“Henri said that the tribesmen captured everything from the convoy. The Hotchkiss and its manual. A frontal assault would be suicide, mon capitan!”

“Then you may remain behind,” said Captain Richat. “Your cowardice will be noted in my official report.”

Claude’s eyes widened at the tribunal and bullet-pockmarked wall the captain’s words implied, and shouldered his rifle. “V-very well, mon capitan. I will lead the assault as you have requested.”

“Excellent. Carry out your orders then, corporal.”

Claude led his men over the crest of the dune, whooping and running. The distinct rumble of a machine gun soon followed; Richat kept himself low and quietly counted the bullets fired by tens.

“Ten, twenty, thirty…”

Screams from over the dune, and rifle fire.

“Seven-ten, seven-twenty, seven-thirty…”

The firing stopped just after Richat’s count made it to one thousand one hundred. He casually surmounted the dune and strolled toward the tribesmen’s position. They were violently arguing over the Hotchkiss, and clearly exposed. The captain’s Lebel cracked eight times, one for each of the raiders. His pace didn’t slacken as they fell; he tossed the rifle aside, its magazine empty, and withdrew his revolver from its well-oiled holster.

Several Bedouin were still alive; a quick report from the pistol put and end to that. Richat found Claude, breathing shallowly and weeping blood from multiple wounds, just before the Hotchkiss.

“You see, corporal,” he said, “the Hotchkiss tends to overheat and become useless after about a thousand rounds have been fired in quick succession. The tribesmen lack the discipline to perform a barrel change; all that was needed was an assault to soak up their fire until that point.”

Claude tried to speak, but red foam was all he could push out.

“Oh, don’t worry,” said Richat. “I will be sure to mention your brave, foolish, and totally unauthorized charge in my report. You may even qualify for a posthumous promotion.”

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