back to sleep?"
      "Welcome to the infantry, Private. Now shut up and get on the firing line."
      Still grumbling, he hefted his assault rifle and stood to.
      Corporal Superman, his large frame already on the firing line, looked down in disgust. Ever the consummate infantryman, he'd already been earmarked by the officers for promotion, and I wouldn't be surprised if he was given the squad when I got kicked upstairs. "Top Gun, how the hell are you still in the Marines?"
      Lance Corporal Brownie, so named for the color of his nose in conversations with Superman, tried to simulate his friend's arrogance. "Not enough meat for the grinder."
      The morning banter was interrupted by the arrival of the Gunny, who as usual chose to make his entrance in as dramatic a fashion as possible. Today, it came by way of dodging an enemy grenade by doing a diving roll into the Trench. The Gunny bucked Marine Corps tradition by being an urbane intellectual whose vocabulary tended toward the multisyllabic. "Morning, gentlemen. Belay that noise, if you don't mind. The LT wants us to conserve our ammo."
      "The hell, Gunny!" said Corporal Scope. "We're just supposed to lie here and take it?"
      Lance Corporal Teddy Bear, a big burly hulk of a man who epitomized the concept of the dumb grunt, roused himself from his stupor on the firing line. "Gunny, ah'm not sure how good an idea dat is."
      "Orders are orders, Lance Corporal," replied the Gunny. "And for what it's worth, gentlemen, I've received word that some engineers are coming by to widen the Trench."
      Lance Corporal Teddy Bear's brain struggled to wrap itself around this concept. Eventually, he was able to ask, "Why?"
      "Command wants to bring in armor," the Gunny replied. "Or cavalry, to be precise." At the confused looks from my squad, he elaborated. "Warthogs, gentlemen. LAAGs, gauss cannons, and even a few of the new triple-A variants if the Covies decide to deploy Banshees."
      Corporal Superman grinned. "Do we get to use them?"
      The Gunny nodded. "Four per squad; use them well. If you gentlemen will excuse me..."
      And with that, the Gunny departed the same way he had arrived: silouhuetted against the blue light of a plasma grenade.
      "Where the hell did the LT get him?" asked Corporal Scope.
      I stared after the fading light of the Gunny's departure. "Hell if I know...but that man has balls of fucking steel."
      We all stared at the spot where the plasma grenade had exploded.
      "What a tremendous douche," remarked Corporal Superman.

***

Hogs
      The engineers arrived an hour later; the Hogs several after that. The bickering began almost immediately.
      PFC Top Gun, incredibly, showed some initiative and spunk and simply snagged the gauss Hog while the others were arguing. Whether it was because he realized this was the closest he'd get to manning the guns of one of his beloved aircraft or because he just loved big damn guns, I do not know. But in any event, he started a mad rush for the turrets; when the dust had cleared, Lance Corporal Teddy Bear, PFC Zitface, and the rather taciturn Lance Corporal Chatterbox had manned the other three.
      "Shit," declared Lance Corporal Brownie.
      Corporal Superman, still on the firing line of the Trench, contemplatively yanked the charging lever of his battle rifle. "You snooze you loose, Brownie. Besides, I'd rather face the Covies without a chicken plate between me and them."
      "Maybe," drawled Lance Corporal Teddy Bear, patting his LAAG, "but Ah'm perfectly fine wid blowin dem muthas away from behind this here gun."
      From his position behind the anti-air Hog's turret, Lance Corporal Chatterbox shot a quizzical look. "You speakin' English, Teddy Bear?"
      "Course Ah am."
      "Could you speak it so the rest of us can understand it?"
      "Maybe if y'all had sumthin like a brain---"
      "Alright, knock it off," I broke in. "Everyone not on a turret, man the firing line. Move."
      "Hey Sarn't!" called PFC Zitface from his turret. "The hell did the Covies go?"
      "What?" I called back.
      "Covies ain't shootin' no more Sarn't!"
      Corporal Scope surveyed the enemy lines through his battle rifle. "Maybe we got 'em demoralized." he said, grinning.
      Corporal Superman shot him a look. The look quite clearly said, "dumbass."
      "Are they planning something?" I muttered.
      Servos whined as Lance Corporal Chatterbox swivelled his anti-air turret. "No targets."
      That was when we heard it. It was a faint whooshing sound, and anyone who'd fought the Covies before had learned to fear it. For those who hadn't heard it, the faint purplish light confirmed their fears.
      "Wraith! Wraith!" cried Scope.
      I had to act fast. Throwing myself flat, I cried, "Anybody who isn't on a turret, eat sand now"
      The plasma mortar round slammed into no-man's-land in front of the trench; the next round probably wouldn't miss. Dimly, I heard Lance Corporal Teddy Bear drawl for whoever was grabbing his ass to please stop right now. Or words to that effect.
      I'd closed my eyes to avoid being blinded, and when I opened them, the Gunny was standing in front of me. He was clutching a sniper rifle, and didn't even seem like he knew there was a bombardment going on.
      "On your feet, Sergeant, we have enemy infantry advancing on our would-be stronghold. No time to commiserate because of the bombardment, move it."
      I motioned for my boys to stand to, and before long, everyone was on the firing line.
      "Targets!" cried Corporal Scope.
      "Fire at will," ordered the Gunny in his characteristic urbane tones. "Don't let them close the gap, gentlemen."
      "Gunny," I panted as my men's rifles cracked away, "where's the LT? What's our status?"
      The Lieutenant is on the far side of the trench," replied the Gunny, "attemping to call in a fire mission. She ordered me to supervise you and your men." He looked away for a second. "Are you 'Hog gunners awaiting an RSVP request? Target those hostiles!"
      The two LAAGs rumbled to life, followed in good order by PFC Top Gun's gauss turret blazing away at the Wraith.
      A voice crackled over my headset, wavering nervously: "Bogey One-Actual, this---this is Godhand. Coordinates received; uh...fire mission commencing."
      I moaned. I'd never seen the man in the flesh, but callsign Godhand was quite possibly the most nervous arty battery we'd had to rely on in the Covie war. Whoever he was, he possessed a terror of short rounds, namely that he would lose his prestigious position as battery commander because of them. We all sympathized with his concern; after all, no one wants to be shelled, it tends to ruin your day, but his fear impeded his battery's effectiveness considerably.
      A whistling noise sounded from over the trench, the cue for another one of the Gunny's overly theatrical commands. "The rain's coming, lads, everybody hit the dirt!"
      We'd already eaten sand. You don't last long in the Trench by being stupid, and we'd long since learned to drop when Godhand's battery was handling the outgoing.
      There is nothing like having friendly arty outgoing; even though we were cowering in the dirt, we still somehow managed to let loose whoops of joy over our comm headsets.
      As it turned out, the Gunny hadn't bothered to carry out his own command, and was already calling for us to resume fire. Corporal Superman being Corporal Superman, he'd already taken up a position on the firing step, cracking away with his rifle.
      "All Bogey One units, this is One-Actual. Cease fire."
      Let it never be said that Bogey One-Three was the undisciplined rabble that the REMFs like to think of frontliners as; we stood down immediately.
      The Gunny nodded at us. "Good work, lads."
      That was, of course, the cue for another plasma grenade to land within our lines. By the time we'd shaken off the afteraffects of having a fairly decent-sized explosion occur close to you, the Gunny had once again vanished.
      Lance Corporal Brownie stared at the scorched earth. "My god, he's a douche."

***

The LT
      I'm not sure if this made us unique or not, but until the day after our first fight with the Hogs, not a single soul in Bogey Three had seen our platoon leader. We were all new meat, relatively speaking (the most experienced of us, myself, had been in the Trench for only a month): all the men who'd come on-planet with Bogey Three from Luna Base were either dead, medevaced out, or otherwise unavailable for conversation on the merits of our CO. The closest we had to that was the Gunny, but he, in his typical oh-I'm-not-really-that-arrogant fashion, refused to banter with us junior NCOs and enlisted men.
      So one day when a supremely attractive woman dropped into our section of the Trench, every grunt in Bogey Three stopped and stared. Even Corporal Superman turned away from his spot on the firing line.
      Now, let me digress for a second. Most of the women I've met in the Corps are battleaxes; it really takes someone incredibly special to look sexy in battledress. Of those few who look good in BDUs, it takes an even more well-endowed woman to bring beauty to battle armor. As fate would have it, the woman who'd joined us in our little segment of Hell more than fulfilled that unfilfillable dream of many a hormonal grunt.
      Two seconds of slack-jawed staring, my brain finally was working again. My thought process went something like this:
      Holy mother of god, she's hot. Man, I hope I'm not making that bad an impression, I look like a wreck. Look, she's even decorated her helmet. What is that, anyway? Silver...a line of some sort...no, not a line. A bar. Oh shit---
      Two seconds later, the Gunny hopped down into the Trench. "Bogey Three, attennnn---SHUN!"
      In a miracle of training over hormones, we managed to pack in our jaws and snap to. I'm fairly certain the Covies on the far side of no-man's land could hear the clack of our armor.
      "Gentlemen," the paragon of feminine beauty began in a low, sultry voice, "in case you didn't know, I'm Lieutenant..."
      At this point, the entire platoon lost track of what she was saying, too busy staring into the untapped depths of her eyes or ogling her finely tanned skin.
      I managed to regain control of my thoughts once more as she trailed off, "...so are there any concerns from you guys?"
      PFC Zitface proved to us then and there that he had the biggest cojones of any member of my platoon. He raised his hand.
      "Yes, PFC?" purred the Lieutenant.
      "Well, Ma'am, my love life has been a little lacking since I got stuck down here in the Trench. How 'bout next time we have leave, you and me can---"
      But the LT's beautiful face had soured as soon as the words "love life" had emerged from Zitface's mouth. A few whispered words in the Gunny's ear, and the two of them clambered out of their trench. As they left, Lance Corporal Chatterbox spoke for the first time since the first skirmish with the Hogs:
      "Nice ass, LT."
      Later that day, I got word from a buddy of mine in Bogey One-Four. Apparently the LT had received this reaction in every single squad in Bogey One, and would resume her normal communication method of relaying orders to us via the Gunny (who was not pleased at the lack of discipline we'd shown). Needless to say, my men were pissed.
      About an hour after we received word that the most attractive woman on Zeta II Reticulii would no longer be visiting her troops, a small Covenant force made a probing attack.
      "Sarn't, we got hostiles," drawled Lance Corporal Teddy Bear.
      "Six Grunts, two Jackal marksman," elaborated Corporal Superman.
      "Light 'em up," I barked.
      Along the line, LAAGs, assault rifles and battle rifles thundered to life, accompanied by inarticulate snarls of rage from my squad. Squeals sounded from the Grunts as they were perforated by multiple rounds, a grim counterpoint to the whoops now coming from my men. PFC Zitface, atop his LAAG, let out the age-old rallying cry of "GET SOME!"
      The two Jackals let out squawks of dismay, activating their shields and crouching down behind them. On the Gauss Hog, PFC Top Gun let loose two rounds into their midst, giving a satisfied nod at the ensuing squawks.
      Corporal Scope surveyed the carnage, a satisfied expression on his grimy face. "That was cathartic," he noted.
      Lance Corporal Teddy Bear wrinkled his burly brow. "Wha's cah-thar-tic?"
      PFC Zitface scrambled down from his gun. "Who gives a shit...anybody got any porn?"

***

Guns
      For some time now, there'd been a running debate between PFCs Top Gun and Zitface and Corporals Superman and Scope regarding their weapons of choice. The two junior enlisted men preferred their bullet hoses, the junior NCOs would rather use their precision gear. It'd been my experience in the Corps that men at war will do anything to relieve boredom and this had been no exception. The rest of the squad had quickly joined in the spirited debate.
      "Look," said PFC Top Gun. "There's an Elite charging you, you've got no time to aim, you need as much bullets as you can muster, burst fire is gonna get you killed."
      Corporal Superman arched an eyebrow. "PFC, that ain't gonna do you any good if you ain't hitting anything."
      "If you're at CQB range, that don't matter," PFC Zitface cried.
      Lance Corporal Brownie laughed. "Calm down, Zitface, before you blow a pimple."
      "I am calm!" insisted the apoplectic PFC Zitface. "I just---"
      Lance Corporal Chatterbox, lounging against the side of the Trench with his helmet pulled over his eyes, stirred. "Incoming," he laconically noted.
      PFC Zitface shot him a look. "I don't hear---"
      In true comedic fashion (something that I had begun to realize was disturbingly common here on the front), the Wraith round slammed right into the trench behind PFC Zitface.
      Corporal Superman shook his head. "How the hell do you hear that?"
      But Lance Corporal Chatterbox had fallen back asleep.
      "I swear to God," remarked PFC Top Gun, "that guy's got better hearing than my mom listening to hear if I have porno on my datapad."
      All eyes fixed on PFC Top Gun. "Headphones, man," said Corporal Scope, shaking his head. "Headphones."
      PFC Top Gun actually looked ashamed. "I came from a fairly poor family, Corporal...didn't have too much spending money."
      "Then how the hell did you get the porn?" asked PFC Zitface.
      The other shrugged. "You think the UNSC is gonna take the time to shut down file sharing websites when there's an alien invasion on?"
      Lance Corporal Chatterbox stirred once more. "In---"
      We'd already eaten sand. "Don't bother," remarked Corporal Superman as the Wraith volley slammed into no-man's-land. "We know when you open your mouth, it's either for a one-liner or to let us know there's incoming."
      PFC Top Gun was in a philosophical mood. "Yo Sarn't, why are we here? This planet ain't got nothin' on it besides a Covie base."
      "Orders," I replied shortly, not wanting to share in the navel-gazing. "Higher says we go here, we go here. Higher says hold this unimportant trench in the middle of nowhere, we hold this unimportant trench in the middle of nowhere, oorah?"
      "Yeah," snorted PFC Top Gun, "oorah."
      Corporal Superman shot him a look. "PFC, why'd you join the Corps?"
      PFC Top Gun winced. "To fly in the Marine Air Wing."
      Now it was Lance Corporal Brownie's turn to snort. "Take a wrong turn somewhere?"
      "You might say that---"
      Lance Corporal Chatterbox roused himself from his slumber once more. "In---"
      We'd already hit the dirt. "Yeah, we guessed," I said.
      The other shook his head. "Infantry, Sarn't."
      "What?"
      Corporal Superman was, of course, already on the line. "Shit, shit, shit. Sarn't, we got four Elites, twelve Grunts, six Jackals and two Ghosts incoming fast."
      "Everybody get on the line and let 'em have it!" I barked. "Gunners, get those cannons spun up and firing! Chatterbox, patch me through to Godhand, now."
      Lance Corporal Chatterbox, as usual, complied silently. I wasted no time calling in the fire mission.
      "Godhand, Godhand, this is Bogey Three-Actual. Requesting fire mission, over."
      The battery commander's voice, stammering as usual, soon crackled back. "Uh...roger, roger, Three-Actual. Send it."
      "As many HE rounds as you can muster, Godhand, on grid square...Alpha-Tango-four-six-niner, fire for effect, how copy?"
      "Standby, standby," cried the other, already starting to sound overwhelmed. "Standby...OK, rounds shot, grid square AT-468. Godhand out."
      The incorrect grid square hadn't escaped me. "Negative Godhand, negative! You have the wrong grid sqaure, do not shoot that mission!"
      Static answered.
      Something had cracked Lance Corporal Chatterbox's stoic facade, and it wasn't the incoming small-arms fire. "Sergeant, that's the Trench's grid-square!"
      "Oh, shit. Bogey Three, everyone hit the dirt, now! Get off the turrets and the line and eat---"
      Too late. Ever efficient, Godhand's gunners had managed to throw out far more rounds than I'd thought the battery capable of. The Trench and the area around it exploded in a hail of shrapnel, dirt and fire. Cowering facedown in the dirt, I clutched my helmet, praying for the bombardment to end soon. I was dimly aware of alien cries coming from outside the Trench; at least if we died, we'd have taken the Covies with us.
      And with a final thud, it was over.
      For the artillerymen, at least.
      In the Trench, meanwhile, the muffled moans of mortally wounded men were already audible.

***

Loss
      I'd been too occupied by the Covies during my first few days in the Trench to realize that my squad was short a Corpsman. There probably was a better way to figure out than losing some of my guys.
      We were in a field hospital to the rear of the Trench; our position had been reinforced by our sister platoon Phantom Three. I didn't envy them, even though I knew they'd been itching to pop their cherries, to use the somewhat vulgar phrase.
      As for my Bogey Boys? Well, we weren't Bogey Three anymore. Not entirely.
      PFC Top Gun was somewhat unique in that he hadn't been taken back to the field hospital, but that wasn't due to any feat of resilience, but rather due to the fact that Godhand's barrage had utterly vaporized him. PFC Zitface had finally managed to lose his acne, along with the rest of his face, although he'd fared better than Lance Corporal Teddy Bear, who could no longer speak in his slow drawl. Or at all. They'd both live, the docs told me, but with the Covies hurling plasma at and behind our lines every day, I somewhat doubted that.
      By comparison, Corporal Scope, Corporal Superman, and Lance Corporal Brownie had fared relatively well. They'd all have massive scars, to be sure, but would be combat ready before long.
      As for me...well, let's just say that prosthetics are quite advanced these days.
      The LT was still out on the line, so we didn't even have the comfort of feminine beauty during our days in the aid station. But Top Vau did come by to see us.
      In any company, the First Sergeant serves as the unofficial heart and soul of the unit, and Top Vau was no exception. He'd been on the TOC's night shift when he'd heard about the short barrage, and had promptly commandeered the Captain's 'hog and driver to get over to the field hospital.
      Top had, once upon a time, been a ridiculously powerful-looking guy, but times had changed. Being the First Sergeant coincides with a lot more admin work, and the swivel-chair spread had gotten to him. "How're you doing, Sergeant?"
      What was I going to say? Oh gee Top I'm doing alright even though my lads are dead because Godhand finally fucked up like we knew he was going to?
      "It's...tough, Top," was what I said.
      He nodded. "Godhand's been relieved of command, and Bogey Company's being taken off the line. For us, the war is over."
      I shot him an arch look.
      Vau looked wounded, he'd never had the flair for drama that the Gunny had. Maybe that was why we liked more. "OK, OK, the battle, at least."
      "Glad to hear it. When're we being taken off world?"
      The First Sergeant shook his head. "Off the line, not off the planet. Bogey's reporting to Camp Jenkins within the day." He frowned. "Careful with that arm, by the way."
      I flexed my new prosthetic fingers. "Why?"
      "You know the Sergeant Major?"
      "Yeah, what about him?"
      "Well he had a wank one day..."
      "Yeah?"
      "Let's just say he didn't know his new arm's strength. And they've yet to invent prosthetic genitalia."
      "Oh."
      "So long, Sergeant."
      "Yeah. You too, Top."
      He started to walk away, then turned back. "You didn't hear this from me," he muttered, "but the Captain wants Bogey back on the line ASAP. Enjoy the time off that you have."
      I nodded. "Thanks Top."
      Top did have one thing in common with the Gunny: the two senior non-coms attracted explosives like honey did flies. As his Warthog hurtled away from the aid station, plasma mortar rounds began to light up the darkness.
      I shot a look at the mission clock next to my bed. 0501.
      It was dawn on the Inner Colony world of Zeta II Reticulii, and the Covenant had already opened fire on us fighting men of the UNSC.





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