The murky dusk of the forest floor made for tense progress as the squad snaked through the underbrush. Trees towered over everything as a thin fog rose from the ground obscuring roots and, in places, the low-lying scrub. Treacherous footing slowed progress to a virtual crawl. The need for speed urged Sergeant Robbs to use the comms network as a whip. If he had known that his sharp words were hurting more than helping he may have eased off on the tirade. But he didn't want to know, just like he didn't want to hear that his style of leadership was keeping him from the coveted promotion to staff sergeant. He knew he was the best and was frustrated beyond words that no one else could see that.
Corporal Whitby ground her teeth in frustration as she picked herself up from yet another sprawl into the mulch. The temptation to shut off her radio was strong but... She commed Robbs on a private channel expressing her frustration and concerns. He didn't want to hear it, not even the part about making more noise due to his attempt at speed. Whitby's plea fell on unsympathetic ears just as they had with her ex husband. Nothing she had said had dissuaded him from leaving. She wondered what she could have done differently.
Specialist Lopez laboured through the brush, the extra weight and bulk of his demolitions gear making a miserable slog even worse. He tuned Robbs out and existed in his own private hell of self recrimination, doubt, and loathing. He dwelt on the innocent children his last demo had killed. No matter how many time he and others told him that there was nothing he could have done, he remained convinced that if he had just waited another two minutes before pressing the button... The slog wore on toward true dusk and the need to use night vision gear.
The heavy sniper rifle strapped to her back didn't help Specialist Smith walk lightly. It weighed on her physically and mentally. The day's march carried her further from her latest failure, further from the embarrassment of not being able to pull the trigger. Robbs had told her there was more to being a sniper than being a crack shot but she hadn't believed him, hadn't wanted to believe. She had fixated on the idea of a safer specialty, something that would keep her off the front lines. She hadn't thought things through, hadn't realized that every caress of her trigger would mean another life snuffed out.
The forest held no demons for Specialist Akiko. He had exorcised those on his last deployment. Fighting and surviving an enemy that knew the terrain intimately while you blundered about had affected him to the core. Part of it was the feeling that he was invincible, could not be killed. The larger part was knowing that a guardian angel hovered over him, wrapping him in her wings when things got rough. He soldiered on, batting at the swinging branches that reached for his face, believing that he would overcome whatever the enemy threw at them. He didn't much care what happened to anyone else in the squad.
Former Corporal PFC d'Auberg seethed. He should have been up on point with the Sergeant, not back in the pack with the incompetent fools that made up the bulk of the squad. And Whitby. Why was she a corporal? She couldn't even stay on her feet. She crashed around like a wounded bull, increasing the risk of them all being taken out before they even got to their assigned position on the line. What was the Lieutenant thinking when he gave her the field promotion and bucked him back to PFC? What did it really matter if his being slow to see the danger had caused the wounding of three former squad mates? They were all just cannon fodder anyway.
Robertson trudged along, following the trail that the leading elements of his squad had blazed. His new Private First Class designation filled him with pride. He couldn't understand why it had taken him so long to achieve it. He was diligent, worked hard at everything asked of him and tried to toe the line the Sergeant laid out. He resented every one of his squad mates, them and their holier-than-thou attitudes - but that wasn't enough to explain how long it had taken him to advance. He eventually settled on the Sergeant not liking him as the reason for his long, slow, and agonizing path to PFC. He'd just see about that.
Jones wasn't sure of much. He wasn't sure that the military was the right place for him, didn't understand what the PV2 designation meant for him, wasn't sure of the leadership abilities of Robbs. He quailed at the thought of engaging the enemy again; he was certain that he wouldn't be able to pull the trigger even if it came down to him or them. Close-quarters engagements scared him, showed him the humanity of the enemy, changed it from a video game to real life. He wasn't unsure that he didn't want to be there.
Tuggs slouched along, the path having been beaten into the ground by everyone ahead of him. Her PV2 designation didn't even start to recognize her brilliance at everything, especially getting the most out of the standard-issue communication gear. Did anyone care that she could double the range using a rations tin? She was convinced that the world was mistreating her and that made her... Suddenly she spotted a rare five-petal violet and stopped to take an image with her wrist comp. She wasn't stopped for long.
Every noise in the too-quiet forest made him start, clutch his rifle tighter, finger hovering over the trigger. Whitby went down again, crashing into a heap on the ground. Robbs latest tirade over the unit comms network startled him. One more surprise... PFC Chang, his head on a swivel as he did rear-guard duty, wasn't ready for Tuggs to have stopped.