The Dog and the Wolf [1]

"What's that around your neck?" the sniper [2] asked.

"This?" the General [3] seemed caught off-guard. He touched it briefly. "It is the Knight's Cross.[4] A military order of the highest honor." [5]

Kai smiled.

"It must chafe a bit,"[6] he commented. "But one soon gets used to it." [7]

"Well—yes." [8]

The floor between the General [9] and the sniper was marble, checkered black-and-white. It clicked slightly as Kai stood up.

"Is that all?" he said. "Then good-bye to you." [10]

The General [11] frowned.

Kai made a mocking bow and pivoted on his heel. The soldiers at the door tried to flank him—but he muttered two words, and they let him walk alone. [12]


[1] A retelling of the Fable, if you will.

A GAUNT Wolf was almost dead with hunger when he happened to meet a House-dog who was passing by. "Ah, Cousin," said the Dog. "I knew how it would be; your irregular life will soon be the ruin of you. Why do you not work steadily as I do, and get your food regularly given to you?"

"I would have no objection," said the Wolf, "if I could only get a place."

"I will easily arrange that for you," said the Dog; "come with me to my master and you shall share my work."

So the Wolf and the Dog went towards the town together. On the way there the Wolf noticed that the hair on a certain part of the Dog's neck was very much worn away, so he asked him how that had come about.

"Oh, it is nothing," said the Dog. "That is only the place where the collar is put on at night to keep me chained up; it chafes a bit, but one soon gets used to it."

"Is that all?" said the Wolf. "Then good-bye to you, Master Dog."

"BETTER STARVE FREE THAN BE A FAT SLAVE."

(Æsop)

Vlčák originally intended to include this scene in his would-be magnum opus, Goodbye, Blue Sky—a graphic novel, if he could ever find an illustrator that would work with him, a novel as it was—split into four parts, thank God—The Part About the Artists; The Part About the Worms; The Part About the Burners; The Part About the King—but he was forced to halt his work on it around June 2665. That was when the demands of the Parallel Campaign began to require the entirety of his attention.

[2] Jiří Azenkar—codename Kai. At the end of the entire affair he was somewhat of a double—or triple—quadruple agent? He is one-sixth of the original group. In First Part (The Part About the Artists), he is responsible for saving the protagonist Andrei's life several times. Most notably in that little flag-stealing incident. He disappears soon after the failed assassination attempt, going underground for most of the Second Part (The Part About the Worms), only resurfacing ambiguously as a 'grey-haired' man at the end of the Third Part (The Part About the Burners). By that time he has been driven quite insane—by his best friend Luco's death, and his own subsequent, arguably inadvertent, betrayal of the Resistance. In a day's blind rage, he slaughters all those who stand in his path—with quite an impractical array of weapons. Swords and knives among them. Each murder more bloody and artistically rendered than the next. My personal favourite being the one with barbed wire and the protagonist's paramour May—but my, do I ramble! To be honest by that point of Goodbye, Blue Sky there were so many characters running about, they got quite out of hand. Even for Vlčák—he was much too sentimental, and refused to kill them off at the proper time. It was only natural some should fall by the wayside.

[3] For instance, I have lost track of which 'General' this is supposed to be...I suppose by mere process of elimination…(un)fortunately for us, dear reader, all copies of Goodbye, Blue Sky have been burned long ago. With vengeance!

[4] The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross (Blechkrawatte). A military medal in the shape of a cross pattée, or Jerusalem's Cross. The color is black. Of course. It is only to be awarded "exclusively for bravery before the enemy and for excellent merits in commanding troops"—in the spirit of Ein Volk to kids with guns and maimed ghosts alike—"the award of a higher class having to be preceded by the award of all preceding classes". The classes being, in order of lucrativity: "The Iron Cross 1st Class, The Iron Cross, 2nd Class, The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross, The Grand Cross of the Iron Cross", the latter only to be awarded "for superior actions that decisively influenced the course of the War"—yes, to this day a suicide mission is referred to as a Ritterkreuz-Auftrag—the Iron Cross 2nd Class and 1st Class being of the same size and format as the previous fifty-two versions, with the exception that the front sides bear the Swastika and the Demonic Runes and the date 1939 (–0006). However, unlike The Iron Cross 1st Class, The Iron Cross 2nd Class is "worn on a black-white-red band in the buttonhole or class" whilst The Iron Cross 1st Class is worn "without band on the right breast side."—the right side, mind you!—now The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross—like our dear General has obtained here—"is larger in size than The Iron Cross 1st class and is worn prominently around the neck with a black-white-red-white band. And The Grand Cross of the Iron Cross"—just out of curiosity, dear reader, as we know in reality this medal only came into circulation several years later and the only recipient was Reichsstatthalter Hans Landa—so it would be impossible for this particular General to be awarded one—"The Grand Cross of the Iron Cross is approximately three times the size of the Iron Cross 1st Class, with a golden trim instead of the silver trim and is worn around the neck with a broader black-white-red-white-red-white band"—and just for kicks Hitler reinstated The Star of the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross, five times The size of the Iron Cross 1st class, I assume, that was to be awarded to the most successful General of the War—which event was unfortunately put off permanently due to General Erwin Rommel's death in First Impact… yes, die Führer was rather put off by that… but that is neither here nor there. Now if our recipient of these hypothetical Medals in the Sky is fortunate enough to "already own one or two or three of the classes of The Iron Cross from one of the other wars, then instead of a second Cross being worn"—no, that would be totally ridiculous—"instead of a second Cross being worn, a silver clasp to The Iron Cross from the other war bearing the national anthem and the date 1939 (–0006) is awarded; in the case of the 2nd Class the clasp is worn on the band, in the case of the 1st Class above the Cross." And of course, "The Iron Cross shall be retained as a heirloom by the heirs of the recipient after his demise"—not like those old Austrian service medals that had to be returned after death—I remember a dear old Privy Councillor friend of mine even had copies of these medals made to adorn him on his deathbed, he was so proud they comforted him so—but of course they dug him up and took them away, anyway—and then they burned him to ashes to save the trouble of burying him again… But to proceed: The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross also comes in a few grades, namely The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross; The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves; The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords; The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds; The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Gold Oak Leaves; The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Gold Oak Leaves and Swords; The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Gold Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds; The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Gold Oak Leaves and Gold Swords; The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Gold Oak Leaves, Gold Swords and Gold Diamonds; The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Gold Oak Leaves, Swords and Gold Diamonds; The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Gold Swords and Gold Diamonds; The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Gold Oak Leaves, Gold Swords and Diamonds.. Incidentally the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves was also not purely a Nazi invention but had its roots far far back in the 18th century in the Golden Oak Leaves of the Red Eagle Order which the then Prussian Emperor Friedrich Wilhelm III commissioned in honor of his dead wife, Queen Lousie as Prussia and also as the highest honour for "soldierly merit before the enemy" which was the second highest merit of Prussian order after the Black Eagle Order (that going to the most soldierly death before the enemy, I suppose), however the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords has absolutely NO historical basis or merit whatsoever. The Oak Leaves of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross are three in number and composed of silver—gold originally—the centre leaf being imposed over the other two and burnished at the edges. There were actually two variants of the Leaves, I was told—the first artist having foolishly modeled them on Japanese Oak leaves instead of German—nevertheless, the first variant prevailed until about 1943 (– 0002), or so. The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords is entirely similar in appearance to The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, save that a pair of swords is soldered underneath the Oak Leaves—and the accompanying band widened for stability, of course—the entire weight being 90.3 grams, not including the swords. The Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds is thankfully exactly identical to the Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords, save for the diamonds (diamonds!) embedded in the hilts of the swords. Well, most of these are actually rhinestones, I am told—really questioning one of these officers about their decorations is one of the best ways get beheaded—but well, in the confusion of the last days of the War they pulled off all sorts of things. The Knight's Cross with Gold Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds—What Vlčák had in mind for his General here—was truly a work of art. The first Six were painstakingly manufactured in 1945 (0000) in 18 Carat cold, with 66 real diamonds and 6 sapphires embedded in the clasp—and promptly destroyed in First Impact. Along with a sufficient portion of the living, non-living, human, and semi-human population of Rötterdämmerung. However Hitler often bemoaned that the loss of all the treasures of the world could not equal that of his three Generals… which brings to mind that legendary edict of Genghis Khan—that even his slaves wore collars of gold.

[5] "Their view; it is cosmic. Not of a man here, a child there, but air abstraction: race, land. Volk. Land. Blut. Ehre. Not of honorable men but of Ehre itself, honor; the abstract is real, the actual is invisible to them. Die Güte, but not good, this good man. It is their sense of space and time. They see through the here, the now, into the vast black deep beyond, the unchanging. And that is fatal to life. Because eventually there will be no life; there was once only the dust particles in space, the hot hydrogen gases, nothing more, and it will come again." (The Man in the High Castle, 3.)

[6] Alex is known as being a total Halsschmerzen. At least according to his men I've talked to. His 'throat rash' is putting him and his crew in not infrequent and deadly danger these days.

[7] He was so afraid of being sent to the Neofront. Although he would never let it show. Though the elder Wolf would never have allowed this to happen had he been alive. But Alex could never resist threatening, a bit—a lot—but one soon gets used to anything, I suppose. The mortality rate there is 50/50, I am told—even though technically they are not supposed to send soldiers to their absolute deaths anymore. But it is good, good. Else who else shall we fight? Will the mad dogs turn upon themselves?

[8] They are getting quite wrecked on the rocks up there. Absolutely insane—what kind of men must live on that Island! Holding out against an entire mad, mad world. Mark my words, we shall not make headway until each and every one of them is dead. Bombed into dust and grit and oblivion. Or perhaps it is all that radiation giving them powers, making them Supermen!

[9] One of the favourite arguments between Alex and his degenerate half-brother was about rank. Andrew refused to remember or even slightly recall, "whatever permutation of 'ober-ober-führer' Alex was up to at that moment of time". He always called him a 'Captain'—a title which made Alex absolutely livid.

[10] Kai was supposed to redeem himself in this scene. I suggested he should shoot General whatever-his-name-is—I mean he is a sniper, after all—but Andrew ignored me. Then again, he never did take my suggestions into consideration.

[11] "I don't look for perfection in them. Perfection on a game board: what does it mean but death, the void? In the names, the brilliant careers, in the stuff of memory, I search for the image of their sure-fingered white hands, I search for their eyes watching battles (though there are only a few photographs that show them thus engaged): imperfect and singular, delicate, distant, gruff, daring, prudent—in all of them one can find courage and love. In Manstein, Guderian, Rommel. My Favorite Generals. And in Rundstedt, von Bock, von Leeb. In neither them nor others do I demand perfection; I content myself with their faces, open or impassive, with their dispatches, with just a name and a tiny deed sometimes." (Udo Berger, Third Reich World Champion)

[12] They are probably going to shoot him, I guess.