Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Alternate realities - Wittgenstein

December 1926, how the hell did it get to December? Ludwig Witgenstein looked at the calendar page for a few moments. Sat at his desk in the forward command post he was used to more comfortable situations than this. He liked to have music and at least one book around. But he was here and had to make the best of it. An adjutant walked in and snapped a salute.
       ‘Yes?’ Ludwig asked.
       ‘The three prisoners are ready for their interrogations Colonel’ the moustache growled. He was a short man but effective in the current climate. Ludwig had responsibility for intelligence in the Northern front push against the communist insurgents who had taken hold of the Prussian, Polish border. He did not relish the action but it needed doing. The government was not strong and with the attempted coup by the Spartacists managing to almost derail the entire democratic process the year before it was vital that ay remnants of the disease of communism was removed. Ludwig had noting against the communist ideology, but he had his orders. They needed to know where the bastards would hit next, and more importantly how to get hold of their leader, the almost messianic blank.
       ‘I’m coming’ said Ludwig. He pulled his overcoat on. The snow was not too deep, but the temperature had plummeted to well below zero. He had a habit of picking up stupid illnesses on campaigns. He had managed to get ill twice in the Great War, in between claming his medals. Artillery factory to western front he had fought alongside men who he would not normally have looked twice at. His time in Cambridge had given him a respect for knowledge, but his time on the fronts next to what he had always regarded as he scum of the earth had given him greater respect for people’s capacity for bravery. He had led by example, charging guns and showing utter calm under the most intense fire. The military Merit and Silver medal were followed by two Iron Cross awards for the Battle of Bapaume. At 37 he was the youngest full colonel in the reformed Greater German Army after the Stalemate agreement was signed.
       Walking outside for the first time in two days the air struck Ludwig making him glad of his scarf and gloves. He whistled to himself a Mozart theme as he strolled along the cobbles of the half decent Polish town. It was early morning and the population was still not up and out. Their presence had sent many of the men running for the hills and many of the women, fearing the deserved reputation of the troops locked their doors and only scurried too and from their hovels when absolutely necessary. The Seargent led him to the barn holding the captured men. Ludwig was dismayed when he walked in They were hardly prepared. The men, having been left alone with the prisoners had decided to have some sport. All three tied to wooden kitchen chairs liberated from a nearby house, one was on his back, coughing and probably choking on his own blood; one was receiving the attentions of an overzealous private and one, still left alone was screaming at the soldiers watching and laughing to help his prone friend.
       The very presence of ‘the colonel’ in the barn sent the men into a quiet reflection. Only the aggressive guard, still slapping the face of the battered and bruised man failed to notice.
       ‘Corporal’ said Ludwig. The man stopped immediately. He turned and faced his commander.
‘Sir’ he saluted.
       ‘What happened?’ Ludwig asked.
       ‘It just seemed to start sir’ the man trembled as he spoke.
       ‘You had orders to watch them?’ Ludwig asked, his calmness building the tension in the others around him.
       ‘Sir’ the soldier stood ramrod straight.
       ‘You have disobeyed an order’ said Ludwig. The words provoked a gulp of expectation from the men in the barn. Disobeying an order could result in the death of a soldier, summary execution or even being shot out of hand was not unusual.
       ‘Be thankful’ said Ludwig, ‘that I have use for you Private.’ The man almost wet himself in relief. The immediate demotion and probable loss of a months pay was like winning a lottery. ‘Now get out of my sight. Sergeant, please educate the Private on why he does not beat defenceless men.’ The moustache frogmarched the still trembling Private outside. The man would appear later with a face black and blue, teeth would be missing and his nose broken, however his eyes and his hands and his feet would remain untouched. The Sergeant knew the value of an extra rifle and Ludwig knew he would gain the man’s loyalty for a short while as he now owed him his life.
       Ludwig turned to the one man left untouched by the disobedient soldier’s ministrations.
       ‘Young man’ he said, ‘do you speak German?’ There was no movement, Ludwig continued, ‘French? English? Dutch? Russian?’ Ludwig rattled off the names with fluency watching the man’s expression. His eyes flickered as he said Russian. Ludwig transferred to the language immediately.
       ‘Listen carefully’ he said in a close whisper, ‘the man I just set outside was punished for attacking your friends. I have no intention of hurting you or allowing you to be hurt if you help us. However I have every intention of killing you if you do not. Do you believe me?’ The man nodded slowly.
       ‘Excellent’ said Ludwig, ‘I have one question then, where is the weapon’s cache?’
       ‘I am just visiting my…’
       The man had no time to finish his sentence, as Ludwig pulled a pistol from his belt and fired the gun next to his ear. The bullet buried itself in the floor, the man screamed.
       ‘Bear in mind’ Ludwig said, ‘that I have no problem killing you, I am trying to stop a civil war in this area, expel the communist menace and hopefully save Germany from falling into the same ravaged state as Italy. Now, shall we try again?’ 
       ‘I er’ the man stammered.
       ‘Do you believe in God young man?’ Ludwig whispered in the ear he had not deafened. ‘I used to, and then I saw the terrible things that could happen to believers and non believers alike. I used to carry the gospels around with me. I used to recommend passages to my men. But it was all a placebo, a drug that worked only if you believed it would. Be of no doubt my young friend, there is no God, but even if there is a some subtle hint of hope in your heart, some element of you that still thinks that he may reach down and save you from this bullock freezing barn; be clear that God, if he exists, does not give one fuck about you, me or this wretched country. We are alone suckling at the teats of the gods we create for ourselves. For you it is this wretched politic, for me it is my duty to the people around me.’ Ludwig looked behind him to the men who had entered the barn. ‘Believe me young man, my god is a vengeful god and it will have its sacrifice. Now, where is the weapon’s cache?’

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