Chapter VIII: The enemy within
The following events took place December 18th, 1942, Novosibirsk (Occupied by Pact Forces)
Novosibirsk. The pearl of Siberia.
The city was a mess. No building over three stories tall was still standing, and most of the roads and pipelines were busted: Craters littered the plains, and to the south the Field Marshall could see countless pillars of billowing, thick black smoke rise from the industrial parts of the city. A deathly mist enveloped the city, and the snow had gone from white to a mixture of black ash, dried blood and frozen dirt. It was only four hours ago that the last Russian defenders from the 85th Rifles Regiment were forced to retreat, after holding the town center stubbornly for two days.
And it was cold. Too cold. Van Geyte his gloves were frozen stiff, and the only thing he could do was make feeble attempts at thawing them with the warm air he exhaled. His escort flanked him, shuffling their feet uncomfortably in the silence.
Four Panther V’s rolled onto the town square, moving to resupply at the basic HQ that had been set up in what was left of the town hall. They passed the Field Marshall and his three companions on their way. Three men sat on the last tank in the row, one of them playing a battered violin he had probably discovered somewhere below the ruins. Bach. The entire scene had something filmic about it, the sad and drooping violin delivering the last honors to a city that had ceased to exist.
A German Panzer V “Panther” tank, used in great numbers in Siberia
His second-in-command Artur walked next to him, upholding the uneasy silence, afraid saying something would upset the Field Marshall. Laurence inhaled some more burning cold air, and sighed.
“Arndt. Denis Arndt. That was his name, no?”
Artur remained silent
“Artur... he was a good soldier. He died for his country.”
It was as if each word sharpened Artur’s features: His small, boney nose, his straight eyebrows. His jagged jawline. The grey snow crackled beneath the boots of the four men as they walked into a former residential area.
“Permission to speak freely sir?”
“You are my second-in-command Artur. You are always permitted to say what you think.”
“I am sick of this war. I am sick of going forward and seeing only ice, death, craters and more ice. Everywhere we pass, we bring only destruction and misery. What empire can one build on this rubble?”
The Field Marshall stared at the horizon, thinking. In the distance he could hear German artillery beginning their bombardment of the russian positions to the East.
“You know Artur, I am a Great War veteran. Do you know anything about that period?”
“No sir. I was born in 1919, after the war.”
“For as long as I have lived, I have been a man of war. Fighting for the German Empire was my only goal in life. And even now, I am loyal to a country that has long gone. But sitting in those blasted trenches for four years has taught me the true nature of war.”
The field marshall paused, and took a small red object out of his pocket. It was a dried flower.
“A poppy sir?”
“Years ago, when the world itself seemed to have been stripped of all life, I found one of these buried under the mud. Since then, I always keep one near me. To remind me that whatever we destroy, will rebuild itself. Death and destruction never last long.”
“Life” Laurence sighed “Is a constant.”
“This is what I and De Nil fight for. A new world. A different world, for all of us. What we do in life echoes in eternity. But before that happens, all of us need to be prepared to sacrifice even the things dearest to us.”
“Your wife and child, sir?”
The men continued through the ruined streets. Shards of glas and debris littered the once beautiful area. The Field Marshall demonstrated a glance of humanity Artur had never before seen in this man. The man that was normally so relentless and calculating now actually looked like a human being. It took Van Geyte great difficulty to swallow and speak
“My wife, Nadia, was five months pregnant when she died in the bombing. My son never saw the light of dawn.”
“I feel sorry for your loss sir”
“Feeling sorry doesn’t help anyone Artur. It is those who act, that change the world. I believe in this Pact. I believe in this war. It is a nessecary war.”
“I think I understand sir”
For a split second Van Geyte thought he saw a small glimmer of light coming from a top window of one the buildings. He took it to be his imagination playing tricks on him. He looked behind him at his two escorts following them. They did not seem to react.
“That’s why we must be relentless. I feel sorry for the death of your friend at Kiev, but we have to go on. We have no other option.”
The field marshall kicked an icy rock, flying through the air and bouncing off the ground with loud thumps. One, two, three times. Suddenly, life itself seemed to have slowed down. Years of veterancy and surpressed memories surfaced.
The rock had only bumped twice.
His head went into overdrive as to identify the third sound. It was a clicking sound.
Much like that of a muzzle-loaded rifle.
Van Geyte dove to the side, and suddenly felt a searing pain in his right leg: The bullet had missed his head and pierced itself through his knee. He stumped to the ground bleeding, while the two escorts attempted to run to cover. Artur did not realise what had happened, turning his head towards the bleeding Field Marshall with silent horror, before he fell over. The second shot had hit Artur Schneider in the head, ending his life. The field marshall rolled over, and a puff of wet snow in his face meant that he had evaded the third shot. One of the escorts ran in to attempt to pull Van Geyte out, but was hit in the foot. Four shots. In a desparate attempt, the field marshall kicked up some snow with his good leg, fogging the view of the sniper. The fifth shot landed in the snow right next to his ear.
Laurence had heard many weapons in his life. So many even, that to some extent he was able to identify rifles according to the sound of their shots. And this one was an old familiar. The first gunshot he had heard came from a rifle using 7.82x57mm rounds. A special kind of rifle rounds manufactured only by Mauser, and intended only for the Kar98K. With a five round clip. The shooter had to reload.
He acted quickly. The shooter ducked, and he heard the click of a magazine being ejected while Laurence grabbed his pistol. The second and third click indicated the gun had been reloaded. He aimed at the window and braced himself. The shooter surfaced and aimed, but was too slow.
Two shots fired by the Field Marshall hit the sniper in the head, who tumbled over the window and hit the ground four metres from where the Field Marshall was lying. The scene was silent again.
“Sir! Are you okay?”
The remaining escort ran towards the Field Marshall, panicking. Laurence took a glance at his leg, and it looked pretty bad. Everything below his knee felt numb, and he had lost a large amount of blood, the snow around him coloured in an eery red. He tried to remain calm
“Sir, can you understand me? How many fin...”
“Keep your idiocy for someone who hasn’t just been shot in the leg, private! Where the hell were you when that sniper fired?”
“Sir, I was merely...”
“Yeah, I’m sure you were. You fucking coward. I should bloody shoot you myself!”
The soldier toppled his backpack, grabbed some bandage and began to wind around Van Geyte’s leg with shaking hands.
In the meanwhile the second escort managed to stand up, and hobbled towards the two men on one foot. Laurence congratulated him.
“That was a brave thing you did private. What is your name?”
“Jorgen. Jorgen Krause.”
“You are a brave man, Jorgen Krause. Brave, and foolish. Next time, send out your buddy here. This war needs men like you to survive, as opposed to men like him.” The Field Marshall made a faint attempt at kicking the cowardly escort, but his legs were inresponsive.
“I will personally award you with... well, whatever it is you want to be awarded with.
The second escort grinned, not knowing what feeling was strongest at the moment: the pride for taking a bullet for a field marshall, or the horrible burning pain in his foot.
The escort had finished bandaging. The field marshall grabbed a small tin can out of his coat and drank all the whiskey, in an attempt to dampen the pain in his leg.
“Score one for Wehrmacht intel” he coughed “I thought they said this area was secure?”
Jorgen replied. “Sir, I don’t understand, the 5th Battalion just swept through this area an hour ago, no way they could have missed a building.
“Then this was a planned assassination. Get me a cane or something and help me up”
The two men pulled the Field Marshall up, and walked towards the dead body of the assassin.
The dead figure looked like a Russian lieutenant, wearing a standard uniform and USSR cap, the rifle besides him was a Kar98K with a custom-fitted Russian scope. The story seemed to add up: A Russian assassin sent to eliminate German officers, using stolen German weaponry because of their superior range. Unless...
“Give me a knife”
“I said, give me a knife”
The second escort handed Laurence a knife, and he kneeled down. He lifted the left arm of the dead assassin, and stabbed the knife into his coat. He tore the coat open, and took a look under the armpit of the body. A small black letter had been tattood onto the armpit. “O”
Blood type O.
The Field Marshall stood up, leaning heavily on the iron beam serving as his cane.
“Give me your clothes”
“Do it private!”
The cowardly private began to undress himself and handed his clothes to the Field Marshall, who pointed to the assassin.
“You take his clothes”
The second escort thought the Field Marshall had gone insane.
“Sir, are you feeling okay?”
Van Geyte had finished changing clothes.
“Okay, I need you two to listen carefully now. Can I trust that you will follow every order I am about to give you to the letter and remain completely silent about it?”
Both escorts nodded
“The man you see lying here is wearing a tattoo only former SS-officers wear. This means he is a Nazi loyalist, and he has been sent here to kill me”
“By who sir?”
Laurence spat on the ground
The men grew silent.
“After I’ve given my orders, I will turn around and walk away. None of you will attempt to follow me”
“but sir, you’re wounded!”
“That’s a trivial matter at the moment. Right now I need to dissapear. As soon as I am out of sight, I want you to take your rifles, and shoot this body in the face untill it is unrecongnizeable. Then, dress it with my clothes. Here, take these”
Laurence handed them his clothes, pistol and the red poppy he had taken out of his pocket earlier. “Put all these on the corpse, and he will look like me.”
“Take the body to Forward HQ, and tell them that a Russian assassin ambushed us here, killing me and Artur.” He took a glance at the body of his former second-in-command
“Give him a proper burial. A soldier’s burial”
The men nodded.
“Everyone will believe I am dead, that the assassination was succesfull. It is imperative that you talk to nobody about me. That is all.”
Both men loaded their rifles. The second escort spoke first
“Sir... god speed”
Laurence turned around and started walking. He felt great grief over the loss of his second-in-command, and remembered an old saying in his childhood village. No goal is worth the loss of a good friend. He stopped and turned back towards the escorts, standing there staring at him.
“Men. Whatever happens after this day... do not forget what you are fighting for. This is a war for Germany. She has given birth to us all, and protecting her is what drives us.”
The men nodded
And so on the December 18th of 1942, the goal of Field Marshall Van Geyte changed. He would head West. To Berlin. But first he would have to warn De Nil.
He walked away, followed by the sharp sounds of the two escorts shooting the dead assassin.