In Memoriam

From the Story Arc: Pictures at an Exhibition

Next Story in the Arc: Greek Tragedy I by Strela (Monday, July 17, 2006)

(posted Monday, July 17, 2006)

PICTURES AT AN EXHIBITION-In Memoriam



Murphy's Irish Pub was one of those enduring institutions in King's Row. During it's time it had seen gang fights, Prohibition raids, and even a superpowered brawl in the back room between Toothbreaker Jones and Blue Steel. The owners had started the pub paying protection money to the Molly Malones, then the Kings and now the Skulls to prevent 'accidents'. However, today would have a first for the pub. Inside was a superheroine getting hammered, and it was barely 3 PM.

Murphy's had always relied on the locals for patronage. Generations of garment workers and other blue-collar employees had stopped there regularly for a quick Guinness or Budweiser and the regulars had made it a pub where 'everyone knows your name'. The decor had not changed for years with the wood paneled walls, chipped oak bar and faded posters for Guinness Extra Stout and other specialty beers on the walls. The other decoration was black and white pictures of past patrons. Among them were policemen, construction workers and several group shots of young men waving from their troopship as it brought the boys home in 1945.

Underneath the faded picture of the young soldiers and sailors, a lone figure sat in a uniform slightly different than those in the picture above her. The subtle differences in cut and color marked Senior Lieutenant Anna Alexandrovna as an active member of the Red Army. She slumped back in her chair and blew an errant lock of ash blond hair that had escaped her ponytail away from her face. One callused hand reached with exaggerated care for the half empty bottle of Absolut vodka on the table in front of her. After a long swig, the empty bottle fell from her hand to join its' companions on the floor under her chair as Anna leaned forward and placed her head in her hands. Muffled sobs could be heard from her as she finally gave vent to the feelings that were coursing through her.

This was the first year that the homesick Russian superheroine had been away from her beloved hometown of Stalingrad. She remembered going with her grandfather and other veterans to the picnic ground on top of Mamyev Kurgan under the giant statue of the Motherland. Most of all, she remembered the stories the veterans told every year on this day, for on May 8th, 1945 Germany had surrendered, ending the Great Patriotic War, called by non-Russians World War II in Europe.

Most of the stories dealt with the city spread out below the Kurgan, for there, on the banks of the Volga, her grandfather Nikolai had won the USSR's highest award on 14 October, 1942 defending the Dzerzhinsky Tractor Works. Anna had grown up with that story ringing in her ears of how her grandfather had become the first Strela (Russian for 'arrow').

Brick dust gave Nikolai's mouth a gritty texture as he spat. The air was thick with smoke; brick dust from pulverized buildings and over it all the stench of death. In front of him was a jumble of wrecked machinery, tangled metal, piles of brick and concrete rubble and bomb and shell craters. It was still hard for him to comprehend that this was what the Lazur Chemical Factory where he had worked before the war had become. That was where he had first come up with the idea of merging his hobby of archery with his skill as a chemical engineer to produce the ultimate weapon.

He reached over one shoulder and touched the familiar bulk of his bow. He had salvaged it from the wreckage of his apartment complex after the Fascists had shelled it and had repaired it with steel from the ruins of the Red October plant. Now it was his only link to home in a city gone mad.

He heard a scrabbling sound from behind him. It was Dmetriov, one of the stripe-jacketed marines assigned to the Tractor Works defense. "Strela, the captain says that the Germans have a major push planned for our sector. One of the prisoners you took yesterday says that there's some 'special unit' that is spearheading the assault. Word is, it's on for tomorrow."

A curt nod was the only response Nikolai gave before he returned his attention to the no-mans-land between the Tractor Works and the enemy positions. He briefly mapped out the obstacles in his mind as he thought about what was to come. Clearly, he would need a good spot to use his bow for full effect.

As darkness fell, lit by the hellish glare of flares and the explosions of shells falling in the ruined city, Nikolai made his move. With infinite patience he moved from a shattered wall into a shell crater then underneath an overturned rail car. When he reached his objective, the base of the smokestack that still stretched skyward from the remains of the factory, he finally stood upright. His gray, white and brown stained uniform blended with the surroundings as he laboriously climbed up the side of the smokestack. The numerous holes in it from shells and bullets provided precarious handholds as he dangled above the unforgiving ground. Halfway up the stack, it stopped in a mass of shattered concrete and steel. Here a heavy shell had hit and blown the top half of the stack off to fall upon the buildings below. Nikolai shifted some of the loose rubble away to expose the mesh of steel cables that jutted from the stack. He threw his overcoat on them for protection and then lay down in his perch. He slipped the bow out of the case on his back and slid the quiver of arrows to a more comfortable position before beginning his stalk.

Dawn came with a crash of thunder as every gun in the German 6th army opened up with a deafening barrage. As the shells poured into the Tractor works, they were overlaid with the droning sound of Stuka dive-bombers as masses of them appeared overhead. Nikolai clung to his precarious perch for dear life as the smokestack he was on swayed like a tree in a hurricane. Steel shrapnel and pieces of buildings flew past his body as the barrage continued. He mumbled a prayer as he felt his stomach clench in anticipation.

As the barrage stopped, Nikolai grabbed for his bow. Miraculously, neither it nor his arrows had been thrown from the smokestack, as he began to scan the ground below his position for targets. They were not long in coming as waves of gray clad infantry and the hulking shape of German tanks appeared from the haze below him.

Nikolai nocked his first arrow and waited. He listened as the sounds of firing, screams and shells exploding reached a crescendo. Then, out of the chaos he saw the 'special unit' that had so worried 62nd Army command.

The Panzertruppe was man shaped but stood half again the size of a man. The only insignia it bore on the gleaming black metal of its chest was the twin silver lightning bolts of the SS. One arm ended in the muzzle of a flame-thrower while the other had a machine gun under the manipulator hand. Cradled in its arms was a 20mm cannon that it carried like a pistol. Bullets and shells bounced from its specially treated wolframite armor as it raked the defenders of a rubbled workshop with flame and lead. As the screams rose from the ruins, Nikolai acted.

The arrow he fired was special in and of itself. The arrowhead was made of glass and contained a potent acid. As it hit the head of the Panzertruppe, the glass arrowhead shattered. Smoke rose from the faceplate as the acid ate through the metal casing of the war machine and then through the flesh and bone inside it.

Nikolai was already reaching for another arrow. Time slowed and the explosions, screams and commands surrounding him faded into nothingness as he took the fight to the enemy. There was only the Panzertruppe, his bow and himself as he moved like a machine.

A razor edged arrow slashed through the hip joint of another Panzertruppe from above. The armor was never intended to take a strike from such an angle and the arrow slid between two moving pieces of metal to slice through the femoral artery of the pilot, sending blood flying a dozen feet into the air.

Another acid arrow hit a Panzertruppe with the oak leaves of command on his helmet as he directed artillery over his built in radio. The fire directions turned into bone chilling screams as the acid found Obersturmfuhrer Dietriech's stomach and groin, only stopping as the armor collapsed with a dull thud.

As Nikolai's fourth arrow enveloped a Panzertruppe in thermite flames that began to melt the metal and fry the man inside, the Germans reacted. Three of the elite SS warriors took to the air on jetpacks and began to search for the sniper that was killing them. One soon fell as an arrow severed the fuel line for his rocket pack, falling three hundred feet to hit a pile of steel with a thunderous crash.

The other two reacted to their Comrade's death with a hail of gunfire. Nikolai fired one more arrow at the nearer of the two then reached to his belt. As the magnetic arrow struck the Panzertruppe and shorted out his controls, Nikolai hooked one end of the coil of wire from his belt to the steel tangle and then stepped back into the gaping hole at the center of the chimney. As he fell, he mentally counted down seconds in his head. As the count reached zero, he stopped with a jerk twenty feet below the top of the chimney. He swung his feet up, braced himself against the chimney side and drew an arrow and waited.

He felt more than heard the last Panzertruppe land upon the spot where he had just fallen. He fired the arrow he had grabbed as the armored trooper's head loomed as a black shape against the gray clouds overhead. A mocking voice buzzed from the speaker as the arrow passed harmlessly past the head: "You missed, Bolshevik untermensch!" Cruelly and deliberately, the Nazi raised the flamer arm and took aim at Nikolai.

Nikolai smiled coldly in reply. "Did I, Fascist?"

The timer inside the arrowhead exploded it in a shower of low viscosity oil over the panzertruppe...and the steel he was precariously perched on. As the panzertruppe's feet slipped out from under him, he fell forward...into the gaping black maw of the smokestack. Nikolai swung his body to flatten it against the wall as the panzertruppe fell past him. For the briefest of moments, the Russian and German locked eyes as they passed each other. Nikolai spoke once more as the sound of an armored body hitting stone echoed through the smokestack.

"Da Svedanya." With that epitaph, he began his climb back to his perch. There were more enemies of the Rodina to be defeated, after all...

Anna could hear the white haired man's voice in her ears as she finished off another bottle of vodka. Nikolai had been the rock in her life ever since hearing of her father's death saving the Motherland when she was just six. She had sworn on that day, that she would be the next Strela and would make her predecessors proud. Now she was in a strange and alien city with only a few reminders of home...

She reached with heavy fingers for the pen that kept eluding them. Finally grasping it, she began to draw upon a table napkin. Even in her drunken state, the talent and artistry of the portrait of a white haired Nikolai in his wheelchair was incredible. There was even more of a trace of the young Nikolai standing in front of General Chuikov as the gold star was pinned upon his chest in this sketch as the pen flew across the napkin. Finally exhausted both mentally and emotionally, Anna leaned back in the chair and looked that the picture of the young American soldiers on the wall.

"From all of us, to all of you...our eternal gratitude for defeating such a foe of freedom." With that, she raised her glass in salute, slumped forward and passed out.

((Author's note: This is inspired by the VE day service the RPC had. True heroes aren't in movies, or in books, but buried in cemeteries all over the world, for they put themselves between evil and the ones that needed protecting from that evil. Happy Memorial Day))