Prologue The enigmatic black box sat on the table.
Heinrich Himmler, newly appointed head of the Gestapo, the German secret police, and also chief of all German police outside Prussia, studied it with considerable interest, refusing to admit that he was baffled. A touch opened the device, revealing a screen and a set of buttons marked with letters, but it meant nothing to him. Himmler knew little about science and technology, preferring instead to delve into the mysteries of race and eugenics. He touched a tiny pad below the keyboard and was delighted when it caused a tiny arrow to move on the screen, illuminating various icons as it covered them. Despite himself, he smiled; the Fuhrer would love the device.
“It’s called a laptop, Herr Reichfuhrer,” the stranger said. He sat across the table, smiling faintly as Himmler experimented with the device, as enigmatic as ever. The documents that had attracted Himmler’s attention lay on the table below the laptop, forgotten about in the awe of the laptop. “It was made by the Japanese, seventy years after your time.”
It took a moment for Himmler to understand the implications. “You are claiming to come from the future?”
The stranger smiled. “If you can produce that device here,” he said, nodding towards the laptop, “you can send me to a concentration camp for being a liar.”
“Of course,” Himmler agreed. His mind, used to analysing opportunities when they arose, and yet tinted with an occult belief that had no difficulty in accepting the concept of people from the future, grappled with the prospects opening up before him. Actual knowledge from the future…? What could the Reich not do? “The Japanese made it, you say? How did the Reich fare in your world?”
The stranger looked suitably regretful. “I fear it fared badly, Herr Reichfuhrer,” he said. For the first time, Himmler picked out an underlying accent in the stranger’s German, an accent he didn’t recognise. “The Reich’s existence came to an end in 1945. You were scheduled to stand trial with other German leaders as a war criminal at Nuremberg, but committed suicide in Lüneburg before you could be hanged.”
Himmler shivered. Somehow, it never occurred to him to doubt the stranger. The words he spoke echoed with truth. “Germany was divided into four parts, shared between the four Allied powers,” the stranger continued. “West Germany ended up a toady of the western powers, while the east was ground under the communist heel. The new Germany is a weak state indeed, unable to muster the determination to stand against a terrifying threat from racial inferiors, torn apart by religious conflict. The end of Europe is nigh…and all because the National Socialist state failed in its mission.”
The laptop seemed to glow mockingly at Himmler. “But it can be changed,” Himmler said. “You’re here, in the past…”
“Yes,” the stranger agreed. “Myself and my associates have travelled to ensure that Germany wins the war.”
Himmler showed no reaction. There was one question that had to be asked. The safest course of action would be to have the strangers arrested, held in a secure location, and interrogated, mined for information about the future, but would that be the best course of action? Well-versed in internal politics, well-aware that Hitler could never be allowed to know that the future claimed that the Reich would be destroyed, the newcomers represented a valuable resource. Doctors and scientists had to be treated gently for best results; he assumed that the same was true of time travellers. Besides, if they were offering their help willingly…
He smiled. “Destiny has clearly sent you here,” he said. “What must we do to win the war?”
The stranger matched his smile. “Perhaps I should explain…”
Chapter One I don’t like Portals. They’re just…not there. It looks like a simple square of glowing white light, hanging in the air, but it’s actually a gateway to another time and space. I won’t bore you with all the details behind the science – it reads like science-fiction to me – but if you step through one, you will know it. Grandfather Time told me that a Portal was merely a place where two universes collided, but what do I know about that? I'm just a soldier in the forever war.
“Good luck,” the operator said, as she ran through the final checks. We don’t want people on the opposite side spotting the Portal – just imagine what could happen if they had an armed force waiting for me, or trying to burst through the Portal into our world – so the Portal actually exists in a kind of potential reality. I don’t even pretend to understand that, but the basics of it is that the Portal is effectively invisible…until I step through. “Just trigger the beacon when you want to come home.”
“Bitch,” I said, without heat. The operator had never been on a field mission. Like almost everyone like her, she had a tendency to idealise those who have, even to the point of hero worship. It’s great for getting laid, but otherwise…it’s a pain. It can’t be helped, though; she knows too much to ever be allowed to fall into Enemy hands. “Jane?”
Online, the AI said, in my head. Jane had been implanted into me when I first joined up with the Time Agents, back when Grandfather Time recruited me, and had somehow grown into an invisible web in my head. There are some AIs that are thicker than most humans, even the ones who think that the world before technology was a comfortable and harmonic place to live, but Jane is as smart as they come. All systems are good to go.
“Bye,” I said, and stepped into the Portal. The lurch in my chest hurts worse than anything else and the fact that, we are assured, it is purely psychometric doesn’t help. I’ve been on roller coasters that are less violent than the Portal; it’s not what happens so much as what doesn’t happen. Jane helps to numb my body and diminish the disorientation everyone feels, but even so…it’s not good. No one in their right mind would become a regular Portal user.
I stepped out into an alleyway. For a moment, as I looked behind me, I could see the Portal shimmering amidst the bricks and mortar, before it faded into nothingness. I was alone, as alone as anyone could be on a world that was probably full of humans. There are several timelines where humanity accidentally wipes itself out – or is killed off deliberately by internal or external foes – but the smell of old-style cars, smoking and various unpleasant scents is all the confirmation I need. The world is alive.
No trace of trans-dimensional or trans-temporal technology detected, Jane said. I’m not too surprised; judging from the reports, the people behind the interference that we detected had had plenty of time to get their inference up and running before our benefactors even noticed the split in the timelines. If we were lucky, it would just be some rogue group of revanchists intent on changing the course of history, rather than the Enemy. If the latter, the odds were that correcting what had happened to history would be almost impossible.
I stepped out of the alleyway and onto a street, packed with crude buildings in a poor state of repair, a handful of children running around listlessly. According to the briefing, such as it was, I had been sent to London, in equivient-1960…but that meant nothing. Anything could have happened to change history and not all of them ensured that London would remain the capital of Britain. The children looked up briefly at me – just from looking, I could tell that they were malnourished and probably ill – and then looked away. My clothing was fairly lower-class for Britain, the outfit of a labourer rather than anyone of importance, but judging from the tattered outfits the children were wearing, I was probably overdressed for the time. I was tempted to talk to them, to try to learn what they could tell me, but then a woman opened the door of one of the flats and shouted for the children to come inside.
She might have been pretty, if she had been well-fed. As it was, she looked disturbingly like some of the Afghani women I had seen back in 2001, before I stepped out of time; too thin and underfed to be attractive. Her body looked thirty, her eyes looked sixty…and she was probably no more than twenty years old. Her blue eyes met mine once, lowered themselves to the ground, and, once her children were inside, she fled indoors and shut the door.
Interesting, Jane said. I knew that I was the only one who could hear her, but even so, it still worried me. I had to sub-vocalise my responses and even then, some of my opponents had been able to hear it. She was terrified of you.
“Yeah,” I growled, as I walked along the street, aware of eyes watching me from behind closed curtains…and blackout strips. “I guess she thought I was the local child molester or something.”
It struck me, then, what was missing. There were no cars on the roads, although there were a few dozen bikes chained to the walls, some of them clearly old enough to have been built before the war. The map in my head said I was somewhere in South London and so I started to walk towards the centre of the city, thinking hard. I’d been trained to pick up clues from what I saw, rather than asking questions that would be sure to rouse suspicions, but the only clue I had so far was that everyone seemed to be malnourished…and scared of strangers. I passed a pub, packed with middle-aged men drinking themselves into an early grave, and then a pair of women sitting on a wall. There was no mistaking their occupation; only prostitutes would show themselves off like that, awaiting men willing to pay for guilt-free sex.
“One pound for one time, two pounds for three times,” the younger of them said, as I passed. Like the first girl I’d seen, she would have been pretty if she’d eaten more, although the makeup she’d splashed on her face was badly overdone. She actually looked better-fed than her partner, who was clearly older and probably Hobson’s Choice. “A time together…”
“No, thank you,” I said, politely. It probably wasn’t their fault that they’d been forced into prostitution. I’d spent more time in brothels than I cared to remember, but that had been before I was recruited. “Perhaps…”
“Oh, he’s a Yank,” the older girl said, and jumped off the wall. A moment later, she was running down the street as fast as her long and exposed legs could carry her. I watched with flickering amusement as her buttocks, exposed for mere seconds as her skirt rode up, winked at me before she turned the corner. I looked back at the other girl, only to see her give me a sidelong look, before jumping off the other side of the wall and disappearing.
“Maybe they don’t like Americans here,” I said, as I resumed my walk. “Jane?”
Unknown, Jane said. Older subject did not actually read out as scared; younger subject was clearly scared. Reason unknown.
“Remind me again why I have you along,” I said, as I round a longer road leading off into the distance. A line of trucks raced down it, each one covered and concealed, apart from the last in the row. A group of men were standing in the rear, their faces unsure and nervous about the future…and their hands were bound. I couldn’t see the links, but I would have bet a month’s pay that they were actually tied to the vehicle as well. “Jane?”
I watched as the trucks vanished off in the distance. I hadn’t got a look at the driver, or the guards I was certain was there, but the last group of men had clearly been prisoners. Prisoners of who? Were they police, soldiers, some version of the National Guard…or what? I’d been in Britain a few times before being recruited and none of the British police I’d seen had done anything like that, even during the worst of the crisis. It looked as if they’d been rounded up and shipped out of the city, perhaps to an internment camp…and nothing like that had ever happened in any Britain I knew.
Seventeen prisoners, twenty guards, Jane said. She also controlled the sensors buried in my implants. I was a little leery about using them with a cross-dimensional power active somewhere on this world, but there was little choice. I needed information. General observed tech base 1950s; no further information available.
I scowled and kept walking northwards. One of the problems with a blind insertion into a new timeline is that you don’t have the slightest idea of what is actually going on. You could discover, quite by accident, that local mores don’t allow you to talk to the women, or the men, or you have to prove yourself by trial by combat, or even that you’re expected to perform with a woman in the streets. They keep telling us that there’s a dimension of topless dancers around, but personally I think our superiors made that up just to keep us exploring and not protesting our working conditions. There were ways to find out information as quickly as possible, mainly through libraries, but if even they had been subverted…
The road twisted suddenly and transformed into a shopping area. The contrast was so startling that I almost stopped dead. To the south, there were vast estates filled with poverty and depredation, stalking the land like…well, two giant stalking things; to the north, there was wealth, music and laughter. The crowds of people looked happy, and yet, I was sure I could detect a faint aroma of fear hanging over their heads. I could see them glancing around when they thought they weren’t observed…and, on closer inspection, many of them were malnourished as well, or even wearing repaired clothes. I passed a pair of boastful fat men, somehow fat despite the poverty all around them, and listened briefly to one of them bragging to the other about his latest set of contracts from the authorities. Apparently, he worked as a Manpower Services Officer – and I didn’t like the sound of that – and had won the contract to supply the manpower for the latest set of Victory Projects. His companion sounded suitably impressed.
Those schoolgirls are stupid, Jane said. I glanced over at them and kept my face blank; they were chattering away, in no particular order, about boyfriends, weddings and children. Their uniforms were more demure than most of the other clothes women were wearing, but still poorly designed, as if they had to buy them from cheap tailors. I looked at them again, something nagging at the back of my mind, and then it struck me. They were all white.
I was wondering when you would notice, Jane said. I bit down several different unhelpful responses and waited for her to continue. There have been no non-whites recorded since we stepped through the Portal. I have not even seen anyone confirming to a non-English stereotype.
“I’m starting not to like this place,” I muttered back. The crowds were moving in front of me, stepping off the pavement and into the gutter, and I followed them. It’s normally safer to go with the flow when in a strange place. “What’s happening…?”
They were walking down the exact centre of the pavement, a group of nine men, wearing brown uniforms with the Union Jack affixed on their upper arms. They looked like soldiers – I’m sure that that was the impression they intended to give – but they didn’t move like any of the British Army soldiers I’d exercised with. They moved more like thugs, wearing uniforms they hadn’t earned, carrying only pistols and clubs. The crowds gave them a wide berth – I heard some muttering, too quiet for anyone to pick up without special enhancement – and got the opinion that the Brownshits, their exact word, were unpopular. They didn’t look very pleasant either.
The soldier-thugs marched off to the south and I continued to the north. A little later, I realised what they’d been doing; a nude black body hung from a tree, swinging in the breeze. The girl, for girl she’d been, had been brutally beaten and then hung, her eyes bulging out as she clawed, too late, at the noose around her neck. The placard fixed under the body read, simply, IDEAS ABOVE HER STATION. A handful of people were staring at the body; two older men looked sad and helpless, younger men looked almost gleeful. I fought down the urge to activate my implanted weapons and blow them to bit, instead walking onwards towards the north. It wasn’t a long walk to the Houses of Parliament and I was sure, by then, I’d have some idea of what was actually going on.
The level of pollutants in the air is increasing, Jane said. I nodded to myself; I had already guessed that cars and other petrol-driven vehicles were actually in short supply in this version of London. The soldiers and their mates probably had all their needed, the others probably had nothing, maybe not even buses and underground trains. The level of damage is also increasing.
“True,” I agreed. There were buildings, now, that looked as if bombs had hit them. Judging from the soldiers, it was possible that bombs had hit them; Jane’s report on traces of old explosives only confirmed it. I couldn’t understand why none of them had been repaired; it wasn't easy to tell, but some of them had clearly been left in ruins since the war. “I wonder…can you pick up anything that might be useful?”
Negative, Jane said. There are still no traces of extra-dimensional activity.
The number of soldiers increased as we walked on towards the centre of London. They all wore the same brown uniform, carried side arms…and always travelled in numbers. In Washington, at least my Washington, it wasn't unknown to see soldiers on their own, but here…here, the soldier-thugs looked scared to go out on their own. Anyone would think that they weren’t well loved. The absence of women near them only clinched it. That only happened when the soldiers were well-known for rape.
It was another ten minutes before we reached the Houses of Parliament, but as soon as we turned the corner, we saw the answer. The Houses of Parliament were shuttered up, sealed off to the public – and probably the MPs as well – and guarded by soldiers. Proper soldiers. Heavily armed soldiers. I looked at their uniforms and saw, not British uniforms, but the black uniform and silver lightning bolts of the SS. The German SS. Hitler’s SS.
The Nazi Flag flying from the rooftops was a bit of a giveaway as well.
Chapter Two If it hadn’t been for Jane, I would have stood there, staring at the warped Houses of Parliament, until the soldiers or the SS guards took note and dragged me off to some detention camp. At her urging, I walked rapidly back into the side streets and vanished off into the distance. I needed to think and plan.
“Those were Nazis,” I said, as soon as we were a comfortable distance away. Now that I had some idea of what was going on, it was easier to tell that London was actually a city under occupation, although a particularly odd one. The British thugs I’d seen had probably been raised by some Vichy-style government and denied heavy weapons to prevent them turning into a major threat. “Jane, what the hell is going on?”
The Nazis obviously won the war, Jane said, her mental tone suggesting that I was stupid for even wondering. I suggest you find a library and start researching.
The walk to the nearest library listed in her files took twenty minutes…and when I got there, it turned out to be a warehouse instead. We searched for another fifty minutes before we finally located a library, one marked clearly in both English and German and covered with warning signs. Jews and other guest workers were forbidden to enter, on pain of death, and women were only allowed to enter during specific times. Instead, it was almost deserted; the only person at the counter, an old woman so old that she’d probably been born in the time of Queen Victoria, ignored me. The bookshelves were sparse and in places almost completely barren, but as I looked, I saw what was missing…and why.
They’ve stripped out anything by the Jews, Jane observed. She was right. They’d also taken out Dickens – although he was no loss; I’d sweated through one of his works while I was a child and hated it – and almost everything relating to military tactics. Histories of the time before the German invasion were almost completely missing, the only ones on the shelves seemed to concentrate on justifying the German invasion and blaming the entire war on a strange mixture of Churchill, Roosevelt and International Jewry. Propaganda, in other words, and poorly done propaganda at that. The only interesting book was entitled The Rise of the New Order and promised to be a history book, so I took it off the shelves and sat down to read it.
I read The Turner Diaries once, for a bet, and that book had been disgusting. They had been written in such a style as to leave you convinced that anyone with the slightest fascist leanings would be impressed and convinced…and work towards the day of rebellion. The Rise of the New Order was written in the same style and sounded almost like a hymn to Nazi Rule. It was probably the most biased history book I’d ever read – and, believe me, I once spent months reading through everything produced on the Iraq War. It was disgusting…and yet strangely fascinating.
Curious, Jane said. There are definite signs of interference here.
I nodded. She was, again, correct. Everything was fairly normal, as I remembered, from Hitler’s rise to power until the birth of the war itself. Britain and France had still declared war on Germany – a foolish gesture; they’d missed their best chance to stop Germany in 1938 – and the Germans had invaded France, Norway and Denmark in the following year. And then everything changed; the campaign in Norway had been an unabashed disaster in both timelines, but I got the impression, reading between the lines, that it had somehow been worse for the British in the changed timeline. It was hard to tell what was real and what was merely German boasting, but somehow they’d lost more ships and troops than they had in my world. In the meantime, France fell as fast as I remembered…but there was no miracle at Dunkirk.
Shit, I thought. Instead of the British recovering their forces, or at least as much of them as they could, from the beaches, the Germans had advanced and punched through the final defences, destroying the remains of the BEF after a desperate defence. Hitler’s air force had then somehow decimated the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force through a precisely targeted aerial campaign – I saw more signs of interference there; Hitler’s goons hadn’t known enough about Britain to mount a really capable campaign and they hadn’t had the aircraft to carry one out anyway – and then the Germans had landed. Once Panzers had reached the gates of London, the game was up and the British Government surrendered.
The book didn’t stop there. In a tone that dripped eagerness for the future, it recounted the rounding up and transporting of British Jews to Europe, apparently to much better conditions. I knew what that meant. They’d probably been shoved in the gas chambers at once. Anyone who was vaguely suspect, from communists to senior military leaders and politicians, followed them, while thousands of young British men were placed on notice that they might be called upon to serve the New Order. The book made no mention of resistance anywhere in the country, leaving an impression that the British had just bent over and taken it, while Germany assisted the new-old king, George, to rule with an iron hand. British colonies had been turned into sources of slave labour – that explained the black girl I’d seen, I guessed – and Britain itself had been turned into a base for the New Order. The book said nothing about America, so I guessed that it was still free, but it spoke about a Japanese occupation of India and the crushing of the Russians in the following three years. To all intents and purposes, Hitler had won the war, even though the book was remarkably unspecific about how he’d done it.
“The Enemy could certainly have done that,” I muttered to Jane. They had all the advantages of peering down at the timelines from their lofty vantage point and knowing just where to concentrate to change the past. They’d contaminated an entire timeline. “Maybe we should report back; get a proper investigative team in here.”
No, Jane said softly. We do not have enough data to conclude that there are definite signs of Enemy interference. I agree that there has been interference, but it may not have been the Enemy. There are other groups that have a motive to change history in favour of the Nazis. “Yeah,” I growled. I heard a rumbling from my chest and ignored it. I could eat almost anything, thanks to the nanites running through my blood, but while I would have liked to eat in a proper café, I didn’t have any money. I hunted through the book for further clues, but found nothing. “There’s no political scheme or plan too dunderheaded that someone won’t go for it.”
Jane sounded the silent alarm in my head as five soldiers filed into the library. They looked almost identical to the others I’d met, but instead of blank faces, they were twisted with an ugly anticipation I hadn’t seen since I’d served in Mexico. The soldiers there had been thugs as well, using their power and authority to push the locals around…and this merry lot clearly had the same idea. The German soldiers would probably be almost popular compared to them.
They might have been called here, Jane warned. The lead soldier – I saw no rank badge – was talking to the librarian. She looked defiant and scared at the same time, too old to be interesting to the soldiers, but at the same time hardly immune to their threats. A handful of other people in the library – I hadn’t noticed them until now – including a pair of young girls tried to leave, only to be blocked by the soldiers. They checked their ID cards, frisked them in a manner that should have earned them slaps, and then let them go with a parting grope. The handful of men were also frisked…and then the soldiers were coming my way. I kept my face blank; this was trouble. I had no ID card.
“Your papers,” the lead soldier demanded. His breath stank of stale cigarette smoke; at a guess, his rank brought extra rations as well as perks such as molestation and rape. I’d seen it before. “Your papers, now!”
I took a breath. I might have to fight my way out. “I left them at home,” I said. I couldn’t fail to notice the way they shared glances between themselves. Doubtless, I was about to be hit with a demand for a bribe. “I’m sorry, I’ll…”
“Well, you’ll have to come down with us, won’t you?” The leader leered. He leaned forward, caught hold of my collar, and pulled. “Unless you make it worth our while…”
I kept coming forward. His eyes widened, too late, as I snapped out a chop to the side of his neck, sending him crashing to the floor. At such close range, his men couldn’t draw their pistols, giving me a chance to knock them all out before they did for me instead and so I kicked the second one in the groin. They were unused to resistance from anyone and the third tried to grapple with me instead of using his club or trying to get back out of range. I broke his arm and hefted him up, throwing him into the fourth…
And then the fifth brought his club smashing down on my head. It wasn't hard enough to crack my skull, but the pain was intense enough to stun me, long enough for him to bring it down again and send me crashing to the floor. Only Jane’s assistance prevented me from passing out there and then; as it was, I felt rather unpleasant. She helped dampen the pain as the four men – their leader was still out of it – took turns kicking my body, before finally remembering that they were supposed to secure me. One of them drew a pair of handcuffs – I almost laughed as I saw them through Jane’s sensors; I’d been taught how to get out of better-made handcuffs in the training camp – and snapped them around my wrists.
I could generate a cutting field and get you out, Jane said. My mind was recovering rapidly from the pounding; I wished that we’d had such equipment in Afghanistan. I almost felt human again. It would not be difficult to escape them…
“No,” I subvocalised back. The thugs were searching my pockets and finding nothing. We were never allowed to bring anything not strictly required on missions, even pictures of our wives and children, even through mine thought me dead. She could hardly be faulted for that – the Time Agents had produced a most convincing body, capable of fooling the most advanced medical science in my world – but I still missed her. “We’ll play along for the moment.”
Jane said nothing as two of the thugs picked me up, careful to bang my head against the table a couple of times, and then carried me out of the library, down the steps, and into an open-topped van that had probably been out of date in 1940. A handful of people, mainly men, saw me being dumped in the back of the truck and attached to a chain intended to stop me escaping, but did nothing. I didn’t blame them. Anyone brought up in an environment of continuous fear and terror would be careful about risking their own lives for anyone. The other two people in the van, an middle-aged rat-faced man with a dark moustache and a teenaged girl, her clothes torn and ripped, barely looked up as I was tossed in, lost in their own private hells. A moment later, the van jerked to life and I found myself wincing as the driver, someone without any kind of proper training, lurched it along the roads. The remainder of the guards hopped into a second van and followed.
You could escape, Jane said, as her ministrations helped dampen the last of my headache. The guards would be horrified at how quickly I had recovered; the damage they’d caused would have been life-threatening to anyone in this time. Somehow, I doubted that the mystery people behind the interference would have worried much about introducing advanced medical care as well. Interrogation is a serious risk here.
“Not really,” I subvocalised back. The Nazis had been fond of torture, very fond of it, but I could easily switch off the pain through the implants, or even use it as a chance to learn more about how this world worked. If the interferers put in an appearance, and so far I’d done nothing to attract their attention, they might have a way of switching Jane off, but in that case automated systems buried in my head would kill me. “We can learn more this way.”
Jane gave a mental sniff as the van turned around a corner and headed towards a massive blocky building, surrounded by armed guards. It made the Green Zone look weak and puny; my guards, I was amused to notice, had to surrender their weapons before being allowed into the centre of the complex. The sight of the building was the most encouraging thing I’d seen all day. There was little point in having so many defences…unless there was a risk of being attacked. There was a resistance out there somewhere…and if I could make contact, we might be able to help them.
“Out, now,” the leader snapped. It was meant to sound intimidating, but the way his eyes flickered over me proved that he was just a little intimidated himself. I’d certainly hit him hard enough for the effect to show. If I’d been his Drill Sergeant, I would have bawled him out and kicked his arse; he’d been dreadfully careless and suffered for it. “March, now!”
The three of us were marched down a long drab corridor into a holding cell. The arrangement was neat and pretty difficult to escape, under normal circumstances. The smelly room proved to be made of heavy stone, with one door and several guards defending it, leaving the three of us, still cuffed, alone. It didn’t look like a permanent arrangement for us; if nothing else, we would have to answer the call of nature sooner or later.
The girl’s face fell still further. She would have been pretty without the tears and some proper feeding, but instead she looked weak and malnourished. On impulse, I smiled at her and saw her cringe still further; she looked terrified of me.
“It’s ok,” I said, as softly as I could. Ten got you twenty that we were being bugged. I would have bugged the cells. “What did they get you for?”
“The…bastard wanted me and I said no,” she said, between sobs. “My boyfriend was sent to Europe and I promised I’d wait for him, but he came along and demanded that I sleep with him, and when I refused, they arrested me and…”
Her voice broke off. I could guess the rest.
“My name’s Dave,” the rat-faced man said. His voice held a trace of Lancaster in it. “It’s just a mistake; I’m sure they’ll release us soon, I’m sure.”
I doubted it, but I held my tongue.
“Sally,” the girl said. “My name’s Sally.”
It took an hour for them to finally get around to deciding what to do about us. A set of guards arrived, allowed us to use the toilets under supervision, before hauling us up in front of a German dressed in SS uniform. He didn’t look particularly well himself, his face jaundiced and very sallow, but he made up for it in venom. Sally almost fainted when he looked at her; there was, suddenly, no question about the verdict.
“Prostituting yourself without a license,” the German said. He spoke English with a harsh Prussian accent. “You are sentenced to the military brothel in Dover.”
Sally gasped and started to scream. One of the guards slapped her and she fell to the ground, sobbing. “Participation in the black market,” the German continued, looking at Dave. I’d suspected something like that. “You are sentenced to six years on a work scheme on the continent.” Dave went very pale, but said nothing. “And you.”
He’s looking at you, Jane said.
“You do not possess any identification, which suggests involvement in activities contrary to the benefit of the Greater German Reich,” the German said. “You will be deported to the continent for life, working for the benefit of the Reich in hopes of redeeming yourself for what you have done to harm the Reich.”
The guards didn’t hesitate. They dragged Sally up from the floor, taking the chance to have another grope while they pulled…and I took the opportunity to put a kick in one of their groins. The remainder shook me, trying to hurt me without causing real damage – I was a valuable worker now – and then escorted us out to the loading bay. I guess the aim was to get us out quickly enough that we couldn’t cause trouble; we were dumped into a truck, secured to the side of the vehicle, and then the truck rumbled into life. This time, we couldn’t see out.
Sally’s leg brushed against mine. “Thank you,” she said, softly.”
I said nothing as the truck moved out, summoning up the mental map in my head. The judge had sentenced Sally to Dover, so the odds were that we were all going to Dover, maybe two to three hours away at most. I sat back for the first hour and thought quickly; Jane’s scans revealed the presence of guards escorting us, so escaping into the shrubbery was going to be difficult. I struggled to come up with a working plan…
And then shooting broke out all around us.