Clara stood on a ridge overlooking the battle that raged on a few miles ahead. Flashes of light erupted on both sides as gunfire and artillery flared up.
Occasionally a blast would occur near one of the trenches and for a moment there was silence. It was just enough time for the men to shake the cobwebs loose before they sent their own volley in anger.
Tonight the casualties would be lining up at the field hospital. There would be soldiers with lost limbs and gouges in their flesh caused by shrapnel or bullets. That’s if they were lucky, either side was not above using mustard gas or chlorine on unsuspecting troops, and those afflicted never fully recovered.
In the distance, Clara heard the sound of a car coming. She turned and saw the hard wheeled affair labouring along the hellish terrain. Eventually it stopped near the base of the gentle slope that led up to this ridge.
Two soldiers exited the cab, and headed towards the back to fetch something. Clara turned to look over the battlefield, even with this reduced light she made out a few observation-balloons looming in the sky.
“Men were slowly refining their ability to kill,” Clara thought. “How long until humanity found a way to end all life on the globe in one strike,” she wondered.
Even over the sound of intense fighting Clara heard someone struggling against his captors. The fact that he still had some fight left in him meant that her orders had been followed.
“Miss Grey,” one of the soldiers said.
Clara turned to face the soldiers and recognised them as graduates from an earlier class. The first, named Sophie was a tall and elegant woman, so much so that all of that padding did little to conceal those feminine features. More effort would be needed in the future to avoid drawing suspicion.
The second, named Bell was shorter in stature and had a uniform which fit her perfectly. She would prove invaluable in navigating No-Man’s-Land even as a junior officer.
“Any trouble,” Clara asked.
“None miss Grey,” Sophie replied.
Sophie appeared to be shielding her side from the Colonel. He probably managed to land a lucky blow to her ribs; Clara was surprised the man was still standing.
“Excellent,” Clara said. “Colonel Blythe,” she said in a feminine and sultry voice.
The Colonel looked up and he went white as a sheet. It was as though he had seen a ghost and Clara’s smile did little to reassure him.
“You and I need to talk,” Clara said with her hands behind her back.
Clara began to pace back and forth while looking over her shoulder to make sure there were no surprises on the Western front. Colonel Blythe followed her every step, leery of what would happen.
“I hope they did not treat you too badly,” Clara asked.
The Colonel never said a word. In fact, if looks could kill she would end up as a casualty of this damned offensive.
“Cat got your tongue,” Clara asked. This time when he failed to respond Clara added, “Sophie if you please.”
It was very important to deliver their lessons early, so the tall one landed a blow to the man’s sternum. The Colonel collapsed into the mud gasping for air, class was now in session.
Clara smirked while she continued to pace. She would give him a few moments to recover, because she needed him to be coherent enough to answer questions.
“Well Colonel,” Clara asked.
The fire in the man’s eyes grew in intensity. Clara watched as the fires of hell claimed all sanity and reason within. Now things were getting interesting.
“Bell,” Clara said.
This time Clara did not even bother to look. The smaller one sent the Colonel head-first into the mud in one smooth motion. Now he was beginning to get the idea.
“We can play this game all evening Colonel,” Clara said. “Right now my girls are under orders not to hurt you,” she added.
Clara did not need to add anything to that statement. This man had either bought his commission or worked his way through the ranks; either way he was no fool.
“What do you want,” Colonel Blythe asked.
“You mean you don’t know,” Clara asked while her voice oozed with sarcasm. “Girls! Didn’t you pass on my personal invitation for tea and crumpets,” she added.
“No Miss Grey,” they said in unison.
“What do you want,” the Colonel barked.
She had to laugh at his attempt to establish dominance. Perhaps it was time for her to show that her authority was not only ordained but earned.
It took a few minutes of laboured effort for him to get back on his feet. Before he could blink Clara was holding a straight razor a hair’s width from the base of his larynx.
Once he sensed the blade against his days old beard, he immediately looked towards the sky to avoid being cut. Clara however maintained control over the blade even while the cool steel glistening in the moonlight.
“If I wanted you dead,” Clara said. “You would have woken up in front of the Pearly Gates wondering how you’d arrived,” she added.
Sophie pulled out a little silver triangle that German snipers used to monitor casualties on the battlefield. If a casualty moved, the triangle would glisten in the light and draw sniper fire. The Colonel knew exactly what this object represented and what the implications were.
“Instead I had them bring you here so we could have a little chat,” Clara said. “Now why is that,” she asked.
“You want something,” the Colonel said.
“Very good,” Clara said.
Meanwhile she pressed the blade in just enough so that a trickle of blood ran down to his collar. That would let him know that he was not out of the woods yet.
The Colonel was stiff as an ironing board; it surprised her that he was not shaking like a leaf. Clara kept a close eye on him, waiting for some sort of response.
“She was so beautiful,” Colonel Blythe said with a cracking voice.
“Who was,” Clara asked, but suspected that Gladys was the answer.
“She never told me her name,” the Colonel said. “Met her one night at the officer’s mess. An angel surrounded by every officer in the room. When—Once I walked in, she only had eyes for me—,” he rambled on.
The rest of his sob story revolved around her stealing his heart then threatening to tear it apart if he did not do exactly as asked. The rumours of his infidelity would lead to a divorce, which meant the loss of lands and title back home.
Had this been the first time such a tale of woe reached her ears, Clara may have been tempted to feel an iota of pity. Everyone needed someone’s company from time to time, even just to forget the horrors encountered. However, ignoring everything that an officer and a gentleman were expected to uphold? That was another matter entirely.
This man had betrayed not only Edith, but everyone else under his authority. A wounded soldier deemed a threat to her could have been administered an overdose of morphine. The power of a CO in time of war was near absolute and tonight Clara was going to remind him of the consequences.
There was no way to determine the damage this man’s indiscretions had caused. He would never expose himself nor accept any blame for his actions. It was always easier to blame someone else than accept responsibility.
“—Could not help myself,” the Colonel said. “Please forgive me,” he pleaded.
Clara moved her blade away then turned to observe the battle. She watched intently as the firefights grew bolder and that meant men would soon scale the walls in an attempt to gain an inch of land. In a couple of hours casualties would come pouring in.
Clara turned back to face the Colonel then leaned in close. So close that he could feel her lips tremble.
“I could have been there for you,” Clara whispered so faintly that she sounded far away. “I would have made you come so many times that you’d pray for me to stop,” she added with growing intensity.
Colonel Blythe eyes widened while his heart pounded with excitement. Clara had no doubt that her words would have him to rise to the occasion… how typical of a man.
“Instead you sold me out to some blonde number who offered you a dream,” Clara said. “It was pride that changed angels into demons; it is humility that make men soar with the angels,” Clara added.
The louder her words became, the more distant she was from him. There was something about her mannerisms that would have chilled the mood at an orgy. The Colonel was beginning to realise just how much trouble he was in.
“What did she offer in trade,” Clara asked. “A piece of tail or the promise of a longer life,” she asked.
Why else risk his career, title and wealth for a beautiful woman? Women like that were generally relegated to trysts or brought on as mistresses. Wives even tolerated their husbands playing the field as long as they were discreet, but these actions were anything but.
“I—I—Er,” he said.
Clara was growing weary of his games, so she drew her sidearm and trained the weapon on him. Once she cocked back the hammer, the colonel knew he no longer had any leeway.
“More life,” Colonel Blythe said through sobs.
This man, defeated and broken collapsed onto the mud while sobbing uncontrollably. Clara merely glanced at Sophie who responded by landing a blow at the base of his neck. Just like that he went silent, oblivious to the world and the nightmare unfolding just a couple of miles away.
Without direction Bell silently secured his arms and legs. The girls then walked down the ridge to the lorry and drove away.
It was not up to her or anyone else from her order to judge another human. People were often used as pawns while others were victims in their own right. Many were easily seduced, which explained why sexuality was a weapon wielded by both sides.
After a half an hour of travel they reached the remains of that burnt-out farmhouse. While Sophie and Bell changed back into their nurses uniforms, Clara picked up a field phone.
She wound the handle several times, and then picked up the receiver. After a brief exchange she hung up and sat down on what had once been a bed.
Clara closed her eyes, and heard artillery strikes moving closer and closer to their position. They eventually erupted in a volley so powerful that the farmhouse shook.
“Fire for effect,” Clara thought.
Perhaps the Colonel could not be judged by those in her order. However, that did not mean she could not nudge fate in the right direction. Many survived artillery strikes and if God wished it, he would make it through.
Clara guessed that God would not intervene tonight. There were many who deserved to live under the grace of God that would end up run through with a bayonet or cut down by machine gun fire. Saint Peter would be busy admitting entire companies tonight.
From the ground, God appeared to be absent from this part of the world. Until he chose to pass his wisdom down to his flock, Clara and her ilk would have to look after his best interests.
“Safe travel girls,” Clara said before they left.
With their mission complete, Clara watched as they melted into the night. She then pulled out the sealed envelope that bore the Reverend Mother’s insignia. As promised she had not even looked at it until her mission was complete.
Without a second thought she pulled out a knife and cut through the envelopes top. Inside she found a simple sheet of folded paper.
“Great,” Clara muttered. “Time to babysit,” she added.
Disclaimer: This chapter is currently in development. There are likely typos, errors, omissions, inconsistencies and so forth. Please do not treat this as a polished and completed work!