Siberian Facility, near Tunguska
Dr. Edward Richtofen
September 2nd, 1945
The treaty is signed, the war is over; Group 935’s mission continues, funded by Die Spinne. Only Doctor Richtofen knew, however, that this arrangement would not last. The Allies will wait no longer. Maxis will pay dearly for his great error in 1939. Group 935’s scientists will thank Richtofen for saving them from a lifetime in prison. Once all preparations have been made, they will know the truth.
For now, Richtofen continued his work, awaiting the inevitable contacts from the United States and Soviet Union separately. He chuckled thinking of what Peter McCain must now be enduring at Verrückt, a deserved fate for standing in Richtofen’s way, attempting to stifle his plans. The most delicious part of this suffering was that Peter could reveal Richtofen’s plot to the unknowing Doctor Okitsu; Yet, he knows the deal must remain a secret in order for Group 935’s work to end up in American hands. What a beautifully hopeless dilemma.
Today’s agenda involved an experiment with the Mexican test subject, and Richtofen had now entered the Holding Cell and Storage Area in search of him. Doctor Yena stood beside one of the cells, reading a letter.
“Good morning, Doctor Richtofen.” He motioned the letter towards Richtofen, “It’s from my wife, she-”
Richtofen raised his hand flatly, rubbing his temple with the other, “Let’s just skip the pleasantries, Doctor Yena. I feel as if I haven’t slept in days.”
Yena folded up the letter, placing it back into an envelope on the nearby desk. “I see. Shall I have the subject brought to the lab?”
“Just a moment, Harvey. I want to check in on our other guests...”
Richtofen pushed past Doctor Yena, peering into the cell before him, a sign above denoting the subject inside as “Specimen 1.” The interior was dark, the lamp on the desk to the left being turned off.
In the center of the dark room, sitting cross-legged on the floor, was subject N3WB, formerly known as Takeo Masaki. He was a subject gifted to Group 935 by Doctor Okitsu, apparently the former right-hand of the Emperor himself, now disgraced and dishonored. He showed remarkable resilience to 115 injections, and he held a very high intellect, being fluent in seven languages, including English, yet he showed little resistance only a few months into his internment as if he had willingly given up control.
Richtofen asked, “Has he improved at all?”
“No, I’m afraid. He continues to just sit there and mutter those proverbs, again and again. He won’t even eat. He has to be force-fed.”
Richtofen sighed, “I hope we did not completely destroy his mind, he could be a valuable asset if we gain his trust.”
“Agreed. The initial clone is coming along alright, so we will see if this behavior remains once it is fully developed.”
Richtofen peered through the bars, trying to get a look at Takeo’s eyes, but they were still obscured by the darkness. He could hear him muttering another proverb in Japanese, “Deru Kugi Wa Utareru.”
“I give him books to read, pencils to write with, und a mattress, what more could he need? Ungrateful little... ” Richtofen paced past Pablo’s cell in the center, and peered into the cell of “Specimen 3:” Subject 4N0N, The Russian: Nikolai Belinski. Nikolai had been a subject of Group 935’s since the end of the Battle of Stalingrad. His slurred speech patterns led the scientists to believe he had a low intellect, but his diary revealed he was well-versed in Russian literature and was a world traveler before the war. He was also the most uncooperative subject Richtofen had ever known, attempting to fight back with every bit of energy in his body until sedation. The more recent 115 injections, however, have made him almost entirely comatose.
Richtofen stepped back from the cell, caught off-guard by the stench from within, “I see little has been done about the urine smell.”
Yena spoke up, “Apologies, Richtofen. He’s been bathed multiple times a day, but he simply lies there in his own filth. He still won’t respond to stimuli. I’d ask you to re-consider my suggestion-”
Edward dismissed him, “I said I would try it when all other methods have been exhausted. I don’t see how vodka could break his… hibernation.”
“All I ask for is consideration.”
Yes, yes, consideration, and all of his secrets, Richtofen thought.
Inside the cell, Nikolai simply lied still, staring blankly at the ceiling, the only sign of life in his rising and falling chest.
“Und his clone?”
“Also growing as predicted. The Mexican’s, on the other hand… ”
Richtofen shook his head, remembering the multiple attempts to replicate Pablo’s cells, and the many failures in cultivating their growth. “He’s starting to become more of a liability to this project than un asset. Perhaps today’s experiments will prove me wrong. Fetch Frederick, und get him into the lab.”
Richtofen walked through the double doors onto a balcony overlooking the Human Transfusion Room. Down below were three pods filled with blue liquid and rapidly growing human clones, now in their adolescent stage.
He continued, turning left into the decontamination room. Passing through another set of doors, he arrived in the laboratory. His headache from sleeplessness only increased at the awful screeching of a row of monkeys in cages.
“Doctor Rifkin?!” Richtofen shouted over the screeching, catching the attention of the nearby scientist.
Richtofen approached him closely, “What are they doing in mein lab?”
“Sorry, Doctor, our experiment went on a little longer than anticipated… I will move as many as I can out of the room before you begin your work.”
Richtofen placed his face into his hands, “I don’t have time to further delay this experiment.”
Rifkin assured him, “They will begin to calm down once you lower the lights in here, I give you my word… ”
“Fine. I suggest you adhere to the posted schedule more closely in the future, Doctor. Your career may depend on it... “
Properly frightened, the frail older scientist nodded, “Understood.” He promptly began moving two more cages out of the room, lowering the lights as he left.
Richtofen pulled a lab coat from a locker, placing it over his uniform. He donned a pair of rubber gloves and a head-mounted light.
At the center of the room was an operating table where a couple of assistants were placing the sedated Mexican subject. The surrounding area was dark, but this lone spot was lit by a lamp hanging from the ceiling just above Pablo’s torso. Yena wheeled in a cart containing all of the necessary tools, including a vial of liquid 115 for injection. Another assistant wheeled in a heart monitor, attaching it to Pablo to gauge his vital signs.
“Are you ready, Doctor Richtofen?”
Exhausted, Richtofen approached the table, saying with a touch of sarcasm, “More than ever, Harvey. Ensure the subject is properly sedated, we don’t need a repeat of his last experiment.”
The howling of the monkeys in the room had lessened. Richtofen watched as Yena searched for a vein with such delicate care and precision. Though Yena had not been told the specifics of today’s test, he must sympathize with the fellow spy about to be dissected. Richtofen would soon enjoy watching him squirm. For the moment, he seemed blissfully unaware of what transpired at the asylum, as Richtofen intended.
After a few moments, Yena confirmed Pablo was ready for surgery, “He’s under, Doctor.”
“Perfect.” Richtofen was quick to begin his work. He placed his hand on Pablo’s bare chest, feeling for key organs. He pressed down on his lower belly, beneath the ribs, before marking the point of incision. He began cutting into the flesh with ease and finesse, well-practiced from his time in France. Listening for any fluctuations in the heart monitor, he began spreading the opening wider to confirm he was looking in the right place. He was, of course.
Yena muttered, “What is it you are-”
Richtofen maintained his search within the gash in Pablo’s belly, replying, “Sh, sh, sh, shh… Begin the recording, Doctor Yena. I believe I’ve found it.”
Harvey crouched down below the table, turning on the recording device on the second level of the nearby cart.
Richtofen outstretched his free hand, “Scalpel please, Doctor Yena.”
Yena placed it in his hand, “Scalpel, Doctor Richtofen.”
Doctor Richtofen cut further into the opening, exposing Pablo’s stomach and a portion of his ribcage.
“What exactly are you looking for, Doctor Richtofen?”
Seeing no further need to maintain secrecy, Richtofen told him his goal, “We are attempting to locate an appropriate stimuli that will trigger the brain’s involuntary willingness to obey command.”
Richtofen spotted it: Pablo’s spleen. He once posited that the spleen may be preventing the 115 in the subject’s blood from affecting the brain in the intended manner. The injection of 115 directly into his spleen may yield a more cooperative and docile soldier not only within the Super Soldat Program, but perhaps in the Undead Army as well.
Richtofen pulled back the flesh covering the organ, “Ah, there we are. Forceps, Doctor Yena, if you please.”
Yena placed the forceps in Richtofen’s outstretched hand, “Forceps, Doctor Richtofen. But… the liver and kidneys? Or… the spleen?”
It was painfully obvious now that Yena was fishing for more information to send back to his superiors. Richtofen gave him a vague explanation to placate him, “Our goal is to unlock the barrier to the human mind... With Element 115 it is important that we explore every possibility. The barrier may be where we least expect it.”
Edward pulled the spleen through the opening slightly using the forceps, “There we are. Retractors, please.”
Yena handed him the tool, “Retractors. … It seems the Chancellor has been pushing us harder these last days. Is this because of the spy that was discovered? At the asylum?”
Richtofen continued carefully pulling the spleen aside, while opening the gap further so the veins connecting the spleen to the stomach were exposed. It seems news has finally travelled to Siberia about Peter’s capture. Yena did not seem aware of Richtofen’s involvement, at least, so Richtofen maintained his calm composure, focusing on his comment about Chancellor Steinbauer.
“I do not know, Doctor Yena. Our German leader, along with Doctor Maxis, is so... limited in his thinking. His goals are... simple-minded. Childish.” Richtofen then decided to test Yena to cause a reaction, “He keeps pushing for his Undead Army... when he could have the Elemental Shard… ”
Harvey’s eyes lit up, and like a curious child, he asked, “The Elemental Shard?”
Richtofen pushed further, looking back into his eyes, “A device capable of endless energy... We could use it to craft anything; Including an Agarthan Device of immense power.” The seed now planted, Richtofen awaited what would grow, “Hold this open while I grab the injector.”
Yena gripped the forceps and retractors holding the spleen just out of the incision as he pried for more information, “Agarthan Device? Why haven’t I heard about this?”
Doctor Yena’s hand began to waver as he leaned over Pablo’s body intently. Richtofen took notice, “Doctor Yena, do you have a firm grip? You’re shaking… ” Edward grinned, satisfied in his toying with Harvey.
Yena straightened out, taking firm grip of both the forceps holding the spleen out of the way and the retractors keeping the incision open, “I’m ready. Please, proceed.”
Richtofen pushed the spleen aside, further straining Yena. He slowly inserted the large needle with liquid 115 into the opening, “Injecting serum in three… two… one.”
115 began to siphon through the needle into the vein, causing Pablo’s heart-rate to increase at a rapid pace. Yena’s hands began to waver and sweat as he struggled to hold the incision open.
Now focused on the test, Richtofen ordered Yena, “Hold it open. The injection is nearly complete.”
Yena let out a gasp of air as he struggled to keep the spleen in place. Still, Pablo’s heart rate increased. “I can’t… hold this… grip… ”
Doctor Yena let go of the retractors, causing the incision to close, and his grip on the spleen caused the vein to burst, spraying blood like a fountain as the organ popped out of Pablo’s chest, careened through the air, and flopped onto the concrete floor. The heart monitor flat-lined as Pablo’s heart stopped beating.
Richtofen placed his palm on his blood-soaked face in disbelief, “Well, I guess the barrier isn’t in his spleen.” Now unable to control his frustration, he put his red finger in Yena’s face, “Nincompoop! You did this, I knew it! You let go on purpose!”
The sweating, filthy liar quivered, pointing to the loose organ on the ground, then to the husk it once occupied, “Richtofen, it was an accident! My- My hand slipped!”
“Dummkopf!” Richtofen struggled to contain his rage, tossing the bloody gloves at the wall, and placing his hands onto a nearby table. He could hear Yena nervously fiddling with the recording device, and attempting to clean the mess he had made.
Richtofen pointed to the door, “Leave! You’ll only make it worse! Gah, good-for-nothing American apple pie brain... “ Richtofen pounded on the table, prompting Yena to quickly disembark out the door without another word of guidance needed. Richtofen then followed, shouting out towards Yena as he left, “Und don’t forget to make Samantha’s lunch, if you can handle that!” He slammed the door shut, pacing around the room, trying to ignore the rows of caged monkeys now unrested.
Soon after, Frederick opened the door, glancing at the remains of the Mexican subject and the bloody radius around him, before asking Richtofen flatly, “Should I find the cleaning crew?”
Richtofen waved his hand, “You can dump the body in the river later! Now leave me alone!”
As instructed, Frederick left without a word.
The voices in Edward’s head became restless, asking him to do unsightly things to Harvey for his treachery. His mind soon eased as he remembered the plan. Stick to the plan, and everything will be okay.
Edward paced, kicking his feet as he mulled over the failure and the need for a replacement subject. This time, he needed someone stronger. Someone willing to obey.
Checking the time, he realized it was nearly lunch hour. Richtofen pulled a chair over to a desk, activating a radio resting on top to record a new log entry. He would have to yell over the screeching monkeys in order for his voice to be heard.
“Log Entry: 1471. Date: September 2nd, 1945. Dear diary, another day, another failure. This time, subject N3WB just stared blankly at the floor. The Russian subject still smells like urine, even after he was given a bath und deloused twice! And I think I might have killed the specimen from Mexico. His spleen is on the floor and he’s not moving anymore. I can verify with certainty, however, that the barrier is not located in the spleen. Doctor Maxis says we must continue no matter the cost. I wonder what he might think of the experiments on the little... girl.” Edward began to cackle with glee. His jubilation was interrupted as he noticed a loose monkey from one of the cages reaching for the spleen on the floor.
“Nein! Drop that!” The monkey screeched as his fellow primates cheered him on, and he began to run towards the door. Richtofen jolted from his seat, grabbing hold of the monkey as it attempted to pull the door open. “That's my spleen! Mine! " He pried the spleen from the monkey’s hands, as it climbed onto Richtofen’s shoulders. The monkey pulled the hat off of his head, as as Richtofen struggled to throw him off, he accidentally slammed his head into a wall-mounted cabinet, sending him to the hard floor. The monkey leapt off, disembarking towards an open vent shaft near the ceiling. Richtofen was too defeated to chase it down, simply lying on the floor as his head spun.
He felt a tenderness in his forehead where he impacted the cabinet, and slowly rose up to his feet, the severed spleen in his bare hands. He passed a menacing glance at the delighted gathering of monkeys.
He approached the rolling cart, tossing the spleen onto the metal pan. As he attempted to ease the pain in his head, he noticed something incredibly peculiar about the spleen: It was marked with some kind of symbol, which was burned into the underside. Richtofen inspected it more closely, now shocked to realize that it was a symbol he recognized; One he had seen on statues and paintings throughout Der Eisendrache. This was where Pablo had been captured, but who could have burned this sigil into his spleen, of all places, and to what end? His body showed no signs of a past surgery. Richtofen’s sour mood had dissipated, and he was eager to explore the implications of this symbol’s reappearance. The spleen would need to be preserved for further study. He prepared to call for an assistant to place the organ in stasis, as he heard a little German girl’s voice faintly through the back door of the lab.
“My dad says he has a plan.”
Richtofen marched towards the door, “Samantha?!” He opened the double doors into the decontamination room, “Yena was supposed to prepare your lunch. Is this some sort of game?” The room was completely empty. Richtofen climbed up three steps, passed a laundry machine, and entered the reception area. He could still hear faintly, coming from outside the front doors, “I promise I will keep you safe. Just like my mother taught me.”
“What are you doing out in the cold? If you get sick again, I-” Richtofen pulled the doors open, again, revealing no one. He had had nearly enough of this charade, when he saw a sudden burst of light come from the skies, just past the base’s lighthouse. From this burst of light came a plane, too far away to make out clearly. There was smoke coming from the engine, as it veered side-to-side erratically. As it descended, it turned towards the base. Richtofen could now make out its shape more clearly: It was a red bi-plane with a single pilot, and on its wings was the German Iron Cross.
Richtofen was stunned, and stared intently as the plane impacted the mountainside which held the facility. He could see smoke rising up from near the base of the mountain where the remains had fallen, and he could hear German soldiers stationed at the base approaching the crash site.
Edward treaded across the cold, icy dirt near the river below, venturing towards the base of the mountain where a crowd had gathered around the wreckage.
Among the crowd was Doctor Yena, who stuttered as Richtofen approached, “Uh, Doctor Richtofen! Your- your head... I- Samantha, she’s in the cafeteria now. No problems, I will-” Richtofen pushed him aside, entering the heart of the group.
Two surly soldiers lifted the body of the pilot, dropping the lifeless corpse to the ground to inspect it; Richtofen could not believe what he was seeing. The pilot’s uniform, his old-fashioned plane, his jacket: They all suggested he was a member of the German air force of World War I. Why here? Why now?
The crowd murmured, completely dumbfounded by the revelation. Richtofen, however, thought of the Reporter’s words about a multiverse. Edward began trying to connect what had transpired to his own further research. It soon dawned on him that the pilot could not be of this time; Indeed, he had time-traveled. Perhaps he was not even of this place... this dimension...
From within his head, the Shadowman said, “Now you’re beginning to understand.”