The Trench Rats: Part 7
RESEDA SAT WITH his back against the trench wall, idly scraping some mud from the barrel of his gun. Things had moved fast since he'd joined the Trench Rats--already he'd received news that his marksmanship skills had put him on the Nazis' ten most wanted Rats list--so it was only to be expected that a slow period arrive. The other members of Echo and Delta Companies idled around him, apparently as bored as he. It wasn't very often that the trenches saw much action, but it could happen...which was why they were here in late evening, waiting out an attack which most likely wouldn't come.
He looked around. Most of the other Rats he didn't know very well. He'd never gotten "chummy" with anybody in his own company, so maybe that was it. He recognized Blue Rat, the leader of Delta Company, the company usually assigned to protect the trenches; he sat up higher than the others, just above the trench, carving something with his bayonet knife. Every once in a while he would lift it up to look at it, then bring it down to work on it some more. Reseda couldn't tell what it was. As for his own company's commander...Silver Rat was nowhere to be found. He heard he'd been sent out to do something important, but wasn't sure just what. Most likely some dealings with the Nazis, again. That was why Echo Company was down here in the first place.
He heard a yawn. Another Rat he didn't know very well but had seen before, dressed in a cape of dark grayish-reddish-purple, lay on his back with his head propped on his arm, rubbing his eyes. Another newbie. He sighed and set his gun against the trench wall before he was tempted to start firing it, just to relieve the boredom.
He wondered where Silver was. When was he going to show up to take charge of his own company? They didn't even belong down here; guarding the trenches was Delta's duty.
"Is it always like this down here?" he asked aloud, not expecting an answer.
He got one anyway. "Not always," a voice came from further down the trench, followed by a slight murmur of laughter from several members of Delta Company.
Reseda glanced toward them. "Mind elaborating?"
The Rat who'd spoken sat up and yawned as well. The younger Rat in purple lifted his head as if interested. "Why, you really that bored?"
"Well...you should really just ask D-Day. He could tell you all you want to know."
"He's not here right now," Reseda said, striving to keep the irritation out of his voice.
The other Rat stopped rubbing one eye to peer at him, sizing him up. He wasn't as tall as Reseda was, but neither did Reseda have much confidence in his own fighting skills should things get that far. "Hm. Well, all right. Would it relieve the tedium terribly if someone were to toss us a canister of mustard gas?"
"Mustard gas?" This from the Rat in purple. He pushed himself up. "I thought they, I don't know, made that stuff illegal...didn't they?"
"Ha!" The other Rat looked toward his fellows and jerked his thumb at the younger one. "Get this, he thinks the Nazis won't use gas on us because it's rude."
A few laughs. Reseda frowned. The Rat in purple flushed, and lay back pulling his helmet over his eyes so no one could see him, pretending to lose interest.
"Doesn't answer the question," Reseda called, and the others stopped laughing. The first one looked at him.
"If it's always so boring down here. Mind not being so obtuse?"
A scowl. "Come on," Blue called down from his perch. "Enough already. I can't help that we're all stuck together like this, but let's try to tolerate it, all right?"
The other Rat started muttering but turned away. "Hey," Blue called, and Reseda looked up at him. "Sorry about this...but what's your name? Green-something?"
"Reseda. Sorry your company ended up getting stuck down here, but there've been a few warnings lately and they thought it would be smart to step up security. So far nothing yet. You never know, though..."
"Sorry to have questioned it, Sir."
"No, it's okay. As for what Citrine was talking about, we had a pretty bad experience down here before you came along...the reason we ended up needing so many new recruits, in the first place."
"Mustard gas?" The Rat in purple entered the conversation again, tipping up his helmet to look at him.
"No, I don't think it was mustard gas...something similar though...knowing them they designed it just for that attack. A while back they hit us both in the trenches and from above. No idea how their aim was so good on HQ. Maybe the stars were just right and they finally found it." He shrugged. "In any case they bombed HQ and gassed the trenches for good measure. Destroyed a good part of it, the North Wing. That big blocked off part, you know?"
Reseda nodded. He'd wondered what the deal was with the whole northern section of HQ being cordoned off with ropes and sawhorses. It was always dark down there, and he couldn't see very far beyond the blockade...but he'd managed to make out a nasty welter of twisted metal and smashed concrete. If the sawhorses hadn't been enough to keep anyone out, that would work.
"That didn't kill a lot, but the gas did...we lost about three-quarters of our number. I heard D-Day did a good job of it, coming down here and pulling out as many people as he could."
"What kind of gas was it?" the Rat in purple asked. "I mean, what did it do?"
"I wasn't here at the time...Turquoise and I were elsewhere. We...caught wind of it and came here soon after, though." He paused. "It wasn't very pleasant...I don't think it was mustard gas because those who inhaled it and lived didn't suffer any permanent damage, but those who did breathe it in and didn't get out in time...well...I just hope it didn't take too long."
The young Rat in purple rubbed his throat and lay back a final time with a distressed look on his face.
"In any case it's long over now...I don't think they'll ever get around to fixing up the North Wing, but at least things have settled down, considering..."
"Buncha frickin' newbies," Reseda heard Citrine mutter, and had to bite down on his tongue to avoid a confrontation. Blue glanced over at Citrine's group with a disapproving frown but said nothing, instead turning back to the piece of wood and losing himself in the carving again. Reseda sighed to himself and leaned back, staring upwards.
He wondered why he'd even signed up for the service in the first place, if this was all it meant. Not that he'd been gung-ho for fighting either...why had he bothered joining? Did this place have just one redeeming quality at all?
He took a hint from the younger Rat and tipped his helmet over his eyes, attempting to doze. Maybe he'd have some dream that ended up more interesting than this junk. It couldn't hurt to try.
He'd just gotten his mind settled on some pretty girl he'd met just as he was shipping out when a weird plink! and whirring sound from above startled him out of it. He snorted and pushed up his helmet, looking first at the Rat in purple to see if he'd heard it too. The other Rat was sitting up, blinking with confusion, when the sound repeated itself, only nearer, and a piece of earth dislodged itself from the wall, striking his helmet. He yelped and threw up his arms, ducking belatedly.
Blue followed the gesture, jumping down from his seat into the trench and grabbing up his gun. The sounds started coming regularly now and Reseda finally recognized them--ricocheting bullets--and after that, machine-gun fire. He pressed himself against the wall and brought up his gun, the Rat in purple coming up beside him.
"Well--" Blue managed to get out, before a low-flying bullet caused him to duck again, "--I guess you're getting the excitement you wanted!"
"Not quite what I had in mind," Reseda said, and a blast just above his head caused him to put his arms up to protect himself from the chunks of dirt and stone that came raining down over him.
"Shit," the Rat in purple stammered, struggling with his gun. "It's not what I had in mind, either!!"
"Get used to it, newbie!" Citrine yelled from the other end of the trench, and immediately after that any other words were drowned out in a cacophony of gunfire and explosions.
Reseda brought his gun up again--May as well put it to use--and, peering over the top of the wall, tried to get his bearings and take aim. He was startled by what he saw. The no-man's land out front wasn't quite no-man's land any longer. These trenches were not fortified as the Great War trenches had been, with mines and barbed wire, so the enemy was coming across easily. Some of them held their guns up, firing continuously, others pulled pins and tossed grenades. One landed right next to the Rat in purple, who screeched, picked it up, and hurled it back out as expertly as any pro pitcher. Reseda watched it go, impressed. It hit the ground beside one soldier, exploding immediately, sending him--in much more than one piece--flying every which way.
"Good arm," Reseda shouted.
The Rat in purple flushed. "Th-thanks, I guess." He gasped and ducked, bullet missing him by inches. Reseda shook his head abruptly and returned to his position. Blue perched up at a higher section of the wall, armed with a rifle; Reseda noted how he took pains to aim with care, firing only rarely, but each time with expert precision--first hitting one attacker in the knee, sending him screaming to the ground--another was hit in the elbow so he dropped his weapon, grabbing his shattered arm. Reseda aimed at him and fired, bringing him down promptly. Blue cast a startled look at him, as if to say, "Why did you do that?" but said nothing, and turned his attention back to the battlefield. Reseda wouldn't have been able to answer him anyway. He didn't know why he'd done it, when the guy was obviously no longer a threat.
Quit it, if you stop to consider every single action you're going to end up killed!
He finally started firing on his own, bullets spraying several of the closer soldiers, who all collapsed in a spray of blood. The Rat in purple, he noticed, was right beside him, face going pale and eyes huge; he didn't use his rifle, but rather a handgun, taking as much care to aim as Blue did. Another grenade fell down behind them and, like the first, he pitched it out with all the strength he had. They ducked down at the explosion, rocks pelting them and someone's scream echoing in their ears.
"Not frickin' bad!" Citrine yelled. "For a newbie!"
The young Rat managed to smile goofily before a shriek caused him to stiffen with shock. "Reseda!" Blue's voice shouted. Reseda had enough time to turn around, back to the no-man's land, before a strange face, smeared with blood and contorted with rage, gun and bayonet raised, appeared above him, screaming with fury, arms bringing the knife down at his head--
--And then his attacker's head pulled back, violently twisting to the side with a sickening snap. He crumpled down into the trench, body falling past Reseda, who stared numbly as it went by, in slow motion; the dead soldier seemed to hit the ground almost gently, settling into a pathetic broken jumble with barely a whisper. He gaped, fascinated, waiting to see if he would get back up, before a sharp pull to the neck brought him back to his senses, and he felt himself being dragged upwards as someone seized the collar of his cape.
He blinked--this face he saw now, right just inches from his own, silver-gray eyes like flaming ice, he recognized. He'd never seen Silver look so--pissed before.
"You want to survive in this battalion, you start paying attention!" he barked, eyes livid. "Got that, Private?"
"Y-yes, Sir," Reseda stammered out. Silver let go of him and he fell backwards, almost running into the newbie, who dodged out of his way before grabbing his arm to try to keep him from falling over.
"You--you okay?" he asked, his own voice so faint Reseda almost couldn't hear it. The gunfire above was dying down rapidly--he had no idea how Silver had managed to make it to them in one piece, until he noticed backup arriving, most likely some members of Charlie Company--already it seemed as if whatever had just happened was almost over. He carefully removed his arm from the newbie's grasp, rubbing his sore neck.
"Y--yeah, I'm fine," he murmured, glancing down at the broken body lying at his feet. Silver had already jumped down into the trench, resuming command of his company, barking out orders at the others who still milled around; they started leaving the trench, going up into the no-man's land to take care of the bodies.
His eyes fell on the soldier's neatly broken neck. He rubbed his own again, throat dry, wondering just how close he'd come to being in the same state. And not necessarily because of the enemy.