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  • Downfall

    Wittenau Sanatorium (“Verrückt Facility” ), Berlin, Germany

    Agent Peter McCain

    September 1st, 1945


    According to Peter’s pocket watch, he and Doctor Richtofen had spent the last eleven hours together within the dimly-lit closet; Hardly the night Peter had hoped for. Peter had begun to feel fatigue from sitting nearly motionless, staring at the faux amiable Doctor. To avoid cramps in his hands, Peter switched the hand which held the tiny FP-45 pistol every other hour. He blocked any attempts by Richtofen to strike up conversation, irritated by a lack of sleep and the Doctor’s grating, high-pitched voice. Doctor Richtofen seemed satisfied nonetheless, entertaining himself by humming or tapping various tunes or by writing in his diary. Peter waited eagerly for a response from the OSS regarding what should be done with Doctor Richtofen and whether or not his mission is complete. No training could have prepared him for such a tedious experience.


    Doctor Richtofen sat, legs crossed, scribbling in his little journal. Occasionally, he would glance up at Peter, look him up and down, let out some irritating sound of self-satisfaction, and return to his journal. It had made Peter increasingly uneasy, and he was beginning to fear Richtofen had noticed his fatigue and planned to exploit it.


    A knock at the door startled them both. Just as they had done several times before, Peter motioned to the door with his gun, and Richtofen ordered the knocker to leave them alone, “For the last time, Frederick, I have everything under control! Please leave us.”


    Peter had ascertained that this “Frederick” was one of Richtofen’s lackeys, the surly man who had forced Peter into the closet with him. He never spoke back to Richtofen, simply taking his orders at face value like a well-trained dog. OSS files on Richtofen and his admirers showed he had a way of charming people with his words, both spoken and written. It would explain the devoted magnetism to his work other scientists in Group 935 seemed to have. Yet, Peter saw nothing redeemable about him, nothing to inspire him or alter his loyalties; In fact, he downright annoyed Peter. Maybe it is a part of his process for garnering loyal allies, or maybe he has simply gone insane. His confidence in the current situation seemed misplaced, almost foolish, but there was a part of Peter that feared the possibility Doctor Richtofen may actually hold the upper hand in some unseen way, whether it was true or not.


    Richtofen returned to his journal, stopping after a moment and looking Peter in the eye with a devilish smile, “Do you miss me yet, Peter?” Peter attempted to ignore the question, but Richtofen persisted, “Peter? ... Pete? … The lights are on, is there anyone home?”


    “Did you always have such a whiny voice? Even as a kid?”


    Richtofen let out an exaggerated gasp, clutching his heart, “Whiny?! I thought you were sent here to spy on me, not to wound me! Surely a little diplomacy-”


    “Zip it.”


    The Doctor placed his fingers together one one hand, running them along his closed lips, locking an invisible lock, and tossing away the non-existent key; He returned to writing, a grin on his face.


    Peter shook his head and examined the room for what seemed like the millionth time, glancing at the crack in the ceiling, the rusty nails sticking out from the floorboards, and the old lamp sitting on the desk next to Richtofen. His attention was drawn to the Doctor once again as he stifled a chuckle, covering his mouth as Agent McCain had instructed.


    Peter finally asked what had been on his mind, “What is it you’re doing, anyway? Huh? What’s so funny?”


    Richtofen pointed to his lips inquisitively, to which Peter responded with an eye roll and a nod. The Doctor said, turning the journal around to face Peter, “Just doing a little doodling. Forgive me, I’m not much of an artist… ” The page had a cartoon drawing of a monkey, who was clearly wearing the same lab-coat as Peter and who pointed a gun at the viewer with an angry expression. Richtofen chuckled in amusement at Peter’s non-reaction.


    As Agent McCain continued to look at the journal, he began to feel slightly light-headed, possibly a result of his fatigue. He leaned back, turning to the wall and ignoring the jovial Doctor outright, apart from keeping the weapon in his hand trained in Richtofen’s direction.


    “You’re not quite what I expected, Doctor.”


    Richtofen closed the book, placing it into his pocket and unfolding his legs. “Nor I you- Nor you I- … Neither are you, Special Secret Agent Man. I imagined you spies would be far more, er, discreet.”


    “Really, what tipped you off?”


    “Oh,” Richtofen pursed his lips, “It’s just an instinct. Or an insight, perhaps. You stuck out like ein wart on a... nevermind. You, und Harvey as well.”


    Despite the fact that Group 935 would soon come to an end, and Doctor Yena’s mission as an OSS spy may soon be complete, Peter saw no reason to expose his fellow agent. “Doctor Yena? It’s like he said, we went to school together. I think we were both on the baseball team.”


    Ja, ja, right. By the way, what is it with you Americans und baseball? Forgive mein ignorance, but it seems that the game is mostly men standing in place doing absolutely nothing.”


    Peter shrugged, “What do you want me to tell you? The rules?”


    Richtofen groaned, crossing his arms, “Nein. Forget it. Perhaps it will become clearer when my signed Babe Ruth ball arrives… ”


    Peter scoffed, “So those demands were real? Seriously?”


    “Believe it or not, Agent, I sometimes have issues trusting people. If my demands are delivered to my exact specifications, I will know that America is to be a dutiful ally indeed! How can I be expected to deliver on mein own promises, if you cannot deliver on yours?”


    Peter rubbed his eyes, “Sure. But a deal hasn’t been made yet.”


    “Do you have any reason to believe it will not go through as I have outlined?”


    “Call it an instinct. An insight, if you will.”


    Richtofen replied with only a toothy grin. He twisted his body, lifting his legs up over one of the arm rests, and placing his back against the other. He was clearly uncomfortable, scooting back and forth, trying to find a good position, before returning to his normal posture.


    “Tell me more about yourself, Peter. I’m dying to know more.


    Peter shook his head, “I’m not interested in what you’re selling.”


    Richtofen crossed his legs again and pushed his fingers together on his lap. “Is there someone waiting for you at home? A family, perhaps?”


    Peter ignored the question, not so eager to reveal his innermost thoughts to Richtofen.


    He continued anyway, “You seem like the family type. You hold great pride in being un American. Your mission, the one not assigned to you by your handler, is to uphold what you believe to be the American way of living. You believe that I am the antithesis of these values, ja?”


    Peter tried to restrain himself from fueling the tiring conversation, but he could not bear it any longer, “I don’t know what you know about where I’m from, but there we don’t force people to undergo cruel experiments in the name of ‘science.’ The ‘American way’ has nothing to do with it. Group 935 needs to come to an end, and those monsters that you are creating need to be exterminated before they become uncontainable.”


    Richtofen gestured to Peter with exuberance, “Ah-hah! We do have something in common, after all. I was against the idea of an Undead Army from the very beginning, true story! The same applies to the whole Nazi ordeal. I tried to tell Maxis, but look at us now… ”


    “I bet you feel real good knowing you were right all along. Funny, though, that you continued to work for Group 935 for another six years. Even when it became clear this Nazi deal would be all that you are remembered for.”


    Richtofen wagged his finger, “You’re being mean again, Peter. Just try to remember, I’m the one willing to sell out the evil Nazis. Don’t let my uniform fool you.”


    Peter motioned his weapon-less hand to Richtofen’s attire, “So, what is it with that get-up, anyway? Sure doesn’t seem like what a Doctor would wear. Or someone who is in the process of selling out the last of the Nazis.”


    The Doctor peered down at his uniform, puffing his chest out, “But that is where you are wrong, mein friend. Is it not poetic that I would wear the baubles of mein enemy as I send him to the gallows?” Richtofen swished his hand past the medals adorning his breast.


    “To me, it seems like it’d put a target on your back when the Russians come.”


    “Perhaps, yes. But it has served me well these past few years… Oh, how I will miss it when I am forced to hang it up… ”


    Peter asked, “How’d you get it, anyway? I didn’t find any military service in your records.”


    “Nor should you! I have taken the Hippocratic Oath, after all. It’s actually a funny story, but you had to be there… Anyhow, I wear it because it demands authority from everyone who recognizes it. You should see how those SS goons treat me with it on.”


    “Surely they know you’re a scientist, not a soldier?”


    Richtofen pursed his lips, searching his thoughts, “Let me tell you a story, Agent McCain.”


    “I don’t want to hear it.”


    “I promise it will be quick! Once upon a time, I was a handsome young lad in ein Stuttgart orphanage. Every day after school I would walk back to the orphanage up ein long und busy street. Before I arrived, every time, without fail, I would run into ein police officer. The same one every time. He appeared to be quite tall und distinguished to my younger self, und he was feared by any lowly criminals roaming his street. He would take time out of his day to offer me a treat, or to listen to my woes about the local bully. He would give me advice, and I would always take it. Why? Because he wore a policeman’s uniform. He could not tell a lie. He must always be right. I trusted his judgement, his opinion.”

    Peter nodded, “Alright, I get it.”


    Richtofen placed his index finger out, as if to shush him from a distance, “Shh! There’s more! One day, I am leaving for the orphanage, and I spot the policeman. He appears happy to see me, and he is holding some kind of book. He says, ‘Eddie!’ That’s me. ‘I know you have been very interested in Science, yes?’ I was somewhat of a child prodigy, you see. I told everyone on the street that I would, one day, become a scientist. So I say, ‘Yes, I am.’ He places the book in mein hands, saying, ‘You should read this. It holds many truths about our society.’ The title of the book? Versuch über die Ungleichheit der Menschenrassen , translated, An Essay On The Inequality Of The Human Races by Joseph Arthur de Gobineau. I took a look inside the book when I returned home, eager to expand my knowledge. All I found was pseudo-scientific speculation. I tried to explain to the policeman the next day that the idea of a superior, Aryan race made no logical sense. But he told me that I was wrong. I wrestled with my beliefs for a moment. What the officer had told me did not make sense. But, eventually, I conceded the evidence that I had, and I blindly believed him for many years, just as many other Germans did. Only as I grew into a young man und graduated did I realize the lies I had been fed. Again, I ask, why did I believe him? Because he spoke with authority. I was willing to believe anything he said because he wore the uniform of a trusted institution. That, Agent McCain, is why I wear this uniform. These… men will only listen to someone with more medals on his chest than themselves. It’s what they have been conditioned to do.”


    The story disturbed Peter, and he finally began to see the manipulative, charismatic speaker that Richtofen was known to be. For a moment, he almost felt sympathy for him.


    “That’s quite a story, Doctor. If you’re not a race-cleansing Hitler-worshipping Nazi, I guess that makes you the good guy, yeah?”


    Richtofen tilted his head, thinking it over, “Well, ‘good’ is subjective, but I like to believe I am doing the right thing at any given time. Is that not the best that any of us can do?”


    Peter leaned forward, “Was the right thing what your people did to that captured spy back at Der Riese? What you’re doing to him now in Siberia?”


    Richtofen clapped his hands together, smiling, “Yes, yes, yes, I was wondering when you’d bring him up. Is he a friend of yours?”


    “His name’s Pablo. I only met him once, but he’s a good man. You’re gonna let him go when we get out of here.”


    “Are you under the impression that I wish to dissect him against his will?! I’m not a monster, Herr McCain. I’m only doing what I must do to maintain my position in Group 935. With their resources, I have been in a position to make far greater advancements than I could have on my own. I have no personal quarrel with this Pablo, aside from all the spying... No offense.


    “Only following orders, right? No blood on your hands.”


    Richtofen gestured back to Peter, “Much like yourself. You clearly do not trust me, yet it is in your best interests to protect me, because you are simply following your orders. Even when they go against everything you believe in… ”


    Peter tried to keep himself from lashing out, “Don’t even compare my work to what you’ve done.”


    Richtofen shook his head, “You sit there, on the tippy-top of your high horse, lecturing me about what I have done, und what Group 935 has done with Element 115. But, do you truly believe that our research is to be better utilized in American hands?”


    “Yes, I do.”


    “Open your eyes, American.” Richtofen raised his voice, “Why do you think your mission is not to kill us all and scoop up what is left? Because your government needs us. I know that the United States has a massive deposit of 115 in Nevada, yet they have made no significant technological advancements since its discovery. They would give anything to work alongside us ‘monsters.’  They are no better than the Nazi Party, und you are a fool to believe their lies!”


     Peter could feel an intense frustration building within himself, as he wrestled with the Richtofen’s words, “That doesn’t change the fact that you are a monster, whether you accept it or not, whether your intentions were in the pursuit of world peace or advancing civilization. When I get back home, I’ll see to it that my concerns about you are well known, and that you see justice for what you’ve done during this war. That is the American way.”


    Richtofen scoffed, and began rubbing the arm-rests of his chair in agitation and anger. He gripped his head as if he were in pain, his entire body shaking. “You believe that I, Doctor Edward Richtofen, will see a tribunal?! You’re mistaken, American. You’re… you’re insane! I am the well of knowledge from which future generations will drink! When my work is done, I will be among the greatest minds in history! Aristotle, Archimedes, Galileo, Newton, Richtofen!” 


    He stood from his chair, catching Peter in shock, and ripped him from his seat. Peter attempted to take aim at the Doctor with his pistol, but his strength was not enough. Richtofen threw Peter’s arms aside, sending the pistol to the floor in the corner of the room. He attempted to suffocate Peter with his hands, wrapping them around his neck and shoving him against a wall. Peter was quick to retaliate, kneeing Richtofen in the groin and putting his full weight into him, knocking him back.


    Richtofen was quick to recover, again trying to grab Peter’s neck. The two wrestled with great desperation, eventually slamming into the wooden door of the closet repeatedly. After a few slams, the door came down, and the pair with it. Peter attempted to stand and run, but Richtofen took hold of his lab coat, yanking him back to the floor where he attempted to get on top of Peter.


    A crowd of soldiers in uniform and scientists began to approach the duo fighting on the tile floors of the asylum. Through the crowd came Doctor Okitsu, who watched on as Peter and Richtofen each gained and lost control of the fight. He did nothing but watch, allowing the scuffle to continue.


    The surly Frederick lumbered into view, pulling Peter up by his collar and placing him into a choke-hold.


    Richtofen scooted back on the floor and retrieved his SS cap, placing it back on his head and standing at attention with his finger pointed at Peter with fury, “I’ve found a spy, Doctor Okitsu! He was holding me captive!”


    Unfazed and with minimal care for the situation, Okitsu asked flatly, “What is it you are doing here, Doctor Richtofen? Aren’t you meant to be in Siberia?”


    Richtofen dusted off his uniform, “Yes, of course. Can’t I drop in for a hallo sometime, Doctor?”


    Okitsu turned to the debris left behind in the previous day’s bombing in the nearby lab, “This is not the best time for visitation, Doctor. Is there something you require of me, Richtofen, or will you be on your way? We are very busy here, and frankly, it seems trouble follows you everywhere you go.”


    Richtofen glanced around at several Division 9 scientists, now realizing he had no friends in the room, “I suppose not, Doctor. Eh-heh... I don’t wish to disrupt your operations.” 


    He prepared to cut through the crowd and leave, but stopped in his tracks, returning to Peter. He leaned in so close that Peter could feel his breath on his face. “Auf Wiedersehen, my friend.”


    He ordered Frederick, “Take him to the asylum’s holding area. I’m sure Doctor Okitsu will not mind if our friend stays behind for some testing.”


    Frederick did as he was told, dragging Peter away as he struggled. He barely had the strength to think clearly, his energy depleted in the struggle. His blood ran cold as he caught sight of Doctor Okitsu’s face staring back at him. He would now be in the hands of Division 9’s scientists.


    Doctor Richtofen offered a final word to Okitsu, before leaving through a doorway underneath a nearby staircase. The Doctor was gone. The mission continues.

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