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The droplet formed at the bottom of the clump of snow still tenuously attached to the leaves of the bush Captain Wilhelm Finck of the USE Marines 1st Reconnaissance Company was hiding under. Slowly it grew, until it reached critical size and fell.
Wilhelm flinched as the near-freezing drop of water landed on his neck and started its journey down his back. He glanced at his wristwatch. Sunrise wasn't that far off. "Come on," he muttered.
"What was that, Captain?" Sergeant Christoph Fels asked from the nearby bush he was hiding under.
"Nothing," Wilhelm muttered. "I'm just getting impatient."
"Fabricius and Dinckeler were the right choice, Captain," Christoph said in a reassuring voice.
Wilhelm had to agree with that. Lance Corporals Johann Fabricius and Albrecht Dinckeler were the two best men he had when it came to skulking in the shadows. "I'm worried about what they might do," he said. "I should have sent you or Corporal Müller to supervise them."
"We agreed that any more than two men would significantly increase the risk of discovery, Captain."
Wilhelm sighed. "But maybe those two shouldn't have been Fabricius and Dinckeler, Sergeant."
That was a truth so evident that Sergeant Fels didn't bother replying.
Moments later they heard faint rustling that didn't fit with the gentle breeze they could feel. Wilhelm gripped the lead-pellet filled flat sap he was holding tightly and prepared to use it.
"Captain?" Johann Fabricius called in a loud whisper.
Wilhelm relaxed. "Over here," he called.
"Mission accomplished," Albrecht "Al" Dinckeler said.
"Did anyone spot you?" Christoph asked.
"Not even a dog, Sarge," Johann said.
"Good." It was good because it meant Dinckeler and Fabricius hadn't needed to use their saps on anyone. He'd been prepared to accept the consequences if they'd done so, but it was much better that they'd managed to get in and out without being discovered. "Let's rejoin Böhm and Müller and get out of here before anyone notices what you've done," Wilhelm said.
It took nearly half an hour to stealthily make their way to the Schrote where Corporals Stephan Böhm and Nikolaus "Nik" Müller were waiting with the canoes they'd used to insert themselves via the narrow and shallow waterway. The creek had been a tight fit for the two-man canoes, but that was good. Surely no one would think to check such a small waterway for escaping intruders. Once back with the canoes it took them less than twenty minutes to make their way down the Schrote to the River Elbe, where Sergeant Melchior Dietrich was waiting for them with a motor boat.
A couple of days later, USE Marine Corps HQ, Magdeburg
Wilhelm stepped into Colonel Friedrich von Brockenholz' office and saluted. "Captain Finck reporting, sir."
"Take a seat, Captain," Friedrich said, gesturing towards a group of chairs.
Wilhelm removed his cap, selected a chair, and brought it closer to Colonel Brockenholz' desk before sitting down. "You wanted to see me, Sir."
Friedrich nodded. He rifled through some papers on his desk; selected one, and slid it across to Wilhelm. "A couple of nights ago a person or persons unknown sneaked into the Army camp to the northwest of Magdeburg and painted that symbol on the commander's house. Colonel Joachim Bassewitz is most upset." He looked pointedly at Wilhelm. "Would you happen to know anything about it?"
Wilhelm glanced at the paper. He looked up. "A Volvo symbol?" he suggested, referring to the grill symbol he'd seen on a couple of up-time automobiles.
Friedrich rolled his eyes. "There is no need to be facetious, Captain."
"The symbol for iron?"
Friedrich shook his head. "Try again."
"The male gender symbol?" Wilhelm said.
Friedrich nodded. "And why is that symbol used to indicate males?" he asked.
"There is one other rendering of the symbol that comes to mind," Friedrich said. He looked pointedly at the Marine Advanced Reconnaissance School qualification badge on Wilhelm's blouse. "The jig is up, Wilhelm. I know your men were responsible."
"They're bored," Wilhelm said defensively.
"And to alleviate their boredom you decided to break into an army base and paint your unit symbol on the front of the commander's house?"
Wilhelm shrugged. He hadn't actually told Fabricius and Dinckeler where to paint the symbol, just that it should be noticeable, and that they weren't to get caught doing it. "If their security had been any good my men wouldn't have been able get close enough to tag Colonel Bassewitz' quarters, Sir."
"Yes, there is that. Which is why, even as we speak, the men detailed to guard Colonel Bassewitz' quarters are busy whitewashing the whole building." Friedrich paused to smile at Wilhelm. "I'm sure they'll learn their lesson, but rumors have reached the admiral that those same guards will be marching on Magdeburg as soon as they finish, looking for retribution. As such, it has been suggested that it might be better if you were to remove your unit from Magdeburg until the dust settles."
"We can take care of ourselves," Wilhelm said.
"I know you can," Friedrich said. "That's what I'm worried about. That is why Admiral Simpson and I have graciously offered General Stearns the services of the USE Marines 1st Reconnaissance Company for the war down in Bavaria."
Wilhelm's eyes lit up. "They want us to scout for river crossings?" he asked, excitement entering his voice.
"Yes. You and your men might finally get to demonstrate their value. I want you to take your unit to Regensburg, where you will report to General Stearns of the 3rd Division."
"Can we have Sergeant Dietrich and his motorboat, Sir?"
Friedrich smiled. "I assume he was a party to your recent escapade?" He shook his head slowly. "I'm sure it would be useful for you to have Sergeant Dietrich and his bass boat down in Regensburg, but I can't authorize it. Not when I consider how much losing George Watson's Outlaw cost the government."
George Watson's Outlaw motorboat had been lost in the battle of Wismar when Eddie Cantrell, Larry Wild, and Bjorn Svedberg had plowed into the Johannes Ingvardt. Neither vessel had survived when the anti-ship rockets the Outlaw had been carrying exploded on impact. The government had been forced to pay Watson nearly three million dollars in compensation for losing his priceless up-time-built speedboat. "We wouldn't be using it in combat, Sir," Wilhelm said, trying to differentiate the risk to the bass boat from what had happened to George Watson's Outlaw. "We'll only be using it as a delivery and recovery vehicle."
"I'm sure that is your intention," Friedrich said. "However, even assuming the railways can transport the boat from Magdeburg to Bamberg without damaging anything, do you really think the teamsters will be able to carry it the hundred miles between Bamberg and Regensburg at this time of year without breaking her, possibly irreparably?"
Wilhelm winced. The colonel had him there. Teamsters were notorious for just how careless they could be with fragile goods at the best of times, and traveling between Bamberg and Regensburg in early April was not the best of times. Not only was the road not much more than an improved goat track, but firstly the SoTF National Guard, and more recently the 3rd Division, had marched over it. It was probably a sea of mud right now. "No, Sir," he conceded.