Typically, Doctor Maxis would find the act of organizing his office a calming reprieve from the stress of scientific authority. Today, however, was the beginning of the long-dreaded Kino Project. The Reichstag had funneled a large helping of resources and time into purposing a retired theater into a research facility with the primary goal of controlling the minds of the undead. Maxis knew, however, that even with such resources and brain-power, there may be no way to maintain control at all. He regretted ever bringing the idea of an undead army to the Reichstag in the first place. He had staked the livelihood of all of his scientists, as well as Samantha's future, on performing a feat that may truly be impossible.
The Kino Facility is meant to be a secret from the majority of Group 935, and especially from the general population. Only those hand-selected by the Reichstag and Doctor Maxis should ever know of its existence. One such person was Sophia, Maxis' assistant who previously served in a government secretary position. She had been helping Maxis set up his office with his personal belongings having now arrived. Now, however, she sat on his desk, legs crossed, smiling to Maxis who was hastily placing files into his cabinet.
“This is a lovely change of scenery... I mean no offense Doctor Maxis. Der Riese was just so... lifeless. Concrete walls und dirt... so far from the city. Here we are so close to, well, everything!”
Maxis dabbed at the sweat on his forehead with a cloth, before kneeling down to place another group of files into place, sorted chronologically.
“I suppose. It is certainly much more lively here, especially in the night. I'm finding it much harder to sleep with the constant noise.”
Sophia hopped off of the table to her heeled feet, straightening out her blouse as she did so.
“You will find yourself acquainted to it soon. You do know I grew up in the city, don't you, Ludvig?”
Maxis locked away the rest of his files in the cabinet, before placing the cardboard box they had been transported in back onto a rolling cart.
“Yes, you've told me before. You've lived and worked here all of your life. It is a shade different from my own upbringing in the countryside with no night life except for the buzzing of insects. For the first fifteen years of my life, I only knew... perhaps a dozen people personally. Here, there are so many. I've shaken so many hands, had to remember so many names, exchanged so many words. Sometimes I yearn for the simple life again.”
Sophia stepped close to Maxis, closer than any professional relationship would entail.
“We all wish to be young again, Doctor... “
Maxis began to push the cart to the door, stopping to look to Sophia. As they locked eyes, she averted hers, looking to the framed photos on Maxis' desk. One of Samantha on the day she was gifted Fluffy, another of Maxis with his departed wife, Hilda, pregnant with her unborn daughter.
Sophia spoke again as Maxis pushed the cart out the door into the hallway, “I have an idea, why don't we... you und I, und perhaps a few others, go out on the town tonight. I think you would quite enjoy the experience, und your scientists deserve a reward for all their work, don't you think?”
Maxis imagined the satisfaction of a well-earned break after the long move from Der Riese to Berlin. The thought of spending just a night independent of Group 935's morbid research was so alluring he was prepared to accept Sophia's offer. As he loomed over the enticing fantasy, Maxis came back down as he looked over Samantha's face in the frame sat upon his desk. In the corner of the frame was a drawing by her from a young age when he still had time to care for her. It was Ludvig and Samantha standing together outside of a house in a field, surrounded by flowers.
“We all deserve time away, Sophia, but now is not that time. The Reichstag needs this vital project to be complete before we can leave this facility. Do you not want to return home?”
Sophia shifted from one foot to another, appearing disappointed, “If I am being honest, Doctor, this place already feels like home.”
Maxis was taken aback, “That is understandable, but I need to return home to Samantha as soon as possible. She is coming to an age now where she will need her father around.”
“I thought Doctor Richtofen was caring for her, no? She will be fine, Ludvig. I'm sure she will understand.”
“Doctor Richtofen was my last choice. I can only hope Doctor Wagner can pick up the slack... Richtofen has become increasingly erratic and unpredictable.”
“You are becoming stressed, Ludvig.” She came closer to him to touch his shoulder as he pushed her away.
“Stressed does not begin to describe my state of mind. No, this is something more. The fate of my career... all of our careers rests on my shoulders during this experiment. You've brought my newspapers, surely you've seen the state of affairs on the Eastern front... I'm not afraid of what will happen if we do not create the army in time... but of how the world will react if we do.”
“You cannot begin to imagine it. What it is like to have every eye in the world watching over you, ready to determine your fate if you do not act as they want you to. I need to do as they say, Sophia, because I have promised them results in a timely manner. And yet you stand here, asking me to spend my time in night clubs, wasting away while Samantha lies alone in her bed, wondering why her father abandoned her to tame monsters!”
“I just wanted to help... I'm sorry.”
“Then help me by continuing to work diligently as I try and solve the problem... General Lehmkuhl will be here any minute to oversee the first round of tests. Be sure the others are ready before he arrives.”
“Yes, Doctor... “
Spirit deflated, Sophia raced to the door, ducking her face down as she left the room. Maxis now stood alone to gather his thoughts and prepare himself for the day.
He never wished to hurt Sophia, or anyone for that matter, but she held a childish mindset without any pretense of responsibility to anyone. How could he blame her, however; She was significantly younger than him.
Maxis picked up the photograph of himself and Hilda, looking into Hilda's face and feeling somewhat confused. He realized with a great sorrow that he was beginning to forget exactly how her face looked. After decades of loving her, it was like seeing her for the first time all over again. The memories flooded Maxis' mind as he remembered the contours of her face, the imperfections in her skin, and exact shade of brown in her eyes.
The positive aura of her presence soon became clouded by an angry self-loathing in Maxis' mind as he questioned how he could forget her; How he could forget the bond they shared.
Maxis set the frame back on the desk with care, shutting his eyes to hold back his frustrations. What would Hilda think if she knew Ludvig was attracted to his young assistant? What about the decades of unrequited, irrefutable love for one another? Could he ever love another? For all his achievements in scientific and medical research, these questions and those like it Ludvig would always defer to her. She always knew the right answer.
Perhaps Sophia is a distraction; Her very presence an obstacle in the way of Ludvig's career. Ludvig pondered how to move forward. He could not send her away, not after all that she has seen, no matter how much Ludvig desired to. The only option now is for Ludvig to look past this animalistic attraction to Sophia, and focus on completion of the task at hand.
He peered wistfully at the clock above the door frame, noting the remaining two and a half minutes before the scheduled meeting with General Lehmkuhl. With it taking roughly a minute to reach the foyer entrance from his office, Maxis sat in his chair, closing his eyes as he counted down the minute and a half of free time.
Maxis tried to imagine himself and Samantha in a year's time. After completion of the Kino Project, Ludvig sold his assets within Group 935 for a sizable sum of money and retired from science. Doctor Porter threw Ludvig a large party in honor of the triumph in Group 935's work, as leadership of the organization shifted to him. Doctor Richtofen was in attendance, and he apologized for his behavior the past couple of years, thanking Ludvig for teaching him so much of what he knew. With Ludvig's strict leadership, Richtofen created the first working teleporter for living beings, revolutionizing transportation for all mankind. After the war, when the dust settled, the teleporter would be what Group 935 was remembered for for the rest of human history, not the undead army. With his riches, Maxis would buy a modest house on the countryside, and with his connections to the Reichstag he would give Samantha access to the best private school near their home.
There, in that house, Ludvig will grow old, and Samantha will become a woman. Eventually, however, she will leave. Then, Ludvig will be alone. Alone again.
As the small hand of the clock struck nine, Maxis bolted out of his chair to the door, now leaving a minute later than he had planned. He nodded as professionally as possible to passing scientists and he passed rounded around hallways to reach a waiting area. He turned left, descending a small set of stairs, before turning left to look out on the foyer. At the base of the staircase was General Lehmkuhl, chatting with Sophia with two SS soldiers by his side. Maxis adjusted his tie before descending the staircase.
“Apologies for the delay, Generaloberst, there is no excuse... “
“Ah, ah, there is no need for apologies. I know the work being done here takes time und I am sure you are a very busy man.”
Lehmkuhl looked down to his boots, shaking his head, as he corrected Doctor Maxis, “Actually, Doktor, it pains me to say this, but I have been promoted to Generalleutnant.”
“Why should this pain you, General? If I had known of this promotion I would have congratulated you in my letters.”
“Do you remember General Amsel? I believe you met him two years ago at the castle's opening, ja?”
“Yes, I do.”
Lehmkuhl sighed, “Last September, he was killed by a Russian sniper in Stalingrad. Since then, I have taken his rank and place on the Eastern Front.”
“Mein gott, I had no idea... Generalleutnant Amsel was a friend of all of us at Group 935. What an incredible loss for the Fatherland.”
“Ja, ja... Amsel was a greater man than any of us. We would not have the foothold in Stalingrad we hold today if it were not for his leadership... He was a brave man, inspecting every garrison near the front lines, knowing his soldiers by name... all to be killed by a coward from afar. Such is the way of communists: cheating, lying, backstabbing bastards.”
“How might be contact his family? We would like to offer our condolences in any way we can.”
“His... wife left him for America when he was sent to the Soviet Union. There is no one left for you to contact.”
“If there is anything that we can do, we would be honored. Nothing, however, will amend such a tragedy.”
“Indeed, Doktor... “ Lehmkuhl patted Maxis on the shoulder, leaning in to speak, “However, your work here will ensure his actions were not in vain. The Soviets will not see your army coming, und General Amsel's work will be done... “
Doctor Maxis grinned, glancing to Sophia for assurance as the thought of failure began to wrap its arms around his throat. He looked back to General Lehmkuhl, “He would be incredibly proud of what we have accomplished in the past two and a half weeks.”
Lehmkuhl grinned, revealing the gap in his teeth, as he motioned towards the staircase with an open hand, “So, shall we look over your progress?”
“Of course. Sophia? Inform the stage crew that we are about to begin.”
Sophia returned a grin, not one she would normally give to Maxis, but one of falsehood and professional courtesy. “Yes, Doctor.”
She turned, pacing towards the doorway beneath the stairs that led to the stage. Maxis led Lehmkuhl upwards towards the waiting area, and then left into a locked doorway. He knocked at the wooden door, as it came open, revealing Doctor Weber.
Maxis nodded to Weber as he entered the Projectionist's Room. Several shelves lined the walls, all brimming with film reels marked with Group 935's insignia. The projector sat near an open, rectangular window overlooking the stage and the arena filled with seats. Only a handful of the seats nearest the stage were occupied, with those in the seats sitting nearly completely still looking up at the screen. On the rolled-out projection screen was a repetitive video of a dot, disappearing and reappearing on different sections of the screen. Near the stage from a set of loudspeakers, a small beep would play every time the dot appeared on the screen.
General Lehmkuhl looked down on the occupants of the theater, squinting to look closer at their pale, gray heads, which seemed to dip left and right as the dot moved around the screen. Nearby the screen were multiple soldiers armed with MP-40's.
“Mein gott, that sound... is incredibly annoying, is it not?”
Doctor Weber chimed in, “The sound is not pleasant, but it keeps them docile before we begin the daily exercises. It was actually Doctor Richtofen's idea to use repetitive sound as a method of mind control.”
Lehmkuhl's voice lit up, “Ah! I remember Doctor Richtofen, he's not around here is he?”
Doctor Maxis rolled his eyes, sure that no one could see in the dim lighting of the projection room, “He is not stationed at this facility. For the moment, he is still at Der Eisendrache.”
“If this works, Doktor, you must send him my regards.”
Lehmkuhl twisted his head as Weber left to fetch another film reel, and something in the corner of the room caught his attention.
“Was ist das?”
He approached something covered in a light blue tarp underneath the clock on the wall, Maxis following behind.
“That is a prototype of a new iteration of Doctor Porter's weapons upgrading machine. After we began prototyping more approachable designs for the Perk-a-Cola's, he had the idea to create an improved version of his own device in a similar charming style. It is currently non-functional, however, and, a bit crude.”
“If it is covered, it is none of my business, Doktor. I was simply curious. I trust in your projects. Speaking of, shall I see the demonstration?”
Maxis looked to Doctor Weber and nodded as he removed the current reel from the projector, and inserted a specially marked one from its case. Maxis and Lehmkuhl approached the window as the film began.
The speakers began to project the same repetitive beeping sound as before at a consistent interval. On the screen flashed an image of Doctor Maxis, who stood silently looking at the audience for a few moments. The viewers were restless for a few moments due to the change in visuals. They soon became acquainted with the image of Maxis and settled down to listen to his commands.
Maxis motioned towards a particular test subject in the front row, “Watch the one in the second seat on the right. He is an example of our best subjects.”
The Maxis on the screen began to speak, “We will begin by raising our right arm into the air.” Maxis then began to raise his right arm above his head like a salute.
Lehmkuhl leaned in close to view the response of the test subjects, and his eyes widened as one by one, they slowly began to raise an arm into the air, some right and some left. They held their trembling arms in the air for roughly eight seconds, before the screen Maxis lowered his, and the subjects followed along.
“Mein gott, how can they hear the commands through that awful sound? It is as loud as the film.”
Doctor Weber retorted, “That is why it works so well. They are already receptive to the repetitive, calming noises, which allows us to slip in commands freely without their minds rejecting them.”
“This is... marvelous, Doktor, sehr marvelous!”
The Maxis on the screen raised his left hand into the air, palm upwards, “Raise your arm to the sky. Keep it there.”
Like a dog, they followed the command instantly, keeping their arms in the air as long as the film dictated.
Lehmkuhl inquired, “Have they been able to do anything more significant, such as, say, opening a door? Carrying objects?”
Maxis replied, “We have begun with simple commands that will not divert their attentions away from the screen. We are slowly determining the best candidates for more mobile experiments.”
Lehmkuhl chuckled to himself, shaking his head, “At this rate of progress, they will be the ones running the experiments soon enough!”
Maxis chuckled with him, looking to the blank-faced version of himself on the projection screen.
“Up... down... up... down...”
Ludvig seemed almost entranced by himself when the film suddenly froze on this frame him lowering his hands.
Doctor Weber seemed confused, looking to the projector, worried, “Was ist los?”
Maxis and Lehmkuhl jolted backwards as the image of Maxis on the screen suddenly zoomed in to his face. Maxis' blood turned cold as the screen flickered on his own blank, dead expression, and the repetitive beeping audio suddenly became a high-pitched, electronic wail.
Lehmkuhl covered his ears, “What is... was ist los, Doktor?”
The screen quickly changed frames to a blank black background, and in the foreground was a white symbol of a pyramid with a human eye at the top. It stayed on the screen for a moment before the loudspeakers let out a distorted voice that echoed the same words, over and over, throughout the theater, “Kill the Doctor.” The screen flashed back to Maxis' face, then to a black background with the words: “Kill the Doctor” and “Töte den Doktor“. As the words rang out in the theater, the film would switch between Maxis' face and the message, again and again.
The subjects quaked in their seats, thrashing their arms around, some tearing each other apart. One had managed to pull himself from the restraints, and leapt towards a soldier stood by the screen. He gunned down the subject with three loud gunshots, which only served to rile up the audience even further. They were now groaning and screeching as they waved their arms towards the men on the stage.
Maxis snapped into action, ordering Weber, “Remove the reel, NOW!“
He then approached a system on the wall that led to the loudspeakers in the theater. He switched the audio to be sourced from the speaker in the Projector's Room, shouting, “Men, remain calm! Restrain any test subjects that you can, and kill the rest. Do NOT harm Subject Two-Six or Subject Three-Eight. When the subjects are contained, find us in the foyer. Do not let ANY of them leave this facility!“
Maxis turned to Lehmkuhl as Weber removed the reel from the projector, and turned on the lights to the stage. He motioned for him the two SS soldiers to lead the way as they followed. Weapons raised, they guided the group through the waiting area and into the foyer where a crowd of scientists and Sophia were waiting.
Maxis ran ahead of the armed men down the stairs and towards Sophia, “Are you alright?!“
“Yes, Doctor, I am fine. I was here when I heard the gunshots. What is happening?”
Maxis ducked his head in shame as he turned back to see the shocked and frightened Lehmkuhl now approaching him.
“Only a minor setback. A problem with the projection.”
Lehmkuhl placed his arm on Maxis' shoulder, pulling him aside, “What happened in there, Doktor?” His expression and tone seemed to be more out of fear than anger, which is marginally better for Maxis.
“Something went awry with the projection. That was not the film we had prepared. At least... not near the end.”
“Why would it say such awful things towards you, Doktor? Did someone in Group 935 tamper with your films?”
“That is incredibly unlikely, with all due respect, Generalleutnant. My men are vetted, and Doctor Weber and I are the only two scientists who know exactly which reel we planned to use today.”
Lehmkuhl turned to Doctor Weber, who pushed his glasses atop his nose closer to his sweaty face. He shook his head, “Nein, nein! Doctor Maxis, I swear to you that I ensured the correct film was in that case just hours ago. I watched it in its entirety. This is not my doing.”
Lehmkuhl moved in closer, looking up from his short stature towards Weber, “Then who did this? I am returning to the post and reporting what I saw today exactly. I believe in this project, Doktor Maxis, but I demand an investigation and an answer to this disruption and any further disruptions in the near future. Do you understand, Doktor?”
Maxis nodded, “Yes, Generalleutnant... “
“Gut, we should be leaving this madness, men... “
Lehmkuhl motioned for his two personal SS soldiers to lead the way towards the exit out of the theater.
Maxis ducked his head to the ground, closing his eyes and trying to picture his future with Samantha. He could see the house, the country, he could see her. But as he looked closer, the grass surrounding the home began to wither away and die. The perfect sunrise was blocked by a flurry of clouds. The house was completely empty.
Sophia approached Maxis, putting her palm to his chest as she spoke closely to him, “What awful things were said towards you Doctor? By whom?”
Maxis opened his eyes, taking Sophia's hand and pushing it away, “Do not worry, Sophia. It is nothing I wish to discuss.”
The two of them peered into each others' eyes for a few moments as the crowd of scientists chatted with one another. Ludvig found solace in her eyes, wide and bright, and though he had not noticed before, he could see now that they were brown.
Now in reality, Maxis let go of Sophia's hand, placing his own at his side. Sophia then averted her eyes away towards the wall. As she let out a sigh, she reached for the handbag in her right hand, and removed a small, red letter which she handed to Maxis.
“I found this in your mail box before the General arrived. There is no return address... perhaps it is from Samantha.”
Maxis took the red letter, nodding to Sophia before turning his back to her, “Thank you, Sophia.”
He approached the bar of the foyer, its cabinets stocked with vodka and beer that were off-limits during work hours. He placed the letter on the bar, pulling it open to reveal the contents. It simply held a blank white card. Upon flipping it to the opposite side, however, there was a short message in black ink, and at the bottom, the same symbol he saw in the projection screen just minutes earlier: the pyramid and the all-seeing eye.
“You are being judged, Doctor Maxis. Today was the first of many demonstrations of our influence. Do not underestimate us Doctor, or you and those you care about will pay dearly. We know where Doctor Richtofen and Samantha are at any given moment on any given day. If you wish to see them go unharmed, you will do exactly as we demand. You will receive more messages from us, some like this, others in a different manner. We implore you to pay attention. You are always being watched.”