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The Great War


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Hey, everyone. A while ago I posted a bit of fiction, "A Job in Dawson', which I'm thinking about picking back up.

In the meantime, I'd like to share a short story I wrote for a college class, Character as Catalyst. The story itself is a semi-historical fiction piece, where the Civil War had a different ending, and so the first World War has also changed. I had planned on coming back to the universe, so this first post will be the background of the 'War-verse', as I've affectionately dubbed it.

· Major divergences occur during the Civil War

o Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson does not run into the 18th North Carolina Infantry regiment, and therefore is not shot and killed, as per history

o Jackson continues to lead war against the Union, turning the tide at the Battle of Gettysburg, leading to a minor victory

§ This convinces the English to finally join the war with the Confederacy, sending warships against Philadelphia and the Union’s new capital, New York (which are subsequently forced back, but not without losses)

o French-Canada, spurred by increasing pressures enforced by government, decides to join the Union, thus creating the new United States of North America

§ English support for the Confederacy dwindles, thanks to major victories in the North

o “Stonewall” Jackson is later killed at the 2nd Battle of Vicksburg in 1865. The battle is fought to a standstill.

o By this point, both sides surprise each other by “suing for peace”. The American Civil War ends, February 21st, 1866.

· 2 new nations have been created –

o The Confederate States of America

o The United States of North America

§ Slight change – several slave/Union states crossed over during the war, addition of Ontario and Quebec territories (Find online map, somewhere)

· Fast forward to 1914

o WWI begins in Europe, alliance system drags multiple countries in

o USNA sympathizes toward Germany (historical) and Central Powers, CSA still allied with UK and Triple Entente

o 1916 – USNA and CSA militarize, each watching the other (trenches and militarization along border)

§ Germany’s unrestricted submarine warfare is only applied to CSA, not UNSA

§ Germany also supported Mexico in small border war against the CSA

§ USNA announces intention to enter war with the Central Powers to break stalemate in Europe in 1917

· CSA retaliates, opening fire on USNA lines, wreaking havoc

§ North American front opens

· Fast forward to 1920

o USA never existed to enter the War in 1917

§ War has continued 3 years after historically accurate

o 1919, CSA pushes hard on the east coast, capturing Maryland and New Jersey

§ Are stopped by the Delaware River and USNA forces along the Pennsylvanian border

And so, with that, I'd like to present The Great War

Edited by infinite_array
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Overture for Orchestra

It was dawn, and the first feeble rays of light finally managed to pierce the grey shroud that had blanketed the sky for the past few days. What was illuminated, however, was much less desirable. A city, blackened and ruined, was slowly being revealed as the sun’s light began to push back the night. The city seemed to be dead – nothing moved through the rubble filled streets – and the wind that howled through the blasted-out buildings seemed to be the only voice. February snow had smothered many of fires that had raged for years, but black smoke still arose from where the chill could not touch the strongest flames. Where citizens once filled the city with life and emotions, there was only emptiness now. Its people had fled years before; some to Boston, hoping that the war would not come that far; most had gone farther, to Ottawa, to Montreal.

Philadelphia had been abandoned to the Great War.

There was movement, however contradictory to the scene, further south. Trenches, dug deep into the ground, followed the banks of the Schuylkill River and ending at the banks of the Delaware. It was in these trenches that the first signs of life emerged. Men, clad in long coats stained brown and red, slowly clambered out of their shelters and stretched their aching muscles. It was the first time that they had left their foxholes in days. The storm that had engulfed them, jokingly referred to as “the best ‘nor’easter’ in years’, had kept them trapped.

Not that they minded. The past three days had been those of resting. Many had slept for almost half the time. Others had sat back, playing endless games of cards, or smoking what cigarettes they had left. Rifles and other weapons were maintained, and ammunition was kept dry. Even with the brief respite, the men still knew they were in the middle of a conflict. The war had been raging for the past six years, and for all the soldiers knew, it would continue indefinitely.

Having gotten their blood flowing, hands reached for shovels, and soon snow was once again in the air. The trenches needed to be cleared, and the officers knew what would be coming soon. The snow may have stopped the Confederates, but it was as well as assured that the soldiers on the opposite side of the Schuylkill would be copying the Unionists. The officers began to send runners to different stations at the front.

James Halloway was not an officer, but he knew what was coming. His hand stung in the early morning air. He had lost his gloves sometime back in December, and had never gotten the chance to replace them. His entrenching tool was almost too cold to handle, and every so often Halloway was forced to stop shoveling and wrap his hands in his coat’s sleeves. The last thing he wanted now was to lose any fingers. While he was gaunt from a lack of proper nutrition, with hair that was a bit too long for military regulations, Halloway had made it this far without any truly permanent damage. Yes, there was the bullet he had taken in the shoulder, but that was a year ago distant, and the wound had been clean.

Cursing under his breath, Halloway finally tossed the last shovelful of sleet over the back of the trench. Breathing heavily, he leaned against the back wall. It was frozen solid, but the ice had pushed several of the supporting boards out of place. Looking around to make sure no one too important would take notice, Halloway gave the wooden beams a few good hits, which nearly returned them to their proper places. Satisfied with his handiwork, Halloway placed his entrenching tool down beside him and began to search through his coat. When his hand grasped the familiar carton, he smiled. He had never smoked a cigarette before the Great War, but each soldier was given a carton per ration. The rolls of tobacco were especially useful now, when heat was a premium and hard to find. Placing one of cigarettes between his lips, Halloway went searching again, unsuccessfully, for a match.

“Need a light, Corporal?” asked a voice from behind Halloway.

Smiling, Halloway turned and looked up, saluting. “Sir, yes sir,” he replied, the smile growing even wider. Above the trench stood Sergeant Andrew Myers. A veritable giant of a man, the sergeant somehow managed to jump into the trench below without breaking any of the wooden boards that made a sort of flooring. His forward movement carrying him forward, Myers crossed the other side of the trench, stepping up onto the firing step and tossing a box of matches to Halloway, who gratefully caught them. Striking a match, Halloway lit his cigarette before stepping up behind the sergeant. The noxious odors burned Halloway’s throat and nose, but he was grateful for the warmth. He cupped his hands around the lit end, took a few more breaths, and then shoved his warmed-appendages into his coat pockets.

Edited by infinite_array
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He watched Myers. The man was huge, having to crouch to even use the firing step as an observation post. A helmet was perched on his head, slightly askew. His coat was torn and well used, ragged at the edges and splattered in mud. Halloway could have sworn he could see splatters of blood, but it may have been the light and the smoke. Myers’ trenchgun was slung over his shoulder. Myers himself had a pair of binoculars pressed to his eyes, and was scanning the opposite riverbank. No one knew exactly where the binoculars had come from, since only enlisted officers were issued them, but Halloway had once seen the ‘Stars and Bars’ imprinted on them. Slowly, Myers stepped down from the step, and turned to Halloway, who had the beginnings of a joke on his lips. The joke, quickly died, however, when Halloway saw the look on his sergeant’s face. Myers pulled out a whistle from his coat, and Halloway’s expression turned to a grimace as Myers’s whistled added to the chorus that was beginning to run up and down the trenches.

The Confederates had finally brought their siege guns to bear, and the initial barrage was incoming. Myers and Halloway both scrambled back into their foxholes. Each knew they had plenty of time, but both had seen a stray shell kill unwary men before. It was best to minimize the risks.

The barrage started across the Schuylkill, pounding even more craters into the wasteland that the river had once flowed through. The explosions crept forward, which gave them an almost life-like intellect. They seemed to be reaching out towards the men hiding in their trenches, seeking to grasp them in hands wrought from shrapnel and flames. The guns, hidden far away from the frontline, barely did any damage, however. The Union positions were well dug, and could withstand days of impact, which they had in the past.

As Halloway crouched next to Myers in their hole, he noticed the other men who squatted beside him. Gerry Baecker was busy double-checking his Browning anti-tank rifle, only sparing a moment to glance up and nod and Halloway. Besides Baecker were David Albit and Michael Estell. Albit tossed a rifle to Halloway, while Estell was busy puffing away at a cigarette like it was his last. Which, Halloway reflected, may very well be true. The men looked up as the rate of impacts overhead began to lessen, and then looked back to each other.

The Night the Sky Cried (Tears of Fire)

Myers took a last look at the watch around his wrist, saying, “Huh. They’re early.”

“They’re impatient, is all. Guess they’re as cooped up as we are” Baecker replied, still working on the gun that seemed oversized compared to the man holding it. To the boy, Halloway realized. Baecker couldn’t have been a day over 19. Myers had bet Halloway that the boy hadn’t even begun to shave yet.

“Well, they’ve could’ve waited a bit longer. I barely got a chance to get a ciggy before the bastards started” Halloway grouched.

“Hasn’t stopped me, has it?” Estell laughed, waving the lit stick in front of Halloway, who smacked it away.

“Dry up, all of you,” Myers ordered. The time for jokes was over. The explosions were much less frequent now, and each of the men knew what would be following them. “Estell, get your gun up to the wall as quickly as possible.” Estell nodded and heaved his machine gun to the ground in front of him. “Albit, keep the ammunition coming. We don’t know how many they’re going to be sending over. Baecker, stay down. We’ll let you know if you’re needed.” Albit saluted, and Baecker slammed a clip into his gun. “Halloway, you’re up on the wall with Estell and me. Ready?” All of the men nodded, and visibly tensed. They had no idea what would be waiting in the no man’s land just beyond the trench. Whatever it was, chances were that it would be shooting at them, and that they would be shooting right back.

Finally, the barrage had stopped completely, and the men could hear the sound of whistles being blown once again. Myers yelled out, “Go, go!” and the men surged into action. Other soldiers had already come out from cover, and Myers lead his squad to join them at the wall.

Myers and Halloway were the first to reach the trench wall, and they leapt onto the firing steps in near perfect unison. Halloway rested his Springfield against the wooden fortifications, and he heard Myers rack the fore-end of his trenchgun. Around them, others soldiers were streaming out of their hiding holes and taking their positions along the trench. Somewhere, rifle fire was slowly being exchanged, and someone screamed. Estell came up besides Halloway and quickly unfolded the tripod of the machine gun. How someone that tall and wiry could singlehandedly move around something as large as the Browning, Halloway didn’t know. Albit, who was much shorter and stockier, would have seemed to be a better fit, but he seemed perfectly happy as he came up behind, laden with jingling belts of ammunition for the machine gun. Baecker was crouched below, cradling the oversized anti-tank rifle.

Halloway turned away from the others and focused out into no-man’s land. The artillery had evaporated much of the snow from the storm, and now steam rose from the ground, obscuring any enemies moving beyond 50 yards or so. Flipping up his iron sights, Halloway pressed his face to the cheek piece, the wooden material of the Springfield still freezing. He slowly inhaled, then exhaled, trying to slow down the beating of his heart. He knew it wouldn’t work, but it was something to concentrate on, before all the-

“Movement!” yelled Myers, and Estell let loose with the Browning. The gun roared and spat fire, and a smudge in the fog fell backwards. It was then that Halloway realized there were dozens of smudges running towards them, and he flinched as bullets began impacting around him, digging out tiny impact craters and tossing mud into the air. He replaced his cheek on the rifle and aimed down the sights.

Edited by infinite_array
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There. A figure, kneeling down. Halloway lined the man in his sights, and squeezed the trigger. The rifle kicked, and the man slumped down.

Another smudge came running past the first, his arm raised, ready to throw. Halloway calmly worked the bolt, aimed, and squeezed again. The figure fell to his face. Moments later, an explosion sent another few smudges flying. They didn’t get back up. It continued like this for what seemed like hours. Albit had to run back for more ammunition twice. Myers was forced to empty his canteen over the machine gun, and when the water was gone he occasionally tossed fistfuls of snow on the barrel to keep it from overheating.

Halloway didn’t see which of the Confederates had thrown the grenade – he only saw the glint of the small, metal object as it flew overhead, and land just behind Baecker. Halloway only looked at Baecker for a moment – his eyes were wide and pleading – and he turned away, covering his head with his arms. The explosion stunned and defeaned him. Something hit his back with a wet impact, and slid off. Shaking his head, Halloway turned back towards Baecker, immediately regretting doing so. The body was a ruined mess, face down in the trench. There was a gasp to Halloway’s left. He pivoted, and saw Albit clutching his side, his face twisted into a grimace. Looking up, Halloway was relieved to see that Estell and Myers had been untouched. Halloway jumped to the floor of the trench and ran to Albit’s side.

Albit opened his mouth, but Halloway cut him off. “Don’t give me any of that, ‘It’s just a flesh wound’ shit. How bad is it really?” Albit only shrugged, and coughed. A trickle of blood dribbled down from the corner of his mouth. “Bad, then,” Halloway frowned. Albit would need medical attention, and soon. Now was neither the time, nor the place, however.

“Halloway, I need ammo, now!” Estell yelled, and Halloway gave a nod to Albit, who nodded in reply. Turning away, Halloway ducked into the ammo cache, grabbed a couple of the matt green boxes full of ammo belts, then turned back. He was two steps out of the cache when he slipped in what had been Baecker, falling on his backside. Cursing, Halloway picked himself up, only to see Albit doubled over. It wasn’t pain, Halloway realized – the bastard was laughing at him.

“Fine time for it, too, you ass!” Halloway shot back, and made his way up behind Estell, who stepped to the side.

“What happened?” Estell asked, as he stopped firing the gun and helped Halloway reload.

“Grenade. Baecker’s dead, and Albit’s going to need to get out of here.”

“Damn, that bad?”

“That, and I’m going to put a bullet in his foot if he’s not out of here fast enough.” Estell raised an eyebrow at Halloway, shrugged, and pulled back the slide on the gun, loading a bullet into the chamber. Halloway returned to his own firing position as the machine gun began to roar again.

Soon, Estell was busy replacing the water that cooled the barrel of the machine gun, with Myers covering him with his trenchgun. Any enemy soldier out in no man’s land who was brave enough to show himself got a slug for his trouble. Myers had said that he had been a hunter in his youth, so the gun felt familiar in his hands, and he was unerringly accurate with it. At range, Myers used solid slugs, but the weapon was truly dangerous in close combat. Myers was able to shred infantry with the gun’s buckshot, slam firing the weapon repeatedly.

Halloway was busy binding Albit’s wounds, while Myers had gone back to find a medic. Halloway couldn’t tell how bad Albit had been hit by the grenade’s shrapnel. The shallow cuts on his forehead and arms were easily wrapped in cloth torn from old clothing and doused in some of Estell’s private stash. The alcohol stung, but at least it would help to keep infections from setting in too early.

The wound in Albit’s chest was worst. Something had obviously gone deep into Albit’s ribcage on the right side, and hadn’t come back out. Albit would cough and grimace as a trickle of blood dripped from the corner of his mouth. Halloway had taken a wad of alcohol-soaked cloth and had Albit hold it over the wound, which he grudgingly obliged.

While working on Albit, Halloway felt a hand on his shoulder, and he turned. The soldier behind him was unrecognizable, but he was obviously a runner from further back in the lines. He was cleaner than the rest of the men running around him, and only a private.

“Sir, are you Lieutenant O’Shea?” the private asked. Halloway shook his head in denial and tapped the corporal chevrons on his greatcoat. The private continued, “Do you know where I can find him? Forward observers have seen armored column mov-” The private was cut off by a sudden explosion a dozen yards away. A second explosion occurred moments later, and closer. The private was thrown by the second blast, splinters of wood tearing into him and sending him flying. Halloway had saved his own life by throwing himself on top of Albit, as close to the wall as possible. A rush of hot air and debris assaulted his back. Halloway heard screaming from where the explosions, Albit’s cursing from underneath him, but something rang clear through the turmoil.

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Korpens Saga

“Tanks! Tanks!” someone was crying out. Halloway pushed Albit, who was trying to stand up, back down. This resulted in a fresh bout of expletives, some of which Halloway was sure Albit had invented on the spot. Making sure Albit wouldn’t follow him or throw anything, Halloway returned to where Estell and Myers were ducking as more cannon fire exploded around them.

“It’s a platoon of Mark IV’s, probably the Virginian 8th. We’ve got one approaching straight at us.” Myers explained. He looked back. “Did you take care of Albit?”

“I wrapped him up. Where’s our artillery? A few rounds could probably split open their amor.” Halloway replied.

“No good. Some runner from the back mistook me for the ell-tee. I corrected him, but apparently the artillerists don’t want to risk hitting us by accident. They mess up, and then the confederates get to waltz right through our lines.” Myers said.

“So, what? We don’t have any armor?” Estell asked. He ducked under one of Myers’ hands.

“You know better. The tanks only go as fast as a walking infantryman. There’s no way our armor could get here in time.” Myers berated him. He turned looked toward No Man’s Land, and said, “Stay here. I’m going to take another look”.

Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ya

More explosions erupted around them, another volley from the approaching behemoths. Myers inched his way to the trench wall, and slowly stood. As he crested the trench, his eyes widened. Slowly crawling across the ground came a trio of Mark VI tanks, most likely imported from England. One tank burned further back. A lucky shot, Myers determined.

It resembled a metal box, with treads welded onto its sides. They were caked with mud, dented by numerous impacts. These behemoths bristled with weaponry. Two machine guns spat fire into its front arc, tracers burning through the air. The Mark VI’s main weaponry were the cannons – two of them, one to each side. Even as Myers watched, the cannons turned, tracking targets that the tank’s commander would be calling out.

Fire rippled from the tanks, away from Myers’s position. Squads were decimated, the high explosive rounds from the cannons tearing into the trenches. Putting his binoculars to his face, Myers looked out beyond the tanks. He could see soldiers taking cover in craters and behind hastily erected barricades. Someone had managed to rally the retreating Confederates, and now they were letting the tanks blaze ahead.

Frowning, Myers removed the binoculars from his face, and frowned as he took a moment to rub where he had unknowingly pressed the metal too hard to the bridge of his nose. Such a decision was risky, but smart. Whoever was leading the Confederates knew that the Unionists could throw back any infantry charge. Better to let the tanks break the forward lines and force a general retreat. Then the infantry could rush up behind and take the empty trenches. Given enough time, the Confederates could force the Union’s front line back even further.

Return fire was sporadic, and Myers was sure that nothing in the immediate area could pierce the tank’s front armor. Even Baecker’s gun, lying unused in the trench, didn’t have enough of a punch. Nothing short of-

“Artillery, right?” Estell asked, nearly causing Myers to leap both out of the trench and his own skin.

“Dammit, Estell!” Myers cried.

“Sorry, Sarge,” Estell apologized, a grin wide on his face. The grin disappeared as the tank fired again.

“Anyway, no. I don’t think we’re going to-“ Myers paused, and looked skyward. So did the rest of the soldiers. Over the din of battle, there was a faint whistling. Something they’d heard time and time again.

“You’re $$$$$$$$ing kidding me, right?” Halloway asked to no one in particular. In response, an explosion tore one of the advancing tanks apart.

“No, that’s just our luck. Everyone down!” Myers commanded. The soldiers dropped as the shells rained down overhead. Myers dove over to Albit and pushed him onto his side.

Someone – somewhere – had made a mistake, however. A runner from the frontlines had reported to the artillery officer that the frontlines had been overrun. The officer’s orders were clear. A creeping barrage, starting from just beyond the trench and moving towards the nearest ‘known’ secure trench line, would hopefully suppress any enemy troops who had managed to take the front lines.

Myers and his squad were lucky. The initial rounds had knocked out two of the advancing tanks, and had driven off the advancing infantry and remaining armor. Unfortunately, that was simply the beginning.

“I’d like to take a moment to point out that, and this is just conjecture on my part, but I believe that those explosions are getting closer!” Estell commented. Various commands and threats were thrown his way, only to be drowned out in the ensuing blasts.

Halloway was lying face down, eyes staring into the muck at the bottom of the trench. Each explosion disturbed the small puddles intermixed in the mud. It was then that Halloway’s stomach seemed to drop away. A sudden sense of dread overshadowed him. He was unable to move.

He could see, however. A massive barrel expelling fire. The shell, its height rising just above Halloway’s waist, rising into the air. A gentle arc, and the February sun’s rays glinting off the metal. Now the tip pointed Earthward, and the shell began its descent. On the shell was a hand written message, addressed ‘To Whom it May Concern’. Below the shell were a group of men, huddled in their trench. The shell screamed in, uncaring if the men were enemies or not. It only had its purpose.

A moment of silence. Then pressure. A roar. Fire, engulfing.


Edited by infinite_array
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