Absolute Pin (21.6)

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34th of the Aster’s Gloom, 2030 D.C.E

Adjar Dominance, City of Bada Aso — South District, 1st Vorkampfer HQ

“All of the reports say the same, sir. In the Central District, and in the East–“

“That can’t be right. It can’t be right. They must be in the wrong place.”

“No sir, they retraced the Panzergrenadier’s attack path from yesterday.”

“They must have fucked up on some street or another! At this point I would not put that past all of you numbskulls! I’m telling you it is impossible. Give me that radio, I want to hear this.”

Von Sturm seized the radio handset from Fruehauf and leaned in on the radio. Fruehauf leaned in beside the general so she could listen. He did not seem to mind, and even included her. Perhaps he thought she would hear something that might vindicate his point of view.

“Lieutenant, repeat for us again. Have you made contact with the enemy?” He asked.

One of the Jäger armed patrols sent to the central district responded quickly and calmly.

“Negative sir. We think there might be a minefield further up the streets, but the central district is a ghost town. Our combat patrol has met absolutely no resistance. Twenty men, and we just walked right past the shell craters, right past the husks of all our lost tanks, and right up to their supposed headquarters. Nothing here, sir. They must have fully retreated at night.”

“Repeat that again, Lieutenant, because you are not making sense. You returned to the combat area from yesterday, to the central sector with the big school. You found nothing there?

Even the Jäger sounded exasperated with General Von Sturm’s attitude at the moment.

“No enemies, sir. Their entire line was uprooted. I don’t know what more I can say. I have taken photographs so you can see for yourself. You could send a Squire to come fetch us and get them back even faster. I dare say, sir, the Squire won’t meet any resistance at all.”

Von Sturm seemed to want to ask him to repeat one more time, but he did not. He returned the radio handset to Fruehauf, who stared at him as he shambled back to the stable and sat down. He steepled his fingers, fidgeting by touching the tips of each linked pair of fingers in sequence, as if he were playing some kind of instrument. He had a glassy kind of look in his eyes.

Fruehauf felt the same way, but perhaps because it was not her planning that was thrown into confusion, it did not hit her as hard. Still, she had to wonder, and it gave her a feeling of dread, clawing in her stomach, when she considered how little everyone seemed to know.

Yesterday was a setback, but they had made some gains and they still had large amount of troops and equipment that was ready to throw in. They had been planning to probe the Ayvartan central positions, and to prepare their own defenses. Requests to the Bundesmarine and Luftlotte were still being sorted, so operations on the seaside had been put off. Though at a standstill, the situation was not completely untenable for the city invaders. Had the Ayvartans decided to attack and exploit their momentum from the day before, the Panzergrenadiers and Azul could have easily counterattacked and punished them. Everything was still salvageable.

So on the morning of the 34th Von Sturm sent his patrols and awaited crucial intelligence.

Once they received the initial scouting reports, however, the information haunted them.

On everyone’s minds the question was: why did the Ayvartans completely retreat from every sector that they had won the day before? Why was there no pitched fighting against Surge? Why was there no counterattack? On the 33rd they had rebuffed all of the Nochtish strength, and yet now their ships were silent, their planes were grounded, and there was not a communist man on the streets of Bada Aso who was looking to fight with a capitalist one.

Everyone in the Vorkampfer was unsettled. It simply made no sense. It was unprecedented.

“We will use the time to regroup. Push everything up as far as the Ayvartan are willing to let us move, and then launch rapid attacks again against the North. If they’re giving us this then we’re taking it.” Von Sturm declared. “They must be fools, complete fools, just like we thought. Fruehauf, call in the combat engineers, I want every significant structure and every street examined for mines and traps. Relocate the wounded south, and forward all reserves north.”

Fruehauf nodded. She felt helpless in the face of all this. “Yes sir. Right away sir.”

Von Sturm looked at the table and rubbed his hands. “They must be fools, just like we thought. All of their little victories so far have been nothing but flukes. We’ll end it tomorrow.”

* * *

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