« 51 - Prized Possessions | Main | American Gothic »

Footprints: Chapter Nineteen - Reich

...Steve stared; the historian in him recognized the man, but his logical mind denied that this could be the Fuhrer of Nazi Germany. Even if he were still alive, he would have to be 120 years old. But the man facing him now appeared to be only in his late 40’s or so. He also seemed to be quite healthy, with no trace of the Parkinson’s disease that had plagued him towards the end of his life...

Steve and his colleagues step into another universe, there to find themselves in the midst of Nazi terror.

To read earlier chapters of Brian William Neal's thrillingly imaginative novel of multi-universes please click on Footprints in the menu on this page.

Berlin
Reality 1395

Steve stared; the historian in him recognized the man, but his logical mind denied that this could be the Fuhrer of Nazi Germany. Even if he were still alive, he would have to be 120 years old. But the man facing him now appeared to be only in his late 40’s or so. He also seemed to be quite healthy, with no trace of the Parkinson’s disease that had plagued him towards the end of his life.

Steve and his two companions were moved to one side of the room, where they were put on hard, wooden chairs and guarded by two uniformed men with machine pistols.

Hitler nodded for Werner Hartwig to stand before him, then reached out to give him the formal brisk handshake. “Well done, Werner,” he said, in excellent English. “Very well done indeed.”

Hartwig bowed his head. “I live only to serve you, my Fuhrer,” he said.

Hitler smiled beneath his toothbrush mustache. “You have the theory?”

“Yes, my Fuhrer.”

Hitler pointed to the three sitting against the wall. “And these three can help you to decipher and explain it?”

Hartwig nodded. “Yes, my Fuhrer.”

Hitler nodded, and turned his piercing gaze on the three, then singled out Steve. “You,” he said. “What is your name?”

Steve hesitated, then decided that America was no longer at war with Germany. “Stephen Chappel.”

Hitler nodded. “And what is it that you do?”

Talking with this man made Steve decidedly nervous, even though reason told him that this could not be the same man who supposedly died by his own hand in the bunker in 1945. Perhaps he was a clone, or…with a flash of insight, Steve realized that they could well be in a different time from his own. This might well be pre-1945, and Germany might be at war with the allied forces. In which case, he thought, I’d better be careful about giving out information. But his fears seemed groundless, for the time being at least, since Hitler had turned his attention to Professor Seartell, without waiting for an answer. When his questions there also elicited nothing of value, he settled last on Trotter.

“So, young man. It appears that you are the genius we have to thank for the device. As you have seen, we are able to operate it, but our efforts have produced only a single window, the one to and from your world. However, now that you are here, I am sure our knowledge will increase dramatically.”

Trotter looked at Hitler contemptuously. “Yeah, right. Like I’m gonna give you the time of day.”

Puzzled, Hitler turned to Hartwig and his advisors for a murmured conversation, then he turned back.

“I am informed that your oddly-worded remark means you are refusing to help us. Please believe me when I tell you that would be a grave mistake. You have no idea what means of persuasion we have at our disposal.” He paused, gazing at Trotter. “Well, we will see what you have to say after a few hours contemplation of your position.”

Hitler gestured to the guards, and Trotter, the professor and Steve were herded from the room. They were marched down a short corridor to an elevator where they descended several levels, finally emerging in a stone-walled walkway, with cells off its left-hand side. One of the guards produced keys and opened one of these, then motioned with his weapon for them to enter. Then he shut and locked the door, and he and the other guards left. The elevator doors closed on them, and the three prisoners were left quite alone.

* * * *

“I thought he was going to say ‘Ve haff vays und means of making you talk’, Trotter said. “I’ll tell you, I had trouble keeping my face straight. What a fucking wanker.”

They were still in the cell, and had been for three hours by Steve’s watch. He looked at Trotter.

“I don’t think it would be a good idea to antagonize these people. That joker might not be our Hitler, but he sure looks and sounds like the real deal to me. During the 1930s, a lot of people made the mistake of treating Hitler like a clown. Don’t underestimate him. If he is in fact the ruler of this world, or even just this country, he has an enormous amount of power at his command.”

They were quiet for a moment, then Steve said, “Professor, just where in history do you think we are? I mean, is the war still on? Or did we lose? Or is this before the war?”

Seartell looked at Steve with some surprise. “Why, Stephen, I thought you understood where and when we are. This is not our world, or even our universe, you know. This is what is meant by the term ‘alternative’, a universe where Germany won the war. Judging by this Hitler’s age, it probably ended not too long ago, less than five years, I’d say. Another thing, remember, both of you,” he turned to include Trotter in the conversation, “we probably already exist in this universe. That means we are doubles, and surplus to requirements. So, they can do with us whatever they want and we are helpless, we have no rights under any law. Please remember that the next time you think about antagonizing them.

“Having said that, neither can we go giving them the information they want,” said the Professor. “If they won the war, then they’re the enemy. We also can’t give them anything that might help them find other versions of Earth. They are the enemy,” he repeated. “If we help them, we’re traitors to our own people.”

“True,” Steve said. “We’d betray our own kind if we tell them anything.”

“Hang on,” Trotter said. “They already know the way to our world. Any other worlds they get to don’t really mean anything to us.”

Steve gave the young man a hard look. “Oh? Do you want to be responsible for them invading and taking over other worlds, even worlds not connected to us? Because you’d better believe they’ll do it. This version of Hitler strikes me as being very like the one we know about, and I know our Adolph wouldn’t hesitate to go marching into a few more Polands.”

“So what do you suggest?” asked the professor. “A suicide pact? Shall we just kill ourselves, right here, before they get a chance to question us?”

“Of course not,” said Steve. “Well, only as a last resort, and I don’t think we’ve quite reached that point yet. But we do have to try to escape.”

Trotter looked around the cell; four stone walls and a ceiling and floor of similar material looked back at him. “Oh, yeah?” he said sardonically. “So what’s the plan?”

Steve looked at him and the professor helplessly. “I don’t have one, not yet,” he admitted, “but I’m working on it. I’d suggest you both do the same.”

Their conversation was interrupted by the arrival of Hartwig outside their cell door, accompanied by two S.S. guards carrying machine pistols. He looked at them for a moment, the addressed Trotter.

“Really, Graham, don’t look like that. I am German, after all. Do you think I would pass up the opportunity to see my Fuhrer resurrected?” He glanced around the cell. “I apologize for the accommodations, and I will try to do something about that. Of course, you will need to give us something in return.”

Trotter glared at the man. “If you think I’m going to help you on the device, then you’ll get the same answer as your mad bastard boss upstairs. Fuck off.”

Hartwig shook his head reproachfully. “Now, Graham, is that any way to talk? You might think we need you, and you’re probably right: we do. And Professor Seartell would also prove a valuable asset, given his knowledge of the workings of the device.” He turned his gaze on Steve. “But the book-writer, now. I don’t think we have any need of writers of such childish fiction. Oh yes, Mr. Chappel. I really have read your book; at least, as much of it as I could stomach. If that worthless drivel is the best you can manage, then I don’t think anyone is going to miss you, even in your universe. But perhaps your friends place a higher value on your well-being.”

He gestured to the guards, and they opened the cell door, motioning the others away and dragging Steve out into the corridor. Then Hartwig said, “Now, Graham. I shall ask you again for your co-operation. For every refusal, Mr. Chappel will lose a finger. Imaging how difficult it would be for him to write, or even type, should you continue to be stubborn.”

He nodded to the guards again, and one of them held Steve while the other grasped his arm and began to bend the little finger of his left hand back.

* * * *

“Now remember, Joe, no deaths; you promised.” Jonathan looked keenly at Joe, whose face was partially obscured by his hat, and the big .44 strapped to his hip gave him a definite old West look.
Joe nodded grimly. “That’s right, Jonathan, unless I have to defend myself against deadly force. If they give me a choice, I promise not to kill anyone indiscriminately.”

Jonathan nodded, his expression rueful but resigned. “All right. I suppose that’s the best I can hope for.”

The two men stood beside the huge stone building from where the signals transmitted by the strange return devices were emanating. The signals puzzled Jonathan; they did not belong to Cal or Arnold or any of their fellow travelers, although they were of a similar type. But one thing Jonathan knew, anyone wearing one of those devices was almost certain to be a friend, especially in this place they now found themselves.

They had arrived in this world directly from the stone room on Rigel IX, and established that none of their companions had come here. A quick look at the activities in the streets demonstrated what kind of world it was: the armed guards walking the streets and stationed around every public building, their uniforms, everything told them they were in the Germany of the mid-20th century.

Fortunately, Joe and Jonathan wore nondescript clothing, so they weren’t too conspicuous. Joe had grabbed a long trail coat as they had left the room, and it hid his sidearm. Jonathan had wanted him to get rid of the weapon, lest it attract unwanted attention, but Joe had refused, saying it might very well save their lives. That was when Jonathan had extracted Joe’s promise about its use.

They picked up the signals almost immediately after their arrival, and, keeping to back alleys and deserted streets, followed them to the building against which they now stood. Joe beckoned for Jonathan to follow him, and set off along the wall of the building, keeping to the shadows.

He stepped into a recessed doorway, and Jonathan stood next to him. A large shadow began to pass overhead, and they looked up to see a huge cigar-shape gliding soundlessly a few hundred feet above them. They watched in awe as the great Zeppelin passed silently across the sun, its silhouette blocking out the harsh light for a full minute. Then it passed, and they returned their attention to their immediate surroundings.

“What are we doing?” Jonathan asked, glancing around warily. “There might be another of those patrols along any minute.”

Joe nodded. “Can’t be helped; those signals are coming from a room almost directly beneath our feet. Whoever it is, I’ll bet my last dollar they’re no friends of the Nazi regime that seems to be running this world.”

Jonathan nodded. “Perhaps so, but what can we do about it?”

Joe grinned. “We’ve got to try to bust them out, of course.”

“Why? I mean, I know it’s the right and Christian thing to do, but do you have any other reason?”

Joe took out a large combat knife and began to dig away at the grouting around a small barred grill he discovered at street level. “Because I think we’re going to need some friends on this world, just as I suspect those people are.” He strained on one of the bars, and heard a tearing, crunching sound as it began to pull out of its concrete base.

Jonathan watched, awed at Joe’s muscle power, then bent to lend a hand. Thirty years in the Israeli desert had toughened him, and he had a wiry strength that wasn’t obvious. Together, they strained and pulled, then suddenly the bar pulled free, bringing with it a large chunk of concrete, which made access to the other bars easier. Soon the entire opening was accessible.

It was small, just over two feet square, but that was enough for even Joe to squeeze through, and they dropped silently onto a bare concrete floor. Joe consulted his tracker, and pointed to a door on the far side of the room. “We have to go through there,” he whispered, crossing the room and trying the handle. The door opened silently to reveal a dimly lit corridor. Glancing in both directions, Joe led the way, with Jonathan close behind.

As they approached the end of the corridor, Joe drew his Colt .44, feeling Jonathan’s disapproving frown on his back, but he had no time to explain himself. The gun was mainly for protection, and they had no idea who or what they would encounter.

Where the corridor turned a corner, Joe signaled for Jonathan to stop, then looked around the corner. The way was clear, so they went on, following the signal that was getting stronger. Finally, Joe stopped outside a small door and holstered his weapon.

“This looks like the door we have to go through; the signals are coming from a spot almost directly under our feet. Hope it’s not locked.”

He tried the handle, and nodded when the door opened noiselessly. They went through and closed it behind them. They were at the top of a narrow stairwell leading down into a gloomy, uncertain depth. They started down cautiously.

At the bottom, they were in another stone corridor, this one with what looked like cells along the right-hand side. At the end they saw a group of men standing outside one of the cells. Staying close to the wall, Joe began to move slowly down the corridor, with Jonathan close behind. They saw the men more clearly now; one seemed to be directing operations, and two others, obviously soldiers, were holding a third man, a civilian, between them. They were about 40 feet from the men when one of them noticed them.

The man who seemed to be in charge said something in German to the two guards, who released the man they were holding and began to lift their machine pistols up and to bring them to bear on Joe. Without hesitation, Joe’s right hand flashed to his side and drew the big .44. Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom!

The sound of Joe’s gun was deafening as he put two bullets in each guard before they could even bring up their weapons. Then he turned his aim on the remaining man, and spoke in a slow, quiet voice. “Make your play, stranger.”

The man stared at Joe, and at the gun trained oh-so-steadily on him, then began to back away. The prisoner stood rock-still, his captors dead on the floor. The other man reached the wall and, with nowhere to go, sank to his knees, his body quaking.

In a corner of the cell were two other men, who stood and faced him as Joe approached the cell bars. The one whom the guards had held rubbed his wrists and stood looking at Joe. He looked to be about 30 years old, tall, with dark hair and even features. He studied Joe for a moment, then turned and spoke over his shoulder to the other two. “Well, they sure don’t look like Nazis.”

Joe looked at them with his steady gaze, “I’ve only got two questions for you: One, is this the only Earth?”

The man laughed. “There are millions of them, billions, even.”

Joe nodded. “Who’s the President in your world?”

The man named the incumbent of Joe’s America, and smiled. “I think you guys have arrived just in time. In this universe, the Nazis won, and I don’t think they mean us any good. Think you can get my friends out of here?”

Joe looked at them, then nodded. “Step back.”

The man moved aside, Joe holstered his gun, and took a small magnesium detonator from his pack. Pushing it into the cell door’s lock, he attached a wire to it, and took a compact battery pack from his seemingly endless stash of ordinance. Stepping to one side of the door, he turned his head away and touched the wire to the battery. There was a small flash from the lock and the door swung open.

“Let’s go!” Joe said.

The men in the cell looked at him, looked at each other, and hurried out of the cell.

The man against the wall, all but forgotten, leapt to his feet and drew a small pistol from his coat pocket, and leveled it at Graham. Joe was standing about 20 feet away, and his draw was so fast, the others couldn’t recall later seeing it happen. One second, his hand was empty, and a split second later the gun it held boomed, and a hole appeared in the other man’s forehead, slamming him back against the wall. With death frozen on his face, Werner Hartwig slid down the wall to the floor.

The three ex-captives and Jonathan stared in shock at Hartwig. Joe looked at Jonathan, who was mumbling something. “I’m sorry, Jonathan. He didn’t give me a choice.”

Jonathan looked at the man, then at Joe, and nodded. “I know, Joe. It’s all right.”

Joe led the way back along the corridor, with Jonathan close behind, followed by the other three. At the bottom of the stairs, Joe signaled for them to stop. He peered cautiously upward into the gloom. “Looks clear,” he whispered. “Come on, stay close.” He led them up the stairs, the others following close. Joe was two steps from the top, when the door to the outside opened and a man stood silhouetted against the light.

Before the man could register their presence, Joe charged up the last two steps and hit him like a fullback. He fell out the open door into the alley on his back, hit his head on the pavement, and was unconscious. Joe followed him out into the alley, bent over the man, saw he was out, and called for the others to come out.

Blinking in the harsh sunlight, they followed Joe along the rear wall of the building to where it opened on a street. There they paused to catch their collective breath, and Joe and Jonathan were met with the expected questions.

“Hold on a minute, folks,” said Joe, holding up his hands to ward off the verbal onslaught. “You’re going to have to trust us a little longer, at least until we get out of the city to somewhere safe, if there is such a place,” he said, looking around.

“You’re right, Joe. We’re in your hands,” Jonathan said.

Joe nodded and led them up a second back street, away from the main thoroughfare. They moved deeper into the heart of the city (Jonathan had already formed the opinion that it was Berlin, sometime around the mid-1940s in their universe) pausing only when the older of the three rescued prisoners needed a few minutes pause. After about 20 minutes of this, Joe realized they would have to find somewhere to hole up and rest properly. They passed a small inn on the edge of the central city area and Joe called a halt.

“Okay, folks,” he said as they stood, breathing heavily and looking about fearfully, “we have to find somewhere to hide for a while until we can figure out what our next move is.” He indicated the inn. “I wanted something like this, but we’d need money, and I don’t know if they even use it on this world, let alone the sort we might be likely to have on us.”

He glanced at Jonathan apologetically. “Sorry, Professor, but we might have to get into a little larceny if we’re going to…”

Joe trailed off as Jonathan produced a thick wad of banknotes. Jonathan smiled sheepishly while the others boggled.

“That poor fellow you flattened when we were coming out the door must have had a good day at the gaming tables,” he said. “He had this in his pockets, and I thought it might come in handy.” He looked guiltily at Joe. “I hope the Lord will forgive me for this,” he said, handing the money to the big Navajo. “But, needs must, and all that.”

Joe grinned, thumbing through the notes. “Well, I’ll forgive you, even if He won’t. There’s another saying: ‘God helps those who help themselves’. Well, you’ve certainly done that, Jonathan. Come on, let’s go get ourselves a suite or whatever and something to eat.” He looked at their three companions. “And I’ll bet you guys could use a cleanup.” He thought for a moment, then looked at the three they had rescued again. “Anyone speak German?” They looked back at him, and smiled.

Cautiously, watching for the squads of S.S. troopers who patrolled the streets, they crossed the narrow street and entered the inn.

Categories

Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.