Men of Hell – “Corners of the Inferno Frame”

A tank is, in concept, much like a mobile, rogue prison.

Stephan Steiner cannot remember when he first heard, read, or thought up and modified that grungy army proverb. His eyes obliviously cross the sights of his fingers twirling a metal pen in hand, the static white dots buzzing on his visual feed, the dim hangover light of the cabin reflecting hauntingly on the surfaces of his crew’s helmets, walls, uniform fabric, aging, recycled and abraded steel, and a precise order of unilluminated warning lights surrounding his dashboard computer, for his focus is deep within his rummaging thoughts.

He remembers the date he has not mulled over in hours; Saturday, December 6th: Sankt Nikolaus Tag. He nostalgically knows that he would be at home now, his wife Maria preparing a hopeful cup of tea with Moscato wine… Dieter, his son, feet thundering on the wooden floorboards of the hallway leading from his disheveled bedroom into the family room and dining kitchen, anxious to find his stocking full of toys and bonbons from St. Nicholas himself, provided he were obedient enough. The child, an army brat with a devilish hair-do and strong facets for a late toddler his age, was compromised by his angelic demeanor and manners drilled in deeply by his affectionate parents, madly in love and a heartrending example for the mature young boy, well into their fourth year of marriage.

Stephan can still hear Dieter’s soprano commands and battle broadcasting as he scaled the hallway back and forth, ducking prone and feet stammering in tactical posture, holding an oversized NERF pistol in his gawky arms, proudly mimicking the infantry soldier his father was not.

Maria, would be sitting, her subtle curls of feverishly black hair hanging over her content face, while taking in the aroma of her tea; an abrupt, awkward sip here and there which Stephan has come to adore, much unlike any woman’s manner he has ever known.

Such a sentimental day spent in hell. Stephan is undeniably hurt inside; noticeable in his throat, eyes and quiet attitude, he is still thankful that his wife and child are safe, although hundreds of miles away, in France with the copious amount of fortunate refugees that have managed to egress from Germany.

. . . .

Sergeant Axel Willems, the loader of this armored monster, stares up at Stephan from under the tense light of the fragile, though formidable, inner workings of a miraculously engineered beast. The Turkish heavyweight bears the stare of a murderer. His hairless head and straight curve of a Herculean nose gives him the stereotypical vista of a modern skin-head, although Jewish himself, his moniker may be properly metamorphosed from a Jew-killer to a Russian-butcher. If the adjoining crew of three Bundeswehr armored corps soldiers were boys fighting a formidable foe in an annexed town with toy dart guns and rubber band shooters, Axel was the sturdy militiaman with cadavers stacked and hidden in his basement. And if Axel’s formidable stone-like gaze has only one flaw, it is his loving, committed and sterling wisdom that consoled the organism of the tank’s crew.

Inevitably, a Turkish man is discriminated against in Germany for the racial reputations of illegal immigration, theft, and crime; the discrimination is amplified when one joins the Bundeswehr, or the German Army, albeit the denial of the command’s loose ethical codes. The crew of the Leopard 2A7 tank has graciously welcomed the muscled gentleman, and were pleased to find such warm character beneath his tough-as-rocks vesting and bones.

The gentle Goliath points with a hinged finger toward the front of the tank, and Stephan is taken out of his low musings by his authoritative stature.

“Dietrich [the driver] is calling you.”

Ja, Dietrich.”

“Someone is coming. Looks like a sentry to me, he’s in BW uniform. Looks important.”

“I got the hatch.”

Stephan’s gloved hands unlock the tank’s turret hatch in a motion second-nature to him. The December breeze strikes his face emphasizing the stifled tears of his eyes, though he blames the wind as an excuse in an assertive thought he probably will not have to use in these next five minutes.

Hours of sitting in the plated seat of his gunner’s chair has knotted and numbed his lower back, and though he cannot feel it, he is still relieved to stretch and greet the exhausted and red-nosed soldier, breathless as he approaches the right side of the armored behemoth. The sullen valley stretching to the furthest backdrop of the celestial Bavarian Alps lies the sullen worshipers of trees resting in miserable hibernated retreat, the patted grass of the heavy winter’s frosty air and tread marks left by tanks and mechanized convoys, and the trails of rocks and boulders which form the pampered landscape of southern Germany. Then, an organic, camo-clad soldier with tired eyes gaping wide in sheer terror breaks the silent scene while sprinting to deliver a message, as the radios have been silenced in order to not risk interception by Russian divisions present.

“Goddamn, they’re here,” the breathless soldier half-whispering remarks, “I need to– there’s way too many,” now barks the coughing and recuperating soldier, obviously having tried to formulate this urgent message in his disarranged mind while running the mile it took to reach the 12th Armored Brigade’s reconnaissance squad, thrusted far into the forbidden zone of the Red Army’s pending battlegrounds.

“How many?” inquires Stephan.

“More than we anticipated… we were expecting them to depart Cham for further surveying for next week’s leave, but I guess intelligence was a week behind…”

“…you mean?” Stephan tried to avoid the inevitable by not speaking what the Red Army was carrying out, “…they’re all? They’re all gone?”

“Two divisions of mechanized infantry and armored are heading for Roding to attack. I need to stay in your tank, Commander…”

“Steiner.”

“…Bitte.”

Axel is surprised to find another soldier taking refuge in the circuitry-blanketed quarters of the tank. As if he were intruding on his home, the giant welcomes him with a glistening smile while scooting out of his loading spot to make room.

The sentry notices the aroma of brisk winter transmute into a sweaty sauna of servicemen as he climbs through the cold aperture of the iron beast.

. . . .

The formation of the three mobile artillery vehicles break the frozen grass and tread heavily, and noisily, engines breathing coarse against the shrill winter air, to investigate the sudden and unexpected move of the Russian Army. Of the world’s growing adversity, and the imminent change that will thrust society of the East and West into a new, questionable era, World War Three, Steiner’s battalion was the catalyst to determine the ceaseless direction of the new world. That is a hell of a lot of weight to bear on a twenty-seven year-old reservist’s shoulders.

Stephan realizes that their hopeful ambush of patrolling Russian tanks and armored cars was broken, foiled!, as soon as he sees the first glaring eyes of a T-90 tank’s infrared cameras and ominous cannon staring bumptiously into the display of his inferior Leopard’s lens.

Prison has just become a lifeboat; wether it will save the browbeaten crew or not, lies within the agility and coordination of the tank’s crew, and that of their numerous foes incurring with the full force of Russia’s ultranationalist eagerness.

. . . .

MÄNNER DER HÖLLE

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