No sooner had conversation between all those newly gathered around had begun did the curt lieutenant give another order, and the promise of two hours of preparation melted into the air. Jonnie quickly found the platoon quartermaster and fitted himself out with his complement of clips for his rifle and his bombs. On a second thought he grabbed a few extra pans of ammunition for the gunners, as he said he would, shoving it into an ammunition pouch and tying it about his waist. He was all afire with urgency and a young soldier's sense of duty. Attack, attack! While the quartermaster gave him his arms, Jonnie counted the seconds.
Not even the onslaught on his senses could dissuade him as he jumped into the reserve lines, then the supply trenches, moving through the communications trenches cut into the dirt to the main fire line. The bombardment which had excited his nerves before were now deafeningly loud. A line of guns fired in staccato, each gun adding to the din before it became one great rumbling, shaking man and earth alike. The shells whistled in the air until they exploded in trenches opposite the Federation's own, and Jonnie imagined he could feel the shockwaves. Some shells whistled back, too, Jonnie was sure. But for whatever reason the return fire seemed scattered and intermittent, compared to the Federation's own, and he wondered whether they fell short of their targets.
And the smell, the rot. He had heard stories, but they didn't prepare him for this. He had only smelled once before something as close to being as terrible as this, in the ragnoline plant. A boy just a bit older than Jonnie at the time had accidentally spilled melted ragnite crystals onto himself, on the leg. For all the workman's clothes the other boy was wearing, it may as well have been bare skin, and the skin did curl away as it seared and the flesh underneath cooked. Jonnie never saw that boy again; he heard later that the boy had lost the leg, of course, but still died of complications soon after.
As he pressed himself against the sandbags in the main trench, waiting for the signal to go over the top, Jonnie couldn't say that the smell didn't bother him. As he wished for something to take his mind off the odor, he looked around and saw a young looking boy that had approached the group earlier, but Jonnie hadn't caught his name. The lad must have some courage to be here, Jonnie thought approvingly. The other boy had a roundish, almost sweet face, to Jonnie's mind. It was then that he remembered something suddenly, going through the pouches of his uniform.
"Hey," Jonnie said, tapping the young boy on the shoulder. He pulled out a tin from a pouch and shook it a bit. "Sweet chocolate, not like the bitter stuff they have at the canteens. My mother sent it right before I left the training camp. It's my last few bars. I'd like to have savored it if I had the time, but...Lieutenant's orders, you know. Time for the show." He held out the tin in offering. "Have a piece?"