Disclaimer: Don't own and never will.
AN: I've neglected my AC side recently and this is me trying to get back into the habit.
The ground shook violently and bits of rubble from the ceiling tumbled down as the explosive thump of artillery slammed into the ground above them. The place was a simple structure, an underground train station not unlike those found in many cities around the world, with an arch above it. Just above the station sat a series of shallow trenches that had been dug out only a few hours earlier and barbed wire but the artillery bombardment made their defences a virtual death trap for anyone still up there. And so, sitting in a corner, three friends played cards while they waited, huddled in a group away from the rest of the platoon, who were all finding their own way to deal with the boredom and nerves of waiting for the bombardment to cease and for the fighting to start.
Thomas Hemp was a sixteen-year-old City Defence Force reservist; a lanky young man with dreadlocks, pale skin and grey eyes was shuffling the cards and slowly dealing them out. His khaki-coloured shirt and trousers actually fit, which made him a 'freak of nature' according to his Sergeant Major. He wasn't even supposed to be involved with combat units, but when the Erusians swept through San Salvacion and were on the outskirts of the city of Syvarra, then the distinctions between combat and none-combat units were quickly being swept away in light of the Erusian advance.
The second member of their group was Gemma Cook and she was not much older than him, only a year or two at most, with short, cropped hair of vivid red that she hated and a heart shaped face the was peppered with spots. Her hands fiddled with a cigarette as she rolled it one way and then another and her uniform was clearly too big for her. The cigarette she was rolling was the fifth she had smoked in two hours, but nobody had complained about it, not least because they all knew that she was the best shot in the platoon and could hit a five-penny piece at thirty metres.
Finally, on the other side of her stood a much older man who was easily in his fifties, with a thinning head of black hair and had at least three days stubble on his face. Nobody knew who he was, not even he did. He had just stumbled in a few hours ago with a concussion and amnesia and almost nobody fully trusted him. His uniform was the multi-patterned green and brown of the regular army and his webbing stretched across his waist. He even had a bayonet at his side.
"So, are either of you guys afraid?" Thomas asked as he finished dealing out the cards and picked up his own set. Gemma glared at him venomously as she picked up her cards.
"Why would I be afraid?" she asked contemptuously as she flicked open her lighter and struggled to get it to light. "It's not like the enemy artillery can get us down here!" The last bit came out as a bit of a shriek and her face reddened with embarrassment.
"There's no shame in being afraid," the Older Man said in a calm, collected voice that betrayed nothing. "Fear is a normal response to a dangerous situation or the preparation for a dangerous situation. It's how you respond to it that counts."
"I'm not afraid of battle," Gemma protested as she finally managed to light her cigarette. "I just don't like small spaces."
"I'm just hoping that I get my memory back before the shit hits the fan," the man said in the same calm and collected voice that he had used earlier and Thomas raised an eyebrow.
"Aren't you afraid of dying?" he asked and the older man shook his head.
"I have nothing to lose," the man pointed out. "I no links to keep me here, just a numb blankness."
"Never really thought about it like that," Thomas said as he threw down a card. "Diamonds."
"You would have to change suite to diamonds, wouldn't you?" Gemma grumbled good-naturedly as she picked up a card from the pile. "So what are you afraid of? You're not going to tell me you're afraid of nothing because there's no way you'd have asked that question if you weren't."
"True," Thomas admitted with a shrug. "It's kind of complicated."
"I'll be watching your back remember?" Gemma pointed out. "Uncomplicate it."
"I'm scared of running away," he admitted looking sheepish as he threw down another card. "I'm scared that when the time comes, I'll lose my head and run in blind panic and I'll let everyone down and my family will be dishonoured and ashamed."
"Don't worry. If you run, I'll shoot you myself," Gemma said coldly as she looked straight at him and Thomas shrugged.
"Better than the alternative," he said nonchantly. "Never retreat, never surrender, isn't that supposed to be our motto?"
"A little more intelligence in our strategy would probably be better," Gemma said sardonically. "Oh and Spades."
"Kid, you've got your whole life ahead of you. Don't throw it away over some stupid motto," the Older Man said firmly. "Just fight hard and with honour and as far as I'm concerned, that will be enough."
"I wouldn't want to be captured by the Erusian's," Gemma said with an unpleasant look on her face. "Have you heard the rumours about what the Erusian soldiers do to girl soldiers the capture? I heard they rape them one after the other for hours and hours and-"
"And maybe you shouldn't believe all that you hear," the Older Man said forcefully, cutting her off mid-word. "There will always be rumours and there will always be people who want you to believe the worse about your enemy and there will always be soldiers who act badly."
"They have to capture you first before they can rape you," Thomas pointed out dryly. "Last card."
"Yeah well they sure as hell aren't getting me," she said as her face turned into a scowl. "No way!"
"Alright you miserable little maggots, it's time to fight!" the fat, slightly podgy form of Sergeant-Major Triol screamed out, ending their conversation right there as Thomas swiftly swept up his cards and the three of them grabbed their FN L1A1 rifles and charged up the stairs into the trenches above them.
What greeted them when they reached the top was close to a vision of Hell. The Erusian's weren't worried about capturing the outskirts of the city intact, which was clear from the destroyed buildings around them and the shell-holes in the road. The buildings that hadn't been destroyed were burning fiercely, illuminating the scene even further. Bullets smacked into the ground around them or off the barbed wire which appeared to have been untouched by the bombardment and with a eight wheeled Spähpanzer Luchs, the Erusian soldiers advanced towards them as fast as they could run.
"How the Hell are we supposed to stop that?" Thomas yelled as he pointed at the fast approaching Luchs. "We don't have any anti-armour weapons!"
"We don't need them," Gemma said in an angry tone as she glared at the vehicle and pulled her rifle up to her shoulder and pulled the trigger. The driver's head was poking out of the top and that was enough for Gemma. Suddenly he slumped forward and the huge vehicle stalled and slid over into a hole. Gemma grinned.
"See that's how you stop one of them," she said with a smirk, before suddenly toppling forward.
"Gemma!" Thomas exclaimed in shock as the Older Man rushed to her side, before shaking his head sadly.
"She's gone," he said sadly and he picked up his rifle and resumed firing on the advancing Erusians. Time seemed to slow down for a moment as Thomas's brain refused to accept the fact that the girl he had been playing cards with earlier was in fact dead. And suddenly time speeded up again and with a growl, Thomas grabbed his rifle and leapt out of the trench firing and yelling as he charged towards the Luchs, which was still laying down suppressing fire as best it could.
Lead flew around him and one even took off one of his dreadlocks, but by some miracle, not one round actually hit him. Pulling out his only grenade, he pulled open the hatch of the Luchs and tossed the grenade into the vehicle. The resulting explosion knocked him off his feet and sent him flying backwards with his ears ringing, but before he could even try to stand, an Erusian soldier stabbed him with a bayonet in the chest.
The last surviving member of their game, the Older Man roared angrily and moments later the Erusian soldier was killed, while the rest of the troop concentrated their fire on the approaching Erusian troops.
"Hold firm men!" Sergeant Triol yelled as he waved his arm at the enemy. "We can beat them! Never retreat! Never surrender!"
"Never retreat, never surrender is about right for this idiot," the older man muttered under his breath as he squeezed the trigger of his rifle and narrowly avoided hitting another Erusian soldier, when the familiar sound of an Mi-24 Hind-E was heard over the battlefield and with a whoosh, an S-24 rocket slammed into his position, sending men and women flying, but by some fluke, the Older Man was merely knocked out with barely a scratch.
The Erusians broke through with a vengeance and soon the air was filled with the sounds of close quarter fighting and with a groan, the Older Man pulled himself to his feet, his head still ringing like a bell. Grabbing his rifle (which by an incredible fluke, had been undamaged) he threw himself into the fray with a yell as he fired twice into the first Erusian soldier he saw, before quickly hitting another hard in the face with the butt of his rifle. As another Erusian soldier smacked into him, knocking his rifle aside, the Older Man pulled out his bayonet and quickly stabbed the enemy soldier in the gut, before quickly pulling up under the man's ribcage.
"Fall back, fall back!" Sergeant Triol yelled, as the remaining defenders fell back into the underground tunnels to escape through them. The Older Man grimaced and grabbed a Bren gun that had fallen to the ground after its operator was killed. With a brief check over the weapon to see that it was still in working order, he placed himself at the entrance to the tunnel just as the last of his comrades retreated into the station and opened fire, killing the first two Erusian soldiers who charged in after the fleeing city defenders.
"Come on then you bastards," he cursed under his breath. "Come and get me."
Almost as though they had heard him, a grenade tumbled down the stairs with a ding-ding-ding sound and he instinctively kicked it away. The resulting explosion in such a cramped space showered him with debris and threw dust up everywhere, blinding him for a moment and as he heard the sounds of soldiers coming down the steps, he squeezed the trigger once more and was rewarded by the sounds of pain as his rounds found their mark. Then there was a sudden whoosh sound and an RPG-7 slammed into the roof above him and the tunnel entrance above him collapsed, crushing him under its weight.
Further down the tunnels, the sound reached the retreating defenders of Syvarra and Sergeant Triol bowed his head slightly.
"Your sacrifice will be remembered," he murmured under his breath as they reached the open air and the next stage of their defences.