This story segment alludes to violence.
40th of the Aster’s Gloom, 2030 D.C.E
Adjar Dominance — City of Dori Dobo, Oberkommando Suden
Dori Dobo didn’t have an airfield. Dori Dobo didn’t have a lot of things. A small, flat city on a parched patch of land a few kilometers inland from Ayvarta’s southwestern coast, Dori Dobo had always been a minor grain transport hub. Had there been anything left of the city of Bada Aso, Dori Dobo would be militarily irrelevant to the invasion.
Dreschner didn’t see much of Dori Dobo itself while he was there.
There was not much to see, he had been told.
He tried desperately not to think of the things he did see, however.
He tried not to think of the burnt-out field of crops flattened for his liaison plane to make its crude, uncomfortable landing. He tried not to think of whether the Ayvartans had burnt it or whether the OKS had burned it. He tried not to think of the reasons either party might have for the act. He tried not to think of those who would be hurt by it.
He tried not to think of the lavish Nochtish car parked in the burnt field, that had been shipped from the Fatherland to ferry him; nor of the fleet of such cars brought from the Fatherland to transport him and other powerful officers, hidden in the backseats by tinted windows so they couldn’t be seen (and in turn so they couldn’t see).
It was difficult to ignore the scene, because the car was so ostentatious.
Dreschner had expected a truck or tank, but his liaison car instead had a perfect, sleek black body, a front grille like a maw, triple headlights. This was not an army vehicle. This was a luxury car that was bought because money was promised to be spent.
Bitterly he found himself thinking. Thinking that these things had been brought here on the same ships that held his men (and women, like her,) in cramped holding compartments like animals. Parts for them, people to drive them and clean them and shine them, services, all of that was brought here expeditiously; while his men (and Schicksal) had inadequate food and medicine at the front, stuck wading through mud to fight this war.
He flew in a plane with leather seats and food service, and arrived on a trampled field of wheat in order to be driven to a villa in a luxury car brought by ship to a war zone. He tried not to think about how farcical that was, especially in light of the dreary, distant background to it all — Dori Dobo’s blocks of spread-out old clay brick and wood buildings.
And this was only the beginning of the experience. Not only was this car here; this car had been brought to this land to drive him past bread lines where downcast Ayvartan men and women lined up to receive the food that they had once been taught it was their right to have. Now under the martial law of the Oberkommando Suden, services continued “temporarily” — until work could be reestablished, until their wages could be paid so they could buy their food from the new government, whenever that appeared, whatever that was. Crowds added a lot of color to the urban desolation: purple, yellow and green robes and tunics and sari, blue overalls, brown skin–
Against his better judgment he pulled down the tinted window to see what was holding up the traffic, and he saw; a vibrant mass of humanity stretching out into street, dressed in every color, hair long and short, skin light and dark, eyes weary and irate and elated, alone, with family, with children, seeking food.
He saw the men and women and children lining up in front of a building where they had always, perhaps, lined up before to eat (maybe in the past there wasn’t even a line, maybe it was more efficient than that). Maybe a hundred or few hundred. Thankfully for the overburdened OKS and the population both, Dori Dobo’s rural throngs had somewhat thinned since the invasion. A lot of them had fled. (Perhaps a lot of them had died.) (He didn’t want to–)
He tried not think about how, as he was driven slowly past the converging masses of this humanity, he saw how the bread line was suddenly broken up by the masked 6th OKS Security Division because it had just formed, impromptu, in front of a former Civil Canteen, without anyone actually there with authority to hand out any food. Loudspeakers (and the occasional swinging truncheons) informed them of the specified locations and times where food was handed to civilians, once a day. Highest rations would be awarded to laborers, and to “cooperative” civilians (spies and sympathizers).
Dreschner closed the window of his luxury car and tried with great difficulty not to think about how he was 22 days into this war and how he was already trying not to think and see and feel, but it kept intruding upon him. Perhaps as it well should.
He shook his head and raised his hands to his pounding temples.
He told himself that these were the things politicians thought about and resolved; that right now it was his place in life just to fight. He had come here for glory, for power, for the immortality sought after by men whose names time and preoccupation had taken from him. He had come here for those stolen dreams that had become his own. Perhaps after the fact and within the system, once he had the authority he wanted, he could do better.
Before long he was out of the streets and in front of a large villa that was once the office of the Dori Dobo regional council; and long before that, the rural palace of the Dobo Thakur, from whom these lands would’ve been taken by Nochtish hands for his womanizing, drunkard, gambling ways. His people, Dreschner’s people, had been those who furnished the means for these vices and would have kept doing so, had the revolution not cut him short. That was part of the bitterness Nocht held toward Ayvarta — that lost opportunity.
The Oberkommando Suden was the new Thakur; they had very similar plans as he for these lands, under the auspice of the (very distant) Empress Mary Trueday.
Dreschner’s car stopped outside of a green park bisected by a cobblestone path through raised garden beds surrounding a large statue of a nine-headed snake. His bodyguards stared at it as they guided him to the front door. Whimsy and humor, it seemed, was all that spared this particular symbol of communism from the occupier’s demolition charges.
Beyond the statue the villa was large and colorful, with hipped ceilings and gabled balconies, all red brick, large enough to dominate the background. Dreschner followed the stones to the lobby. There was a lot of chatter coming from behind closed doors, but the halls and the reception were empty save for a pair of gendarmes from the security division, wearing their masks. A young woman was there to greet him, however, and she guided him upstairs.
“Has the Field Marshal arrived yet?” Dreschner asked her.
She barely turned her head over her shoulder to look at him.
“He is not yet available sir. Colonel General Ferdinand will greet you.”
They stopped in front of a nondescript door on the second floor, looking like any other. She opened this door, bowed her head and gestured into the room like a butler. Dreschner nodded his head and took a few steps inside. It was less an office and more a cozy tea room. There were two couches and a coffee table in the center. There was a window out to a humble field of sunflowers behind the building — and to the city surrounding the square.
On one of the couches lounged Colonel General Ferdinand, an older gentleman, long-faced, thin as a beanstalk, with a prominent nose and sideburns that connected to his beard and mustache in an extravagant old style. He looked like something out of a painting, monocle and all, outfitted in the army dress uniform with its high collar, button-down jacket with ceremonial chains, trousers tucked into boots, chest bedecked with honors. This was a man who was not letting the style of the Unification War die out.
“Brigadier Dreschner, come in and make yourself comfortable.”
Dreschner removed his cap and sat opposite the Colonel General, who remained quite comfortable with his arms spread across the couch backrest, his legs on the coffee table. He groaned a little as he sat straighter up to face Dreschner.
“You look stiff.” He said. He waved his hand dismissively as though it would magically cause Dreschner to relax. “You ought to loosen that back while you’re still young. Take at least that piece of advice from this old man. I know something about backs.”
Dreschner felt compelled to look more relaxed, but was at a loss for how to accomplish this. He put his hands on the couch. That was as much as he could for his pose.
Major General Ferdinand overlooked it. “I realize you were called here in a great hurry, but I wanted to take some time out to speak with you. We will be holding more important meetings soon; before that Dreschner, I wanted to meet with you and talk, not as one of the staff officers of the Oberkommando, but man to man.”
He clapped his hands together, and rested his chin on them, leaning out as if appraising Dreschner. As much as it irked him, the Brigadier tried not to look offput by the gesture.
“I appreciate the arrangement, Colonel General.” Dreschner said. He could have been humble or arrogant, and perhaps a younger Dreschner might have done so. He might have tried to lead him in with ‘I am but a simple Brigadier’ or remarked ‘I must assume you’ve heard of my victories.’ But he felt a touch irritated and did not want to socialize or puff himself up. He had come to work, and he wanted to return quickly to his forces, fighting without him for the first time since the start of the campaign.
This seemed an unnecessary diversion to assuage an old man’s ego. Maybe he would even tell silly war stories! A total waste of time; he felt he should spare only the most passing words for the Colonel General, hoping to leave grossvater behind soon.
Curt words followed by silence did not seem to bother the old man. For his part, the Colonel General smiled and leaned back again, as if he was done observing Dreschner. He lounged, stretching his arms, raising his shiny boots to the table. He cracked a grin.
“Dreschner, you will soon make Major General.” He said abruptly.
Dreschner blinked. His brows drew closer. He did not want to ask the Colonel General to repeat himself. That would have been too dramatic an act. But he felt that he had heard ephemeral words, and he needed them reasserted.
“Don’t take that as formal announcement just yet,” Ferdinand carried on after a moment more of Dreschner’s stunned silence. “But I am dead set on it, my good man.”
He had heard correctly. Ferdinand wanted him promoted from Brigadier.
In any circumstance but this, a promotion might have been joyous, but Dreschner knew he had not earned such an honor. Knyskna had not been the bold excursion he had wanted. It was seen as a victory, but not a glorious one. Certainly not one that added an extra star on a General. Perhaps it was the circumstances — Von Sturm had fallen from grace, after all. Dreschner’s tried his best to retain his composure, but his mind was racing.
“Are you surprised, General?” Ferdinand asked, cocking a little grin.
“Promotions in the army are always unexpected, by design.” Dreschner replied. He let himself sound a little clever and a little more open to try to deflect his doubts, but he was still cautious. He did not yet want to say anything definitive, to accept any particular fact.
“I’ve become familiar with your work and I must say, I am impressed. I think you should be leading 600 tanks, not 200. You have the warring spark of Ziu.” Ferdinand replied.
“Thank you sir. Your confidence is inspiring.” Dreschner said. His response was simple and mechanical. Ferdinand operated in a different world than he did. Dreschner was old and experienced enough to be wary of this. He had to be careful.
In the Oberkommando, the High Command, actions and words were not mere combat strategy, but political and economic in nature. Ferdinand had aspirations beyond the next point on the Heer’s Ayvartan map. He couldn’t directly ask him what the catch was. But there was certainly a catch and he had to ferret it out somehow.
Men like Colonel General Ferdinand didn’t stake their reputations for men like Dreschner just for personal merits, but for their long-term utility to their causes.
“Our Field Marshal, Dietrich Haus won his own fame through high risk, high reward operations that demanded a willingness to sacrifice. I see in you what the masses saw in Haus, and I have come to personally support your efforts and ultimately, to oversee the formalities of your ascension in rank.”
Ferdinand spoke casually and grandly, raising his tone near the end.
“I am flattered by the comparison.” Dreschner said. “I can only hope to keep diligently leading the 8th division to victory with all the tools at my disposal.”
“Dreschner, I see the 8th Panzer Division as a potential part of a 2nd Vorkampfer.” Ferdinand continued. “Particularly now that the 1st Vorkampfer has been regrettably lost in Adjar. You certainly have the abilities of an elite. To that end, I want to give you the power to carry out the operations that you desire. Have you ever heard of the Wa Prüf 6?”
Dreschner tipped his head lightly forward to nod. What was this about?
“Panzer development.” He said. Wa Prüf 6 developed new tanks.
The Colonel General smiled and drummed his fingers against the couch.
“You are correct, Brigadier. They are a government funded project from General Auto’s Maschinefabrik; right now they are locked in a struggle with Standard Aviation and Waltrudhaven for new development contracts. It is not a struggle only for Nochtish business either — whichever model weapons become standardized in Nocht will surely be sold to its many allies as well. It has gotten bitter, and right now the humble landser stands to suffer.”
Given the current direction, a picture started to form in Dreschner’s mind. An irritating picture, foreshadowing many personal difficulties in his future. The Colonel General continued to speak while Dreschner merely listened and turned it over in his head.
“The President has always favored Standard Aviation, but I am an army man, Dreschner, and I know you are too and I know you have your own ambitions. I will not mince words here any longer. Let me lay my ambitions bare — I have significant funds and prestige invested in Wa Prüf 6. I have been searching for army tankers of considerable talent as part of this.”
When men like Ferdinand ‘laid bare their ambitions’ they merely gave men like Dreschner a small piece of the puzzle, arranged like a trick photograph to appear like the entire, completed jigsaw. He had cards held back here.
All Dreschner knew was that, with money involved, he couldn’t be quiet.
“Makes sense.” Dreschner said, though like Ferdinand, he would not lay bare his full understanding. He continued, to demonstrate shrewdness for the first time in the conversation. “So by concentrating tank talent and arming them with powerful new weapons, and consequently achieving dramatic results; you hope to improve the standing of General Auto’s military R&D.”
Ferdinand grinned to him again. “I’m glad you understand so well. But Dreschner, it is not entirely about money. This is about our very survival right now. Airplanes will never win this war. Men on the ground, making key decisions, will win this war. I wish to slap sense into the Oberkommando once and for all, and end these fantasies of an age of warplanes before more of our men die. General Auto must succeed so that our men can succeed.”
Bullshit. He put his money into tanks and he wanted more than the men who put it in planes. “I take it then that you see instead an Age of Tanks unfolding in Ayvarta?”
“Don’t you?” Ferdinand laughed. “Planes can’t take land. Wars will never be won solely in the sky. We witnessed this in Cissea. All the bombing in the world did not root out those anarchists. A blind love of Standard Aviation and the coddling of the air force has already cost our landsers dearly. We need power on the ground, Dreschner.”
He was not saying it, but this was definitely directed at President Lehner and the decision to ground the air force in Adjar after the heavy losses trying to break the Ayvartan air defense network in Bada Aso. Perhaps it was not only money; maybe politics also motivated him.
Dreschner almost wanted to laugh at the absurdity of this discussion but he had no choice in it. It would have been a laugh of much helplessness and frustration. He had been noticed by the power he craved; and now he could never escape its notice.
“I first saw a tank in the Unification War, in the Battle of Calvado. It saved my unit from being crushed by a surge of Frank troops.” Dreschner said. He was resigned now. He grinned, trying to hide his internal battle, and to delude himself a little. “Since then I have been a tank man, Colonel General. I would never turn down new and better equipment for tankers.”
“A man after my own heart. I knew I could trust you.” Ferdinand said.
“Given the confidence and initiative with which you have sought me out, then, I take it your men are already in position to support my operations?” Dreschner asked.
“Shrewd man; indeed. Wa Prüf 6 has been already deployed to Ayvarta, along with new machines in need of testing. They are on their way to Dbagbo and will be subordinated to you. I wish for you to use these tools in your upcoming operations. I understand a particular need has arisen, due to reports of new Ayvartan weapons.”
Dreschner spoke up then; for all intents and purposes, whether he wanted to or not, Colonel General Ferdinand was now his boss. Though he would have to treat every other Colonel General with respect, and soon every Major General as a peer, it was Ferdinand who would be looking out for him. Given that this state of affairs was inescapable, he had no more reason to be reserved around the man. So he emptied his mind about the subject.
“In light of our partnership I must interject with all due respect, Colonel General: those reports are largely unsubstantiated. We’ve not found any hulls in good enough condition to tell them apart from the wrecks of Goblins or Orcs or Gnolls, and only a paltry few blurry photographs of these supposedly new vehicles were disseminated by Von Sturm’s group. All of our witnesses to these mystical machines are either maimed or dead or otherwise in no condition to provide workable evidence. The Ayvartans might have deployed some of their rarer but still obsolete weapons like the Orc or the Gnoll and surprised skittish landsers and noncoms. We have no real way of knowing right now.”
Colonel General Ferdinand smiled and crossed his arms, seeming impressed with Dreschner’s analysis, and perhaps also pleased with himself for finally drawing out some more overt cooperation from the sullen Brigadier. It was this little speech that finally sealed their covenant going forward. In light of our partnership.
“Well, that would make things easier.” Ferdinand replied. “But there’s no harm in preparing for the worst. In any case, I know you have pressing business. Take heart in that all of my tanks and personnel are at your disposal now, Dreschner.”
That possessive pronoun was perhaps the most honest thing yet said. My tanks and personnel; how much independent action had Ferdinand taken within the armies? But in a way, this was unavoidable, and he certainly couldn’t refuse now. Though Dreschner had not asked for this patronage, and though it irritated him to have it thrust upon him in this way and on this day, he started to see how it could facilitate his ultimate goal.
Reaching across the table, the Colonel General took his hand. “Give your deputies the news — and start thinking about who’ll make up your elite Corps staff, Major General.”