Frej Wasastjerna


     "Sir, here's a message relayed to us by HQ. The Vespugglian 141st Division needs supplies, but the message is in Nerionese, so I don't really understand it."

     "Oh, shit... Major Galloun was the only one in my staff who really understood Nerionese..."


     "Yes. He was visiting the front three days ago, and a splinter from a Sakemandan shell cut his belly open. He died a couple of hours later, and I haven't managed to get a replacement for him yet."


     "As far as I can make out, they're asking for two million three-inch rounds..."

     "Two million? Sir, how much artillery does that division really have?"

     "I don't know, but it says two million rounds, doesn't it?"

     "I suppose so. These commas puzzle me, but they can't be decimal commas, there can't be two decimal commas in a single number. Besides, who would specify a number of shells with decimals? But what's this dot here?"

     "A fly-speck, I suppose. What else could it be?"

     "I have no idea, sir. Still, I know the Vespugglians rely on heavy firepower, but two million shells for a single division boggles my mind."

     "Mine too. But the fighting in Feuillon is really heavy, and HQ says that's a crucial position. I'm supposed to send the 141st everything they want, with no questions asked. I don't think we have two million three-inch shells, though. Let's see... the current inventory is 932768 shells. I'll send them all, if I can scare up enough trucks. Hmm... I'll requisition civilian trucks. The situation is serious enough to justify that."

     "But it will leave you without three-inch ammo if anyone else needs it."

     "I'll have to take that risk. The orders from HQ are clear."


     "Major, here is the ammunition you requested. I am so sorry we could not provide the full requested amount, but this is all we had."

     "Huh? Excuse me, how long does this, what do you call it... line? Ah yes, this line of trucks, what is the word..."

     "How far does it extend, do you mean? Very sorry, I have no idea."

     "Well, it should... it should be enough. I give you great big thanks... Lieutenant Whittlespoon, guide the first five trucks to Lieutenant Colonel Heatherfield's battalion; Lieutenant Cornman, take the next five and guide them to Captain Woolster's position..."


     "Here are the first eighteen cases, Captain. It was really quite a job to lug these heavy bitches through all that mud."

     "I understand. But now we've at least got plenty of ammo. About time, too, our machine guns were running short and most of our riflemen are down to a couple of dozen cartridges per man. Okay, let's break open the cases and start distributing the goodies."

     "What does this text on the cases say, Captain?"

     "I don't know, it's in Fromch. Let's just open them up... Hey, what the bloody fucking hell?! Artillery shells?! Okay, maybe this was just some mistake. Let's open the other cases... What, every one? Isn't there a single fucking round of rifle ammo in any of these eighteen fucking cases?"


     "Colonel, the Sakemanns are overrunning our position at Feuillon, and we can't do a thing to stop them. We've got artillery ammunition coming out of our ears, but our machine guns and rifles are useless without rifle calibre ammunition. Major General Wythercliffe is livid with rage and sent me personally to ask you why in the name of everything unholy you sent us a load of artillery ammunition when we asked for rifle ammunition!"

     "But... but... you asked for three-inch ammunition! Here's the request."

     "See here! It asks for point-three inch ammo!"

     "Do you mean this dot here? I thought it was just a flyspeck... Please calm down and explain to me what it means!"

     "It means point-three inches, as in three tenths of an inch! Have you never heard of decimals?"

     "Oh, you mean zero-comma-three inches..."




     "Why don't the gunbunnies give us any support? We need it desperately! We're getting slaughtered here without artillery to support us!"

     "Haven't you heard? Fifth Corps's whole supply of three-inch ammunition got sent to Feuillon and was then lost when the Sakemanns broke through there."

     "Oh, cripes! Now we're getting overrun here too! At this rate the whole Fifth Corps front will crumble within a week..."



[Author's notes: This has a basis in reality. On one occasion in my early teens I was reading a book in English that mentioned .5-inch machine guns. My reaction was: 5 inches? That's a cannon, not a machine gun! It took me a while to figure out that it meant 0.5 inches. I think I already knew that in English, decimal points are used instead of commas, but omitting the leading zero was something new to me. So a thing like that can definitely cause misunderstandings. Then add language difficulties and the chaos that war engenders...

The setting is the equivalent of World War I in a kind of alternative history that I cribbed from a novel that I once started writing exclusively for my own entertainment, with no intention of publishing it.

My stories usually contain little dialogue, in a few cases none at all. This time, I wanted to try the opposite extreme.]