Reveille sounded. Slowly, Brigitte Stark opened her eyes. No one had called her Brigitte for a long time of course. When she began tending bar and singing to make ends meet, she had taken the stage name 'Rosie'. She started using the nickname more often as renown had built up. So by the time she had stopped tending bar and joined the town's guard, the name stuck. With an unfeminine grunt, Rosie hoisted her uncooperative body out of her bunk and joined the other members of Squad 7 in dressing for the day. After a few minutes of fumbling with it, she straightened her tunic one last time and left the barracks in search of the mess hall and the pot of coffee that awaited her. The spring sun had preceded her waking and shone brightly as she stepped into the warm glow of the morning.
Across the compound, she could make out a silhouette sprinting back and forth across the training field. Rosie chuckled to herself, not needing even a hint to figure out who it was. Only Nina Streiss would be running this early. Rosie had never met anyone so devoted to fitness in her life. She could always be counted on to get up early for her own workout, in addition to the usual training provided by the camp drill instructors. Such devotion had caught the eye of the Captain, who had assigned Nina to give the squad regular lectures on the importance of flexibility and strength training. Rosie shrugged. If that was her interest, so be it; but as far as Rosie was concerned the Militia's standard regimen ought to be enough for anyone.
With a slightly sluggish pace, Rosie set off in an easterly direction towards the camp mess hall. With tensions between Gallia and the Empire building the Militia had instituted call-ups amongst the town guards of the various villages that dotted the Gallian map. Rosie had been the first of her hometown to volunteer, and had received a transfer to a militia camp on the eastern border. If and when the Empire decided to take what they wanted, this would be one of the first places the Imperial Army would hit, and everyone in camp knew it. Rosie shoved such thoughts from her mind. If you thought like that, you'd get distracted and then you would get killed.
Rosie's pace picked up as she entered the mess and caught sight of the coffee urns. Filing a mug with her much needed fix, and getting an early start on breakfast she exited the line and looked for a place to sit. She caught sight of Cherry Stijnen sitting nearby, twirling her platinum blonde hair with her index finger, reading the latest copy of the magazine which was her obsession, Gallian Girl. Rosie shrugged, Cherry could be overeager, but sitting with her was better than sitting alone. It would be a little while before the rest of the squad ventured in, so she made her way over and sat down. As she did so, Cherry looked up from a particularly engrossing article on the latest film, and her expression brightened.
"Like, hi Rosie!" She chirped, "How its hanging?"
Rosie gave her a small smile in greeting and turned to her tray. "Anything interesting?" She asked, without looking up. She heard the door to the mess swing open and the room fill with the clapping of dozens of combat boots hitting the concrete.
Cherry spared a glance at her magazine, "Oh you know. The usual…whatever." She cast the magazine aside and stared at Rosie eagerly. Reading about gossip was interesting, but a chance exchange some real live gossip, now that was fun.
"You know, they say that things are, like, really starting to heat up."
Rosie looked up from her powdered eggs. "Oh, yeah? Where did you hear that?"
Cherry leaned forward, whispering, "Well, I heard from this girlfriend of mine, who knows someone, who's friends with a member of the palace guard in Randgriz, and she says that negotiations with the Empire have, like, totally broken down. The war is actually coming!"
Rosie chuckled. She'd heard the rumour of course. So had everyone else, nearly everyday for the past six months. "Don't believe everything you hear. If I had half a ducat for every time I heard that, I could have retired months ago." She looked around. "Have you seen Largo this morning?"
Cherry shook her head. "You know what he's like. Probably near the command building, checking on his babies."
As a matter of fact, the subject of their inquiry was doing just that. Having foregone his anti-tank armour in view of the heat of the day, and wearing a straw hat that definitely wasn't regulation, Largo Potter knelt on the dry ground, tending to his tomato plants. He knew he had to water them quickly, otherwise the water might act as a prism in the midday sun, causing his precious vegetables to burn. Completing the task, he moved from his tomatoes to his prized squash plants, to see that they were being properly hydrated. Satisfied with this, he stood up and looked over his handiwork.
It wouldn't be long now, he thought. Soon they would be fully grown and he'd be able to provide fresh vegetables to the entire squad. He knew that the Lieutenant was none to happy about the garden, it being against regulations and all. But the cooking staff had rallied behind him, and so had anyone else in camp looking for fresh food. After six months of beans, powdered milk, eggs, and other canned goods, even Lt. Sabian relented. Captain Varrot had declined to get involved; but then again, Largo would have expected no less. Good old Elle. She always knew when to get involved and when to let things sort themselves out. That was why she was captain, and he was still a sergeant. Not that he minded. No, Largo Potter was a non-com, and quite happy that way, thank you very much. The last thing Largo wanted was to paint a target on his back by adding a pair of lieutenant's bars to his uniform. His job done, he suddenly noticed the growling of his stomach. Largo brushed the dirt off his kneecaps and made his way to the mess hall.
Dallas nervously adjusted the knobs on her radio, trying to boost the signal. "Checkpoint G, this is Outpost 7, please respond. Over." No response. "Checkpoint G, please respond. Over."
It had been like this for the last 20 minutes. The Gharlandio checkpoint had missed its hourly report. As the graveyard shift was only just ending, Dallas Wyatt was the sole radio engineer on duty. There had been only one check to make before she was scheduled to be relieved by Herbert. Although it was doubtful that he would be able to haul his lazy ass out of bed in time to make the start of the shift. All satellite outposts and checkpoints had made their scheduled check-ins, except Station G, the main checkpoint along the Gallian-Imperial border. If it was a simple matter of slight tardiness, Dallas wouldn't have paid it any mind. Occasionally, at the end of shifts, radio operators would forget their last check and miss it by a few minutes; but nearly a full half hour was severe breach of protocol, especially with the possibility of an armed conflict looming. Dallas had just made up her mind to call Lt. Sabian, when he saved her the trouble by entering the radio room. Dallas snapped to attention and saluted. "Sir!"
Elias Sabian returned the salute and gave the order to stand at ease. He was an older man, with a thick moustache. His brown hair showed slight grey around the temples, nevertheless, he carried himself with the strength and confidence of a young man. He was a recent addition to Squad 7, having only just been transferred in by the higher ups within the last month. He was a veteran of the first Europan War, but it was well known amongst the entire camp that he didn't care to talk about it. He had proven himself to be a fair commander, even if he sparred with Sgt. Potter with regard to his garden.
"Report." He said.
"Sir," Dallas spoke, "I was just about to go find you. Station G has missed its hourly check-in; and I can't raise them over the radio."
Sabian frowned, "Did you try boosting signal?" He asked.
Dallas nodded, "Yes sir. Still no response. The radio is functioning perfectly, sir. I can only theorize that whatever is causing this is on their end."
Sabian nodded. "Try raising the next checkpoint. See if they can establish contact."
"Yes sir." Dallas sat down and got to work. The closest station to Gharlandio was a small border town known as Helghan. The only military presence would be the town guard, but they would at least have a radio. She calibrated the radio and began transmitting.
"Station Helghan, this is Outpost 7. Please respond. Over."
There was some crackling, followed by a man's voice on the other end. "Outpost 7, this is Station Helghan responding. Over."
Despite herself, Dallas sighed with relief. Her imagination had begun to conjure up all sorts of outlandish explanations for the lack of response. Not the least of which had been an Imperial attack.
"Station Helghan, we've been unable to reach Station G, and believe there may be a transmission problem. Can you guys see if you can raise them? Over."
"Outpost 7, that's affirmative. We'll do our best. Over."
Lt. Sabian nodded. "Now all we can do is wait." He said, settling into a nearby chair.
A moment passed. Then the radio crackled with static. "Outpost 7, come in please. This is Station Helghan. Over."
Dallas jumped at the transmitter and brought it to her mouth. "Station Helghan, this is Outpost 7 responding. Over."
"We've been unable…" the static suddenly got louder, "our…suspect….jamming…source."
Dallas, turned the knobs again, trying to boost the radio. "Station Helghan, say again. Message unclear. Over."
But the next transmission was even more garbled by static than the last. "Out…we can't understand…transmiss…" Suddenly the radio emitted a whine and then nothing but static.
Dallas looked back at the lieutenant who had come to stand behind her, his expression growing increasingly dark.
"Put the base on standby alert, and radio HQ in Randgriz. Let them know what's going on here. I'll be getting ready."
Dallas nodded and activated the camp PA system. "Now hear this, all personal are now on standby alert. This is not a drill. Repeat. This is not a drill."
In the mess hall, Largo and Rosie looked up at the loudspeaker announcement came on. When the announcement was over, they stood up from their table in synch.
Largo looked at Rosie, "You take point. Have the Scouts and Shocktroopers move to the perimeter. We'll join you when ready."
Largo raised his voice, "All right, you jokers I want everybody at combat readiness on the double. Shocks, Scouts and Snipers are under the command of Squad Leader Stark. Get ready and report to her for your assignments. Lancers, you're with me. I want you all mustered outside the mess in ten minutes. Now move it." It took only a second for everyone to try and obey, as the entire squad rushed out of the hall to get into their combat gear. Rosie and Largo followed, intent on getting ready themselves.
Largo just hoped that there would be enough time The Scouts and Shocktroopers would be ready to go in about three minutes, having only to strap on basic combat armour and get their weapons from the armoury. For the Lancers, it was another story. It would take a full five minutes just to get into the heavy anti-tank armour that made up their uniform. A pro such as Largo had shaved his time down to two minutes, but your average recruit would have extreme trouble managing to wrestle on the weighty armour in that time, to say nothing of running across the compound in it, to the armoury, to receive their lances.
Rosie started shouting commands on the run, "All right, you know the drill. Get into squads and move to the perimeter. Snipers, you're acting as lookouts on this. Keep your guard up, and wait for the lancers. I want everybody to keep an open comlink. Let's go."
A chorus of "Yes, ma'am!" filled the air, as the squad moved to arm themselves.
Melville Young, Ted Ustinov and Montley Leonard, in their enthusiasm, quickly overtook the rest of the squad, eager to grab their rifles and their light armour. They were scouts, and despite the ragtag nature of Squad 7 in general, they were considered some of the best, able to run long distances without overexertion. As Nina Streiss saw them pass, she felt a competitive streak and started to push her body. She may not have been a scout but damned if she wasn't one of the strongest shocktroopers in the Gallian Militia. In a matter of seconds the first arrivals were careening through the Armoury's main door and made a dash for their lockers.
"Yahoo!" Ted whooped, "Finally, a little action around here." He had a grin on his face a mile long. "When those Imps enter my sights, I'll deliver them a punch line they'll never forget."
His buddy Melville clapped him on the shoulder and dashed out of the barracks; his nimble fingers having given him an edge in putting on his armour. Ted looked over and saw Marina Wulfstan, already in her armour and adjusting the scope on her sniper's rifle.
"Hey Marina, ain't this awesome?" Ted called out, "Finally something to do."
Without bothering to look up, Marina slide a round of ammunition into the chamber of her rifle and slid the bolt into place. Checking to see that the safety was still on, she slung the rifle over her shoulder and started walking towards her post. Ted shrugged. One of these days, he'd get her to talk to him, and he'd finally make her laugh. Nobody could resist the Tedster's sense of humour for long. When he finished with his armour, he pounded the chest plate with his fist a few times, letting out a grunt. He grabbed his rifle and headed for his post.
Dallas was quickly losing patience. One by one, she had lost contact with the stations along the border, until finally the entire sector had gone dark. There was only on explanation for this much static, and it chilled her to think about it. They were under attack. Failing to reach anyone else, Dallas changed frequencies and started hailing Randgriz, but there was no reply there either.
"Damn it." She muttered to herself.
Lt. Sabian returned to the Command post, wearing his tank gear. His driver was prepping the engine and waiting. Herbert had finally arrived for his shift, and had the good sense, for once, to bring both his rifle and Dallas', and was waiting to relieve her; but Dallas was so engrossed in the radio transmission that no one could tear her away.
"Anything?" the lieutenant asked.
Dallas shook her head, "No sir. I've been unable to reach the other border stations, but no one's answering. There's nothing but static along the entire line; and no Randgriz has gone quiet as well. I can't tell them what's going on." She threw down her headset in frustration. "Nothing! The whole grid is being jammed." She turned to Lt. Sabian, fear filling her eyes for the first time.
Sabian nodded, answering the question that went unasked. "That means they're on their way here."
As if in answer, the boom of a cannon being fired filled the air. For Squad 7, the Second Europan War had officially started.
The Lancers had managed to get their armour and lances together, when the first volley was loosed. They had been fast. Faster than usual, but not fast enough this time, because the enemy had been closer than originally suspected, and was now approaching the camp at a clipped pace. A whistling shriek filled the air, as a mortar flew towards its target. It ripped through the roof and blasted out the doors and windows as it exploded. The lancer squad hit the deck. Largo used his arm shield to keep the shards of glass from his eyes.
"Lieu," He called to Lt. Sabian on his com-link. "If it's not to much trouble, we could use some help out here."
"Roger," Sabian responded, "I getting saddled up. Largo, Rosie: meet me at the tank. Snipers, patrols, I need eyes. Tell me what you see out there."
The com-link crackled, "Wulfstan here. I have a visual on the enemy. I count seven tanks, maintaining position. Distance, 500 metres. They are providing mortar support."
"Troop numbers?" Sabian asked.
"Keep an eye peeled." Sabian severed the connection. "Where the hell are the enemy troops?" He wondered out loud. If there were seven tanks on the horizon it didn't take a master tactician to know that there would be at least half a regiment, hiding somewhere in that field. It also didn't take much thought for Sabian to realize that his squad of 20 didn't have a chance to defend against an offensive of that size. Retreat was the only option, but the enemy would likely be there before they could safely mount a retreat. They'd have to prepare while the shells were still falling and then move out. The trucks couldn't wait around for the rest of the squad without being hit, so there was only one option.
He turned to Herbert, "Private Nielssen, tell the other engineers to man the trucks and move to west out of range of the shelling, we'll send the squad out to meet you, and evacuate to Randgriz. Move!"
"You're the boss." Herbert mumbled in his usual only half there voice. He raised his hand in meagre salute and hurried off."
Sabian turned to Dallas, "You too. Get moving."
Dallas nodded, "Yes sir."
Sabian took the documents from his office, put them in a trash can and burnt them. He also threw in the radio code book, given to every camp. His duty done, he left the command building and rushed off to the tank, where Rosie and Largo were already waiting.
"Lieutenant," They both shouted upon catching sight of him.
An explosion rocked the compound as another mortar struck the command post.
"Situation report." Sabian shouted over the explosions.
Largo spoke up, "The squad is at the ready, but we're being chewed up by this mortar fire. We can't hold."
"We won't have to for very much longer," Sabian replied, "I've given the evacuation order. The engineers will take the trucks to the west out of range, and we'll go to the point and then make a full evacuation to Randgriz."
Rosie looked up sharply, her fire red curls tossing back as she did. "Sir, we can't just abandon our post!"
Sabian cut her off, "There are 7 tanks lobbing shells on us, and probably half a regiment of troops with them. We can't hope to defend against them, out in the open like this. The only choice is clear. We begin the evacuation, setting up a rear guard to hold the enemy off."
Rosie nodded, seeing the logic of the plan. Amidst the explosions, the roar of truck engines could already be heard, as the engineers moved the desperately escape vehicles out of range of the explosions.
"So who'll make up the rear guard?"
"I'll man the tank and lead it myself. Largo, you take point on taking care of those tanks. Rosie, you'll oversee the withdrawal."
The two subordinates nodded, and took of in the direction of the east, where the bulk of the patrols would be gathered. Lt. Sabian climbed to the top of the tank. Rosie and Largo had made it only a few yards, before the whistle of yet another mortar could be heard, coming in close.
Largo shouted, "Hit the deck!" grabbing Rosie by the shoulder and pulling her to the ground with him. The mortar landed behind them, and the vibrations of the explosion shook them hard enough to cause their armour to rattle. Largo looked behind him.
"Oh God," He whispered, and took off running back. Rosie turned.
The mortar had landed directly on top of the tank; and Lt. Sabian had caught the full force of the explosion, which had thrown him backwards. He lay sprawled on the ground, His chest was torn apart by shrapnel. Rosie got up and started running.
"Lieutenant," She shouted, desperately. Largo made it first and knelt over the Lieutenant's felled body. Rosie stopped short.
"Is he…" She started to ask, already knowing the answer.
Largo nodded, "He's dead. Never had a chance." He straightened up. "No time to think about it. We had better carry on with the evacuation. We'll just have to do without the tank." He suddenly realized that he wasn't being forced to shout anymore and froze.
Off his paralysed look, Rosie, getting nervous, demanded, "What?"
Without looking at her, Largo whispered, "You hear that?"
Incredulous, Rosie stared at him wide-eyed. "No, I don't hear anything.
"Exactly," Largo's hand went to his com-link, "Squad 7 prepare for infantry attack!"
Salinas Milton dove behind a sandbag as he felt the rush of a mortar land a few feet away. The shrapnel flew above his head; and, grabbing his machine gun by the barrel, he took off towards the group of sandbags around the eastern perimeter. He hopped over the first set and landed between Freesia York and Ramona Linton. He grinned.
"Well, hello my lovelies."
Freesia smirked, "Is now really the time, handsome?"
"I see your point," Salinas replied, "Damned unsporting of them, isn't it? First they show up uninvited and then they don't even have the courtesy of letting us have a decent breakfast."
Ramona laughed, "Yeah, all this dirt is ruining my uniform."
Whistling started nearby.
"Incoming!" Freesia shouted. The three soldiers ducked their heads praying it wouldn't land on top of them. The explosion sounded, and the three of them returned their attention to the field in front of them.
Freesia let out a grunt of frustration, "I wish they'd just get here, and fight fair already. I mean, I love to dance, but this is ridiculous."
As if in answer to her wishes, a great silence followed one last cacophonous blast as the shelling came to a sudden halt. Ramona made a move to stand up, but Salinas' hand, shooting out, brought her down again.
The com-links in their ears came to life. "Squad 7, prepare for infantry attack."
"Why'd the guns stop?" Ramona asked.
"Because, not even the Imps are crazy enough to shell their own side." Freesia muttered.
She trained her eye on the tall grass in front of her. No movement. Whoever was out there, they were moving very carefully. She activated her com-link.
"Marina, any movement from where you are?"
"Nothing," came the terse reply.
Fressia decided to try further south, "Alex, anything?"
Alex Raymond answered, "Nothing out here, but us crickets."
Next to him, Montley was fidgeting, the fingers of his right hand tapping nervously. "This is stupid," He called out suddenly, "We should just go out there and find them."
"Fine," Ted quipped, "You're a brave man, Montley old pal. Go out there and be hero. Go dodge bullet and shell. Meanwhile we'll all be back here thinking about what a sucker you are."
Montley grunted his annoyance, while Alex and Melville laughed. The one of the group stayed silent was Nils Daerden, who was keeping an eye on the field in front of him, watching the tanks on the horizon with a wary eye and a tight grip on his anti-tank lance. Why weren't they moving forward he wondered to himself. Watching and waiting for his opponent was nothing new to Nils. He'd had more than enough experience when he was a lookout for the gang back in his neighbourhood. It was that job that landed him here in the first place. When the cops had finally caught him, they gave him a choice: serve out your time in prison or join the militia. Breaking stones in a yard didn't appeal, and he passed the strength qualifications for lancers with ease, so he joined up.
Suddenly, Montley sat up, "You hear that?" He whispered. He got on his knees and move from the left side to the front sandbag. "Listen," he whispered.
Each man strained their ear. Suddenly it hit them: A rustling in the tall grass ahead of them. Montley reached for his com-link.
"They're moving through the grass. We need sniper coverage on the southeast."
Something flew past his head, and he heard a thump next to him. He looked over and stared straight at the Imperial standard issue potato masher.
"Grenade!" Someone yelled.
The five men scrambled to dive outside the ring of sandbags before it went off. Montley, Alex, Ted and Melville all made it to their feet quickly and dove head first to the other side; but Nils' armour slowed his movements and only managed to run past the grenade a foot before it went off. The blast knocked him forward, sending him tumbling over the sandbags. Fortunately for him, his heavy armour managed to stop most of the shrapnel, save for one piece which slipped between the cracks and lodged itself in his left arm. Nils grunted painfully, but managed to grasp his lance again and turn back towards the field in time to see the gunfire. After the grenade went off, a squad of Imperial troopers carrying rifles rushed the small barricade, firing off the hip as they went. Just behind them, Nils could see another squad up and running. A distant rumble was heard as the tanks on the horizon progressed towards the camp.
Alex pushed his back against the sandbag and turned over on his stomach, he brought his gun by his shoulder and took aim. There was still a bit of space between the Imps and the cover they were seeking as they charged. Alex took his opportunity and let loose. Three of the five troopers managed to dodge the incoming fire; but the other two took Alex's onslaught square in the chest and fell down dead.
"Suppression fire!" Alex shouted. The three scouts propped themselves up and began firing.
Ted and Montley took aim, catching one of the scouts in the side, as he scrambled off of the ground, intent on finding cover. Melville squeezed off five rounds, emptying his magazine into another man's midsection. Suddenly, a spray of red erupted from the third man's head as a shot impacted with the top of his skull. He was dead before hit the ground.
Melville breathed a sigh of relief. "Thanks, Marina." He spoke into the radio. Silence greeted him on the other end. He dove back undercover as the next squad of shocktroopers came into range and opened fire. Behind them, yet another squad could be seen, and the tanks not far behind. Further north gunfire could be heard as the rest of the squad engaged the enemy. Largo's voice came on over the radio, sounding the retreat.
Alex growled in frustration. "We're outgunned, we've got to pull back." He turned to the rest. "Nils, we'll give you covering fire, while you pull back. Then I'll cover the rest of you while you withdraw."
"What about you?" Montley demanded.
Alex shook his head, "Don't worry about me. I'll find my own way out."
He loaded a fresh magazine and fired a spread of bullets at the oncoming squad. The scouts did the same. They dove to the side, seeking whatever cover they could find. None of the squad members were taking care with their aim, so none of the shots hit; but it kept the enemy busy, trying to dodge, and kept them from firing back. And that was what counted. Nils hoisted his lance over his shoulder and took off in the direction of the centre of camp. His left arm ached and he could feel blood trickling from his wound; but he kept on going, ducking behind one of the supply sheds. And continuing on to the centre, where the squad would be forced to make their final stand. Montley, Ted and Melville, fired the last of their shots and took off in the same direction.
Alex fired until his magazine was empty. He had to act quickly before the enemy took advantage of his reload time. He reached into his belt and removed a grenade. He pulled the pin, and tossed it forward, not caring where it landed; and took off, running faster than he had ever run in his life.
Largo growled. The defensive line had been pushed back, and the tanks would soon be upon them. There had been only minor injuries – nothing that would impede anyone in retreating – but they would have to move quickly or the tanks would tear them apart as soon as they rounded the corner. The last of the squad that had not already retreated was gathered in the centre of camp.
"Rifles and service pistols only," he shouted to the remnants, "Forget the lances. They'll only slow us down." Fortunately, in addition to their anti-tank lances, all personnel carried standard issue pistols and combat knives to deal with infantry. They loaded their weapons and started moving from cover to cover towards the west. Largo took up the rear, still holding onto his lance.
"Marina," he spoke into his radio, "You'd better withdraw with the rest."
"Understood." came the reply.
Largo sighed in relief and took covered the rear along with Salinas and Freesia. Their only chance would be to move out the camp, take refuge in the wilderness and hope that the Imps were not in the mood for the chase. The rumble of the tanks grew closer, coming from the North-eastern side, in the direction of the command building. Salinas opened fire, as an unfortunate Imp scout rounded the corner. Salinas' bullets struck him in head, and he fell. Largo, Salinas and Freesia moved towards their escape route, keeping their guns trained on the east; straining to estimate the distance of the footfalls made by the enemy's jackboots. Largo gave one last mournful look towards his garden. All that work would go to the Imperials now. Suddenly, a tank crashed through the command building with a loud bang, coming to rest right on top of Largo's garden. Largo stopped moving.
"Boss, what the hell are you doing?" Freesia asked. Shocktroopers were beginning to swarm around the mains of the command building, and the tank was lining up its gun. Still Largo didn't move.
"Boss!" Freesia shouted over the noise of her rifle as she tried to keep the advancing squads at bay. Once that tank got them in its sights, it was all over.
Largo stared, dumbfounded. It was all gone. His squash had been squashed. He felt a fire burning inside of him and red appear before his eyes.
"Son of bitch!" He yelled as he raised his lance and fired.
The tank suffered a direct hit and the top burst open like a can of beans.
In spite of herself, Freesia let out a cheer. "That was awesome!"
Largo dropped his lance, "Let's get out of here before they get us."
"Agreed." Salinas paused to toss a grenade at the advancing shocktroopers and used to distraction to take off running, with others a short space behind.
Rosie paced back and forth. The squad was accounted for with the exception of Marina, Largo and his rearguard. The distant gunfire, at the camp had ceased ten minutes ago, just as the last of the evacuees had arrived. Rosie couldn't stand not knowing. Had the guns stopped because Largo had managed to get away, or had they managed to mow them down? Looking down from the hill they were perched upon, she brought a fist down on the hood of the truck next her.
"You've got to be all right, big guy. Please be all right."
A flicker of movement caught her eye, and she looked over and saw Marina Wulfstan jogging towards them, with her rifle at the ready. Without waiting, Rosie ran towards her.
"Where are the others?" She demanded to know.
Marina stopped in front of her, "I don't know. The last I heard was when I was given the order to withdraw." She walked past Rosie and jumped into one of the trucks.
Rosie cursed under her breath. They would have to leave before the enemy regrouped and pushed west again. If that happened, they'd have to cut Largo and the others loose. It was times like these that Rosie hated having a rank at all, because as a squad leader, it fell upon her to give the order.
'But that won't happen,' she told herself, 'He'll make it. They'll all make it. They have to.' Too much had been lost today without losing her best friend in the process.
"Damn it Largo, where are you?" She shouted.
"I'm here." Came a voice.
Rosie rushed down the hill, "Largo?" She called.
There, just at the bottom of the hill were Largo, Freesia and Salinas. They were alive. Rosie ran to meet them, and punched Largo in the shoulder.
"Don't you scare me like that again, you dumb lug."
Largo nodded, "Yes ma'am." He spared the camp one last glance. "We've got to get out of here."
"Randgriz. We've to let the Captain and the others know."
They ran up the hill to join the rest of the squad. They secured themselves and drove in the direction of the Capital. It had taken less than an hour for the Imps to breach the northern border and make it this far. Outpost 7 had fallen in less than half an hour. With most of the army grouped south of Naggiar, where the initial attack had been expected. The Empire could push southward and cross the entire Naggiar plain before meeting any serious resistance; and if that didn't work, then there would be nothing to block the path between the Imps and Randgriz. Largo shuddered to think about it. To think that the war could be lost that quickly. He had no way of knowing that at that very moment, in a small farming town to the south called Bruhl, a young man was just getting his first taste of battle which would define his life and would send him on a path to change the course of the war.