17 July 1985 (Victory Day) “Are you sure you want to do this?”
Gudrun Wieland took a long breath. Her heart was pounding so loudly she was sure her older brother could hear the sound. She wanted to do it, needed to do it, but she knew they could easily get in deep trouble. Their father’s belt would be the least of their concerns.
“I’m sure,” she said.
She braced herself. It would be easy to back out, to walk away; they could be back home within twenty minutes if they walked fast. But she’d gone to a great deal of trouble to borrow a nurse’s uniform from a friend, just so she could wear it while walking into the hospital. No one would question her if she wore a uniform, she’d been told; no one, not even the senior doctors, would know every nurse in the building. There were over a thousand young women and, with the current fashion for blonde hair, it was a reasonable bet that three-quarters of them would be blonde too. She’d scrubbed her face clean of make-up, tied up her hair and removed anything that might identify her. As long as they weren't caught in the building, it was unlikely that anyone would be able to track them down afterwards. But Kurt...
“Are you sure?” She asked. “I can go alone, if necessary...”
“I can’t let you go alone,” Kurt Wieland said. Her brother ran a hand through his short blonde hair, cut very close to the scalp. “I’m not expected back at the barracks until tomorrow morning.”
Gudrun gave him a grateful smile. She'd known, when she’d asked him, that he could have simply refused, or reported her to their father. Herman Wieland wasn't a bad man - she knew friends who had worse fathers, mainly drunkards like Grandpa Frank - but he would have exploded with rage if Kurt had told him what his eldest daughter had in mind. Instead, Kurt had insisted on coming with her and providing support. He’d even helped her sort out what to do when she walked into the building.
“Thank you,” she said, quietly.
“Then let’s go,” Kurt said. He caught her arm as they started to walk towards the hospital. “Remember, you’re meant to be escorting me, not the other way around.”
Gudrun allowed herself a nervous smile. Kurt was wearing his uniform, marking him out as a soldier in the Berlin Guard. It was unlikely that anyone would question his presence, not when the uniform practically screamed his legitimacy to the skies. The cover story they’d devised had her escorting him to see a friend in the hospital, which wasn't too far from the truth. And if someone thought they were lovers... well, as embarrassing as it was, it would be better than the alternative. Being caught would get them both in very hot water.
She gritted her teeth as they walked down towards the hospital and through the gates. It was a colossal building, constructed during the 1950s and staffed with the finest doctors and nurses in Germany. Her friend had told her that there were hundreds of departments; the original building was practically buried in outbuildings that were half-hidden behind other outbuildings themselves. The country had a fetish for efficiency - or so she’d been taught at school - but there was nothing efficient about Josef Mengele Hospital. It was far too obvious that the designers hadn't anticipated just how many doctors and patients would need to use the facilities.
The guards paid no attention to them as they walked through the door and into the lobby, heading straight towards the locked doors. Gudrun allowed herself a sigh of relief as they joined a dozen nurses heading though the doors, the leaders holding the doors open for the others. If they had had to wait for someone to open the doors it would have been far too revealing, she knew. Her friend had flatly refused to hand over an ID card that would open the doors.
Inside, it was surprisingly cool. Gudrun sniffed the air, the scent of antiseptic bringing back memories of the last time she’d visited a hospital, then looked around for the wall-mounted map of the giant complex. There were hundreds of wards; some identified in medical terminology she couldn't even begin to interpret, others merely identified by a number. She scanned the display quickly, hunting for the number she’d been given. Somehow, she wasn't entirely surprised to discover it was on the far side of the building, well away from the entrance. Cold ice ran down her spine as she looked up at her brother. He was frowning.
“They’ve got something to hide,” he murmured. “That ward is pretty well concealed.”
Gudrun nodded in agreement, then checked the map, memorising the route. Map-reading wasn't one of the skills she’d learned in the Hitler Youth - young women were expected to learn how to cook, clean and have babies - but she didn't dare risk asking for directions as they walked deeper into the facility. Anyone with a legitimate reason to be there would know their way around the building - or, if they were just visiting for a day, would be assigned an escort. She glanced back at her brother, then led the way down the corridor. The hundreds of doctors and nurses, some of the latter somehow managing to make their ugly blue uniforms look fashionable, ignored them.
Kurt was right, she thought, ruefully. Just how long had she spent scrabbling with her older brother as a young girl? It had taken her far too long to realise that Kurt had grown into an adult. As long as we look as though we fit in, no one will pay any attention to us.
She concentrated on finding her way through the corridors as Kurt followed her, no doubt keeping track of their route himself. He’d have learned to read a map in the Hitler Youth; he wouldn't have been promoted so quickly, she was sure, if he hadn't mastered the basics at a very early age. But then, young men were taught military skills in the Hitler Youth. She’d always envied the boys when they’d gone camping, leaving school for a week of mountain-climbing, mock exercises and other exciting sports. They’d even been allowed to play with real weapons. Gudrun and the other girls had never even been allowed to see a gun in school.
They turned the corner and walked towards the ward. A pair of SS troopers were on guard, but neither of them looked particularly alert. Gudrun walked forward, keeping her face utterly expressionless as she led Kurt past the guards and into the wards. The troopers gave her an appreciative look, but made no move to stop her. This far inside the building, they probably assumed that anyone they saw had the right to be there. She fought down a smile, knowing that they’d just crossed the Rubicon, and started to look for a specific bed. They didn’t dare loiter where the troopers could see them.
Kurt poked her arm. “There,” he said, pointing to the wall. A chart was mounted on it, showing a list of names and beds. “See if you can find him there.”
Gudrun nodded and peered up at the chart. There were over two dozen names on the list, all completely unfamiliar, bar one. Unterscharfuehrer Konrad Schulze, her boyfriend; Unterscharfuehrer Konrad Schulze, who had asked her to marry him when he returned from South Africa; Unterscharfuehrer Konrad Schulze, who had returned from South Africa and vanished into Josef Mengele Hospital. She felt an odd twist in her heart as she stared at the name, realising that Konrad hadn't left her; his family, she’d discovered, were as much in the dark as herself. Their son had gone to war and then...
She gritted her teeth as she looked for the right bed. It had been sheer dumb luck she’d heard anything. A friend of hers, the same girl who’d loaned her the nurse’s uniform, had seen Konrad’s name and SS number on a list of patients in the hospital. Gudrun hadn't believed her at first - his family hadn't been told he’d been wounded and sent home, let alone allowed to see him - but as weeks went by without a single letter from a normally attentive boyfriend, she’d started to have suspicions. And then it had taken two weeks of scheming to plan an unauthorised visit to the hospital. If Kurt hadn't agreed to accompany her, it would have been impossible.
And no one had heard anything from the bureaucracy.
Gudrun scowled in bitter memory. She'd thought Konrad’s family liked her, for all that she was a university-educated student rather than a proper little housewife; they’d certainly never sought to discourage their son from courting her. Hell, it had been her friends who’d raised eyebrows at the thought of dating an SS trooper. The university students had never got along with the SS, who would happily close the university down in an instant if they thought they could get away with it. But Konrad had been different. He’d been sweet and funny and never tried to press himself on her. The thought of his kisses made her lips tingle...
... And, if they knew something had happened to him, they would have told her.
She paused, just outside the curtains enshrouding his bed. All of a sudden, she wasn’t sure she wanted to take the final step, to brush aside the curtains and see her lover. What if she was wrong? What if it wasn't him? Or... what if something had happened...?
“Go,” Kurt urged, quietly. “We may not have long.”
Gudrun reminded herself, firmly, that she came from a brave family and pushed the curtain aside, then froze in horror at the sight that greeted her eyes. Her boyfriend was lying on his side, hooked up to a machine that bleeped worryingly every five seconds. The lower half of his body was completely gone; she had only taken basic medicine at school - it was another skill girls were required to learn - but she honestly wasn't sure how he’d survived. His face was bruised and broken; indeed, for a long moment, she was honestly convinced that they’d made a dreadful mistake and opened the wrong set of curtains. But he had the scar on his chest she recalled from one of their love-making sessions and his SS tattoo, on the underside of his right arm, matched the one she’d memorised.
“They tattoo our ID number and blood group so we can be treated in a hurry,” Konrad had told her, once. She felt sick as she recalled the handsome young man she’d courted, the man who’d gone to war. “And it’s a badge of honour...”
“Jesus,” Kurt said, peering past her. “How the hell is he going to give mama grandchildren?”
“Shut up,” Gudrun hissed. She couldn’t help peeking at where Konrad’s genitals should have been, but they were gone. Whatever had happened to him, it had taken everything below his hips. She honestly had no idea how he was still alive. “Do you think we can wake him?”
Kurt grabbed her arm. “Don’t even think about it!”
Gudrun winced in pain, but she had to admit he was right. She didn’t have the slightest idea how to wake Konrad, if it were possible. Removing him from the machine might kill him outright. It would almost certainly set off alarms, bringing real doctors and nurses running to the bed. They’d be smoked out, caught and arrested. And after that... Gudrun wasn't sure, but sending them back to their father would be far too lenient for the SS. They’d probably be exiled to Germany East. If half of the rumours were true, no one ever came back alive.
I should have married him, she thought, looking down at Konrad. It was far from illegal to get pregnant out of wedlock - the state would happily pay expectant mothers a small stipend for carrying another young German to term - but her mother would have been furious if Gudrun had allowed herself to get pregnant. If I had...
She swallowed, hard. Konrad wouldn't be making love to her anytime soon, let alone returning to the war. Doctors could perform miracles these days, but she doubted they could rebuild his legs, let alone his genitals. She’d heard stories about how sperm could be mined from a male body and then inserted into a female body, impregnating the woman, yet... she shuddered at the thought. It sounded terrifyingly unnatural. Konrad would probably die in a hospital bed, if he couldn't live without life support, or spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair like Grandpa Frank, drinking heavily and nursing his sorrows. She winced at the thought - she didn't like Grandpa Frank, even if he was her maternal grandfather - and then stepped away from the bed. Part of her wanted to stay with him, but she knew what would happen if she tried. The SS would take her away and...
They wanted to cover this up, she thought. Konrad was from an SS family - his father had been a trooper before retiring - and yet they’d been lied to by the state. They wanted to conceal his wounds...
It didn't make sense, she told herself. Konrad wasn't anyone important. His family didn't have ties to the Reichstag. But, instead of reporting his wounds to his family, the SS had tried to hide them. She tossed it over and over in her head, remembering what her father had said about his work as a policeman. If someone was trying to hide something, he'd said, it meant they had something to hide that justified the effort of hiding it. And yet, Konrad wasn't anyone important. There was no reason to hide his wounds.
Take Konrad out of the equation, she told herself. There was nothing important about Konrad, therefore no one would waste the effort solely for him. And you get... She looked up. There had been more than two dozen names on the list - and, in the ward, there were two dozen beds, each one hidden behind a set of curtains. If each of them held a wounded soldier, and it looked as though they did, what did it mean? The news kept claiming that German troops, bringing fraternal aid to their brothers in South Africa, were winning the war. But if someone was concealing the sheer number of wounded troops... what did that say about the progress of the war? And how many troops had wound up dead in South Africa?
They’re lying, she thought. She had always been dimly aware that the news services were run by the government, that nothing was ever broadcast without government approval, but she’d never fully understood what that meant. They’re lying about the war.
She jumped as she heard someone clearing her throat. “What are you two doing in here?”
Gudrun turned. A young nurse - a senior nurse, judging from the gaudy rank badges on her uniform - was standing behind them, hands on hips. She looked as stern as their mother when she’d caught them in the biscuit box, back when they’d been children. Gudrun couldn't help thinking that she would have been pretty if she’d let her hair down and, perhaps, worn something a little more fitting. The uniform was just plain ugly.
“I convinced Nurse Gudrun to let me see my friend Konrad, after my own examination,” Kurt lied, smoothly. It wasn’t as if Gudrun was an uncommon name. There had been three other girls with the same name in junior school. “We served together in South Africa, don’t you know? He saved my life twice.”
He leaned forward. “If you’re charged with his care, perhaps you can tell me how he is? I’d be most grateful...”
The nurse frowned. “You shouldn't have brought him in here without permission,” she said, addressing Gudrun. “Visitors have to be cleared through security...”
“It’s my fault, beautiful,” Kurt said. He cocked his head. “Can I take you for a drink later?”
“Perhaps,” the nurse said. She looked downcast for a long moment. “Your friend is unlikely to survive without the life support machine, sir. The brain damage was quite severe and the medical care he received in the theatre was quite poor. We dug quite a few pieces of shrapnel out of his flesh, but by then it was really too late. His body is still alive, if barely; his brain is dead.”
Gudrun swallowed the question she wanted to ask. She didn't dare draw the nurse’s attention back to her, even as Kurt flirted and the nurse - insanely - seemed inclined to respond. Perhaps, being a nurse, she didn't have many chances for romance... or, more likely, she thought a soldier would understand long hours and short tempers. Her father had once told her that policemen preferred to marry nurses...
“You escort him to the doors, then report to the security office,” the nurse said, finally. “I have work to do here.”
“Of course,” Gudrun said. She had no intention of doing anything but walking out the doors with Kurt, removing the uniform as soon as possible and never returning. “I’m sorry...”
“Go,” the nurse ordered.
“That was a close one,” Kurt muttered, once they were past the guards. “But at least I got her number.”
Gudrun gave him a disbelieving look. “You do realise you can’t possibly call her?”
“That’s not the point,” Kurt said. “The point is that I got her number.”
He didn't say anything else until they walked through the doors and escaped into the streets, heading towards a flat belonging to a friend. Their father would have asked far too many questions if Gudrun had returned home wearing a nurse’s uniform - and, being a cop, was far too practiced at sniffing out lies. He would demand the whole story, then explode with fury at the risk they’d taken.
“You need to keep this to yourself,” he warned. “If someone is trying to keep this a secret...”
“I know the dangers,” Gudrun said. She had a vague plan forming in her mind, but nothing solid, not yet. And she couldn't share her thoughts with her brother. “And I know the risks.”
Chapter Three Reichstag, Berlin
17 July 1985 (Victory Day) There were times, Hans Krueger thought as he walked into the meeting room, that it would probably be easier to handle decisions if the Big Three met in private, hammered out a set of compromises and then presented it to the rest of the Reich Council as a fait accompli. It would certainly take less time, with less outraged shouting. But it was impossible. The different branches of the military would certainly want their say, the different government ministries would have their own opinions about matters and even the SS, for all it tried to present a monolithic face to the world, had its dissidents. There was no way to accommodate them all, save for inviting all the principles to the meetings.
And that tends to mean that nothing gets done, he reminded himself sourly. The only consolation was that formal protocol was practically non-existent. By the time we’re finished arguing, it’s time for dinner and then we resume arguing after dinner.
He sighed, inwardly, as he sat down and accepted a cup of coffee from the attendants. The remainder of the seats were filling up fast; the uniformed heads of the military, the ministers wearing fancy suits and the SS, clumped together at one end of the table. Hitler might have been a great man - Hans knew better than to think otherwise, even in the privacy of his own mind - but he’d never established a formal governmental structure to handle the vastly expanding Reich. Instead of an organised system, where power and responsibility were roughly equal, he’d presided over a hundred different fiefdoms, keeping them at loggerheads so his rule remained unchallenged. And when Hitler died, the wheels had threatened to come off the whole ramshackle structure.
And it was sheer luck that Himmler was convinced not to try to seize power for himself, Hans thought, glancing down towards Karl Holliston. The Reichsführer-SS would happily seize supreme power, if he thought he could get away with it. Then, the military would have opposed the SS, purely out of instinct. Now... who knows which way everyone will jump.
The attendants finished pouring coffee and withdrew, closing the doors behind them with a loud thump. Hans allowed himself a grim smile. They were in the most secure room in the Reich - the security team protecting the complex was the most capable in Germany - and yet, the true threat lay within. Just how many of the men at the table would make a bid for power if they thought they could succeed? Hans wouldn't - he knew how hard it would be to rule the Reich alone - but he had a feeling he was the only one. Everyone else? The lure of supreme power was very alluring.
He kept his face impassive as the Fuhrer rose to his feet. “This meeting is now called to order,” Adolf Bormann said, turning to face the giant portrait hanging from the wall. Hans had to admit Bormann could give pretty speeches, but little else. “Heil Hitler!”
“Heil Hitler,” Hans echoed.
And everywhere else, it would be Heil Bormann, he thought, as Bormann sat back down. But not here, not where we can't risk allowing his head to swell.
“I move we address the war in South Africa,” Holliston said, quickly. “Victory Day has, as always, given us a boost. We must take advantage of it before it is gone.”
Hans exchanged glances with Field Marshal Justus Stoffregen, Head of OKW, who nodded once. The military, therefore, wanted to discuss the war too. Hans had a whole folder of economic issues that had to be addressed, but there was no point fighting an unwinnable battle against both the military and the SS. Besides, it would give him an opportunity to let Holliston make his points and then undermine the bastard. The SS man simply didn't understand the cold economic realities that were steadily undermining the Reich.
Holliston leaned forward. “The South African War is approaching a climax,” he said, as if he hadn't said the same thing at the last four meetings of the Reich Council. “We have taken losses, but we are pressing the rebel insurgents hard and persistently weakening their grip on their fellow blacks. They are steadily being worn down.”
He paused, waiting to see if anyone would object. Hans, who had quite a few private agents reporting to him from South Africa, could have disputed that rosy picture, but he kept his thoughts to himself. Better to let the SS man store up trouble for himself. Besides, he knew all too well what lurked behind the cold figures. Men and women killed, children rounded up and herded into concentration camps, towns and villages burned to the ground for daring to hide insurgents... no wonder the blacks were fighting desperately. They were caught between freedom and total extermination.
And thousands of our own men are dead, he thought, coldly. The general public doesn't have the slightest idea just how many soldiers have been killed - or wounded - in South Africa.
It wasn't a pleasant thought, he reflected. The Reich had no elections, no way for the civilians to express their feelings about the war. No one had quite realised just how badly public opinion, such as it was, would be shocked about the Balkan War. The public hadn’t given a damn about slaughtered Jews or Muslims, of course, but telling them just how many Germans had been killed in the fighting had been a mistake. It wasn't one the SS intended to repeat.
“However, we have a major problem,” Holliston continued. “Pretoria is not as enthusiastic about the war as we would prefer.”
“Unsurprising,” Hans commented, dryly. “We are, after all, fighting a savage war of peace on their territory.”
Holliston gave him a sharp look. “We have gathered evidence that suggests the South Africans are on the verge of betraying us,” he snapped. “Pretoria has been in private communications with Oliver Tambo and, apparently, attempting to come to some sort of agreement. Furthermore, Tambo and his bunch of terrorists would not have escaped if Pretoria had acted swiftly to reinforce the parachutists who attacked the bastard’s territory. I believe they hesitated in the hopes that Tambo would escape.”
“And succeeded, if that were the case,” Field Marshal Gunter Voss commented.
“They would presumably not have wished to restart negotiations with a new leader,” Hans mused. “Tambo is hardly the worst they could have had to deal with.”
He scowled, inwardly. Pretoria’s apartheid system had a great deal in common with the Third Reich, but the white population of South Africa made up only a tenth of the population, even though Pretoria had been working hard to lure immigrants from Spain, Italy, France and even Greece. The whites were, quite simply, badly outnumbered and every year they failed to crush the rebels, every little rebel success that helped to bleed Pretoria white, worsened their position. It was hard to blame Pretoria for looking for a way out of the war that allowed them to salvage something.
But Holliston, of course, didn't see it that way.
“I have two proposals,” he said. “First, we double the number of German troops fighting in South Africa. We can easily spare 200,000 troops for as long as it takes to crush the blacks and bring peace to the country. Second, that we strike first and eliminate the government in Pretoria.”
Hans blinked in surprise. He’d expected the proposal to double the number of troops in South Africa; it had, after all, been made before. But eliminating the South African Government? It was insane! Which planner in Wewelsburg Castle had come up with the whole idea?
Holliston pressed the idea as hard as he could. “There are factions in Pretoria who will be happy to support us, if we eliminate the current leadership,” he said. “These are the factions who have been pressing for a more pro-active solution to the problem...”
Hans gritted his teeth. Holliston alone couldn't commit the Reich to a desperate gamble, but if he dragged the military along with him... it would be hard, perhaps impossible, to head the madcap scheme off at the pass. And it was madness, of that Hans was sure. The meaning of the facts and figures might be disputed, but the facts themselves could never be.
“The last time I checked,” he said, allowing his voice to drip with sarcasm, “we sent our soldiers into South Africa to support the local government. Did something change while I was sleeping?”
“Of course not,” Holliston said.
“Then perhaps you can explain to me,” Hans pressed, “why supporting the local government requires executing its members and installing a set of puppets?”
“The current government is unable to fight the war effectively,” Holliston snapped. “I...”
Hans took a long breath. “Whatever we may think of the government of South Africa, the fact remains that it holds legitimacy in the eyes of the South Africans themselves,” he said, coldly. “They will not take calmly to us stepping in and removing their government. I dare say, given that they are of good racial stock, that they will not accept whatever government we install in its place. We will be forced to occupy South Africa ourselves, to disarm the local military and fight a multi-sided war against two sets of insurgents.
“Furthermore, our logistics are already problematic,” he added. “Our supply lines from the Reich to Germany South are poor and road and rail links between Germany South and South Africa are worse, even without the insurgents taking pot-shots at our convoys...”
“We could drive the attackers away from the roads if we didn't have to humour the local government,” Holliston hissed.
“And we would find it hard to make use of the local logistics network,” Hans added, relentlessly. The South Africans, damn them, had chosen to licence American or British weapons rather than German, a decision that had come back to haunt them when the war began in earnest. “Indeed, the white flight from South Africa will only get worse as the war spreads into formerly safe areas. Or have you not realised just how dependent South Africa is on black labour?”
He allowed his voice to rise. “They use black labour everywhere, even in the military,” he reminded the table. “What happens if - when - those blacks become convinced that they’re ultimately doomed to go into the gas chambers anyway?”
“They’re of inferior stock,” Holliston snapped.
“And if they’re so inferior,” Hans said, “why do you need an extra 200,000 troops to fight the war?”
He kept the smirk that threatened to appear off his face with an effort. He’d argued against becoming involved in South Africa, only to be overruled by the military and the SS. Now, the SS looked grossly incompetent, grasping at straws rather than swallowing their pride and admitting they’d made a mistake, while the military were concerned about ever-increasing casualty figures. Doubling the troops in South Africa, if they could be supported, might end the war, but it was equally possible that it would only increase the number of dead or wounded soldiers. And who knew what would happen when that little fact got out?
Holliston glared at him. “And you would propose ending the war?”
“I would propose that we find a way to avoid wasting blood and treasure on a petty pointless war,” Hans said. “It will not be long before the chaos starts making its way up into Germany South or French North Africa.”
“The frogs can take care of themselves,” Holliston growled.
“They might have some problems,” Hans observed. “We place some pretty strict limits on their military, don’t we?”
“Yes,” Voss said, flatly. “The last thing we want is a modern tank force within striking distance of Germany.”
Hans nodded in agreement. The terrain between Vichy France and Berlin was not conductive to deep strikes, but giving Vichy the power to stand up for itself would have dangerous implications. France had been in the economic doldrums for decades, despite a slow and steady advance into North Africa. The French Government might be more than willing to bend over and take whatever Berlin chose to dish out, but the French population loathed the Germans with a fiery passion. If the Reich ran into problems elsewhere, who knew which way the French would jump? And, to be fair, Spain and Italy didn't like the Germans much either.
He cleared his throat. “The facts and figures make it clear, gentlemen, that we need to make some adjustments in our budget,” he warned. “We are spending more than we earn.”
“Then print more money,” Holliston said. “That’s your job, isn’t it?”
“That’s what Weimer tried,” Hans reminded him. “And what happened to Weimer?”
Silence fell. Very few of the men in the room had been old enough to understand what was going on, back when they’d been children, but they remembered how the Weimer Republic had collapsed into chaos. And yet, Hans knew that most of them didn't understand just how desperately Hitler had needed to keep adding new conquests to the Reich. It had taken years, after the end of the war, to put the Reich on a sound economic footing. Now, all that hard work was being wasted.
“The war in South Africa, alone, is costing us billions of Reichmarks,” Hans said. “Both directly, in weapons and equipment lost during the fighting, and indirectly, in taking care of the wounded. The economic lifeline we’ve tossed to Pretoria is worse, in a way; we’re simply not getting enough back from the mines in South Africa to pay for the war. But that isn't the worst of it. Our total military budget is sucking up far too much money...”
“We have to prepare to fight the Americans,” Voss said. He tossed a sharp look at Grossadmiral Cajus Bekker. “Don’t we need to build more ships?”
“We can't afford many more ships,” Hans said. “A single nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, Field Marshal, costs over tenbillion Reichmarks. Building enough to fight the Americans on even terms, which leaves the British out of the equation, will cost two hundred billion Reichmarks!”
“The Americans seem to be able to afford it,” Holliston said. “Are you sure you’re not mismanaging our money?”
“The Americans have several advantages,” Hans growled. “First, they have a larger GNP than ourselves. They can afford to build more carriers, missiles and spaceships without straining their economy. Second, they have a smaller budget for their other governmental functions. Third, their weapons production is standardised, not just between the different services, but also between their allies. A British soldier can fire American bullets from his gun and vice versa. Fourth, and perhaps the most important at the moment, the Americans offer much less social benefits than ourselves.”
“A mother’s benefit packet is less than a hundred Reichmarks per week,” Holliston said, tightly. The SS had been a big supporter of the scheme, although Holliston had been a lowly trooper at the time. “It is hardly a problem.”
“It mounts up,” Hans said. “There are roughly 1.5 million mothers in Berlin today. If each of them has two children, they can claim 160 Reichmarks each week from the government - and, I assure you, almost every mother in Berlin does. That means, each week, we spend somewhere around 240 million Reichmarks in Berlin alone.”
He looked around the table, willing them to understand. “That’s a very rough figure,” he said. “Right now, the average family size is four children; six in Germany East, despite the endless insurgency. Every single one of those mothers can claim eighty Reichmarks per child, per week. The cost is staggeringly high and we can't afford it!”
“We need it,” Holliston said, into the silence. “The Volk must not be allowed to vanish from the earth!”
“The Volk are in no danger of fading away,” Hans said. “Indeed, our population is expanding rapidly. But every year we delay in dealing with this crisis, the worse it will be when it finally explodes. I can paper over the cracks for a while, but not for very long. Creative accounting will catch up with us sooner or later.”
He cursed under his breath. Holliston wouldn't understand, of course. The SS was obsessed with children, to the point where it encouraged fine young German men to marry more than one wife. Hell, it had been Himmler himself who had started the original scheme. He’d noted, correctly, that cost was a major factor in bringing up children and come up with a simple idea to reduce the costs. But, like all such schemes, it had snowballed out of control and turned into a nightmare.
“We cannot make cuts,” Holliston said.
“We must,” Hans said. “Ending the war in South Africa alone would save a few billion Reichmarks per year.”
“We could sell more weapons,” Voss suggested.
“The world’s buyers prefer British or American weapons,” Luther Stresemann said. The Head of the Economic Intelligence Service looked concerned. “Our reputation for producing weapons took a pounding when the Royal Navy sank the Argentinean ships during the war.”
“The brown-skinned grafters didn't know how to use them,” Holliston snapped.
“It doesn't matter,” Hans said. Oddly, it was one of the few points where he found himself in agreement with Holliston. “All that matters is that sales of weapons are falling and unlikely to stabilise any time soon. The only people who buy exclusively from us are our captive markets and we don’t want to sell them the most advanced weapons.”
“Of course not,” Holliston said.
Hans sighed and glanced at the wall-mounted clock, silently resigning himself to another long and acrimonious meeting where nothing would be decided. If he could convince the military that eliminating Pretoria’s government was a potential disaster, he told himself, at least that would be something...
... But, as the meeting finally drew to an end, no decisions were taken at all.