Oberfeldwebel Weidner was the platoon leader of a trio of Panthers. He was known for his pride, but that pride wasn't just vanity; he was also known for his achievements on the battlefield - although he couldn't actually remember the specifics of most of those after suffering a severe head injury. Apart from his pride, there was something else he had an abundance of: Obstinacy. And this combination of pride and obstinacy was what had led, once again, to the Oberfeldwebel watching his sweat pool up in the dirt. He had stopped feeling his arms already, and that was for the best. Maybe it was a hundred pushups he had done. Maybe it was a thousand.
"What's with that grumpy look? You should be grateful for this generously mild punishment," Hauptmann Heinrich said. He was leaning against his tank nearby and watching Weidner and his crew with a smug grin. "Someone else would have thought of something more ... original for a soldier who doesn't know when to be quiet."
Weidner ignored him, only focusing on not collapsing. He had to continue until his superior - whom they liked to spitefully call "Scharführer" whenever he wasn't around as a joke about his failed dream career - got tired of the sight ... which, depending on his mood, could take a while. It felt like an eternity before Heinrich finally gave them permission to get up.
Instead of doing him the favor of letting himself fall to the ground in exhaustion like his comrades, Weidner grabbed his jacket and got up. He threw a pointedly disdainful glance at Heinrich, who stopped grinning and returned it - which required tilting his head back significantly. After all, Weidner easily towered over him whenever he wasn't crawling around in the dirt before him. For a moment, the two men glared at each other silently. Then, the rest of his crew started gathering around Weidner and he realized that the only thing he could win by not going away now was more pushups.
He turned to leave and marched off without a word. His crew followed suit. As they were making their way through the camp, Weidner felt their looks pelting his back. He didn't need to be a mind reader to guess that they were anything but glad for having to participate in his punishment. The gunner was the one to break the heavy silence.
"You should have just kept your mouth shut," he grouched, still catching his breath.
Instead of replying right away, Weidner rummaged through the pockets of his jacket and produced a pack of cigarettes. He lit one of them and put the pack back into his pocket.
"I know that I'm right," he then said grimly, blowing some smoke into the chilly autumn air. "I know what I saw."
"We believe you, of cou-" the loader began to say, but Weidner interrupted him.
"No, you don't."
He looked over his shoulder, at the gunner.
"You saw it too, didn't you?!"
The gunner's features were distant.
"I did not."
Before Weidner could get properly furious, they reached the supply tent. The five men grabbed something to drink. The cool water was a blessing after they had exerted themselves so harshly.
Weidner's gaze met that of a platoon mate. Oberfeldwebel Habich was also in the process of getting a drink. A mischievous smile spread on his face as he spotted the sweat-drenched platoon leader. He trotted over.
"So? Have you seen your tank yet?" he asked while trying to keep the corners of his mouth in check. Weidner's aghast expression gave away that this was not the case. Weidner immediately suspected some sort of additional punishment by Heinrich.
"What? What's wrong with it?" he asked.
Habich languidly took a sip from his water.
"Why don't you go take a look," he replied secretively.
"I'll kill him," Weidner growled and spun around to get going right away.
"Language!" Habich fluted after him.
Weidner's crew hurried off as well.
"What's that? What's that supposed to be?!" Weidner asked. He stared at the Panther before him with raw disbelief. The mechanic, standing next to it, awkwardly scratched the back of his head.
"Has to be a mixup..." he speculated. "Or there wasn't any other spare part available."
"Well, it's not thaaaat bad..." the driver tried to placate Weidner, who was about to throw a tantrum.
On the three-tone bow of the Panther, big white letters proudly spelled out "DEFEKT".
"We could paint over it," the mechanic suggested. "Though we only have green paint left."
Weidner spun around to him.
"Eh?! Of course! Just paint a big old green blotch on our tank!" he hissed. The mechanic's head retreated far between his shoulders.
For once, Heinrich couldn't be blamed for these shenanigans. But this only resulted in Weidner's wrath hitting everyone else instead. He grabbed another cigarette with shaky hands, then stared at the Panther again - unfortunately, its appearance hadn't changed in the meantime.
"You could have just patched it up, couldn't you?" the New Guy said - the one who was replacing the radioman his crew had recently been scraping off the tank's walls. "Why did you replace the entire front?"
The mechanic shook his head.
"Not possible. The hole was too big."
He looked like he was holding back a snide remark, but was apparently smart enough to not aggravate Weidner further.
Weidner had arrived at the conclusion that it was best to remove himself from the situation now, and stomped off without another word.
The crew lingered, except for Feist, the loader, who caught up with him halfway to the barracks.
"Don't be so mad!" he tried to reason with his commander.
Weidner didn't stop.
"I'll be as mad as I want to!"
"I'm sure no one will even notice."
"Bullshit! We'll be the laughing stock of the entire company!"
"We already are..."
Feist realized his mistake as Weidner suddenly stopped after all and the two men collided. Stumbling back, Feist watched Weidner whirl around and glare at him.
"They'll feel sorry soon enough."
As his fellow soldier didn't reply, Weidner turned back around and briskly walked on. Feist followed him and spoke up again.
"Maybe it would really be best if you just stop talking about it and forget the whole thing. You're driving everyone crazy with it."
Weidner reached the barracks and stubbed out his cigarette before entering. As soon as both men were inside the tent, he answered.
"I won't let the fucking Scharführer shut me up," he said defiantly, though in a low volume. There were other soldiers inside the tent, who were also talking to each other in hushed tones. Weidner made his way to his berth, letting himself fall onto it. He turned onto his back and crossed his arms behind his head. His gaze followed Feist, who sat down on his own berth.
"That's not what this is about, at all," Feist said, with emphasized diplomacy in his tone.
"Then what is it about?" Weidner snapped.
"Even if it is top secret prototypes," Feist said, miming quotation marks with his fingers - much to Weidner's annoyance. "What does it change? If it's an IS-2 putting a hole in our tank or something else, there's no difference." He shrugged.
Weidner furrowed his brows.
"Are you all really that stupid, or is it an act?" he asked. He was about to say more, but Feist sighed in such a dramatic way that he fell silent. There was no point in arguing with a wall. Weidner averted his eyes, staring at the tent's roof instead. Feist quickly understood what was expected from him now and got up to leave.
They said that there were few things that delighted Stabsfeldwebel Jankovic more than fighting at the frontline with his tank. Many even claimed that there was nothing he enjoyed more. As with many things in life, the truth was somewhere in the middle. One thing was certain, however: Right then, he was suffering a lot. And his wounds only contributed a very small part to that.
"If you try getting up again, I'll ask the nurse to tie you down," one of the two men sitting next to the sickbed said. The driver and the gunner had come to provide their injured commander a bit of company. Said commander appreciated this, but had actually hoped they were here to pick him up.
"I can stand up," Jankovic replied grumpily. "What use am I to anyone if I just lie here and stare holes into the ceiling?"
"You also won't be of any use if you overexert yourself now. The more you do that, the longer it will take until you're back on your feet," the gunner said.
Jankovic was intent on discussing further, but the driver cut him off.
"It's always the same with you," he sighed.
That made Jankovic smile sheepishly. It was always moving how much his crew worried about him. But he was really feeling a lot better already, and being stuck here with nothing to do except wait was bothering him a lot. Of course his comrades didn't want to hear that.
"Just do what the doctor tells you," the driver went on. "The war isn't running away."
Jankovic pouted again, but gave up on protesting further.