Chapter 16: "... I Will Build My Church"
Unknown Mountain Range, Himalayas
Dr. Edward Richtofen
May 16th, 1942
Richtofen could not help but bask in the glory of the breathtaking temple being constructed in, of course, his honor. The marvelous structure had been designed by the heads of Shangri-La's local village, and in an impressive feat of architecture, was nearly complete with the help of Group 935's machinery. The stone temple should also double as a secluded laboratory for Richtofen's personal experiments, much like his former laboratory at Alcatraz Island in the United States. This would be much more accessible, and most importantly, all his own.
After baking in the direct sunlight beaming down onto the dirt road, Richtofen found solace within the temple, where he had agreed to meet Doctor Schuster to tour the mining operation. He had not had enough of a chance to view the fruits of his labor recently, and would not have many more soon with Doctor Maxis' demands for his latest project; A project that Edward wished to discuss with Schuster today.
Inside, Schuster stood at the center of the room, looking over blueprints for the temple and surrounding construction projects on a stone slab. Only this small section of the room was in direct sunlight from the incomplete roof.
Richtofen emerged from the darkness, shocking Schuster.
“Ah-ah! My god, Edward, you frightened the daylights out of me!
“That was not my intention, Baron. How goes the operations at Griffin Station?”
“Progress on the MPD has been... limited. But you will be excited when you see this!”
From his bag, Doctor Schuster pulled out a rolled-up piece of paper which he unrolled and presented to Edward. Stenciled onto it was a logo, nearly identical to Group 935's but with the numbers '935' removed and the recently added Waffen SS portion of the hand being replaced with the original three vertical bars.
“Hm... what is it?”
Schuster seemed confused, turning to around to view it himself, before showing him again.
“It's... it's our proposed emblem.”
“... The Group 935 emblem?”
“No! It has differences, you see. It lacks the numbers, as well as Maxis' recent addition after partnering with the Reichstag.”
Edward paused, absolutely baffled. He now appeared visibly frustrated.
“Four months, and the committee came up with... that? A recycled emblem from Group 935?”
“Well, Edward, you see, the committee quite liked the symbol, just not Doctor Maxis. It gave them a sense of... familiarity.”
“Yes... well, I can clearly see you are not keen on it.”
“Not necessarily, Doctor Schuster, but it is clearly the same design! What was the point of changing it at all if they love it so much?! Whose idea was this?”
“Erm... well, in a way, mine. I said, 'Well, we were once a part of Group 935, and then we decided enough was enough and went rogue, taking what we needed with us. Perhaps it would be fitting to use a similar emblem, with a different number of course.'”
Edward, now vexed, tapped his finger on the center of the logo repeatedly.
“A different number! This does not even have a number! Mein gott, what were all of you thinking?!”
Schuster placed the paper on the slab dismissively, not able to look at Richtofen directly.
“It was just an idea. I proposed the number be 601: To signify the 601 days to create Griffin Station after formulating your grand plan for our operation. The others felt another number would cause confusion.”
Richtofen now noticed the disappointment in Schuster's face as he clearly had been proud of the work. He pondered for a moment, seeing that this issue is hardly one to be insulting over. He approached the stone, adjusting the paper so it was parallel with the edge.
“Nein, nein... I am just a little stressed. I did not mean what I said. Your justification makes quite a bit of sense, actually. Not to mention, there is plenty of time before our mission is complete to create a design we can all agree on.”
“Hm... actually, Edward, I... anticipated your approval of it, and as such I ordered that banners with this design be created... ”
Edward took a deep breath before releasing it as he tried to calm himself and prevent another outburst.
“That's... alright, Doctor Schuster... I have always admired your initiative. Besides... our group's emblem does not matter as much as the scientists within it.”
“Thank you, Edward. I apologize for the delay. Work at Griffin Station has been sporadic as all we have had to focus our research towards has been the MPD, which has hit a barrier, and the greenhouse in the bio-dome.”
Edward took Schuster's shoulder, guiding him towards the doorway leading outside as he spoke.
“Time for research on Vril and the pyramid is just as limited at the castle. Doctor Maxis has ordered we continue to work with the rocket experiments, as well as his infernal Ray Gun. Mein gott, his naming conventions are terrible! Imagine you are a young, blonde German lad und your allies have abandoned you. You must choose between two weapons to take on the entire Red Army: the... 'Ray Gun', or... the Wunderwaffe DG-2!”
“Oh, the Wunderwaffe!”
“Exactly! Finally, someone who knows what I mean when I say that a weapon should sound just as powerful as it performs! Doctor Wagner disagrees, of course. Always Doctor Maxis' lapdog... so sad.”
They were now exposed to the sunlight, making their way on the path towards the village which was located just uphill from the mine born into the mountain.
“Doctor Schuster, there is a reason I invited you specifically for this meeting.”
“Oh? What would that be?”
“Today I received an unexpected call from Doctor Maxis. He says that in the early hours of the morning, he received a package at his door. Inside were a set of sealed flasks containing a variety of colored liquid, all wrapped in a red piece of cloth.”
“Flasks? What did they contain, precisely?”
“The package also contained a note detailing their chemical composition. Among other elements, 115 appeared in the recipes. Maxis said he could find no one who was there early enough on campus who had ever seen this package.”
“Edward, I need to know what those concoctions were composed of. They sound eerily similar to my-”
“Perk-a-Colas. Yes, he noticed the similarity as well to your rejected project. He could not understand how you managed to perfect them without Group 935's funding nor supply of 115. He seemed... impressed with your work.”
“I... that is simply impossible! I abandoned the project after we began work on Griffin Station. Who would have stolen my research?”
“I was unsure of that myself. Doctor Maxis informed me that tests with one of them, the red one I believe-”
“Ja, that. Tests with an adult pig showed promising results. With the complete recipe, Maxis anticipates replicating the original mixtures und mass-production within the month. He has even asked that ideas be created for new variations of the formula as he plans to pitch them to the Reichstag.”
“This is... outrageous! That is my work!”
“That is why he called me, asking where you were. He wished to thank you personally for your contribution, but could not contact you.”
“Edward, I promise, I had nothing to do with this! Someone stole my work and handed it away to Maxis! Who would do something like this? Could it be the Order, those men you spoke of? I know I promised not to bring them up again, but they must be involved, to rile you up, perhaps, since you know me?”
Richtofen could see the revelation had created great stress for his long-time friend. His denial of his involvement in the conspiracy seemed as genuine as Edward could tell. But it was becoming harder and harder to be sure of the intentions of those he once trusted.
“Calm down, Baron. As I've said, we do not have to worry about them anymore. I will do what I can to find who did this, but it is imperative that you do not involve yourself. Do you understand? As far as Maxis is concerned, you are on an extended vacation from the scientific world. You must not be seen anywhere near Group 935 facilities.”
“I understand, Edward, I will not leave my position. But, please, you must bring the mixtures to Griffin Station so they can be studied! Whomever perfected my project must be one Hell of a chemist, pardon my language.”
“For the moment, the packaged mixtures are being kept at Der Riese. I will need to wait for Maxis to expand the project before I can bring anything to Griffin Station. In the meantime-”
“Yes, yes, do not involve myself. I know, Edward. You do not have to tell me again.”
“Gut. I appreciate that I can trust you, old friend.”
The pair had trudged through dirt and through a short patch of mud before arriving at the village square, with architecture adorned with local art and symbols carved into the stone. As they arrived, they could hear scuffling and yelling just around the corner of a home.
Richtofen and Schuster sprinted to discover the source of the commotion. A group of villagers were surrounding the head of the mining operation from Der Riese, who was tugging at the hand of a young boy from the village, as a man who appeared to be his father was yelling in limited English to let him go.
As Richtofen approached the crowd, they took notice of his arrival and cleared a path before kneeling in respect. They were now silent, aside from the father's cries and the boy's struggling.
“Gentlemen! What seems to be the problem, Herr Meyer?”
The miner continued to grip the boy's arm tightly, responding to Richtofen as he held him in place.
“There's a frayed wire attached to the generator that needs replacing. But it's deep in the rock and we need someone small to reach in and attach it.”
“Hm, that seems quite reasonable. And you, sir, what is the problem?”
Richtofen looked to the father, now kneeling as well with his hands together, begging Richtofen to free his son.
“Please... my son... no work... danger! Danger!”
The voices returned to Richtofen's head, “Will you allow these simple beings to trample over you? Convince them to listen to your will.”
“Living in a jungle with element 115 and men rising from the dead is quite dangerous, no? Surely the boy can handle this task.”
The man began to cry, bowing his head as he continued to plead, “Please! Please! Please!”
Meyer shook his head, speaking directly to Richtofen now.
“This one has refused to cooperate before. I say you tell them to follow our demands without questioning them, or we will never get anything done! Tell him I'm taking the boy.”
Richtofen paused for a moment, reviewing Meyer's words carefully. He turned his body to face Meyer, and approached him slowly, coming uncomfortably close to his face. He was a few inches taller than Meyer and looked down on him with a stern, stone-faced expression as he gripped his shoulders tightly. Meyer became visibly uncomfortable, averting his gaze downwards towards the sobbing man. Richtofen spoke softly so he, and he alone, could hear.
“They... are not our slaves. They are willing laborers, und they answer to me, not you.”
He squeezed tighter on Meyer's shoulders, his breath hitting his face due to the closeness.
“Why do they answer to me, you ask? Do they fear me? No. They respect me. They can see that I will lead them on a path to greatness. They see that I am their savior. Let me command my people. You... should return to your work in the mine, where you belong. Understand?”
“Bravo... old boy.”
Now sweating at the forehead, Meyer nodded his head in submission, as Richtofen released him and turned back with a smile on his face to the father, who was still muttering to himself and his son through the tears.
“Alright, calm yourself! Let us form a deal, shall we? Herr Meyer will still use your son for the very, very important task. But, you can take off work for the day. Ja? No work today! How does that sound?”
The villager shook his head, “No! No! No work! Please!”
Richtofen seemed perplexed by the fatherly attachment to the boy, a feeling he could not relate to.
“Really? I thought that was a fair offer, myself. I would have taken it!”
The man was still kneeling and begging, eyes red with tears. Meyer was visibly shaken and removed from the conversation. Schuster watched silently.
“Hm... ah! How about the boy does no work in the mines, but you solve this little problem und work for longer periods throughout the next couple of days? Hm? No work for the boy, the lucky little thing, und you will pick up his slack.”
The villager hesitantly nodded, finally standing from his position and taking the now released boy to his side.
“Thank you! Thank you. Richtofen.”
“Bitte! Send the boy running home, now, Herr Meyer will need your help with this wire situation.”
Meyer hesitated for a moment about speaking up, but did so anyway.
“How are we supposed to attach the wire? That's why I needed the boy!”
Richtofen placed one hand on Meyer's shoulder gently, still provoking him to flinch.
“I'm sure you will figure it out, Herr Meyer. I'm confident you will find a solution without my help. Goodbye.”
Meyer and the father stood silent for a moment, before Meyer led the two of them to the mineshaft's entrance, stepping inside the torch-lit hole. Richtofen looked to Schuster, pumping his fist into the air.
“Now that, Doctor Schuster, is how you run an organization! Ha ha ha!”
“That was... impressive, Doctor. Both parties seemed... satisfied.”
“Follow my example, and one day, when we've unlocked the MPD's powers und I have completed my life's goals, it will be you in my boots giving all of the orders.”
“Me? I don't know what to say, Doctor. I was beginning to think you did not think me capable of leading a project.”
“Of course I do, Baron, I taught you everything you know! I had hoped you would not take Groph's assignment as head of Griffin Station as an insult to your leadership ability. I simply wanted to avoid the appearance of nepotism!”
“Of course not, Doctor. Eh... thank you. I appreciate all that you've done. The station, this... jungle is simply marvelous.”
The crowd around them was now dispersing as they trekked down the hill towards the ruined temple, now the entrance to the mines.
“All you need, Mr. Schuster, is confidence! Confidence und assertiveness. Everyone responds well to these traits. Soldiers, laborers, scientists... we are all ready to serve the needs of others with the right leadership to light the way.”
“I will certainly work on that when I have the chance. Perhaps I will try with these mercenaries you hired?”
“Hm... ja, that could work.”
Up ahead a few meters was a soldier, sat down on a stone sunk in the mud, smoking a cigarette, his German MP-40 resting against a tree. Schuster began to pick up his pace, moving ahead of Richtofen, eager to exploit his newfound confidence. Richtofen felt the urge to stop him, but the voices prevented him.
“Let him go, Edward. How else will he learn?”
“You there, uh, sir. How many undead attacks have their been in the past forty-eight hours?”
The mercenary continued to puff smoke, looking at Schuster with confusion and then contempt.
“Erm, did you hear me? Can you answer the question? You don't seem to be doing much work-”
He stood up from the stone, now visibly taller than Schuster, and his build much more intimidating than it had seemed before. Schuster seemed unsure, and most of all, frightened.
Richtofen had now caught up with them, and jovially wrapped his arm around Schuster.
“Ah hah hah! Mein Freund hier ist Doktor Schuster. Er wunderte sich nur über die jüngsten Angriffe der Untoten.“
The soldier raised his hand towards Schuster, instructing him to stop speaking before replying, “Three, perhaps four attacks in the past forty-eight hours. Doktor Richtofen, we need more supplies, und certainly a higher payment for such work.“
“Ah, ja, of course, thank you for bringing this to me personally... I will see that your shipment is doubled, und your wages are... improved.“
The mercenary tossed the cigarette into the mud before wrapping the strap attached to his weapon around himself.
“The rest of the men are down below. The miners have begun blasting.“
Richtofen guided Schuster forward until they were near the mine's entrance, where another mercenary stood guard. The facade of the mine was held up by wooden scaffolding, and the interior was lit by gas lamp for many meters before the tunnel branched. Placed in the dirt leading outside was a set of rails for carts to transport ore, particularly 115.
Richtofen patted Schuster's back, smiling as he did so.
“A noble attempt, Mr. Schuster, but some nuts are harder to crack than others, to speak metaphorically. You must remember these men are not loyal to our cause... Group 621... 615, or whatever the number was. They are only loyal to the man handing them their Reichsmarks, which happens to be me. Give them time, und perhaps they will understand what we are working towards. Then, maybe they would work for free. But probably not.“
“I may have been a bit overzealous. Surely, they will come to know me as I continue my work here and at Griffin Station. No need to rush these things.“
Richtofen halted as the voices began to whisper in his ear, drawing his attention towards the end of the mine shaft.
Then came the eruption of echoed gunshots and screaming from inside. The man standing near the entrance motioned for them to stay back before pointing the weapon into the sparsely-lit mine. From inside, the screams grew louder before a set of lights from mining helmets cut through the darkness. The men scattered once they reached sunlight, heading for the secure radio station outside the village. Inside the cave there were flashes from the barrels of automatic weapons, and more boots as a set of armed mercenaries ran towards the light. Amongst them were village laborers, defending themselves with the help of pickaxes and hammers. They all formed a defense around the entrace, pushing Richtofen and Schuster back as they prepared for an ambush.
From inside the mine there was unnatural screaming and snarling. A set of figures passed by a gas lamp, one even knocking it to the ground as they lumbered forward. They could hardly be seen by Richtofen through the crowd within the dark cave, but he could see the dim lights of their eyes, completely void and deadset on the end of the tunnel.
The man from uphill came running down, followed by two more mercenaries, his face red and sweat dripping. He took aim with the others and crouched. The lamps in the tunnel began to fade as they were blotted out by figures inside.
The first one came into view, head first. Its skin was grey and covered in muck, the skin around its jaw decomposed. Its bare body was covered in tattoos and splotched with various bumps and lesions where maggots had lived. Its yellow pants were torn revealing bone poking through skin and muscle. It swung its veiny, thin arms, attempting to pounce as it entered daylight before an anonymous gunman tore a hole in its chest, knocking it back. It was quickly trampled as two more, equally rotten and disgusting corpses, charged forward. The surplus of ammunition proved to be enough to hold them at bay for now.
A stray bullet impacted a gas lamp near the entrance, cutting out the last available light to spot the attackers. It seemed almost endless, as the trained professionals fired in shifts, taking note of each other's ready status. Another stray bullet created a loud 'ping' as it bounced off of the metal rail, creating a spark which ignited the gas dripping from the hanging lamp. A few in the center of the horde were now burning at their legs, revealing the pile of corpses beneath and the empty tunnel to their rear.
As Richtofen watched in awe, he heard the whispering voices return, which drew him away towards the ground beneath him. He was shaken by the tugging of something at his ankle. Looking down, there was a filthy, brown and grey hand wrapped around him, and the ugly, terrorizing face of its host, snarling as it pulled itself through the shallow mud.
With the attention of everyone else drawn towards the mine, they had not noticed the riser. Richtofen moved swifting, pulling from his bag a small, relatively dull knife, leaning down and shoving it into the wrist of his attacker as he used his other leg to stomp on the wound. It grew angrier, rearing its head as it came out of the dirt. Richtofen continued repeatedly stabbing shallow wounds into the wrist, but it showed no sign of easing off. It pulled Richtofen's weight to the ground, and as he struggled, he toppled over.
Schuster had turned his head to see Richtofen's situation, attempting to alert one of the mercenaries. Edward's screams were silent compared to the hail of gunfire.
The beast's ravenous face grew still as the metal point of a pickaxe shot through the top of its skull to the bottom of its jaw, spurting blood in all directions. Its wielder was a village laborer who left the tool in place, before prying the fingers off of Richtofen's boot. Through the haze of adrenaline, Richtofen could see the outstretched hand of the man, a tattoo of a black sun on his chest. He took his hand, rising to his feet as gunfire ceased.
“Mein gott, thank you, I would have-“
As the villager kneeled to the ground, Richtofen could now see the festering wound in the man's neck recently acquired in the mines. He also noticed the shakiness of his hands and heavy breathing before coming face to face with his bloodshot eyes. As the group of mercenaries began to disperse in search of more undead, the laborer began to lower further, falling onto the ground, barely even alive.
Richtofen cocked his head around to the men around him, paying no mind to the dying man before him.
He kneeled down, examining the wound, gaping and filled with pus.
“That is... quite large.“
With no one paying any mind to them, Richtofen raised his voice, “Will anyone get this man to the barracks? He needs medical attention! This is surely infected!“
He had drawn the attention of two other laborers, who arrived and attempted to keep the man alive as they dragged him away.
Richtofen and Schuster were now left shaken standing in the middle of all the chaos. Edward looked at his blade, stained red with aged blood, before resting his arms at his side and turning to Schuster.
“It appears we will not be touring the mine.“
Schuster's complexion was pale and demeanor like that of a frightened child.
“So it seems.“
Edward began heading back up the hill, and Schuster followed in suit. The two men were silent as well as slow in their pace.
“Why do you worry your mind with these worthless beings?“
“They were going to just... leave him to die.“
Schuster turned to Richtofen, “There was nothing that could be done Edward. His injuries seemed... fatal.“
“What does it matter, Edward? Just another body to the pile. He lived a meaningless life, and he died for you. Take solace in the one useful deed you allowed him to perform.“
“Quiet! Stop tormenting me!“
Richtofen was now gripping the blade's handle so hard his hand was a bright red.
“I am sorry, Edward, I didn't mean to-”
Edward cut him off, “Nein, no, not you... you've done nothing wrong.”
He paused a moment to calm himself before continuing, “Do you know what they called me during my time at the front? I'm sure you've heard the nickname I was given. 'The Butcher'”
“I've heard these rumours, yes.”
“It began as a facetious nickname given to me by General Amsel during my time there, but he and his... men transformed it into propaganda. A tool for fear. The occupied peoples on the streets dared not to rebel against the Reich. 'Beware the Doc.' The Butcher would torture and tear you apart, with no morality or even a purpose. It is a fate worse than death to be in The Butcher's hands.”
They had reached a nearby stream, where Edward was crouching down, placing the blade of his knife into the water to wash away the blood.
“Every day I've thought about how... ludicrous it all was. I am a man of science. I took the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm. The Butcher should mean nothing to me... as time has passed, however, I've begun to wonder if he is truly gone. If perhaps, I am not as innocent as I seem, in my endeavors to do good. To do the right thing.”
He raised himself up, taking a look into the dull blade, before wiping it dry with his coat and placing it back into his bag. Schuster stood silent, listening intently. With nothing further, Richtofen began to head back towards the hill, but was stopped when Schuster asked him a question.
“Edward, where did you get a Hitler Youth Knife? You can't have been a member... “
Edward turned back, sullen-faced, replying simply, “It was a gift.”
He took a moment to respond, “During that time, I was invited to present some of my work in science to a group of Hitler Youth for the week. I was reluctant to, as children und I do not quite get along. At this time, however, I needed to form a strong partnership with members of the Reichstag, und this was the perfect opportunity to prove myself.”
“Was it a gift from the staff?”
“Nein... there was a boy in the group who had followed my work, only that which was published of course. He seemed to be the most interested in my presentation, and during my stay with them, he would constantly ask me questions I could not answer. It was a constant barrage of information und details that I did not care for. The boy simply would not leave me to myself. During a trip through Berlin, he confided in me that his father had left to fight in the war, leaving him and his sister with nothing. His father did not seem to care for him very much, denying him a chemistry kit every year for his birthday und physically reprimanding him when he would ask. He wanted to be a doctor and save lives.”
The sun was beginning to set towards the opposite side of the mountain, reddening the cloudy sky.
“On my last day, the boys created their own knives to use in their scouting trip. The child who had continued to follow me said that I must save as many lives as I can until he can become a Doctor. He came to me with his completed knife, und took from his belt a leather sheath. He had cut into the leather, 'Dr., ...' well, I can't remember his last name. He was glowing... with this expression of pride und happiness... und when he showed me the sheath... I took it and tossed it aside. He had ruined it, rendering it completely useless, and I told him as much! What a waste of raw material for a barely legible inscription! He ran off in tears, of course. The little brat could not handle the criticism. Since he clearly had no use for the blade anymore, he tossed it to the ground, und I collected it. Now... I mainly use it to spread jam on toast.”
The two men stood silent under the sunset, the buzzing of mosquitoes and chirping of crickets booming in comparison. Schuster searched his mind for words, before turning his body towards the upper hill and pacing towards the barracks.
“The sun is getting low, Doctor.”