Chapter 11: "Expansion"
Unknown village, Austria
November 6th, 1940
"Doctor Richtofen is a close friend of mine.”
As Doctor Maxis spoke these words he began to question their validity. For years, he had felt a sense of mutual admiration in their relationship, but ever since their disagreement over the MTD, things began to gradually change. Richtofen was initially put off by the idea of the German government dictating Group 935's research in exchange for funding. After his month-long hiatus and surprise return, he has been rather curt with Maxis and yet allured by the prospect of weapons research and meeting the German high command. Though Maxis was not, General Lehmkuhl seemed convinced by the statement.
"Then I am sure the two of you can coordinate control of this new facility.”
The two men, dressed in heavy coats, were being escorted by armed German soldiers through the snow-trodden village. If not for the conversation keeping their minds, the cold would be nearly unbearable.
"Yes, well, perhaps I could delegate control. But I'm not sure Richtofen could manage such an undertaking.”
"You need to loosen your grip for Group 935 to grow, Doktor Maxis. Besides, it is not quite time yet for Doktor Richtofen to take control of Der Eisendrache. He is needed in France while we establish a research station. The other Generals have taken quite a liking to his eh... 'üppig' personality.
The convoy trudged further through the village towards the gondola station near the mountainside. Beyond the secluded village, all that could be seen at this elevation was the beautiful, snow-capped Alps of the Austrian country, and amidst the mountains connected to the gondola station was Der Eisendrache, 'The Iron Dragon'. A castle constructed in the 14th century that was under the control of the Austrian government and care of the down-wind village until the recent German occupation.
To their left and right were homes built to withstand the snowstorms, a majority of their occupants cozy inside. The wooden homes were now plastered with German propaganda, and soldiers forcibly settled inside. The few villagers that were stood in the market square only watched silently with a grimace as the convoy passed by.
Maxis looked to each of their faces, their eyes fixated on him, as if ready to strike when the soldiers left. General Lehmkuhl took note of Maxis' unease.
"Pay them no mind, Doktor. Soon they will understand our arrival is for the best. The castle is a great deal away from them and heavily fortified. An uprising would not stand a chance against my men and their new ammunition, all thanks to you Doktor."
"Have the soldiers gotten used to the enhanced rounds? They've been sure to slow their rate of fire to avoid burns, yes?"
"Ja, Doktor Maxis. Training mit the rounds has proven successful. They love it. Watch. Achtung, Müller!"
"Feuer an der Wand!" The general pointed his finger towards the wall of a nearby church building. The soldier who received the orders smiled and raised his loaded MP-40.
Maxis yelled out. "Wait! Halt! Halt! Generaloberst Lehmkuhl, there could be civilians in there. The rounds will easily pierce-"
"Ja, you are correct. Stein! Peters! Überprüfen Sie... auf Kollateralschäden."
The two soldiers ordered opened the door into the church and scanned for any living beings. There were none in sight.
"Now then, Feuer!"
The soldier with his MP-40 crouched into a battle stance to hold the weapon steady. He fired two short bursts of three rounds into the wall before lowering the weapon. The other soldiers, Lehmkuhl, and Maxis approached the impact point, as villagers and other soldiers who heard the gunfire approached.
The wood had been blown apart at each point with such speed and power that the edges of the holes were singed due to the microscopic amounts of element 115 molded into each bullet.
"And that is just wood. You should see what your inventions can do against armor plating!"
General Lehmkuhl patted Maxis on the back, directing the attention of the bespectacled soldiers and frustrated Austrian citizens to him.
"Oh, thank you for the demonstration. It's really Doctor Porter you should be thanking: he has perfected the metal enhancement process."
"I send the man my regards! We should move before the cold kills us. Lass uns gehen!"
The men reformed their ovular shape around Maxis and Lehmkuhl pushing forward to the gondola station, now 150 meters away.
"Your men are learning English as instructed, yes Generaloberst?"
"Of course, Doktor! They are slow learners and quite loyal to their Fatherland, however. Why is it this is necessary, Doktor Maxis?"
"When it comes to science, I find it is most important that everyone can clearly communicate in a universal language and set of metrics. English is an excellent language for communicating research, as I learned in my time studying in London. It is simply a matter of preference and formality. You men must know in case there is a problem only they can resolve and time for translation is short."
"That is fair, Doctor Maxis. But I would consider in the future moving towards using German if Group 935's relationship with the Reichstag is to flourish. There is predictions German will be the most used language in the world given ten more years."
"I will consider it when the time comes. I wish to make the German people proud, any way that I can."
"Das ist gut to hear, Doktor Maxis."
Now at the Gondola station, the group entered the cramped platform before the operator closed the doors and sent them up towards the castle. Though it was a small interior, there were windows on all sides to give a view of the wondrous Austrian Alps. The rising sun seemed to be cradled between a set of white-covered mountains in the distance. At a nearer mountain, just below the castle were a set of man-made areas extended from the rock. On them were platforms with metallic structures reaching high into the air. Beneath the platforms were tracks leading to a massive, circular piece of metal that could only be assumed to be a door.
Lehmkuhl placed his index finger on the glass, pointing to each of the platforms.
"Those are rocket test sites. In 1938, once we found this place, we were hard at work trying to develop rocket technology to propel our military to the top, from this secluded, high-altitude facility. Tests have halted, recently. I am hoping when your scientists are settled in you may return those sites to full operation."
"Incredible. I would be overjoyed to begin working again with rockets. As a boy I dreamed, one day, that the German people would be the first to reach the Moon."
Lehmkuhl looked at Maxis, somewhat off-put, before returning his gaze to the rocket pads.
"How wonderful that would be, yes. But for now, we should focus on our problems here on Earth."
Now realizing he had made of a fool of himself, Maxis returned to his former composure.
"Of course. That's just the musings of a child. My own daughter has them as well. But I am focused on the here and now, Generaloberst."
"That is wunderbar to hear. I'm sure you've heard of our man von Braun and his research into rockets. I would suggest you contact him for any inquiries and assistance with the tests."
"Thank you. Today marks a historical day for not only Group 935 and Germany, but the world. I hope Der Eisendrache proves to be as valuable an asset to us as Der Riese. I am thankful you and the others in the Reichstag received my letter months ago and have agreed to assist Group 935 in expanding its horizons around the world."
"Yes, about your new facilities. I've been meaning to discuss with you a certain matter, privately. When we arrive, I will meet you in your living quarters to discuss when you are ready."
As the gondola came to a stop at the top of the line, it began to rock back and forth due to the momentum before finally settling the doors opening. The escort fanned out to allow the General and Maxis through. The rocky underbelly of the castle had been converted into a fully functioning Gondola station with power generators buzzing and sending power throughout the facility. Faintly, above on a scaffolding towards the interior of the castle, Doctor Maxis could hear the distinct choral sound of Anton Reicha's Requiem, as well as laughing from many difference sources, including one cackle that was certainly that of Edward Richtofen's.
General Lehmkuhl led Maxis up a set of metal stairs towards the source of the sounds. Passing a large beam connected to the generators, they entered a rocky formation that led directly into the castle's undercroft, passing through a metal gate and a small living quarters.
"Here is where the Gondola operator sleeps and... ah, there is Doktor Richtofen!"
The medieval design of the undercroft took Maxis' breath away, with the intricate tombs and markings along the walls signifying an era long past. Yet here to take his attention away was Edward Richtofen, wearing a light coat for the warmer temperature of the castle's undercroft, his right leg resting on a wooden chair. To his right, a table with a gramophone playing the classic, contemporary music, and several German men in military uniform toasting the new Group 935 facility.
Now taking note of Lehmkuhl and Maxis' arrival, Richtofen raised both his hands in the air, one holding a glass of champagne, before shaking hands and offering another glass to the General. The two exchanged a joke and a laugh as Maxis soaked in the glorious stone architecture around him. Again, he was pulled away from his wonder by Richtofen, who took his shoulder in his hand and pulled Maxis to turn towards him.
"Doctor Maxis, you finally arrived!"
Looking back towards the crowd, then around the room, he turned back to Maxis.
"Where is General Amsel?! Doctor Maxis you have to see this, it's like looking in a mirror!"
"That's alright, Edward. Where is Doctor Wagner?"
"Oh, yes, my little assistant is helping unload the shipment to the labs. He's probably scurrying around in those little squeaking boots of his! I hate those boots... "
"Edward, he is more than your assistant. I vouch for him as a valuable scientist. If you believe you should hold any sort of power in Group 935 you should be more amicable to its scientists."
Edward paused for a moment, his eyes wandering as if listening for something. He began to cringe before refocusing his attention back to the conversation.
"Yes, amicable. That is just what I was being towards these men from the Reichstag. I'll tell you, I expected them to be much more, I suppose I could say, obtuse. But they are quite fun once you get to know them!"
"I can see that. This is a day for celebration, I suppose."
"Don't fret, Doctor Maxis, I have not lost sight of what lies ahead for our research. We have a great future in this castle. I hope to make a home here once my work at the front is over with."
Doctor Richtofen grinned, handing Maxis a glass of champagne before raising his own for a toast.
"To improving the human condition!"
Maxis let his guard down, smirking and raising a glass himself.
"To improving the human condition!"
The two men drank from their glasses, before Maxis spoke up.
"How is Samantha taking the move? She must be very upset."
"Ah, your little girl. She's fitting in quite well. Her room is now filled with her belongings; Wagner saw to that while I was mingling. She asks so many questions, just one after the other, yak yak yak yak yak yak! No wonder you let Sophia take care of her all day! For her sake I hope Sam makes some new friends."
"Yes, well, Sophia will not be here for nearly a week as she gathers my belongings. We are visiting Japan to tour the Rising Sun Facility. The Reichstag was able to negotiate full control to Group 935 is exchange for a joint peration at another facility. The location is yet to be decided, but word is that they are interested in somewhere in Berlin."
"Ah, the Rising Sun Facility. That was previously a Division 9 operation, no?"
"Yes, and many of its scientists will still remain on site."
"Those Japanese are very protective of their work. Be careful, Doctor Maxis. Luckily for you, I know Doctor Okitsu very well. Say hallo to him for me!"
Richtofen downed the last of his champagne. "One last thing, Doctor Maxis... speak with the Lehmkuhl about the Wunderwaffe. If he has any sense, it will see production immediately."
"I will discuss it with him, Edward."
Edward nodded to Maxis before returning to the crowd to further mingle.
Maxis turned to the wall behind him, with an intricate tomb leading up to the ceiling. Though cracked and worn, the stones making up the crevices were deliberately and efficiently aligned to form a beautiful monument to who could only be the King ahead of this castle.
From behind, the bellowing laugh of General Lehmkuhl took Maxis' attention as he wrapped his free arm around Maxis' back, his other hand with a full glass of champagne.
"Ah-hah! Doktor Maxis, there is plenty more wild architecture and such to gawk at around the castle than this hole in the wall filled with old bones. Perhaps another time we can look at it all like two aging historians at Museumsinsel. But for now, Doctor Maxis, let us head to the living quarters to talk about that issue I mentioned."
"Of course, lead the way Generaloberst."
The two men rested their glasses on a nearby table, before departing to a nearby stone archway left of the tomb. As they were nearly gone, Doctor Richtofen called out to the two of them.
"Off to bed, you two?"
The crowd began to laugh heartily, one general even spilling his champagne as he leaned over to hold his chest. After a moment, General Lehmkuhl joined in the laughter as he and the unamused Doctor Maxis walked through the archway to a set of stairs, passing crates of ammunition and armor.
Now away from the crowd, Lehmkuhl leaned in towards Maxis, "I'm not sure what he actually meant by that. But by the way he said it, I am sure it was sehr lustig!"
They opened a wooden door leading out into the cold, trudging forward to another set of stairs.
Maxis sighed as he said it, "Yes, he is quite the character. At least you and the others in the Reichstag can find some value in your relationship to him."
"Ease up, Doktor. War is a dark time for all of us. We could all use some joy."
"Perhaps you are right. My assistant, Sophia, says I tend to be very... terse when frustrated."
"What you need is some time away. Not now, obviously. We need your research. But someday you should take that pretty Frau and your daughter to somewhere not so cold or swampy."
"Sophia and I have a purely work-related relationship. I do not wish to pursue anything further."
At the top of the staircase that hugged a stone wall, they were now in a higher tower with a brick fireplace against the wall and some crates in need of unpacking.
Lehmkuhl smirked, tapping his fingers against Maxis' chest.
"Come now, old boy. I heard your phone call as soon as we arrived in Austria to check up on her. There is something there, or perhaps I am an old... cold fool."
The two men exited through another doorway to some wooden scaffolding connecting it to the center of the castle where the living quarters had been designated.
"She is beautiful and I enjoy her company, though Samantha does not feel the same way. There is no replacement for her mother, and I know this will always be so."
"Loss must be quite the strain on her. My condolences, Herr Doktor."
Now they had finally arrived at the living quarters, guarded by a thick titanium door. Lehmkuhl knocked three times on the door, and rubbed his gloved hands together as two armed men let them in.
The entrance hall was a beautiful interior design like that of a quaint cabin on the countryside with a spot of wealthy amenities. Fine art lined the walls and flowers grew in pots on exquisite wooden drawers, despite the bitterness outside the stained glass windows depicting knights in armor.
"What a lovely living space. I am humbled by the craftsmanship of your men."
"Oh, this is none of our work, no. The former villager in charge of caring for the castle is the one who imported this artwork. All except the one at the end of the hall there."
Nearest the end of the hall was a large, golden framed painting of a man in red armor wielding a sword and sat upon a throne. At his side were two wolves.
"A beautiful piece, is it not? Well, it is a recreation of the original placed here by the former owner. Before we arrived he sent the originals away, and we have been trying to track them down..."
"Where is the owner? I would love to compliment him myself for this wonderful arrangement."
Lehmkuhl looked off, distant.
"Well, he... is being held in captivity. You must understand, he was very aggressive when we took control of the castle, and it would not be safe for him to know what we are doing here. Unfortunate, it had to go that way."
"Speaking of secrecy... I have been meaning to have this discussion with you, away from any of your scientists because it is for your ears only, for now."
"What is it?"
"After the letter you sent and the results from your tests on the, eh... what was it you called them again?"
"Undead. Brought back into living from their death."
"Ja, ja, very off-putting that name. But the prospect of an army of men previously thought lost? That sent ripples throughout the Reichstag. We came to a decision that this project must be pursued further. Much more than those eh..." Lehmkuhl raised his arms high to his sides, as if lumbering back and forth, "those gigantic, metal machines you sent designs for. Or, or that Wunder-waffe. 'Wonder Weapon' is a bit presumptious, hm?"
"The Wunderwaffe. In person, Richtofen's invention is very impressive."
"I am sure, Doktor Maxis, but is it right for Germany? It does not seem cost-effective or a definitively powerful device. Perhaps with more tests, it will be more promising. If we are to fund the production of a new weapon for our army, it must be cost effective and able to be held by our ground troops. The Wunderwaffe is much too large a device. But this undead army idea, it is the key to winning this damned war!"
"Thank you, Generaloberst."
"But it will not help us if the Allies learn of this potential. As you have said before, the Americans have a supply of Element 115 at their base in Nevada. The Japanese have their own near Tunguska. There is no doubt there is more we do not know about. When the Americans decide to end their shilly-shally-ing and support this war, if we are not careful they will have an army of 'undead' of their own."
"This is true, but how can I help?"
"As you know, this castle, the Rising Sun Facility, and the remote facility in Siberia are now under Group 935 control. But, the Reichstag has set aside two more new facilities within Berlin."
"Two more new facilities!"
Maxis raised his voice, partly in excitement, but also in fear as the prospect of more stress began to rise into his vision.
"Sh, sh... These two facilities are to remain secret from anyone whom you cannot trust completely. The first is an Asylum, Wittenau Sanatorium. In exchange for your control of the Rising Sun Facility, Division 9 will be partial owners of this Asylum. It is outside the city, somewhat, and with plenty of living patients to perform testing. The second facility is in a theater within the city. Things must be kept very quiet there, but to the public, the theater appears to be closed and being permanently renovated. From this location, the men in charge at the Reichstag, and the Fuhrer himself will be able to view your progress in unlocking the mind first-hand. As you will be working directly with the Reichstag, we will be funding all of Group 935's research for the foreseeable future."
Maxis rubbed his temples, looking side to side, thinking of the responsibility. "My god... thank you, Generaloberst. The others at the Reichstag and the Fuhrer have by greatest thanks."
"It is not a problem, Doctor Maxis. But as I stated, it is imperative that you do not share this with anyone until we have a definitive list of trusted scientists to transfer to these facilities. With such proximity to the Reichstag, exposing even their locations could be disastorous. When you are eventually transferred, you will not be able to bring your daughter, unfortunately. A child is prone to speaking out of school, as they say."
"I understand. But I trust all of my scientists. I have met them all, and what about the background checks you men have undertaken?"
"They have been successful, ja. But reconnaissance and espionage have changed drastically since our time, Herr Maxis. Anyone could be an agent of the enemy during war. A few of your men have stood out to me as strange. Perhaps I am wrong, but, I have an eye for these things. Novak, Marinus... as well as others. My point being, do not assume you can trust old friends."
From down the hall, Maxis could hear the pitter-patter of small feet, and came face-to-face with his daughter, Samantha, as she approached him for a hug. The two embraced for a few moments, Lehmkuhl even joyed by the exchange.
"Samantha... it is very nice to meet you. How old are you now?"
"Six. Daddy missed my birthday yesterday..."
Maxis looked into her eyes, saddened that he could not have been there the day before due to a meeting at Der Riese delaying his arrival.
"I'm sorry, Samantha. I... I promise we will celebrate. You and I... and Sophia... and Edward."
With each name, Samantha's face soured further, "Daddy, Eddie was very angry with me."
"Why is that, honey?"
"I was looking for my Teddy, and I found him on Eddie's room. But he yelled at me and said that was his Teddy and he wouldn't share."
General Lehmkuhl lost his composure, laughing lightly with a wheeze as he decided to leave the room with the new-found information.
"And did you find Teddy?"
"Yes, he was under my bed."
Maxis gently took Samantha's hand, walking her to her room.
"Where do puppies come from?"
"Puppies? They come from a mother dog."
"I like puppies, very much."
"Me too, honey."
"Can I have a dog?"