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  • Black Cats

    Laboratories, The Giant (“Der Riese” ), near Breslau

    Agent Peter McCain

    July 13th, 1945


    Agent McCain’s training had done little to ready him for the heightened sense of fear and the scrutiny he had experienced from members of Group 935. Though security is tight within the organization, the staff present at Der Riese are unexpectedly hostile to newcomers. Peter was led to believe Group 935’s key facility would be home to the most professional and esteemed scientists; It seems the war has not only ravaged their country and their morale, but also their ability to trust one another.


    Peter did, however, suspect that Group 935 was fully aware of American interest in their assets. As a research assistant at The Giant, Peter had heard murmurs from his superiors about some place they called Nacht der Untoten, or simply Nacht. In German, it means ‘Night of the Undead.’ This Nacht der Untoten took place at what was apparently one of their facilities, a seemingly abandoned airfield in the middle of nowhere. A plane carrying Peter’s escort, including the famed Sgt. John Raine, malfunctioned and crashed, creating the chaos that the location is now named for. Peter had done his best to suppress the guilt of the tragedy. Though he played no part in it, the men died on his behalf. They were heroes.


    For the past month, Peter had endured the menial grunt work assigned to research assistants. This included fetching supplies, providing vital tools during experiments, and keeping up with a seemingly endless supply of notes and research. None of this research, however, held the Golden Goose Egg Peter had been searching for. His supervisor, the acting chief of Der Riese, Doctor Porter, had mainly assigned Peter to experiments regarding the Perk-a-Cola project; Today, however, would be different. Doctor Porter had called for Peter and another assistant, Doctor Graves, to report to one of the labs for a “biomedical” experiment. 


    Peter passed through the Animal Testing Labs, glancing at cages filled with diseased, underfed canines, their eyes meeting his, begging to be freed. They did not wag their tails, not like those Peter knew back home. There were also smaller cages with rats, as well as a pen filled with monkeys, screeching as they climbed the interior of the pen. Several panicked men were surrounding the pen, looking in at the monkeys. As Peter prepared to exit into one of the nearby hallways, he was stopped by one of the scientists.


    A sweaty, balding man grabbed Peter by the shoulders, asking quickly, “Have you seen my monkey?”


    Peter raised an eyebrow, “Your... ?”


    The man placed his hands flat, about a foot and a half apart, “This big. Brown fur except for its face, which has white fur! Tail is about… Mein Gott.” His attention had diverted to a doorway behind Peter.


    Peter turned to look, watching as a monkey matching the scientist’s description passed through, dragging a ring of keys. In tow were a dozen or so cats of the same breed, with mostly black fur and specks of white.


    Peter grinned, whispering under his breath, “Clever little bastard… ”


    The scientist shoved him aside, yelling at his colleagues attempting to wrangle the loose cats, “Los, los, shut all the doors!” 


    As much as he would have loved to stay and watch, Peter had important business to attend to. He headed out into the hallway, ascending a pair of stairs before stopping at the lab Doctor Porter had asked him to find. Through the viewport in the closed door, Peter could see Doctor Porter and Doctor Graves already setting up the experiment.


    With the door being locked, Peter knocked, catching Porter’s attention, who seemed mildly displeased. The door swung open and Porter motioned to a watch on his wrist, “You’re late, Doctor McCain.”


    Peter maintained a jovial attitude, “Apologies, Doctor. There was a bit of a… catastrophe on the way here.”


    “No excuses, McCain. Join Doctor Graves at the operating table.” He swiftly turned away, beckoning Peter to follow.


    Before Graves was a man on the operating table. From a distance, Peter could only make out thick locks of black hair. Upon closer inspection, he was shocked to realize that he recognized him. He was paler and thinner than Peter remembered, but the man on the table was certainly the Mexican spy he had met in France: Pablo. His handler had reported a lack of response from Pablo sometime near the end of 1944, assuming the worst. It appears this was a correct assumption.


    After overcoming the initial shock, Peter followed procedure, sterilizing his hands and acquiring gloves. Porter had prepared a syringe, and approached the table, “Gentlemen, you have the privilege of taking part in an experiment upon a subject who is… truly remarkable.”


    Graves cocked his head, looking over Pablo, “I do not see what is so special.”


    Porter continued, “On the surface, there is nothing of note. However, this subject in particular has had a unique reaction to an abundance of 115 injections. For most, even a miniscule amount of Element 115 injected into the bloodstream is cause for a fatal heart attack, and soon after… reanimation. In this subject’s case, however, pure 115 had no ill-effects on his vital organs… apart from the brain. His mind is, well, kaputt. He babbles about symbols and knights in some medieval war. We believe this is because he has spent a majority of his captivity at Der Eisendrache. Still, his body is what is most interesting. The 115 in his bloodstream seems to have enhanced the body’s natural healing abilities. After receiving lacerations, his flesh begins to repair itself at a rapid pace, without any of the negative effects present in undead subjects’ bodies. Though he is mostly unwilling to cooperate, we have determined that his strength and durability have also improved considerably. Much like your, er, Jugger-nog tests. However, these effects seem to last indefinitely. 115 has become a permanent part of his blood.”


    Graves appeared bewildered, looking over Pablo’s body like a child looking under the Christmas tree. He asked Porter, who was now searching for a vein, “Are we going to dissect him? To find what makes him so special?”


    Porter replied, acquiring Pablo’s blood, “I’m afraid not. We are simply collecting a sample of his blood for storage, and then we will be performing some shock experiments. I would also implore you two to be careful with the subject. He will be dissected in time, just not by us.”


    Porter pulled the needle from Pablo’s arm, placing it in a safe location. Peter spoke up, “Who will be dissecting him?”


    Porter glanced back at them, “He will soon be property of The Butcher.”


    Peter was confused, glancing at Doctor Graves, who was now smiling, nodding his head with assurance. Peter whispered, “Who’s The Butcher?”


    Graves seemed shocked at the question, “That’s Doctor Richtofen, of course. It’s a nickname the French gave him during his stay there. He talks all about it in his memoirs. Didn’t you say you’d read them?”


    Peter shook his head, “I must have… skimmed that part.”


    Graves said, “If this is his subject, we may soon get to meet him. He’s supposed to be sent on a secret assignment in the coming days, and he’s passing through Der Riese today to collect some things.”


    Peter shuddered imagining finally seeing Doctor Richtofen for the first time. Though he had studied his life in his time before Group 935, Peter had the feeling this would not be the man he would soon meet.


    Doctor Porter wheeled over a machine that looked like a generator with several knobs and switches. He applied electrodes attached to the generator to Pablo’s temples before returning to the other side of the table. “Doctor Graves, use masking tape to cover the subject’s mouth. Believe me, he can be quite irritating once he is awake.”


    Graves did as he was told, applying the tape to the comatose Pablo’s lips.


    Porter continued, “Ensure the restraints are correctly tightened. Graves, you will be tasked with ensuring the electrodes remain attached and the subject is properly restrained. Doctor McCain, you will amplify power on the device, starting with only enough to wake him before rising on my command. I will monitor his heart rate to ensure he remains alive for the duration of the test. May we proceed?”


    Graves checked the restraints at Pablo’s wrists, nodding to Porter, “Yes, Doctor.”


    Peter looked over the knobs of the device, unnerved by the pain Pablo must have suffered, and that which he will soon suffer by Peter’s own hand. After a moment’s hesitation, he nodded to Doctor Porter, “Ready to proceed.”


    Doctor Porter clicked his fountain pen and said, “Initiate the test with a low voltage. Slowly increase until the subject is conscious.”


    As instructed, Doctor McCain activated the machine, causing it to hum. He twisted the voltage knob slightly, hearing a light buzzing coming from the machine. He began to notice Pablo’s eyes darting in a random pattern beneath his eyelids. After reaching ninety volts, Pablo’s chest lurched forward, before slamming back onto the table. His eyes were wide open, and he began to scream beneath the tape at his mouth.


    Porter raised an open palm to McCain, “Disable the device for the moment.”


    McCain did as instructed, watching as Porter held Pablo’s right eye open, shining a flashlight into his pupil. Pablo continued to jerk at the restraints with great force, still unable to move. Doctor Porter backed off, writing something down on his clipboard. He motioned to Peter, “Doctor McCain, reactivate the device and up the voltage by ten.”


    Pablo’s body had begun to rest, though his eyes still darted around randomly. As McCain did as he was told, Pablo’s body continued to writhe in agony. Graves had a look of genuine curiosity, while Doctor Porter’s expression was blank, as if his mind were elsewhere. After a few moments, he motioned to Peter, “Up by ten.”


    Peter could not bear to look Pablo in the eyes as he continued to up the voltage, instead focusing on his fingers which were dug into his own palms and shaking violently. After a few more agonizing seconds, Porter ordered McCain, “End it.” 


    Without hesitation, Peter did as he was told. Pablo’s body went still, but he was obviously still alive. His eyes had stopped darting around, and were instead focused on objects within the room: The ceiling light, the clock on the wall, a recording device by Porter’s side, and the generator which created his torture. Finally, he glanced up to Peter, looking intently into his eyes. Peter could do nothing but look back, remaining calm in his disguise. 


    The heart monitor beeped at a more rapid pace, and Peter could see with certainty that despite whatever delusions Pablo had been experiencing, he now recognized him. Pablo’s eyes shut as his breath rate increased, and as he opened his eyes once more, tears began to well. Despite all this, McCain did not break.


    Graves came around to Peter’s side of the table as Doctor Porter wrote in his notes. Graves leaned down to the broken, tortured soul on the table, and smiled. “Look at his eyes, Doctor McCain. He’s begging you to help him!”


    Graves chuckled, turning to Peter, as he noticed his stifled reaction. He continued, “Don’t feel so bad, Peter. He was a spy. Isn’t that right, Doctor Porter?”


    With no positive or negative cadence, Porter replied simply, “Indeed.”


    Doctor Porter finished up his notes, returning to the operating table, “We will up the voltage further, then he will be sent for a psychological evaluation. We will determine if electro-shock therapy is a viable counter to the negative effects of 115 injections. Are you ready, Doctor McCain?”


    Peter stifled the guilt from his actions, justifying them as Cornelius told him to, by remembering the ultimate goal of his mission: Putting an end to Group 935, and putting their work in better hands. This was what Pablo would have wanted. He replied, “Yes, Doctor… ”


    Peter reactivated the device, upping the voltage as instructed. Pablo continued to twitch and squirm in his restraints. The muffled screaming behind the tape continued to increase in volume until Pablo’s voice became hoarse. Porter motioned again, “More.”


    Peter did as he was told, and as if his body could not comprehend any more pain, Pablo froze in place, his face expressionless. Porter barked, “Enough!”


    Doctor Porter examined Pablo’s pulse and his eyes. He was unconscious again. “Damn,” Porter exclaimed, “Perhaps we were too quick. Hopefully there is no permanent damage. I would not hear the end of it from-”


    From the hallway outside, there was a flamboyant, distinctly German-accented voice who said, “For the last time, Samantha, you are coming with me, und that is final!”


    The faint voice of a little girl replied, “But why?!”


    The German retorted, “Because your father said so! We all must do what your father says, no matter how-” He had arrived at the door of the lab, attempting to force it open, before looking inside and banging on the glass, “Porter, open the damn door! We have important matters to discuss!”


    Porter muttered under his breath, “Speak of the devil… ” 


    The man Peter was now sure was Doctor Richtofen continued to bang his fist on the window in an irritating, repetitive pattern until Porter finally allowed him inside. As Porter opened the door, Richtofen called back into the hallway, “Doctor Yena, handle the child!”


    He was taller than Peter expected, standing out not only due to his confident swagger and obvious charisma, but also due to his uniform. He appeared to be wearing a beige Nazi Officer uniform, a stark contrast to the stuffy, white lab coats worn by everyone in the room. Peter was puzzled by the uniform, as Richtofen had no military history, and any actual Nazi Officer would soon be facing trial. Doctor Richtofen wore this uniform simply because he wanted to.


    Richtofen paid no mind to the two research assistants, one of which was more excited than the other to be seeing him, and he approached Pablo, now lying completely still. “Is this the test subject I will be taking with me? Hm… He’s quite handsome.”


    Porter replied, “Yes, we were just running some tests before he is, well… yours.”


    Richtofen nodded, “Wunderbar. Anyhow, I need to speak with you about our… benefactor’s wishes. Your assistants… ”


    Richtofen spoke coyly, motioning towards McCain and Graves. Porter approached his two assistants, “You two have done well today. I will be sure to note your involvement with today’s test in my report. It is almost lunch, so you are dismissed. Afterwards, return to your posts.”


    McCain and Graves both replied, “Yes, Doctor,” before heading for the door.


    In the hallway to the left, Peter could see Doctor Yena on one knee, speaking to the young girl he had heard before. Peter walked right with Graves towards the cafeteria. Graves spoke excitedly, “I just couldn’t find the courage to speak to him, Peter… He just has such a commanding presence, wouldn’t you agree?”


    Peter replied, glancing back to ensure Yena was still standing at the other end of the hall, “Yeah, for sure. Hey, I’ll catch up with you in the cafeteria in a few minutes. I think I forgot something back in the lab.”


    “Sure, Doctor,” Graves said, “Hopefully we can more formally meet Doctor Richtofen sometime before he leaves.”


    Graves headed out towards the courtyard area and onward towards the cafeteria, while Peter stayed in the hallway. He paced back in the direction he came, coming up to Doctor Yena, who had just sent the little girl away.


    “What’s with the babysitting job?” Peter asked.


    Yena let out a sigh of relief upon seeing Peter, “That’s Samantha Maxis, Ludvig’s daughter.”


    “Wait, has she been with Richtofen ever since-”


    “Ever since Doctor Maxis left for Berlin, yes.”


    Peter asked, confused, “I thought Doctor Richtofen hated children?” 


    Yena assured him, “Believe me, he still does. He pawns the responsibility off on anyone in his orbit… This is not quite the work I expected when I agreed to infiltrate this organization.”


    “It hasn’t been so great in my position either. All the higher-ups here are so… jumpy.”


    “Several of our spies have been caught in the past year, and I believe there is something big coming… I also believe it has to do with our upcoming assignment at the Siberian Facility.”


    Peter asked, “What’s happening in Siberia?”


    Yena glanced towards the lab door, being sure Richtofen was still occupied, “I’m not so sure yet. I’ll be briefed upon arrival. Doctor Richtofen did mention you and Porter were working with one of his subjects. What can you tell me about the subject?”


    Peter shook his head, remembering the pain he had inflicted upon the poor Pablo, “He was a spy they captured at Der Eisendrache. He had his blood drawn, and I, er, we gave him electric shocks to the brain.”


    Yena inquired, “What were you hoping to accomplish?”


    Peter continued, “Doctor Porter said something about him being previously injected with Element 115. Instead of suffering a fatal heart attack and being turned into one of those monsters, his body resisted the negative effects of the Element. Something about being able to regenerate and an increase in durability. This all comes at the cost of his mind being frazzled. He didn’t even seem to know where he was half the time, and the Doc mentioned going on delusional rants.”


    Yena thought for a moment, “Strange. I assume the electro-shock therapy is an attempt to counteract the effects on his brain… You said he was resistant to reanimation, so I do not see how our research would apply to the undead experiments… This is something else.”


    “I guess we’ll find out soon enough, right?” He paused for a moment, asking, “What about the DG-2 experiments?”


    “They’re continuing at the Rising Sun Facility. Doctor Richtofen believes the Wunderwaffe will soon see mass production.”


    Peter cocked his head, “Why? Doesn’t he know the war in Europe is over?”


    Yena adjusted his glasses, “That’s what still troubles me. I think there’s something that Richtofen isn’t telling me. Something that I’ll discover when I get to Siberia.”


    Yena looked to his feet, then to Samantha, who sat patiently in a chair, holding a teddy bear closely. “I’m afraid of what Doctor Richtofen is capable of, Peter. You and I both know he is a genius, but his exposure to Element 115 over the past few years seems to have changed him drastically. He is angry and spiteful, hurling insults at anyone who he sees as beneath him. I believe he is also suffering from delusions of grandeur and memory loss. On several occasions he has lashed out at staff for failing to fulfill demands he never made.”


    Peter asked, “Do you believe he could still be an ally in our mission?”


    Yena shook his head, “Unlikely. Your proposal made complete sense at the time, Peter, but after spending so long with the man… I can’t ever see him being an ally to the United States. We would be fools to trust him.”


    Peter nodded in agreement. “Will you be able to get an extraction if things go south up there?”


    “The facility is deep in the tundra of North Russia,” Yena replied, “Communication will be spotty and I doubt the Soviets would be willing to provide much help if something went wrong. I believe I’m going to be alone on this mission.”


    “I’ve got a hell of a lot of respect for you, Doctor.” Peter wished there was some way he could help Yena, but he knew his mission required him to stay put.


    The door to the laboratory swung open then slammed shut as Doctor Richtofen stepped out into the hallway, adjusting his Officer’s cap. He turned to face Yena, surprised to see McCain still around. “I can see you’ve made a new buddy, Harvey.” He cocked his head, passing a fake grin to Peter, “Und who is our little buddy, hm?”


    Peter worked up the courage to reply to the imposing Doctor, “I’m Doctor McCain. I, uh, studied Biology in Munich and-”


    Richtofen cut him off, “Ahhh, Biology! Then you must know who I am. So, what brought you and Harvey together?”


    Peter looked to Yena, unsure what to say, as Yena cut through the silence, “We went to school together, Doctor Richtofen. A long time ago.”


    Richtofen chuckled, “Yes, of course! Two Americans with American accents und American features und American ways of thinking! What a coincidence you two would meet in this organization, at this facility, on this day! Why, Doctor Yena und I are only passing through! It really is such a small world!”


    Yena did his best to form a smile on his clearly anxious face, “Indeed, Edward. I hadn’t thought of Peter in quite some time.” He turned to Peter, “Congratulations on being accepted into Group 935, by the way.”


    Richtofen placed a firm grip on each of their shoulders, chuckling, “Yes, welcome to Group 935, Doctor McCain: Where every day is a new adventure!” He soon dropped the jovial act, speaking plainly to Yena, “We should be gathering our work, now shouldn’t we, Harvey? We wouldn’t want to be late.”


    Yena seemed well-acquainted with Richtofen’s quick change of tone, promptly turning away, passing one final goodbye to Peter, “Of course, Doctor. It was pleasant catching up with you, Doctor McCain.” He then departed down the hallway, Richtofen close behind. 


    Richtofen then passed a glance back to Peter, “Yes, auf Wiedersehen, American!” He offered an exaggerated ‘goodbye’ hand gesture before turning around.


    What a lunatic… ” Peter muttered beneath his breath.

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