Friday, October 18, 2013

12/25/44 - Le Réveillon - pt. 1

December 25th, 1944
Bastogne, Belgium

At night, in the forests surrounding Bastogne, there seems to be nothing but darkness.

The moon's waxing gibbous, and the skies are clear -- thanks to Patton's prayers, or so they say. But in the trees there is still snow, and when a good, strong gust of wind blows, the world turns into a dark and grey void. A cold and utter emptiness, within which nothing exists but the self, and one's thoughts and fears.

And the sound of terrible battle -- raging even on this night.

Moving silently through those trees are three men, all dressed in winter camouflage. They're some distance behind the front lines, stealthily advancing on the German flank. They have orders to deal with the tanks that the Allied bombing can't quite dislodge, after which they're free to deal with any other targets of opportunity that happen to wander into them.

Like the group of soldiers they just quietly dispatched, here in a slight depression they stumbled right into.

"That was scary," Lt. Lightning says, shaking his still-crackling hands in the cold: "For a minute there I thought they had us cold."

"You had to !@#$ing say that, didn't you?" Sgt. Shatter laughs, making his sword glow a little less.

"Laugh if you want, (REDACTED)," Major Force says, looking at what was left of the three men he battered without even having to touch them: "I told you to look where you were going. We should have died, here."

"Speak for your !@#$ing self, sir," Shatter replies: "Mama's angioletto's getting back in time to carve up some !@#$ Christmas rations tonight if I have to !@#$ing kill every !@#$ kraut in the valley."

"That's not on the menu tonight," the Major says, not really caring for his subordinate's tone, but not caring to yell at him about it here and now: "Where are we, Rob?"

"About a mile away from the target, sir," Lightning answers, looking around: "This direction, I think."

"Must be great to be your own !@#$ compass," Shatter says, making his sword go completely dark as he takes point, again: "I'll signal if I see something."

"That'll be a novelty," the Major hisses: "I swear, (REDACTED), it's like you're blind in one eye or something."

And the Sgt. -- really a Warrant Officer, same as the rest of them -- chuckles and moves forward, wondering how many more Germans he can "accidentally" stumble upon before his CO gets suspicious.

Or how many more it'll take before it's just him and Lightning, again. 

* * *

Halfway up a hill, overlooking the Strategic Talents' objective -- a group of tanks, hidden under camouflaged tarps -- a trio of black-clad men stand and watch.

"How close are they, Heimdall?' asks a tall, blonde man with silver fists.

The small, balding man with the large, complicated rifle looks through the scope again, and then over it, focusing his glittering eyes on the target: "A mile and a half away, Faust. There are three of them, in the trees."

"Can you recognize them?" the third member of the party asks, a smooth, black mask hiding his face -- with two bright stars for eyes -- and an officer's cap on his head.

"They do not appear to be wearing their uniforms under their coats, Herr Nacht-Maske. But one of them is the madman with the sword. The two behind him I am not certain."

"Can you get them from here?" the man with the silver fists asks.

"I can. And with the bullets I have, I can kill them all with one shot."

"Your command?" Der Faust die Vaterlandes politely asks the man in the dark mask.  

"I must admit I am torn, dear Faust," he replies, walking towards them with his hands behind his back: "On one hand, I wish to fight them, and test our mettle against these American heroes. I think it would do our men a great deal of good to see that they can die like any other soldier."

"And on the other?" Faust asks, trying not to smile.

"On the other, I would very much like to get out of this cold and back into the officer's mess. The meal they have prepared for us this night will be a splendid thing, and I do not wish to miss it."

"Are you more worried about the meal or morale, Herr Nacht-Maske?"

"Both, in truth. It would do the officers well to see us amongst them, do you not think?"

"I think I can make out one of the others," Heimdall says, squinting his eyes: "And if so... Herr Nacht-Maske, I am thinking the one in the back is the schwarze."

Faust raises his eyebrows, and the bright stars in the other man's mask narrow and burn colder: "Are you certain?"

"I am," he replies, wondering if the man truly doubts his abilities.

"Well then," Nacht-Maske says, bringing his hands out and rubbing them together: "We have no choice. Your bullets would destroy them all, and Der Fuhrer has ordered that, if possible, we are to bring that one back to Berlin, alive and in chains."

"Really?" Faust says: "What of the others?"

"Oh, them we can kill and arrange any way we wish, though I think our scientists would like at least some of the parts for study. But after the last Olympics..."

No more needs to be said. 

So Heimdall gets up from the ground and, in a few speedy movements, has broken down his fantastic weapon into something a lot smaller and sharper. Faust has unclenched his hands, feeling the waves of force emanating from them.

And Nacht-Maske -- the primary political officer for all of Germany's Ubermenchen -- reaches out to take their shoulders, and then leads them into the dark spaces between worlds.

And then, hopefully, to victory.

* * *

Sgt. Shatter feels it before he sees it. Things get a lot colder, and the darkness ahead of him isn't because of snow.

"Duck the !@#$ down!" He shouts, leaping backwards and igniting his sword for all its worth. Lt. Lightning runs to the Major's side, hands as bright as fire as he gets ready to hurl his namesake at whatever enemy's on the way. And Major Force turns and looks right behind them, knowing that's where the enemy's actually going to attack from.

His instincts save them all from instant death. When Heimdall leaps from the darkness, wielding something sharp enough to slice through the trees on either side of them, it's only a burst of kinetic energy from his outstretched hands that deflect the blow, and send the short man hurtling back the way he came. 

"Wilkommen Sie bei Bastogne, Amerikaner!" Nacht-Maske announces, striding from an impossible angle and hurling burning, black globs of night at everyone he can see. His shots go wild, but they're not intended to hit their quarry -- just keep them off-balance.

At the front, Sgt. Shatter gets out from behind the tree he ducked behind and gets ready to kill someone -- anyone. This is hardly the first time he's gotten to throw down with these super-krauts, and it won't be his last, either. He just needs for the !@#$er in the mask to stop sliding in and out of shadows, that's all.

Before he can get good angle on the man throwing the dark, he hears something right behind him. He turns and sees a tall, blonde man with silver hands -- gauntlets of some kind. And the smile on the man's face makes it clear that he's been his intended opponent all along.

"Guten Abend, Schwertkampfer," he says, hands up and ready to box. 

"Let's !@#$ing do this," (REDACTED) spits, and spins around, ready to test this man's metal against his. 

(REDACTED)'s sword is his will, made manifest by something that even the people at Camp Rogers could never figure out. Faust's gauntlets, by some weird coincidence, are the exact same thing -- taking the place of his crippled hands.

And when they collide-

* * *

"Okay, I know from beer," (REDACTED) says, holding up a pewter tankard in the direction of Faust's: "And this is !@#$ good beer."

"You Americans know nothing of beer," Faust laughs, but clinks his against the man's anyway.

"Are you kidding me? I got enough bathtub brewers in the family to know a good dark when I drink it, you dumb !@#$."

The blonde man raises an eyebrow, and then laughs uproariously. So do the other four at the table in the long and cavernous, torch-lit stone hall they've been drinking in since...

Since they can remember, really.

"I forgot, you all got rid of your alcohol for a few years there," Nacht-Maske says, looking somewhat plain and ordinary without his strange mask: "How could you have done this?"

"Bad mistake," Major Force sighs, having a sip of his own.

"Well, I don't know," Lt. Lightning says, swirling his around: "I think the temperance movement had a point, but it should have been voluntary. You should have had a choice. Not made it law."

"It's always the place of those who know more to see that those who do not are called into correctness, though," Heimdall says, putting his empty flagon down so one of the passing servers can fill it for him: "This is why we have moral leaders, to make us follow morality. Otherwise, we become nothing more than beasts."

"But Helmut, they took away their beer," Faust insists, waving his flagon: "We didn't even do that to the French."

And there is laughter from all parties on that note.

* * *

Hors D'oeuvre
huîtres à la sauce échalote

* * *

"We came up with Patton, when he !@#$ing got to town," (REDACTED) says between bites of oyster: "Mostly just doing damage control at the !@#$ front line. You know, 'this far and no farther.'"

"Further, Sgt.," Major Force chides him: "We'll teach you how to speak English someday."

"Mangiare merda, mafanculo," he replies, making a gesture that's unquestionable in any language. The Germans all laugh at this. 

"I did some time down in Rome, so I think we're on the same wavelength," Faust says.

"And since then?" Major Force asks.

"We were sent to the frontline in order to bolster morale, and provide a counter to your activities," Nacht-Maske admits, still picking around his course: "Der Fuhrer is counting on this being a decisive blow."

"Well, too bad our General knows how to pray," Lt. Lightning says.

"Yes, I heard about that," Faust says: "Did your Patton really make all your fighting men pray for good weather?"

"He did, and it worked, Fist of the Fatherland."

"Well, that's quite the claim Lt. Lightning."

"Oh, !@#$ it," (REDACTED) says between bites of oyster: "It's (REDACTED). I had enough of this codename bull!@#$. (REDACTED) from New York City."

"Werner," Faust says, raising a glass: "From Dusseldorf."

"Helmut," Heimdall admits, his eyes glittering like diamonds: "Strassfurt."

"Heinrich," Nacht-Maske states as he also raises his tankard, smiling as if enraptured by the brew: "Berlin."

"Robert," Lightning says, also raising his tankard: "Small town outside of Lexington with no name."

"How does your town have no name?" Major Force asks.

"Someone burned down the sign on account of it was full of people like me," he says: "So, way we figured, if they don't know what our town's name is, they can't come looking for us. So we stayed incognito."

There's laughter at that. And then the subject changes once, then twice, and yet again, and still no one's gotten around to asking Major Force his name.

And he does not offer it.

* * *

soupe de haricots et de jambon

* * *

"I really didn't want to go, to be honest," Major Force admits, his face looking somewhat eerie under the flickering lights of the torches on the walls: "When they told me I was special, well, I sort of looked them in the eyes and asked 'what do you mean?' And then they said that I had one-of-a-kind physical qualities. The kind they were looking for. The kind that could help win the war."

"That's never a good thing," Faust nods, understanding all too well.

"So they ordered me to report to Camp Rogers, and next thing I know I'm getting injected with this stuff, along with five other people. I'm the only one who lived through it, but once I did, well, they fine-tuned it a little, and then brought in more people-"

"That's us," (REDACTED) says, slurping down his soup and hoping for more, provided he can flag down one of the mayfly-like waiters in this joint.

"And everyone's looking at me like I'm their older brother, or something. And all I want to say is that I don't know any more than they do, but the camp commander tells me I'm the leader, so... I lead."

"And a fine job you do of it, too," Nacht-Maske says, raising his tankard: "I've heard of your exploits. Every one of us has. You and that one fellow, Colonel USA?"

"Oh yes," Lt. Lightning says, tipping a wink to (REDACTED).

"I don't know why you always !@#$ with me about him," the man sighs: "He's a good guy, (REDACTED) is. You know he's got your back."

"There's something about him I just don't like," the Major says, shrugging.

"Jealousy?" Faust asks: "Sometimes I find I dislike people for the wrong reasons."

The Major shrugs again and goes back to his soup.

"They call him 'The Death Who Runs For You' on the frontlines," Heimdall intones, seemingly awestruck by the thought: "They say he killed Der Totenkopf at Normandy with just his little finger, just by poking it into his head."

"Eh, not really," Lightning says: "They had a knock-down and drag-out up and down the emplacements, once we broke through. By the time it was all over, neither of them looked all that good. But our guy was still breathing, and your guy wasn't."

"Maybe that's when he used his little finger," Faust offers, taking a sip of his beer: "Sort of like giving a good beast the mercy of a quick death when you bring it down."

If the thought mollifies Heimdall at all, he doesn't show it. But then, his eyes don't show much of anything.

Not to others, anyway.

* * *

pâté de foie gras en champignons forestiers

* * *

"The way I !@#$ing see it, it's a matter of standing together," (REDACTED) says: "It's like of like family, you know? You might !@#$ing hate your older brother and want to kill your younger brother, and maybe your sister's a stupid !@#$ on top of being a !@#$ and a !@#$."

"He's got a way with words," Lt. Lighting says, winking at the Germans. 

"Just because I went to school," he says, knuckling his friend in the shoulder. "But anyway, your family's a bunch of !@#$ in pants and shirts, and you know this. But if some !@#$er comes around and starts something with one of them? You forget all of that, and you grab a rock or a brick or a broken bottle and you start something right the !@#$ back."

"Because they're family," Lightning says, smiling because he's heard this story a million times before, and because it's true.

"!@#$ straight. Because they're your flesh and blood, and that means something. !@#$, it means everything."

"So you can hate them and hurt them, but no one else can?" Nacht-Maske asks.

"Give that man a prize!" he says, smiling and going for a shot of beer: "When your family's in danger, you put up your !@#$ fists."

"I can see that," Faust says.

"I would follow Der Fuhrer into Hell," Heimdall says with all due reverence: "Before him, our country was lost. We had nothing. No pride, no character, no will. We had forgotten what they meant. And then he came to us, and he spoke, and he showed us the meaning of these things that we had forgotten. And then we rose from the dust of the weltkreig, and became a proud people again. A proud nation. I gladly serve our leader, and our people through him."

There's a moment of silence, and then Nacht-Maske snorts: "Hitler is an imbecile."

"I beg your pardon," Heimdall tries to say, but he's quickly waved down.

"Helmut, you don't get summoned to meetings in the middle of the night and told that everything you understood to be true a day ago is no longer true at all. You don't look at battle plans and see the disasters he makes after the Generals give him sound advice. You don't have to listen to the group of freaks and circus people he calls on for occult advice. I do, because I am your political officer. And I can tell you, the man is insane."

"So what do you fight for, then?" Lightning asks: "Me, I want to be worth something. A lot of folks look at me and think I'm less than they are. I want to walk back home in my uniform, right down the !@#$ main street in Lexington, and say that I came here and fought for you, and !@#$ but you are going to show me the respect I'm due. Not as a black man, but as a man."

"I fight for Germany," Nacht-Maske admits: "I will fight to keep the Fatherland safe and strong, no matter who is ruling it. Hopefully, when that idiot we call a leader gets deposed or put out of the way, whoever takes over will keep it safer and stronger than it already is. But until then, I must be a patriot. It is all I ever ask of those who fight under me. It is all I can ask of myself."

"I'll show you what I fight for," Faust says, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a billfold, tucked into which is a photograph. It's of a woman and two children, all pretty and smiling.

"Oh, hey," Major Force says, looking at it: "You're a family man, too?"

"Indeed I am. I've been married for six years, and I have two daughters. They're four and three. And when the first one was born, I looked into her eyes and I said that I would throw myself at a thousand bullets, just to keep her safe. Before then, I just moved through life, even through marriage, as good as it is-"

"Which he never stops telling us about," Nacht-Maske laughs.

"But when you make a life? It's like you had this wheelbarrow of money, all the time, and you finally bought something with it. You finally made a mark in this world. And whatever happens to you, or what you do, or what you think, this mark must continue on. And that's why I'm here, doing this."

"That and the hands," Heimdall says.

And Faust smiles and lets the others laugh it off. But anyone who knew him could see that his teammate had touched a real nerve, just then.

Not anything he cared to admit, though.

(SPYGOD is listening to Zemire et Azor Overture (Andre-Ernest-Modeste Gretry) and having the beer of the Gods)

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