53rd of the Aster’s Gloom, 2030 D.C.E
Dbagbo Dominance — Shebelle Outskirts, 8th Panzer Division FOB
Schicksal grit her teeth and held her tongue long enough to watch the tanks leave the camp. She kept her eyes on one tank in particular, staring with a deathly glare. Once the unit had gone, she turned sharply around, brimming with adrenaline, and stomped from the edge of the camp into Dreschner’s tent. Staff ducked away like she was an incoming shell.
“General, how could you let him treat you like that in front of everyone!”
She went in shouting, but Schicksal quickly found that the General was not alone. At his side on the strategic table she found a man wearing a black bowler hat with his grey infantry uniform. There was a blue and white armband around his arm. He looked up from a document he was filling out briefly, and returned to it almost immediately.
“Settle down, Signals Officer.” Dreschner said, his tone apathetic.
Schicksal blinked. That man at the table was a Schwarzkopf policeman. They were part of the special investigative units in the fatherland. He was a gendarme, judging by his armband and uniform, but the black bowler hat set him quite apart. What was he doing?
“Is everything alright, miss?” He asked, still writing on the page.
“She’s fine. We’re all high-strung here.” Dreschner interceded.
“I understand.” the Schwarzkopf said, delicately writing a ß.
In the Gendarme’s presence, the last thing she wanted to do was cause a furor. Schicksal took a seat by the radios and waited for their business to conclude. Dreschner and the man spoke briefly among themselves, traded photographs and file folders, and once all the papers were filled, the gendarme gathered the materials into a file folder wrapped with a plastic tie. He tipped his hat to Schicksal, and vanished behind the tent flaps.
“General, who was that man after?” Schicksal asked. “Did someone–”
She stopped herself, recalling her own reason for coming here.
Of course; that gendarme must have been here for Reiniger.
Dreschner looked up from the table, over his own steepled fingers.
“You came to ask why I allowed Reiniger to go?” He said. He did not shift from his position, leaning into the table. “Well. Would you rather I beat him into the floor again in front of Captain Skoniec, and in front of Ms. Von Bletzen? Teach him with a fist?”
“No, but.” Schicksal paused and averted her eyes. “I don’t know.”
There was an oppressive, expanding gloom inside the war room tent. A lamp hanging overhead provided the only reliable light source, but its own shields dispersed the color of its flame, such that dire shadows covered half of everyone’s face and half of every surface. Outside the grey sky was darkening and the rhythm of the gently drizzling rain slowed down. Schicksal felt exhausted now that the flame of her anger was snuffed.
She had always felt trepidation around Reiniger. She tolerated him for the value that she thought other people saw in him. She looked at the tables of organization and knew that one less experienced lieutenant meant something to the mathematics that kept all of them alive in this war. So she filtered every thought of him through that. He had to stick around, and he had to get better. But now she was just left with the disgust of him.
Schicksal hated that she was in his presence and felt intimidated by him.
She started to wish that she could have delivered that fist to his nose and drawn blood.
She stood up from her seat and approached the table.
“Honestly,” Schicksal spoke up suddenly, “yes, punch him. Break his teeth. Throw him on the ground and step on him until he vomits his own tongue. I’m sick to death of him.”
“That’s no good.” Dreschner said. “Don’t let that gendarme hear about it.”
“Sorry.” Schicksal said. She felt embarrassed, as suddenly as she had felt angry.
“As long as it doesn’t become a habit. I’d hate to lose your level-headed personality.”
Schicksal felt a mix of shame and frustration, a cocktail that seemed to bubble hot in her chest. This must have been how Dreschner felt on the night of Kunze’s funeral. She wondered, had she been in this mood, in this position, back then, would she have beaten Reiniger? Would that have accomplished anything? What had level-headedness gotten her so far? Finally the cocktail seemed to reach her tongue, and she spoke virulently.
“He was a jackal. He thought he was stronger than all of us and he acted like we only existed because he allowed us to. I don’t want to have to put up with people like that.”
“We’re not putting up with it; that’s what the gentleman was for.” Dreschner said calmly.
Schicksal balled up her hands into fists. “That’s not enough! He needs it seared into his bones! You said it yourself, he doesn’t listen. He’s even come close to hitting me too!”
“It is already seared into his bones. That is the source of the problem.”
“I can’t believe you’re taking this tack now!”
“I agree. But one of us has to.” Dreschner replied.
Schicksal raised her hands to her reddening face.
Dreschner gently continued.
“But I also agreed with you, back then. When you said you thought I had what it takes to fix anything. This is part of that. At the end of the day if I punch Reiniger and accept him among my ranks I am condoning his behavior. That must stop.” Dreschner said.
Red mist started to lift from the world, and Schicksal took a deep breath.
“I got carried away.” She said.
“I can’t judge you for that.” replied the General.
“I feel so powerless.” Schicksal sighed. “Before Knyskna I only barely interacted with these people. You gave me more responsibilities and recognized me, General, and I felt like I had to live up to that, but I failed. And now I feel like I should have done more of, something– I don’t know! I don’t know. I should have done something to stop him.”
It reminded her too much of home.
Both her mother and her father, and her brothers, everything.
She always thought, if she had just taken one bottle away from one hand.
Then everything would have been settled. Everyone would have straightened out.
That was never how it worked out there.
But she thought that was the power Dreschner was giving her.
“I’m sorry sir. This is stupid.” She said.
Dreschner looked at her in the eyes.
“No matter your rank you will never have the power to correct anyone’s history. Neither your words nor your fists, or my fists, can change what a person is dead set on doing. I’m telling you this not because I’m a saint but because I’ve learned this the hard way. You can try, and you will try; you’ll try your damnedest. But you can’t let it consume you.”
“Don’t be. I’m the only one here to blame, for all of this. And I’m sorry enough.”
Her head was swimming a little. She wondered if it was still the alcohol or just exhaustion. She felt all the more ashamed for having drank the night before. It felt like such a weak thing to do, such a stupid thing to give into. Just like the rest of the Schicksals.
She grunted weakly. “So whether he succeeds or not, it’s a courts martial, huh.”
Dreschner straightened out in his seat. He gazed wearily at the flapping tent entrance.
He grunted too. “Solitary confinement or the lash. That’s what this hero has earned.”
Their words hung in the air for a moment.
“I don’t think he would have made it.” Schicksal said. Her brain was scattershot.
“Made what?” Dreschner asked.
She shook her head, tossing her hair around. She clutched her forehead.
“Kunze’s shot. That 2000 meter shot. When it counted. Reiniger wouldn’t have made it.”
Dreschner shook his head. He sighed deeply. “Kunze made that shot to save another tanker. Reiniger has never acknowledged this because he would never take a shot like that. Kunze had run his unit out into the open. He’d made a mistake. He was afraid he would lose his men and fail his mission. He fell back. Everyone retreated, but one crew stuck it out fighting out in front of the unit. He was bound to get killed until Kunze made that miracle shot.”
Schicksal blinked. That was a side of the story she didn’t know. “Who was in that tank?”
“Corporal Jorg Reiniger.” Dreschner said.