Ever since that first day, Europa had always been a changed place in the world. All of the landmass had been engulfed with the furious uproar of technology, politics and expansive settlements. No one was cautious enough to see their flaws and mistakes and now, in this bleak summer's end, there was war. A war like no other, some would say, that was to end all conflicts known to mankind. From the fiery pits of each capitals, churning out weapon after weapon for the hands of rugged soldiers, a descent into chaos only continued to fuel itself every day. Not a single day would go by where man would claim another's life. The dawn of each day was someone's last, their final dusk spent being lowered into some shoddy grave their comrades had to build on the fly. Nearly three years had gone by since the first sign of gunfire had been sighted. The flash from its muzzle started the on-going engagement that now positioned itself on the front of every news paper, book and radio broadcast back home. Hundreds flocked through the streets to sign up, knowing to them that it was their duty to spring into action. When the Imperials first struck, taking the borders of Assen without much of a sweat, the response was of outrage. Many saw this as a violation of human rights, despite knowing that both sides were desperate on the Ragnite stored within. The first Crossing of the Maren River was a devastating realisation that this war needed to be fought differently to the previous ones.
It began with one trench, temporarily made to save a platoon from a charge. Then it became two, and after that about seven popped up. It was a matter of weeks before a system of lines, going further and further into Federation territory started to be made. In response to that, those of the Imperial Army followed suit and forged their own, forming the very first stalemate. It was a strong stalemate that would last for, so far, nearly three years. The first two years had already been bloody enough, but details of such experiences were spared for those back home, who were only seeing the war as a glorious atonement to their duty. The Federation's formation made many rush to the volunteering offices, and soon the boots were filled and the guns were armed. Many went off to the field, many of which would not come home.
Jean knew that war was something where men and women died. It was an obvious statement in itself, and to think otherwise would make them an ignorant fool. But Jean didn't know the full extent of how much war took its toll on the people. Throughout every fifteen flyers pressuring the masses into enlisting there were the odd stories of those who claimed to have returned from the frontlines, stating that it was a brutal mess of slaughter and genocidal orders. No one, of course, would believe them. Not even Jean, who was brandished as a coward by his own people for not enlisting, saw their truths and continued to imagine the war as some romanticised station where honour, love and friendship blossomed throughout. It was somewhat true about the latter, but the first was definitely an overstatement. He had no idea of how much different the frontline would be, until that day.
He remembered signing up for the Federation Army. Shipping off to Edinburgh was no honourable dissection from his usual homesteads as the eyes of many carried with him. At the same time he volunteered for the Army, under the pressures of the White Feather movement, Jean remembered seeing some of the boys and girls from his home city stare at him, and this time not just for being a Darcsen. Half of the time it hadn't gotten to him and would proceed to be an afterthought, but the constant waves carried over to training too. Some considered him weaker than the standard man, seeing him as easy pickings for challenging. Those who were unable to accept his camaraderie at the time tried to shun him down, which was occasionally responded to by the officers. All of the physical stress was quite a deal. From the beginning, they learnt how to hold a standard rifle before trainers began to divide them into specialised categories. Even for a 2-year war, Jean was rather impressed with the amount of reorganisation the military had gone through to see these changes. However, though it was probably for the best, Jean was placed simply within the riflemen of the army. There was no problem with being there, as it did show that he was serving his freedom and duty without the need of a specialised position, but the stories of those who were brave and valiant came from those with different ranks. Stories like Private Turner, a farmboy from Assen, who commanded a gunning sentry position managed to halt an entire platoon or two charging their way. He received a lovely medal of great courage but soon died weeks later. It was a sad truth that wasn't kept from the public, but how he was taken from his youthful life was always left scarce. The methods of violence were not to be explicitly revealed, though no one really questioned why. Even Jean was ignorant to the reasoning, and just kept his training up like a good soldier should have done.
Training was difficult. The camp was filled with men and women of all ages, from as low as 16 to as high as their late 50s. Some were wise in the old ways of combat whilst others were virgins to battle like Jean was himself. When he was placed within the Rifleman's division of the training camp, he spent a lot of time trying to learn from others, improving his social skills and understanding the importance of trust. They were put into long holes in the ground, dugouts and what-not, to try and simulate what they'd be going through. Bayonet training was frequent and the adjustment to firing a rifle was an unsteady journey. At first, Jean was a rusty shot like most, but soon picked up and became talented enough to surpass his own expectations. It felt somewhat refreshing to achieve in a field he'd never dared to go towards and hoped that his family would be proud. Many times did he hear stories like his own, about how older siblings had gone to fight and never returned. Jean remembered Olivia's deployment like it was the day before and would use it to encourage him to push further. Basic needs like cooking, washing without actual washing kits and basic hygiene were given out regularly, yet many disregarded them knowing someone on the frontline was assigned to do it for them, most likely.
And finally came the day, after two months of training. His group were to be graduated and allowed for combat duty, to where they were all assigned their randomised regiments. Falling under the 15th Atlantic Rifles, he didn't travel over with many, if not any, of those who he trained with. According to some at the camp, the randomised regimental system was put in place after the failures of a Pal's Platoon system, where friends would join friends. Villages were rumoured to have lost entire generations of men and women, and now this system was put in place to try and minimise the effects of the loss of life. But on that day, something special came through. A recommendation, before he would leave on the boat back to the mainland of Europa, showed to his officers that he was due a promotion. The reasons were quite unclear, but apparently some communication skills in the zone of training let him brighten up to the next rank before he even left the deployment zone. Lance Corporal, he would be. And what a honour it felt...
The train was rugged. Everything after the promotion was nothing more than a rugged seat of discomfort and nervousness. It was a large railed network designed to transport them directly to their stationed frontline, but the amount of days it took staggered and frustrated Jean's inner anxieties. The realisation that he was going to war once again hit him and reminded the lad that this could have been his final decision ever made freely, one that could cost him his life. He would shake his head occasionally and deny such self-accusations, stating that it was a war that needed to be fought to end the wars of all generations to come. Whoever would win, between the Imperials and the Federation, would dictate the future of Europa. With one superpower out, there would be no need to fight. Peace could initially become a reality for some, though many saw the Imperial victory as a sign of impoverishment, danger and oppression. Many saw it as a black-and-white principle. One was good, the other bad. Jean himself admitted to feeling such a way during training, but he had second thoughts in that moment. And that was when the time drifted to the present day...
It was August 25th. 5:32am, to be precise. The weather was shit. The temperature was abysmal, yet there was a strange excitement in the air. No one knew why. For the past few days he'd actually been within the trenches, the 15th Atlantic Rifles were arriving in waves, so it was only natural for the platoon introductions to be left until all had been due to arrive. Because of that, Jean spent a lot of his time trying to get some of the mud out of the undersides of his boots. If it weren't for the duckboards, the summer bog would have engulfed half a leg by that time. But the noise was rather soft. Only a distant plunder of artillery shells could be heard on that day, as the previous days had many hours of bombardment coming from their own side. It was a ruthless and quite terrifying cannonade being orchestrated, but if it destroyed the enemy they were due to see then what would be his complaint to make? He was a Lance Corporal. He shouldn't be questioning orders unless they were his own.
Being in the rear-line was a bit more comforting than the stories of the front trench, which was only a few hundred metres towards the hill. On this Garnian Salient, strange mixtures of happiness and sadness seemed to engulf the masses. He remembered sitting in his dugout, listening to the conversations of the veteran soldiers around him tut to themselves about the new arrivals coming off the train, citing them as unlucky bastards and wasted casualties. It was here that Jean wrote his first poem, before hiding it in his breast pocket and tucking it away. He barely uttered any words on the first few days in the nippy conditions of the Salient, whispering to himself that this was natural to feel nervous. On the train, everyone had been told about the Big Show coming up, and that everyone was going to get their part to play the lead role. But he was awoken only ten minutes before, still dressed in his uniform from the previous day. It felt weird being within the same clothes for a few days, but again, he couldn't complain. This seemed to be the hardest inconvenience so far, but Jean had nothing much to complain about other than small titbits. There was no suffering, as far as he was concerned. That morning the blaring alarm of a bugler had awoken him and formed up an array of soldiers, all of different ages, gender and size. Many looked unfamiliar and only a few were somewhat recognisable, but that didn't matter. Before them all stood a man with quite a sharp face, as well as a tone just as sharpened.
"Platoon, 'tion!" Just as the many parade nights in training dictated, this was the call to come to attention. All of the soldiers were stood in small ranks, making up an organised presentation. Amidst the front of them all stood the NCO list. Jean hadn't a clue who any of his NCOs or Officers were and was thrown under the horse's carriage when being made to stand before everyone, silently awaiting the inspection and beginning of introductions towards the troops all around him. Quickly, he snapped with his arms beside his side, holding the salute everyone was inclined to do. The sharp-faced figure walked over with a bulking stare, glaring at those presented before him. His voice was of a very...aristocratic tone. His stiff expression eyed down those before him, judging them with every second that passed him. "Stand at ease, 8th Platoon. Welcome to my frontier, green-horns. I don't like having a chit-chat so we'll make this short, sweet and simple. I am 1st Lieutenant Middleton, and you will address me by my rank or by sir. I will not tolerate otherwise. Secondly, I must inform you that we are short on time to spend in the rear line. Two hours to the big-show, not a second longer. That means we have about an hour and half in these rear lines to get your uniform and gear set up, or to chat away to some other soldiers, I don't care. As long as you are at the ready point on the front trench by the dot, we won't have many issues, will we? Now to my right is an assortment of NCOs. If you have any issues, ones that we actually give a shit about, talk to them."
His gruffled yet superior tone made for a strange first impression. Jean didn't know whether to be annoyed by the pretentious style of wording he used or glad to know this man was in the right mindset to move things along. But it came clear that the anxieties of the poor Atlantic Darcsen were to be tested when the NCOs were being introduced one by one to the Platoon, by the Lieutenant himself. Many of the names he skimmed over, at least in Jean's mind, and then the final two stuck out with some resentment in hist one:
"And here we have...Lance Corporal Black and Lance Corporal...Charpentier? You Darcsens and your weird names, I'll tell you..." Though the last part was heavily muttered, he still heard it but remained visually unfazed by the comment and snarky remark. He didn't care so much as within a second later, the Lieutenant began to separate the groups by dismissing them, allowing for the soldiers to go around on their free will. Many began to turn to those they already knew whilst the more friendlier bunch went to introduce themselves. Many seemed cheerful to finally be here, on the frontline, to make a difference, whilst a select few looked rather miserable. Despite this, Jean was never the man to make his first impressions off the bat, and so he went over to a crate by the side, taking out his standard-issue notepad and pencil, and began to scribble away. He wasn't sure if anyone was going to approach him, nor was his paying attention to the threat two hours away, one that would change his life forever.