The need for decisive action
September 1st, 1917
Diary of Horace S. Browntrout
We did what we had to do, to subdue our pursuers. When it was finished, I directed everyone to search for survivors and dig them out. This was performed with much grumbling from all but Stanley. The snow was deep, the hillside was steep and the obstacles made it dangerous. Still, I couldn’t leave them to suffocate. In the end we were only able to free two of them and one of their mounts.
One of the men was a foot soldier who died before I could render him any aid. The other was unconscious but we identified as Captain Johann Wolf from papers he was carrying. He was probably the unit’s commander. We were also able to ascertain that he was leading the 16. k.u.k. Sondereinsatzbrigade Alpeneinhorn against us, a special forces unit dedicated to mountain patrols, intelligence gathering and home defense.
Wolf was badly injured in the avalanche. Roosevelt said there was nothing more we could do for him but put him out of his misery. I stated there was a lot more we could do for him. I gave him a shot of morphine and set his broken legs and ordered Shackleton to build a sledge to haul him. The men all chafed at this, saying the extra burden would severely slow us down and drain our already-limited resources.
We left the area and later on that night we built a small campfire. Captain Wolf regained consciousness, but he was delirious from his injuries. He began to sing annoying army songs in German. Questioning him was quite impossible. Still, after searching him we found what may be the Holy Grail of controlling the unicorns. In his coat pocket were a flute-like instrument and a codebook detailing combinations of musical notes that corresponded to simple commands.
I watched the reflection of the firelight dance in the gold and chrome emblems of his centurion-like dragoon helmet. Along with his other effects, we had removed a locket that displayed a family portrait of him with his wife and young son. He too was young — about Branwell’s age. He looked a little like Branwell too, with his black hair and chestnut eyes, but most of all the smug, confident half-smile. I thought about how Branwell was robbed of the chance to sire children of his own, or even to fall in love for the first time. Branwell would never know of life’s many blessings because of his life was ended by these men, their flying monsters, and their devilish metal killing machines, ingenious and efficient to a fault. So efficient that he nor a single Saysquack in his unit survived while the enemy lost not one man. Now they were aught but so many crosses in a muddy field somewhere in Flanders.
Throughout the entire encounter, upon digging the warcorn out of the snow, the beast was not aggressive as I had seen elsewhere. Quite the opposite, it seemed confused, docile. We were able to lead it along gently. Surprisingly, it was not lamed by being buried in the avalanche. Stanley was especially wary of the creature, and he would not go near it without his rifle aimed at its head.
As we sat around the undulating glow of the fire listening to the off-key singing of Captain Wolf, I found myself staring into the eyes of the warcorn. There was something unsettling about them, difficult to describe, a kind of…familiarity. It wasn’t as though it was sizing me up, but more like it was…pleading with me, like something — or someone — was trapped inside it. It looked at me with eyes that were almost human. It was a bizarre sensation, one that I opted not to share with the others for fear of their recriminations. I could tell they already lacked faith in my command.. None the less, I could also see the unicorn made them uneasy too. After a time Roosevelt suddenly blurted out, “Will somebody put a bag over that damned thing’s head so it will stop looking at us?”
September 3rd, 1917
Diary of Theodore Roosevelt
The Austrian officer was coherent today. Browntrout wrapped him in a wool blanket and fed him broth made from a precious tin of Carry On Sir John Potted Meat Product. He patiently waited for him to finish eating when Burnham returned from a scouting mission and reported that enemy units were closing in on us from the south and east and we had maybe an hour’s head start. They were both dragoons and the flying unicorn brigades so it was questionable whether we would ever be able to outrun them.
Browntrout ordered me to question the officer, since I’m the only one in the outfit who speaks German. Captain Wolf told us that his home base is near here. It is also a breeding and training facility for the unicorns, called Alpenwald. Then he spoke in gibberish, telling us that the unicorns come in “eggs” which are laid by a “queen.” It made no sense and had me questioning my own language abilities. Browntrout told him to translate the contents of his codebook, titled Einhornalles. This was easy, as it was written in plain German. I had the impression that the man was fully cooperating with us.
Burnham interrupted us to again remind us that enemy units were closing in. The interrogation was over. We had to flee immediately. Captain Wolf was unable to stand, let alone run. We would not get far dragging him with us. Milica, of the Optimistic Rascals, was not optimistic about his or his men’s chances for survival, should the enemy catch us. They were deserters; they would likely be shot on sight. This was our dilemma. Take Captain Wolf with us and be caught for sure, or leave him here — with the guarantee that when the other Einhornwaffe units catch up to him he would give away our position, plans and direction of travel.
That left but one alternative. We were behind enemy lines and could not afford the luxury of dragging prisoners around. Our commanding officer was a soft-hearted mollycoddler, unable to do what needed to be done — or so I thought. He surprised me. Without asking permission (for I was sure it would not be granted), I drew and cocked my FN. Browntrout saw this and blocked me.
I began lecturing Browntrout on the need for decisive action when he unholstered his Webley revolver and walked over to the prisoner. He threw Captain Wolf a locket containing a photograph of himself and his family. The enemy officer had just enough time to catch the locket and glance at the picture before Browntrout raised his pistol. It was the last thing Captain Wolf saw. Browntrout fired two shots into his head in rapid succession. He slumped over against the tree that was propping him up with the locket still in his hand. We put him in a shallow grave and left as quickly as possible.
September 4th, 1917
Military Pigeongram, sent via Dinky (the homing pigeon)
HAVE CODEBOOK TO CONTROL WARCORNS. TRANSLATION AND TRANSCRIPTION TO FOLLOW.
Author’s note: I am grateful for the assistance of my friend Susanne Bacon, for helping me with German translation, thus saving me from the ravages of incoherence wrought by Google Translate. Her translations have helped not just with this passage; they will appear throughout the book in the final draft. While I am making corrections as I go, this novel is a work in progress, and I anticipate further errors before a final draft goes to press. Those errors are mine alone.
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