The skies above Fouzen. The day of the invasion.

The roar of engines threatened to drown out all of the other noise in the world. Two huge motors kept this plane aloft, the rumble continually vibrating the fuselage ever so slightly. Beyond this one plane were thirty nine others carrying this battalion alone, twenty five Nordland paratroopers crammed into each one like sardines in a can. Beyond them were another eighty planes carrying the rest of the regiment. Their noise combined was cacophonous. The metal on Jukka's back was cold and frosty, there was no insulation on these planes and the chill night air combined with the altitude and wind speed made for a deep chill. When he breathed Jukka could see a tiny cloud of steam in front of him. All of his men were huddled slightly for warmth, some rubbing their gloved hands together, others stamping their feet a little to stop the chill sending their legs numb. Every one of them was wearing the durable, near knee length, camouflage smocks that were a signature of paratroopers over their blue uniforms. But even this extra layer had difficulty fending off the chill.

Looking around him Jukka silently took in the faces of his men, particularly the younger ones. For many of them this would be their first real fight but for all of them this was their first combat drop. Tonight would be the first use of paratroopers in warfare, tonight Nordland theory would be put to the test, tonight all those drills, all those rehearsal jumps, all that training, would be put into practice. Everyman was nervous, but they all kept it reasonably controlled. Some men, like Jukka, gave no appearance of being worried at all, no matter what was going on in their heart their faces were pictures of calm and confidence. Others seemed a little more uneasy, fidgeting and checking their webbing or parachute lines obsessively. But none of them were panicked, fear had not over whelmed them.

Jukka's battalion would be the first into Fouzen, the rest of the regiment would land shortly after and the remainder of the brigade behind that, some in gliders bringing anti-tank guns, light artillery and tows. Of his battalion Jukka would be the first on the ground. Some might have considered this a foolish thing for a Lieutenant Colonel to do, an unnecessary risk, but Jukka had a long habit of going forward. What was more, he believed in leading by example. This was to be the first drop of its kind and he considered it his role to be the first out of the door, to show his men that it could be done and that he would not ask his troops to do anything he would not do himself. At least, this was what he would tell anyone who asked him why he wanted to be the first out of that door. All of the above was true, but there was another thought that drove him. The thrill of it. He was going to have to jump out of the plane either way but being the first out, being the first to fling himself at the ground and toward the foe would be one hell of an adrenaline kick. It was a dangerous instinct and perhaps a foolish one. He was not insane enough to run head long into machine gun fire but this leniency towards risk taking, the fact he was not afraid of the rush, threatened to put him into a very bad situation one of these days. But the desire to be the first one out of that door, to race to the earth and be the first to put his boots on the ground was a strong motivator.

But whilst the questionable honour of being the first soldier of the war to put his boots on Gallian soil would be Jukka's, the equally questionable honour of firing the first shot would belong to someone else. A little way ahead of the troop carrying planes flew the lead element of the fighter support, and at the very tip of the spear, flew Squadron Leader Gunnar Lauritzen. The growl of his own engine did not bother him, he almost missed it when he was on the ground. Nor did the cold seem to affect him, it just reminded him that he was up where he was supposed to be. Gently looking around he eyed his wing mates, impressed by H&L's flame suppressants on the engines, rendering these sleek angels of death harder than ever to spot in the night sky. Just a black spot against a blacker void overhead. This far up there was nothing to get in the way of the glorious crystal clear beauty of the heavens. Sometimes he just wanted to pick and star and follow it, racing against the dawn, to keep flying forever. Other days he fancied navigating by the stars alone, like a sailor of old. He wondered if ever man would go higher, to the next logical step, when pilots would not have to settle for touching the heavens but could drift amongst the stars themselves.

But as much as he would like to dwell on the lights of the heavens he had to turn his attention to the lights of earth bellow. In a world unused to aerial warfare Gallia had not taken the nessecary precautions and the city of Fouzen was lit up like a Christmas tree ahead of the attackers. In order to retain the element of surprise Nordland had opted not to carpet the area with a preliminary aerial bombardment, meaning what defences there were would be at full strength. Both Gallian air cover and anti-air were rated as, not merely inadequate, but non-existent. Therefore the primary role of Gunnar and his boys was to do a quick pass over Fouzen, attacking anything that looked like it might be troublesome for the ground troops, before returning to base to rearm and refuel. Checking his instruments and watch to verify the distance travelled Gunnar then radioed in to his squadron, his voice edged by the distinctive electronic echo of the wireless.

"Confirmed, Fouzen below. Come in for a low altitude pass. Spread out lads and take it easy. They don't have a hint of AA. Take your time but make those shots count." With the well-oiled efficiency of a machine the squadron speed up and pulled away from the transports, entering into a shallow dive and descending upon Fouzen like a hawk upon a rabbit. Were this a Nordland city they would be flying nose first into a hail of AA, but no bullets or shells came. It was obvious that Fouzen had not yet been fortified. It was considered a long way from the front and what fixed defences she had were hastily dug trenches on her eastern and southern sides, hugging the river, supplemented by the odd pillbox or gun emplacement. This was not going to be an issue for the paratroopers, since they would not cast away the advantage of being able to pick their approach by running headlong into the few defences this place had. So instead the planes turned their attention inwards. One little complex of buildings seemed either to be a vehicle garage or the final stages of manufacture. Either way a good number of seemingly complete Gallian light tanks were arrayed in nice, neat rows. It was very nice of them to arrange his targets in such easy to hit lines thought Gunnar, as he and several planes from his squadron swept on the immobile and vulnerable foe. If anything it would have been rude of him not to take such a well presented opportunity.

Taking his time he and his men lined up the perfect shots. The world seemed to slow slightly for the pilot as he became acutely aware of his breathing, the sound of his engine seemed to fade into near obscurity. Taking what seemed to be an agonisingly long breath, but which in fact lasted for a brief moment, Gunnar then held it, went through a moment of perfect stillness and then squeezed the trigger. The world came crashing back as the noise of the shots echoed out across the sky. He had fired the first shot of the war. Now his AP rockets and machine cannon opened up in a hail of led and vapour trails. Gunnar could feel his bird rock slightly with the shudder of his machine cannon, but the rockets seemed to glide away as if they were made of air. He had seen the rockets perform well in testing, but he had been slightly apprehensive as to how they would fair in the field, Jukka's concern of the previous day had not been without foundation. But thankfully, they proved to be unjustified. The rockets flew straight and true, slamming into their targets with the force of a hammer, piercing the inches of steel that made a tanks skin, and then unleashing a secondary explosion and destroying the vehicle from the inside. Subsequent explosions of fuel and ragnite began to spread through the tank pool until eventually the blasts must have strayed across a ragnite or ammunition dump. A huge pillar of blue flame erupted into the sky, there was a heavy split second of silence as the air seemed to be sucked away before the low, loud boom of the explosion tore the air apart and rocked the fighters that had caused the blast. If Fouzen was not awake before, it was now.

Across the city Gunnar's planes were picking off similar targets, going after tanks and vehicles that might have proven troublesome. Getting a bit of height Gunnar began a casual pass over the city, flipping his plane upside down so as to take a long, easy look through what would otherwise have been the roof of his cockpit. He could spy confused civilians leaving their homes and standing in the streets, looking about to see what the crisis was. He saw the few elements of the Town Watch that were actually on duty running around like wet hens, the rest had presumably not even put their boots on yet. He even saw the flag of the militia flying over a tiny barracks, but even they seemed largely to be asleep. Certainly he could detect no meaningful activity there yet. But crucially, there was not a regular army unit to be seen, nor a meaningful tank presence in anything other than factory assembly yards or burning motor pools. Clearly the strength of the Gallian army was not here, likely either further east, closer to the border, or gathered around Randgriz. This was exactly as had been planed.

Signalling some of his wing mates to follow him Gunnar climbed and doubled back in a graceful arc, heading for the Millitia base and more specifically a little cluster of radio antenna that seemed to signal a headquarters. Soaring high above it he thrust his control column forward and plummeted into a head long noise dive. Gunnar may have loved to soar amongst the heavens, but sometimes he liked to play chicken with the ground, tearing at the earth, daring it to get out of his way! Faster and faster and faster he plummeted, the roar of his engines, the shudder of metal, gritted teeth and eyes open wide! Then, click, his first bomb was released before wrenching back hard on the controls and pulling out of the dive. A thundering boom signalled that the bomb had found its target and down went to radio tower, in a twisted pile of screaming metal. Click, the second bomb was released. Shortly after, click, the third and final bomb was away. Two more bombs in quick succession, and a flash of light behind him, signalled the impact. The headquarters building was a flame, as was a nearby building whose purpose was unidentified. The two other planes that had accompanied him picked on other important looking buildings in the barracks, sending the occupants into a blind panic.

With munitions spent, and enemy locations relayed to the appropriate people, Gunnar and his squad climbed to safety and began the journey home. Soon they would be reequipped and return to the fight. But for now he just had to sail gently back to the airfield. Looking to his left Gunnar could see the first of the parachutes open up, slightly indistinct against the night sky but spottable by a good pilot. Unable to tear his eyes away he watched as chute after chute opened up like blossom in spring, acutely aware that each one had a tiny, vulnerable person just dangling off of it. Without transmitting over the radio Gunnar just whispered.

"Good luck you bastards." Before tearing away into the cold night.

Jukka, for his part, had been waiting patiently in his plane. The low boom of Gunnar and his boys devastating key points around Fuzen just managed to make its way past the incessant roar of engines, somehow making the reality of this situation so much more apparent to the paratroopers. They all knew that people were now dead. There was no doubt in anyone's mind that this was anything other than a war, and all the things that came with that realisation went through the mind of every man in that plane. But no one spoke, no one had the opportunity to speak. The red light that had been sitting over the jump door turned yellow with a little buzz. Giving his chute straps a firm tug Jukka calmly stood and opened the door. The cold rush of wind hit him like a hammer, but he did not flinch. The scream of the engines was now near deafening, blades whirling like fury mere meters from his head. For a moment he turned his head, to look at his comrades, who in turn were all looking at him with faces that betrayed thoughts of fear, excitement, worry, boldness, expectation, hope, concern, bravery and so much more. From nowhere, almost without realising he was saying it, Jukka evenly declared.

"Win the day, for Nordland needs her victory. But do not throw your life away, for Nordland needs her sons."

With that the light turned green and Jukka threw himself out of the plane without a moment's hesitation. Mere seconds later his line snapped sharply and his parachute opened with a jolt that could shake a man so hard he might bite off his own tongue. The lack of AA and the night cover meant that the paratroopers were being dropped nice and low. They would not have to spend long dangling like glorified targets in the sky. Half the time he was casting his eyes downwards, adjusting his course to land in patch of open ground, behind a shallow ridge to the north of Fouzen. The other half of the time he was watching the city itself. Fires could be seen from Gunnar's attack, illuminating patches of the town in dancing orange light, flicking in and out in a manner reminiscent of a spritely child. At least it looked like that from a distance, but Jukka had too much experience with fire up close to think of it like that. He knew the roaring, blistering monster it was, rather than the child it seemed to be. The rest of the city was lit up by street lights, now being accompanied by house lights turning on, hundreds and hundreds of them, like fairy lights in the black. The city of Fouzen was waking up and wondering what on earth was going on.

It was not long until Jukka hit the ground. Outside observers almost always underestimated just how hard and how fast you hit mother earth when dangling from a parachute. Moments before impact Jukka had pulled a string on his leg, so his weapon was no longer tied to him but was now hanging idly off of him. Failure to do this could lead to awkward things like a broken leg and it would be highly embarrassing if the first boots in Gallia belonged to a shattered ankle. Moments after his feet touched the earth he fell sideways and hit his head hard on the ground, rolling as best he could to absorb the impact. He felt a distinct sting through his steel helmet but wasted no time in rising to his feet, freeing himself of the silk chute and immediately starting to give orders.

"Form by the company! Company A to the left!" His voice was loud, clam and clear. But everyone knew how urgent his orders were. Paratroopers were at their most vulnerable when they were hitting the ground. Out in the open, disorganised, without proper equipment. The key to a successful paratrooper action was to form as fast as possible and attack at once! Whilst his men started hitting the ground, forming up into their respective companies and platoons, those responsible for larger weapons recovering them from the boxes in which they were dropped, Jukka wasted no time in preparing himself. In a manner that some might have described as bull headed insanity, but which he described as cavalier leadership, he removed his helmet and tucked it away in his bag. Instead, reaching into a stuffed pocket, he drew out his officer's visor cap, crumpled but still distinctive and recognisable. Placing it on his head he felt like himself again and, with a confident smile he seized his weapon and drew it out of its bag. Officers in the line were usually given shorter range weapons, a subtle way of dissuading them from joining the firing line and making sure they kept on giving orders instead, where they were most effective. But Jukka, though a combination of his own reputation, repeated insistence and several bottles of whisky to the quartermaster, was issued with a Hult and Holmstrӧm 34 Paratrooper Support Rifle. The 34 PSR was a redesign of the highly successful 33 ISR, or Infantry Support Rifle, specifically re tooled for the unique challenges such a weapon would face when confronted with a jump. Hult and Holmstrӧm had originally pitched the weapons to be used in a light machine gun role, with the key difference being they could be carried by a single man with a usable amount of ammunition. They had thought there would be one or two weapons of this type in each platoon.

But Nordland soldiers quickly saw the true potential of these weapons. With the range of a rifle yet only slightly heavier and just as accurate these weapons could quickly render the bolt action rifle obsolete. On the request of Nordland Command Hult and Holmstrӧm had redesigned the weapon to be capable of semi-automatic fire as well as fully automatic fire, and designed small box magazines to make it even easier for the lone soldier to load, operate and move. The 33 ISR revolutionised Nordland infantry and though true machine guns were still necessary the 33 ISR changed everything. Nordland has not yet been able to equip all her soldiers with these new weapons. A complex manufacturing process means roughly half her soldiers still carry rifles or sub machine guns. But the difference was noticeable.

The 34 PSR differed from her sister in that it was ever so slightly heavier, reflecting her reinforced construction for the drop. She also had a smaller magazine, twenty rounds compared to the ISR's thirty and the magazine was a rectangular box loaded from the side rather than underneath, again a necessity of the drop. Aside from that she was near identical. Jukka felt the heft of it in his hands, checked her telescopic sight to ensure a lens had not been shaken loose on impact, loaded it and then swiftly returned to his business.

Doing a quick, guess based head count it looked as though his whole battalion had dropped successfully, a promising start. B Company was the first to form and Jukka wasted no time in putting them to action. Pointing at the shallow protective ridge he declared.

"B Company, secure the ridge and prepare to give cover fire to the advance!" His men did not need telling twice. Surging forward, with the odd instruction from junior officers and senior NCOs, they soon took the ridge without any opposition, hunkering down and setting up to pour a hail of rifle and machine gun fire into anything on the Northern edge of Fouzen which might oppose them. C company was the next to form and Jukka was just as quick to act. Bellowing out across the still gathering battalion Jukka declared.

"Erling, I am going forward. You know the drill! I expect to see you soon. C company, with me!" Waving C Company to follow him he jogged towards the ridge but he did not storm over it at once, as that would have been fool hardy even by his standards. Instead he flopped onto his stomach, lying on the dry and rough ground, next to one of his Company commanders. "Tell me Major, any sign of the enemy?"

"No sir." Came the simply reply, the Major still scanning the edge of Fouzen with his binoculars. "A few civilians running around but no armed men." Patting the Major on the back Jukka rose up onto one knee, saying quietly.

"Thank you Major." Before surging to his feet and boldly declaring. "C company! Charge!" He shouted the order out like a hero of old, the image it conjured was that of a dashing cavalry officer atop a noble and rearing steed. He should have had a sabre in his hand and a gleaming uniform. Instead an unremarkable camouflage jacket and an extremely unromantic PSR would have to do. It was somewhat incongruous with his manner, but he pulled it off. Tearing forward he wasted no time into bursting into a full on sprint. His sturdy boots pounded the dry Fouzen dirt, his heart beating in his chest, his eyes darting from shadow to shadow, window to window, looking for the barrel of a gun. The company was behind him, some men even drawing level with their bold commander.

Since they were not being fired upon an observer might have wondered why Jukka seemed to be running as if his life depended on it. That was because, in his mind, it did. In training they taught you never to linger in an open field a moment more than was necessary. You were an easy target and extremely vulnerable. Even a private straight out of basic training knew that. But for Jukka his apprehension was based in repeated and brutal personal experience. He was a veteran of the first war. There were a great many stories to be told of his time in that hard conflict. But one memory, etched in his mind in over a dozen different iterations, was that of going over the top. A small stretch of open land, far smaller than the distance between the ridge and Fouzen. A tiny patch of empty earth, packed with so much death. The sound of the machine guns rattling into eternity, the whistle of shell after shell, followed by explosions so loud they could not be heard. Men hiding in craters, men torn apart, the sound of screams, the smell of panic and fear, the taste of sweat and blood. Mad staring eyes, wild instinct, wild drive, wild fear, wild courage. The only way to survive was to run, run forward, run, run at the enemy and silence their guns, run. Jukka did not need to be back in no man's land to remember its lessons. He was in an open field and the enemy could be right in front of him. He needed to run, run as fast as he could and close that gap.

Thankfully, no one opened fire. The enemy were not prepared for an assault from the North and had not had time to adjust to, or perhaps even detect, this unexpected assault. Vaulting over a white picket fence and into the garden of a small house on the edge of town Jukka ran up to the closest door and pressed himself against the nearby wall, breathing heavily, unaware of the beautiful tulip beds he had just crushed into oblivion with his heavy boots. Moments later several men from the Company joined him, whilst others took up similar positions all along the row of houses. A brief look between soldiers, a short nod of the head, a moment's pause and then the splintering crack of a heavy boot meeting an aged door. It almost flew off of its hinges as it slammed open with a bang like a gun shot and into this average looking house on an average looking street, poured several soldiers, guns raised, checking their corners, ready for a fight. Voices could be heard from a nearby room, muffled, but audible.

"What was the dear?" Said a female voice, edged in fear and uncertainty.

"Stay here. I'll check it out." Declared a male, seemingly more sure of himself but barely masking his own unease. As a man Jukka, and the four men with him in this kitchen come dining room, span to face the door from which these voices were coming just in time to see it creak open. Stepping through was a middle aged man, a Darcsen by his hair, wearing his pyjamas and a night gown. His face went through several distinct phases as he looked upon the Nordland troops. First his face was entirely blank, as if not registering the reality of the situation. This was swiftly replaced by startled surprise, edged with fear at the barrels which were even now levelled squarely at him. The third and final phase was something akin to terror. But not terror for himself. Quickly turning to the door from which he had come he shouted. "Darling, take the kids and run! Just run!" He was frantic and desperate, unsure of what was going on. His note of caution was swiftly followed by several Nordland voices all yelling at him to get down on the ground and put his hands behind his head.

Jukka meanwhile, remained silent. Lowering his weapon he simply walked past the man, easily pushing him aside as he tried to block the Lieutenant Colonel's path. Jukka did not push him to the ground, just gently brushed him aside. Walking to the door Jukka looked into the corridor and saw what he knew he would see. There stood a slender Darcsen woman, her face starting to show the signs of age and her eyes full of fear. She was also wearing a night gown but had thrown an outdoor coat over the top. Clutching at her leg was a young girl, who could have been no more than seven. She also looked scared and confused, looking up at her mother, her eyes demanding an explanation. Finally there was a toddler, Jukka could not tell if it was a boy or a girl, wrapped in a shawl that the mother was clinging to her chest with the tender yet fierce desperation that only a mother could muster. There was a moment of heavy silence. The mother staring at Jukka, Jukka staring at her. Who would be the first to move? Suddenly she made a dash for the front door but Jukka got their first, a solid boot blocking it as she grasped at the handle with one hand. She tugged and heaved and pulled, trying to slam the door open time and time again but Jukka's foot just shrugged it all off. Eventually her efforts seemed to cease when she ripped the door knob off in her hand, her maternal ferocity had been her own defeat.

At this juncture the father of the family, unwilling to lay down so long as his loved ones were in danger, tried to attack Jukka from behind. But the Lieutenant Colonel did not even need to react. He knew his soldiers had him well protected and a little gasp of pain followed by a thud and the sounds of an impotent struggle let Jukka know his men had successfully tackled the father to the ground and had him restrained. The wife and children were at Jukka's mercy, the mother staring at him with a mixture of pleading and fear. There was a brief moment of silence, which seemed to last forever. Doubtless everyone in that family was picturing Jukka just raising his gun and firing and there was nothing anyone could have done about it. Jukka's own face was a seemingly blank mask, no hint of any hate, fear, concern, mercy, compassion. Nothing, just nothing. Soon however, the quiet was broken by the toddler stirring noisily in his mother's arms, twisting and struggling before finally breaking out into an ear piercing cry.

"Do you have a basement?" Enquired Jukka, quietly.

"What?" Responded the woman, voice a quiver.

"Do you have a basement?" Asked Jukka again, still quietly but with a tad more force to his voice. A terrified nod from the woman gave him his answer. Still speaking evenly Jukka said. "Get one toy for each child, go into the basement and stay there for at least six hours. I'm afraid there might be rather a lot of shooting. Stay down, stay safe. When you come out do not leave the city. Those empty patches of earth will become killing zones. Find friends deeper into the city, stay with them." A little nod of his head signalled his men to let the father go. Bemused and confused the family just stood around for a few moments. They were unsure of just what to do or say. They could hardly thank this heavily armed man who had just stormed into their home, but his mercy deserved some kind of gratitude. Jukka however, was just listening to the crying child. He wanted to comfort it, pat its head, and whisper that everything was going to be okay. For one reason or another he didn't or perhaps couldn't. Instead he just let the family hide in safety. He did not have the time to reflect on their futures, that was for the long hours of stillness between battles. Instead he just solemnly watched them as they hid.

Though this exchange had seemed like an eternity it had been less than three minutes. He could not afford to dawdle, the momentum of his advance had to be kept up. He knew that the rest of the battalion would be following up soon and he could not afford a log jam. Pointing to one of his men and then a nearby window facing onto the street Jukka simply ordered.

"Cover us, the rest of you, with me." He wasted no time in bursting out onto the street, hugging the walls to make him a harder target. Some way down the road he could make out the shapes of three men with rifles. One of them was stumbling out of a house, still putting on his helmet and checking his weapon. Their distinctive headgear clearly marked them out as members of the town watch. If they had not managed to lay hands upon their weapons Jukka would have given them the chance to surrender, but that was not a risk he could take. Bringing his weapon to his shoulder and falling to one knee with a speed and ease that showed years of drill, he did not hesitate to pull the trigger. Three short bursts, one for each man and the deed was done. Two of them fell fast, hard and without a word, the shots killing them instantly. The third, the one who had been running out of his house to join his comrades, stumbled forward for a few paces, dropping his rifle to the ground. He was little more than a slightly coloured shadow in the night but Jukka could see him grabbing at his own chest. Across the still night air he could hear coughing, spluttering, a desperate struggle for breath that choked down all screams and then a terrible silence, punctuated by a heavy thud as the man tripped over his own feet and fell to the ground, there to lie still.

Jukka had neither the time nor the desire to ruminate on this. Waving his comrades forward they stormed into the house across the street, fortunately empty. All along the road a good portion of the company charged to seize the next row of buildings, kicking down doors, smashing windows. The occasional gunshot could be heard as tiny pockets of resistance were encountered and swiftly overwhelmed. Soon the next street also fell at which point the company came to a sudden halt, awaiting the rest of the battalion. It was not long until Erling arrived, at the head of three other companies. Jukka, standing in the door way of a nearby house, did not wait long to start giving his orders.

"Major, B Company will remain on the ridge, keep the area secured for the gliders. C Company will remain here to hold a northern entrance to the town and act as a general reserve for the battalion. You will take E company and push towards the centre of Fouzen, there to link up with elements of second and third battalion as they come from the west." Suddenly shots erupted from several upstairs windows. Several men flinched but Jukka seemed to know that it was no threat and so seemingly did not react. The shots were coming from Nordlanders in secured buildings. They were firing on a foe that Jukka could not see from his position down on the ground, but he knew what it was. A few elements of the town watch or militia must have become more organised and rallied in the centre of town, even now launching a counter attack. This probe from the Gallians was likely premature, lacking the weight to dislodge a prepared company. But it was a reminder that the Nordlander's advantage of surprise was starting to wear out. Without any hint of concern Jukka simply stated the fact. "They are becoming more coordinated. We must move swiftly." Even as he said those words the sound of shots was piercing the air above him. "I will take A and D company and push east, to secure the eastern defences and bridge. You have your orders, good luck Major." His tone was simple, short and matter of fact. But his wish that Erling should have good luck was heartfelt and genuine. A slight pause and a softening in his tone conveyed as much. Erling cracked a confident smile, but every such smile in a battle was always a slight lie. Still, whilst no experienced soldier could ever be truly confident of victory or survival Erling was as certain as a veteran like him could be. That kind of certainty always bolstered the moral of the men. With a voice that conveyed his ,near, total confidence he replied.

"Good luck sir." And with that the two men parted ways.

Jukka, and his two companies, advanced east swiftly and without any real opposition. The odd lone soldier, isolated, confused and without instruction, were their only obstructions. The Nordlanders were moving through minor roads and back streets. But ahead of them, in the defences on the eastern edge of town, more and more Gallians were starting to gather, heading there by drill and waiting for a senior officer to properly coordinate them. When Jukka and his men were just a few houses away from the defences they could clearly see what lay in store for them. It was a single line trench, in a typical indented line, reminiscent of a castle's crenulations. Just beyond it lay the river that ran along the southern and eastern edges of Fouzen. Even as a simple single line defence it would have been formidable to attack it from the far bank. It was even reinforced with the occasional anti-tank gun and mortar emplacement for added power. But everything was pointing east, towards the Empire and down the road that it was assumed the Empire would arrive on. Jukka and his men had come from the west, behind them.

It would not take too long before a message reached the Gallians that the threat was from within the city, rather than outside. Jukka had to attack before then. There were lots of things he did not know. He did not know if the houses were occupied, he did not know if there were unseen threats round the corner, he did not know if reinforcements were coming. All he knew was that there was a trench in front of him, no one had spotted them, they had the element of surprise and time was not on his side. A few signals, a few orders, and his men knew what to do. Taking up positions the machine gun sections lay down and set up, ready to provide supporting fire. D company fell back slightly, to act as a reserve and to launch a secondary attack. Then, Jukka and the rest of A company charged. They did not go in, bayonets twilling and voices screaming. They wanted to be undetected for as long as possible, so although they ran they did so silently. The thump of boots, the rustle of webbing, the pants of heavy breathing, those were the only sounds made by the tide of Nordland ferocity that tore towards the Gallians. Had the enemy been silent they may have spotted it soon enough. But confused murmurs and loud conversations drowned out the Nordlanders until they were mere meters away.

It was only when one Gallian looked behind him, hoping to see an approaching offer, but instead seeing camouflaged paratroopers streaking straight for him, did the alarm go out.

"Enemy! Attack, attack from the rear!" His voice was full of surprise and confusion. Who were these strange attackers? They were not Gallians to be sure but not Imperials either and how did they get there? But every Gallian knew they could not afford to pose those questions, such hesitation would only lead to death. On hearing the alarm the Nordland machine guns opened up, trying to keep the flanks of the charge safe and supress as much of the trench as possible. Simultaneously the charging paratroopers let loose a fierce roar. As with all battle cries it was designed to intimidate the foe and instil zeal amongst the troops but the Nordlanders seemed to have turned it into an art form. They sounded like some ancient bear of legend, full of fury, born in ice but with a heart of fire. It was a posture, all such things were, but it was an effective one.

Suddenly things started happening very quickly. The front of the charge threw grenades, several of the devices exploded in the trench, screams, blood, smoke, the smell of burning. Then, Jukka and many of his men were in the trench, quickly spreading left and right to make room for the rest of the charge. Get in the trench as fast as you can and stay there, rule one of assaulting such a position. Jukka was heading right, in front of him were several of his men, tightly packed, surging onwards. Up ahead he could see the bridge extending out across the river, that was his primary objective. He had to secure both ends, but this was easier said than done. The trench ahead of him was crammed with Gallians. But on this narrow corridor it was only ever one man fighting one man. Nordland paratroopers were crack men. They had some of the best equipment, the best training, excellent leadership and stela moral. They were facing poorly coordinated militia troops, likely pressed into service in the past few days. Their training was old and rusty, probably barely refreshed since their compulsory schooling. Their equipment was inferior to that of the regular infantry and officers had yet to arrive on the scene. The bolt action rifles of the militia, not yet issued with the new semi-automatics, were no match for up close burst fire from a 34 PSR. The inevitable result was that Gallian after Gallian went down. When one Nordlander had to reload he instantly dropped to the ground, allowing his friend to fire over him, step over and continue the advance. It was highly effective and the paratroopers cut along the trench with ruthless efficiency.

But as efficient as it was it was not perfect. Occasionally a Gallian would get off a lucky shot and down a Norldander would go. The shots that hit his comrades seemed to ring louder in Jukka's ears, the cries of his own men always carried over the sounds of the battle, as did the heavy silence of the dead. On those occasions when he had to pass one of his own wounded men laying in the trench, he did so with a heavy and torn heart. Words such as.

"Keep pressure on it. You'll be okay, help is coming." Was all he could offer these men. If he paused to comfort them or treat them the advance would stop behind him. A log jam would form and all the Nordlanders would be vulnerable. So no matter how difficult it was he had to keep moving forward. By any measure the exchange of lives in this assault was hugely in Nordland's favour. But that was of little comfort when confronted with a dying man, dying man that you were responsible for.

The trench was almost cleared when a Gallain heavy machine gun opened up. Near the top of the trench, by the bridge, was a large concrete pillbox. Its firing slits allowed it to fire left right and forward. Until now light rifle fire had been coming from the small bunker, nothing a bit of suppression could not deal with. But now a full blow machine gun, likely previously aimed across the river, had been moved to fire down the length of the trench. This was one of the worst things that could have happened. Usually the indented design of these trenches prevented such disasters, as well as serving to create valuable cross fire. But the elevation of the pill box above the trench gave it an unparalleled firing position. Had Jukka spotted this before the charge he would have planned accordingly. But now he was improvising. Grabbing the paratrooper in front of him by the back of the jacket he pulled his comrade back and around a corner in the trench in the nick of time. Bullets smashed into the ground where the soldier had been a mere fraction of a second earlier. Squatting down Jukka and his comrade were in a small safe patch, but not everyone had been so lucky. As if by way of example the body of one of his men hit the ground hard, his torso, or what was left of it, sticking around the corner. The look on the Nordlander's face was not one of fear, but rather total surprise. A surprise that would now last forever. Judging by the grotesquely wounded chest it had been instant, some small comfort perhaps.

"P lance!" Bellowed Jukka. The P lance, like the PSR was a version of a more normal weapon, modified for paratroopers. The P lance was just like a normal anti-tank lance, but far smaller. A lance stood taller than a man but a P lance came up only to the elbow. The charge was roughly the same size, slightly broader and slightly shorter. The main space saving was in the vast shaft of the weapon. The P lance had a shaft barely a meter long and with none of the fancy guards of more standard models. Since the charge was near identical the weapon had roughly the same power. But it had much, much shorter range. Thankfully range was not an issue here it was only a few moments until the distinctive smoke trail of a lance shot tore towards the bunker. The hit was palpable, the boom shook Jukka's stomach. But the pillbox was only scratched. The shock however, had caused the bunker's occupants to stagger and recoil. This would last only moments, but moments was all Jukka needed.

Without a moment's hesitation, or warning, Jukka came out from around the corner and tore forwards, running as fast as his legs could carry him. A militia soldier burst out of his own hiding place to try and halt the charging Lieutenant Colonel, but all he received was a bust of bullets to the chest. He did not even break Jukka's stride. Seconds later Jukka reached the end of the trench and leaping up he managed to crouch beneath the bunkers firing slit. From inside he could hear men talking frantically.

"Get that machine gun back up, Stern you feed! Gregory, get reinforcements!" Stern would never reach the gun, Gregory would not get his reinforcements. Instead, Jukka pulled a grenade from his webbing and, after arming it, tossed it in through the firing slit. There was a moment's pause as Jukka braced himself, followed by a terrified cry and an explosion. This close, the detonation was so loud it left a ringing in Jukka's ears. It would keep on ringing for what must have been a solid minute and the rest of the world seemed muted. But Jukka had suffered from this before and he knew not to let it get the better of him. Acting on instinct he rose up and sprinted to the rear of the pillbox, charging in, ready to fire on anything that moved. But the only thing moving was a gently swaying machine gun, limp on its mounting.

Jukka could tell from the fading sound of the fighting that other elements of the trench attack had been faring similarly, the commander of D Company had the presence of mind to reposition himself and intercept a counter attack from the trenches on the other side of the road, before launching his own offensive against an already depleted force. The eastern side of Fouzen had been taken. The cost to the Nordlanders was light, but it was not free. The bridge was not defended on the other side, the key objective was secure. The rest of the regiment would secure the centre and the south with the same degree of comparative ease as the east. Then, when the rest of the brigade arrived in the next wave, a full sweep of Fouzen could be undertaken and the Nordlanders could brace for a counter attack. Medics were already seeing to his wounded, the brigade surgeons would land with the gliders. Victory belonged to Nordland. What little resistance remained was futile and minor. Soon the various headquarters would have to be set up, the civilians seen too, prisoners taken care of, supplies secured. But in this moment Jukka opted to engage in a little cavalier indulgence. Reaching into his top pocket he drew out his trusty pipe, filled it with tobacco, lit up and took a long, idle draw. Fouzen was his.