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The Trench Rats: Part 5


WHEN HE FIRST STEPPED out of the Jeep, he already felt out of place. The huge sunken building, the numerous trenches surrounding it at a distance, the Rats standing with their guns over their shoulders--all of it seemed part of another place, with nothing to do with him. He was one of the latecomers; he was sure the First Battalion had all they really needed, after the massacre and all, though they did need four hundred to even their numbers out. He supposed he was four hundred and one.

"Private Green?" one of the Rats standing nearby asked. Green nodded, feeling at least a little relieved that someone recognized him, even though it was probably just because of the color of his cape. Most of the Rats were assigned colors as codenames; those who were wore the color in their uniform, and he had gotten green. Green. Why did he have to get stuck with such a color? At least it fit his state of mind.

"Welcome," the Rat said, coming forward. Green felt like cringing away. This Rat was huge, towering over him; from the looks of it he could snap Green like a twig. When he stopped and looked down at him Green felt like an ant. The color of his cape was a deep purplish-blue; it reached almost to the ground. He wore the spiked German-style helmet of all the Trench Rats; a white cross was upon it, and a lance-corporal insignia upon his right arm. Green didn't know what he should call him. Sir? Shouldn't that be saved for the sergeant and the corporal? Even though he'd probably never really meet them... What about Lance-Corporal? Purplish-Blue Guy? He was absolutely mystified, and he was sure it showed on his face.

"I've been assigned to show you to your quarters," the Rat said. From his accent, Green realized he must be Australian, and wondered what he'd done to end up here. "If you'll follow me, I'll have you set up in under an hour. Is that your luggage?"

"Yes--Sir--I mean--uh--"

The big Rat smiled. "You can call me Indigo. Your luggage, heavy, is it?"

"Yes, it is, kind of--"

He cut himself off as Indigo hauled the bag out and swung it over his shoulder as if it were a down pillow. The taller Rat turned and marched off toward the low-set building; Green nearly had to run to keep up with his long strides.

"When'd you decide you wanted to join the battalion?" Indigo asked absently as they descended a set of steps into the earth.

"I--I was drafted, actually," Green admitted. Indigo nodded. "I actually don't think I'm very fit for Marine life. My father always said--"

"Well, you'll get used to it, after a while. If you never see the sergeant, consider yourself lucky. However, sometimes it's sheer luck that gets you to him. There's four hundred of us, give or take, and Black doesn't have time to spend on every single one. That's why he sends out blokes like me to do the dirty work." And he laughed raucously.

Green gave a nervous smile that he didn't really feel. "Is he--is he really as hard as they say?"

"They who? Hard? You kidding me? Half the time you wouldn't even think there's a sergeant there. He got quite a reputation as a drill instructor--he never yelled in anybody's face. All he had to do was stare 'em down." Indigo chuckled. By now they'd entered a lower system of tunnels, deep under the ground; the walls were damp and there was the sound of dripping water far off. Several sections still showed damage from the severe bombing they'd taken not too long ago, when the surrounding trenches had been gassed and over three-quarters of the original battalion had been killed off... Green shook his head, preferring not to think about it too hard lest he lose what composure he still had. Indigo led him into a wide hall branching off of the main one, then to a door set in the wall. He stopped and pulled out a set of keys.

"These're your quarters," he explained. "Right now you've got no roomies. Consider yourself lucky again." He laughed to himself. "But don't be surprised if you suddenly end up with a buddy. That happens. You're probably not gonna be the only latecomer here. Seems everybody and their mother's lining up to join."

"Really," Green mumbled.

"Yeah, really." Yet another chuckle; Green relaxed just a bit. It was good to see such a jovial nature in such a huge rat. As he unlocked the door and went inside, Green following, Indigo glanced down at the shorter Rat meaningfully.

"It's not always that bad to see the sergeant, though," he added. "Make lance-corporal and you'll get a bird of your own to fly, even."

Green smiled weakly and nodded. The truth was, he couldn't care less; the sharp-beaked specimens he'd been introduced to already in the stables at the back hadn't looked very friendly to him. He'd seen the two used by Black and Gold--even their colors matched.

"When's my shift?" he asked absently. The Rats worked in four-hour shifts, so that everyone got some sleep while all the ways into the underground bunker remained guarded.

Indigo chuckled again. "Oh, you, not for a little while yet. You've gotta learn the ropes. I bet you don't even know your way around yet?"

"Well, as a matter of fact, not--"

"You could see Turquoise about that. He's been all the way through these tunnels and back, a dozen times and more. Even I could get lost. He doesn't. I'll make sure he gives you the 'grand tour.'" And he howled with laughter and slapped Green on the shoulder, nearly knocking him over.

Green wheezed. "Thanks. I--"

"You're welcome. Look, here's your bunk, your space, and everything. Here's a kind of map--" he pulled out a sheet of paper and handed it to him "--not anything detailed, but enough to get you to Mess Hall or the hospital ward if you need anything. If you want to know wherever anybody is, just go to HQ. I'm sure somebody'll point you out. Now, I've gotta get going. It's my turn to wash out the bedpans." He just about screamed and smacked Green on the back again. Green winced at the stinging that spread through him. "Bedpans! Ain't that funny? I'll see you later, mate." He turned and disappeared out the door, his howls echoing down the hallway.

Green, now that he'd been left alone, rubbed his sore back, certain he'd acquire a large bruise. Not that it mattered much. He'd tolerated plenty bruises enough in basic training. With a sigh he slumped down on his bunk and stared up at the ceiling. He almost wished Turquoise, whoever he was, was there to show him around now. It seemed he'd be doing nothing else important for a while.

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