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Youjo Senki, Volumen 5, Capitulo 1


Chapter I,  Rapid Advance



AUGUST 28, UNIFIED YEAR 1926, EASTERN FRONT, FIRST-CLASS CAR

From the southern continent to a long-range reconnaissance mission in Federation territory. At the conclusion of that journey, there was a direct attack on Moskva, and right when I thought I would get to head to the rear, I was transferred to participate in an air battle west of the Rhine front. The moment I figured things would settle down a bit, I was ordered to form a Kampfgruppe.

After following orders that yanked me all over the place south, east, west I ended up joining the battle in the east.

We were given the supporting role of escorting the main forces on their advance, but as we were gradually pushed farther east into Federation territory, my Kampfgruppe received yet another new order.

“…So we’re being reassigned?”

“That’s right, Colonel von Degurechaff. It’s a shame we have to lose you and your Salamander Kampfgruppe, but we can’t keep you when you belong to the General Staff.”

A high-ranking officer in the Eastern Army Group informed me with a resigned them’s-the-breaks smile that we were suddenly being sent elsewhere. Well, reassignment orders are almost always “sudden” to the people on the ground.

But Tanya sensed something slightly strange.

“Sorry you have to keep moving around like this, but do your best.”

The comments she got from the Eastern Army Group staffers with a pat on the back were decisive.

They were heartfelt words of consolation about Tanya and her unit’s transfer. Frankly, that’s not the kind of thing said by staff officers who have just had troops suddenly pulled from their lines.

A Kampfgruppe reporting directly to the General Staff getting pulled out is simply the result of a properly functioning Imperial Army. No one can object to it. Moving its own unit from the A lines to the B lines is the General Staff’s prerogative.

But if you think about it this way, everything makes sense.

It’s simple to understand if you imagine us as a skilled anesthesiologist. The General Staff is a university hospital that dispatched their anesthesiologist upon the request of a private hospital, which would be the Eastern Army Group. If the university announced to the impoverished, understaffed regional hospital that it was pulling out its anesthesiologist…it would be weird not to encounter some protest, right?

And yet the officers here were calmly passing on the orders without any fuss? That had to mean they had known about this for quite some time.

The only one who didn’t realize was me. It’s probably correct to suspect that I was being informed at the last possible minute.

I was rushed through the handoff  (yes, there was time for a handoff, so there was definitely some advance consideration that went into this plan), and before I knew it, I was rocking along on some train.

The efficiency of all the arrangements makes Tanya sick. These reassignment orders came down without any delays or other trouble, no missed messages.

But despite all the preparations  (it should probably be said), the reality of it being a reassignment from the front lines can’t be ignored. For example, thinks Tanya with a sigh as she looks around the first-class train car.

The train ticket certainly says “first class,” but this is a passenger car of an armored train on a military-use line for delivering supplies and personnel to the front. “First class” means you’re lucky enough to have a seat.

Considering the supply line situation, it could be considered surprising the higher-ups even allowed for a first-class train car. Granted, the facilities available for travelers on board are scanty. It’s something else entirely from a first-class car back home. At the end of August, with summer ending and autumn about to begin, the temperature in the Federation is cool enough that the lack of air-conditioning is tolerable.

Still, though they call this a sleeping car, the only furnishings included in the sparse compartment are a wooden bench to lie down on and a sturdy desk. And the bench is so small that if you weren’t short like me, it would be quite a tight fit.

“If I were home in the Reich, I would have sworn at them. ‘Do you think you’re transporting cattle?’”

Really, it’s hard to deny the possibility that some planners may very well have requisitioned an actual livestock transport car. In any case, calling it first class is absurd. At the same time, even with all those faults, there is a truth that mustn’t be overlooked: One of our trains is up and running incredibly close to the front lines. Our forces must have performed quick maintenance on the rails in occupied enemy territory evidence that both the Service Corps and the Railroad Department are doing their best. You could say it’s possible to catch a glimpse of the supply situation on this trip.

Though it might not be related…a good example of this is how the food tastes relatively good.

When a sandwich on bread that wasn’t stale and coffee were served for lunch, Tanya was elated to an embarrassing degree.

And surprisingly, a newspaper was provided after the meal. When Tanya looks at the date don’t be alarmed it reads August 28; in other words, it’s today’s paper.

It may be afternoon now, but it’s possible to have the morning’s paper delivered to the forward-most positions.

That in itself speaks volumes to the determination of the Imperial Service Corps in fighting the logistics battle.

On the other hand, Tanya has a mind to complain as she grumbles to herself.

“I get that this is wartime coverage, but what garbage…”

Saving paper and keeping military secrets are important, but the newspapers in the rear are a bit too far removed from the real world. What appears to be reader reactions to the ridiculously titled column “Life of the Brave Soldiers on the Front Lines” in particular makes Tanya crack up.

“As usual, it’s too censored and too full of propaganda. I can’t help but think it would be better to tell the home front what it’s actually like on the front lines.”

This drivel they call patriotic sentiments in the form of letters from schoolchildren. The fact that they have so many writing in… Well, it’s probably not a bad way to boost fighting spirit. But apparently, schoolchildren these days know all the abbreviations and slang the troops use on the front lines.

Their knowledge is comprehensive enough that I want to burst out laughing as I read.

“You’re going to post reactions to this fake news? Okay, then.”

The more I read, the more suspect it seems. It’s like they’re not even trying to hide the fact that only one person wrote them all it’s obvious when a bunch of boys and girls use the exact same phrasing. The most telling part, though, is that the openings have long since been written according to a template. This is an awfully careless way to fight an information war.

“…The Federation and Commonwealth are probably better at this sort of thing.”

Well, I guess there’s no good way to beat liars at their own game. Tanya sips coffee from the military-use pseudo mug and sighs. It’s good that the Imperial Army is aware of how important information warfare is.

But if the method they choose lacks sophistication, it’ll only backfire.

“Sheesh, having time on your hands is poison for someone who lives to work.”

It’s not strange that Tanya’s complaining.

Seeing other people’s sloppy work is bizarrely irritating. Looking out the window with nothing to do, she sees a vast wasteland.

It’s currently the tail end of August. The sun is shining gently, leaving the weather too comfortable to associate the east with mud.

But Tanya doesn’t attempt to hide her annoyance with the massive expanse of land that seems to go on forever, even when viewed through her binoculars.

For crying out loud. If we try to take this huge swath of land, the army will be spent. Despite massing the majority of our forces on this front, we don’t have the manpower to cover it all.

This is like dashing into a tunnel without knowing if there is an exit or not… Having thought that far, Lieutenant Colonel Tanya von Degurechaff smiles wryly, though it’s out of character for her.

I guess the view out a train window invites people to think in an unusual, meandering way.

Still, Tanya ends up pondering a certain point anyway.

There’s been a thought smoldering inside her for a while now.

In the history books of Earth that I know, the German army was fated to melt away on the eastern front. The reason was simple: They took too many losses at each position along their overstretched lines.

That war of attrition was fatal. In this world, the Empire’s human resources haven’t dried up yet. But the phrase haven’t dried up yet applies only to the present. It’s not a guarantee for the future.

Still, that’s assuming events here match what happened during World War II. In the First World War that I remember, Germany won in the east, managing to push the lines forward.

To be frank, the Empire is winning in the west at the moment. That doesn’t mean we have to lose in the east, though. Same as before, it’s not obvious which way this battle will go.

Objectively speaking, we still have a definitive chance at victory. Of course, we could lose as well.

“…I suppose I have to admit that I don’t know.”

True, we can say, Well, that’s how war is and leave it at that, but I really don’t like this uncertain outlook. Fog of war is an apt turn of phrase.

The wise men who came before me must have really cursed this fog.

Still, it’d be nice if I could see through it.

It’s only natural to want to know what lies ahead on the path you’re walking, right? What’s at the end of the dark tunnel?

Apparently, a funny tale they tell in this Communist country says that beyond the darkness lie hopes and dreams.

Tanya can only answer with a sigh. Sadly, here in the east, the answer is always the same. Believing in hopes and dreams, you go through the tunnel and just find snow country. If this were some atmospheric work of literature, it would surely be a delightful discovery.

But reality isn’t as beautiful. Works of art often smooth over imperfections. In real life, there is no fantastic scenery to behold. Only muddy snow country.

That’s the morass the Imperial Army unconsciously dives into.

It’s an unpleasant sight. If we knew the way forward, we wouldn’t have to suffer so much. We’re so in the dark that it’s hard to know what to expect. How dreadful.

“Hmm? Oh, I guess we’re almost at a stop. Surprising that they built one in the middle of the massive eastern front. The Railroad Department is doing quite a thorough job.”

Marveling at the sound marking their deceleration and the high-pitched whistle, Tanya picks up the newspaper and starts reading again. Perhaps due to the current war, the quality of the paper seems awfully low, but it’s still not as bad as the content.

Setting aside politics and society, Tanya notices that even the culture section of the paper is focused on raising morale via a feature on charity concerts. Having the people come together and sing patriotic songs probably isn’t a bad way to increase their sense of belonging to the group, but…I’d like to see actual concerts continue, too.

This is why foreign media bitingly covers “concerts in the Empire” and reports that they’re “patriot conventions” rather than places to appreciate music.

“I’m not in a position to comment on cultural policy, but… Hmm?”

Right before Tanya sinks back into her thoughts, a precise knock sounds on the door.

“First Lieutenant Serebryakov, requesting permission to enter, ma’am.”

“That’s fine. Come in.”

“Excuse me, Colonel. We’ve received word from the home country via the station.”

Lieutenant Serebryakov pops into the cabin with brisk movements. In her hand is one of the thick envelopes the General Staff tends to use for sealed mail.

“From the home country?”

“Yes, Colonel. It’s from the General Staff. And…someone who has just boarded the train is here to see you.”

“Someone here? To see me?”

“That’s no way to greet an old classmate, Colonel von Degurechaff.”

Tanya is about to open the envelope when the familiar voice makes its way inside; realizing whose it is, Tanya leaps to her feet.

How nice to see an old face. The man stands in the entrance to the compartment with a smile to hide how utterly exhausted he is.

“I’ve come to bug you. You’ll have to forgive me entering a lady’s sleeping compartment.”

“What a surprise. I never expected my esteemed colleague Lieutenant Colonel Uger to barge in on me. Don’t you know there’s an etiquette when visiting a woman’s room? If your wife knew you had such bad manners, she would surely be disappointed.”

“Oh dear, to think I would upset even my beloved wife and child. What a pesky business military duties are. But orders must be followed I’ll just have to curse my misfortune.”

We exchange friendly quips as we salute each other.

But he was supposed to laugh boldy. Unfortunately, Colonel Uger doesn’t seem to be equipped with a proper sense of humor. Perhaps he didn’t serve enough time on the front lines.

Colonel Uger isn’t the type to banter or make jokes naturally, and it seems he missed out on the opportunity to cultivate better comedic sensibilities on the battlefield.

“Ha-ha-ha. I hope this will be enough compensation to have you pretend this never happened.”

Then Tanya realizes something strange and freezes.

…Has someone who was never the type to make jokes picked up a sense of humor? Even if it’s a lousy one? That’s not a good sign at all.

Both Colonel Uger and I are straitlaced types. Even if I don’t know him well enough to make declarations about his character, I’m confident that he’s not the type to make jokes. The officers selected for war college are either idiosyncratic or sincere, like me.

Both Uger and I are on the serious, hardworking side. I deviated from or I guess you could say acquired a sense of sarcasm from my environment; a major factor was my harsh experiences on the forward-most line. War can’t be fought with a straight face, so I had to cultivate a sense of humor up there. But Colonel Uger shouldn’t have had the same need.

This is…extremely uncharacteristic of him. Why is he trying to joke around anyway? His eyes seem to be smiling, but they’re not.

“…What’s this?”

“Arabica coffee I received from an officer stationed down south. I figured it’s hard to get any on the front lines, so I stuffed two kilos’ worth in my staff pack. By the way, I roasted a hundred grams, and the rest I sealed up well in some bottles.”

“Well, well. You have my thanks.”

Colonel Uger laughs as if it’s nothing and hands the pack to Lieutenant Serebryakov, then he takes the seat opposite Tanya.

…So he’s even being considerate of conditions soldiers face on the front lines. That’s ideal for a General Staff officer serving in the rear, but to be honest, Uger isn’t the type to be comfortable mixing business and personal errands like this.

In other words, he’s here to talk about something so bad that his conscience made an exception? I can’t show it, but my mental state can be compared to how a bomb disposal technician feels when sent to the site of a huge explosive about to go off at any second.

“I thought I would come visit my classmate for the first time in quite a while on the pretext of observing the front lines. When you’re doing desk work for the General Staff, you start to pine for chances to get some air.”

“Well, commanding a Kampfgruppe is a pretty fun job that affords lots of discretion.”

“I’m jealous. Seems like I’ll be the only one whining about my personal problems.”

Lieutenant Colonel Uger, one of the few serious classmates I had among the monsters in the General Staff. Yet he wants this to look like a private conversation?

That has to mean he has something to discuss that he can’t let other people hear. An unofficial message. That’s a warning sign if there ever was one.

Holy hell.

He’s going to bring up something massive. The higher-ups who are always trying to shove extra work off on those out in the field can rot.

“Heh, there’s nothing I can do about that. I get to be out and about and do as I please. I’ll have to lend you an ear, then! Oh, Lieutenant Serebryakov, go grind some beans and make us coffee. Do a thorough job and take your time.”

“Understood. I think it will take a little while yes, probably a half hour or so but I’ll prepare two cups of coffee.”

I don’t think I put too much emphasis on that last bit. It’s excellent that my adjutant picked up on that subtle cue. She performs a beautiful salute and politely takes her leave.

I see her out and lock the compartment door.

“Okay, then…,” says Tanya, returning to Colonel Uger. “What are we actually going to talk about?”

“Oh, nothing good… I never thought I’d have to say something like this to our own troops. It makes me sick. If you were old enough, I would have brought us a stiff drink.”

This straitlaced military man wants to drink on duty?

“Hmm?” Though the surprise she can’t voice reverberates in her head, Tanya feigns calm and limits her reaction to merely cocking her head.

“Colonel. General von Zettour is concerned that this offensive is sprawling too much. He’s especially opposed to expanding the combat front any farther.”

“That makes sense, doesn’t it?”

Tanya nods without thinking.

Lieutenant General von Zettour’s idea is actually a staunchly safe plan. If we’re going to focus not on expansion but on reorganizing our forces, we can focus on the work without tripping through the mud and snow.

In order to operate in the swamp of the east not to mention the fearsome cold without getting stuck, preparation is essential. I can’t say his comment is anything but logical.

“The problem is General von Rudersdorf’s view.”

“…You mean the opinion of the Operations Division?”

When he answers yes, Tanya stiffens. It’s fine for the guys in charge of actually planning operations to have their own ideas. But someone who prefers a flexible style of operation, like General von Rudersdorf, could become the seed for trouble, opposing a safe plan.

“…And what is the general’s view?”

“The guys in Operations are prioritizing time.”

“Colonel Uger, you mean they don’t want to give our enemy any more breathing room?”

“Exactly. They’re anxious about giving the enemy time to reorganize.”

Colonel Uger lays out the logic of the Imperial Army General Staff’s Operations staffers. It’s problematic, to be sure, but when I listen, it’s as correct as Zettour’s view.

On lines of this scale, reorganizing units and tidying up positions is practically unavoidable. After all, a disorderly army scattered about the field loses much of its effective fighting power.

On the other hand, a force that’s reorganizing can’t attack.

The pressure we can rain down on the enemy would drop dramatically. In other words, if we stop to reorganize our lines, the Federation Army will also get a grace period. Yes, if nothing else, time would be granted to all in equal measure.

If that happens, our enemies will definitely reorganize as well. Essentially, it’s a never-ending dilemma.

“Apparently, the guys in Operations and General von Rudersdorf want to surround and annihilate the Federation’s field army even if this offensive seems impossible. That means…,” he says, looking out the window, and Tanya understands what the higher-ups are after, even if she doesn’t want to. “…They want to resolve things as soon as possible.”

“…You mean because winter is coming?”

It’s still August. But it’s the end of August. Even if we’re prepared for September, it’s highly improbable that we’ll still have weather suitable for military operations by the end of October.

“Our time is limited, but it’s not entirely hopeless. The higher-ups want to push for a massive envelopment using our army’s mobility.”

The fact that Tanya doesn’t scowl the moment she hears this, that alone is a feat of self-control.

One month can be guaranteed but not two. It’s absurd a massive gamble. It’s far too great a risk to attempt a major operation now of all times. If only she could criticize such a criticism; it would be like a huge weight lifted.

But whether in the market economy or out on the battlefield, there’s no chance of victory without taking a risk.

“And what does the General Staff think we should do?”

“Opinions are split.”

It would probably be rude to nod and say of course they are.

But it’d be good for Tanya to smile vaguely. People wouldn’t be surprised to see her accurately forecast the General Staff’s mood as sunny with a chance of explosions.

“The guys in Operations are aggressively optimistic. They’re saying they still have time to engage in a battle to encircle and annihilate the enemy. They say they’ll get it done if they have two months. But it’s those two months that we’re not sure about…” He continues, “On the other hand, the Service Corps guys we’re closer to are angry. Their general demeanor seems to be ‘You really want to put our already fragile supply lines in danger?’ As long as it isn’t guaranteed that we’ll have two months to conduct operations, the Service Corps seems to want to use the remaining time to prepare for winter before snow makes that difficult.”

“You make it all sound so arbitrary, Colonel Uger.”

Uger responds with a “Hmm,” perhaps because he’s aware of that. Tanya doubles down on the discussion.

“Another thing to consider is that if we give the enemy time to reorganize, we may end up having to support the front in a prolonged fight with weakened supply lines. The Service Corps’s plan entails risk, too.”

“Theoretically, yes. But vexing as it is, the logic on both sides of the debate is sound.”

He’s right about that.

That’s what the root of the issue is, Tanya considers internally. Truthfully speaking, there are all too many occasions where people are required to pick the better of two lousy options. Maybe if we had perfect information, it would be different, but we can’t know everything. We have to use what’s on hand to reason out the best option.

“Considering how slow-moving our enemy is, the aggressive plan’s chance of succeeding might be higher.”

If taken one thought at a time, Colonel Uger’s gripes are logical.

“If the enemy can’t use their time effectively…and if our side can use our time effectively…then there’s a benefit to us reorganizing and building a stronger foundation.”

If, if it’s a parade of conditionals. Sheesh, there are too many unknowns.

“Colonel Uger, may I say something?”

He nods. “Of course.” Not that she’s particularly happy to see it before she hits him with something that has been bugging her.

“All I’ve heard is that our upcoming mission will be escorting the main army. I’d appreciate it if you could tell me how this debate in the General Staff affects us…”

It’s impossible to think of getting transferred away from the front and receiving a visit from her old classmate as sheer coincidence.

Reading too much into events will only lure me into concocting a ridiculous conspiracy theory. But it would be a lie to say there is nothing deliberate going on here.

“The generals’ opinions clash. But for better or worse, they’re both pragmatists. They both detest empty theory.”

“I agree. They’re both soldiers who place importance on what’s occurring on the actual battlefield.”

“Which is why, I guess you can say…Colonel von Degurechaff, I really feel for you. They don’t want a clash of theories but to have their ideas verified on the battlefield.”

Tanya almost tilts her head quizzically at the word verified. No, hold on. Verifying things on the battlefield would mean… Right as that thought comes, Colonel Uger continues, rapidly delivering the conclusion.

“To put it in extreme terms, they’ll make their decision after reconnoitering the enemy army.”

“And we should lodge a formal protest about how awfully leisurely they’ll be about it. Where are we going to get the time for that?”

“Unfortunately for you, whether we attack or defend, it will take time to prepare the troops…meaning there is time for a survey.”

Argh. Her bad feeling about this begins ringing the alarm bells, but it’s too late.

“Their conclusion is simple. While supplies are being stockpiled, your Kampfgruppe will go check out the enemy.”

“Recon-in-force?”

“Not quite. It’s a mission to defend a salient.”

Tanya knows it’s bad manners to glare at people.

Still…

Colonel Uger just told her that command wants to put her in a dangerous area, giving her plenty of reason for her gaze to bore into his eyes.

“There is one area where we’ve deliberately given the enemy time to regroup. We want you to engage them and get a feel for how powerful a force they have. In a nutshell, it’s a probe. We want you to perform an experiment on a strategically unimportant piece of land that we’ve left for them on purpose.”

The brass wants us to be coal-mine canaries that let them gauge the danger by seeing when we sing and when we can’t anymore!

We’re even lower than guinea pigs!

“This is a terribly rude question, but…are you saying my unit has been ordered to go and die to ascertain which of the two generals is correct?”

“That’s a harsh way to put it, but…yes. The General Staff’s problems are the General Staff’s problems. In other words, we General Staff officers have to solve them among ourselves.”

As far as Tanya knows, I suppose it should be said…

General Staff officers, including Colonel Uger, have a sense of duty for their office that is, for better or worse, too strong.

Noblesse oblige is the nice way to put it.

Obligations of the elite is haughtier but also honest.

But a guy like Colonel Uger isn’t the type to share that kind of thought out loud. That’s what an elite should be like. A representative like Uger conveys his nobility though actions not words.

Yet, he’s talking about it…in terms of General Staff officers? I can only assume that there’s a huge land mine afoot.

“I beg your pardon, Colonel Uger, but the way you’re talking, it sounds like perhaps something happened?”

“…Yeah. It’s classified, but…I’m the one getting you involved in this, so…I would say it’s my moral responsibility to inform you.”

He looks up at the ceiling of the train compartment and doesn’t even try to conceal his sigh; he must be in quite a state. Looking closely, I can see that the fatigue hasn’t completely left his eyes. Most noticeable is his utterly exhausted tone.

There was at least some life in that voice until just a minute ago, but it suddenly turned weary.

“Supreme High Command has been in an uproar for some time now. The government, the General Staff Office, and the court have all been a barrel of fun lately.”

He certainly doesn’t sound like things over there have been very enjoyable. More like he’s stopped caring.

“On top of that, we can’t ignore public opinion. We’re getting a storm of complaints from around the Empire. Everyone says we should ‘get it over with.’ It’s no wonder there’s a gigantic hurricane blowing through the General Staff Office.” He groans and quietly adds, “The voices calling for a swift resolution have grown to the point where we are feeling the pressure. And I can’t say this publicly, but this argument between General von Zettour and General von Rudersdorf is an extension of domestic politics. Their positions and duties are simply too different.”

Mumbling that he’s said too much, he turns to the window and clams up. Tanya understands how he feels, of course.

I see, public opinion.

I was just reading that wartime newspaper full of rows upon rows of garbage stories with nothing else in it… The national mood is a monster, and it appears to be growing more insistent by the second.

I don’t know who planted the seeds, but since they weren’t harvested, this is the obvious result.

It would seem that the more decent a person is, the harder their life is. Well, it has to be better than the front lines. I want to work in the rear like Colonel Uger.

At the same time, I realize it’s not easy. For example, General von Zettour is in charge of the Service Corps. Put in extreme terms, the person in charge of acquiring resources for the war domestically is compelled to face a never-ending stream of problems.

From the perspective of private demand, the Empire is pouring its limited resources into the bottomless pit known as the eastern front and at a horrifying rate that is probably difficult to comprehend for people outside the military. The way things are currently, the discontent of all the civilian sectors that are getting the short end of the stick must be incredible.

No, it’s impossible to even imagine.

Reading just one of these ridiculous newspaper articles makes it plain to see.

It’s too dangerous to have the person writing news articles so out of sync with the actual situation on the battlefield. Being intentionally vague to protect military secrets is sensible. But if the people disseminating information simply don’t know anything to begin with, we have some serious work to do when it comes to following best practices in communication and conveying intel.

We’re just like an underperforming corporation. We’re one step away from that classic, vicious cycle of savagery and emotionally fueled blunders.

“…Colonel Uger. I’ve received the orders, and my unit will follow them. We will head to our new location and conduct combat missions.”

“All right. Well, saying, ‘Sorry to cause you trouble,’ would be insensitive even coming from me. Colonel, I can’t guarantee any additional supplies, but as your former classmate, I can say this much: I’ll do everything in my power to maintain the supply lines for you.”

The person bowing, openly relying on Tanya, is a mid-level General Staff officer in charge of handling supplies. Normally, he would be able to make anything happen if it was necessary for the war effort.

Yet the most he can promise is to keep the lines open?!

“Have things really gotten that bad?”

“They really have. I’m sorry.”

I want to groan at the ceiling. The situation is dire.

A lieutenant colonel in the General Staff working directly with railroads and logistics can’t secure extra supplies for the Salamander Kampfgruppe, a single unit that’s deploying on orders straight from the General Staff?

He can promise only the existence of some supplies?

This isn’t a brigade or an army but a Kampfgruppe pulled together from a hodgepodge of forces! The protest rising up in Tanya’s throat is not incorrect.

But the suffering in Colonel Uger’s grimace! Nothing else could more accurately convey the true feelings of those stationed in the rear.

This must be why General von Zettour is vehemently opposed to the expansion of the front no matter what. More importantly, he can’t possibly divert any more national resources for military use. Tanya empathizes with his struggle so much she feels sick.

It’s also extremely frustrating that, paradoxically, she can understand why General von Rudersdorf and his men propose a swift resolution. The commanders aren’t wrong when they say the campaign on the eastern front, where vast quantities of resources are being exhausted, needs to wrap up as soon as possible.

Even if you don’t want to be conscious of your relationship with Supreme High Command and its demand for quick victories, if you work in Operations, you have to be. Resources are finite. That’s why we must stop using them. But the necessary resources have dried up.

Both generals are right, which is why it’s such a frustrating issue.

“…What a morass,” I mumble in spite of myself. I’m seized by the urge to cradle my head and scream.

And Colonel Uger, who left with a wordless nod, must have understood how I felt: How did this happen?




AUGUST 30, UNIFIED YEAR 1926, THE SALIENT ON THE EASTERN FRONT

And so…

If we’re going to tell this story in a somewhat logical order…

The Salamander Kampfgruppe under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Tanya von Degurechaff has safely deployed to a little salient no one but historians will ever take any interest in.

The unit has nonstandard combat capabilities for its size. But it should probably be clearly stated…though it boasts armored vehicles, self-propelled artillery, and an outstanding aerial mage unit, it’s still a Kampfgruppe by nature, a force that was thrown together on short notice.

When it comes to securing a bulge indefinitely, this Kampfgruppe with its limited infantry strength is destined to fail.

“…It’s the same dilemma.”

Though they’re defending a base, Tanya is compelled by necessity to opt for an aggressive mobile battle. They don’t have enough men to only play defense.

Not that they have any extra hands for attacking and securing strategic locations.

“If we leave some troops each time we seize a new position, we’ll end up completely spread out. Splitting up is out of the question when the front is already so massive. We can’t let our already slim forces get picked off unit by unit.”

The Imperial Army’s experience on the eastern front is perfectly represented in miniature right here.

Our experiment might as well be called Operation Canary. Of course, officially, it’s Research into the Usage of Kampfgruppen for Base Defense Tactics in Combat a plausible excuse.

It’s so unproductive, but apparently the General Staff must run an experiment on holding a massive front with a limited number of troops.

And that’s why we’re still out here killing one another. In the history books, the lull on the main lines will be depicted as a stationary period, but that has nothing to do with us. And certainly, if neither the Empire nor the Federation is carrying out corps-size operations, then it’s correct in a big-picture way to say that it’s all quiet on the eastern front.

But that’s not quite right, she mentally adds with a sigh.

Just because a battle wasn’t worth covering in a textbook didn’t mean it was all nice and clean.

“Start the mop-up and make sure to get the rest of them! Be careful!”

The commanders barking orders all have their guns at the ready, vigilantly searching.

They’re not out enjoying the autumn season but stabbing freshly harvested bales of hay with their bayonets and checking houses for hiding enemy soldiers. Will this moment make it into the history books?

“Here’s one! Don’t let him get away!”

“Grab him! We’ll make him give up the names of everyone he was working with!”

After a few shouts back and forth as well as some curses, I hear several gunshots and then silence. Sounds like they didn’t manage to take him alive.

I told them to capture enemies because we want to gather intelligence, but…I guess for the troops of my Kampfgruppe, taking an opponent alive in a life-and-death battle is a pretty tall order…

…Or perhaps the first issue to complain about is how our enemies aren’t people we can take prisoner?

Most of the enemies we encounter are irregular militia, which I’m so familiar with that I’m sick of them. Since they aren’t officially soldiers, they have no right to be taken prisoner. According to the laws governing war, these bands of rabble who don’t make their alliance clear don’t have the right of belligerence.

Of course, I wonder how effectively enforced the law of war is. Still, having a good chance of being killed and definitely being killed are two different things.

If your opponent knows death is certain, that makes their counterattacks even more desperate. There’s something wrong with the status quo of kill or be killed…but the fact that we can’t do anything about it makes it worse.

“It’s sad, but it’s only one part of this war of attrition. At this rate…our troops really will melt away.” Tanya grumbles as she glances around like a vigilant commander should…

And off in front of her, she witnesses her men swinging shovels down on the body of an enemy soldier to make sure he’s dead.

Even the ones who hesitated when they first arrived on the eastern front are now merciless servants of efficiency and certainty. When Tanya forced them through the experience of gruesome irregular warfare…they adapted in no time.

It’s been only two days since we were stationed on the salient.

The troops are more comfortable now with the shift from tidy battles fought between regular military forces to the muck of unconventional warfare. Or perhaps we should get philosophical and say they were forced to change?

Because we have to is a phrase that causes abrupt transformations in humans.

I mean, not a day goes by that we don’t get attacked. Federation commando units started becoming very active right as we took up our positions. The prospects for this cleanup operation are awfully gloomy.

The Salamander Kampfgruppe was originally formed to fight mobile battles. We’re not at all suited to this sort of counterinsurgency mission.

To speak in extremes, it’s like sending cavalry to take on a fortress.

“Colonel, we’ve finished eliminating them!”

“Were there any enemy mages?”

“Not that we saw. I think it was mainly a guerrilla force made up of militia.”

Tanya nods to convey her understanding. Inside she feels like things are not going well.

If it were regular forces against regular forces, they would be ready anytime. At least, her Salamander Kampfgruppe can kick the ass of an equally sized Federation unit with no problem.

But Tanya’s frustration lies elsewhere. Really, all that her unit should be used for is kicking ass. They don’t have the manpower to secure an area by combing it for resistance fighters and plucking each partisan out.

There isn’t enough infantry. Failure is virtually inescapable.

“We have to avoid this swamp at all costs…”

But how? Even the General Staff is still looking for the answer! This is what you call answering your own question.

Tanya no, even the other staff officers are aware of the issue. Everyone understands where the problem is, but figuring out what to prescribe for it is proving difficult.

Taking time to organize their thoughts would be a profligate luxury.

You can’t simply take your time in a guerrilla fight, because any visitors you receive will be sudden.

The transmissions that come to us never take our schedule into consideration.

“Salamander 05 to 01. A new enemy’s shown up!”

First Lieutenant Grantz, who I have on guard, delivers a report that contains the word enemy.

Those five little letters force my brain to change gears. To protect my peace-loving self’s personal safety, I have to be fully prepared to face the enemy threatening it.

“Unverified hostile mage unit approaching from the northeast. There are…four of them. And I guess…they’re flying NOE?”

“Salamander 01, copy. 05, nice work. Those must be their hotshots. I’ll head over, so if you’re racking up points, I hope you’ll leave me my share.”

My Kampfgruppe is spread out, sweeping for any remaining enemies.

They must have been aiming for this. They waited until my troops committed their attention to the ground battle to send aerial mages on a hit-and-run strike out of the sky.

It’s a textbook approach, rigidly faithful to theory. That’s how I know it’s their main objective. For better or worse, it’s easy to understand.

“Oh,” Tanya continues as if she had forgotten to mention something. “I wanted to warn you, 05. Make sure your reports are accurate. Are they flying NOE or not?”

“05 to 01. Apologies. But it’s less like they’re flying and more like they’re trying to imitate ducks in the air…”

“01 to 05. Now you’re talking. Ducks?”

Hmm. I wonder what he might mean as I fly. Increasing my altitude, I take out my binoculars and begin scanning the direction Lieutenant Grantz said the enemy is coming from.

“Yes, ducks! It would be easiest for you to just see them yourself… But the way they’re moving is not so much contour flight as it is level flight. We can aim at them from our position right now. How should I explain this…? It’s like they have their hands full simply flying so they forgot to keep an eye out for threats above them.”

“Ah, I spotted them… Fine, do it.”

When I finally see it for myself…I understand that Lieutenant Grantz’s description is apt.

Through my binoculars, I see unsteady Federation mages struggling to maintain their erratic path through the air. I’d be hard-pressed to call them aerial mages if that’s the state they’re in. They aren’t flying through the sky as much as drowning in it.

“…I never thought we’d encounter an enemy who can barely stay in the air.”

Back on the Rhine front, I would have thought any mages seeming so preoccupied by basic flight were a ruse. I might have shouted back at Grantz, Take a closer look! At least, I never would have imagined that these four mages were the enemy’s main attacking force.

I would have thought it was a harassment attack to dull our edge before a major offensive or possibly a simple feint. Both the Rhine front and the eastern front feature cheap trick after cheap trick, so the fog of war is thick as ever.

But on the eastern front, the rules are a bit different.

The enemy is waiting for the Imperial Army to exhaust itself and collapse.

I mean, come on, Tanya thinks while looking up at the company flying above her. Being on guard against enemy approaches and maintaining company-strength forces in the air as cover twenty-four hours a day is tiring.

And after all that effort, our opponents are…four enemy mages who can barely fly.

“The defending side can’t know when or from where the enemy will appear, but there’s not anything we can do about that… This’ll be rough.”

“Without a doubt. But our respective attrition rates are very different. We’ve done a great job so far, so I’m sure we’ll be able to keep it up.”

Tanya breaks into a smile at Major Weiss’s comments.

Then, as if to back up that confident declaration, the troops who had gone out to attack unleashed a company’s worth of disciplined fire.

Lieutenant Grantz was in command.

“Now, let’s see how skilled they are.”

Tanya wonders what would happen if they missed…but she doesn’t consider it a necessary worry. She’s been with these men since the Rhine.

I’m not so thickheaded that I’m oblivious to the improvement of my subordinates. Even Grantz, who used to always make me worry, has made progress.

War is a lousy experience. But…live combat does make a person grow. The men and officers under me who have gained experience, endured trials, and put their abilities on display are true assets.

I invested in Grantz’s human capital and trained him. Now his skill is worthy of being praised as professional.

He discovered this pseudo-NOE flying platoon at what was something approaching ultra–long range, then shot them down from a considerable distance.

“Marvelous. All threats are confirmed down.”

New recruits who I initially find to not be of much use rapidly gain experience in the field, and their abilities blossom.

…Even if it’s difficult to call the skills involved in waging war “productive,” I have to hand it to them for their earnest attitude toward getting better at their jobs.

“That’s four joint scores. At this rate, nothing will remain of the current Named system by the end of the fighting on the eastern front. I mean, the way we’re going, we’ll be mass-producing Nameds.”

“Ha-ha-ha! But that said, I doubt the alias White Silver will ever be overshadowed!”

“Hmm, I wonder.”

I can’t say this to Weiss, but his comments assume that the Empire wins the war. From his perspective, perhaps that’s accurate.

But Tanya has to wince at her own position. Maybe other people can believe in the Empire’s victory, holding faith like an innocent maiden in love, but she’s different.

Tanya gazes into the clear blue sky and sighs. A hundred or a thousand years ago, or a hundred or a thousand years from now, the sky probably has and always will be the same.

A universal constant of nature. Staying as it is.

I’m so envious of the sky.

Though it’s uncertain whether the Empire will be around for a thousand years or not, the sky will abide at its leisure. Will the Empire still exist after the fighting on the eastern front ends? That is where Tanya’s true worries lie, so of course she is apt to look up in envy.

I don’t want to pity myself, but what a miserable situation I’m in.

Still, I should prioritize the work in front of me over my existential woes.

“Salamander 01 to all units. It seems like the fighting has cooled down. Begin recovering our injured and searching for enemies to take prisoner.”

The army’s work isn’t done just because it repelled the enemy attack. It’s more like a party, in that cleaning up afterward is the hardest part.

If you can’t feel lucky for having to worry about cleaning up, you can’t keep going. Regrets and reflections are privileges of the living. If you die, there’s no nothing.

“Second Company, stand by for rapid response. Third and Fourth Companies, keep patrolling the warning line. I’m putting 02 in command of the warning line.”

“02, roger. Leave it to me.”

“Great.”

Now then, even after entrusting some of the necessary tasks to Weiss, there are still way too many approvals and various decisions to make.

If one of my troops dies, I have to send a letter of condolence to the rear. Naturally, it’s stipulated that we have to write to the bereaved family in a considerate way. If it’s too perfunctory, Personnel will complain in a way that affects our performance evaluations, so we can’t just phone it in. They even recommend that we send notes about injuries.

When your human capital decreases and your workload increases, you start to really abhor the deaths of your subordinates, whether in battle or of illness, and even their injuries.

Purely in terms of market principle, there can’t be many occupations more peace loving than that of the soldier.

Ahhh, damn it, Tanya curses mentally. But the job has to be done. Therefore, in order to fulfill her duties, Lieutenant Colonel Tanya von Degurechaff faces her pen and ink and boldly begins to tackle the hopeless amount of work she has to do.

I should place faith in my work ethic and the coffee beans I received.

That said, given the fact that my consumption is increasing exponentially and our supply of coffee beans is unstable, my worries about the overall supply situation are headache inducing.

Having our supplies cut off would be horrible.

No, thinks Tanya, stopping her pen. She reconfirms their connection to the rear.

Colonel Uger promised that even if we can’t expect any extra supplies, he would maintain the existing supply lines. It’s probably safe to look forward to a periodic delivery of coffee beans.

“Ah, caffeine. No one has ever claimed victory after their supply of it was cut off… So I guess that means if the Empire can provide such luxury goods to the front lines, it still has some fight left in it?”

If you look at the history of coffee, it’s clearly a luxury item.

Cultivated by human hands as a commercial crop, according to humanity’s tastes, it’s delivered to places far from its origin. At the foundation of this system is an extraordinary logistic network that allows for stable distribution.

I suppose that’s significant…

The fact that Uger says he can maintain distribution proves the system’s greatness. If the organization is still holding together, then the Empire has a chance at victory.

While she was applying herself to her work, thinking those things, the sun set.

“Sheesh, management is a pain. It may be discretionary labor, but I don’t really…”

Tanya intended to finish her sentence with get much discretion, but her grumble is interrupted by the awfully familiar sound of gunfire followed by multiple explosions.

…Honestly, it makes me want to complain.

The Federation Army is truly violent toward the silent veil of night.

“The first report is in! Several shots and explosions echoing from a nearby settlement! The patrol discovered the Federation’s regularly scheduled attackers and has engaged! All units are currently repelling the attack!”

Upon receiving the report from Lieutenant Serebryakov, who is on duty, Tanya gets up with visible aggravation. These guys don’t know how to properly enjoy an autumn evening.

“Geez, these guys work too hard. Do they have no concept of labor laws?”

“It doesn’t seem like it, Colonel. We might end up getting used to all this.”

“Absolutely. We should lament our misfortune of acclimating to this nastiness.”

Once something is familiar, it’s not as hard to handle. But that comes with the caveat that it’s difficult to be genuinely happy about getting used to it. Poking my head into the command post, I see that the enemies are moving in the same manner as usual.

It’s not too difficult to put together the gunshots and the reports from each unit to get a grasp on the situation.

For better or worse, habituation to the enemy’s simple patterns can invite carelessness, but…as long as you’re not screwing up in how you deal with them, it’s not too bad.

“From the field, Colonel.”

Taking the telegram, I listen to the reports and finds that it’s what I expected.

“HQ, this is Infantry Third Company. We fought off a minor attack. It was a night raid conducted by a small number of armed commandos. We’re currently cleaning up the battlefield.”

After all, it can be said…

The attacks we’re experiencing are classic harassment attacks the insensitive kind that aim to disrupt our sleep but if we’re discussing each individual strike, they’re relatively straightforward to handle.

Defend, repulse, and recover that’s it.

“What’s the damage?”

“Since the patrol spotted them early, there are no major losses aside from one burned-out building.”

That’s good. The fewer letters of condolence I have to write, the better.

“That’s some nice work. Who was on patrol?”

“It was Corporal Kurtz and his men.”

“Got it. Give them a gift from me later. And send me the details of the incident when they’re available. Have your unit stay sharp.”

Keeping damage to a minimum is good, but on the other hand, it’s proof that trouble is still constantly following us around here. We may have repulsed the attack with negligible damages, but the more times this happens, the more likely it is for a mistake to occur.

And mistakes eventually lead to catastrophes.

The commander’s reply to Tanya is a reliable “We’ll be careful.”

Tanya smiles wryly, since he could have left that unsaid, and urges him to continue with his report.

“The commanders at each level are tabulating the details now, but casualties appear to be extremely low. This time we discovered the enemy early and reacted swiftly. I don’t think you’ll have to wait long for the detailed report. The only thing is that we had to wake up napping troops. Please bear in mind that we’re running on very little sleep.”

“Not much we can do about that.” Tanya groaned, sharing his understanding.

Cornering us so that we can’t relax while they do their best to disrupt our sleep the enemy’s guerrilla units are really having their way with us.

Considering the enemy efficiency and lack of hesitation, they must have green-lit a scorched-earth campaign destroying all infrastructure within reach, basically.

“I have to admit that regardless of how well it can build things, Communism sure can tear them down.”

“That’s for sure. But we’ll at least resist by being efficient at fixing things. We’ll show those demolitionists.”

The commander and I exchange banter that hardly qualifies as small talk, or joking for that matter. It may seem stupid, but it’s clear that if we can still afford to screw around like this, things are all right.

No one is as fragile as a soldier on the front lines or in the trenches who has lost the ability to smile.

While taking things seriously may be a virtue, being humorless when you’re in a tight spot renders people helpless to the point that they would contribute more to society by being shot.

On that point, lack of sleep is bad for mental health as well as morale. Infantry Third Company, whose beds were burned up, won’t be able to get a good rest until the firefighting and restoration are done. Since it’s fall, it’s still just barely possible to camp…but if at all doable, infantry should sleep with a roof over their heads.

“Do your best. I’ll send some refreshments over soon.”

The minute she puts down the receiver, Tanya follows through on her promise. It’s times like this that it’s most important to be considerate. Encouraging subordinates and appreciating their work a little can make a big difference in the field. The most basic rule of personnel management is to make sure that subordinates know the high-ranking people can see their hard work.

When there isn’t enough effort put into the essential principle of rewards and punishments, nothing but utter collapse awaits. Principles are principles for a reason and must be respected.

“Oh, Lieutenant Serebryakov. I need to give something to Corporal Kurtz and his men from Third Company. Send one of the bottles you have stored in the battalion treasury.”

“Y-yes, ma’am!”

After making her expectations plain, Tanya sets about reorganizing her thoughts. She switches gears from personnel manager back to her role as commander.

The situation is clear.

The building Third Company was garrisoned in has been burned down in the night by a guerrilla raid. Something like this happens every night, so the troops are used to it, but…the question is whether there will be another attack tonight or not.

If the raids are likely to continue, Tanya needs to tell the units on patrol to raise the alert level. But if the enemy doesn’t come, that would mean cutting into their precious sleep time for no reason.

Should I leave the alert level as it is and let my men get some rest? Or should I raise it and be prepared for a raid? The choices are in direct conflict. Either way, it’s a tough decision.

“Okay…what should I do?”

Her uncertainty probably stems from the fact that she hasn’t been getting enough sleep, either.

In an attempt to open her eyes, Tanya reaches for the coffee that had materialized at some point, and the moment she smells it, she smiles ironically probably because they’re the beans she received from Colonel Uger the other day.

Her nose is so used to the frontline-issue ersatz coffee that she learned not to breathe in the smell. But for the first time in a while, she sniffs at her drink in pursuit of the pleasant scent.

That simple fact is enough to put her at ease about the supply lines. The smell of the unusually fragrant coffee sinks into her tired body.

Colonel Uger has excellent taste.

Taste? At that thought, Tanya recalls something. Her current situation is not at all to her liking. In fact, it’s downright disagreeable. If she acted according to textbook, she would alert all units that one of theirs had been attacked and shift everyone into a state of readiness.

The problem is that standard doctrine doesn’t really cover the combat environment in the east.

Strictly speaking, the forward-most line and the main lines are no-man’s-land, so handling things according to textbook would be fine. But salients consisting of freshly occupied or abandoned villages and forested areas are hotbeds of partisan1 activity, so the theories don’t hold up.

“…Even a plan that plays it safe, in the long run, would be…”

It’s important to be on their guard.

But she should also avoid keeping her soldiers sleep-deprived night after night.

It’s absurd, but these two choices are inescapable. Which means that Tanya, as commander, is stuck picking one or the other.

“Major Weiss, I’m not sure whether we should put a warning out. There’s no warning from the forward patrol, right?”

“No warnings. The periodic reports have all been normal, as well.”

“…Then I suppose I should…”

…let the Kampfgruppe sleep. Tanya nearly says it, but then she thinks again. You can hate sleep deprivation only if you’re alive.

Staying alive is my style. So I should be true to myself.

“Wake up some of the troops. Combat readiness three. Get them on alert.”

“Are you sure?”

“We don’t know if the enemy will stop at one raid. The fact that we’re so used to their nightly attacks might be dangerous. I’d rather risk the resentment of the troops once they’ve gotten home than end up regretting exposing them to the enemy in a careless moment.”

To be honest, it pains me to make other people go along with my preferences.

But ordering someone to do what I say in order to keep them alive must be…within the realm of the permissible, as a soldier. It’s like an extension of their tasks or duties. I’m sure even the Labor Standards Bureau would forgive me.

“If that’s what you prefer, then who am I to disagree?”

“Colonel Uger taught me the value of good taste.”

“Oh, is he the one who gave you that coffee?”

“It’s my secret stash. I have to check later to make sure Lieutenant Serebryakov isn’t using too much of it. Now then,” Tanya continues with some pep in her voice. “Shift to combat readiness three. Begin giving the notice.”

“Understood,” Weiss says before leaving to relay her instructions. It’s certain that everyone will understand the need for security as their beds call to them. They’ll only get up with some reluctance.

That said, if some rise, others can stay asleep. Combat readiness three uses shifts, so some people are free. Of course, that includes the officers at HQ as well.

“Oh, Lieutenant Serebryakov. You should rest, too.”

I need my adjutant to have decent judgment. I’d rather have her well rested and levelheaded than sleep-deprived and fuzzy brained.

The decrease in cognitive ability humans experience when sleep-deprived must be a biological response.

When we require sleep as a given, neglecting it is truly inept. Any capable person should ensure they get the minimum required amount of rest without fail. If I don’t want to consider myself incompetent, I have to give my subordinates as much rest as possible.

“But I don’t want to leave you and Major Weiss…”

“It’s not a suggestion. Get some rest. That’s part of your duty as a soldier. You heard the order, right, Lieutenant?”

Getting proper rest and sleep could be called a part of an assistant’s duties.

It’s impossible to maintain performance at 100 percent with willpower and guts alone.

“Yes, ma’am, understood.”

Her bow as she excuses herself is ever so conscientious. Perhaps it’s conceited to say that I made Serebryakov into what she is now, but it makes me so happy to see what a great officer she has become during our short time together.

I’m incredibly proud to have contributed so much to the growth of human capital on our team. Of utmost importance, however, is a plan to utilize that human capital properly. On that point, Tanya does think waking up soldiers to put them on readiness, even if only level three, might be a bit too cautious.

It’s important to be appropriately wary of risks. Fearing them too much invites its own problems. In the end, it’s important to have common sense and balance.

Easier said than done.

Why have there been so many of these either-or choices lately…? Tanya smiles wryly at the thought.

“Hmm, if I wake them up for no reason, they won’t like me very much, will they?”

“…What about just leaving the lookouts and canceling the combat-readiness order? We could let the unit get a little sleep…”

If we do that… Tanya does the numbers in her head. They would be able to scrape together some time for the troops to rest in bed, even if only for a few hours.

It’s not a bad suggestion.

But… The thought also crosses her mind that it’s too soon for that.

“Not bad, but let’s take a look at our situation. It’s almost dawn. Late at night or early in the morning are the times to strike. During this time of day, we need to be careful.”

“Understood. Shall I wake up Lieutenant Grantz?”

“Grantz is on backup and scramble duty. Let him sleep. A sleep-deprived scrambler will only cause an accident.”

She’s really happy that his unit has become a real fighting force. She’s incredibly proud to have trained up First Lieutenant Grantz.

Cultivating people is an important job within an organization.

In my work in personnel, I never cultivated anyone… “Hmm,” Tanya murmurs as she breaks into a smile. “Maybe I actually have an aptitude for teaching people.”

“I’d like to ask the two first lieutenants you put through the mill how they feel.”

I may have been a strict teacher, but I got results. Not that I’m arrogant enough to say they could thank me and I wouldn’t be surprised.

Setting aside how he may have interpreted her silent gaze, he’s probably thirsty if he’s cooped up in the command post. Before she knows it, he’s holding up his cup and asking, “May I have another cup of coffee?”

She glances at him and sees his eyes hungry for brewed arabica beans.

“Hmph, I should have told you to sleep.”

“If you wish…”

“I guess I have no choice. You’re being responsible and following orders.”

With a bit of a smirk, she pours him a cup as an apology for making him go along with her selfishness. Friend of the night, bosom buddy of overtime coffee is a fine companion. She regrets sharing her private stock a little. It’s also maddening that the supply situation is poor enough to warrant regretting something so minor.

Not long after serving Weiss, Tanya nonchalantly looks up at the hands of the clock and grumbles. “Hmm, it doesn’t seem like there will be a dawn attack. I guess my intuition has dulled.”

If there was going to be an assault, it would be happening right around now. Preparing for an attack meant moving into position before sunrise…but the enemy won’t make it in time anymore.

If there’s no sign of them now, all this readiness was for nothing. Morning will come, and all I’ll have accomplished is letting my vice commander drink up my stash of good coffee. I guess I should just be happy the enemy didn’t come.

Tanya is nearly dozing off as she muses, but all of it gets blown away with a jolt.

“C-C-Colonel, we’ve got an emergency!”

“Give me a sitrep.”

“It’s two battalions! Federation forces have penetrated our territory with battalion-strength units! The patrol made the discovery, and the rapid response unit has engaged them!”

Conducting a night raid with battalions?

There’s no time to think how bold a move that is. This is more than provocation. It’s a clash of two professional armies.

“Wake everyone up! They’re here!”

Did they aim for the moment we’d gotten used to their harassment attacks?

Or does this happen to be right when they received reinforcements? No, neither of those things matters right now.

We can investigate their motive later.

Right now, we have to crush the enemies standing in front of us.

“But why would they time their dawn attack for right now…? Wait a sec.”

Two battalions in a dawn attack.

The surprise factor is tremendous, but it’s even more bizarre that the Federation doesn’t second-guess whether two battalions might have trouble defeating an entire Kampfgruppe. The Salamander Kampfgruppe is an ad hoc combat force made up of armor, self-propelled artillery, infantry, and aerial mages, and they’ve been skirmishing with us for a while now.

“I’ll go to intercept!”

“Wait, Major Weiss! The 203rd is a reserve unit.”

“Yes, ma’am, b-but…”

If it was a sudden encounter, I could understand. If the enemy commander decided to have them rush in, he could be forgiven.

But would an enemy who already has a good idea of our combat strength through multiple skirmishes conduct an attack this clumsy?

The answer is…

No way.

“It doesn’t make sense to try to force their way in with only two battalions.”

For anyone who wants to avoid risky situations, the regret of excessive caution is preferable to the satisfaction of assuming you’ve seen through the enemy’s plan. Well, perhaps in an offensive battle, people wouldn’t like the idea of being cautious.

But this is a defensive mission where the goal is to keep attrition to a minimum.

“Tell the armored unit to assume these are enemy reserves. The mage unit will be held back for putting out fires. But scramble the backup company. I don’t expect them to participate proactively in the fighting. Tell them to be our eyes on the battlefield.”

“Yes, ma’am!”

Weiss performs a perfectly textbook salute and rushes back to his unit. Watching him go, Tanya smiles wryly. I’m sure he’ll work hard enough to earn the coffee he drank.

I say “the coffee he drank” for the sake of cost consciousness.

Being aware of costs is proof that I’ve regained a healthy sense of market principle. Even on the front, where you’re liable to lose your humanity, I seem to be maintaining both my mental and physical health.

There is nothing more pleasant for me as a modern, free individual.

Sheesh, the freedom to bask in contentment would be nice. But no, the battlefield doesn’t allow for even such a simple joy.

“C-Command! It’s the enemy! The enemy is!”

“Enemy attack! Intercept them!”

I knew it. I anticipated it. But really? They’re attacking headquarters?

If we were in trenches, this would never have happened. The partisans must have spotted us during the day.

It takes more than a few days to map out the geography of a village we’re garrisoning.

Even with a patrol out, an unexpected defeat is still possible. But reality is harsher than I imagined. The area we have to defend is larger than we thought, and we don’t have enough manpower to properly cover all the ground.

Insufficient personnel led to holes in the warning line, so naturally we’ve allowed this totally unforeseen attack to happen.

“They’re coming directly for headquarters?! Shit, they’re too good!” The troops curse as they grab their rifles.

But even if the Kampfgruppe’s rear personnel put up their best fight, it’s only the few staffers attached to headquarters. They’re soldiers, so of course they can shoot a gun, but…whether they can land any shots or not is another story.

The ones we should rely on at times like this are the conscripts who guard HQ. But we were already short on soldiers. After drawing from the guard unit to bolster the front lines, our extreme numerical disadvantage is inescapable.

“Shit, I knew it… Fighting on the eastern front is totally different from trench battles!”

Unlike on the western front, there are no trenches in the east. The supremely simple, clear reason for this is that the battle lines are too long. We don’t have enough troops to build trench works and man the whole front.

That means there’s no way to tell the first and second lines apart.

Even the soldiers in the rear may have to fight. In a lax moment, idiot soldiers can be turned into idiot corpses by knives, bayonets, or shovels.

I was right to require the bare minimum of training for the staff working at the command post.

“C-Colonel! We’re completely surrounded!”

“Calm down! Take a closer look! We’re just following our original plan of holing up at this position and defending! The enemy isn’t even sure how to attack us!” As she roars directions at the rear personnel, Tanya smiles.

Just because the enemy is clever doesn’t mean you have to go along with their plan. If you want to really scatter them…all you have to do is blow them up from their core.

“Now’s about time! Their main forces must all be here. We can assume they’re attacking with almost their full strength. Major Weiss, scatter them!”

“Understood! Battalion, move out! We need to intercept them immediately! Don’t mistake friendlies for the enemy!”

I’m sending out the pet reserve unit in my pocket, the unit I wanted to keep on hand even if I had to decrease the number of guards at the headquarters the 203rd Aerial Mage Battalion.

Having gained experience in Dacia, Norden, and the Rhine, it continues to function as a perfect apparatus for violence in the vast lands of the east. I suppose you could say it works wonders.

The Federation infantry battalions probably intended to surround and grind us down, but we treat them to a volley of head-on explosion formulas, occupy the sky above them as they panic, then advise them to surrender.

Before long, things are shaping up to end in the Empire’s favor. A single mage battalion held in reserve can be quite a wildcard. Whether it’s a defense or counterattack, no one can casually settle into a leisurely shootout with a mage battalion coming out of the sky unless your position is honeycombed with anti–air guns.

There’s no way the infiltrators are hauling anti–air machine guns. After regrouping, the Imperial Army infantry conducts maneuvers to drive our point home, causing the attacking Federation forces to meekly start lowering their guns.

Honestly, I was worried they would resist to the very end, so surrender is good news for me.

“Phew, I’m glad this ended without having to fight them down to the last man.”

Oh. That’s when it occurs to Tanya that these enemies are wearing proper uniforms.

I’m not partial to their tendency to use even dawn attacks to distract us, but I truly appreciate that the whole organization surrenders in an orderly fashion.

That means… Ever scrupulous, Tanya repeats aloud the words that popped into a corner of her mind. “Make sure the prisoners are accommodated appropriately according to regulations. I sure hope I don’t have any subordinates dumb enough to be violent with captives.”

“Understood, Colonel. We can handle it, of course.”

The infantry officers nod, so they must understand how I do things. Since I was repeating myself, they may have felt the insistence.

Still, it’s critical for those in command to constantly reinforce policy. That’s why I have to say it even though I know they get it.

“It’s not as if I’m worried about you guys. What I want is for you to fill in everyone beneath you. I want even the privates at the bottom to understand what those at the top understand and what we’re focusing on.”

“Ngh! Yes, ma’am!” With the abrupt realization showing on their faces, the infantry officers all straighten up.

This was probably the first time they considered the possibility that their subordinates could cause trouble. The troops are used to mopping up irregulars, but if they thoughtlessly tormented uniformed soldiers, that could be a huge problem. Now would be the time to rein in the grunts where they need to be reined in.

I can’t say whether this is to be expected or what. The officers of the Salamander Kampfgruppe have excellent qualifications, but most of them still lack experience. They weren’t so green that they would conduct themselves improperly during the heat of battle, but expecting them to know how to appropriately settle things after the fighting was over was optimistic.

That said, they have good heads on their shoulders. They won’t make the same mistake twice. Tanya stood at attention with a click of her boots, then let the commanders know there was nothing to worry about and that she was counting on them.

“All right, we have a lot of work to do.”

The village we’re garrisoned in is a bit of a mess.

Most of it emerged unscathed from the fighting. In the ten days since we’ve been deployed here, I’ve been working my subordinates hard to set up warning and defensive lines, but maybe it would be better to have them focus on base maintenance so they can get some sleep.

But when Tanya thinks about how few hands she has, she can’t help but frown.

One option would be to put the prisoners to work. But without a proper camp, it would be impossible to supervise their labor.

The infantry of the Salamander Kampfgruppe is mostly combat units, and we have only the minimum complement of military police.

They’re for enforcing regulations within the Kampfgruppe, but maybe they could supervise the prisoners temporarily… Still, in a crisis, even the MPs are manpower. I don’t want to tie down any personnel to prisoner duty like that.

“Man, I don’t know what to do. There’s too much I want to have the MPs do. We’re totally understaffed.”

“If you like, we could have some infantry personnel handle it.”

“I appreciate the offer, but I don’t want to tire out our combat troops. Have those units mop up and secure the battlefield on the double.”

As the infantry unit COs acknowledge with a salute and leave the room, Tanya watches them go while thinking about how young they look. For some reason, she suddenly realizes, everyone is in their twenties.

…They may be outstanding, but I can’t believe such young officers ended up in my unit. Well, if we’re going to have that kind of talk, Visha is only in her teens, and that’s before getting into the issues posed by Tanya herself.

Rapid expansion, attrition on the Rhine, lack of key personnel, increasing use of the younger demographics.

The logistics network is still functioning. We get replacement troops. But how much longer will the Empire’s strength hold out?

“…There’s no point in thinking about it.”

The Empire is chipping away at its people, its human resources and capital.

And in such an unbelievably primitive conflict.

Even in the trenches on the Rhine, we were engaging at close quarters fairly often.

But over there, the times both sides would commit to hard hand-to-hand combat were mainly when operations were being launched; it wasn’t a daily occurrence. Certainly, it’s a different ordeal when compared to the depressingly gruesome skirmishes out in no-man’s-land between patrols and commandos.

Still, on the Rhine front, close-quarters combat indicated the battle was in its final phase. To speak to extremes, I’d say it’s what happened when charging trenches. In the east, even though we’re sleeping indoors, it’s become routine for the soldiers to get woken up by an attack and then fight for their lives.

If this is the barbarization of warfare, then…what a pity. Violence at close quarters on a regular basis. It’s an awful thing.

“Sheesh…this time was pretty bad.”

Tanya grumbles in disbelief about the attack on headquarters. I understand how great it feels to mount an attack on an enemy HQ, but I have zero interest in being on the receiving end.

“I get that we’re in enemy territory, but we really haven’t been able to rest at all. At this rate, we’ll collapse in exhaustion.”

On the eastern front, we’ve long since entered Federation soil, so everything around us is enemy territory. Whether we like it or not, we should be aware of this. I’d really like to invite the illustrious law experts who came up with the words noncombat zone and rear area to this charming locale.

Fatigue may not appear clearly in our reports or stats, but it still chips away at the troops’ ability to continue fighting.

A tired army is fragile. No, not just armies. Any organization made up of exhausted people will inevitably make mistakes. And in an exhausted organization, there isn’t any leeway to cover for the errors of individuals.

Once you reach that point, all that awaits is doom.

“Get back to resting as soon as possible. Everyone who isn’t on duty should hop to it.”

That’s why Tanya is especially passionate about urging her troops to take a break.

Humans aren’t machines. They require a proper amount of rest. She’s convinced that if the troops’ well-being isn’t taken care of, catastrophe will be unavoidable.

“But, Colonel, shouldn’t we post extra lookouts?”

“I’ve made sure we can respond quickly. Adding any more guards will just wear our people out.”

“It’s only been a few days…”

“Gentlemen, please be aware that even if it’s only been a few days, we’re still fighting a battle of attrition.”

Currently, the Kampfgruppe’s human attrition is minor, but according to several texts I’ve read, the research on war and mental health says that over three months of frontline service is bad news. Was it an American study? I forget. My knowledge of psychology doesn’t go very deep, but…who knows how things will turn out if this battle gets prolonged?

It’s because Tanya has this sense of crisis that she firmly reiterates her orders. “Taking a break is part of your job. Remember your pay grade and rest up.”

“Understood, Colonel.”

“Good answer.” She looks out across the troops in the area and makes sure the officers understand that their men should rest, too. Taking a break is part of a soldier’s job.

That being said…

Commanders officers are different. Of course, the minimum amount of rest is essential. A sleep-deprived officer making a careless mistake and sending a unit out to their deaths doesn’t make for a very amusing story.

But the luxury of sound sleep…is reserved for people whose work is done. After repelling an attack, officers have a mountain of reports to make.

Thus, the officers who drove off the enemy have gathered at HQ and are sorting out the situation despite the haggard looks on their faces.

A small room, a cramped table, and meager lighting.

Still, what’s important to a career soldier isn’t a comfortable war room. If it’s serviceable, then it’s fine.

Upon gathering up the concise reports from all the commanders from Major Weiss on down, Tanya makes a conclusion.

It was sloppy.

“This was a dawn attack conducted by a single regiment. As the crowning touch of their counterattack after thoroughly harassing us…it’s pretty weak.”

According to everyone’s reports, the enemy intended to mount a serious counterattack…but they weren’t very cohesive.

“The enemy forces seemed to have a hard time coordinating. I would speculate that it was a hastily assembled unit.” Tanya’s vice commander nods as he voices his agreement, and he’s probably right.

The lack of the proper coordination that’s vital for conducting an effective attack at dawn indirectly speaks to how underprepared the Federation Army is.

Normally that would be good news.

But Tanya can’t help but point something out in her youthful voice.

“It’s aggravating that we’re being tired out by these guys. They’re like crops raised out of season. We need to get some good sleep and soon. If this one salient is such a handful, we won’t be able to be too confident about what comes next.”

Major Weiss’s earlier observation may be correct, but…the enemy probably engineered that apparent weakness in coordination to trick us.

Using an impromptu force composed of two battalions to mount a distraction and sending the rest of their soldiers to attack our headquarters is a rather sketchy plan. To be frank, it’s the type of operation you can probably expect some results from without needing to fine-tune the details.

The enemy commander, who seems adept at considering what he can do with the limited resources he’s got on hand, accepted this imperfection from the planning stages and secured some redundancy.

I’d be lying if I said I couldn’t feel the Federation-style, coolheaded realism of the returns that can be won from targeting high-value enemies with low-value soldiers.

“We experienced this on the Rhine front as well, but we really need to come up with a fix for the unit’s fatigue.”

“Major Weiss, how often would we need to rotate out to get unit exhaustion under control?”

“If we can limit frontline stints to three months, I think we can maintain a minimum baseline of combat strength.”

“Makes sense.” Tanya nods, although in her head she’s anxious. “We have to add the caveat that it depends on whether we can secure replacements. Man, at this rate, the unit will only get weaker and weaker.”

It’s purely based on her experience…but while Tanya feels she can rely on the veterans who have spent a long time on front lines, as a unit, they could abruptly weaken.

Managing personnel on the battlefield is different from HR strategy in a corporation in many ways. Training up some experts and then keeping their unit on the front lines for too long will lead to a buildup of fatigue, leaving them at risk for serious injury.

Which is why we need replacement troops…

“…Gentlemen. To be honest, our prospects for receiving any reinforcements or replacements are poor. But we’re soldiers. If the home country hands us orders, we don’t get to have an opinion.”

If we don’t even have enough troops, then getting replacements is a dream within a dream.

If we have to operate under the extremely harsh premise that manpower is scarce, then I can understand why some of the General Staff are scrambling to reach a quick resolution.

Apparently back at the General Staff Office, the Operations folks are planning a major offensive to bring the war to an end, but…if we can’t guarantee the safety of the rear area, it will be hard to avoid this turning into a stalemate.

The most a single Kampfgruppe can do even the Salamander Kampfgruppe that can respond at the drop of a hat is hold a point.

As long as we can’t resolve this dilemma, we’ll be stuck.

Plus, the decision to throw us onto the front line for this convenient proof of concept can only be rooted in panic. For those of us forced to go along with it, it’s pure misfortune, but Tanya understands that it’s necessary and shakes her head to clear her mind.

“If we slightly overwork ourselves, it’s not impossible to control an area. But I guess it’s ultimately still a fool’s errand to wear down the unit simply to secure this patch of wasteland.”

If we split up the unit, it would probably be possible to hold a sizable area. But in exchange, we’d lose our mobility, quick response time, and the ability to hold forces in reserve. It’s not worth it at all.

But that said…

At this rate, the Empire won’t be able to avoid bleeding to death.

It’s fine that we dealt the enemy a heavy blow in the early battles and knocked them down. But that’s all it was. It was rumored that the Federation Army was collapsing, but they continue to mount counterattacks that, despite their reliance on numbers and repetitive in tactics, are still fierce.

Frankly, you could say that Federation forces are resisting with no regard for casualties. Unfortunately, that feat is impossible for the Empire. We’re already at general mobilization, but we’re putting in enormous effort to only just manage to make up for the fact that we’re hurting for more human resources.

Draining our limited manpower pool will eventually lead to the extinction of the Imperial Army. At the rate we’re going, it’s only a matter of time.

We need a plan to fix it.

“It’s true, but where am I going to find something like that?” Tanya grumbles quietly, but her voice lingers obnoxiously in her ears. I’ve got to find an answer, no matter what it takes. We’re doomed if I don’t.

Thus, Tanya struggles to find a way out of this mess. She won’t stop grasping for a solution until she exhausts both her intellect and the wisdom of all humanity.




SEPTEMBER 12, UNIFIED YEAR 1926, A SALIENT ON THE EASTERN FRONT, THE SALAMANDER KAMPFGRUPPE

Despite mulling it over and over, Tanya still hasn’t found a way out.

All she has found over these past days is an inexhaustible supply of enemies. She has to keep facing the obnoxious Federation forces day after day; it’s a kind of torture.

That explains my current demeanor, I suppose?

Tanya is incredibly eager in her search for an escape or a change to the current status quo.

She’s willing to do anything. But despite comprehensive efforts to acquire the necessary information, she still has no idea what to do.

Technically her unit has prisoners. And quite a few of them, at that.

Capturing enemy soldiers means holding people who know the inside details of the enemy forces. Tanya was anticipating that they would be able to get some idea of the enemy’s situation.

Of course, any single soldier will have only a tiny amount of intelligence. But she figured if she gave a number of them to the Feldgendarmerie, they would come up with something.

That was her naive fantasy.

The results were utterly atrocious.

The prisoners answered the officers’ questions all the same; the interrogators couldn’t get anything out of them besides the cookie-cutter responses of hard-core Communist sympathizers. Thanks to that, apparently now they’re looking to see if there is some sort of propaganda that would break down their will to fight and allow us to draw some intel out of them.

But I’ve received a report that even with this much effort going into the interrogation, the short-term results we can expect to see are limited. The Feldgendarmerie is awfully pessimistic about getting intel out of the prisoners.

In fact…

Given the way the Federation soldiers unflinchingly attack in our daily battles, I can understand why the MPs want to throw in the towel because what can the Feldgendarmerie even do to them?

“But it’s strange.”

Right after the unit repels another clockwork attack from an enemy commando unit, Tanya turns to Major Weiss to ask him, “What is?”

It sounds like he’s going to start a lengthy conversation, and she’s sure her vice commander is a soldier who knows the time and place for it. Tanya has him continue and listens closely because she can tell it won’t be pointless griping.

“I was wondering…why do you suppose these soldiers go along with these reckless offensives?”

“I guess I’d say the Communists are merely hard to understand. It’s not impossible to reason out their line of thought. But anything beyond that is tricky for us normal people. I have no idea why they think that way.” It’s when she murmurs, sounding fed up, “I really wonder what’s on their minds,” that it happens.

“Er, Colonel?” The one speaking is Lieutenant Serebryakov, who is standing by next to Tanya. She nervously makes a suggestion. “If…you have a question, then what if you tried asking them directly?”

In a way, it’s a supremely reasonable idea. It’s rare to have access to an intelligence source as useful as a prisoner.

But Tanya is forced to consider the nuisance of the language barrier.

And even if she could theoretically overcome it, the Federation is a multiethnic state… The prisoners’ “official Federation language” is often heavily accented. Maybe to a native speaker it seems like just another dialect, but interpreting it is practically impossible with only basic language education.

Language really is an obnoxious issue…is what Tanya’s thinking when suddenly, she recalls Lieutenant Serebryakov’s background. Since her family entered the Empire as refugees, she must speak native Federation language.

But Tanya still turns her down for now. She may not have asked herself, but the Imperial Army had questioned prisoners along the same lines before.

The Feldgendarmerie hasn’t been slacking on that count.

“I’m grateful for the suggestion, but they’re already doing that. The Feldgendarmerie is surveying them.”

“So what are they fighting for?”

“Good question, Lieutenant Serebryakov. I read the reports because I was wondering the same thing, but…it turns out we have no idea.”

“A report from the Feldgendarmerie? I beg your pardon, Colonel, but may I see it?”

“Sure, I don’t mind.” Tanya hands over the document, and after scanning it, Serebryakov silently looks up at the ceiling.

She’s so smooth, she even gives a little sigh.

“…Lieutenant Serebryakov?”

“Here you go, Colonel.”

“Hmm.” Tanya takes what she discovers is a handwritten note. It looks like the sort of simple note she would get from the MPs after an interrogation…

“It’s the outcome of briefly questioning some prisoners the Kampfgruppe captured just a bit ago.”

“Hmm? Oh, you did some quick questioning before handing them over to the MPs…? Huh?” Tanya does more than a double take, rubs her eyes. “That’s strange…,” she murmurs. She could really use some eye drops.

The soldiers were talking in their normal, natural voices.

To be frank, Tanya has never read anything like this before.

She’s looked over mountains of MP reports, but she doesn’t remember ever seeing a single one featuring “normal soldiers.”

…It was a mistake to unconsciously assume it was because they were interrogating Communists. I had made up my mind that they were all committed to their ideology, but the notes from Serebryakov indicate the exact opposite.

What Tanya sees in the notes are normal soldiers answering the questions they are asked in a matter-of-fact way. There are no “Communists” to be found.

Just people.

Just raw soldiers.

In a nutshell, individuals.

In the reports Tanya has read up until now, the answers were standardized as if they had received resistance to interrogation training. What’s going on when they talk to Serebryakov?!

…It’s like they transformed from robots into humans.

“Wait a minute, Lieutenant Serebryakov. It’s not that I doubt you, but you’re saying you questioned these prisoners yourself?”

“Yes, we asked a few people, mainly noncommissioned officers, about their ranks and units. Some of them kept silent, but overall you can expect them to be fairly cooperative. You can even acquire intelligence through small talk during the interrogation.”

How wonderfully proactive and inventive. This is what an officer should be like. Nodding in satisfaction, Tanya continues, “So then. You’re saying that apart from the political commissars, they all put some distance between themselves and the ‘Communists’?”

“Strictly speaking, they don’t support the current party.”

“Sure, I don’t care about definitions. In any case, the guys who are supposed to be resisting as fanatical Communists actually detest the party? Was it a penal battalion or something?”

Given the unit the rebellious men were in, Tanya guesses they must be an old regime faction.

But her adjutant’s reply catches her off guard.

“Judging from their badges, they were regular army, and not only that but a unit mentioned in the Eastern Army Group’s intelligence documents.”

“You’re sure of that?”

“Yes.” The reply is resolute and contains the pride of an expert who is confident in their words.

…What the hell? Tanya pinpoints something unsettling inside her.

She has overlooked something.

“Gather the documents right away and make arrangements for an officers’ meeting. Lieutenant Serebryakov, can I see you for a moment?” Tanya asks. “If this is true, there’s no way to explain why the Federation Army isn’t collapsing. If their faith in their state’s framework is shaken, why do they keep resisting so stubbornly?” Tanya nearly continues with How can this be? but shakes her head and stands up. “A picture is worth a thousand words. Guess I have no choice but to take a look for myself.”

Her subordinates absentmindedly acknowledge her.

As if to ask them, Were you not listening to what I was saying? Tanya sighs and breaks down her intentions for them.

“…Major Weiss, I want you to come with me. Lieutenant Serebryakov, you can interpret, right? You come, too.”

And so the heads of the Kampfgruppe appeared before the captured enemy soldiers.

The attitude of the restrained noncommissioned officers was rather nervous but not exactly brimming with hostility. Maybe it was more accurate to say they were thinking about the future in the abstract.

But Tanya decides she might be able to have a fascinating conversation with them.

She is cautious, but incredibly optimistic.

Major Weiss is going to perform the interrogation, since he can make the scariest faces.

He’s a decorated, mid-ranking magic officer, so he’s the perfect interrogator. They hastily throw an enemy soldier into the room in one of the garrison buildings that has been designated for questioning, and the conversation unfolds as Tanya watches from the back.

“Oh, an officer? Could I trouble you for a cigarette? I ran out a long time ago…”

“Sorry. I belong to an aerial mage battalion.”

“An aerial mage battalion? Surely in the Imperial Army a unit like that is well supplied.”

“I can’t deny that, but regulations prohibit smoking because it ruins your lungs. We’re not allowed to carry cigarettes.”

Shrugging his shoulders and apologizing, Weiss takes an unmarked white paper box out of his breast pocket and nonchalantly places it on the table.

Saying how sorry he is to disappoint the prisoner, he pushes the box toward him with quite the practiced motion… Soldiers at war have an incorrigible but very real love of cigarettes. I can’t be critical of their personal tastes.

Nevertheless, it should probably be said… There are almost no smokers in any aerial mage battalion, much less the 203rd. The high altitudes and low oxygen concentration they encounter regularly are bad enough. Hence, Weiss’s acquisition of cigarettes as a tool is praiseworthy.

“Oh, well, nothing to do about that, then. Could you at least lend me a light?”

“What? You don’t even have your own lighter? Sheesh, here you go.”

It’s a silly exchange, but the technique shortens the distance between the questioner and the prisoner. The smoke is unpleasant, but I have to prioritize results over my personal preferences this time.

“Now then, tell me something. What are you guys no, what are you fighting for? For the Federation?”

Keep observing. Tanya watches over the proceedings as Weiss asks the question and Serebryakov interprets.

“Me and the other guys all fight for ourselves. Isn’t that obvious? …We’re fighting for a better future.”

“A better future?”

“If we beat you guys, our society should improve somewhat.”

That must be the message the enemy is sending with their propaganda. It may not be completely new, but it’s important information. Just as Tanya is about to nod…

“…Let me rephrase the question. You think your society will improve by fighting us? Why? Do you believe in Communism?”

The moment Serebryakov translates Weiss’s casual question, the atmosphere grows strange.

“…Yes, sir. About as much as you guys do!”

…Wait a second.

What did he just say?

“What a witty reply. But I understand even less now.”

“What in the world is there to not understand?”

Weiss smiles wryly, as if to say C’mon, but asks, “Why are you fighting for Communism?”

Yes, that’s the question. Where do they get the spirit to fight for an ideology they don’t even believe in?

Weiss, the observer Tanya, and the attending interpreter Serebryakov all want to know the same thing.

Even if Tanya isn’t personally dedicated to the Empire’s history, traditions, or norms, she finds the current regime better than the alternatives, and it’s her intention to support it.

Which is why this makes no sense. How can they fight for a no-good state?

“Hey, Mr. Major. You stupid or something?”

“Hmm?”

Weiss’s blank-faced reaction aside, the enemy soldier’s question sends a chill up Tanya’s spine.

“Who doesn’t have feelings about their homeland? How can you even argue this point? Am I wrong? I don’t think so!”

…It’s not for the party. Not for the party but for my homeland.

“Just to confirm, you’re fighting for ‘your homeland’?”

“I heard imperial soldiers were smart, but I guess you can’t believe every rumor you hear. You’re about on the level of the political commissars.”

“That’s a pretty dramatic way to put it.”

Weiss, flustered by the sarcasm, and Serebryakov diligently interpreting no longer appear in Tanya’s field of vision.

Don’t make light of the word’s Logos.

It has the power to change the world. When the frame, the paradigm, has its logic knocked out from under it, a shift must occur.

“Do you need a reason to fight for your hometown? Plus, if we do a good job, those annoying idiots in the party will have to listen to us at least a little bit.”

“So if you defeat the Empire, your lives will get better?”

“Don’t you think? I mean, the party is only so headstrong about everything right now so they can face you guys. Once we don’t need to fight you anymore, things should get better.”

“Hmm, very interesting. Now then, I’d like to hear a little bit about the unit you belong to…”

The conversation between Weiss, Serebryakov, and the enemy soldier continues.

But Tanya doesn’t care anymore. What matters is the truth she learned.

Our enemies, the Federation soldiers, aren’t Communists at all.

That one sentence.

That right there is the key.

And she hates this feeling of being shown how incorrigibly wrong she was.

After the interrogation ended and once the enemy soldier had been sent away, Tanya can only stare absentmindedly up at the room’s ceiling.

“Colonel?”

Her subordinates are probably worried about her. She would understand that under normal circumstances.

But right now, it’s impossible.

“…Fucking hell!”

The curse is directed at herself and her country’s carelessness.

“So they’ve thrown their ideology away to fight a ‘great patriotic war’! No wonder they’re so raring to fight, then! Argh, damn it! What the hell!”

Her second-in-command looks at her blankly. If this was combat, Major Weiss would pick up on her intentions and react right away, so she’s frustrated by his lack of comprehension.

Why doesn’t he see how important this is?

“You don’t get it?! We’ve been fighting nationalists this whole time as if they were Communists!” she spits.

The significance of that: a nationalist war. The more she thinks about it, the more she wants to curl up in a ball.

This was a complete mistake.

This is idiocy of the finest order, foolishness that will make it into the history books.

Weiss sinks into thought next to her and will probably figure it out eventually. She knows he has a decent head on his shoulders.

But she doesn’t have time to wait around for him to think things through at his leisure.

“We, the Empire, have been fighting a completely different enemy! We’re helping them, not beating them.”

“Our actions were benefiting the Federation…? Could that really be true?”

“Major Weiss. The way we’ve been fighting so far, the more we win, the more unified the enemy grows. We thought that if we won, it would chip away at their will to fight, but we were wrong! It doesn’t lead to their collapse, but the reverse! It stimulates their solidarity and makes their resistance even stronger!”

When fighting an ideology, all that’s necessary to win is to attack the validity or the righteousness of that ideology. And the flaws in Communism have been proven. At least, Tanya is personally convinced. It’s not difficult to show how inefficient Communism is.

But fighting with nationalism is no good.

“…What did he say? ‘Who doesn’t have feelings about their homeland?’”

“Yes, the prisoner did say that.”

The fatherland is in crisis. We can’t say that the Federation’s people don’t disapprove of or doubt the party or feel angry. But more than that, the citizens have been roused by their fatherland’s desperation. We were convinced we were fighting Communists, but they have the fire of nationalism burning in their hearts.

Nationalism isn’t logical. It’s emotional, passionate.

Attacking Communism is like fueling the fire of their nationalism. Once that happens, even if the nationalists hate the Communist Party, they will still unite against the Empire, their common enemy.

Yes, we truly have been helping them.

“What a huge mistake. I should have realized sooner.”

Apparently, Serebryakov has a much higher language ability than the guys in the Feldgendarmerie. She picks up the minute implications that might be lost in a literal translation and delivers suitable interpretations of the meaning.

A proper interpreter, a proper translator is a must, especially to grasp the core essence of the message. They say the devil is in the details, and I think that holds true for conversations as well.

The Federation soldier wasn’t hiding anything; he said it straight out.

“We’re fighting for our homeland.”

“This makes my head hurt. Why didn’t anyone realize this?”

This must be what it feels like to whine without even meaning to.

What kind of mistake did the Feldgendarmerie MPs need to make to interpret this as “They’re fighting for their ideology”? It could be because they didn’t dig into the prisoners’ responses that they were fighting to protect the Federation. It might also be that they aren’t as good at interpreting as Serebryakov.

Ohhh, crap. Tanya makes one correction.

“The MPs are always chasing after Communists. They have experience with them at home, so it’s no wonder they were convinced from the start.”

Year in and year out, MP units are conducting counterinsurgency against cells of domestic Communists back home. In the MPs’ minds, Communism and the Federation had become one and the same without them even realizing it.

“So the Feldgendarmerie has been conditioned to uncritically connect anything with the Federation’s fingerprints on it to Communism?”

“Conditioned, ma’am?”

“In other words, it’s like assuming that just because a bell rings, it’s time to eat.”

Our guard dogs have developed an awfully peculiar habit. It’s really quite a pain in the neck. Thanks to them, we’re stuck in this difficult spot.

“They associate Communism with the very word Federation. Does that mean…the work they usually do misled them?”

“That’s what I think, Major Weiss.”

If she wasn’t in front of her subordinates, Tanya would cradle her head and sigh. But she let them see a glimpse of her anger already. As an officer and commander, she can’t conduct herself so disgracefully.

Swallowing many of the things she wants to say, Tanya instead declares they’ll look into it. “Lieutenant Serebryakov, sorry, but I’d like you and Lieutenant Grantz to reinterrogate the prisoners. I want to do a thorough analysis of the enemy psyche,” she continues with a bitter smile. “I’d like to ask them myself. But I only have a smattering of Federation language ability from the short accelerated course at the academy. I can’t flatter myself and say I’m capable of picking up subtle emotions.”

The Feldgendarmerie must have been conceited.

Those types do exist. There’s no doubt because I know idiots who make a mess of things due to the difference between studying a language and actually speaking it. Even though I worked in HR, I had to struggle with the same issue. We had to be able to speak English or we couldn’t do our jobs. There are so many people who brag they’re good at languages even though they couldn’t score that many points. And the parade of idiots who then fail to communicate in the language they’re supposedly good at is never-ending. It was so sad I always wanted to scream, Know your limits!

“In that sense, it’s really great that we have Visha.”

Tanya nods emphatically in response to Weiss’s remark and responds with “Indeed.”

Near-native ability in a language might seem vague and difficult to grasp from a pure data perspective, but when someone can comprehend an essential point, you can really tell the difference.

I never thought I’d be tormented by language issues during a war. Geez, the people who thought to build the Tower of Babel and the god who destroyed it can all eat shit. Anyone driving up communication costs is an enemy of society.

A question from Serebryakov, however, sends Tanya’s righteous indignation out the window. “But, Colonel, may I ask why you want Lieutenant Grantz to do the interrogation?”

“What?”

“The subtleties of emotion appear in more than just words. I realize you’re busy, Colonel, but if we could capture those subtleties, wouldn’t it be better to have you with me?”

Lieutenant Serebryakov suggests that in order to grasp the emotions the prisoners reveal, it would be better for me to interrogate them personally. Certainly, under normal circumstances that might be the case.

The Federation soldiers’ will to fight is a serious problem.

The Federation Army is putting up a repetitive, crude, yet fierce resistance along the entire front. If we could get a handle on their combat psychology, we might even be able to crack their mental defenses. I’m sure the General Staff would be terribly interested in that.

The Imperial Army is desperate for accurate intelligence.

But Tanya spits, “Listen, Lieutenant Serebryakov. Look at me.”

“Huh?”

Her subordinates look puzzled.

“Look at me, guys.”

As she is about to say, You don’t get it? she realizes this is a waste of time. Apparently, not a single one of them has any idea what she’s getting at. She inadvertently sighs at their lack of understanding.

Of course, she collected the members of the 203rd Aerial Mage Battalion based on their fanaticism for war, not for their empathy or thoughtfulness… If she chose them for their combat abilities, she can’t very well be upset at them for their ignorance of emotional subtlety.

Although it is annoying.

“Guys, I look like a kid!”

“…Mm.”

Grantz apparently has no clue what I’m talking about, and Serebryakov looks confused. If both the lieutenants are no good… She turns to her vice commander but immediately thinks to herself, Tch, he’s worthless, too?

She’s explained this to some extent before, but apparently they all forgot. Maybe they shoved it into a corner of their minds because it didn’t have anything to do with combat. This is the problem with war freaks.

“Major Weiss, I’m a child. They may not take me seriously based on my appearance. I’d really like for you to realize such things before I have to say them…”

“Huh? Oh! V-very sorry, Colonel.”




THE SAME DAY, THE SALAMANDER KAMPFGRUPPE’S GARRISON, THE COMMANDER’S ROOM

And so, Tanya holes up in the space she’s been allotted for her personal use to think. Coffee is on hand.

The smell, out of place on a battlefield, hangs lightly in the Kampfgruppe commander’s room. The mellow fragrance of the arabica beans from Colonel Uger, the brew’s unadulterated flavor. Normally, she keeps the beans refrigerated and drinks in tiny sips to make it last; this coffee is a rarity from her personal stash. But just for today, she’s gulping it down like standard-issue muck water; she can’t even taste it.

What she’s staring at with a pale face are the transcripts of the prisoner interrogations First Lieutenants Serebryakov and Grantz did. Tanya was somewhat prepared. She had guessed the report’s conclusion to some extent at the time she ordered the survey.

Still, she can’t help but grit her teeth. Subjectively, we’ve been fighting Communists. Which is why we’ve been fighting to break the Communists’ spirit. And why we’re doing that even now.

But the Federation soldiers are fighting for their homeland in the name of ethnic nationalism.

“I’m such a fool.”

It’s impossible for Tanya to ridicule herself even if she wants to. She’s that huge of an idiot. Who is? Me. I am.

Overlooking the fact that we were failing to fight what we should have been? A fool who understood neither the enemy nor myself? Yes, me of all people.

At that moment, Tanya von Degurechaff screams in her room.

“Those bastards got us!”

We’ve been tricked.

“Damn Communists, of all things of all things you took our cause away!”

Usually, Communists endlessly criticize nationalism. They crow that the truth of the world is not represented properly in ethnic nationalism, when it’s actually a class war, as viewed from the perspective of scientific history. How careless of me to assume they followed such a creed! Embarrassment is only the beginning for something like this. I’m so angry I want to shoot my past self.

“Why didn’t I realize something so obvious?! How did I miss it?!”

I’m aware that I’m not controlling my emotions very well.

But…there are times when you just want to pound the table and scream. I’m so disappointed in my rawness and my contemptible carelessness. This is the definition of an untenable position.

What a stupid situation.

I should have known how easy it is for Communists to cast off their policies! I keep asking myself how I could have forgotten it’s that grave of a mistake.

Unconsciously, or perhaps she has merely closed her eyes…

“This is the worst.”



…Tanya von Degurechaff weakly curses her failure.

They got me.

Now I can’t scoff at people who get tricked by Commie propaganda. They really had me going, meaning I’m no different from those schmucks.

No, I know how the Communist Party works, so my error is incomparably worse… I’m simply incompetent. This is the fruit of indefensible stupidity. No matter what I say to excuse myself, I can’t trick my own heart.

I shouldn’t have been going on about analyzing the situation in enemy territory with such a worldly-wise look on my face.

I have to oppose the mobile offensive.

It’s not even an issue of winter anymore.

Penetrating farther into enemy territory will only unite the enemy further.

“Annihilating their field army? Impossible.”

I need an alternative to suggest instead. And quickly as soon as possible.

“Let’s take a historical view. There are extremely few instances where a relatively small regular army was able to get guerrillas under control… And even the examples of success that we have are only limited victories.”

In Vietnam, even the American empire’s overwhelming matériel resources couldn’t solve the issue. In Afghanistan, the Soviet and American armies proved how difficult it is to maintain control over mountainous regions. It was only an option to burn down whole resisting cities like the Mongols during eras when the law of war didn’t exist yet.

Nowadays, our hands are tied.

If you look for an example of counterinsurgency that ended in victory, you have the British Army in their colonies in Malaya, but those were colonies, so…hmm?

“Colonies? Yes, colonies. Where the suzerain state is the minority. You can rule with small numbers through military, but…”

Ohhh, thinks Tanya, forced to realize that her brain is depressingly rusty.

It’s simple, isn’t it?

To be perfectly honest, there’s no need to take them all on.

“We’ll divide and conquer.”

“Hoo-hoo-hoo.” Tanya laughs because she has it completely figured out. But in one respect, it’s also the plain truth. If you succeed in dividing the enemy, the number you have to fight is smaller. If we do it right, we might even be able to use some of them as allies.

And for better or worse, the Federation is a multiethnic state.

If, beneath the pretty words ideal Communism, the party is suppressing the self-determination movements of different ethnic groups…it might be possible to forge an alliance. If we’re merely speaking about the possibilities, any of the ethnic minorities within the Federation could potentially become imperial allies.

“After all, we’re not asking for their land. Frankly, the Empire is like a big hikikomori. Its interests don’t come into conflict with ethnic groups within Federation territory that want independence.”

That’s how we solve it.

“I found the answer! I found the way out!”

All I can do is race forward.

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OVERLORD, VOLUMEN 14, La bruja del Reino caido

Sinopsis
Un transporte del Reino hechicero ha sido ataco por los nobles del reino de Re-Estize. ¿Acaso fue una casualidad o se trata de un plan enemigo?
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Tabla de Contenido

Prologo
Parte 1
Parte 2
Parte 3
Capítulo 1: Un movimiento inesperado
Parte 1-2
Parte 3
Parte 4
Parte 5
Parte 6
Parte 7
Parte 8
Capítulo 2: El principio del fin
Parte 1
Parte 2
Parte 3
Parte 4
Parte 5
Parte 6
Parte 7
Parte 8
Parte 9
Capítulo 3: El último rey
Parte 1
Parte 2
Parte 3
Parte 4
Parte 5 Capítulo 4: Una trampa que atrapa todo Parte 1 Parte 2 Parte 3 Par…

Overlord, Volumen 14, Capitulo 4, Parte 6

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Overlord, Volumen 14, Capitulo 4, Parte 7

Climb era impotente ante las amenazas de Evileye.
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