|The Greatest Game
Author: Stellar Magic PM
Alternate History: It's 1932 and the Great War still grinds on as an Eastern Front reopens. Follow Unteroffizer Ernst Weissmann, Leutenant Mira Marder, and the pilots of the 54th "Green Hearts" Gruppe as they try to hold off the relentless advance of the Soviet Union and Soviet Republic of Poland. Rated T for violence, graphic depictions of warfare, and language.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Sci-Fi - Chapters: 4 - Words: 11,094 - Reviews: 4 - Favs: 3 - Follows: 2 - Updated: 01-09-13 - Published: 10-09-12 - id: 3064365
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The Greatest Game
Issue #4: The Night After
1 September 1932, 20:30 hrs
2 km East of Zdiar, Slovak Republic, Austro-Hungarian Empire
C Company, 34th Tank Regiment, 7th Mechanized Division
The clatter of tank treads echoed across the fields as one tank after another rolled down the road, their olive hulls glinting in the setting sun. On the side of the road a column of infantry marched, kicking up dust as they headed to the east.
The boom of artillery echoed in the distance like thunder as the Company Commander, Captain Ivan Sugoyovich spread a topographical map over the the top of his tank. Beside him, the Lieutenant that was serving as his aid chewed her lip and penciled a few marks onto the map.
"The enemy is falling back, Comrade Captain. However, the resistance we suffered in crossing the border was greater then expected." She glanced up at him and swallowed nervously. "Command will not be pleased with our progress."
"We're moving as fast as we can Sasha, but the Slovakians are throwing up far more resistance then we expected." Ivan answered as a plume of dirt was hurled up just fifty meters north of the road and instantly the who had been marching scattered, hurling themselves into the ditch or dropping on their belly.
"Comrade Captain?" Sasha asked as she flinched back from another shell that had fallen even further from the road.
"Without a spotter, it will take an act of God for them to hit us Sasha." Ivan said as he folded up the map. Then he dropped into the turret of his tank. "Forward!"
1 September 1932, 13:30 hrs
Poprad Airbase, Slovak Republic, Austro-Hungarian Empire
Officer's Mess, 54th Gruppe
Major Hasso von Wedel stood at the front of the bar, a smirk plastered on his face as he held up a stein up for all to see. Beside him, Oberleutenant Rosa von Wedel rolled her eyes and sighed.
"May I have your attention." Major von Wedel said and all the pilots that were crowded into the bar turned to face him.
Ernst watched the Major glance around the room ensuring that he held their attention. "Hauptmann Haussler has informed me that, after today's action one of his staffel now has shot down five enemy planes." He saw several of the pilots glance around the group. "This young officer succeeded in destroying a number of the bombers that struck our base this afternoon. Normally I would wait for confirmation to congratulate her, but when you do it over your own aerodrome, I don't believe any of that is really necessary. Leutenant Marder, if you would stand up please."
Blushing furiously Ernst grinned as his wingmate stood, within seconds applause burst forth from the crowd of pilots as they congratulated her for her performance. A few of the younger pilots catcalled and she rolled her eyes at their antics.
"Yes... yes... well done Leutenant, but who is any pilot without their wingman..." Ernst flushed at those words. "Leutenant Marder can attest that the youngest among us is one of our best, and that he shot down those that pursued her not once but twice today. Unteroffizer Weissmann, stand up."
He stood as another burst of applause came from the group of pilots and he felt himself get a hearty backslap from the Staffel Captain, which made him nearly collapse into the chair.
"Yes, well done, well done... Now, as some of you that recently rotated from the Western Front know, actual open warfare isn't a comfortable or leisurely thing. With the Soviets pushing from the north and east, the Slovakian army is hard pressed to hold them at bay."
A hush fell over the crowd of pilots and Ernst shifted nervously in his seat.
"Having spoken with the Austro-Hungarian Command, I can tell you this... it is their intention to make them pay for every single centimeter of ground, but... they have asked for our assistance in doing just that. Starting tomorrow, we will begin conducting small scale harassment bombing and strafing missions against the advancing columns." The Gruppe Commander shifted anxiously. "I argued against this, as every single bomber we shoot down would be a better way to assist the troops on the ground, but they didn't buy this line of reasoning."
Ernst scowled slightly at those words. "Sir, are any of us even trained for ground attack missions?"
"No, but since you and Leutenant Marder were the last to shoot at ground targets for gunnery practice, I think we'll have you go first." Major von Wedel said with a slight smirk. "The complete mission brief will be given to you first thing tomorrow."
Mira Marder sighed and leaned back in her seat. "Major, if I buy it from some jerk with a rifle... I'm coming back to haunt you."
There were chuckles from the assembled pilots at that comment and von Wedel paled faintly. "Well... I hope you're careful then." He walked over to the killboard and smirked. "Now... Leutenant Marder is in second place for first staffel, and Unteroffizer Weissmann is now in third place. Hauptmann Haussler is leading the staffel with twenty-six kills, of course he is a rather old man."
"Not as old as you, Hasso!" The Staffel Captain yelled and there were chuckles in the room.
"My command schwarm outstrips all of yours still." Hasso von Wedel rolled his eyes. "Yes, well... Oberleutenant Rosa von Wedel is in second place overall... thanks to downing twenty-eight in the west, and lastly is myself at the top of the board with thirty-three tommies. Second Staffel has... five kills currently, spread over three different pilots..."
At that point, Ernst began to tune out the talk and lifted his stein for another drink. Across from him, Mira ran a hand through her hair and dropped the staff cap on the table between them.
"How are you feeling?" She asked quietly.
Ernst frowned slightly. "I am fine, shouldn't I be?"
"Sometimes a pilot regrets pulling the trigger later..." Mira said simply before shrugging. "Of course, you saved me when you did, so maybe that's how you can accept it so easily."
He felt his cheeks flush slightly at that. "I'm sure I could do it if I had to without you being in danger."
Mira nodded. "Ja, you probably would... I've been pretty impressed with you Weissmann."
"Danke." He said with a slight smile. "I've enjoyed flying with you."
She laughed faintly at that before leaning forward. "Did you hear, second staffel ran into Tupolev TBs over Spisska Nova Ves?"
"TBs? You mean those big bombers that the soviets have been working on?" Ernst asked quietly.
"Ja... they said they were the two engine sort, but... what if they're wrong. Those big bombers, rumor says they're almost impossible to bring down..." She swallowed nervously. "What if we fight them?"
Ernst considered for a moment before shrugging. "Shoot the cockpit."
"Shoot the... oh, I suppose you're right." She smiled faintly at those words. "Even the biggest plane needs a pilot to fly it."
"Of course a larger plane has more gunners defending it then a smaller one." Ernst said quietly. "That's the trouble... and I had a lot of difficulty with those R-5 light bombers and their one gunner."
"You'll learn." She said faintly. "I got riddled as well, you know."
"True... the mechanics told me both our crates will be ready by morning." He sighed at that. "I don't think they were very happy with either of us."
"Probably, the planes are their babies." She snickered faintly.
Ernst drained his beer stein and dropped it on the table with a thud. "I think I'm ready for bed."
"Go... it's a good idea you get to it earlier, you never know when it'll be interrupted." She said quietly before lifting her own beer stein.
"Interrupted?" Ernst asked quietly.
She set the stein down and sighed. "If they fight like the tommies, we'll have to endure night raiders. Most of the time they do not hit anything, it is dark after all."
Ernst scowled at that and stood. "What ever happened to chivalry in the air?"
Mira laughed at that and lifted her stein up to drain the last of it. When she was finished she dropped on the table and stood. "I'll join you, hopefully we will be allowed some sleep tonight."
They walked out into the cool September air, heading for the barracks building. To the north they could make out the distant flash of artillery lighting up the bottom of the clouds. Mira stumbled up the stairs to the barracks and opened the door.
Ernst smirked faintly as he watched her bump against the wall. "Did the blackshirts buy you a round before you met me in the mess?"
"Ja... they wanted to celebrate with me." She closed her eyes and staggered to her door. "Good night."
"Night." He said before opening his door and slipping into his room and lying down. As he shut his eyes, a bang echoed from maybe a mile distant and he growled.
A few minutes later, as his eyes began to flutter shut, he heard another distant explosion and jerked awake. He could hear the occasional sputter of an engine overhead and grit his teeth.
"Night bombers..." He grumbled before another bomb fell.
He could hear it whistle through the air and stared up at the ceiling praying before an explosion rattled the building. He could hear shrapnel creaming through the air and swore as a second explosion shook the building and blew out his window.
He rolled out of bed and backed away from the glass fragments when the door ripped open. He felt a hand grab him by his undershirt and drag him back from the room as another bomb went off.
"Schlisse!" A voice yelled. "Turn off those lights, you idiots!"
I felt hot breath against the back of my neck and spun to find myself facing Mira, clad in little more than a large white shirt and a worn ragged set of soft wool pants. Her grey eyes widened and she swallowed. "Ernst, are you hurt?"
"Nein." I said before gulping for breath. "Are you?"
"They are a better aim then I expected, grab what you can... we'll find a cellar." She said before running a hand through her blonde hair nervously. "Grab some of the bedding you have, and a change of clothes."
He nodded and hurriedly grabbed his suitcase, a set of thick blankets and pillow from the room, making sure to shake the glass fragments out of it before stumbling into the hall and finding Mira with her own bedding and clothes waiting for him.
She smiled faintly for a moment before stumbling to the door and walking out. Flames from a smashed hangar lit up the aerodrome and Ernst scowled at the sight. "I guess that is how they can see well enough to bomb us."
"Probably." She grumbled before leading him to a storm cellar and opening the door with a bang. Then she led him down into the dark. A moment later a gas lamp hissed and a faint light lit up the underground room, revealing a table, and a selection of wine stored in the sidewall. After a moment, Mira tossed her bedding onto the floor and spread out over it.
Ernst swallowed nervously for a moment before laying out his own by the opposite wall, but only a few feet separated them, as it was a rather small and cramped cellar met more for storing food, wine, and cheese then as shelter.
Mira pulled her cap down over her head and let out a quiet sigh. "Night witches." She mumbled and Ernst smiled faintly.
Ernst lay down, trying to find a comfortable position before staring up at the ceiling. His eyes slowly shut and he was about to doze off when another bang echoed from above and he snarled in irritation. "Gott damn it!"
She snickered at his language. "Don't worry about it Ernst... if a bomb kills us, we'll be dead before we knew it was on us."
"That's comforting." He observed with a growl of irritation.
Mira sighed. "No, it isn't... but then being in a cellar is the safest place." She shifted on her bedding and adjusted the cap to glance at him. "You have to learn how to sleep through it."
"Have you?" He asked.
Ernst snickered. "Maybe we'll just catch naps when we're on alert then?"
"Cat naps are a pilot's salvation." She said before lying back down. "But sleeping some now will help... and eventually they'll leave and it'll be quiet."
"Oh... good." He said. "We can sleep then."
She giggled quietly. "I am going to have such a hangover in the morning..."
"It's your fault." Ernst said. "You didn't have to accept the drinks from the blackshirts."
"I know, but it would have been rude." She sighed.
Ernst shrugged and returned to staring up at the ceiling. "So... we have to go fight the Russian columns in the morning, I'm not looking forward to that."
"Neither am I." She said. "Ernst... you will be careful? I've grown rather attached to having someone shoot the soviets off me."
"I will... you will as well?"
"Of course, dying now would waste your good work." Mira said with a slight laugh before rolling onto her back again and staring up at the ceiling. "I don't want to die yet... to much to do."
"I don't either." Ernst admitted.
"We'll just have to be careful, and be better than they are." She smiled faintly. "I... I think I'll let you take the lead next time we get into a dogfight, and then I can shoot the Soviets off your tail."
"It's up to you Leutenant." Ernst said as he closed his eyes. "Or do you just want to stare at my tail?"
A choking sound came from her, followed by a coughing fit. Ernst grinned as he glanced over at her and saw Mira gasp for breath. Then she glared at him. "In your dreams Ernst."
Ernst closed his eyes. "Sweet dreams Mira."
She scoffed and settled back against her pillow. After a few moments, she sighed. "Good night Ernst."