Town Square, Werfen, Salzburg, Austria
January 21st, 1946
So many men lost…
The past few months had been good to Cornelius; He was due for a promotion to Chief of Operations at Groom Lake after his many ‘successful’ operations while in the OSS and after its dissolution. Everything seemed to be going well for him as of late, but he just could not shake the lonely, hollow feeling looming overhead. Despite making off with a substantial amount of research and Group 935 staff from the Verrückt and Rising Sun facilities, they were inevitably lost to hordes of undead that seemed to attack relentlessly. Just when his Marines seemed to have cleared the outbreaks, more rose up from seemingly nowhere and wiped them out. Pernell regretted not speaking up when the OSS pushed for Peter to gather the undead research at all costs; Even now, the undead army is the Pentagon’s primary interest when it comes to the newly captured scientists.
Just yesterday, Major Sawyer and Major Staver successfully extracted forty surviving scientists and their families from the Der Riese Massacre as part of the first stage of Operation Stapler. Tensions were high for months as officers negotiated with one Pavel Gorki, the leader of the Soviet task force sent to poach the research and kill the scientists. Without the Russians even knowing, the scientists were extracted via the underground tunnels beneath the facility during negotiations. Thus far, Operation Stapler has been a resounding success.
Stapler would not have been possible without Pernell, at least that is what Sawyer told Director Donovan; But Peter is the real hero. He was the one who tracked down Doctor Richtofen and sent his proposition to the OSS. If only he could be here to see the fruits of his labor.
Cornelius trudged through the snow, his Marine escort behind him, finally arriving at the village just beneath the majestic Der Eisendrache castle. It seems news of the war’s true end has just set in, as the locals celebrated the Americans’ arrival by burning Nazi flags that had been hung around the village by the occupiers. There is no telling to what extent these people were exploited by Group 935 and their Die Spinne goons. Luckily, thanks to Doctor Richtofen’s advice, the Illuminati tracked down the remaining holdouts from the war in Argentina, putting an end to their carefully laid plans for a Fourth Reich.
Men, women, and children exited their homes, offering sweets and hot cocoa to Pernell and his escort, which they graciously accepted. The real reason they were there, however, was in Der Eisendrache ; The next stage of Operation Stapler would be recovering Group 935 scientists stationed here, which became a high-priority matter after it was discovered during an interrogation of a German officer that members of Group 935 at the castle facility had secretly built a base on the Moon. This was not a surprise to Pernell as a member of the Order, but it came as a shock to the few let in on the secret. For now, the Russians merely believe the castle facility is a rocket-test site and nothing more.
They arrived at a gondola station, where seemingly the whole town had congregated to wish them luck and send them off. For a brief moment, Pernell felt vindicated for his actions, seeing the joy in the faces of the innocents caught up in this war. The moment did not last.
Despite Doctor Richtofen’s key role in Operation Stapler in creating a list of demands to be met, he has not been seen since it went underway. Sawyer hoped that Edward would be found here at the castle, but Pernell knew the Doctor well enough; He always had a higher calling.
Upon arriving at the castle’s gondola station, the Marines began to fan out, ensuring the room was clear of any threats. Though Die Spinne had been thoroughly dealt with, one cannot be too careful when it comes to Germans.
The gondola operator, a sallow and sickly looking man, motioned for Pernell and his escort to follow him. They passed into the medieval stone-walled tomb of the Wolf King, where rows and rows of tables were set up as workstations along the walls. Passing into a corridor, there were shelves lined with unused ammunition. After moving up the stairs and past several laboratories long-abandoned, they had arrived in the courtyard. There sat a lone man with a greying head of hair and mustache, wrapped in a blanket repurposed from an ornamental rug. His skin was pale, much like the operator, and his expression was one of sorrow and fatigue.
“My name is Cornelius Pernell, soon-to-be Chief of Operations at the Nevada Test Site. On behalf of the United States government, you and your men are hereby pardoned for your crimes, given your understanding that your work is now confiscated, and you will pay your reparations through work for the Pentagon. I assume you are the representative for your staff at the castle?”
The disheveled scientist stood up, expelling a hand from the warmth beneath the make-shift blanket for a handshake. “Indeed, I am. I am Doctor Baron Schuster… former scientist of Griffin Station.”
Pernell shook his head, “You know, I half-expected to see Doctor Richtofen when I rode the gondola up here.”
Schuster’s expression did not change. “Sorry to disappoint you, soon-to-be Chief.”
Pernell decided to keep things light. “You can just call me Cornelius.”
Pernell glanced past the Doctor into a large laboratory converted into an infirmary, where men of a similar complexion were bed-ridden. “Forgive me, Doctor, but you look awfully ill.”
Schuster motioned Pernell and his escort to follow him inside, “We have been trapped in this castle for the past few months. Our food and medicine reserves have run low, so we have been forced to improvise. We had started to resort to eating vermin shortly before your arrival. Many of the men are sick and in need of medical supplies.”
“Why didn’t you contact anyone in the village?”
“They were less than hospitable in our first attempts to reach out for help. Besides, their fear of us was all that kept them from raiding the castle. We did what we had to do.”
Pernell felt some amount of sympathy for the scientists, “You did what you thought was right for your men. Luckily, you’re now in good hands. We’ve met most of Doctor Richtofen’s demands, with the rest currently underway.”
Pernell motioned for Corporal Kane, telling him, “Gather five scientists at a time and keep formation around them. We don’t need them getting into any trouble with the locals.”
“Yes, sir.” Kane ordered his men to fan out, helping some of the sickly scientists from their beds and heading for the gondola, leaving Pernell and Schuster to speak alone.
“So, Doctor, where can we find the teleporter to Griffin Station?”
Schuster sighed, as if he had been awaiting the question for months, “Unfortunately, that will not be possible. After the outbreak on the Station, protocol dictated that we destroy the teleporter. Its components have been repurposed to keep the castle’s electricity running.”
Pernell was frustrated, though he was not surprised. There must be something on that station that Richtofen did not want them to see yet. “Well, surely, Doctor, you have schematics for the device? Or replacement components?”
“Doctor Richtofen is the only one who knows the secret to teleportation at such a long distance, and he kept such information even from me. He’s a very secretive person.”
“I see.” Pernell could not help appearing disappointed. “Don’t worry, Doctor, we’ll find Richtofen soon enough and finally get some answers.”
Schuster seemed unconvinced, even negative towards the idea of finding Doctor Richtofen. In Peter’s research into Richtofen, he determined that Schuster was a close friend and confidant to Edward; It seems the war had changed their relationship.
Pernell looked over the sickly men struggling to stand, gathering their belongings as they prepared to depart. Most of them had rashes along their arms, possibly a result of the radiation from working with the Element. Some had bullet holes and missing limbs. It almost looked like a medical tent on the frontlines, not a laboratory full of doctors.
Cornelius asked Schuster, “How many men are left, Doctor?”
He let out a demoralized sigh, “I do not know the exact figure, but perhaps a couple dozen scientists are left along with a few others in our engineering department. No more than fifty.”
“An operation on the Moon must have taken quite a helping of manpower; Were they all lost in the outbreak?”
Schuster was no longer looking Pernell in the eyes, instead looking past him to the clock hung several feet above the fireplace, “Our group was twice that size when we arrived at the castle and carried out our orders. Despite a minimal amount of undead subjects being held at this facility… we were overwhelmed. We took any weapons we could and held them off from within these walls… ”
Schuster walked past Cornelius, slowly pacing over to a sealed door near the fireplace. He placed a key into the lock, pulling aside the heavy door. From his hip, he revealed a revolver that neither Pernell nor his men had noticed on him before. He carefully descended into the dark room via a staircase as Pernell followed cautiously.
Nearly at the bottom, Cornelius smelled rotting meat. Schuster pulled a lighter out of his pocket, lighting a torch on the wall and holding it in his free hand. He waved it over the center of the room, which clearly seemed to be some kind of dungeon. The source of the strange smell came from the center of the room: A pile of bodies stacked up over a meter high, burnt and each individual body without a head. It took every ounce of courage not to vomit on the stone floor below.
Schuster said as he stared at the pile of men, “For two weeks, the Untoten trapped us in this castle, dwindling our numbers. No matter how many we killed, their numbers grew. Then one day, without warning, they went silent. That… yellow light in their eyes faded, and they just stumbled around for a few moments, completely ignoring us. Then, without warning, they all began to scream, clutching their heads before they exploded. We did not see another walking corpse in the following months.”
Pernell shook his head, “And these… these corpses are all of the undead that up and died?”
Schuster hung his head, shutting his eyes, “We had plenty of time to hypothesize why they suddenly self-decapitated. We posited that she- … that whatever force is controlling them lost interest in killing us, at least for now... Its attention must have been driven elsewhere, and so it had no use for these bodies. We theorized that without the electromagnetic ‘signal’ of their leader entity, the brain becomes inactive, and the reanimated cells begin to fail at a rapid pace. Faced with this reality, that the brain is the key factor in their connection to one another, we decided to… behead all corpses present on site to avoid a future outbreak…”
Cornelius pressed him for more information, “What is this ‘entity’ controlling them? A person?”
Schuster seemed quick to dodge the suggestion, “I would not say that. Forget it, I am just personifying the unifying force connecting these creatures.”
“What about this other dimension that Doctor Richtofen hypothesized about? What is it, the, eh- the Aether?”
Schuster placed the torch back on the wall, pushing past Cornelius up the stairs, “Such things did not fall under my area of expertise.”
Cornelius decided he should leave the questioning to his colleagues. Though, he had one more question, one on behalf of another group of superiors. As the two of them returned to the lab, Cornelius pulled Schuster aside, ensuring no one was around to listen in on them.
“I’m sure you’d be interested to know that Doctor Maxis was not found at Der Riese alive… or dead. Would you happen to have any information on his status?”
Schuster looked away, guilt plain as day, “I do not.”
“A shame. You know, it’d be no shock to me. Gosh, so many people must have wanted him dead after he aligned with the Nazis. Important people, I’m sure.”
Schuster said nothing, attempting to leave as Cornelius outstretched his arm, keeping Schuster against the wall. Schuster was clearly afraid, so Cornelius nudged him in the right direction, leaning in closely to say, “I know about Richtofen’s quarrel with Maxis. I know the Illuminati ordered Edward to kill him.”
Schuster’s eyes lit up as he glanced up at Cornelius before darting them away, “I don’t know anything about that.”
Cornelius smiled, “I see Doctor Richtofen taught you well.” He cut right to the chase, “All I want is a yes or a no: Is Maxis dead?”
Schuster’s attitude turned from fearful to angry after a few moments, and he nodded while looking Cornelius in his eyes, “Yes.”
Cornelius patted Schuster on the shoulder. “Good, good. You know… you’d make an excellent member of the Order. Maybe someday.”
Cornelius pulled back, turning away to check in with his escort as Schuster grabbed his attention. Schuster said without hesitation or fear, “I’d rather die than do what you do.”
Cornelius shot him a glance, expecting a fearful response. Instead, Schuster stood tall and unfazed. Cornelius smiled before turning away again, saying, “Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that, Doctor.”