After twenty minutes of trudging through dirty snow and mud they no longer saw any other soldiers. The thud of explosions grew closer and brilliant streaks of light were coming much more often.
“Who are we fighting again?” Harris asked. “Not Redfield? Right?”
Several of his squaddies turned to hush him. “No, you dolt. That’s our new platoon leader. You better have comms off.” The heavy gunner, Dorn said.
“Oh, now big, silent guy wants to talk. Of course my comm is off. You think I’m new?”
Dorn grunted and lowered his visor probably hoping to cut out Harris’ blathering.
The new Lieutenant was an issue. He had not been receptive to any of Rowen’s questions or comments during the planning phase of this operation. In fact, he had been dismissed before the end of the session. Rowen sighed and kept his eyes up on the trench.
“Corporal, I have a bad feeling about this.” Horn began, “I mean, weren’t our Lord Bryce and the Duke Redfield fighting each other last year? Didn’t we square off with them on St. Albans?”
“No, Zephyr.” Harris corrected.
“Wait, we’re on St. Albans, right?” Harris asked.
“No. we’re on Somerset IV.” Rowen corrected.
Harris and Horn both shrugged. Harris continued. “I mean really. This bloke was a legit foe not long ago and now he leads us?”
Ferrell shook his head. “Look this is how the blues have done this for ages. They swap some of the sons,”
“Like prisoners?” Horn asked.
“No, well, yes, well… it’s complicated. Anyways, they train with us, we sent them Sir Garvy. It supposed to keep the status quo. Keep the peace.” The medic replied.
“Oh, Gods. I never thought I’d miss a ballbuster like Garvy.” Horn said.
“At least he walked patrol with us. Sir Reginald Redfield has yet the leave the Command Bunker, as far as I know.” Harris whispered.
The gunner, Owens put his hand up. “So, which House are we fighting?”
Everyone glanced around at each other. Rowen shrugged. “I guess if it were important, they’d tell us.”
“Could it be House Bryce?” Horn asked.
“We are in House Bryce, idiot.” Harris shot back.
“I know. Why are we the only squad out here then?” Harris looked around. “Where are our fellows?”
An uncomfortable silence hung over Rowen’s squad. The sound of pitched battle grew ever closer.
Horn tried to lighten the mood. “Is it true that our new platoon leader is some kind of expert swordsman?”
The third rifleman, Cort half turned. “He don’t look like much.”
Harris began, “Don’t let that fool you. A lot of blues have extensive body augmentation. And you’d never know it until he—”
“Or she.” Harris interrupted.
Horn smirked. “Or she, put a fist through your rib cage. And pulled your heart out.”
The heavy gunner, Owens grunted. “Bollacks. Those are just stories.”
“No, it’s true.” The medic interjected. “They can have incredible strength and speed.”
“But you can see subdermal armor. The regular army blokes have all those little hexagons marks on their skin. It’s a dead giveaway.” Owens said.
“You think the royals can’t afford the good stuff? Those RA grunts have the ‘made by the lowest bidder’ stuff.” Ferrell added.
“Valid point.” Owens conceded.
Rowen cleared his throat. “Alright. We’re coming up on our objective, we take a right at this next junction.”
“Cort, I need those ears of yours and your heavy auto-slugger up front next to Dorn.” The rest of the squad covered their sectors.
Despite the ice and hard mud they moved forward with speed and grace just like they had practiced in the kill house thousands of times. They stopped just short of the junction.
Rowen triggered the haptic signal controller imbedded in their chest plates. They would go on the third buzz, guns up, ready to lay down some hurt.
Buzz, buzz, buzz.
The squad lunged forward into the junction with all guns up. Two large Death Dealers stood there. Their helmeted visors shot towards them.
“Stand down!” Rowen commanded. He quickly came to attention and saluted the captain that glowered over him. “Apologies, sir.”
Rowen realized with a growing sense of pride that they had caught these marines unaware.
A captain and a corporal. This was unexpected. This man was a ranked knight. The corporal was probably his squire. Why the devil are they out here alone?
The Death Dealer looked him up and down and returned the raggedy looking corporal’s salute. “Is this how you were trained to perform a link up, corporal?” The dark helmeted voice said.
“Again, apologies, sir. We were just given coordinates. Our orders said nothing about a link up.”
The captain said nothing. He turned and took a step to a large ammo crate. He unsealed his helmet and took it off. He took a deep inhale of the crisp night air and set his helmet on the crate. “Very well.” He waved a gauntleted hand and a 3D battle map appeared between them.
Out of respect, Rowen flipped up his visor so the officer could see his eyes.
“I’m Captain Tobias Smythe. I have your next set of coordinates here.” He waved his hand to push the information to Rowen’s battle map. He received an error.
There was an angry buzz that Rowen heard as much as he felt in his temples. The corporal grimaced. “Sorry, sir. My kit is not advanced enough to process that packet. Would you please should me the coordinates? I can input the numbers manually.”
Sir Tobias Smythe did what he was asked without comment. Rowen’s fingers blurred as he entered the digits to his battle map. By now, he was used to having to do this manually, though he always felt slightly embarrassed that his equipment was always several generations behind. In fact, there were only two working helmet cams in the squad. Frankly, it was a miracle that everyone had working comms, night vision, and navigation software.
Smythe reached into a pouch and pulled out a shiny black sphere. “You know what this is?” The knight asked.
“Of course, sir. A seeker.” Rowen tried not to bristle at the insult that was probably not meant to be an insult.
Smythe noticed the slight. “I’m sorry. Of course you know what that is.”
He bowed his head to the Death Dealer. “No offense was taken, sir.”
Rowen’s battle map updated with the new coordinates. The knight frowned. “That kind of lag is unacceptable. What unit do you represent?”
The corporal straightened. “We are Fouth Squad, Beta Platoon, in my lordship’s auxiliaries.”
“I’ll have a word about this with your Lord when next I see him.”
Rowen’s eyes widened. “Sir, we’re just conscripts. We are grateful to have—” The knight put his hand up. Rowen stopped talking.
“Fear not. You and your men deserve better. You were able to catch us unawares without the aid of technology. If Lord Bryce will not outfit you, I shall.”
Rowen stammered a thank you.
Sir Tobias bent towards the map and pointed at the new waypoint. “We have no intel past the point where we are standing. Also, our trench system has been compromised past here,” He pointed to a spot nearby. “It will be safe to assume that anyone you encounter from here out will be hostile. Since they don’t seem to be the kind that take prisoners.” He said with a sneer.
He put the seeker in Rowen’s hand. “Once you reach your destination, activate and release the seeker, then return to the command bunker with due haste.”
The corporal put the seeker into a cargo pocket and acknowledged his orders.
The knight put his black helmet back on and placed his gauntleted hand on Rowen’s shoulder. “For what it’s worth. I’m sorry.”
With that the two armored marines took off back towards the company area at a double time.
The squad looked around at each other trying to process that last statement.
Harris was the first to reclaim his voice. “Why the bloody hell is he sorry? for what it’s worth.” He said trying to pull off his posh accent.
“Let’s get this done. Form up. Guns up,” Rowen commanded. “And good job, lads. We caught those blues smoking and joking.”
A few of the grunts chucked as they moved out towards the objective.