This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. The use of historical terminology and insignia is only in context of this story and does not intend any resemblance to real events – historical or otherwise. No diminishing, reduction, or denial of historical crimes committed before and during WW-2 is intended.
Appendixes about names, history, and translations of the German lines at the end.
"All this began two days before yesterday, or thirty-two thousand years ago, or 1933, or... I don't know when. I'm not sure I'm the one who can tell you. I'm no soldier, no historian or archeologist, and I have serious issues with this. I wish I..."
It was late afternoon in June, here in North America on Earth, in Commander Walsh's office high up in the bulk of BetaMountain. The sun, coming through the jalousie grille before a window projector installed on the flank of the actual mountain, threw nearly horizontal stripes of reddish light across the room and Walter C. Hartford's shaken face.
He sat in a leather armchair, designed to be comfortable. The commander's last office chair had fallen victim to Goose's... cat claws earlier this year. Six months were not enough time to give the furniture the coziness gained only by considerable time in use.
Doc's long, slim hands were folded around a maximum-sized coffee mug, half-full of coffee, double sugar, double cream. Half-full, for any more and his trembling would have splattered its contents all over the chair. Zach's right hand lay warm on his shoulder. Two days ago, it would have offered comfort. Now he felt threatened by it.
"Please continue, Doctor Hartford."
Walsh's calm, deep voice came from the tall silhouette standing to the side of the window projector. A voice that had more than once managed to calm a mad supertrooper– the hacker looked up, startled for a moment at the figure until it morphed into the commander: calm, attentive, yet slightly worn – ever since two of his people had gone missing on a routine mission. The search was still ongoing, but hope had begun to dwindle...
The thought helped Doc to collect himself. "Maybe I should stop complaining and just start at the beginning..."
Three days ago
...the cave was still dark, only the polished surface of the Great Computer and the pale stone carvings lining the otherwise unprepared red granite typical of Tarkon's Haunted Land reflected some of the light his flashlight and the CDU's holographic display emitted. Since his arrival two hours ago, Doc's attempts to activate the interactive holographic interface of the amazing artificial intelligence installed in the Great Computer had been useless. Neither the wise shaman the system absorbed nor the pink giant showed up. Nothing.
He was only inside the cave because it had been already open at his arrival.
After the now almost-legendary Battle of Tarkon and his successful activation of the AI controlling the ancient defense systems of the moon fortresses, the computer hadn't calmed down again, hadn't returned to business-as-usual – which was how the commander had put it in his order. Tarkon's moon fortresses had activated a couple of times to give warning shots in front of anything larger than a two seater explorer crossing Tarkonian space. Though they didn't fire directly at the ships yet, it seemed to be only a matter of time. The various interfaces scattered in Tarkon's technophobe population remained either silent or acted strange.
Maya had called BETA when her pole had struck her with blasts of what she called red light, giving her father reason to return to his notion of 'evil technology'. Doc was sent to find out - in the words of Commander Walsh again – 'what the heck was going on there'.
So far, it didn't seem as if he was making much progress in that direction. The all-seeing-eye wasn't really an option with all the interfaces acting strange. He wasn't too keen to find his eyes – or his brain for that matter – fried.
He drew a deep breath, puffing it out, and wished, not for the first time, to have a touchable interface at least to start with. But whoever constructed the Heart of Tarkon had built no such thing.
~WHY ARE YOU HERE?~
Doc whirled around, searching the darkness almost solidly filled by the booming voice beyond his spotlight's reflections but no hologram was glowing anywhere. Just the voice that made his ears ring.
~WHY ARE YOU HERE? ANSWER.~
A voice that was growing impatient. Oh great! Somehow he doubted that 'my boss told me so' was a good answer. "You fired at our ships," he said instead, and added hastily. "Recently. Not in the battle with the Crown troops. We fly the white ones, you know?"
"You helped us when the Queen of the Crown was set to conquer this planet."
~WE HELPED TARKON.~
"But together with Tarkon you helped us. And now you shoot at us and scare the people of Tarkon who carry interfaces. I've been sent to find out w–"
Colorful spots began to pour out of the band ornaments carved into the otherwise unadorned stones, swirling across the cave but staying at the edges of his perceptions, dots and blips of color in the darkness. Doc waited for a hologram to finally form, but no frame to address appeared.
~NO.~ The voice dismissed his reply. ~WHY ARE YOU HERE?~
"Why are you?" he returned, not expecting an answer.
It nearly cost him his sanity when it came anyway. All of a sudden the swirling color spots surrounded him solidly, formed a picture that became a scene that became a movie. The red stone at his feet seemed to be a sightseeing platform in the middle of a Quattro-D cinema with full sensory input. Something like driving wind moved his hair, he smelled pines, green leaves, and... exhaust fumes. The voice reappeared:
Tarkon. The four moons were unmistakable. Lush and green, covered by forests, interrupted by an occasional ocean and cities that looked decidedly Twentieth Century Earth. At least, Doc was rather sure he saw what passed for industrial plants in the cities' vicinities. Mountains loomed.
~THE HAUNTED LAND. 32.000 YEARS AGO.~
The indicated mountain range was much higher than today with bright white snow caps and rugged flanks smoothed by what looked like pine forests.
The focus changed, turned to the orbit suddenly filled with foreign ships, glittering black, blue, and silver. The speed of the pictures increased. From high above Doc witnessed construction teams disembarking from the ships, but was too far away to make out their features, only that they were vaguely human: two arms, two legs, one head, walking upright. In front of his eyes the Moon Fortresses began to reach up into the sky, pointing outward, ever sweeping the star-filled sky. A tactical display blended over the movie, showing a galactic chart and the range the fortresses covered, and faded back into the on-rushing change of scenes.
Other ships appeared, marked with a sickening pus-like yellow. For each yellow ship that appeared a blue-and-silver one left the orbit, intercepting them. The film zoomed out, began to pan the local stars. Armies formed, front lines appeared. Important planets glowed up in bright light in midst of the zones occupied by whoever the dim colors indicated.
Single scenes appeared in smaller frames floating in front of the main movie around Doc. He twisted his back, trying to follow them all. Ships were built in wharfs within the mountains of Tarkon. A second frame appeared next to it, showed... scarecrows, and what they were capable of if not stopped. That frame doubled, tripled, multiplied, the single frames beginning to drop back towards the galaxy chart still taking up the background, began melting into the brilliant dots that marked the planets. They began to flicker, some flared up and went dark.
The first frame again. A contact delegation of the aliens met with the Tarkonian authorities. No kingdom at that time, Doc noticed. Somehow the aliens were always shown from behind. A construction lab in the characteristic blue with a large, dull pink form in one of the booths. The first person really visible was a young Tarkonian man, brown hair braided severely, his face a mask of solemn determination. His lips moved, his hands lay flat against his chest as if in prayer. The next moment he stepped forward, pressed himself against the pink frame's belly, and was soaked inside. The prayer ended with a sucking sound intertwined with a scream and a sizzle when the pink form began to glow and stepped out of its booth, bowing to its unseen alien superiors. As if fast-forwarding, the frame showed a horrified Doc a seemingly unending line of Tarkonian males melting into the pink giants. Then that was replaced by a frame showing the illuminated pink giants fighting scarecrows.
The speed of the main movie increased, making the ever-changing front lines look like waves lapping over the spiral arm of the galaxy, breaking over the planets caught in the battle with crushing force as if they were pebbles on a shore whose sand rubbed the thin layer of their biospheres off them. Once in a while the mind-twisting rush of pictures slowed, showed single scenes, crucial people, decisions.
Voices appeared in the turmoil, mysteriously speaking Standard, addressing, arguing about how to respond to the enemy's offensive on Kartaq. Many demanded to charge. The last word was Retreat. With two suns and an orange moon, and endless fields of what looked like wheat, Doc didn't need long to figure Kartaq to be Granna.
A still picture unfolded. Scorching wind touched his face. The scent of burned soil and flesh assaulted his nostrils, and Doc saw Granna pretty much like he had seen it on pictures taken before the terraforming: a barren landscape of ash and mud.
The movie rushed on, showed a disturbed front line structure. The glistening blue-white fire of the moon fortresses burst out into the darkness, again and again clearing the space around Tarkon. Ships brought wounded and dead to be tended on the moons and inside the mountains. The same ships carried pink giants away to the stars. Now the waves of attacks battered against Tarkon. In front of Doc's feet more and more Tarkonians walked not into the giants but into what looked suspiciously like the Heart of Tarkon to fuel it. More and more of them didn't walk voluntarily any longer.
Then there was no one to walk in when the energy was down. The blasts from the stars wreaked havoc among Tortunian cities, melting the mountains, burning the forests. Doc saw newly formed plains around the half melted ruin of the range covered with blackened, burned bodies, some of them writhing. He didn't know if they had tried to reach the Heart to fuel it, but he had his suspicions.
The frame froze. Another appeared, laid itself over the first one, showed alien troops gathering, going up against the yellow ones again. The shore of the lapping front lines was pushed away from a Tarkon no longer lush and green...
...the movie faded. The last still frame of the burned bodies on Tarkon remained, hanging suspended in mid-air. The stone slab supporting Doc's feet folded itself back, became again the rocky floor of the cavern.
~WE WON. WE PAY FOR THE VICTORY.~
"You call that a victory?" Doc gulped.
"How?" Doc whispered. "How... does that work? Why...?"
~THE FORCES OF LIFE AND DEATH ARE TWO SIDES OF THE SAME COIN. WE KNOW WHEN A DESTROYER IS BUILT. IF IT IS, THEN WE CREATE ITS COUNTERPART. WE KNEW ONE WAS LEFT. SO THE SLEEPER STAYED.~
Horror filled the hacker's face at the memory of all these people walking into the giants. "Why?" He whispered again.
A single frame appeared, showed a farmhouse on what was clearly contemporary Granna, from the outside. The picture zoomed in on a curtained window, entered the window. Doc gaped at Niko, pale, sleeping fitfully in a bed. She woke. She screamed. The view left her when Goose burst through the door...
"Niko... and Goose." Doc stared open mouthed. "But they are lost..."
~CURRENT LOCATION: EARTH CATALOGUE 17798. FEW PEOPLE EVER STOOD IN FRONT OF A FENRIJ DESTROYER AND SURVIVED. TWO OF YOURS MANAGED. WE ARE IMPRESSED.~
"Fine." Doc shaky, tried to regain his diplomatic feet, his head still swirling with the amount of information forced into it. "In that case we might-"
~BUT YOU ENDANGERED OUR WARDS WITH YOUR DEEDS. WE CANNOT TOLERATE THAT!~
"Tortuna attacked Tarkon, we defended it. Tortuna is your threat, not we from Earth. We can form an alliance–"
~SILENCE! YOU HAVE NOTHING TO OFFER US!~
The voice's full power slammed again into Doc's head, made him stagger as his maltreated eardrums trembled under the onslaught. He screamed, unable to hear his own voice, hands clamped over his ears. "If you are that powerful, why didn't you make the threat disappear altogether?" He yelled. "Remove the bitch but stop–"
~YOU WANT THE QUEEN REMOVED FROM TORTUNA?~ The voice boomed. ~THAT CAN BE DONE. IF YOU ACCEPT THE PRICE!~
Doc startled. "What p..."
"–rice?" he finished, standing in a cavernous hall decorated in various grey and purplish colors.
Doc shook his head, feeling slightly dizzy from the sudden change of surroundings, then finally those surroundings registered. He recognized them, there was only one place that looked like this, but... that wasn't possible, was it? He was on Tarkon, not on Tortuna, and - he swallowed dryly – surely not in the Queen's palace. But–
"He, Sie! Was treiben Sie hier?" 
Doc didn't understand what the two brown-clad soldiers – human soldiers! – barked at him, but their assault rifles directed at his heart spoke an all-too-clear language. "I'm sorry, I–" he began.
"Sprechen Sie gefälligst Deutsch!" the one who spoke first snapped. "Ausweis?" 
"Excuse me? I don't understand–" He searched frantically for a way out of this situation. Heck, for all he knew he was still on Tarkon in the chamber of the great computer and not on Tortuna staring into the wrong end of two assault rifles.
One of which was now directed a little more precisely towards his sternum. "Ihren Ausweis!" 
Doc raised his hands in defense. From the sound of it these gentlemen were losing their patience with him way faster than the Queen would have. He shrugged helplessly, giving them his best apologetic smile.
The first soldier threw a doubtful look at his partner who kept Doc precisely in his sights. "Der versteht kein Wort, Gunther." 
"Scheisse, immer auf meiner Runde." The other one cursed and shrugged in fatalism. "Was soll's. Los, schaffen wir ihn zum Hauptmann." 
A rough movement with a rifle had Doc scurrying down the indicated corridor. He just prayed it wasn't to the Queen but out of this... nightmare? The language sounded like German, but he'd never bothered to learn more than a few phrases of it. So that wasn't much help and–
A wide set of double doors slid open in front of him. An angry push with the barrel had Doc hastening into what turned out to be the Queen's throne hall. Which was in a rather unfortunate condition of disrepair and destruction, though luckily with no Queen in sight. Instead...
The figure standing at a field table next to the deserted throne was very familiar. Zach! What is he doing here? Doc sighed inwardly in relief, though he made sure not to provoke the two maniacs escorting him. One of them stepped forward, obviously reporting him. Surely Zachary would be able to sort this out and–
The captain turned slowly around, said something in a harsh voice, then his cold, narrowed eyes wandered dispassionately across Doc.
Doc blinked, shocked, staring at the matte steel badge attached to the chest of the strange long dark-grey uniform flapping around his high black boots as Zach came down the curved sweep of stairs. At first, he'd thought the badge had just been singed during a fire fight with the now strangely absent crown troops so that the gold cover was off but by the time the captain had reached him he knew that wasn't the case. It was made of steel showing an engraved Griffin in front of two crossed broadswords connecting it with the ring sporting the unit's name: Where GALAXY RANGER should have been, RAUMJÄGER was printed. 
Doc swallowed. "Zach, what's going on here?"
The soldier behind him pushed him in the back. "Herr Hauptmann für Sie!" 
"What?" The hacker snapped, unnerved.
The soldier raised the butt of his rifle, but a terse hand sign of the captain prevented the blow. "Sie sind?" Doc was asked again. 
Oh no, not again! Doc thought helplessly. "I'm sorry, I don't understand you. I–"
An impatient sign of Zach cut him off. He flipped open his wrist comm, waited briefly for a reply signal and spoke: "Hans, ich hab' hier 'nen Fall für dich." 
=Welcher Art?= The voice out of the wrist comm was vaguely familiar, but Doc didn't quite recognize it. 
"Eindeutig Mensch, dunkelhäutig, versteht aber kein Wort Deutsch. Klingt irgendwie englisch, was er da plappert. Das ist dein Aufgabenbereich." 
"Sekunde." Zach's attention turned back to Doc who was no longer sure that was a good thing. "Ihre Kennung?" 
When Doc remained silent Zach's cold, black-metallic hand closed around his wrist and shoved his sleeve up his arm. Doc's short, shocked struggle did nothing to deter the... Ranger Captain?... from the task, but earned him the painful sensation of an assault rifle's butt hitting the small of his back. He winced as the captain twisted his arm as if searching something before he shrugged and dropped it to continue his call.
"Keine. Ist vielleicht ein Schlüpfer." 
An audible sigh was transmitted through the comm, then: =Schick ihn durch die Erkennung. Ich bin unterwegs.= 
The connection closed before any farewells were exchanged. Fox frowned at his wrist comm before his wrath hit the soldiers still watching Doc. "Ihr habt den Sturmbannführer gehört! Überprüft ihn!" 
"Jawohl, Herr Hauptmann!" 
Doc was pushed roughly towards what looked like a steel container at the side of the dais holding the throne while Zach – if that was Zach at all – returned to whatever he was doing up there without as much as a second glance at Doc. These guards seemed to have a lot of respect for him, but...
Why on Earth does Zach speak German all of a sudden? And why didn't he - and everyone else – understand me? the thoughts raced through his mind. He gave me the order to go to Tarkon only yesterday. We joked about him not being able to learn foreign languages. And now he sends me to a holding cell? Why– The metal door of the container slammed open and Doc knew. Knew that he'd been wrong. That wasn't Zach up there on the dais behind him. And this wasn't a holding cell.
"Rein da! Und keine Fisimatenten, klar?" 
Numbly, Doc realized that he'd stopped dead in his tracks at the sight of the container's interior. Less numbly, he knew what would hit his back if he didn't walk in immediately. Wide awake, he knew he didn't want to go.
He was given no choice. The android, made of the familiar polished red metal, reached out and pulled him with its superior strength into the container. =Programmauswahl.= Rusty asked briskly, holding him down by his throat effortlessly. =Erkennung, Lebendsektion, Sektion, Tötung, Verwertung?= 
One of the guards laughed out loud. "Erkennung, Rostig, du blutrünstiges Mädchen. Wir wollen wissen, wen wir erschiessen werden, in Ordnung?" 
=Selbstverständlich, Gefreiter.= 
Doc feared for his sanity – at least as much as for his physical well-being – when the door slammed shut at a sequence of beeps from the android. Halogen lights flared up, bathing the whole cubicle in harsh, unforgiving light, flashing off a stainless steel operation table, bent inwards towards a drain running along its center, that folded itself out of the floor in front of him. LEDs lit up, fractured letters scrolling rapidly across two large, oblong monitors embedded in one side of the cubicle.
A light flashed rapidly at an edge of the OP table, indicating a seat with holding straps. He understood the moment Rusty gripped his throat and pushed him down. The straps adjusted themselves, effectively immobilizing a rather wide-eyed Doc, who watched horrified as Rusty's right fingers flipped open and folded back into themselves revealing a nice set of meticulously clean medical instruments gleaming in the hard light. Doc squirmed.
Rusty, unimpressed and unperturbed, protocolled her task. =Testobjekt Tortuna 14.496. Programm Erkennung. Bereite Blutentnahme zur Analyse vor. Testobjekt unkooperativ. Empfehle nachfolgende Züchtigung nach Ermessen.= 
One of the instruments, a rather thick needle, sunk into his skin. It hurt, badly. But struggling seemed a bad idea with an android apparently lacking any programming restraints holding on to his throat, while surgical instruments protruded from its free hand.
Doc realized that for once he didn't have problems referring to Rusty as 'it'.
He was kind of glad when the needle was pulled out and an adhesive plaster soaked with a burning liquid was applied. A rather discomfited part of him wondered 'what would be next'. Doc wasn't too sure he wanted to know.
Nothing made sense. Normally, he'd have long-since tried to either establish communication or make a run for it, but with this Mr. Hyde version of Rusty and those creeps waiting for him outside, neither seemed to be a good choice and–
A blinding bluish white band of light began to scan his body, beginning at his head and advancing towards his feet. For a while Doc saw nothing but blinking stars and shadows, making him fear for his eyesight. The container door to his side hissed open, and another sequence of beeps from Rusty released Doc from his seat.
=Probenentnahme abgeschlossen. Die Ergebnisse werden Hauptmann Fuchs mitgeteilt so bald sie vorliegen.= 
"Gut." The voice of the guard called Gunther came from the shadow which made what seemed to be a rough, hurried gesture towards the door. "Du. Raus da." 
The sound of boot heels clicking impatiently on the glassed stone floor outside made the two guards nearly jump as they pulled a rapidly blinking Doc outside. When the source of the steps came finally into view besides the dais, Doc's vision had restored enough to have his mouth dropping open.
Goose. Normal. At least as normal as the man ever got! Just in his black gear and – Doc stopped mentally in his tracks –and he was missing with Niko in the Empty Zone. When were they found? Or were they really undercover and the search was only their cover?
The ST saluted briskly to Zach, polished heels clicked together. Wait a minute. Polished heels? Goose?! Zach looked up from his work, answered the salute, and nodded in Doc's general direction. "Sieh zu, was Du rauskriegst. Ich meld' mich, wenn die Daten vorliegen." 
His guards literally jumped to attention – with heels slamming together and everything – under the calm green stare of Gooseman, passing and dismissing them easily. Doc caught himself from saying Yo, Goose. What's up here, man? remembering just in time that it might not be too good an idea to blow the other one's cover in whatever Rocky Horror Picture Show was running here.
Trying again to figure that out, Doc nearly freaked when a hard hand clamped around his left upper arm and he found himself wordlessly shoved towards one of the corridors. He needed two steps to regain his feet, then he hurried to follow the implied order, pressing his right hand across the pulsating plaster over the needle prick in his left elbow. Goose's social skills at their best, my ass.
The ST opened one of the doors embedded in regular intervals into the corridor walls and let Doc enter. What was supposed to be yet another of the Queen's tech chambers turned out to be an apparently makeshift field office, parted by a heavily armored container with "Hauptrechenmaschine" stamped on it, and an all-weather panel nailed to the ceiling as a replacement curtain. A desk covered with various files and papers was the most prominent piece of furniture visible. 
"Setzen Sie sich." Goose shrugged out of his uniform jacket, then frowned at Doc's lack of response and repeated in slightly accented English. "Sit down."
Doc sat. And froze.
In front of him stood a desk sign partially covered by scattered papers. What was visible of it showed a hologram portrait of Goose. On the collar of the uniform were the same insignia sported by the jacket now carelessly tossed over the back of the office chair: small silver skulls.
The ST collected some of the papers strewn across the desk, stubbed the pile into some semblance of order and put it aside, uncovering the rest of the sign in the process:
Sturmbannführer Johannes Ganter, Waffen-SS.
The discussion of the next fifteen minutes was something Doc would have liked to delete from his memory.
"Leutnant Lisa Fuchs fell into the hands of the enemy." Ganter leaning back in his seat informed him coldly. "Her body was destroyed according to regulation XC-36-7/B about soldiers under enemy control."
"She... she's dead?" Doc whispered in shock. "But Zach–?"
"Hauptmann Fuchs acted correctly the moment the situation became obvious and performed the execution himself." Ganter shook his head. "These are hard facts, Mr... Hartford, which are available in the annual reports of the Wehrmacht. Your fantasizing won't–"
"What if he hadn't obeyed?"
"I would have shot him for being a risk to the state." Ganter sighed getting up. "This won't get us anywhere. He, Niko?"
Niko? Here? Doc whirled round in his seat. The swift movement brought him face to face with a Ganter all of a sudden pointing a Luger unwaveringly at his chest. "Sit down!" he snarled. "Slowly and without hasty turns. Now. And keep your mouth shut!"
Doc obeyed wordlessly, sinking back onto his chair. A moment later, he was glad he was sitting. The fragile being that stepped out of the curtained corner had little to do with the energetic woman he knew as Niko. She was thin to the verge of malnourishment and so pale she looked nearly transparent. The light grey tunic with the yellow circle on her chest did little to hide that. The few steps she needed to cross the room and take a seat on the last vacant chair on the narrow side of Ganter's desk seemed to exhaust her. She breathed hard, perching barely on the edge of the chair.
"Du wünsch...st?" she asked in an unsure, accented German. 
"Versteht er uns?" Ganter asked watching her with something like worry in his eyes. "Oder lügt er?" 
"Er..." Her hands twitched as if she tried to manually grasp for the words. She threw a helpless look at the ST who had reclaimed his seat behind his desk.
"We can do it in English, if you feel more comfortable this way," Ganter offered, leaning back into his seat so that he could watch both Niko as well as Doc. "It doesn't matter much if he understands us or not."
A relieved smile appeared on her face. "He speaks the truth. And–" She dropped her head, stubbornly studying her feet. Ganter reached across the desk and – surprisingly gently – brushed the hair away from her eyes so he was able to look at her.
"And?" he asked sotto voce.
"And he doesn't belong here."
He grinned. For a moment the boy he once had been appeared on his features, just to be replaced by the wolf again. "I already knew that, Mädchen."
"You did?" She looked up, astonished.
"Ja," he confirmed. "He tells of an interesting variation of reality."
"He might be insane," she said faintly, unconsciously rubbing her arms under the light grey cloth of her tunic, pointedly avoiding looking at Doc. "Maybe that's why he isn't listed."
"He's too coherent and his tales include too many facts to be ignored." Ganter shook his head and took her hand, caressing her palm soothingly with his thumb. "Whatever he's in for, it's not euthanasia."
"Immer noch so schlampig, Sturmbannführer?" 
Ganter's face closed. The sneering voice from the door was obviously unwelcome not only for Doc, who didn't have to turn to recognize Ryker Killbane – or whoever he was now.
"Man sollte meinen, das Hauptquartier hätte das mittlerweile korrigiert." 
"Was wollen Sie, Sturmbannführer Todt?" Ganter said icily. "Ich habe zu tun." 
"Das sehe ich." Bushy dark brows were lifted suggestively towards Niko and Doc. "Obwohl ich dachte, nicht einmal Sie würden weit genug für gemischte Doppel mit Minderwertigen sinken." Killbane sneered, swaggering over to the seat in which Niko was cowering. "Operation Andor ist abgeschlossen. Der Obersturmführer erwartet deinen Bericht bezüglich der Psychogruft." 
"Er wird ihn bekommen." 
"Gut. Und sorge dafür, dass Fuchs nicht wieder aus der Reihe tanzt." Killbane's stare dropped down Niko's cleavage. "Ich sehe, Du hältst dir immer noch diese Kebse." 
Ganter shrugged, uninterested. "Sie ist nützlich." 
"Das wäre sie bei Verwahrung im KZ auch." Killbane's hand wandered suggestively across Niko's breast. "Und nicht nur für dich." 
"Es ist effizienter, sie gleich dabei zu haben." 
"Ach ja?" Killbane sneered. The telepath shrank deeper into her seat, futilely trying to avoid the painfully groping hand. "Also im Namen der Effizienz–" 
Doc heard a very familiar growl from the other side of the desk. "–solltest Du dich in Acht nehmen, Richard! Oder das Hauptquartier erfährt, was wirklich mit den 30.000 Kiwi-Zwangsarbeitern passiert ist." 
"Als ob das jemanden schert!" Killbane barked, but retracted his hand. 
"Es schert die 48. Reichsstandarte, deren Vorräte wegen der verfaulten Ernte nicht ergänzt werden konnten." 
"What did Goose say to make that psychopath leave?" Doc asked as the door closed behind the two STs and he found his head still on his shoulders.
"Goose, who?" Niko asked hesitatingly.
"Goo–" Doc stopped. "Err... Ganter." He stumbled over the unfamiliar name.
"Oh, that." The telepath sighed in relief when she understood. "He reminded Todt of his killing frenzy on Kirwin, which could very well be Todt's death sentence when it becomes known." She cast her eyes down, keeping her look fixed in her lap. "His mistake caused a major... batallion to go with reduced supplies because there were no hands to bring in the harvest last year." A tremor appeared in her voice. "The... thirty-thousand dead would be a minor issue but the hungry soldiers are not. That's enough to k–keep Todt's h–hands off... another man's whore." She swallowed hard and finally looked up, wide-eyed almost defensive, at him. "Would you like some tea?"
Doc was too stunned to do anything but nod and watch as she busied herself with taking white china and a teapot out of the lowest drawer of the file cabinet and making black tea, which she served with brown rock candy.
Her sleeve slipped up when she reached with a trembling hand across the table to put the teacup in front of Doc. A black bar code above a fourteen digit number was crudely tattooed into her white skin. Niko noticed with a blush of shame and covered it quickly.
"How do you stand that?" Doc asked, horrified.
"Because I know he doesn't mean it," she said quietly, taking her own cup of tea and blowing softly onto the hot liquid. "And besides that – what else do I have left since Xanadu fell?"
"Xanadu fell?! God," Doc whispered. "I thought this was Tortuna."
"It is." Niko shrugged, subdued. "I guess the Queen had no idea what she bargained for when she intercepted a ship of the Reich." She trembled involuntarily. "She was taught thoroughly. Her war took less than two years."
Doc's eyes grew wide at that statement.
"Once they attack..." Her voice trailed off and she shivered harder, obviously lost in painful memories. "There's not much what can stop them. Born from couples chosen for genotype, indoctrinated from the very beginning to the Reich's ideology of blood and superiority, drilled to their limits by a system that culls the weak and calls it mercy, and led and reinforced by an elite corps of genetically engineered killer soldiers...."
She shuddered even more. Doc thought he heard her teeth clicking. "The Queen believed herself superior. She was wrong. Xanadu believed itself protected behind its psychic shields. It was wrong as well."
"What's.... which Goo– err– Ganter? How come that you are. . ." Doc stopped, embarrassed.
"Warming his bed?" She completed calmly and sighed. "I was on Xanadu when they stormed it. We fought. We fell. They took no prisoners.... I couldn't.... couldn't stand the deaths of all those I held dear. I collapsed.... Hans... – Ganter – found me."
Doc reached over to cover her trembling fingers in a silent gesture of comfort. The tea splashed from her cup onto her hands, as she jerked back, shrieking as if burnt. The delicate porcelain shattered on the carpet. "Let me help..."
Niko retreated from him. "No. Don't. He'll be angry–" She hid her face in her hands.
"Over a broken cup?"
"Over another man's scent on my skin." She whispered, rubbing her hands, still covered with hot tea. "I have to wash my hands... wash my hands... wash my hands..."
Horrified, he watched her, moving as if she were sleepwalking, repeating the words again and again on her way to the tiny sink in the depth of the room. Like a marionette she reached for the soap.
And fell screaming to her knees, her hand clawing into the soap, carving long streaks into the white piece, bloodied where a dry shard had cut under her nails. "Waldo....... Waldo........ Wal......" The syllables dissolved into pain-filled sobs.
Doc stood helpless. The door behind him slammed open. Goose– no, Ganter. Ganter. Must never forget that! – stormed in. "Scheissdreck! Wann kapieren die Idioten das endlich?!" Doc was pushed aside. Strong hands removed Niko's hand finger by finger from the soap, then tossed it away as the Sturmbannführer pulled her shivering form against his chest, rocking her soothingly, before he got to his feet and carried her back into the shielded part of the room. 
"Will she... be okay?" Doc asked cautiously when the ST returned a few minutes later.
"Ja." Ganter bit off.
"What..." Doc needed all his diminished courage at facing the cold, icy green stare as he pressed on. "...happened?"
"Fat soap." Ganter snarled as if that explained everything.
To Doc it explained nothing. "What–?"
"She is telepathic."
"I know that, but–" The green eyes zeroed distrustfully in on him.
"You were saying?" He said in that voice that sounded so much like Goose if not for the accent.
"What could a piece of soap do to her?"
Ganter snorted. "Not the piece of soap. The slaves it was made from." He ran a hand through his short-cropped hair in a gesture so painfully familiar that Doc dropped his sight to his own boots not to witness it. "The order says no slave products to telepaths. Verdammt! Why didn't they just give her protein paste right away?"
"Slave... products?" Doc shivered. "Protein paste?"
Again that distrustful look. "It's cheap and efficient." Ganter shrugged. "But it will cost us the last psi we have if those fools keep forgetting about it." He more or less shoved Doc out and sealed the office behind them before he headed briskly down the corridor. "Come."
"Where are we going?" Doc asked, not sure he wanted the answer.
"Hauptmann Fuchs wants to talk with me."
"Es hat also nichts gebracht?" Fuchs clucked his tongue and tapped, annoyed, on his read padd as he looked at Ganter sitting in front of him. 
Doc stood to the side, what should have been an advantage, if he had a weapon and he hadn't known how fast the ST was with the oddly shaped Luger in his holster. The rapid German of the two men likely discussing his fate went over his head. The events of the last hour had stressed him too far to try and understand them any more. There was only so much his mind could take in before shutting down to unimportant details. Details like...
The pale-yellow colored lamp on the desk didn't fit the bleak functionality of the rest of the field office. It was made of leather, it seemed, with a mostly red-and-blue colored picture on one side: a crude painting showed an American flag in motion: red stripes and white stars in a blue field. It was surrounded by bold text lines. Doc stretched his neck and deciphered: USMC and SEMPER FIDELIS.
Something about the lamp puzzled him profoundly. He just couldn't quite place it. It disturbed him.
"Hauptmann Fuchs would like to know why you are staring at his wife's gift like this?" Ganter interrupted his thoughts, apparently translating smoothly what the Hauptmann had previously asked.
Doc shrugged, trying to appear nonchalant. "I wonder why someone would paint a crude picture like this on such fine leather. I mean, it kind of ruins the effect, doesn't it?" He shrugged. "Don't take offense, but it's hardly en vogue, isn't it?"
A wheat blonde brow arched as if in amusement. "It's antique. His wife gave it to him as a present when she received their first son. It's rare because there were never many of these skins taken whole enough for utilization. And the continent in question was taken over a hundred years ago."
"Still, why draw the picture?" Doc insisted.
"The picture is a feature of the skin used and wasn't added after the fact."
"A feature of... But there are no animals that–" The hacker's eyes widened and despite his dark skin he paled visibly.
"Hans, darf ich wissen, was hier los ist?" Fuchs demanded to know. 
"Der Gefangene fragte nach der Bedeutung der Tätowierung. Ich sagte es ihm." Ganter, seemingly relaxed, leaned back in his seat, resting his hands in his lap. His green eyes sparkled as he considered the observation he just made. "Ich denke, deine Lampe hat ihn ziemlich schockiert." 
"Bitte?" Fuchs snorted in disbelief. "So was Besonderes ist sie nun auch wieder nicht." 
"Für uns." The ST thought aloud. "Für ihn jedoch..." He tilted his head, studying Doc like a rather strange specimen. "Er ist wirklich nirgendwo erfasst?" 
"Nein," the Hauptmann confirmed. "Er ist nicht aufgeführt, trägt keine Nummer–" 
"Er könnte sie entfernt haben." Ganter suggested. 
"Selbst wenn er die Narben vermeiden konnte, sollten sich Tintenbestandteile in seinem Körper nachweisen lassen. Rostig hat nichts gefunden." Fuchs shook his head. "Ein totaler Schlüpfer diesen Alters ist reichlich unwahrscheinlich, selbst hier am Arsch der Welt." 
"Ich weiss." Ganter nodded. "Meine Telepathin sagte, er gehöre 'hier nicht hin.' Ich denke, wir sollten zumindest in Erwägung ziehen, dass 'hier' sehr viel mehr umfasst als nur Tortuna." The almost bored gesture of Ganter's hand seemed to encompass the whole world, before he crossed his legs at his knees and tapped with the free boot tip against the makeshift desk. "Wie Eugen von Neiner zu sagen pflegt, 'es sind oft die Ausnahmen, die den Erfolg bringen'." 
"Sie müssen mich nicht daran erinnern, dass Sie den Reichsführer-ST persönlich kennen, Sturmbannführer," the Hauptmann stated with sharp-tempered indignation. "Ich bin keineswegs im Begriff, das zu vergessen." 
Ganter sighed. "Das war nicht meine Absicht, Zacharias." 
"Ich weiss." Fuchs studied the rather uncomfortable and fidgety Doc out of narrowed, rather disapproving eyes. "Aber es sind auch die Ausnahmen, die die meisten Karrieren beenden." A brisk knocking on the door interrupted him. "Ja?" 
A young officer entered, saluted twice, once before the Hauptmann, a second time in front of Ganter who answered the salute somewhat disinterestedly. "Die Vorbereitungen für die Hinrichtung sind abgeschlossen, Herr Hauptmann." The young man almost vibrated with tension, either from eagerness or from fear, as he repeated his salute in front of Ganter. "Herr Sturmbannführer! Man erwartet Sie beide." 
"Danke, Gefreiter. Sie können wegtreten." Fuchs nodded, returning his attention to Ganter when the courier had left. "Geh schon vor, Hans." His cold, dispassionate gaze raked over Doc before he took a set of electric handcuffs out of his desk drawer. He handed them to the ST. "Und nimm den da mit. Besser, er lernt mit wem er es zu tun hat." 
Again he was almost chased through endless corridors winding their ways through the belly of the Queen's palace. For once, Doc almost wished to see a crown trooper. Heck, even a slaverlord would be a welcome change to the grey and brown uniforms of armed men, soldiers of the Wehrmacht and SA-men lining the corridor in equidistant intervals. But none appeared.
He had actually dared to ask the ST about their aim but had received nothing but a warning glare and a grunt. What seemed to be the mouth of the corridor began to glow faintly in the distance. Doc wasn't sure. Running with his hands cuffed behind his back through endless corridors wasn't a usual part of his fitness program. A soft rumble swelled up. More soldiers lined the corridor walls. The noise made it difficult to hear even the sharp clicks of Ganter's heels on the hard floor seal.
"There'll be turmoil afterwards. If it starts, disappear in the crowd."
"You–" Doc missed a step and was rigorously pushed forward. "You really mean you–?"
"I mean nothing. Just disappear," Ganter said wearily. "And whatever happens, don't stop, and don't let yourself be seen ever again. Clear?" Doc nodded somberly. His thoughts raced. "It's a pity that Fuchs put you in his files. The two SAs wouldn't be a problem, but Fuchs is another matter altogether."
Their crossing of the corridor mouth into what seemed to be the vast audience place in front of the palace forbade any question of what he meant by that. Five lines of grey-clad soldiers formed a shielded corridor to a long-stretched platform today not holding a throne but a long upright pole on one end – and an execution squad on the other.
Glowing mono-fibers formed something like a corral in front of the platform, holding a collection of what passed for Tortunian aristocracy. Behind that, cordoned off by power cords and armed SA men, the population of Tortuna City – or rather, what was left of it – stood in stunned silence.
The creature that was drawn out into the unforgiving sunlight a couple of minutes later bore little resemblance with their eternal enemy. Gone were the spiky crown and the worst make-up Doc had ever seen, replaced by a half-mask of dried blood where something had ripped open the skin above one of her eyes. The dark-brown made an ugly contrast to the greyish purple rags that were all that was left of her robes.
Doc almost pitied her. Almost. The screaming voice filling the place with her screeching was still that of the Queen. The topic of scattered body parts and eternal boiling in used dishwater as well. It didn't even change when the shackles connected her to the execution post.
"Wir sollten das abkürzen." Fuchs' voice came from behind them with an annoyed timbre. 
"Wäre besser." Ganter nodded. "Wenn Sie noch länger schreit, verlieren wir den Lerneffekt, weil die Leute glücklich sind, dass wir ihre Ohren retten." 
"Bringen wir's hinter uns." Zach preceded them onto the platform. A hard hand on Doc's shoulder forced him to follow. They took position directly opposite of the Queen. "Exekutionskommando. Nehmt Aufstellung." Hauptmann Fuchs crossed their lines to stand in front of them, facing the crowd. "Im Namen des Dritten Reichs verkünde ich..." 
The rest was lost to Doc. The words rushed past him, as he realized, that what he in blissful ignorance had asked for was about to happen. The Queen would be removed from Tortuna. Once and for all. But–
A salvo of shots rang out, disrupting Doc's thoughts. The blood-sprinkled rag doll that had been their worst nightmare for over two years was hit by a dozen projectiles and fell into the bonds that held the body upright even in death. "Your Majesty!" A female alien in black garb screamed, pushing forward in her bonds, nearly cutting herself in half with the monofibers detaining the aristocracy. The crowd of crown troopers and Tortunian citizens began to mill around, pushed forward more from shock than from rebellion. A strangely detached part of Doc's mind wondered when Goose – No, Ganter! – had learned to read people that well.
"Get going!" An angry voice hissed behind him. A release card was slid through his handcuffs.
Doc didn't need another reminder. He slipped off the extended dais and fought his way into the milling crowd.
"He!" Ganter's angry shout rang out of the noise. "Der Drecksack haut ab!" 
Doc heard the sounds of a Luger APG being prepared to fire. A shot rang over the place, deafeningly loud. Something hot scraped across his shoulder, throwing him forward. Somehow he kept his feet and remained running – albeit stumbling because of pushing people and burning pain – trying to reach the tunnels, the streets, whatever there was, and...
...bumped into a wall where previously hadn't been one.
~DO YOU ACCEPT THE PRICE?~
The voice rang out all around him, reverberating in the deeply buried hall of Tarkon's great computer.
Doc stared at the glittering band ornaments carved into the red stone, fighting for breath. "No..." he whispered, dreading. God, was it only a hallucination?
But his shoulder hurt, wetness trickled down his sleeve. Finally, he dared look: his sleeve was soaked in blood from a scraping shot across his right shoulder, barely missing his collarbone.
Ganter shot me...
Did he do it to cover his own ass or did he really meant to kill me without Niko knowing any better?
Doc shivered. He'd never know.
Sometime in the next minutes he noticed that the voice was gone. He called. No one answered. His CDU lay next to what passed for the great computer's main access board, where he'd dropped it. It glittered in the soft light of the sunset filtering in through the long tunnel from the outside. With what could only be called a sob, Doc grabbed his belongings and fled. He expected cruel laughter to follow him, but the hall remained silent.
When he was finally sitting safely in Explorer-23, speeding away from Tarkon and all the madness at the top speed his pilot skills allowed, he couldn't help but wondering about it all.
It had been a shock to see Goose and Niko healthy after they were missing for so long. And then he had to learn that they weren't but–
What kind of a species would leave a recording behind to explain some unwitting intruder 32.000 years later, why it did what it did?
He wondered if they really had looked humanoid or if that had been an adaptation to make the events understandable for his – in their eyes –undeveloped mind. It had to be: some subroutine adding the forms and structures of the creature stumbling into their heritage to the program so that the unwitting beast wouldn't be scared to death.
How else could they have known what they'd look alike 32.000 years after they were gone? How else could they have known about Earth's darkest moment?
His CDU activated itself – not cyber portal mode, no, just the small embedded control screen as if the one responsible knew anything other than plain text mode would reveal their actions through the cockpit records – a line of text appeared on the screen:
HARTFORD, WE HAVE NEVER BEEN GONE.
Startled, he dropped the CDU, but the screen was already empty. When he reached BETA, he talked QBall into fine-probing the screen's LEDs. The scientist detected a residual charge in the twenty columns in the center, but no corresponding current in the electronics. He said it could have been the ghost-text or just Doc touching the screen with an electrostatically charged fingertip.
Doc stilled again, staring uncomfortably down on his knees. "Do you understand now, why I didn't want to file that in a report? I'd end up in one of these funny rooms with the rubber walls."
The discomfiting silence lasted for a while, then...
"We were what?" Zach asked in a flat voice, for once forgetting about command etiquette and leaning himself against the commander's desk, hands clasped around his elbows. "Nazis?"
"You were..." Doc whispered. "And Goose. N– Niko was a slave. She had this bar code on her arm that you expected to find on me and–"
"I expected nothing on you!" Zach snapped, unnerved.
"Calm down, Captain." It was the first the commander said after Doc finished. "I believe this is rather disturbing for Dr. Hartford."
"Disturbing is putting it mildly." The captain bit off.
"Zach, please. It was... so real."
"Real?!" The captain all but growled. "Me, an NS officer with human skins on his desk!? I should hope not!"
"You still have the lamp from Eliza on your desk, don't you?" Doc asked faintly.
"Yes, but–" Zachary stilled. It was a delicate lamp, designed for illuminating a desk pad or providing background light for late-night computer work. The screen was made of pale yellow silk with fine-spun embroidery in dark-brown and deep-green one corner: sequoia needles. The real meaning of that hidden away in their shared memories. For a moment, Zach wanted to curse. Then the horrific realization seeped into his face, and he threw a helpless glance at his superior.
Walsh remained impassive, just gave a brief nod to continue.
"And Niko, you should have seen her..." The hacker shook his head, his eyes darting, horrified, from Walsh to Zach and back. "She... she was a number, a whore in their eyes and she clung to Ganter as if he were a lifeline." He had another, hurried sip from a refilled coffee mug, the slop burning acidly on his tongue. "It was... surreal."
"The whole affair is, Doctor Hartford." Walsh said calmly. "But we can't ignore it completely. If it were an illusion then the means to create it are amazing."
"And if it wasn't...?"
"Then the ones behind it are even more powerful." Walsh said dryly as if by no means indicating what he implied there. "Either way, we can't allow ourselves to put it aside. You mentioned Scarecrow and the Sleeper on Tarkon."
"...I'm not sure I got it all right," Doc whispered after another sip of bad coffee. "But if I understood correctly then most of the planets we terraformed or colonized so far were battlefields, too destroyed or infected to be worth rebuilding because no inhabitants were left." He shivered as if freezing.
"And Scarecrow being what, a landmine?" Zach asked, disbelieving.
"Yes, I think so." The hacker nodded. "They called it a Fenrij Destroyer. A leftover of the war forgotten on Granna till... we activated it. Then it followed its purpose."
"If the Scarecrow is a creature of their enemies then we are better off with the Protectors of Tarkon on our side."
"They aren't on our side." Doc corrected his captain flatly. "They are on Tarkon's. They see us as a danger to their protectorate. They warned me..." He slumped back into his seat and shivered. "If they really can change history..."
"Now, Lieutenant. Let's stay with the possible." Zach shook his head. "We don't know if it was a grandstanding illusion or not. I kind of doubt that they could alter 150 years of Earth's history in the blink of an eye. Even if we accept their existence, we have to ask ourselves what kind of power they still possess after 32.000 years of isolation."
"I think the moon fortresses are a rather solid manifestation of that." Walsh said grimly. "In addition to me having a report of Niko and Goose in my files that validates the replayed scene on Tarkon. From Doc's report I'd say the Protectors got it from the Scarecrow's point of view, which on its own is something to ponder." Walsh's face had closed at the names of the missing. "Whatever the implications, go and check the coordinates Doc got. If nothing else it might disprove some of the entities' capabilities. Meanwhile, I'll inform the Board and the League Council about the new development regarding Tarkon."
"May I ask what our further orders regarding Tarkon will be now?"
"Exceeding self-restraint in contact until further notice, Captain."
"You do believe me then?"
At the two rangers' surprised look: "Whether I believe Hartford's ordeal to be real or not is of no concern. But as a fact, we do not have weapons at hand capable of outmatching the moon fortresses of Tarkon. And that is of concern to me." Walsh waited a moment. Then: "Get some sleep. Your destination is planet 17798 in six hours, Rangers. Dismissed."
Thanks to my betareaders – my courage never before depended that much on you – and to everyone who answered the listserv survey about umlauts.
Special thanks to Sharon 'Trivia' Blank for editing and bearing patiently with my impatience and nervous breakdowns.
Appendix 1: Names
Captain Zachary Fox – Hauptmann zum Raum Zacharias Fuchs
Shane "Goose" Gooseman - Johannes "Hans" Ganter
Ryker Killbane - Richard Todt [Pronunciation: r i x a: rd t o t]
Owen Negata - Eugen von Neiner
Appendix 2: History
While writing on this story, I learned the common perception of the Nazi forces – esp. SS, SD, and Gestapo – to be somewhat distorted and twisted abroad. Since I based the story on the historical facts & structures as they are known to German historians, I give a very brief summary of the matter here. Please keep in mind that I'm merely a layman about the ugly history of my country. I don't attempt to give a complete introduction or judging the "degree of evilness" of the various forces here. I just try to get the facts straight, without which this story might be misinterpreted or not understandable at all.
However, I made one exception from following the historic data to accommodate to the portrayed fictional characters: it was not common or appropriate for SS-officers to seek comradeship or fraternize with non-SS officers. Even off-duty, an SS-officer had to insist on being properly addressed with SS-rank. So Fuchs and Ganter using their given names is inappropriate conduct.
Most of it is based on history books or collections of historical data brought to the public. Sources are given below. The following is mostly based on Guido Knopp's book "The SS".
The "Sturmabteilung" (storm batallion) – SA – evolved from the stewards at Hitler's first political rallies in Munich. Essentially, it was a gang of thugs suitable for a broad field of purposes, whose numbers grew rapidly to some ten thousand people: a true mass movement.
The "Schutzstaffel" (protection squadron) – SS – with the mantra of "SS-man, your honor is loyalty", on the other hand, was formed as an elite corps inside the much larger SA and understood itself as a committed praetorian guard, as the elite of the party, submitting to their leader in unquestioning obedience.
Note that before 1932 the SS wasn't part of the National Socialist presentation. It was the SA which engaged in street fights, political brawls, and burning synagogues. The SS kept a low profile. Its ascent to be the most powerful NS organization was done in 1934 when SS-units and police units, armed with weapons of the Reichswehr (army), killed not only the leaders of the SA, but also - at the same time – the more conservative regime opponents.
The true winner of the inner rivalry of the National Socialist party was the SS under its until-then fairly unknown "Reichsführer-SS" Heinrich Himmler.
The SS-boss wasn't an intellectual: he was more gauche, fearsome and afraid of making decisions. He didn't gain authority through his powers of persuasion, but through his determined sense of consequential gain of power and his consciously formed image of a relentless hardliner, which made him an irreplaceable executor for the regime. His idea of the ideal man was that of a sober-minded man of violence willing to make sacrifices. His aim was to breed that man. He preached sincerity, integrity, and morality to his people in the same breath with which he ordered violence and mass murder: mercilessness as a virtue, pitiless murder as strength.
The SS performed the mass murders: it represented, like no other NS organization, the concept of the master race.
In the end Himmler didn't worry about the suffering of the victims, but about the mental anguish of the offenders.
SD vs. Gestapo
Reinhard Heydrich, ordered by Himmler, organized the Sicherheitsdienst der SS (security service of the SS) – SD – which he grouped with the Gestapo and the police into the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Office of Homeland Security) – RSHA – in Berlin. It was Heydrich who made the myth of the Gestapo as a synonym for state terror.
Still, something has to be stressed:
The Gestapo was much smaller than its legend claims. Chronically undermanned, it was by far not the most powerful or important department in Heydrich's RSHA. The famous spy state worked only because of the unbelievable number of informants throughout the country. Without them, the Gestapo would have remained deaf and blind. Never before in German history had it been so easy to get rid of an unwelcome neighbor, rival, or just someone hated, to place them at the mercy of an organization comparable only to the Inquisition – but with the effectiveness and capabilities of the twentieth century.
The agency with true power was the SD, led directly by Heydrich himself, which collected data about the Jews and regime opponents in Germany and in the conquered countries, organized the buildup of Ghettos and their following destruction as well. It was SD-divisions which committed the mass murders in East Europe while following the front line.
Basically, the SD went out and searched for their victims, the Gestapo leaned back and waited for the people to tell them.
Heydrich owed Himmler his ascent to power – and he repaid with unquestioning loyalty and unscrupulousness. Himmler's racist cleansing ideas and Heydrich's ice-cold sense of what was possible were a fatal combination.
Heydrich was the prototype of the new man the National Socialists wanted. He was a protagonist of the generation of the absoluteness. Nothing inhuman was impossible any longer. Every thing was possible, even genocide and the murder of millions of people. Reinhard Heydrich organized it, but didn't live to see its execution. He was assassinated in June 1942.
What would have happened, had Heydrich lived?
The man was a vision of what Hitler's state might have become: an SS-state. In a massive German Reich from the Atlantic to the Ural Mountains, crossed by highways, decorated with death temples, 90 million slaves would have been controlled by the Nazis. 14 million were needed as slave workers, about 30 million were to be killed, the rest to be driven across the Urals into Siberia. Reinhard Heydrich, the rising star of the SS, wouldn't have hesitated to make that vision of horror true.
In this story, I am using roughly the situation as it was in Summer 1942 before Heydrich was killed, assuming the following events to be carried out in the same inhuman precision as the earlier ones, putting the nightmarish vision described above into use. Therefore, I am using the SS and the Waffen-SS, especially as they were in 1942.
Waffen-SS & Totenkopfverbände
In Nuremberg's war tribunal one organization, which in the end of World War II made up the by-numbers biggest group of the SS, was labeled completely "criminal": the Waffen-SS (weapon-SS, armed-SS).
Opinions about the military branch of the SS are still divided today. Was it an elite corps or a bunch of criminals? An embodiment of a soldier's courage and aggressiveness? Or Nazi thugs and butchers, carefully dehumanized so that they were eager and willing to take on and down everything under the sun?
There is evidence for both theses.
The military wing of the organization, the Waffen-SS, was known as the sharpest sword of the Nazi Empire. Especially in the last years of the war, they had to support the Wehrmacht (army), often with tremendous losses, and were known as extreme relentless, merciless fighters on the front line, but they also took the prominent place on the list of committed war crimes.
The connection between Waffen-SS and the normal SS was quite close. The officers were trained together, wherever they were meant to serve afterwards: in a concentration camp, in administration, or at the front line. They weren't soldiers "like all the others". Their mentality of "To give Death and to take Death." was only one of the things that set them apart.
The already strict selection criteria for SS-aspirants were even stricter for Waffen-SS-applicants. They had to be younger than 23, had to be at least 1.74 meters (5 ft 9) tall and had to have perfect eyesight. They had to prove their "Aryan origin" back to the year 1800, and extensive athletic tests were mandatory.
Their further education was meant to create fighters who fought for the fight, who obeyed without a thought, hardened against physical pain and against all human feeling. They were taught to despise all "inferiors" and to be arrogant toward everyone not part of their corps, along with a fierce esprit de corps, fully convinced that "impossible" didn't exist.
The Totenkopfverbände (skull corps) of the SS, integrated into the Waffen-SS, executed the Holocaust, and were put to use whenever extreme mercilessness and unquestioned loyalty were needed.
They killed in the manner that was expected of them: well thought-out, obedient, unscrupulous, intelligent, and inconspicuous.
Another reason why I saw Goose especially in that uniform is the following note in one of the history books:
"June 6, 1944 – D-Day. Britons and Canadians are able to overrun the German defense line quickly, advancing to the interior. Too early, the fall of the city of Caen is reported, when the Canadians find a relentless opposition in the shrub-covered country: very young soldiers, not even eighteen yet, fight grimly for each inch of ground, attacking, obsessed, again and again, finally overrun even the first line of the Canadians. They are easily recognized by their camouflage uniforms: the boys of the SS-Division "Hitlerjugend". They stop the advance to Caen, defending the city against an overwhelming enemy for six weeks. Lead by Waffen-SS veterans from the East front line and indoctrinated by NS-doctrines, they fight back grimly, and often relentlessly hard. Doug Barrie, an officer of the 3rd Canadian Infantery Division recalls: "Most of those we took prisoner were very young. Their officers and subofficers were experienced soldiers, who fought in Russia already. But the young boys didn't have battle experience – it was their first fight. Like it was for us. But they were fighters. Many of them fought till the very end, they wouldn't give up." On their side, the SS-boys didn't take many prisoners, either: Canadian soldiers who were surrounded by Germans, were killed."
[translated from: G. Knopp: Die SS ISBN 3-570-00621-3]
Internationaler Militärgerichtshof Nürnberg, Der Nürnberger Prozess, ISBN 3-7735-2513-3 (vollständige Gesamtausgabe)
dtv documente Anatomie des SS-Staates Band 1: Hans Buchheim: Die SS – Das Herrschaftsinstrument, Befehl und Gehorsam ISBN 3-42223-02915-3
W.O. Weyrauch Gestapo V-Leute ISBN 3-596-11255-9
G. Knopp: Die SS ISBN 3-570-00621-3
G. Knopp: Hitlers Kinder Bertelsmann 04931-2
Appendix 3: Translation of the German lines and terms in order of appearance:
 – "Hey, you! What are you doing here?"
 – "Talk German, will you?!" – "Passport?"
 – "Your passport."
 – "He doesn't understand a word, Gunther."
 – "Shit, always on my patrol." – "Whatever. Let's get him to the captain."
 – RAUMJÄGER: there's a German military corps "Feldjäger" [field hunter / field ranger] whose duties cover a wide range of operation, including combat, information, communication, etc. Raumjäger is my adaptation of the name for space-faring forces. [Raum is a German word for space]
 – "It's Herr Hauptmann for you!"
 – "You are?"
 – "Hans, I've got a case for you."
 – "What kind of case?"
 – "Definitely human, dark-skinned, but doesn't understand German. Sounds like he's ranting in English. That's your field."
 – "Number?"
 – "Wait a moment." – "Your ID number?"
 – "None. He probably slipped through."
 – "Check him through. I'm on my way."
 – "You heard the Sturmbannführer! Check him!"
 – "Yes, Herr Hauptmann!"
 – "In there. And don't make trouble, clear?"
 – "Program selection." – "Identification, Vivisection, Section, Culling, Utilization?"
 – "Identification, Rusty, you bloodthirsty girl. We want to know who we're going to shoot, okay?"
 – "Of course, Private."
 – "Test object Tortuna 14.496. Program Identification. Prepare to take a blood sample for analysis. Test object uncooperative. Suggest punishment as is seen fit afterwards."
 – "Taking of samples complete. Hauptmann Fuchs will get the results as soon as they are obtained."
 – "Fine." – "You. Get out of there!"
 – "See what you can find out. I'll call when I get the data."
 – "main computer"
 – "You w...ish?"
 – "Does he understand us?" – "Or does he lie?"
 – "Still so slovenly, Sturmbannführer?"
 – "One would assume headquarters would have corrected that by now."
 – "What do you want, Sturmbannführer Todt?" – "I've got work to do."
 – "I see." – "Though I thought even you wouldn't lower yourself so far as to consider a mixed double with inferiors." – "Operation Andor is finished. The Obersturmführer expects your report about the psychocrypt."
 – "He will get it on time."
 – "Good. And make sure to keep Fuchs in line this time." – "I see you still keep that whore."
 – "She's useful."
 – "Kept at the concentration camp she'd be useful, too." – "And not only for you."
 – "It's more efficient to have her right at hand."
 – "Ah yes?" – "So for the sake of efficiency–"
 – "–you should be careful, Richard! Or the HQ is going to learn about the 30,000 Kiwi slave workers."
 – "As if anybody cares about that!"
 – "The 48th Batallion, whose supplies couldn't be provided because of the rotted harvest, cares about it."
 – "Fuck! When do these idiots get that!?"
 – "So it was of no use?"
 – "Hans, may I know what's wrong here?"
 – "The prisoner asked about the tattoo. I told him." – "I think he's pretty shocked by your lamp."
 – "Excuse me?" – "It's special but not that special."
 – "For us." – "But for him..." – "He's really not listed?"
 – "No." – "He isn't listed, has no number–"
 – "He could have removed it."
 – "Even if he escaped scarring there should be ink particles detectable in his body. Rusty didn't find anything." – "A total slip of this age is rather unlikely, even here at the arse of the universe."
 – "I know." – "My telepath said he doesn't belong here. I think we should at least consider that 'here' means much more than just Tortuna." – "As Eugen von Neiner uses to say: 'it's the exceptions that bring the success.'"
 – "You don't have to remind me that you know the Reichsführer-ST personally, Sturmbannführer. I'm not about to forget that."
 – "That wasn't my intention, Zachary."
 – "I know." – "But it is also the exceptions which end most careers." – "Yes?"
 – "The preparations for the execution are complete, Herr Hauptmann." – "Herr Sturmbannführer! They are waiting for both of you."
 – "Thank you, Private. Dismissed." – "Go ahead, Hans." – "And take him with you. Better he learns who he is dealing with here."
 – "We ought to shorten this."
 – "Would be better." – "If she screams any longer, we lose the instructive effects because the people are grateful that we save their ears."
 – "Let's get it over with." – "Execution squad. Take your positions." – "In the name of the Third Reich I pronounce..."
 – "Hey!" – "The scumbag's making a run for it!"