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  • The Night

    An abandoned airfield

    Sgt. Nikolai Belinski

    October 15th, 1945


    Nikolai could barely see a few meters in front of his face, his vision obscured by a thick layer of fog, made worse by a drunken haze. The only thing keeping the cold gloom from getting to the Russian was the nonstop stream of vodka entering his body.


    “What makes you think there’s going to be a plane here, German? This place looks abandoned.” The American, “Tank” Dempsey, walked behind Doctor Richtofen, his eyes fixed on him at all times. Nikolai did not blame him; Germans are not to be trusted.


    Doctor Richtofen seemed wholly unconcerned with the group’s mistrust, “Believe me, Dempsey, this place is not as unassuming as it seems!”


    “What’re we dealing with? More Russians? Nazis? Freakbags? ” Dempsey asked.


    “If we locate a plane quick enough, then no one will stand in our way! Don’t worry your little head so much, Dempsey, you’ll hurt yourself.”


    “You’re acting real peachy for someone on the run from the whole friggin’ Red Army.”


    “We are not on the run; We are on a mission, one that happens to involve some running! A mission to put an end to this Zombie problem, und save the world! ” Doctor Richtofen pumped his arms into the air with exuberance, before resting them at his side.


    Nikolai took one hearty gulp of his bottle before understanding what Richtofen had said, “You mean we are going to fight all zombies in the entire world?!”


    Dempsey chimed in, “Last I checked, on our side we’ve got three men… and you, Doc.”


    From the rear of the group, the normally silent Japanese officer scoffed, “You embarrass yourselves. The Doctor’s plan would not be so simple; The wisest path to vanquishing the demons is to defeat their leader!”


    Dempsey shook his head and chortled, “Those meat sacks are mindless. They ain’t got no leader!”


    The Doctor turned around, pacing backwards towards their destination, “Actually, Takeo wins the prize! Their master resides in another dimension: The Aether. In order to defeat her- ahem, it, there is certain knowledge I must possess; Knowledge which is found in my diary at the Rising Sun Facility.”


    “What the hell do you mean another dimension ?!” Dempsey, like Nikolai, had grown tired of the Doctor’s vague explanations.


    “Just let me handle such details, und I will let you three do all the shooty shooty bang bang!”


    “I’d say with pleasure... if I had a gun to do some shooty shooty with.”


    Up the curved, gravel path and past a clump of dead trees, the group had arrived at an old bunker. To the left was a courtyard with a broken down German army truck, and in the distance to the right was a tall radio tower, the red light at the tip denoting it still had power. The bunker, however, was deathly silent without any sign of life anywhere. The windows had been barricaded with sandbags and wooden boards, and there were spent bullet casings amongst the rubble on the ground. There was even dried blood splattered along some surfaces, but no bodies.


    Richtofen glanced around, appearing uncharacteristically disturbed, “It’s not quite as… inviting as I remembered.”


    Takeo’s skin had gone pale, “I sense a great evil in this place…


    Nikolai took an opportunity, nodding his head and pacing around, “Is not so bad; It reminds me of childhood home! Better atmosphere, though.” He glanced at Dempsey, catching a partially-concealed smirk after he told the joke. Richtofen’s mind was visibly elsewhere at that moment. Takeo simply grimaced, trying his best to ignore Nikolai. In all of Nikolai’s attempts to garner some camaraderie within the group in their short time together, Takeo always disapproved. Nikolai had quickly grown to despise Takeo’s smug, self-righteous attitude.


    Takeo spoke directly to Richtofen, as if Dempsey and Nikolai were not physically there, “We should find a higher vantage point; Then we may more easily locate a plane. You and I can look upstairs, while they search the rest of the building.”


    Richtofen snapped from his trance, smiling and placing his palms together, “A wunderbar idea, Takeo!” 


    Doctor Richtofen prepared to walk away with Takeo, before Nikolai spoke up, “Wait! I do not trust German alone with Takeo.


    Dempsey agreed, cocking his head, “I’m with Nikolai, you two’ve grown a little too fond of one another. Me and the Doc will go upstairs; Nikolai, you and Takeo scout out the ground floor. Maybe find a flight plan or some damn guns.”


    Takeo responded, “He who mistrusts most, should be trusted least.


    “What is that, some kind of proverb?” Dempsey shook his head, “Well I’ve got one my Aunt always told me: Spare the rod, spoil the broth.


    Takeo said nothing, trying to understand the metaphor. Nikolai did not even bother trying to decipher any meaning, but he knew he agreed with the American.


    Nikolai regretted speaking up now that he was stuck alone with Takeo. Nikolai reared his head back to down a helping of vodka, nearly dropping the bottle as the bunker shook with thunder. Through the caved-in ceiling, the four men looked up to the skies, where behind the grey clouds there was a storm brewing with no rain.


    Looking for an answer to the bizarre weather anomaly, Nikolai looked to the German, whose face showed a twinge of fear, before he returned to his previous, confident state.


    “We should find the plane before the storm blocks our path… After you, Dempsey.” Richtofen motioned to the staircase with a polite gesture.


    “Not a chance I’m turning my back on you. Move.”


    Dempsey aggressively shoved Richtofen in front of him, and the pair ascended the stairs, leaving Nikolai and Takeo to search the lower floor.


    Nikolai glanced at Takeo, who had already turned up his nose at him, heading for a nearby open doorway. Nikolai took a long, deep drink of vodka before joining him. He remembered nothing of his life before waking up at the German facility; But something inside him pushed him to drink so that these memories would never come back. The numbness he felt afterwards was comforting.


    Nikolai passed through the doorway into a dim concrete room. To the right were more boarded up windows, and to the left beneath a set of stairs were several crates being stored, as well as a table with a lone radio on top. In the corner of the room was a long, wooden box which was illuminated by a lone hanging light on the ceiling.


    Before Nikolai could approach the box, he stopped at the sound of creaking beneath his feet. Beneath him was the door that once blocked the doorway, and there seemed to be writing in big, white letters on its surface. Nikolai leaned in close, trying to compensate for his hazy vision, making out clearly three letters, ‘H,’ ‘E,’ and ‘L.’ The fourth letter looked incomplete, leading to Nikolai verbalizing his attempt to decipher the writing. “Hel-... Heli… Helt… No, wait… uh…


    His muttering had caught Takeo’s attention, who voiced his irritation, “Does your drunkenness cloud your vision as well as your mind?! It clearly says, ‘Help.’”


    Nikolai shot Takeo a resentful glance, then cocked his head as he read the writing again. This would be the word that makes the most sense in this instance, but there was no chance in Hell that Takeo would get such satisfaction from Nikolai.


    Nikolai slurred his words, “I can see things well enough, thank you.


    Takeo was unamused, “I do not see why the Doctor chose you for this mission. You have done nothing but drink and share witless stories!”


    Nikolai sloshed around the vodka left in his bottle, chuckling to himself before drinking the rest, “You are just jealous because I get to drive the truck!


    He noticed Takeo’s stance had changed as his whole body was pointed towards Nikolai, and his hand gravitated to the katana at his hip.


    Takeo said, “I have no reason to be jealous of you, Russian. My ancestors guide me upon a chosen path as the Emperor’s right hand.”


    Nikolai could tell that Takeo expected him to fear death; Fortunately, he did not.


    “Such a big man with a big sword. Would you kill an unarmed man? Have you any honor?”


    Takeo gently removed the blade and its sheath from his belt, placing them on the ground. “I do not need my family’s blade to kill you. It is your honor that is in question, Russian.”


    Nikolai placed the bottle to his lips, only droplets of vodka reaching his tongue. He peered down the neck, and he felt a heaviness in his chest. Through the glass he looked at Takeo, and through the glass he looked like someone familiar. Someone who deserved to die.


    Nikolai grinned, placing the empty bottle onto the long, wooden box in the corner. and removing his satchel of vodka bottles.


    The two stared at each other for a few moments, and eager for a fight, Nikolai charged forward, letting out his battle cry. He put his full weight into a fist, taking a swing for Takeo’s jaw. It barely whiffed, an opportunity which Takeo seized. Takeo slammed his knee up into Nikolai’s chest, throwing his weight off-balance, before knocking him down with a kick to the head.


    Nikolai’s body twisted, and he fell head-first into the wooden box, knocking the empty bottle to the floor with a clang. As he attempted to try again, both Nikolai and Takeo were mesmerized by music that seemed to emanate from the wooden box. It was a playful tune, and it played along as the top of the box came open, revealing a weapon, seemingly a bolt-action rifle. Before Nikolai could blink, the rifle changed form instantly to a handgun, then a heavy machine gun, and on and on it changed forms, rising up due to some unknown force. When the tune reached its climax, the weapon began to change more slowly, finally resting in place as a German MP-40 submachine gun.


    Nikolai and Takeo were speechless, all of the previous animosity dissolved. Nikolai raised his body up, wiping the blood from his nose and reaching out to the weapon. It slowly descended back into the box before Nikolai took hold of it. He removed the magazine, confirming that there were factory-new bullets inside. The gun had a clean finish, as if right off the assembly line.


    Akuma…” Takeo stepped back, pointing to the gun in Nikolai’s hands, “That weapon… it was supplied by the demon master that Doctor Richtofen spoke of. Put it down!”


    Nikolai ignored Takeo completely, feeling the cold, hard steel in his hands. He looked past the barrel of the weapon, now pointed at the ground, and he felt a great sorrow. He placed it against the wall, gazing back at the magical box.


    After touching its surface again, the same process began, and another weapon was materialized in front of Nikolai. It was a rifle that Nikolai did not recognize; Upon further inspection, it seemed to be a semi-automatic with wooden parts and English writing, meaning it could be American. Nikolai also noticed a heaviness in his uniform’s pockets, checking them to find spare magazines for the MP-40 and the rifle that were not there before.


    As Nikolai reached again for the box, Takeo called out, “Enough! Your actions could unleash the spirits into our realm!”


    Nikolai touched the box’s surface anyway, “Truth does not care for your superstitions, Takeo.” The box did not open like before, so Nikolai attempted to force it open, “... And truth… is… I want… more… vodka!”


    Despite his efforts, Nikolai could not open the box. He retrieved his satchel of vodka, wrapping it around himself, then grabbed the MP-40 and the rifle, heading for the stairs as he called out, “Dempsey! Come see what I found !”


    He halted completely at the sound of a voice coming through the radio on a nearby table. It started faint, undecipherable amongst static, before growing clear. It was a German voice, not like Richtofen’s, “We must ascend from darkness... Our salvation lies above.


    Nikolai glared at Takeo, “What did you do?!”


    “I have done nothing!” Takeo replied.


    The building shook with thunder, and from upstairs came Doctor Richtofen holding a bolt-action rifle with an attached scope, and Dempsey holding a pump-action shotgun.


    Taking note of their weapons, Nikolai asked excitedly, “Is there magic demon box up there too?!”


    “A what?” Dempsey was in a panic, “Forget about that, Nikolai, we’ve got bigger problems. We’ve got freakbags on the way!”


    Takeo scolded Nikolai, “No doubt retribution for your greedy actions.”


    Nikolai scoffed and rolled his eyes.


    Dempsey continued, “Good news is we spotted a plane about a hundred meters away. Bad news is we’ll need to fight through the horde to get there.” Dempsey yanked the rifle from Richtofen’s hands as he offered a pouty frown, then shoved it into Takeo’s arms. He then handed him several five-round clips, saying, “I didn’t trust the German with any ammo, but I’m gonna have to put some faith in you. You’re probably our best marksman.”


    Takeo objected, “I do not trust these weapons! They are given to us at what cost? Our mortal souls?”


    Nikolai raised the guns up, saying, “Cost is for free, Takeo! Is the beauty of Communism!” He handed the MP-40 along with ammunition to Doctor Richtofen, who became giddy with excitement as he awkwardly wielded the weapon in his arms. Nikolai motioned to Takeo, explaining, “See? No charge!”


    Dempsey glared disapprovingly at the Doctor, muttering, “Don’t get any funny ideas…”


    Richtofen replied with a smug grin, “I wouldn’t dream of it…”


    Against the far wall, chunks of concrete fell to the ground as a veiny, grey hand popped through the darkness. As more of the wall fell, the sickly, rotting corpse howled before falling to the end of Dempsey’s trench gun.


    “Guess we’re outta time!” Dempsey pumped a new shell into the gun, “We’ll need to split up: Me and Nikolai will take point and get the engine running. Takeo, you take down any scum-suckers you see from a distance. And Doc, you watch his back.”


    Doctor Richtofen had a childlike smile, hopping up and down with excitement, “Oh, this is going to be so much fun! I’ve never watched anyone’s back before!”


    Dempsey muttered under his breath, “Now why do I doubt that...?”


    More undead yipped and hollered, their calls breaching the boarded-up windows of the room. The group leapt into action, Nikolai joining Dempsey in a charge towards the plane while Takeo and Richtofen ascended the stairwell.


    “Time to sober up, Nikolai,” Dempsey remarked.


    “Are you kidding? I aim better when I’m drunk!”


    Nikolai wished he had taken a drink of vodka before the battle, but he felt confident in the younger American’s presence. This feeling of charging head-first towards death gave Nikolai a renewed vigor that he would savor. 


    Up ahead, through a cluster of dead trees, a group of zombies fecklessly stumbled towards them, arms raised and jaws flapping. One fell before the echoing crack of a sniper rifle filled the air. Another had fallen before Nikolai stopped to aim, firing a trio of shots into the center mass of one of the hellpigs. The lights in its eyes fizzled out, and Nikolai swiveled to another target. Dempsey had pumped a hole into one of the undead, before opting to swing to butt-end of his weapon into its skull as it reached up towards him.


    They cut through the first wave like a sickle through hay, returning to a sprint as the plane came into view, its ramp guarded by more hellions. Nikolai had little energy left to spare after the sprint, his chest pounding and being barely able to breathe. Dempsey, on the other hand, was in far better shape, getting up close and personal with the beasts. Several cracks in the distance followed the bodies toppling one by one, and finally the path was cleared.


    They climbed the ramp into the open plane, finding no signs of any pilot. They searched the cockpit, checking the controls and the fuel levels.


    Nikolai sat in the pilot’s chair, in desperate need of rest, “Looks like enough to take off. Lucky us!”


    Dempsey’s voice suggested he was suspicious, “A little too lucky… Shit, this plane is American! What the hell’s it doing all the way out here?”


    “If it is American, you can fly, да?” 


    Dempsey shook his head, “I never learned. At least… I don’t remember learning.”


    Nikolai looked over the controls, squinting at the symbols on every instrument; He felt a sense of déjà vu, as if he had some experience with planes that was not in his immediate memory. He said confidently, “I believe I can.”


    “You’ve flown before?” Dempsey seemed to be in disbelief.


    “Yes! Wait… maybe! No, wait, that was tank… Not flying tank, just regular tank. But I think I did fly plane once.”


    Dempsey put his face in his palm, shaking his head, “I guess you survived it. Fine, I’ll go signal the others. Get this thing ready to go, ASAP!”


    He jolted away, leaving Nikolai to figure out the plane’s controls under pressure. He ran his hands along the knobs and gauges, trying to regain a sense he must have long lost. This memory returning to him was strange and unlike the painful ones he would feel while sober, it almost felt as if it was not real, like it did not happen to him, but he remembered it anyway.


    Nikolai managed to get the systems online, and the engine began to rumble. Static began to fill the cockpit, coming from the plane’s radio. The same voice from the bunker cut through the static, saying, “They blindly follow him, sheep herded by a false shepherd, a wolf bearing human flesh.” As static returned, Nikolai attempted to adjust the frequency and relocate the voice, but he could not.


    He began to think about the man’s words; Who was the false shepherd, and who were the sheep? Nikolai began to wonder if this Doctor Richtofen was leading them astray. His mind wandered through space where memories should be, the only thing left behind being the feelings in those moments. They burned. Nikolai took a drink from a new bottle of vodka, forgetting his troubles.


    The rest of the group had arrived, Dempsey firing back at undead attempting to climb the ramp, “We’ve gotta move or we’re gonna wind up as meat-snacks!”


    Richtofen strolled into the cockpit briskly, resting his MP-40 inside a compartment and taking a seat at the co-pilot’s chair and kicking up his feet, “Ah… I see you’ve really taken charge, Nikolai!”


    Takeo butted between them, “Letting the drunken fool drive a truck is one thing, but to fly a plane?! Doctor-”


    Richtofen interrupted, just as jovial as ever, “Don’t worry, Takeo, Nikolai is actually quite capable! Right, Nikolai?”


    Nikolai shrugged, continuing to work the controls.


    Richtofen threw up his hands, “See, Takeo, everything will work out just fine!”


    After some trial and error, Nikolai had finally gotten the plane moving across the ground. It began to pick up pace, quickly approaching a treeline. Takeo had silenced, taking to a chair and strapping in as he clutched his chest. Dempsey was standing at full attention, bracing for lift-off.


    Nikolai yanked back the throttle and the plane soared above the treeline. Dempsey pumped his fist into the air, shouting, “OOH-RAH! Way to go, Nikolai!” Richtofen clapped his hands with joy and Takeo said nothing, instead puking onto the floor.


    Dempsey said, aggravated, “Damn, Tak. I hope you’re gonna clean that up.”


    Nikolai finally let out a long breath he had been holding in since the plane started moving. He checked the fuel reserves, making a rough estimate of how long they had in the air.


    “Is not enough fuel to get to Japan.”


    Richtofen looked quizzical, placing his hand to his chin before putting one leg on top of the other. “No matter, I know how to get there even faster! Set a course for Berlin!”


    Dempsey muttered beneath his breath as he stepped over Takeo’s vomit towards the back of the plane, “Great… more Germans.”


    Nikolai looked to the moon and a memory flashed clearly through his mind. A dark, cold room with a window; Not a window, a set of bars. There was a full moon in the sky. Doctor Richtofen was there.


    Nikolai took another drink and focused on maintaining the plane.

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