Chapter I, A Long-Range Reconnaissance Mission
MARCH 15, UNIFIED YEAR 1926, OVER THE EMPIRE’S EASTERN BORDER REGION
Soaring inconspicuously through the sky above the Empire’s eastern border is a twin-engine transport plane. The workhorse of the Imperial Army Air Transport Unit is making a rare night flight.
The navigation lights, normally set to be as bright and clear as possible in friendly airspace to avoid collisions, have been turned off…
The camouflaged body of the plane flies leisurely toward its destination under the cover of darkness without a sound, save the slight drone of its motors. Ninety-nine out of a hundred people who glanced up at the sky would have no way of knowing that anything was there.
Its paint job was designed for flying into enemy territory, making the nationality unclear.
Originally a fighter, the craft has been outfitted against detection with every possible countermeasure available to the air command of a special operations group that, plainly speaking, didn’t hesitate to violate borders.
Even if the controller at the Eastern Air Defense Combat Direction Center, organized under the Empire’s Eastern Army Group, reported that they’d seen something weird on the radar, it wouldn’t be noted officially in any report. If anyone there tried to file one, the visiting General Staff officers would simply stop by to insist, You didn’t see anything, and that would be that.
The personnel on board this rather troubling craft can practically be called an imperial military secret. After all, the unit is the pet project of the General Staff, prepared to do even wet work in a pinch.
Yes, inclusion in this type of special ops group is synonymous with acknowledgment as the Imperial Army’s cream of the crop. Most officers are unreservedly in awe of their legendary bravery and skill.
…Of course, for the unit’s commander in question, awe is wholly unnecessary.
All I want is for someone to trade places with me.
Aware that she’s getting nowhere with this futile train of thought, the leader of the special ops group assigned to this long-range reconnaissance mission deep behind enemy lines, Major Tanya von Degurechaff, gives a small inward sigh.
Looking down, I see my two tiny hands. No matter how you slice it, this is too heavy a burden for the fragile frame of a little girl. If I fulfill all the requirements of being a minor, then I’d like to request the appropriate protections. But no, even Tanya’s daydreams don’t include the possibility of leaving the front lines by suddenly pulling the child card and saying she doesn’t want to fight.
The 203rd Aerial Mage Battalion is under direct command of the Imperial Army General Staff and, hence, is an extremely rare sort of battalion it has the authority to act independently. Moreover, we’ve racked up a respectable pile of achievements. In other words, we made the mistake of proving ourselves useful. It also worked to our disadvantage that we were originally created through the good offices of the General Staff at home. To the higher-ups, we’re a very convenient tool.
Thanks to that, we’ve been thrown onto every front, massaged into a band of veterans. From Commander von Degurechaff all the way down, every masterful officer in the battalion enjoys the reputation of being an elite.
That’s why Tanya is cradling her head in her hands and lamenting, I don’t want to fight, but I suppose it’s hard to escape at the moment.
Having thought that far, she mulls over the events of several hours ago and how her happiness at landing back in the imperial capital was so short-lived.
We’ll go back a few hours.
Arriving over the imperial capital for the first time in a while, she noticed the sky felt cramped due to the dense interception line. She was thoroughly fed up with someone on the ground challenging her every time she passed through the multilayered anti–air defense zone.
They may have doubled as patrols, but their need to greet her colleagues from the instructor unit, too, was often annoying.
In the first place, humans aren’t built to enjoy being challenged at gunpoint, even by friendly forces simply doing their duty.
Still, a few hours ago, as Tanya flew along the predesignated route over the capital, she was blessed with a sense of calm that was so total, the complicated procedures didn’t bother her one bit.
After all, she’d finally managed to return to the capital. After the city they’d missed so much came into view from afar, the whole unit was in a good mood. It was impossible for the soldiers to conceal their delight at being summoned back to the home country and away from the southern front’s boundless, barren sand.
Truly, the only word for the feeling was ecstasy. In the present, however, Tanya finds her optimism so utterly idiotic that she wants to literally curse herself.
In her defense, though, at the time it was no wonder.
Major Tanya von Degurechaff was sick of the battlefield, so any reason that granted freedom from the front lines was cause for genuine celebration. A summons to the home country was good news if there ever was such a thing, and she had no reason to be suspicious of the order.
Until they touched down at their designated billet, Tanya happily believed it that they had been called home for leave. It was so generous of command to properly rotate personnel, she was nearly impressed.
Then her acquaintances Colonel von Lergen and Major Uger showed up to receive their report. For a returning unit, a greeting from familiar faces was undoubtedly a relief. The brass were being so considerate she admired their human resources skills.
After allowing her troops to rest at ease, she instructed the officers to look after their men as she turned to Colonel von Lergen to give their report.
“All members of the 203rd Aerial Mage Battalion reporting directly to the General Staff, including Major Tanya von Degurechaff, have returned from the southern front with no one left behind.”
“Good work, Major von Degurechaff. I’ve heard from the Southern Expeditionary Army about the magnificent things you’ve achieved. They said you really went all in, and when I looked at the combat reports, I was moved to find it true.”
“Thank you, Colonel von Lergen!”
“And you don’t have to worry about the decoration applications you submitted for your troops. I’ll do whatever it takes to get them through think of it as my personal appreciation for your distinguished service in the south.”
They exchanged salutes with the awareness and pride of professionals. It was reassuring that Lergen had stated he would see to the applications.
It was the declaration of a career soldier an officer of the General Staff, no less, so it probably wasn’t mere lip service. The weight of their achievements and his trust in them said his words could be taken as a contract.
“Sorry, I would have liked to present them this very moment alongside my gratitude, but we only received the recommendations a few days ago. I personally tried to expedite them, but…apparently, the administrators need some time to get through the paperwork.”
“No, I apologize that we didn’t maintain better contact. Military postal services were so limited in the war zone that I couldn’t even send a friendly note ahead.”
It was a textbook exchange of politeness and regrets regarding the interrupted communication.
Tanya would have liked to have kept better track of the situation in the home country, but…the only thing available was letters sent by ship, nothing so simple as telegraph or e-mail. And that’s why speaking face-to-face was so essential.
She should have polished her nonverbal communication skills. Her guard should have been up. Instead…at that moment, she committed the grave error of letting the kindness of the General Staff toward her unit get to her.
…I should have been more cautious, Tanya bitterly reflects aboard the transport plane. It would be impossible to regret that slipup more.
Closing her eyes and recalling that moment, she could tell at the time that Lergen seemed strangely sympathetic and nodded in all seriousness. “That’s all right. I believe I understand the circumstances you were in.”
Remembering what she said in response makes her sick. She had bobbed her head, thanked him, then asked about the general state of affairs in the capital and how things were back home.
You would think they would have reacted by then, but it was when she saw Major Uger’s hesitant expression that she finally sensed something strange was going on.
“Now then, let’s talk business. Major Uger has been in charge of this, so I’ll let him explain. Please tell Major von Degurechaff about the transport division.”
“Yes, sir… I’ll explain once you’ve received the briefing documents.”
“That’s very kind of you, Major Uger.”
Now she can only regret how carefree she’d been. Did the southern continent dull my senses so much?
How ironic that I refined my sensibilities for killing to the point that I now have a communication disability in normal society.
Would things have turned out differently if I had hesitated when Lergen asked if I still had a full complement of troops? she had to ask herself.
“Yes, we only suffered light casualties on the southern continent. General von Romel’s command was of great help, and we returned with no major losses.” She shouldn’t have dutifully reported few casualties.
Hindsight is twenty-twenty, but I failed to sidestep a mission I probably could have avoided. Colonel von Lergen had found someone he could force into shouldering an impossible task, and his delight manifested in a lovely smile.
This was the moment everything started going pear-shaped.
It probably took only an hour.
An officer from Strategic Reconnaissance in Operations appeared from nowhere with a smile and came jogging over at a wave from Colonel von Lergen. Tanya sensed definitively that something was off then, but it was far too late.
She should have told the General Staff her unit was exhausted and unfit for combat. The 203rd Aerial Mage Battalion does report directly to them, after all. In most regional army group command chains, we have the privilege of choosing our own missions. That said…it also means we’re unable to reject orders from the General Staff.
Sadly, whereas normally someone in the command chain would veto the idea as too reckless, internally at the General Staff, on the principle of confidentiality, this had to stay between the one giving the orders and Tanya.
There was no opportunity for a third party to step in.
I suppose we can say, Thanks to that…
…Tanya is currently stuck commanding some mystery military group on a secret mission to cross the border.
More accurately, she will be.
Technically, Tanya and the others in the transport plane are flying over the empire’s eastern border region for an exercise.
Even if that’s only the official pretext, that’s where they stand at the moment.
Their orders are to conduct an exercise, supposedly. She had informed her subordinates, as instructed by the higher-ups, that these exercise orders arrived suddenly from the General Staff.
But surely no one believed that.
The moment they had arrived at the staging area, they were bundled aboard an aircraft the General Staff had waiting along with their supremely suspicious “exercise” orders, then took off without even being told where they were going.
And on top of everything, the transport plane was a special ops aircraft equipped for night maneuvers?
Everyone could tell there was more to the orders than it seemed. Even the credulous first lieutenants Grantz and Serebryakov could understand that much.
In the short time before embarking, the seasoned officers had grabbed whatever they could get their hands on as if there wasn’t a moment to lose.
Grantz, who had been assigned to handle weapons and ammunitions, hurled spare combat orbs and a full complement of ammo into the plane. Meanwhile, Serebryakov had become absorbed in inspecting a radio set she had skillfully appropriated from somewhere.
As for Captain Weiss, who had been getting worked just as hard as Tanya, he had busied himself stuffing the long-range recon veteran favorite chocolate bars into his units’ packs.
And as for where the hurriedly launched plane is headed it’s technically a secret, but the members of the 203rd Aerial Mage Battalion know how to navigate.
In fact, they have experience navigating at night with nothing but knowledge of astronomy. A ripple goes through the group as they realize on their own that they are flying toward the eastern border. As soldiers, the self-restraint to keep quiet until something is officially announced is in effect…but their questioning eyes seemingly asking, Aren’t the Eastern Army Group’s exercise ranges in a different direction? are incredibly obnoxious.
I don’t think there are any numbskulls who believe the pilot of a plane belonging to a special ops group would make a navigation error and take us away from the exercise ranges.
Even if Tanya feigns ignorance and says, “The higher-ups must have added a creative twist for us,” loud enough for everyone to hear, all her subordinates already know she was deep in conversation with a communications officer from Strategic Reconnaissance in Operations about a “personal errand” right before they took off.
As such, the most she can really hope is for her troops to play along… She should probably be thankful that inquisitive looks are all that came up.
Either way, if she knew that this was how things were going to end up, she should have kept playing with that anachronistic colonial army in the wide-open desert.
In a sense, it was like wanting to overpower the Netherlands’ colonial defense force with Zero fighters.
Last September, I was filled with trepidation when I saw all that sand, but compared to the muddy eastern front, hooray for the desert.
Major Tanya von Degurechaff is a veteran… She’s not green enough to find any romance in war. For someone with experience, assisting a powerful ally to crush a weak enemy is preferable.
She cannot understand the appeal of voluntarily flying toward a dangerous front where tenacious enemies await and hoping the battlefield will experience shelling-with-a-chance-of-corpses. As is appropriate for a soldier, Tanya fervently wishes for peace. If possible, she would even like to work a nonviolent intelligentsia job while safe in the rear.
And that’s why.
I’m repeating myself, but when Tanya was told her service on the southern continent was drawing to a close less than six months in, she was thrilled. She jumped for joy when her mage unit was told to return home for a periodic assignment rotation.
She had been moved by the General Staff’s splendid management and discovered newfound respect for General von Zettour’s impressive understanding of the troops’ feelings.
The only unfortunate thing was that she had to part with General von Romel despite the fact that they finally, finally seemed to be hitting it off.
“De Lugo will be sleeping easier with you gone.”
“Ah yes, our dear friend I’ll be waiting for the news that you’ve kicked away his pillow.”
He was such an ideal boss that when she went to report she was leaving, they exchanged quips. Tanya would have hesitated to joke around if it was General von Zettour; it’s rare to find a boss who can roll with that sort of thing. Having a superior officer who truly understood what she wanted, granting her rights and leaving things to her discretion that was what really made her efforts worthwhile.
The more she thinks about it, the more she is reminded…how truly easy she had it on the southern front.
On that continent, their commander was brilliant, their strength was about equal to the enemy’s, and the imperial soldiers had better discipline. Best of all, the enemy they fought was a beaten dog that had already suffered a huge defeat. A major loss would make a soldier more fragile than some might assume which was precisely why the enemy’s actual strength was lower than its face value.
Lambs led by a lion may eventually transform into wolves…but if the lambs were defeated before the lion led them anywhere, their retraining wouldn’t go very well.
Aside from the logistical issues of being in the desert, access to water chief among them, some might have even called the battlefield comfortable. Bashing enemies as necessary, racking up decorations, and even sparing time to train the troops? It was hard to think of a more ideal situation.
The sole reason Tanya happily left the southern continent was because she firmly believed she was headed for the rosy future of rear service.
She would take a rest back in the Empire proper, hunt around for a position… It had been only a few hours since she took off, fantasizing about all the things she wanted to do.
It was her naive belief that the unit would get to take it easy for a month while the Empire reorganized its forces. She expected to enjoy spring in the Empire until at least April.
In the worst case, she figured she’d get all she could out of the season garrisoned in a former Republican Army base. If that happened, it would be due to a phony war1 with the Commonwealth all posturing and no movement. She was optimistically imagining what essentially amounted to paid vacation.
Sadly, soldiers don’t have much freedom and in fact, the number of liberties they do have is inversely proportional to their many obligations.
If I could supply my labor freely on the market, I would change jobs in a heartbeat. If private military companies existed, I would seriously consider joining one. No, I should probably just start my own. Reality is so harsh, Tanya loses herself in escapist fantasies for a moment.
Before she knew it, she had been forced onto this secret mission to cross the border the fatherland shared with the Federation.
It goes without saying this breaks all sorts of laws of war… Though technically, the Federation hasn’t ratified many of them, so that legal gray area is a small consolation.
In any case, Tanya can’t possibly question the validity of the mission. Unless something is undoubtedly violating the law, how could a soldier outright resist orders? She knows full well that if the General Staff has given an order, her job is to obediently carry it out.
But it’s still not fair.
That said, at this point, Tanya casts away her sighs and complaints to reconfirm the situation she’s been placed in and make sure she really has no options.
An operation against the Federation…
If we fail, the best we can hope for is some warm, humane communication (read: “torture”) with the Communists.
We’re sneaking into the Federation, where they have a form of government even Communists have a hard time achieving with their lives intact.
If we’re hoping to get back in one piece, this is no time to cut corners.
“Captain Weiss, do you have a moment?”
Tanya makes up her mind and calls out to her trusted vice commander with a glance at the time on her watch. Luckily…
…it’s not an inopportune time.
“Sorry, but could you come here?”
The transport plane had been loaded with a mountain of low-altitude insertion gear, weapons, and ammunition, then packed with more aerial mages than anyone would think possible, making the interior terribly cramped.
Being on a military transport craft means not being able to call over a subordinate officer without a few others getting elbowed out of the way.
And Tanya has to raise her voice or it won’t carry.
This is a military vehicle, after all, not a passenger plane it lacks even the slightest consideration for passenger comfort. For a military plane, the engine can be considered quiet, but it’s still a military plane. It annoys Tanya to no end that she has to scream to be heard over the incessant droning.
The saving grace is that she doesn’t really have to worry that her subordinates, no doubt listening with their ears pricked, might overhear them.
“Lieutenant Serebryakov! Lieutenant Grantz! Sorry, but please check everyone’s gear!”
After busying Serebryakov and Grantz, Tanya takes a thickly padded object out of the briefcase at her feet.
Weiss glanced over, so he must have noticed it was a sealed envelope of the type the General Staff uses. In response to his questioning eyes, Tanya nods and asks him to verify something.
“Captain Weiss, please confirm the time indicated on the envelope. I’d like you to check it against your watch. Does it match the current time?”
“Yes, Major. On my watch, it does.”
“Good. My watch reads the same. Then, in the presences of the commander and senior officer of the 203rd Aerial Mage Battalion, both having confirmed the correct hour…let’s open the envelope.”
Tanya rips open the missive and removes several documents. One look at the summary is enough to tell her it’s what she expected.
She furrows her brow, withholding her comments for the moment, then hands the papers to Weiss.
It’s only right that when he finishes reading, a groan escapes him.
“We were rushed off so we could be thrown into a reconnaissance mission to scout out Federation forces. If what this says is true, it’s no wonder the higher-ups want to do whatever it takes to verify the situation.”
“Yes, Major. I understand now. Given this context, I see why the orders we’ve received so far have been so strange.”
She doesn’t even have to look at Weiss’s face as he’s nodding next to her to know what color it is. Surely it matches her sickly complexion.
The situation is the very definition of grave.
…If the General Staff’s analysis is correct, Federation forces are massing all along the border in preparation for a major offensive.
According to the documents marked “burn after reading,” multiple border canaries are chirping in warning. Considering the circumstances, the chances of it being a false alarm are exceedingly low.
Ever since the Federation was established, the Empire has been meticulously defending the eastern border as precaution against the Communists. Various canaries, including a large number of long-term sleeper agents, are stationed in the border region precisely because of that potential impending crisis.
Never mind the members of the General Staff every single officer in the Imperial Army worries day and night that the Communists might attack.
Which is why…
…the Eastern Army Group hasn’t budged from where they’re stationed on the border. They didn’t move when the north front opened up in the fight against the Entente Alliance, nor did they move when the Republic’s sneak attack created the Rhine front, and certainly not for the front in south-facing Dacia.
Prepared for the nightmarish possibility of becoming caught in a Republican pincer attack, the Imperial Army General Staff has pushed human intellect to its limits in order to keep a sharp eye on their eastern neighbors because they believe that the Empire’s most dangerous moment will be when the Federation strikes them from behind.
That much is obvious.
The Imperial Army was already hit once with the Republic’s sneak attack right after committing the Great Army to the north.
The Empire isn’t about to make the same mistake again. Even if major offensives are launched on the Rhine front, the armies in the east stay on full alert.
Still, things have become considerably laxer since the main imperial forces wiped out the Republican Army’s troops.
…I can’t imagine why the Federation would move now with the current stalemate. Thinking logically, the reports could very well be a false alarm.
But even if we wish that the Federation’s movements are nothing more than a joke, anyone who reads the briefing would be instantly forced to discard any transient hope.
The problem is verification. If the Federation Army is being mobilized, the Empire needs to know about it which is why the General Staff has been so determined, even if it means violating the rules of war.
“The General Staff is ordering us to cross the border regardless of appearances, meaning the potential danger must outweigh all the risks.” Tanya continues with a sigh, “Though I guess we have no choice… As the commander of this battalion, I apologize for not being able to give you guys a break.”
“It’s our duty, Major. Under the circumstances…we really have no choice.”
“Then I guess we’ll just have to feel sorry for ourselves, huh?”
How many times will I have to sigh? Tanya complains in her head as she reviews the situation.
Some suspicious Federation movements on the eastern border.
That’s all it took to shatter the Empire’s relaxed victory mood.
Thinking back, it makes sense that she hadn’t detected any of the comfortable vibes normally expected of someone serving in the rear coming from Colonel von Lergen or Major Uger, even though she had just returned from the front lines. If her nonverbal communication faculties had been functioning normally, she would have instinctually braced herself.
The General Staff must genuinely believe that there are signs of a major offensive. In other words, they’re sure the Federation will start a war.
If so, then maybe the General Staff has a bunch of units mobilized as backup, and we just don’t know about it.
“Captain Weiss, what do you think of the General Staff’s analysis of the east?”
“Honestly, I’m not convinced. I can’t think of a reason the Federation would attack the Empire now.”
“Me neither, Captain, but that’s precisely why it’s so strange.”
“I can’t imagine the General Staff would be overlooking something we’ve already considered.”
“That’s true. So then…” Weiss falters but then nods, seeming satisfied, and murmurs in realization, “…Ah, I see.”
Exactly. Tanya nods and continues, “So if that’s the case…the General Staff’s certainty the Federation is a threat is what’s ratcheting up the sense of crisis.”
Imperial forces can’t violate the border for show or on a mere whim. That would be tantamount to handing the other side a free card. The General Staff could make excuses about an error during an exercise, but it’s a fact they’re sending us over the border. If it becomes a diplomatic issue, the harm that would befall the Empire during peacetime would be extraordinary.
The higher-ups decided to accept that risk and have us sneak into the Federation, so…there must be a reason.
The General Staff wouldn’t take such a decisive measure based on half-baked intelligence. In other words, the brass considers this a final check, not hesitant reconnaissance.
They are assuming hostilities will commence and preparing for the worst by moving a few units into place.
“So it’s war.”
“I beg your pardon, Major, but this is all still speculation. Considering the facts, it’s a hypothesis with a high probability of being true, but there’s nothing that definitively says the Federation is joining the war. It doesn’t even have any reason to!”
As Weiss points out with a frown after Tanya’s murmur, the motive for Federation involvement is certainly a mystery… No, Tanya and only Tanya has an inkling of an idea.
“If the Federation was going to come out with their fists flying, they would have coordinated with the Republic. I can’t think of a reason they would start something after the main imperial forces are already back home. Could it be some kind of demonstration? A diplomatic bluff?”
Tanya smiles wryly at Weiss’s suggestion that it’s a bluff. He seems like he doesn’t entirely believe it himself. She could question the uncertainty on his face, but instead, since she knows her vice commander is a man of outstanding common sense, she kindly accepts his opinion.
…How did the wars that humanity has experienced start? The answer to that could be found in any history book. Almost every war starts with folly induced by inertia or some other nonsense failures of reason, essentially.
“Expect the worst. We’ll be dropping under the assumption that we’re heading into combat.”
A stifled voice tactfully asks her to reconsider, but Tanya sighs at him and pats his shoulder before continuing. “The mission is obviously to punch into enemy territory. We’ll confirm the start of the war and attack at the same time. The homeland’s literal intention is reconnaissance in enemy territory, but given our positioning, the true nature of our orders is to prepare for an attack. Either way, if war is declared, we’ll be expected to act on our own judgment. We should be ready.” After bitterly expressing her thoughts, Tanya realizes they need to explain the situation to their subordinates and adds, “All right, Captain Weiss, if you have no objections, would you kindly fill in the troops?”
From the confused look on his face, she gathers that he can’t fathom why she’s asking him to do it. Well, he’s probably capable of overlooking Tanya’s complexes, or perhaps you could say “her shame.”
…I’m jealous he can project his voice.
“Unfortunately, Captain, I can’t speak very loudly… My voice won’t reach everyone in this noisy plane.”
The vexing truth of the matter is that even if she raised her voice, the engine would drown it out. She already had to scream at the top of her lungs during her private conversation with Weiss.
No, it’s not that there’s something wrong with her. Even a grown man would have trouble being heard in the back of the plane, so it makes sense that a child would only hurt her throat trying.
Sadly, Tanya can’t use a formula to amplify her voice as suggested in the aerial combat manual, since they’re avoiding any and all magic activity. The unit is on a mission to infiltrate enemy territory. Using a voice amplification formula would be like flinging mana signal all over. She might as well announce to the enemy warning net that intruders have arrived.
…We have to at least make it across the border before we’re detected.
“Ah, well…I’m sorry, Major.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’m sorry to trouble you, Captain Weiss, but I’d appreciate if you would give the explanation.”
“Of course. I should have offered in the first place. I hope you’re not angry with me.”
Had Tanya unconsciously put on an annoyed face? Her subordinate’s guilty expression makes her feel that she owes him some consideration. Unable to do anything else, she pats him on the shoulder one more time.
Then, with a thank-you, she asks him to begin.
Weiss is efficient and gets right down to business. He starts the briefing, seeming predictably bothered by the cramped plane, given his sizable physique.
“Attention, all units!”
The moment his voice thunders out, Serebryakov and Grantz react promptly, repeating “Attention!” like a mechanical switch has been flipped. The reactions of the other officers and men, who up until that moment had been busy making a racket checking their equipment, are also perfect. Everyone stops what they’re doing the moment the order is given.
The way they turn to face Tanya and Weiss in perfect unison, without so much as a peep of private conversation, can only be called magnificent.
This is what you call a model of discipline and order.
“Troops, our battalion commander has revealed the outline of our mission.” He says it unflinchingly under the gaze of the focused men and officers, who are determined not to miss a single word. “Due to a mishap during our exercise, we’ll be performing reconnaissance across the border in Federation territory.”
Those statements are unbelievably mismatched, but none of the quietly listening mages are inept enough to interrupt. People who misunderstand and not just kids who haven’t learned their lesson often make fools of themselves.
Tanya’s reliable troops possess a wonderful understanding of that point.
“This is all according to the General Staff’s instructions. This mission is our specialty: long-range recon. That said, the ROE this time are highly specialized… Troops, this one’s critical.”
Weiss looks more nervous than ever before, but his natural voice is still loud enough to fill the interior of the plane it’s enough to make Tanya envious.
Still, all that means is that he has something she doesn’t.
Everything comes down to how work is outsourced. There are more options out there than the subpar you-get-what-you-pay-for. The saying “Every man to his trade” is true in the same way as the Ricardian formulation of comparative advantage. Tanya’s quiet voice is a good excuse to delegate this job.
“Before explaining the mission, I’ll give you an idea of the situation in the east. Starting a few days ago, multiple sources have been reporting suspicious behavior in the area.”
As Weiss efficiently explains the background, the men seem to grasp the implications. The ones with good instincts are already glancing in the direction of the Federation.
Everyone knows the Eastern Army Group has long been at their traditional station on the border, a critical position, focused entirely on the Federation as its potential opponent.
“…So it’s finally happening?”
“I don’t see how this could mean anything else…”
The troops don’t usually let shaken glances and murmurs slip, but under the circumstances, it’s not surprising.
The Northern, Western, and Southern Army Groups, who have been dealing with raging battles in recent years, often criticize the Eastern Army Group for standing around and getting free lunch, but Supreme Command pays no mind and keeps those soldiers right where they are. The threat those forces pose is not something the Federation can take lightly. Within the Empire, as well, the people urging vigilance are not in the minority.
Imperial soldiers are incapable of forgetting about the Federation. One word about trouble in the east, and everyone understands what that means.
“True, we were originally mobilized as one unit involved in investigation and verification, but the situation has changed dramatically. This morning before dawn, the General Staff received a distress signal from the Eastern Army Group’s 437th Tactical Special Reconnaissance Platoon.”
With that one comment, the air in the plane seems to freeze over. This is the exact moment the question Could it be? transforms into the conviction So it’s true.
In response to her subordinates’ tense reactions, Tanya nods in confirmation.
The situation is simple.
An alert has been sent by the anti-Federation patrols in the east. There’s no other reason the tactical special reconnaissance platoon (that is, the unit illegally violating the border on deep reconnaissance missions) would make a peep. The 437th is a high-stealth unit that goes to the trouble of posing as some Siberian-like guys, diplomats, or whatnot in order to infiltrate. Nothing else is known about the unit other than that it reports directly to the Strategic Reconnaissance Department in the General Staff’s Operations Division.
“They were standing by for rapid response against the Federation on Warning Line One when they raised the alarm, reporting via encoded signal that a Federal unit of unclear scale was mobilizing.”
Taking into account their flight path as well as Weiss’s explanation, only a new recruit would be unsure about the nature of their mission.
“I have some more bad news. After the original report from the 437th, there have been no additional transmissions. Sadly, multiple other tactical special reconnaissance platoons have gone dark. Our canaries in the mine cried out once, then stopped.”
To describe the situation in the east in a word: unsettling. The tension is about to shatter. Even an optimist would admit that with this much circumstantial evidence, the possibility that it’s all a misunderstanding becomes incredibly low.
The Red Feds made some kind of move. Our lookouts gave a distress call and then went silent. That’s why we’re going to see what’s happening by violating the border of a neutral country, apparently.
After reflecting upon the events, Tanya figures her subordinates all understood as well. She sighs, then steels herself.
Whatever happens, let’s not give the Reds a chance to take us prisoner.
If the Federation was a country that honored human rights and whatnot as admirably as the States, that would be one thing…but regardless of what happens to the frontline troops, the soldiers dropping deep into enemy territory have a very real chance of being captured.
If we were up against the feisty Yankees, at least their nation is civilized. As long as military police are around, there’s no need to worry about summary executions.
But we’re up against the Reds.
It’s already possible to see the terrible future awaiting us once we drop in by looking at the fate of the Germans taken prisoner at the end of the war,3 but Tanya isn’t in a hurry to sacrifice herself. There’s no reason to contribute to the study of battlefield psychology by personally performing reenactment experiments.
In other words, to return home alive, it’s critical that we at least resist the Red threat. It’s rough, but I don’t have a choice when it comes to fighting for survival.
If there’s one good thing, it’s that… Tanya boasts to the god she doesn’t even believe in about the decent hand she’s been dealt.
“So our mission is pretty much what you expect.”
Weiss’s tone is oddly restrained as he implicitly informs them that this is war.
Tanya watches everyone maintaining their cool: company commanders Captain Weiss and First Lieutenants Serebryakov and Grantz, and the rest of her subordinates.
They’re elites, probably among the best in the whole Imperial Army.
“We’ll cross the border and prepare for the worst. While conducting surveillance of the Federation Army, we’ll sound the alarm if necessary. It goes without saying that until our opponent makes a declaration of war, this technically counts as violating the border of a neutral country. Move with utmost caution.”
Weiss keeps his explanation very matter-of-fact like the pro he is, but it’s precisely because he’s a pro that his emotions make it difficult for him to keep his voice steady without some effort.
I can’t help but love his ability to put up a front of internal mastery, however superficial. It’s so perfect how he has both that humanity as well as the self-restraint of a specialist.
Weiss probably has a few things he’d like to say to the higher-ups about this sudden order and impossible mission that has been foisted upon the battalion. Tanya herself isn’t sure if all this secrecy from the General Staff should be appreciated.
There’s no question that confidentiality is important. But confidentiality and whether you’ve been given the information you need or not are two issues that must be considered separately.
I hardly think there are any Reds in the 203rd Aerial Mage Battalion…, Tanya thinks but immediately regrets it. Speaking from a HUMINT standpoint,4 the Reds have a reputation for infiltrating power structures to gain sympathizers no matter the situation.
In other words, she can trust only the battalion she knows well.
Suspicion is a milestone on the way to paranoia, but there’s no guarantee that there aren’t any Reds among those who have access to her battalion’s operating schedule. It’s like a bunch of cunning raccoons and sly foxes trying to trick one another.
“We’re heading into enemy territory fully expecting the start of a war. If by some happy chance we manage to avoid that, we’ll probably pull out immediately, but as an experienced unit, we need to be prepared for the worst; all of you need to move out ready to do battle with the Federation. That’s all from me!”
“Thank you, Captain Weiss.”
Weiss concludes the briefing. When he alerts Tanya that he’s finished, she switches gears. Her thoughts tend to follow rather roundabout paths to realms unrelated to the operation at hand, so she saves those for later. Right now, I have to fulfill my duties as a frontline commander.
It’s important to keep an eye on what’s further ahead, but without living to see tomorrow, every plan is nothing more than pie in the sky no matter how well thought out.
“Battalion brothers, it’s exactly as Weiss said! The General Staff learned a lesson on the Rhine front! We don’t want to be sneak attacked twice! I’m not a fan of how they informed us of our mission at the last minute in the name of confidentiality, but it does make me laugh when I think about how cautious they are.”
The higher-ups in the Imperial Army must still feel the sting of their blunder against the Republic. Everyone who fought on the Rhine front nods nostalgically as if to say, Yeah, that was awful. Meanwhile, the older hands begin joking about how Grantz isn’t so green anymore, and Serebryakov assumes an air of seniority among them. It’s a deeply emotional scene.
Tanya is satisfied with how much the tension has dissipated and continues.
“That said, this time the capable higher-ups really nailed us with their scheming. As long as they’re capable, I’d like to skip the quibbling and give thanks to either God or the devil. Give thanks to whichever one you believe in. Personally, I recommend Satan, who’s a live-in staff officer at General Staff headquarters.”
“Major, is it true you have a devil’s tail?”
“That’s a good question, but it’s also pointless. I lost my tail in that awful mess of Republican guns, trenches, and what have you. It’s too bad; had I been kicking back in an easy chair, I might still have it.”
Though it depends on the time and place, putting on a silly grin and countering a joke with a joke has its merits. Clowning around can ease nerves and serve as a tool for employing some of humanity’s highly developed linguistic abilities: criticism and cursing.
“Now then, as Captain Weiss told you…we’re up against the Reds. There’s no such thing as being too cautious.”
She shouts at the top of her lungs but still can’t match Weiss’s volume. Looking around, she sees her subordinates straining to catch as much as possible. Tanya consciously attempts to raise her voice further, then recognizes the need to maintain face, forcing her to desperately pretend nothing is wrong.
“…The aircraft we’re on, belonging to the Twenty-Second Aerial Transport Unit, is flying at full speed toward our operation zone. In order to conceal our presence for maximum effect, maintain the mana ban even after you drop. This goes without saying, but stealth is our highest priority.”
This transport plane participating in the exercise will accidentally violate the Federation’s border due to the navigation instruments experiencing “technical difficulties.” Of course, no one will notice that the instruments are out of order, so imperial soldiers air-drop, thinking it’s the predetermined exercise area. That’s our story, but naturally, not a single person who hears it will believe it. It’s hard to even pretend. But we don’t want to invite the byzantine diplomatic issues that would result from being an aggressor, do we? Politics…, Tanya thinks and adds another remark.
“And, well, all these highly obnoxious instructions are political requests. I don’t have a tail, so I don’t really get it.”
The burst of chuckles from the back of the plane is proof that her chatter can be heard over the engines. Of course, conversely, the fact that everyone has to listen so intently is proof that her lack of volume is inconvenient.
“We’ve got about thirty minutes until we reach our planned drop point. After we hit the ground, we’ll regroup while keeping our mana signals suppressed. All in all, it’s business as usual. I expect the usual results.”
The plane has night camouflage to reduce visibility as much as possible. For a special ops plane equipped for low-altitude penetration maneuvers, the veil of darkness is best, although it does make friendly identification more difficult.
Any airborne drop means that we’ll have issues staying together during deployment. Swiftly regrouping after landing requires quite a bit of training.
Ask a unit to do it without wireless communication, and most commanders will throw in the towel.
But Tanya knows she doesn’t need to bother worrying.
This is the 203rd Aerial Mage Battalion. They have experience navigating by dead reckoning out in the desert with zero landmarks. When it comes to their skills, including navigation, Tanya is confident there will be no problems.
The achievements of this battalion, selected on their merits, are exceptionally brilliant. Her troops displayed their competence comprehensively in Dacia, in Norden, on the Rhine, and on the southern continent. Their results have been exceptional. The soldiers who make up the 203rd Aerial Mage Battalion are now a band of wonderfully reliable veterans.
Grantz and the other replacement troops who joined when the unit was on the Rhine front have also made remarkable progress. They’ve more or less reached the level of the original members who were at the battalion’s formation. And the critical element, which is the battalion’s combat strength, has been maintained almost perfectly with a nearly always full roster.
A major factor is the unit being directly under the General Staff, ensuring that we have the budget and authority that allows us to perform well.
There had been nearly no time to train them, but…while they might be a bit war crazy, Tanya has been able to whip them into excellent shape over that brief period.
That’s what it means to invest effectively in human capital.
Of course, the fundamental labs, theoretical education, and practical training you can get over a longer period in college is also meaningful. This here is the difference between academia and application. Not that I go so far as to believe that soldiers need academic education.
That’s when Tanya laughs at herself for getting sidetracked. Still, redundancy is nothing to sniff at… Even if it doesn’t have anything to do with the current mission, that human tendency toward certain modes of thinking must be important for mental stability.
We need to believe in freedom, fairness, and the market. Humans are political animals by nature.
If that’s the case…we should act politically as well, competing freely and fairly in the market.
“I remind you that this is an operation in Federation territory. Once we begin, the worst-case scenario is that our enlistment records never existed.”
Conversely, in an environment where there is no market, there’s no need to play fair.
Rather, such a situation calls for appropriate political action. If our opponent infringes on the freedoms of others, then we must be freedom fighters.
It’s written clearly in the peace constitution of a certain peaceful nation: Freedom is won through ceaseless battle. In other words, fighting for freedom contributes to peace. That means we must battle these horrible totalitarian Communists for liberty, justice, and human rights.
“This is the way it always is, but apparently, they’re not going to make things easy for us.”
Tanya’s tone is no less heavy than the droning serenade of the engines, but she addresses her subordinates in as loud a voice as she can.
After all, this is an unconventional mission.
Responsibility for violating neutral territory tends to fall on those in the field. This isn’t the type of mission troops welcome. As an analogy, no office worker would be happy to be thrown under the bus by their company.
No one wants to mess with insider trading or problematic donations unless the returns are huge. That’s why companies have legal departments to find loopholes under the pretext of enforcing compliance.
…What I mean is…my company’s legal department is overflowing with respect for the law, obviously; it’s passionate about performing its function in society. Yes, I only mentioned that earlier bit as a generalization; you could say my company, the army, and so on are the spirit of the law incarnate. As she is about to make these excuses to herself, Tanya winces, realizing she can’t escape the conditioned responses from her previous life.
Something about a leopard and its spots. Perhaps a nation can’t change its character, either?
“If the 437th is right, the fatherland has no time to waste.”
The state’s interests come above all else the continental raison d’état.
With war fanatics for neighbors and the Reds swarming, you don’t have to be la France to come up with that idea. That said, raison d’état is also raison d’humanité. Considering its limited nature, there must be few concepts in all human history that are as flimsy and unreliable as reason.
Furthermore, if it’s “for the state,” we could be forced to take responsibility for all wrongdoing. There’s no guarantee the unit that carries out the plan won’t be thrown aside like a lizard’s discarded tail.
State authority figures tend to want to protect themselves, so they often align their personal power with state interests it’s really problematic.
That’s why there has to be trust between those giving the orders and the people carrying them out. Nothing is better for my peace of mind than knowing the character of Colonel von Lergen as well as the lieutenant generals, Zettour and Rudersdorf.
“Put another way, we’ll become children again and go on a secret adventure without telling the international community first. Are any of you so dead inside that you would balk at a thrilling expedition to peek into a country of mysteries? Not in my battalion! We’ve been through forests of swords and hails of bullets, so I’m positive on that point.”
Her confidence in those men from the General Staff is what lets Tanya crack jokes. If the superior officer is clowning around, that indicates they trust the brass, which puts the men below at ease.
The moment they hear what she says, her subordinates erupt together in laughter and whistles; none of them looks worried. They all wear cheerful smiles that say, Let’s give it to ’em!
Well, even if it’s nothing more than pre-sortie bravado, I’m glad they have the wherewithal to put on a brave face. It means they trust me enough not to complain in my presence.
A superior who isn’t trusted by their subordinates is liable to be dismissed for lack of management ability, so this is key.
Yes, I’m quite satisfied with how things are going.
“Previously acquired intel suggests that the area the 437th was covering is a Federation staging point, though Intelligence says that’s not confirmed yet.” Taking care not to spoil the mood, Weiss chooses now to make his comment. It’s a brilliant move framed as supplementary information but intended to calm the frenzy.
It’s entirely thanks to competent officers like him that we can maintain the troops’ willingness to fight while preserving discipline.
Takeda Shingen was right. The people are your stone walls… In a way, though it annoys me to admit it, Stalin implemented this literally although it’s more accurate to say he used a wall of people from the fields as a substitute for a stone wall.
I suppose the walls of capitalism are metaphoric and the walls of Communism are literal. It’s about the same as the difference between capitalist and Communist chairs wood versus electric. If I had to sit in one, I’d pick wood.
“May I ask a question?”
“Certainly, Lieutenant Serebryakov. Go ahead.”
“If the area the 437th was covering is the site of activity, then the Federation Army’s intentions are clear. Assuming it’s obvious that the Federation is planning a preemptive strike on the Empire, will we be permitted to launch our own attack to head it off?”
Good question. Tanya nods at Serebryakov’s comment. It’s not as if Tanya herself hasn’t been tempted to do exactly that. To prevent potential accidents, it’s best to set a policy for the whole unit about how to handle things.
“We’re up against the Communists, so there’s no need to hold back…or so I’d like to tell you, but just this once, I can’t. I’m going to make myself clear: I won’t tolerate any misfires.”
Our opponent is the Commies; they make people suffer. We should weed them out according to the market principle, but we need to stay true to the market’s main foundations: deals and contracts.
“We’ll have the Federation take the first shot. I can’t give permission to fire on the Federation Army until they attack the eastern border.”
“…We’re in another awful spot, huh?”
“I agree with you, Lieutenant Grantz.”
“I understand how you both feel, Lieutenants, but this is an order. Anything else?” Seems like we’re done here, thinks Tanya as she purposely begins to change the subject. “If that’s it, then I have one more thing to add. The captain of the flight has been kind enough to offer to be our decoy and continue violating Federation airspace after we drop.”
I honestly feel horrible about it, but the plan is for this “transport plane” to remain in enemy airspace for us. It will maintain its altitude and course after we go to keep the enemy from immediately figuring out our drop point.
“In the event of a Federation attack, the safety of this aircraft is not guaranteed in the slightest.”
What will happen if it gets intercepted by fighter planes or mages? Well, these are the guys who turned the Red Square into an international airport, so it’s entirely possible they could totally miss their target, but still.
These are Commies. They shoot down even civilian planes. They probably handle things so bureaucratically it’s as if democracy, liberty, and philanthropy all fell through a hole in their heads. I’d like to assume the plane will be safe, but do Commies even use logic?
“Don’t forget their kindness. Respect those who stand with you on the battlefield. Give thanks for the sacrifices of your brothers-in-arms. Consider the fatherland’s expectations that we will fulfill our duties.”
I truly hate war. I believe killing others is the nastiest business in all of human history. Logically speaking, it’s an utterly inexcusable waste of resources and human capital.
Still, for this fight, I’d like to say this:
Glory to the freedom fighters!
“In other words, I expect you to complete your mission as usual. Give your all for your fatherland and His Imperial Majesty. Glory to the Empire!”
“Glory to the Empire!”
To an amateur, this mission probably seems reckless. A single battalion of mages is pretending to be ranger paratroopers. It would technically be better to have the airborne specialists infiltrate.
This mission is basically asking us wizards to fight using our fists instead of magic and with almost no time to prepare.
But we’re up against the Reds. Even if it’s unreasonable, we have to do it somehow.
The school of thought that preaches nonviolence works only against civilized countries. Yes, it might be an option against people who would hesitate to point a gun at someone who isn’t resisting.
Sadly, Communists would merrily shoot.
As a free individual with zero interest in being overrun by an oppressive totalitarian nation that happily kills even those who don’t resist, I have no choice but to fight.
A few minutes after Tanya conveys her determination to her men, the time comes.
“Major, we’ve reached the operation zone.”
The captain informs her they’ve arrived at their destination. From now on, he and his crew will continue to violate Federation airspace unescorted.
If we can’t honor their sacrifice, we don’t deserve to be called freedom fighters.
Give me liberty or give me death.
This is a holy war to secure, defend, and protect freedom. If there’s any duty that can’t afford to be shirked, then battling totalitarians to defend the relatively free world surely must be it. I don’t want a war. But staying friendly with a totalitarian nation of unparalleled brutality trying to murder its neighbors will be difficult.
It’s hard to coexist with the world’s evil. Especially for a model citizen like me, but that goes without saying.
“Battalion commander to all units! Drop, drop!”
We must not flinch before the darkness.
Tanya throws open the door, shouting at the top of her lungs, and urges Serebryakov to jump.
“Then if you’ll excuse me!”
“Gather together in a group. I’ll pretend I didn’t see the knives for silencing any witnesses. This operation is go! I say again, this operation is go!”
Everyone has their drop parachute on their back, and no one in my battalion hesitates to leap out of the plane. Understanding that the most dangerous part of the airdrop is the descent, the unit both swiftly and skillfully begins jumping, with admirable discipline and no grumbling.
Tanya, too, ducks her head and jumps out of the plane, taking care to maintain proper distance from the others as she falls. There is no time to enjoy diving through the darkness of the quiet night sky she soon lands in what seems to be appropriately wild backcountry. In this wide expanse, there is no sign of people, but the ground isn’t swampy, either.
She quickly recovers her parachute and meets up with the nearest troops who landed ahead of her. She takes charge of the group and leaves the stealth prep to them.
Luckily, there are no numbskulls who got separated from the group and lost their way. As these are elites, there has been no trouble to speak of, and things are going according to plan. Judging from this series of events, regrouping is going swimmingly.
This amounts to a pat on my own back, but the skill of each officer deserves special mention. Serebryakov and Grantz, who I sent ahead of me, have even taken command of platoons and set up a perimeter defense.
There is something to be said for training, then training some more, and finally making it through your baptism in combat. The battalion succeeds in quickly regrouping, free of confusion despite the darkness, then readies itself.
All Vice Commander Weiss and I need to think about is how to evaluate the situation and what our tactics should be. A unit where the leadership puts in proper thought and the bottom simply does as they’re told should be praised as a model of efficiency.
“Lieutenant Serebryakov, report in on our status.”
“Yes, ma’am. Regrouping post-drop is complete. No losses. Lieutenant Grantz’s company is currently on watch. At present, we haven’t spotted anyone affiliated with the Federation, including civilians.”
“Good work. Are there houses or anything?”
“We’ve found some light sources, but all of them are concentrated in the area previously supposed to be a staging point. We haven’t seen any sign of civilians within a radius of several kilometers.”
Good. Tanya nods. Then Weiss, who has just run over, delivers the report she’s been waiting for.
“Sorry to interrupt, Major. The long-range wireless setup is complete. Monitoring functions are normal.”
“Okay. Oh, Captain…I don’t suppose there’s anything about the imminent start of a war?”
“Nothing at present. We only detect heightened levels of Federation transmissions.”
“…Anything from home?”
“Not yet, Major. The Empire hasn’t talked about starting a war yet, either. Incidentally, the signal is clear, and we are certainly not experiencing any jamming.”
Tanya nods. So it hasn’t started yet.
“We need to be ready to pull out immediately in the event the Federation’s mobilization is a bluff. Lieutenant Serebryakov, check to make absolutely sure we haven’t lost any parachutes or other gear.”
Having Serebryakov confirm our preparedness to withdraw is for the off chance we get lucky.
With an “Understood!” Tanya’s adjutant races off to give the gear another once-over. We’ve got to grab a hold of Lady Luck and pin her down, but at least I’m sure Serebryakov won’t cut any corners.
“It seems you’ve really begun trusting Visha as a commander, Major,” Weiss comments from behind Tanya as she watches Serebryakov go.
Tanya nods as if to say that it’s only natural. “Lieutenant Serebryakov has shown me she’s the real deal and earned my trust. I believe in those who deserve it. I don’t really think there’s any more or less to it than that…”
“Yes, it’s exactly as you say… Major, I realize it’s presumptuous, but would you let me lead the approach toward the enemy staging area?”
“Oh brother, is that what this is about?” It’s not as if I don’t trust you, too, Tanya implies as she gently pushes back. “Captain Weiss, the commander leads. Besides, they’re not the enemy yet.”
“Major, I realize I’m still being presumptuous, but I hope you’ll reconsider.”
“What’s the issue you’re trying to raise?”
“I think I’m better equipped to handle the physical stresses of a no-magic march. If you don’t mind, that is.”
Oh. Tanya finally realizes where this is coming from.
In a nutshell, this was prompted by what happened earlier. I lamented my quiet voice, and apparently, when I left the explanation of the operation up to Weiss, he finally recalled the disparity between our physiques.
And he must have realized that in a contest of pure strength that doesn’t involve magic, Major Tanya von Degurechaff is a fragile little kid.
“…I should be happy to have such a good man under me, but there’s no need for you to go to such extremes.”
Him worrying about me at this point will only cause problems. Well…if being a delicate maiden could get me a position in the rear, things would be different.
As a mage who had no option but to choose the military academy or be conscripted, I can’t have my fitness to command questioned now. Even if he made his offer in 100 percent good faith, it’s easy to imagine what might come next.
That saying about how the road to hell is paved with good intentions feels awfully real right now.
“I apologize for overstepping.”
“No, I appreciate it,” says Tanya, even as she determines internally that she needs to make a demonstration of her power.
Logically speaking, it’s foolish for a commander to demonstrate brute courage. But this unit is an augmented battalion of forty-eight. There’s no law that says the commander can’t go on a recon detail.
And given that she is currently trying to figure out a way to do the impossible, she could actually be praised for upholding the Imperial Army tradition of leading from the front.
“Okay, back to the mission. We’re going to go observe the Federation Army, and I’d like to use the standard procedure for night reconnaissance.”
“Who will be in the scouting party?”
“I want you to stay; I’ll take Serebryakov and maybe two more.” Tanya says that it’s a tough choice, but internally she’s already made up her mind. At this delicate juncture, on the brink of war with the Federation, she has to go herself.
If her subordinates were to get ahead of themselves and initiate combat, she would, without question, be the one to blame. That’s just how far a commander’s responsibilities go. In that case, going herself is the only option.
“Regardless of what a normal unit is like, our battalion isn’t made up of children who need their hands held. We’ll conduct an officers’ patrol…”
But Weiss wants to be on the recon team, and his points are worthy of consideration. These are the soldiers of the 203rd Aerial Mage Battalion who carried out separate advances in independent units while fighting on the southern front. They aren’t a bunch of new recruits who would fly into a panic at the mere absence of their commander.
So Tanya steels herself to make an exception and go scouting with just the officers.
“Time to go to work, guys. Let’s do this quickly and quietly.”
Tanya and the rest of the officers of the 203rd Aerial Mage Battalion promptly advance without relying on magic to do some recon. That is, they approach as close as they can on foot.
But they don’t even have to take much of a risk to grasp the situation.
A glance through binoculars is enough to reveal huge amounts of supplies and soldiers. There’s way too much live ammo for an exercise.
“Relay our situation: The 437th was right. And it appears we’re too late.”
Even at a distance, she can see countless barracks in a flurry of activity despite the fact that it’s long past sundown.
On top of that, is what people would usually say in this kind of situation, I suppose…
There are several tank divisions staging here that aren’t even supposed to be stationed in this region according to the treaty. The icing on the cake is that their railway guns are already in a forward position.
Don’t bother thinking about their range having railway guns in this region is an outrageous act tantamount to a declaration of war.
Agh. Even though it’s dark, a close look shows that the barrels are slowly adjusting. Considering the amount of time it takes to correctly align railway guns, they must be preparing for an offensive.
Railway gun barrels don’t last long to begin with, so there can’t be any other reason to work them so hard. Even if this is a live ammo exercise, I’d like to ask them exactly where they think they’re exercising.
“Major, look at that!”
When Tanya looks through her scope in the direction Grantz indicated with a stifled shout, she sees what are clearly piles of fuel and shells. As she watches, the soldiers who came out of the barracks begin to board a ton of trucks, apparently on orders from an officer.
If this is all a bluff, the Federation is performing one hell of a tightrope-walking act.
“…Maintain radio silence until the last possible second. Make a report the moment those railway guns fire in the Empire’s direction.”
“Understood. Will do.” Weiss, who carried the long-range encoded signal machine, hooks it up to the wireless.
He’s using a onetime pad, which means even if someone intercepts our signal, as long as they can’t decode the message, the chance we expose our positions is low.
Now we can call our little recon mission complete.
The question is what to do now. The main issue is that we’re not technically at war yet. There haven’t been any reports about fighting breaking out, either.
Even if it’s only a matter of time, we won’t be forgiven for attacking preemptively. Besides that, whether to retaliate when Federation forces open fire is another question.
We may be in the vicinity of the border, but we’re still clearly operating in Federation territory.
Even if the enemy strikes first, if we counter immediately, we’ll have to explain what we were doing there in the first place.
In the defense of freedom, it should be our right to strike first. Unfortunately, our nation demands politically correct behavior.
It’s too bad, but as a tool of the state, I must obey the organization even if by blowing up those mountains of ammo and fuel, we could save our allies and get rid of a ton of Commies.
I suppose I’ll simply have to hold back.
“Serebryakov, this is an order for all units: We must not engage first.”
Trusting in the skill of her adjutant, who quickly sends a directional optical transmission to the troops behind them about fire discipline, Tanya turns inward as she thinks about war with the Federation, which suddenly seems much more real.
The enemy must be daydreaming about a one-sided attack on the Empire. In other words, this is the best time to blindside them.
But if we do that, we’ll have to answer why we happened to be on Federation land when the attack took place. After all, the Federation is currently not at war. And Communist propaganda is tough to beat.
This should come as a surprise, but North Korea did declare that South Korea attacked first and even tricked some amount of people for a while, so there’s precedent. Well, there is the possibility that all those were hopelessly pro-Communist anyway…
One option would be to wait the better part of an hour before attacking…but wasting time like that could prevent us from keeping up with the enemy’s moves.
But as noted earlier, attacking right when the Federation Army does has its own problems.
Okay, thinks Tanya as she racks her brain, but her thoughts are interrupted by the scene before her.
The railway guns have been slowly getting their minute adjustments…but all the barrels stop moving at once. At the same time, the Federation position falls momentarily silent.
What the? It happens almost exactly as she reaches for her binoculars.
“They actually fired…”
The words that spill out of Grantz’s mouth as the guns roar say it all.
The railway guns erupt, and the racket at the staging point suddenly revives.
If it was only one shot, there might have been room to claim it was a misfire, but…this is something else. One look at the motions of the Federation soldiers already loading the next round makes their intentions clear. There’s no way to misunderstand what it means when railway guns near the border shoot in the direction of the Empire.
“Major! The Federation is attacking all along the front…,” Weiss says, turning pale as he monitors the wireless.
“A declaration of war. Just now, the Federation declared war on the Empire!”
“And what does home have to say about that?”
“A-an order just came through: ‘All units, regardless of whom you report to, attack!’”
So they’re telling us to do it.
Guess we know what to do. Tanya nods as she grasps the intent of the order.
“Transition into the wartime response plan!”
As Weiss receives reports conveyed in frantic shouts over the wireless, Tanya’s attention is captured by the scene unfolding in front of her.
From here, she can see that the railway guns are slowly being loaded with ammunition. Once they’re ready, more rounds fly toward the Empire with a roar.
War against the Reds.
Combat against the Reds.
A struggle for survival against the Reds.
Tanya joins up with the troops she had standing by to the rear so fast it embodies the words on the double.
“All units, prepare to attack!”
In the space of a breath, the arrangements to mobilize the unit happen naturally, and the troops are ready. I know all too well what must be done.
“It’s likely that the Federation Army is already engaged with the Eastern Army Group on the border. Therefore, we are abandoning our plan to withdraw! Transition into attacking maneuvers now!”
I want to go home, but unless I take care of this assignment, I can’t be free. At the very least, we have to cause some chaos and secure our escape route. We’re currently deep in enemy territory on a mission. We may not like it, but pulling back means fighting through all the Reds attacking the Empire.
“We’re going in to deal with the enemy reinforcements. We’ll do what we can for now, since it’ll help us understand the situation. First let’s blow up the stockpiles! Assume strike formation!”
In order to avoid a desperate withdrawal, we can’t just leave; we have to wreak some degree of havoc. Well, it’s undeniable that the chance to blast Commies makes Tanya more inclined to wage war.
But, Tanya abruptly analyzes her own thoughts, it’s not as if this is my fault.
…I’m a pacifist, after all. It’s simply that I can’t accept looking up at the same sky as a bunch of Commies. I can’t stand it when guys who’ve never set foot on a factory floor try to argue about economics. Sure, I heard they monkeyed around in a porcelain factory, but still.
Well, Commie theorists can’t even read the factory inspection team reports, so what can you expect…?
That’s the type we’re up against. As a disciple of capitalism and a wholesome citizen who loves rightfully adored freedom and liberty, I’ll do what I must. The NRA aren’t the only ones who take up arms.
“Company commanders, seize control of your attack route. All units, after this raid, follow the instructions from your company commanders on how to engage.”
For the moment, the operation is a deep raid. This is a method the battalion has used over and over again from the Rhine to the sandy southern continent. The company commanders are well versed in it.
Ideology will triumph? Ha, we’ll crush that offensive delusion with physics and providence.
“I have one bit of good news. We’re currently not picking up any Federation mages,” Tanya adds. Despite the signs of a large-scale offensive, no mages have been detected. She’s so used to the presence of mages on the battlefield that she finds this strange. But mages are a pain if you get on their bad side, so their absence is fortunate.
As long as there isn’t some quirk to Federation mage doctrine, we can assume this means there aren’t any.
“But don’t drop your guard. Always be on the lookout for enemy reinforcements.”
The Federation has soldiers growing on trees. Who knows where they come from? I can’t understand how they can drive their own fellow countrymen so hard.
Honestly, even Tanya doesn’t really want to understand, either.
“Attention all units. As you can see, the Federation has unequivocally targeted the fatherland. How can they be serious? It’s absurd, really.”
All right, this is where I speak from the heart to my anti-Commie freedom fighters.
“What did the Reich do to them? The answer is simple. We didn’t do a thing. Not a thing, my brothers.”
The Empire wasn’t hoping for a war that would require invasion. It didn’t have the slightest intention of coming to blows with the Federation. But if there are anachronistic anti-intellectuals who would attack the peaceful Empire…coexistence is impossible.
They’re a threat that must be eliminated for the security of the human race.
“If we allowed the Communists to go unchecked by not doing anything to the Federation scum, then the responsibility is probably ours. Troops, we’ve got to settle this here and now.”
This is the price for slacking on garbage disposal. We’ve got to beat back the Commies for the relative freedom of the Empire and the rest of the humane world. That is more than enough reason for war.
“We’re fighting for our fatherland. No, the very fate of the world hangs on this conflict! Rouse yourselves to battle! Be brave!”
If we don’t do this, the world will be forced to go along with a century of experimentation on human beings. Normal humans can’t physiologically process the poison known as Communism it’s as deadly as potassium cyanide.
Tomorrow anyone who is not achlorhydric will perish en masse. If a tragedy is avoidable, I want to avoid it.
“Rouse yourselves to battle, troops! Rise up!”
The future of the free world depends on you.
“Take up your rifles! Grab your orbs!”
Guns don’t shoot people.
People shoot guns.
People shoot Commies with guns.
Tanya urges her soldiers to defend freedom, and in response they charge forward.
The 203rd Aerial Mage Battalion led by Major von Degurechaff has officially shifted from their original reconnaissance mission to assault.
Naturally, they’re equipped for recon, so they don’t have the correct gear for assaulting a base. Even for mages, with their high degree of versatility, a frontal attack on the staging area would usually be difficult.
“…Well, railway guns make splendid targets.” Tanya chuckles to herself.
Artillery positions have no lack of combustibles. You can practically count on a powder magazine or some other explosive warehouse to be around.
And the Federation Army artillery positions are piling up exposed ammunition all over no safety management at all. Well, Communists like to ignore regulations, so this mistake is very much in character. As a result, we can detonate their expensive railway guns, lined up like goose necks on the chopping block, with an easy chain reaction.
Wonderful. Tanya grins and shouts, “Prepare to strike! We’re advancing, then pulling a hit-and-run!”
“Ready explosion formulas! We charge once they’re ready!”
Just a single explosion formula.
Normally, if it takes out a pillbox, that’s great. But if there are secondary explosions? Now we’re talking. Even just starting a fire can blow a vast amount of supplies in an instant.
“Big, fragile, highly flammable. The perfect target.”
“Without a doubt. This reminds me of how the Dacian Army assisted us with our anti-surface attack training.”
“…I made such an embarrassing error back there.”
“Don’t worry about it, Captain Weiss. The only one who would laugh at you for following the textbook to the letter is Lieutenant Serebryakov over there.”
Ignoring the hell unfolding below them, Tanya and her vice commander, Weiss, fly leisurely along, quite pleased.
Apart from the odd stray shot, there is virtually no aerial interception.
The battalion must be completely used to anti-surface strike missions by now. In a magnificent display of skill, Serebryakov routs one unit while Grantz efficiently targets another that managed to stand its ground.
Both the division of labor and the competence of the raid can be described as admirable. The 203rd Aerial Mage Battalion was both intensely screened and trained, but their baptism through live combat has made them even more elite. Compared to their time in the Dacian War, the troops are markedly more disciplined and efficient.
Of course, just like in Dacia, lack of skill on the enemy side is a big help.
We don’t have any explosives that can be used for anti-surface strikes. Still, if we can land a shot in there somewhere, the shells laid out along the line of railway guns will explode.
And our aim is those flimsy railway guns. This really is, as Weiss noted, the perfect target.
“Man, and I can’t believe their reinforcements are all infantry.”
We had been convinced Federation mages would be called up to defend the staging area, but our expectations have been dashed. No matter how much we terrorize them, the only ones who come running to intercept us are foot soldiers. Tanya had been expecting a fierce counterattack, so the disappointment is actually quite intense.
It’s like going into the spring labor offensive with a recommendation for a round of layoffs and having it go through with no resistance. It doesn’t get much more unexpected than that.
“Lieutenant Grantz’s company has a suggestion, Major. They’d like to perform another strike to increase our gains.”
Tanya had told everyone not to spread out too much so they would be able to retreat while the rear guard held off the enemy if substantial enemy reinforcements showed up.
But under these circumstances, it might not be a bad idea to push for more. From her bird’s-eye view, she can see that they missed some pockets of resistance here and there.
“Let’s do that, then. It seems this is turning into less of an ambush and more of a maneuver battle.”
“Yes, ma’am. Right away.”
Tanya’s not about to let the enemy reestablish organized resistance. In that sense, it’s best to hit hard when the battle is going favorably. She decides to accept the suggestion and promptly calls for a second attack run.
Seriously, though, where are the enemy mages? Tanya wonders as she watches her troops who were on standby in the sky break from their previous withdrawal formation and join in on the mop-up attacks. It’s common sense that a logistical facility like this depot would be raided.
Whether the enemy is competent or not, any good army should still be thinking about defense. A unit of mage reinforcements, skilled or not, should be sent as a matter of course.
Conduct a probing anti-surface strike and deal with the reinforcements who show up without realizing what they’re in for. That was the plan, and she figures it wasn’t a mistake to have her troops lie in wait.
But no one’s seen any enemy air units yet, much less mages. I expected they’d at least send units in piecemeal, ignoring the concept of efficiency entirely, but what is this lack of response?
It’s quite difficult to understand the workings of the world in this age.
“Major, there’s an urgent message from HQ.”
“We’re connected? Read it.”
For now, she decides to switch gears to focus on the directions they were finally able to get from headquarters.
“Yes, ma’am. It’s an order to support the eastern armies. The details are up to you.”
The message handed to me contains the usual flight orders with permission to act freely. I’m glad the brass are so good at managing their subordinates. If I had a boss like Tsugene or Full-of-shit-guchi, I’d completely lose the will to fight and hightail it out of here.
Ah, it’s so, so great to have General von Zettour as my superior. If I stick with him, given the current state of internal faction dynamics, I’m guaranteed to advance. What a wonderful connection to have. He’s very valuable in terms of social capital.
“What’s the situation? I want to know what the front lines are like.”
This is all for that wonderful stakeholder. As a rational individual of the modern world, it’s clear that my destiny is to do a thorough, sincere job. Trust and sincerity are the basic business practices of modern times. That said, excessive favoritism and collusion will only afflict the organization with a contemptible case of arteriosclerosis, of course.
…Either way, the concept is too difficult for Commies with no mind for efficiency to comprehend.
When their Commie brains think about production, distribution is completely absent from their ideas. Well, they can go ahead and make a pile of worthless products only to let them rot.
For our part, all we have to do is follow the market. Apparently, Adam Smith was religious that bit about the invisible hand of God is pretty awkward for me. It must be the invisible hand of the market.
Oh, thinking is so fun. But the only people who really get to immerse themselves in it are academics.
Work awaits. Ah, you boorish Commie bastards.
“Our soldiers are putting up a good fight, but it seems our strength is a bit on the low side.”
“Okay, let’s switch gears and fight a delaying battle while we wait for the Great Army to arrive.”
We’ve been ordered to provide support to friendly armies in the region. What we do depends on their status. In this instance, delaying the enemy probably makes the most sense.
In other words, we’re helping to buy time, so all we have to do is bully the Commies. If it’s only a spot of teasing, then I don’t have to take any dangerous risks.
At the same time, I get to enjoy the satisfaction of whacking some Commies. My work here has a sense of purpose.
“Are you sure? I think we’re more in our element fighting on the move as we have been so far.”
Weiss had given the order to Grantz’s company to transition into pursuit and joined the conversation at some point. His suggestion is certainly tempting.
The Federation’s territory is vast. And on top of that, we’re fighting the notoriously inefficient Commies. It’s true that guerrilla tactics are a valid option against a rigidly organized opponent.
The theater of operations here is much larger than when we fought on the Rhine, so the enemy must be spread more thinly. The circumstances are too perfect. Given the current situation, it’d be more of a pain to approach the main lines and be incorporated into a friendly unit.
I love whacking Commies, but I’m not at all keen on Commies whacking me.
“Either way, if you compare it to breaking through the enemy’s main lines, doesn’t taking a detour seem better?”
We’ll support the eastern armies, but only if we’re safe. There’s no way I’d prioritize them over myself.
Liberty. It’s obvious that liberty must be prioritized above everything else.
In other words, we have no obligation to join the front lines, which are most certainly embroiled in a heavy firefight.
Luckily, we also have a just cause, so we’ll pursue safety to the extent possible.
“We’ll fly, then?”
“Of course. But instead of stealthily sneaking around, let’s be a distraction.”
If we divert enemy forces, that’ll satisfy the order from home to support the delaying battle. And it’ll feel so good to whack Commies with some style. No limits in terms of ROE, either.
Naturally, we’ll have no choice but to attack urban areas as well. After all, Commies are always talking about general attacks by all citizens or whatnot.
I’m sure it’s beyond practicing levy en masse; it’s more like they believe everyone’s a soldier. After all, these are the type of people to launch a major offensive against agriculture. What kind of farmer would attack farming?
I’m sure they’re doing something inefficient like mobilizing their entire population to blow up an agricultural base. In a book on the topic, I read that the food commissar or whoever is basically just the commander of a looting unit. And I know the procurement units or whatever they’re called have people from cities and farming villages in them.
In other words, this should be just like taking on guerrilla units.
Logically, all Communists are combatants. Yep, okay, I guess I should try something showy now. I absolutely do not want to use the Elinium Type 95, but considering how useful it would be for blowing up Commies, I might be able to stand it.
…But if I’m going to do that, then I want to demolish something symbolic.
Idol worship or the cult of personality or whatever it may be, I’ll smash one of those bronze statues Commies love so much and laugh at their inefficiency. I wonder where would be good. Maybe Josefgrad.
Nah, if I’m going to do this, nailing the capital will be most effective. This goes without saying, but that’s the capital of a country we’re at war with. Some might think the place would be heavily guarded, but that would only show that they’re amateurs.
Commie air defense is full of holes more like a dysfunctional colander. Pilots being too drunk to take off and fly interception missions is a daily occurrence. Or they scramble but end up chasing around hallucinations.
On the rare occasion they down something, it’s a civilian aircraft or a careless scout… If we’re merely serving as a distraction, we can pull out if they ever start actually intercepting us.
“Let’s pretend we’re going to attack the capital.”
“A raid on the capital? I don’t think this will go the way it did in Dacia… Surely the Federation has tighter defenses. They probably even have a proper warning system. I feel like there are too many things to worry about if we go in without intelligence.”
She didn’t expect the faces of her subordinates to get so nervous the moment she voiced their objective. It can’t be true, but she has the sneaking, uncomfortable feeling that they think she’s incapable of judging what is and isn’t achievable.
On the other hand, she can understand how Weiss’s “worries” are based on commonsense misunderstandings. Well, it can’t be helped they’re rational, modern individuals, she concludes.
Certainly, someone with common sense would decide the capital must be well protected. Anyone would come to that conclusion.
But our opponents are Commies.
“Don’t worry. Everyone knows the Commies have no air defense.”
“The intelligence we received estimates fairly formidable defenses…”
The Red Army is famous for its legendary air defense. A civilian Cessna even casually landed at Red Square International Airport once.
“Ha-ha-ha, very funny, Captain Weiss.”
The country’s capital was reached after multiple layers of air defense manned by the proud border patrol were defeated by a civilian teenage pilot with almost no special training in low-altitude penetration maneuvers or anything. It’s probably worth mentioning those soldiers were clumsy enough to shoot down civilian aircrafts once in a while.
Worrying about an air defense shield as “formidable” as that is pointless. Sure, it’s a mistake committed by Commies in another world, but the defect that caused it is a fundamental issue. As long as that remains constant, assuming the same thing could happen in this world has a high probability of being correct.
“Communist air defense? I’m sure any teenager off the street could break through. Not even worth the effort to worry about it.”
“What? It can’t be that bad, can it?”
“Hmm. Well, even for a distraction, it could be a good demonstration.”
Actually, our odds are only fifty-fifty, but we do have a chance.
It’s aggravating to have to learn from the Great America’s firebombing of Tokyo, but the lessons are significant. As a diversion, it’s too perfect.
I’ll show the home country my fighting spirit and get some results while I’m at it. I’ll even employ a fairly safe method.
“So are we really going to do it?”
“Of course. Oh, but I forgot one thing. Ask the guys at home. I want to make sure there won’t be any political issues.”
We’re attacking an enemy country’s capital, after all. Considering the possible political ramifications, it’s important to confirm how we should proceed.
Even if they stop us, there will be a record that shows we proposed it. And if we get the go-ahead, it’ll be an excuse to stay away from the main lines for a while.
“Understood. I’ll verify immediately.”
It gives Tanya immense satisfaction to see her subordinate set about briskly carrying out instructions despite the abruptness. She smiles warmly in spite of herself.
I’m in the position to take the juiciest part of this fight using a safe plan.
This is quite good. It even makes Tanya happy.
“…I can’t wait to get authorization.”
Which is why she thinks:
I hope they’re quick about it.
SOME DAY IN MARCH, UNIFIED YEAR 1926, TEMPORARY IMPERIAL ARMY POSITION ON THE SOUTHERN FRONT, FOX’S DEN
General von Romel of the Imperial Army, surveying the status of the battle through his binoculars, suppressed a frustrated grimace and shrugged. The Imperial Army had a decent advantage, but it also seemed too much like a battle of attrition.
If victory came at the cost of running all available firepower into the ground, there would be no next time. Romel had to settle for dealing a blow instead of wiping out the enemy.
“…We can’t quite manage? Then I guess we have no choice. Withdraw.”
He found it regrettable, but as long as his forces couldn’t break through, continuing to attack head-on was nothing more than mudslinging.
“Are you sure, General von Romel? If we keep this up…”
“We don’t have enough water, and more importantly, our losses keep increasing.”
The staffers maintained that they could win if they pressed on, but to Romel, the conditions for victory were different. Limiting attrition had to be prioritized above all else on the southern continent.
The worst of their problems was that they were nearing the limits of their water supply. If they retreated immediately, what was left would last until they reached the rear. If the fight dragged on, there was a chance they would run out even if they withdrew.
Knowing when to quit was critical in such a place. The allotment of limited resources could change everything.
“For now, let’s call the blow we dealt good enough. Begin withdrawing. I do want to take de Lugo’s head someday, though.”
The Free Republican Army was stubbornly holding out. Not only that, but it was Romel’s personal opinion that their combat strength seemed to be growing with each passing day. Unfortunately, he’d also heard that the resistance efforts of de Lugo’s anti-Empire organization were popping up in more places.
The home country had started earnestly hoping for the elimination of de Lugo as part of the occupation policy. But their opponent was no pushover. He was attempting to aggravate imperial attrition while avoiding a decisive battle.
If the Empire let it go on too long, they risked losing their chance to crush the Republican leader. That said, whether de Lugo’s intentions had filtered all the way down was another question. It wasn’t clear if the colonial units were up to speed on the situation.
We could try to pull something which is why before Romel knew it, he had an idea.
“Mm-hmm, a scuffle should be fine. We’ll ready an ambush as we withdraw. If they bite, we’ll surround and annihilate them. Otherwise, we’ll just pack our things and go.”
“Seriously? …You want to set a trap for them?”
His staffers’ doubts but I thought we were pulling out irritated him. If she was here, she would have understood, acknowledged, and handled it without needing another word.
“You bet. Make it look like we’re fleeing in a panic.”
He wasn’t sure what the chances were that they could draw in the enemy, but it was worth a shot. If even one enemy unit started poking out its head, the momentum would sweep along the rest, and more would come pouring through the gap.
Conversely, if the Republicans were on their guard, Romel’s troops would be able to make a safe retreat. Basically, it wouldn’t hurt to give this operation a try.
For the moment, the Imperial Army began retreating under Romel’s eye. The troops at the tail end pretended to flail about in confusion as they went. They purposely left no abandoned vehicle traps; they’d been instructed to make it look like they lacked the presence of mind to set booby traps.
That would make the enemy less cautious about advancing, meaning everything would go more smoothly.
“All right, how’s this going to play out? This’ll be a piece of cake if they bite.” Romel wondered what their enemy would do. Best case, they fall for it, of course, he thought, sipping cold coffee.
It would depend on what happened, but a successful retreat wouldn’t be bad, either.
Are there any problems in my plan? I think I’m doing my best, but did I miss something? He reflected on his actions and was satisfied for the time being.
At the very least, he’d done everything he could. Now he just had to wait to see the results.
“…We did it! General, they came right out!”
“All right, let’s tease them a bit. Don’t send the mages yet. Reel them in!”
And the results were good.
Were they spurred by the romance of the military? Or did they simply not understand? Whatever the case, the poor Republican fools casually left their defensive positions and exposed themselves.
At the very least, they seemed to have momentum. The belief that they had repulsed the Imperial Army bolstered their morale.
“Buy time with the central unit so we can reorganize.”
Of course, he didn’t want to clash head-on with an enemy who was chomping at the bit. He promptly considered his options before ordering a change in positions. They would buy time for the units that had managed to pull back so they could reorganize the chain of command.
“Pretend to continue withdrawing. Have the main forces set up some distance from the enemy.”
In any case, the best idea would be to divert enemy energy for as long as a delaying battle could be maintained. After all, they were seething.
Actually clashing with them was beyond pointless. Conversely, if their morale could be broken, they’d be sitting ducks. The moment they realized they were surrounded, they’d become the ones trying to make a break for it.
The plan was to tighten the encirclement right as the situation became clear, trapping them like mice.
“To get them in a better position for us?”
“Exactly. We’ll feign a withdrawal, then surround them.”
The enemy was operating with tunnel vision. They would probably assume any unit they couldn’t see had gotten away. And that was why an attack on their naive flank would work.
It seemed the Republican Army lacked more commanders like de Lugo, who had a wealth of experience. Even simple tactics could lure in forces that didn’t report directly to him.
Aiming for weak points is how you fight a war. Sorry, but I’ll be doing exactly that.
“So how should the mages move?”
“Ah, right. The mages will provide support and follow-up once the central unit starts to crumble.”
He realized he hadn’t given any orders to the mages yet and promptly issued them. He thought he was being careful, but apparently, he was quite tense. At some point, he had begun assuming the mages would move without him saying anything.
“Understood. Right away.”
“…Sheesh. Looking back on it, Major von Degurechaff sure was easy to work with.”
She was a commander who could grasp his intentions and take the best actions without needing to be told. Once you got used to it, there was no officer easier to use.
They had finally gotten in sync…
“Things would go more smoothly if I could have her back.”
He never thought she would be summoned by the home country. The top was always meddling with his hand. Maybe that was the fate of a soldier, but it was still lamentable.
He was especially desperate for skilled mages.
“Well, there’s that trouble with the Federation. Things are tricky.”
Still, good mages were in demand everywhere. That had to be why command had pulled out her battalion and stationed them at home. Considering the deteriorating situation, he had to agree it was a reasonable course of action.
After all, the 203rd Aerial Mage Battalion’s job was guerrilla-style maneuver warfare. If the General Staff was anticipating that war with the Federation would take place on a much larger front than what they dealt with in the fight against the Republic, they would definitely want a mobile unit.
Tanya’s battalion’s superb ability to act independently, which Romel had to admire, was perfect for putting out fires. On top of that, mages could cover a greater range with fewer people than infantry could. He’d heard the General Staff was fretting about logistics, so they would appreciate that.
“Sheesh. I guess we should offer our condolences to the Federation.”
“Even I wouldn’t want to face that battalion.”
I guess all I can do is wish Major von Degurechaff luck. My belief that she doesn’t need my well wishes must mean I trust her too much. Well, that’s fine. Romel drained his coffee and changed gears.
Coffee in the desert is great. It changes your mood, and even better, you can make a habit of it without being criticized, unlike alcohol. Not that there’s anything wrong with alcohol.
Anyhow, time to get to work.
“Ah, I see. That’s for sure.”
“Okay, I think it’s about time for us to get down to business, too.”
Our job for the moment is to finish off the Republic.
MAY 9, UNIFIED YEAR 1980, THE FEDERATION CAPITAL
This is WTN Special Correspondent Andrew.
I’m here with the WTN crew on Great Patriotic War Remembrance Day covering the ceremony being held in Moskva. Would you like to take a look?
This is a parade of veterans who served in the war.
They did battle on the eastern front, a region comparable to the Rhine as one of the areas that saw the fiercest fighting. It was most likely the eastern front that caused the most casualties during the war.
Let’s take a moment to honor their sacrifice…
Now for a little history lesson.
Up until hostilities broke out, the relationship between the Federation and the Empire during the Great War had been extremely delicate. These days we can laugh about it, but…up until the fighting began, both countries’ attitudes were to simply keep an eye on the other, despite the tension.
The Federation’s stubborn neutrality during the hard fighting on the Rhine front is considered decisive. Because of it, the Republic didn’t get to destroy the Imperial Army with the multifront saturation attack they were so eager for.
And as a result, the Republican intelligence agency guessed at the time that the Federation was maintaining a friendly neutrality toward the Empire. The leader of the Free Republic’s forces, General de Lugo, even assumed the Federation must have been sending voluntary armies over.
In reality, the only action the Federation had taken since the beginning of the Great War was to condemn it via the Commissariat for Foreign Affairs.
On the other hand, there was a period of time, albeit brief, during which the imperial and Federation militaries had built such a close relationship they nearly formed an alliance, as can be seen in the partially released Treaty of Rappalo. The two countries seemed to be against each other, but they secretly exchanged military knowledge and signed a nonaggression pact.
With that background in mind, I’d like to look back on the day the Federation joined the war.
That year, the Free Republican Army and the Commonwealth Army were having a tough fight on the southern continent. They could both hardly believe their ears when the good news came through.
The reaction of the Commonwealth’s Foreign Office to the first report is still talked about today.
It’s said that when they received word that the Federation had joined the war, they hastily concluded it had joined the imperial side.
There’s even a legendary anecdote that says Major General (at the time) Habergram of the Commonwealth Army’s Foreign Strategy Division sent the messenger away three times. Incidentally, General de Lugo of the Free Republican Army is said to have believed it in two tries.
…Well, it must be proof that we with John Bull spirit stay on our toes and don’t give in to positive thinking.
Naturally, the Empire’s reaction stands in contrast.
They say it shocked even General von Zettour, who with his fiendish plans plunged allied countries into fear. According to his adjutant’s records, when he received the report of signs the Federation Army would join the war, the first words out of his mouth were, “Of all the ridiculous” It’s also noted that he and his colleague General von Rudersdorf, unable to comprehend why the Federation would enter the fight, were so stunned they practically started staring into space.
That said, these days this isn’t viewed as their mistake.
After all…the Federation’s involvement in the war was unexpected even to most of its own military officers.
The decision to join the war was made a mere month before their initial move. The generally accepted belief is that the plan was drafted by only a handful of key figures.
They made slight changes to the regularly scheduled large-scale exercise, choosing a staging point near the Empire and setting expectations of a great deal of live fire.
Obviously, it was mobilization under the pretext of an exercise. And since at the time there was a war on, the other countries were surely sensitive to such scheming especially the Empire, right next door.
Imperial intelligence discovered something brewing in the Federation.
But after making every effort to collect intel, the Imperial Army General Staff concluded that the Federation’s exercise wouldn’t overstep the bounds of a demonstration.
That was a complete miscalculation.
Of course, after suffering the Republic’s sneak attack on the Rhine front, they knew enough to keep their defensive lines sharp.
Still, after surveying “the great majority” of Federation officers, they were convinced.
They believed the Federation Army was not interested in starting a major war.
Given that on the all-important Federation side, the majority of commanders believed they were heading to an exercise, the survey results were a matter of course.
The true intentions of the masterminds were completely hidden from the Federation commanders until the last moment. As proof of this, even the State Defense Committee was informed only seventy-two hours before the fighting started.
Which is why, despite its cautious handling of the situation, the Imperial Army was outsmarted. And it was forgiven as such. It did barely manage to get defensive lines built, but the deployment of backup was definitely not ideal.
And that’s why, as I mentioned earlier, General von Zettour lamented that they’d been tricked (“Of all the ridiculous”).
So let’s take a look at how this war came to pass, even when Generals von Zettour and Rudersdorf doubted it would start.
Remarkable progress has been made in scholarship of this area in recent years.
Today I’d like to welcome Professor Sherlock of Londinium University’s Political Science faculty, who specializes mainly in the key figures of the Federation of that time period.
Thank you very much for coming, Professor Sherlock.
“Thank you for having me. So you want to know the latest news in Kremlinology?”
Yes, sir. I understand that your area of expertise is Kremlinology, the analysis of the Federation leaders.
“That’s correct. Information is so limited that it’s been a bit like a whodunit, though.”
Ah, the Federation is secretive to the core indeed.
You wouldn’t believe how much time and effort it took to just get our visas to come out and film. I mean, really? Even though the country’s Foreign Office issued us entry visas for the Day of Remembrance, there was another form we needed!
Aside from the border police requiring a different permission slip, the Public Health Service required yet another document. Then the Propaganda Ministry nearly confiscated our camera because we didn’t have a filming license!
“Ha-ha-ha! That sort of thing must happen all the time. Most of my progress with sources took place outside the Federation.”
I see; they’re so secretive that you need to do a lot of deduction. But I’m curious about your “progress with sources.” For example, are you saying that documents were declassified outside the Federation?
“Exactly. We’re finally beginning to discover documents from one of the sides of the conflict the Empire.”
Did you hear that, everyone? Yes, it’s the key to unraveling the mystery of this Great War we’re investigating. Apparently, there were several pertinent items in these “confidential imperial papers.”
So, Professor, what was the reason the Federation decided to go to war?
“Probably mass paranoia.”
Huh? Sorry, Professor, but could you say that one more time?
What did you say?
“Sure, ‘mass paranoia.’”
…Sorry, but I don’t know much about psychology. Do you mind explaining?
I believe I know the definition of “mass paranoia,” but…I can’t quite wrap my head around it. I’m incredibly embarrassed to admit this in front of all you viewers, but perhaps I’m not a very bright student.
If you please, Professor.
“Ah, well, the straightforward explanation is that mass paranoia is when members of a group all fall under the same delusion. In this case, the leadership of the Federation as an organization was utterly convinced that their neighbors were out to get them or that if they didn’t attack first…they’d be done for.”
That strikes me as an awfully extreme hypothesis… What kind of examination did you perform that led you to infer such a conclusion?
“That’s a good question. Actually, I hit on it when I was taking a historical approach by trying to understand the context in which the decision was made.”
So you investigated the history of the era?
“Exactly. And after much analysis and examination, I found that, from as far as twenty years prior, the Federation leadership’s mental state had been gathering attention.”
I see. So you looked into the background of the decision. And that’s quite a long time ago.
“There was no helping it. In Communist nations, the health and mental status of the leadership is a state secret.”
That’s similar to our country’s politicians. I think they should learn from the royal family and make that information public. Well, not that I think we should allow pushy gossip mags to hound them for it.
Now then, we got off topic. So the Federation leadership was as stubborn about maintaining confidentiality as the Commonwealth’s?
And that made your analysis difficult?
“No, no, no. The thickness of the Federation’s veil of secrets blows the Commonwealth’s out of the water. That said, my main issue was a lack of documentation.”
Still, I’d say the Commonwealth’s politicians have their guard up higher than average. Our reporting team is never welcome. Anyhow, if the Federation is even more secretive, then I understand why getting your hands on any documents has been so difficult. But you say the situation has changed now?
“That’s right. It’s all due to a secret we found in the Imperial Army General Staff’s documents. After the war, all the materials seized by the alliance armies were declassified, and we finally found it.”
Secret Imperial Army documents? And? What did you find?
“Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars Dzhugashvili was like a man possessed. The head of the Commissariat for Internal Affairs, Loria, was concluded to be a monomaniac.”
Er, that’s another awfully extreme conclusion. How in the world did they end up there? Given that these documents are from a country at war, surely the most generous interpretation you can give is that the facts are distorted.
“That’s a very good question. But the analysis was performed in a serious, neutral manner by specialists. Even judging by today’s standards, they adhered well to the principles of psychological analysis. Our general impression is that they did a proper job.”
So we can believe what they said? It’s correct and unbiased? If we can believe this information, how reliable do you think it is?
“It’s certainly more reliable than the Federation’s official accounts.”
Which means that the reason the Federation entered the war was…paranoia? How surprising!
…So a mass delusion changed the course of history. It really gives you a sense of how ironic, or perhaps how strange, history is.
This has been WTN Special Correspondent Andrew and Professor Sherlock of Londinium University’s Political Science faculty.
TEXTBOOK FOR LITTLE CITIZENS: THE HISTORY OF OUR NATION
Kind Mr. Josef was worried.
The expectations of all who believed in him were weighing on his shoulders.
Thinking only of the people’s happiness, he thought it was time to work hard at developing the Federation.
Its citizens, spoiled by his kindness, only fell into decline.
Mr. Josef was so upset.
He decided to ask his trusted comrade, Comrade Loria, for a solution.
Capable Comrade Loria jumped into action.
First, in order to get the people to understand the importance of work, he took the initiative in starting inspections.
It goes without saying that Comrade Loria had a perfect understanding of Mr. Josef’s orders.
He began trying, though never with a high-handed attitude, to persuade the people. If your current job is too difficult, why not try an easier one?
Comrade Loria’s activities reflected his understanding of Mr. Josef’s kind heart; he thought together with the people about what sort of work would be a good fit for each of them.
Of course, he actively encouraged the people who wanted to try intense or difficult jobs. But Comrade Loria felt that only encouraging them was irresponsible.
In order that they not feel lonely, he sent them helpers. And he decided to look for a manageable job for the people who couldn’t handle intense, difficult work.
Actually, this was Comrade Loria’s biggest challenge. Each and every person was different. Some comrades were fast runners, while other comrades were slow but strong. Some comrades had very quick minds but a weak sense of responsibility.
It was incredibly difficult to grasp the diversity of the people. That was precisely where his predecessor, Comrade Iezhov, had failed.
But Comrade Loria couldn’t betray the trust of Mr. Josef, whom all the people respected.
He had his people investigate nearly the entire country.
He preferred assertive, revolutionary action; there is even a story about how he sent his staff into the wheat fields of a farming village. They kept searching for a new job even as they helped the tearful people bring in their harvest.
Finally, far in the east, they found a simple job that anyone capable of counting could do. Comrade Loria was pleased and asked his subordinate who had found it how many people could be employed that way. The response was ideal.
All the nation’s people could be employed, and there would still be openings! This surprised Comrade Loria, so he asked another question.
What in the world is this job?
The environmentally friendly job of counting trees in Sildberia.
It was work that soothed the tired people’s hearts with the power of nature and would surely protect the environment as well.
People could enjoy forest bathing while gazing up toward the clear starry sky while spending their days devoted to this noble task.
It was truly labor by the people, for the people.
Comrade Loria gleefully decided to report this to Mr. Josef.
Of course, when Mr. Josef heard, he practically jumped for joy.
Pouring his prized Georziyan wine for Comrade Loria, he thanked him for living up to his trust.
The two men looked each other in the eye, and Mr. Josef expressed his sincere gratitude for Comrade Loria’s devotion. And he praised him, saying that the country itself should be happy to have such a fine comrade.
It goes without saying that Comrade Loria was thrilled. He promised to work even harder for Mr. Josef and he faithfully kept that promise, so much so that not a day went by that the people didn’t speak of Comrade Loria’s unflagging efforts. It seemed like things would go on this way forever, but then one day, Comrade Loria had a dream like a divine revelation.
It almost seemed to predict the future.
Of course, Comrade Loria was a logical Communist, so he wasn’t fazed by such unscientific things. He continued to solemnly perform his duties day after day.
But he was tormented by the dream nearly every night.
At that point, even Comrade Loria had to wonder if he was exhausted due to overwork.
He decided to ask Mr. Josef, whom he trusted and respected, for advice.
And what do you know Mr. Josef had been having the same dream! What could it possibly mean?
After thinking for a little while, Mr. Josef logically concluded that both of them had the same worries. After all, the future of the nation was resting on their shoulders. Even if the weight was different for each of them, they both felt it.
Perhaps the dream was caused by some concern they shared.
In other words, perhaps there was something they needed to do.
Mr. Josef and Comrade Loria put some serious thought into that idea. But Mr. Josef hadn’t made any particular mistakes domestically. All the people, his comrades, were living happy lives.
Not only that, but he had received a report that the economy was growing well. He searched and searched, but no matter how hard he looked, he could find only reports that said the people’s happiness was growing.
And that improvement showed no signs of slowing down.
It was to the point that people who made mistakes competed to see who could participate in the canal construction project first. The people who had been spoiled by Mr. Josef’s kindness were finally learning to have a work ethic.
What could there possibly be to worry about?
That was the question flitting across Mr. Josef’s mind.
The answer became clear as Mr. Josef, whose strong intellectual curiosity made him eager to learn, was reading a foreign newspaper. Tragically, the world had been enveloped in war!
Since he was in a peaceful country, the war naturally had nothing to do with him.
But he had to do something.
And he didn’t even have to think to know that the people of the world, surely suffering, needed a final solution.
Mr. Josef, with his wonderful loving heart, tried to think what he could do.
Surely there were people somewhere who needed his help.
As the leader of the people, dear Mr. Josef couldn’t hesitate.
Comrade Loria persuaded the reluctant Revisionists, and Mr. Josef finally knew what they had to do.
Even so, they didn’t give up on words at first.
They tried to have a conversation with the militaristic imperialists. Very sadly, however, their words and good faith did not get through to them.
For the peoples of the Republic and the Commonwealth, and for the people oppressed under the imperial authorities, Mr. Josef was forced to act.
That is how Mr. Josef and Comrade Loria’s battle began.
Of course, peace-loving Mr. Josef’s army severely lacked the experience necessary to fight against the bloodthirsty Imperial Army. Unfortunately, no small number of soldiers went to Sildberia to count trees.
It was certainly not Mr. Josef’s intention to force the people to change their jobs. He always gave them a choice, but even so, many people felt they should respond to his kindness and volunteered to join the army.
And that is how the Federation Army ended up fighting for the people of the world.
(from the Commissariat for Education–approved textbook, The People’s Textbook for Schoolchildren)
JANUARY 17, UNIFIED YEAR 1926, FEDERATION CAPITAL MOSKVA
He was a boring man.
His friends didn’t find him worth debating against, and in truth, he wasn’t. As his friends were promoted, the organization trusted him with administrative duties, if that.
He was also a stranger to military glory. Rather, he failed stupendously and even hampered his allies’ victory. For that reason, he was looked down upon, and no one ever considered him someone to be wary of.
And then he quietly built up his status in an administrative position everyone had avoided.
Having the rights of the administration effectively meant controlling personnel. Little by little, he put people under his influence in inconspicuous yet important positions.
No one saw him as a legitimate threat. They just thought of him as a good underling. And that is how he managed to achieve a definitive rise unhindered by anyone. Until the critical moment, no one saw him as anything but an office worker.
But he held literally every power.
Yes, his famed seniors with illustrious careers were nominally employed in higher-ranking positions, but directly beneath each of those people was one of his men actually managing affairs.
That was the modest yet critical key to his ambition. Without anyone knowing, he had taken control of the government’s workings. And with that power, he became a force in government by his very nature.
It was right before his predecessors’ deaths that they finally realized how dangerous he was, but it was too late.
They had ignored the warning. Everyone aiming to lead the government had let it go in one ear and out the other without bothering to consider it seriously. They paid for that for what could be described as a “fatal” error with their and their families’ lives and assets.
That’s how the man called Josef snatched up one of the world’s leading nations, the Federation.
He believed he was the only legitimate leader of the Federation and that he had a mission in history, a mission to restore the Federation’s immense power.
He was a calculating man with a devious mind.
To him, the Empire was an allowable disorder. If the Empire didn’t exist, the world’s bourgeois hatred for Communism might have instigated an alliance against the Federation.
If, however, the Empire was there to meddle in their interests, the bourgeoisie would spend their time on the nearer object of their hate. Even the Federation Army, though reluctantly, acknowledged this strategy to be correct.
But suddenly, they were at war.
It was terribly sudden for the Federation, to say nothing of the Empire.
Every single person had been wanting to know what the dictator’s true intentions were; Josef had been brooding in isolation.
He’d been tormented by dreams.
It all started one night as he savored a glass of Georziyan wine, recalling the screams of the irritating, high-level military men he had successfully purged. He nodded off and then awoke with a start.
Someone had spoken to him.
He had experienced someone speaking to him, inviting yet certain. It was a kind voice, yet still horrifying for the listener.
“…’s…st…problem. …, …ink…”
The voice was making some sort of appeal to him. At first, he laughed it off. It’s a bit late for that, isn’t it?
He had stopped feeling anything about the purges a long time ago. The last bit of humanity left within Josef had vanished with the death of his beloved wife.
Even if he felt unsure about the purges, there was no way he could stop them now. At any rate, it was kill or be killed. If he stopped, he would die on the blade of a traitor’s knife.
“…, wh…think…, …simple.”
Is it telling me to rethink things?
He had cast away the Bible and its ilk in his youth when it hadn’t saved him.
The enlightenment of superstitious people would take time and effort, but eradicating them would solve everything, too. Loria was particularly talented in that realm, and Josef was satisfied for the first time.
But the voice calling him didn’t know when to quit. Perhaps, as he feared, it had something to do with the mages. Unlike the more replaceable soldiers or to put it another way, the ones whose necks he could slit at any time mages were harder to manage. Since even a single mage could resist the organization, letting any of them remain was like leaving live charcoal lying around.
That’s why he made a proactive move to stop the dissidents ahead of time. Still, there seemed to be some kind of interference happening that he couldn’t comprehend. He reached in annoyance for the receiver to call the head of security. Depending on the situation, he thought it might be better to put someone else in charge.
But he would regret picking up that receiver for the rest of his life. Up until then, the voice had been full of static, but now it rang clearly from the machine.
“It’s because you all exist that there’s a problem. Very well, let’s think about that, then. Yes, after a little thought, it’s simple. If none of you was here, there would be no problem.”
He felt like something was watching him, a chilling fear… That was the moment his heart clenched.
“Death will solve everything. Therefore, you Communist dogs, this I pronounce unto ye: Dzhugashvili, apostate, God will punish thee. An apostle comes. Even now, an apostle approaches from the west. Thou and the rest of the eastern barbarians shall be eradicated. Fear the apostle’s punishment.”
“An apostle?” he retorted in spite of himself.
He’d heard the stories when he was a young child, that God sent apostles to both save and judge, but…he never believed them.
God is a fantasy.
God doesn’t exist.
Of course he doesn’t, he told himself. But before he knew it, he realized there was something he might be frightened of.
Yes, the west. He couldn’t ignore the Empire in the west.
It had been attacked from three directions and come out victorious each time. If they didn’t stop the Empire now, whether God existed or not, the Federation…would have to face that immensely powerful Imperial Army alone.
I don’t want to think about it, but on the off chance… His thoughts raced, but then he realized he was being deceived. Who came up with this? This must be the work of those miscreants.
“Ha, I’m not going to fall for that. Don’t give me this horseshit.”
He meant to slam the receiver down at the same time, but instead he found himself perplexed.
He heard something shattering on the floor. When he returned to himself, he saw he had dropped his glass of wine. There wasn’t even any sign that he had touched the receiver to call security.
“Sir? What was that noise?!”
“Ah, nothing. I just dropped my glass.”
He gave his subordinate a look that silenced the question about what had or hadn’t happened Don’t worry about it.
In the eyes on the receiving end of this glare was the fear of being sent away. This learned behavior showed he understood that opening his mouth would be the man’s ruin.
Josef firmly believed that the key to controlling people was this fear.
“Sorry, but do me a favor and clean it up.”
It wasn’t hard for him to save face in this situation. No, not this one time.
But similar troubles continued for nights on end. It didn’t take long for even this man with nerves of steel to yield to the nightmares.
I must eliminate it.
I absolutely must eliminate it. Josef’s mind couldn’t tolerate foreign threats any longer.
Which is why…
Even though it was low on officers due to the purges, the farmers’ ressentiment stemming from the collectivization policy was about to explode, and he had just finished purging the mages; he had to mobilize the army.
He had to turn his imperfect military into the war machine that was the Empire.
Of course, in Josef’s country, soldiers grew on trees.
en español no la tienenResponderBorrar