Catoctin Mountain Park, Maryland, USA
Agent Peter McCain
March 5th, 1943
“Future generations will be safer with Group 935 wiped off the face of the Earth.”
Cornelius Pernell replied as he adjusted Peter’s tie, “A little too much... Tone it down.”
Peter tried again, “Future generations will be safer with Group 935… gutted and burned to the ground.”
Pernell stopped, eyeing Peter, “I said down, not up.”
“Be more specific.”
“Cap it off with something positive… like… ‘Future generations will be safer with Group 935’s operations halted and with their research in our own capable hands.’ Not too provocative, but pats us on the back at the same time.”
“It’s not what I was thinking, but… doesn’t make a difference either way. You think I’m ready?”
“You were born ready.”
“I was born in Oregon, Cornelius.”
Cornelius dusted off Peter’s shoulders, moving a loose strand of his oily hair back into place on his head, “Save some of that wit for after the presentation… Which should be starting… in just a couple of minutes. We should head that way.”
Pernell led Peter out of his tent, the two of them in their hastily-prepared outfits and both equally nervous about the coming presentation to Major Sawyer. Since Peter had arrived at the OSS camp in Maryland, he had spent nearly every waking hour undergoing espionage training, exercising his body, and researching every aspect of Group 935 in preparation for field work in Europe. Since his first introduction to Director Donovan, the OSS had managed to assist General Patton in finding landing sites for Operation Torch, and they would soon be sending agents to train local resistance troops in Burma and China. Germany would soon be on the defense from Allied forces. Group 935, however, remains active, and as Peter has come to learn, they are still a danger to the free world just as well as they are a danger to themselves.
Peter and Cornelius marched down a grassy hill, passing several obstacle training courses and the gun range where bullet casings rested in the dirt. Training with the OSS was not so different from the Marine Corps, but it was a far more solitary experience. Other agents came and went, training for their missions. The only consistent acquaintance Peter could rely on was Cornelius.
At the base of the hill was a large tent he had helped set up the night before. Today Peter would be presenting his research into Group 935 for Major Sawyer and his colleagues in the OSS and the DOW. Thankfully, attention would not be entirely on Peter; A scientist would be presenting his own findings and detailing his part in Operation Firebrand ahead of Peter.
As they approached the tent, Peter took one last moment to make sure his hair was as presentable as it could be. Without ample time for a shower after his morning run, sweat kept his hair messy and oily.
Pernell gave a quick pep talk to Peter before they entered the tent, “I had the projectionist make sure your slides were in order. Just stick to the script and Sawyer will love it; They all will. Also, I forgot to mention it, but a handful of Marines will be attending.”
“It was last minute, Peter. I- I- I didn’t really see it being too important to you. Sawyer said they’ll be a part of the Operation and should be filled in on all the preliminary details. I’m sorry.”
“You don’t understand, Marines are a whole different crowd from the others… God damn it, I’m about to humiliate myself just like boot camp all over again… “
Pernell gripped Peter by the shoulders, grabbing his attention, “I don’t know what kind of history you had in your training, but things are different now. I heard your story from the war has been making the rounds in the past year. You’re like a... a legend to them.”
Memories of his risky escape from Japanese imprisonment flooded his mind, and he saw the faces of those whom he left behind.
“I left my brothers to die. All this time, I haven’t even had time to look into… if there even was a rescue mission… ”
“They know you did what you did for the right reasons. You are not a coward. You nearly died to keep the United States ahead and you saved an enormous amount of life that day. You are a bonafide Marine, as far as I can tell.”
Peter practiced his breathing, trying to calm his nerves. Finally, he straightened his posture, nodding to Pernell, his voice professional, “Thank you, Cornelius.” Peter then led the way into the tent, its interior so much darker, with the only source of light coming from the projector pointing towards the opposite wall from the entrance. There were rows of seats lining the tent, with about two dozen men in high-ranking officer fatigues and military caps filling many of the seats. On the left side and in the front row were around fifteen Marines chatting with one another. Emerging from the darkness on the right-hand side of the tent came Major Sawyer, hand outstretched to Peter McCain. He could barely make out Sawyer’s expression in the low-light, but beneath his bushy mustache, Sawyer appeared happy to see him.
“Agent McCain! Right on time, as I would expect. Your work ethic has been exemplary.”
Peter shook Sawyer’s hand with his own clammy grasp. “I owe it all to my secretary here... I mean, handler.” Peter gestured to Pernell, smiling in jest.
Sawyer and Pernell shook hands, Sawyer stating, “Glad to see you two getting along like a real team. Now, I should inform the projectionist that we are starting. We won’t want to keep our guests waiting.”
Sawyer patted Peter on the shoulder, walking towards the projector. Pernell motioned Peter towards a pair of seats to the rear of the left-hand side of the room.
As they took their seats, Peter noticed that amongst the Marines was a woman by the name Gale. She often travelled with Sawyer between OSS bases as his secretary. Peter had a history of trying and sometimes failing to make women laugh at his jokes, and Gale had done nothing to change that. However, Gale did not completely detest Peter, and for that reason he was determined to make her laugh, however humorless she may be. As Sawyer stepped up to the front of the tent, Peter began to think over his speech for key moments he could insert a laugh or two. Getting her to laugh would be his personal goal for the day to distract from his nervousness.
As the first slide of the presentation appeared on the wall, the OSS seal, Sawyer began to speak.
“With both of our speakers having arrived… It is about time we began. Mr. Hampton has graciously invited our guests, Marines from the Pacific front lines who have shown an interest in working with the OSS and proven themselves to be loyal, trusted soldiers.”
Sawyer turned his attention to the Marines, speaking directly to them, ”After your training here, you will return to the Pacific to train local militias against the IJA. However, as Mr. Hampton surely explained, you may eventually become a major component of Operation Firebrand. With that in mind, remember that nothing discussed here leaves your lips. This Operation’s success relies on complete secrecy and will be paramount to the future of mankind. Am I understood, Marines?”
United, the Marines shouted, “Yes, sir!”
“Excellent. Doctor Yena?”
As Sawyer stepped aside, a younger man in a white suit with a red bow tie creeped up to the front, looking out towards the crowd and awkwardly shifting out of the projector’s light. He wore thick, black spectacles to match his jet black hair. He began to speak, seemingly unsure if it was his turn to begin, “Hello, everyone… My name is Doctor Harvey Yena. I have been studying the work of Group 935 and its members since my graduate studies at Yale. For a time their methods in research were admirable, and I even saw myself applying for membership after acquiring my PhD. As time progressed however, their work became more secretive, and now they have aligned themselves with the German government. I can’t be certain if it was for financial reasons or out of fear, but they possess the expertise and resources to flip this war on its head, and I could not stand by while science was being used as a means to such ends. Officially, I plan to pursue membership with Group 935 as I have for years. Unofficially, I will be working with the OSS, providing details about the progress of their research and searching for vulnerabilities. With time, Agent Peter McCain, whom I believe is in the room with us today, will join Group 935 as well. With enough intel, Peter will be able to infiltrate and sabotage key research stations, and leave Group 935 with vital research in hand.”
At the front row, the Marine next to Gale leaned his head backwards, exaggerating his boredom as if he had fallen asleep, grabbing her attention. Peter noticed that Gale let out a muffled giggle, before returning her attention to Doctor Yena.
Peter leaned forward, head resting in his hand, perplexed how the Marine had managed to break through to her so easily, whispering to himself, “So she does laugh… son of a bitch… ”
Pernell leaned over, shushing Peter, who continued listening.
Yena continued, “This Operation could take years and even last through the end of the war. Group 935’s policies regarding membership have been incredibly strict until now, disallowing non-German citizens. However, as they have been constricted by war, these policies have loosened as they have lost favor with the Reichstag. Now is the opportune time for an American scientist such as myself to seek employment amongst their ranks.”
Yena motioned for the projectionist to move on to the next slide, continuing, “Group 935’s research as of this time primarily revolves around a fairly recently discovered Element 115. The United States has a limited supply, however, Group 935 and their connection to the Reichstag as well as Division 9 of Japan’s Unit 731 has given them access to deposit sites around the world.”
The projection showed a familiar symbol to Peter: It was Division 9’s emblem along with a map with their research stations across the Eastern Hemisphere. He had seen it while in the Philippines on one of the boxcars that his fellow soldiers were being forced into, and he had come across horror stories of Division 9’s cruelty on prisoners of war during his research. He shuddered to imagine being forced into that boxcar as one of their test subjects.
“With the limited research available to us, we know that 115 has near infinite possibilities in application from the fields of medicine, physics, aviation, chemistry… I could go on. We know Group 935 has been pursuing 115 as a means of augmenting soldiers through medical elixirs which have seen limited use on the Germans’ Eastern Front. 115 has also been used as a means of creating weaponry of unprecedented power which defies all known laws of physics and would outmode our entire military overnight. Lastly, and perhaps most terrifying of all, we have only hints that Group 935 is preparing something massive involving 115’s ability to reanimate dead tissue and muscle cells. This research is being conducted at a facility somewhere in Berlin, and the progress has even been kept out of the eyes of a majority of the Reichstag and members of Group 935. This research could be the breaking point which shifts the war in their favor, and it is imperative we find out more. The idea may sound preposterous, however, 115’s effect on the dead has been documented before. During the first World War in 1917, a mining company was attempting to mine what they first thought to be clay in France, which we now speculate to have been Element 115. A stray mortar shell from the nearby battle trapped the miners underground, and after a few hours some sort of sickness spread amongst the men there, causing them to become violent, and those miners ended up killing each other. The few survivors said the other miners had seemingly died before they came back to life and started attacking them.”
There were murmurs among the Marines, all seemingly taken aback by the very idea of an undead army. A few looked to Major Sawyer, who was standing to the side, as if seeking confirmation that Doctor Yena was not just a madman. Peter was initially skeptical as well when he first joined the OSS, but hard evidence suggests Group 935 is making progress every day in controlling the undead that they create.
“The location of this mining location is currently lost to us, and may perhaps be within German-controlled France, however the details of the report match tests we have conducted with our own limited supply of 115. Group 935 may potentially be creating an army of resurrected bodies to fight for Germany.”
One of the Marines muttered loud enough for everyone to hear, “ You can’t be serious… Fucking Zombies. ”
Sawyer’s arms left his side as he pointed to the heckler, “Quiet, Marine! You’re out of line. I apologize, Doctor Yena.”
Yena motioned in a calming manner, “It’s alright, it’s alright… I understand your disbelief. Group 935’s perversions of nature have left me… troubled. Element 115 is changing the world quicker than we’d have ever imagined, and I cannot say for certain how the future will look now that research has begun.”
The Marines were silenced, but now far more attentive to the presentation than they were in the beginning. Yena finalized his status in Operation Firebrand with a few more words, “As we speak, my application for employment in Group 935 is being reviewed, and if all goes according to plan, I will be relocating to Germany as a member within the year. This bastardization of science cannot continue, and I stand with the OSS against Group 935. That is all I have for you today. Major?”
Sawyer nodded, “That will be all, Doctor. Thank you.”
Peter prepared himself for his own speech, flexing his fingers as he went over the key points in his head. Pernell patted him on the back, as Sawyer stepped up to the front, “Agent Peter McCain will now share with us his research into the members of Group 935 and potential vulnerabilities in their ranks.”
Sawyer smiled, shaking Peter’s hand as he walked up and turned to the crowd which seemed far larger from this angle. As the projectionist prepared his slides, Peter glanced at Gale, expression stone-faced. He was beginning to feel confident, and ready to begin, until he noticed the Marine sitting next to Gale, staring brazenly back at him.
Peter stumbled for a moment, his memories catching up to him. The Marine was a man by the name of Thomas Dempsey. He and Peter had a sordid past, to say the least. Suddenly every ounce of hope and confidence in his own success had left Peter’s body, leaving him empty and vulnerable in the eyes of everyone in that tent.
For a moment, there was only silence, the tension in the room visible to everyone. Peter searched the room for anything or anyone to cling to, and he locked eyes with Cornelius in the back, who put his hands together in a motion that could only be described as, “Get moving.”
After a few more awkward moments, Peter glanced at the projection on the wall, re-aligning himself in the presentation.
“Good morning everyone, uh, I’m Agent Peter McCain of the OSS… obviously. I’ve been training here on and off for the past several months in preparation for Operation Firebrand. I will be doing field work in Europe for the next few years to prepare myself to infiltrate Group 935, sabotage their operations, and recover vital research for the OSS, all after Doctor Yena has mentioned my name a few times in 935 meetings and made sure I’m all clear to join. This means I’ll probably be working closely with you all, Marines. You will be my escort and extraction for the Op, and I look forward to meeting with you. All of you. All of you, individually.”
Peter stumbled, searching for the next line in his mind as he tried to avert his eyes from the Marines, now staring blankly at him. He continued, motioning the projector to switch to the next slide, a forward-facing image of Doctor Ludvig Maxis.
“Anyway, as you all should know, if you’ve read the dossiers on this Op, Group 935 is led by this stoic individual, Doctor Ludvig Maxis, M.D. He’s a known associate of men such as Friedrich Steiner, Werner Heisenberg, Kurt Blome, and Wernher von Braun, all important Nazi-scientist-types. He’s also the man who made the deal with the Reichstag that places Group 935 in their pocket. My research into his history suggests he may not necessarily align himself with them politically, but he sure jumped into bed with the Reichstag rather quickly at the expense of his own scientists. My purpose in researching Group 935’s members is to find weaknesses in their structure, and potential allies in our Operation. While Maxis may have been a potential lead in that department, as of now he is located in their not-totally-secret facility in Berlin, putting him far too close to the Reichstag for us to go poking around. Although, every week we hear murmurs of more failures taking place there, and it may be the reason they are losing pull with the Nazis. My heart goes out to our poor Nazi-loving scientist friend.”
Peter smiled, pausing to gauge the response of his audience and regretting his decision as he was met with deafening silence. He could see Cornelius’ eyes widening and Sawyer’s eyebrow raising. Gale had no visible response. Swing and a miss.
He continued, motioning the projectionist to move on to the next slide, a photo of a smiling Doctor Edward Richtofen, “With that trail cold, I searched Maxis’ circle of colleagues for another potential ally, and one that stuck out most was Doctor Edward Richtofen, this charming, chiseled fellow behind me. If you’ve studied quantum physics even for a hot minute in the past decade, you’ve probably heard his name from his various published works. He has a sphere of influence in the scientific world that even rivals Doctor Maxis, and it is no wonder he was one of its first invitees. After reading up on his personal works, and looking up and down his dramatic history with my handler, Cornelius, I’ve determined he may be the ally on the inside we are looking for. He has worked with countless scientists and organizations across the globe and has subtly expressed his distrust of the Nazi Party and Hitler prior to the war. Despite the repeated success of Group 935’s weapon projects, including Doctor Richtofen’s Wunderwaffe DG-2, which he has brought up many, many times in his work, these wonder weapons have seen no mass production in their factories at Der Riese. In addition, many of Doctor Richtofen’s closest colleagues in the organization separated themselves from Group 935 shortly after the deal was made. I believe, with all of the evidence I have uncovered, that Doctor Richtofen may be our best bet if we are to find an influential ally in Group 935.”
The Marines were beginning to lose interest, apart from Dempsey, who continued to glare in Peter’s general direction; Perhaps at himself or at the projection of Doctor Richtofen on the wall.
“A final piece of evidence cements the truth that Doctor Richtofen may not be completely allegiant to Group 935; I give full credit to my handler, Cornelius Pernell, for pointing me in the right direction with this one. He suggested that Doctor Richtofen may still be pen-pals with some of these old colleagues. We had men in Europe keeping track of his comings and goings, and surely enough, they intercepted a letter being sent to a Doctor Schüler written by Doctor Richtofen. Doctor Schüler left his position in Group 935 and fled to Switzerland due to his Jewish heritage, at the suggestion of Doctor Richtofen. The letter in question was copied for us to read, and it reveals Richtofen’s colorful opinions on Germany and Group 935. To summarize, Richtofen was very apologetic about not keeping up with an old friend, before going on to bring up some ‘opportunity’ as he calls it that he had previously mentioned to Schüler. While we can’t be certain what this opportunity is, he goes on to lament the lack of support for his Wunderwaffe , and verbally eviscerates Doctor Maxis for his deal with the Reichstag. He mentions Maxis’ ‘cronies’ always looking over his shoulder, micro-managing his work, including, in particular, the young Doctor Wagner, a protégé of Maxis who has been seen working with Richtofen for quite some time. It seems to me that there is trouble in paradise... uh, in a manner of speaking. To top it all off, the letter was sent from a rural town far away from any 935 facilities, leading me to believe he wanted it out of the eyes of any Reichstag officials. I believe this to be solid evidence of Richtofen’s dissent.”
Sawyer seemed visibly impressed, and Cornelius could be seen in the back of the audience giving Peter two thumbs up for his performance. Gale stared blankly, funny bone untickled. Peter stood, arms swinging side to side as his thoughts raced, searching for any additional words to make a final impression on her. Nothing in particular came to mind.
Sawyer leaned close, whispering, “Is that all, Agent?”
Peter glanced at Sawyer, then back to Gale, then back to stink-eyed Dempsey before replying, “Uh… and future generations will be safer with Group 935’s operations halted and with their research in our own... capable hands. Yes, that is all, Major. Thank you.”
Sawyer smiled, stepping aside for Peter to return to his seat as he began to clap. Peter hurried towards the darkness, daring not to look in Dempsey’s general direction.
The rest of the audience began to clap as Sawyer stepped up, offering a few final words, “Thank you, Agent McCain. That was some outstanding field work on display, and I have faith in the success of this Operation with both your and Doctor Yena’s help. Marines, as Agent McCain has stated, you will be working closely with them as they undergo Operation Firebrand. With Agent McCain in Europe for the next few years, you will be his ticket in, and more importantly, out of Group 935. I’d suggest, if time permits, you meet with McCain and gather any intel you can before he and Doctor Yena depart. You are an integral part of this mission, Marines, and for that reason you have all been hand-picked as the best of the best the Corps has to offer. Were we mistaken in selecting you, Marines?”
As if they were one voice, the Marines shouted, “Sir, no sir!”
“Good. If there’s nothing else, then I believe we can all be dismissed, thank you.”
Sound echoed throughout the tent as everyone stood up and began to mingle. Peter considered for a moment approaching Gale, before remembering Dempsey’s presence. He jolted from his chair, heading for the opening in the tent, as Pernell followed close behind.
Pernell said, “Well done, Peter, don’t you want to stay around? Maybe meet some of the new recruits?”
As Peter stepped outside, the sun began to blind his vision, forcing him to cover his eyes for a few moments as he replied, “Maybe later. But we’ve got work to do before I leave the country.”
Pernell seemed confused, “Really? I’d thought you would’ve wanted some time to relax, maybe get in touch with Mary while you’re still here.”
“Of course I’m gonna do that… I just, I just couldn’t stick around in that tent for much longer. Let’s just give Mary a message, then I need to hit the books. We need to get inside the mind of Doctor Edward Richtofen.”