Real-Time Tactical

Watts slumped down against the trench wall, shoulders against support beams on either side, laid his helmet bowl-up in his lap. He surveyed the soldiers lying twisted and dead around him, and asked, lightly, "Anybody got any water?"

"Nobody has water, Watts, nobody ever has water. Stop asking." The Sergeant answered without looking down: he was scanning no-man's-land with binoculars. "I see Perkins."


He watched for a time before answering. "Not moving."

"You told him not to charge them. It's his own fault." Watts lit a cigarette, took a long pull from it, rolled the smoke around his mouth before inhaling. He held it in for ages, imagining he could feel the nicotine being absorbed by his lung walls.

The Sergeant climbed down from the edge, tossed the binoculars onto his pack. "I'll have a word with him, believe you me."

"Best do. Next time he'll get us all killed."

"What do you care?"

"I don't," Watts exclaimed, bristling. "I'm a fighting man to the core, Sergeant, born and bred. I just like to win."

"All right, all right, don't get offended." The Sergeant opened his pack, shoved the binoculars in, and fished out a tin of rations which he opened and picked at with obvious distaste. "I just don't see why it matters, winning or not. Not like it'll make a difference."

Watts took the cigarette from his lips, stared at him. "I just don't understand you, sometimes, Sergeant."

"I'm smarter than you, Watts; I'm a non-commissioned officer, after all. My analytical  and decision-making skills are heightened by design. I'm capable of reading the situation so that I can give orders. I don't stop reading it just because the fighting's over for the day."


"So tomorrow, we'll be back at our starting positions and it'll all start again, and Perkins will be reckless again because that's how Perkins is, and you'll be cautious again because that's how you are, and the battle will turn the way it turns because of some unseen hand manipulating the fighting on a scale beyond our ken."

"What, like Generals?" Watt snorted. "I've never even seen a General, Sergeant."

"Nor I."

"All I care about is doing my job."

"That's all you're supposed to care about." The Sergeant reached into his pack, grabbed another ration tin, handed it to Watts. "Here, eat something. Not long until dark, now."

They ate in silence as the glow on the horizon faded. They could hear far-off singing, bits and echoes of song that had found their way through the smoky haze laying over no-man's-land.

"They're at it again."

"I think it's 'Wacht am Rhein'," Observed the Sergeant.

"Always liked that one. Do you think it'll be Jerry again, tomorrow?"

"Probably. It's usually Jerry."

"Might be the Romans; you never know." Watts lit up. "Remember when it was the Zulus? Now there was a battle. Perkins caught a spear right through his—"

"It hasn't been the Zulu for years," The Sergeant sighed. "Now get some rest."

No comments:

Post a Comment