Chapter 20: "Uniform"
MPD Room, Griffin Station, Mare Crisium
December 8th, 1942
Assigned to a post he could not leave, Doctor Schuster had found himself engrossed in a text-based adventure on the computer screen before him. Doctor Hoch, a man similar in age to Schuster, designed a game in his free time that can be played on Group 935's systems, where the user must type an action for the character to take after being presented with a prompt. The setting is in a mansion filled with undead, and the user must find a way out. Schuster continued to find himself stuck in the labyrinthine corridors of the mansion only to be eaten. Still, there was little else he could do outside of the game.
Doctor Groph had most of the scientists, including the head technician of Griffin Station, Doctor Kaufmann, working on Project 87: A wonder weapon project using Maxis' experimental Vril substance that Richtofen had managed to get a hold of. With Kaufmann being used to run diagnostics during the experiments, Schuster was the only scientist with enough knowledge about the MPD to watch over it.
Since they had begun sacrificing prisoners to the tank attached to the MPD, it has been emitting an enormous amount of energy that has overloaded several attached circuits in the past few weeks. It appears that with the energy going unused inside the tank, the pyramid begins to push this energy out into the air, damaging electronics over time and creating copious amounts of static electricity. The architects and engineers are attempting to formulate a ventilation system of some sort to send this energy into the vacuum, but this may not be possible without completely exposing the lab to space.
An undead ghoul approaches you from down the hall. It snarls and bounds towards you with its rotting, filthy hands raised.
Schuster typed one character at a time on the keypad:
You run backwards the way you came, passing a suspiciously crooked painting. You see a zombie coming directly at you, its putrid jaws flapping.
“No, no... ” He typed:
What do you attack with? You have: Butcher's Knife, Bolt-Action Rifle
You pull the trigger. Click. No bullets. The zombie pounces, tearing you apart.
You failed to escape the mansion. Would you like to try again? Y/N
“Damn, damn, damn!” Schuster put his hands on his head, shaking it in disapproval. “How could I have no ammunition? I thought I grabbed the box of bullets in the main hall! Infernal game!”
Schuster placed his face in his hands, rubbing his eyes and checking the clock mounted on the wall. Three hours alone, with no end in sight.
Gathering his composure again, Schuster closed the program, prepared to look over paperwork regarding MPD tests for the third time, when he heard the low rumbling of the cargo elevator to his right. Schuster was not aware of anyone scheduled to be arriving at the station at this time. He paced towards the entrance to the tunnel system, his knees aching from standing still at the computer system for so long.
A few moments later, in walked a man carrying a crate which obscured his face. He wore black military pants and a tannish-gray uniform with a red armband, on it a swastika. On the mysterious head was a German military hat marked with the eagle emblem of the Wehrmacht. Schuster was prepared to call security to deal with this stranger, only for him to place down the crate with his black leather gloves and reveal the familiar face of Doctor Richtofen.
Richtofen grinned with a friendly gesture to come closer for a hug. Confused but relieved all the same, Schuster came closer, wrapping his arms around his colleague and patting him on the back. He felt a sharpness in his chest from a set of medals and an iron cross on Richtofen's outfit. There was a patch with the name Amsel above the breast pocket.
“Edward, erm, where did you find this... uniform?”
“Isn't it sophisticated und stylish? Ha ha ha... Do you remember General Amsel? Wait, of course you don't, you haven't been to Earth in quite some time, heh heh. Anyhow, I got to know General Amsel while I was in France, und we hit it off so to speak. This is his old officer uniform.”
“That was rather kind of him to gift to you.”
“Nein, nein, it was the Reichstag who sent it to me. As it turns out he was shot by Russian snipers in Stalingrad in September. Boom! Right in the head.” He motioned a gun going off near his temple and the jerking back of his head from impact.
“Why exactly did you receive the uniform rather, than, ahem... his family?”
“This is quite amusing, actually. It turns out he wanted me to have it if he ever bit the dust... because I was one of his best friends! Ha ha ha ha! We knew each other for, what, four weeks before he left? Oh, that is rich... “
Schuster shuddered as Richtofen cackled, his laugh echoing throughout the area.
“Do you think, perhaps, they wanted you to have it as a sort of keepsake to remind you of the departed Amsel?”
“That is most likely the case, but why waste such a prestigious uniform by letting it gather dust on the shelf? Nein, the SS are all brainwashed, power-hungry criminals, but they know a thing or two about style und presentation. Mein gott, it fits me so perfectly... “
Richtofen looked at his arms, inside the jacket, as his pants, and at his chest, bobbing side to side causing the medals to clash with one another. He took notice of the patch that read “Amsel” and reached for his satchel wrapped around his body, removing his Hitler Youth knife and cutting away at the patch. It came off cleanly as Edward carelessly tossed it away before cutting away any loose threads to ensure the uniform was in perfect condition.
“Ah, I've been meaning to remove that. What do you think of the medals, hm? This one here was for bravery. It's a little rusted; It must be older... This one- “
“The outfit is impressive, Doctor. What is it you've brought with you?”
Schuster drew attention towards the crate Richtofen had arrived with. Edward smiled and unlocked it using the keypad at the face towards him.
“You will be excited when you see this, Baron... ta da!”
He had four bottles with screw caps and filled with liquid, each a different color: red, blue, green, yellow. On the faces of the bottles were stickers with unique designs and the names of each liquid: Juggernog Soda, Revive Soda, Speed Cola, and Double Tap Root Beer.
Schuster hastily grabbed the bottle of Double Tap Root Beer, unscrewing the cap and wafting the scent of the liquid to his nostrils.
“It even smells of root beer. Do they work?”
“Tests prove they are nearly perfect. Double-Tap allows for quicker neural synapses und thus quicker motion. Juggernog is shown to increase the consumer's strength three-fold, und increase toughness of the skin at a molecular level.”
“Just as I envisioned...”
He reached for the bottle of Speed Cola, before Richtofen motioned him not to.
“I would be careful mit the Speed Cola. I can't say for certain, but the ingredient used to increase the subject's reflexes may also be rotting the mind. Test subjects showed memory loss over time.”
“What about Revive? Is it able to heal tearing of the skin?”
“Any minor lacerations, ja. They still have not quite nailed the taste, however... “
“The bottles... are they mass-producing Perk-a-Colas already?”
“Not quite 'mass'-production, but dispensers are being sent to Group 935 und Division 9 facilities for further testing und review. Apprently Doctor Maxis is having quite the hard time explaining the very concept to the old crones in the Reichstag.”
Schuster stared longingly at the stickers placed on the bottles, before placing them back into the box and checking the monitor for any signs of activity from the MPD. Nothing.
Richtofen stood before him, arms behind his back, raising an eyebrow at Schuster.
“You're welcome, by the way. It wasn't exactly easy to acquire these samples.”
“Thank you, Doctor Richtofen. I will discover the chemical composition of each one when I find the time.”
Schuster did not even lift his head from the monitor as he spoke, before starting up the mansion game again.
Unsatisfied, Richtofen leaned over to put himself in Schuster's view.
“Are you being... obtuse, because you are still frustrated with me regarding the MPD? Because of what we did to those prisoners?”
“I have nothing to say on the matter.”
“Oh... really? Is that so? Because Doctor Groph told me you were moaning und whining about it for weeks... He has moved on... I have moved on, why can't you?”
“Because the tanks are leaking the energy! The... atrocity we committed was for nothing. We still have no progress on opening this magic gateway to the Aether you believe it to be... “
“These things need time, Doctor Schuster. You know that. Und how can you say it was for nothing? We are inching ever closer to stepping foot into another dimension! If there was any other way, I would have never ordered their deaths! Do you think I wanted to murder 26 men?”
“Of course not, Edward... but we do not know that this was the only way. I cannot move past this like you. You come in here, gallivanting in your Nazi's uniform acting as if none of this happened, but it did!”
“You don't understand, Baron, there is so little time left. We cannot waste time trying to find alternatives when we know something will work!”
“What do you mean there is little time?”
“Forget about it... I thought you cared about the cause, about humanity, about peace.”
“I still do.”
“If you are still loyal... then you will continue to work on unlocking the pyramid, without question. The road is long und dark... but I know where we are going.”
Schuster shook his head, “I believe in you Edward. I know you are not a bad person. You just cannot expect me to overlook the darkness we leave in our wake.”
“You can look wherever you choose, as long as we are moving forward.”
Richtofen adjusted the neckline of his uniform, heading for the door.
“I will be departing to Der Riese with Doctor Wagner soon... Doctor Groph will be taking over for me at the castle while I am away... und if I can still trust you, you will be in charge of Griffin Station.”
Schuster returned his gaze to the computer screen, replying, “You can trust me. Whether or not you will is your decision.”
The door slid open and Richtofen had left the room back towards the cargo elevator. As he heard it going up, Schuster paced towards the cave holding the MPD, searching his thoughts. Edward had hurt him deeply and seemed to show no remorse for his actions. He was never one to show any sign of regret, but looking into his eyes, Schuster saw nothing human about them.
He paced around the pyramid, his legs trembling from a combination of stress and low blood sugar. He peered into the void, spotless face of the pyramid to see his own distorted reflection. Not the young man from University anymore.
Schuster looked down towards the base, marked with symbols all around. Performing his own research, he had been unable to find any trace of known symbols that match them aside from Groph's own research papers. They may truly be Vril in nature, but whether or not Groph or Richtofen actually knew how to interpret them was uncertain. For all he knew, they could be meddling with a destructive force the likes of which cannot be imagined. All he could do was have faith... and trust in his friend.
He took note of the corner of the base, also adored with the circular top seen on the tank they had filled. It had been theorized this was an alternate energy tank, as was the two others at each of the corners. It then dawned on Schuster that perhaps all four must be filled to be able to unlock the gateway. He then shuddered at the thought of over a hundred men killed to achieve this goal. It may not be wise to clue Groph in on this theory.
Schuster moved himself back towards the front of the pyramid, looking into the panel where the egg still sat in the center. He bowed his head, thinking of the many men killed and buried beneath the dirt outside the station. He grew angry, furious he allowed this to happen. He took a rock from the ground, tossing as hard as he could into the blackness of the pyramid. It reflected off with a loud clang that echoed for a few seconds, leaving no mark.
Doctor Schuster moved back, sitting on the ground to try and calm himself. After a moment, he removed a pen and his diary from his labcoat, preparing to write of his day. This was until he heard something he would truly never understand.
It was a voice, somewhat quiet but able to be heard over the hum of the machine. Distinctly German and coming from seemingly the pyramid itself, it echoed in the cave for Schuster to hear.
“You will be spending a majority of your time with me, overseeing the mining operation und working with his designs.”
Schuster was absolutely gobsmacked as he realized this voice was that of Richtofen, but much more calm and reserved than usual.
After a pause, the voice returned.
“They discovered the dig site in France as they pushed forward through the front. Doctor Maxis says it is the largest supply of Element 115 in recorded history.”
Schuster was now sure it was Edward, with the mention of Doctor Maxis. He was unsure, however, of what he meant about a dig site in France. He had heard no such news of an Element 115 deposit there, and if that were the case Doctor Maxis should not be struggling to find more supply of 115 as he currently is.
“Doctor Maxis? Yes, yes, I am a great admirer of his work as well. He is a great man. He mentored me when I was still an undergraduate, und took me under his wing when I was at mein lowest... “
Baron searched his thoughts for an answer to this strange voice, which must surely be a hallucination. Richtofen said that he had not met Doctor Maxis until he was formally invited to Group 935. What Edward is saying is impossible, if he had not been lying to Schuster. He began to think this voice was Edward speaking to someone, possibly Doctor Wagner, and he has been actually working with Doctor Maxis on a project he is keeping from the scientists at Griffin Station... or perhaps just Doctor Schuster. This theory was torn apart, however, as the voice uttered its last words.
“I am just as excited as you are. You should come meet the others before we depart. My friend Doctor Wagner has been looking forward to meeting you... Welcome to Group 935, Doctor Schuster...”
Schuster backed away from the pyramid into the computer room. His world was spinning as he tried to process the meaning of the sounds he was hearing. They must be auditory hallucinations, that is all. Perhaps he is going mad. Could there be another Doctor Schuster, coincidentally? What are the chances?
The room was completely silent but racing thoughts passed through Schuster's head at a rapid pace. The silence seemed to fuel this mental haze, so he located a gramophone near the corner of the room, playing the recording, a piece by Bach. The music seemed to calm his nerves as he brought up the vitals of the MPD on the computer screen. Searching the log of power levels, he noticed a substantial increase over the past few minutes he had been within the room.
Doctor Schuster stared into the pyramid several feet away, vowing to stay as far from it as possible in the future. Something is not quite right on this station.