Domina Adora

I still go over to Nuevo Laurentii and see her once in a while.  She looks pretty good for an old girl.  We’ve both been through a lot since we first met back in ’42 and I’m always amazed at how well she’s held up through it all.  After more than half a century she’s still about the most gorgeous thing I ever saw.  She’s had a little help in that department from some specialists in the field, but then you name me one great beauty that has not.

I look at her and the memories come flooding back.  I can stand there at her side and all of a sudden an hour has passed and it has all streamed through me again at high speed, the sights and the sounds, the terror and the ecstasy, the grief and the triumph.  And then all the decades since.

Often when I come out of that reverie I have to put my hand against her flank for a minute to steady it.  That solid exterior always reassured me.  And her?  Not a tremor.  Nothing ever seemed to bother her much.  Nothing fazed her. Nothing ever slowed her down.

I used to come more often.  I’m older now but I still come to visit her at least twice a year from my home.  The word “visit” does not do the experience justice.  It is a pilgrimage.  I still enjoy being with her.  Of course, things will never be the same between us as it was back then, but that does not matter.  Hell, we’d all be in deep kimchi if they were.  No, what matters is that she is not forgotten – not by me and not by the world she helped save.  That and the fact that she has a good, secure place to spend the rest of her days.  Damn, I whisper to her sometimes.  Could either of us ever have predicted this?  That you’d end up as part of a war memorial in the nation’s capital?  With 500,000 people a year coming to admire you, there amidst all the other monuments, the stately government buildings, the up-scale shops, the fine restaurants and the manicured parks where they hold concerts during the summer?

Sometimes, on weekends or holidays when the crowds are largest, I stand off to one side and watch people drift past.  I watch them as they form a circle around her and look up at her.  I watch children climb upon her as their parents take vids for posterity.  I watch and try to hear what they have to say or to read their thoughts for most of them have fallen silent; silent in the presence of the Domina Adora.

Very few people look my way.  Why should they?  To them I am near invisible, just another old timer out to enjoy a day in the sunshine and a few minutes of nostalgia for a time that is fast fading from firsthand memory.

It’s mostly the very old and the very young who come to see my Adora:  Groups of retirees on tours and classes of schoolchildren with their teachers and chaperones still excited from their ride over the river on the monorail.  Maybe this is just one stop on a busy schedule that will include a tour of the Capitol, museums, art galleries, and lunch at one of the many fine restaurants nearby, souvenirs, then a return trip on the tram and back home.  Lots of things to see and do; lots of history here, a history made possible by Domina Adora and thousands of old hands like her.

I enjoy watching these people come and go.  I enjoy eavesdropping on the questions they ask the two or three veterans who serve as guides.  I am moved by how they are moved, watching it dawn on them that they have wandered into the presence of something huge and powerful and fascinating.

This slab-sided, grotesque monstrosity of a war machine went forth again and again to bring violent destruction to implacable enemies in a war that pitted the common man against the forces of unspeakable tyranny.  In so doing, she moved through torrents of gunfire that kept her crew in constant jeopardy as tank after tank burst into flame around her.  This tank, with the name Domina Adora painted on each side of the turret, symbolized not only the valor of all the warriors who struggled to survive the ordeal of war, but also the ideals they fought and died for.

This armored leviathan became a battlefield legend for surviving six years of near constant combat and returning with her original crew intact.  In a war that claimed two out of every three young tankers that rallied to the cause of turning back naked aggression that was quite an accomplishment.  To be precise, that was nothing short of a miracle.

She has been carefully restored but no amount of paint or filler can completely hide her wounds.  She took many grievous hits during those six terrible years but none proved fatal and none were fatal to her crew.  At great cost to herself she protected us every step of the way.  She wears her scars proudly.

The war, like so many wars, perhaps all wars, could have been prevented had our leaders had the foresight to take preemptive action early on.  When Potemkin began to resurrect his lost empire they dismissed him as a petty tyrant of no threat to us and did nothing to stem his expansionist ambitions.  Nation after nation fell to his overt and covert actions.  When the multitudinous Han challenged us economically they hailed Cathy as an important trading partner and decimated our military while the Han expanded their armed forces.  When the International Soviet for Insurrection and Subversion began committing ghastly terrorist acts plunging the Medius Oriens into civil war they characterized the event as “a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing” and continued to purchase prometheum from the very people sworn to destroy our way of life.   When the Krait flooded our porous southern border they called them poor refugees and preached compassion and understanding rather than sealing the boundary line and enforcing the immigration laws.  The influx of Krait overwhelmed our schools and hospitals, destabilized an already vulnerable economy and brought rare diseases with them.  Hidden in their midst were agents of our enemies as well.  Weakened from within and assailed from without we were as ill prepared for war when it came as any nation in modern history.

How a RAGNAROK class heavy tank built on Krieg found its way across half a parsec and into our inventory I will never know but it speaks volumes about the sorry state of affairs to which we had sunk as a nation.  Compared to the clean lines of a Leman Russ she was more like the hideously deformed bastard offspring that a demented Ork might spawn rather than a proper Imperial Main Battle Tank but she was rugged, simple to operate, easy to maintain, lethal to the enemy and, as events proved, indestructible.  For all those qualities I first came to admire her and in time to love her.  She may have been plain, damn, let’s be honest, she was butt ugly but beauty is in the eyes of the beholder and after she took us safely through hell more than once she became the most beautiful thing I had ever seen and the only girl I ever wanted to be with.  At least for the duration of the war.

We were six months into the fight before we named her.  My driver, Degli Abruzzi, a farm boy from Belakang, wanted to call her Sordida Porcum for the manner in which she wallowed cross country and for the way the enemy scattered like a lot of squealing little piglets when she breathed fire.   Paolo Tarnassi, my gunner, a ganger from the slums of Trijueque, suggested we name her Miserunt Ferrum Lupatria.  The co-driver and stubber operator was no shit royalty.  Victor Hohenlohe came from a landed family and bore the title Prinz von Ratibor.  With his family dead at the hands of the enemy and his estate burned out ruins Victor lived for vengeance.  His suggestion was more martial, more warlike – Emperor’s Wrath.  Finally there was our Engineer / Radio Operator.  Constantly covered in oil and grease, the occupational hazard of all mechanics, Andre Maurois looked and smelled like a goat.  Appearances are deceiving however.  Andre was one of the most educated men I had ever met.  He wanted to call her Anabasis Barbaroi or Descensu ad Inferos, references I did not understand until much later in life.

But for the war our paths would never had crossed and had they intersected we would not have interacted.  War however has a way of cleaving through the niceties, peeling back the thin veneer of civilization, leaving you with the simple reality of – can I trust this man with my life.  And, in our case, the all important answer to that question was yes.  Everything else is secondary, the trappings of civilization.  On the question of her name however about the only things we all agreed on were the inescapable fact that she indeed lived and therefore deserved to be christened and her gender.  The high priests of the Mechanicum tell us machines possess a spirit just as men do.  That was certainly true of Adora.  From deep within the byzantine maze of her hydraulics or the tortuous labyrinth of her power conduits we often heard Andre swearing stridently and creatively (he was as talented with profanity as he was with a spanner) that she was possessed!   Perhaps he felt like it was he who was cursed.  It amounted to the same thing.  Without doubt she had personality.   And anything as protective as she proved to be had to be female.  As commander of the motley crew I lead, I finally settled the issue by christening her Domina Adora.  Domina for she was a Lady and we served her as she served us in return; Adora for, as I have said, over time, in spite of her age and looks and quirks, we came to love her.

We knew nothing of Domina other than that she hailed from Krieg and if her faded markings were correct had served for a time with the Baran Siege Masters.  Noble lineage and excellent qualifications when you are in a life or death struggle.  Other than that we never learned anything of her past and she of course never spoke of it preferring to dwell in the present.  I misspeak.  There was one other clue to her history.  At some point in her former existence a poet had served on her and, evidently, had first-hand knowledge of war, the curiosity to ponder it and the skill to write about it.  In the process of cleaning the interior one day we found writing previously hidden by layers of grime stenciled upon the bulkhead separating the aft engine compartment from the forward crew section.  As we removed decade after decade of dirt what we initially mistook for operating instructions or perhaps graffiti turned out to be verse:

 

Who was the first that forged the deadly blade

Who eschewed the farmer’s plow and the shepherd’s glade

And chose instead to sweat at that primal forge so long ago and afar

By his hand and will to force the blunt and yet unbloodied steel

To a keen edge making it bright for war

When he beheld his nightmarish dream made real

What was the alignment of sun and moon and star

Iron and soul quenched, that first artificer of death, what did he feel

Of this shrewd contriver all that can be said

Is that of fiery iron his savage soul was made

Ten thousand years have passed

And the only thing to last

Twixt the green sea and the azured vault

Is roaring war

Whose fault, whose fault

Ten billion souls upon the funeral pyre

Hurled headlong flaming from the ethereal sky

With hideous ruin and combustion lit

By roaring war

To lie upon the earth or under it

 

They are all gone now.  I am the last of the crew.  When I visit I think about them – how we suffered, how we laughed.  Shared dangers, shared privations made misfit strangers brothers.  I honor them and I take comfort that Domina Adora and that verse will outlive us all and in so doing preserve our story.

They overran damn near half the country before we stopped them at Dembeguina Pass.  After that it became a war of attrition.  They had better tanks but we had huge numbers of Ragnaroks and quantity has a quality all its own.  Their supply lines extended for thousands of kilometers through hostile territory whereas we were fighting for our homes, our families, our way of life, our very existence.  And in those areas they had overrun our people became quite adept at partisan warfare.  It took six years and countless lives but we finally pushed them out of Laurentis.  We didn’t stop at the original border either.

One of the good things that came out of the war was the sneak attack on Laurentii Prime that started the bloodbath.  They thought a devastating attack on our capital would destroy our will to resist but they were too clever by half.  When they killed the gutless not to mention brainless wonders that had crippled our economy and weakened our military they eliminated the very people who would have rushed to the negotiating table.  Rather than instilling fear leading to a swift capitulation they united our people with a sense of purpose not seen for over two hundred years and unleashed their righteous fury.   No, we did not stop.  We pushed them all the way home and cleaned out that nest of vipers.  Other snakes will no doubt appear but that particular species will never threaten us again.

I watch the good folks drift in and out of the memorial, in and out of Domina Adora’s silent yet magnetic aura.  From my half-invisible vantage point I observe them putting on their holiday faces again, after those few moments of unexpected solemnity; watch them make ready to enjoy the wonders of this city, of Nuevo Laurentii in these first moments of the new century.  This is as it should be.  This is what we fought to allow them to do.

There are some who do not show proper respect.  They have no understanding of and even less appreciation for the sacrifices that were made so that they might live in blissful ignorance.  They are usually those too old to stand in awe of the past and too inexperienced to understand the world as it really is.  They are afflicted by the callow idealism of youth, shackled by the naiveté of immaturity and innocence.  I vacillate between anger at their unawareness and sorrow when I think upon the bitter cost in precious blood spilled on their behalf.  They have no idea of the cost.  No idea, but to my regret I do.  All I have to do is gaze upon the plaque that stands before her armored prow.  It lists the major battles where we / she fought:  Serafimovich, Kalmiskowa, Veshenskaja, Shebekino, Novaya Kalitva, Izyum Salsk and Nikolayevka to name but a few of the final confrontations.  These names bring back terrible memories, ghastly images, which haunt my dreams to this day.  Serafimovich was particularly brutal.  One of our squadron mates had been converted into a Carro Armato Lanciaflamme.  As she was moving up to clear out a reinforced concrete bunker she hit a mine and brewed up.  I will never forget the smell of roasting human flesh or the screams of her trapped crew.   Their cries gave voice to an unimaginable, all-pervading pain inflicted when the strength to endure pain was utterly gone.  It was the sound of a great agony of the whole body and of the soul as well, the great despairing cry of a tortured body – a cry of flesh and blood, bone and marrow, muscle and sinew, nerves and faculties for strength with which to exist and to endure existence that ended with the shrieks of damned men, knowing they were doomed, begging for release.  I wish I could reach these young people, educate them so that they do not repeat our mistakes, so that they do not have to endure what we had to endure.  I wish I could prepare them for the cold, uncaring universe that waits.  But I know that is not possible.  In the self-assurance of youth they would not listen to much less give credence to a foolish old man like me.  Let them enjoy the illusion of certainty while they may.  Their education will come at the hands of a cruel task master who cannot be ignored, from whom there is no escape.  Reality has a way, sooner or later, of exacting its due.

It is hard to tell where each departing group of visitors to the War Memorial is headed.  But there is one place where I am sure they will not go.  They will never go into that beautiful beast.  She belongs to history now.  And to me.  In my heart, she still belongs to me.

Sometimes I cannot help but to ask history to move over, if just for a moment.  Let me be honest about it:  I climb up into that turret every time I go over there.  I stand with my feet on the commander’s platform and my hands on the hatch ring and I close my eyes and everything we lived through together overwhelms my consciousness.  I am there again.  I can hear the sounds of the stubbers firing.  I can feel the impact of the main battery going off.  These sensations are beyond description, more real to me than anything in my present world.  I look at the gauges on the panel in front of me.  They are still there.  I vibrate as the massive engine comes alive and roars and we clank over rough terrain seeking out the foe.

When the moment passes I whisper to her.  I say, “Hello, Lady.  We did it, didn’t we?  We did it together.  You, me and the crew.  All of us working together.”

Yes, Sir.  This senior citizen knows what it is like to have laughed and cried, sang and cursed, sweated and frozen, feasted and starved, known abject terror and flickers of hope, in short, lived and nearly died in that tank, in that war.

So, yes, I still go over to Nuevo Laurentii and see her at least once a year.  After all, she has been a part of my life since I was twenty-two and I am eighty-nine now.  To be honest, I don’t really know where she stops and I begin.  She sure made me a different person than I started out to be.  She made me look at life in a different way and value life more.

Yet she’s not mine.  She doesn’t belong to anybody.  A lot of people, a lot of groups would like to claim her, but she’s not for sale.  She’s the people’s tank and that’s the way it should be.

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