Storm Front (Twilight Of The Gods I)



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Chapter Six
Albert Speer University, Berlin

20 July 1985
Walking into the Albert Speer University for the first time, Gudrun recalled as she walked towards the doors, had been like taking a breath of fresh air for the first time in her life. Like every other child in the Reich, she had endured fifteen years of schooling where she’d been expected to regurgitate answers and otherwise do exactly as she was told. She’d quite lost count of the number of times she’d been forced to run laps around the school, stand in the corridor or undergo other humiliating punishments for daring to actually question the teacher’s words, let alone the letters they’d sent home to her parents. And yet, despite that, university had seemed a more attractive option at seventeen than trying to become a nurse, a housewife or entering one of the few careers open to women. It had been a surprise when she’d been told that the traits that had got her in trouble at school were precisely the traits the university wanted from its students.
“You have not been taught to think,” her first tutor had said, when he’d addressed the class on the very first day. It had been the first mixed-sex class Gudrun had ever had, but she’d been too fascinated to notice the presence of young men mixed in with the young women. “Here, we will attempt to teach you to think.”
Her first year at the university had been fascinating, to say the least. She’d learned how to use a computer, one of the blocky American-made machines that were imported into the Reich at great expense, and dozens of other skills that made up the background for STEM courses. She knew she had to choose a major by the time she turned twenty, when she would be expected to specialise in one particular field of study, but she was honestly tempted to try to delay that as long as she could. No one had shown her anything of the sort while she’d been at school, let alone allowed her to come to her own conclusions. Hell, she’d never heard of anyone being expelled from the university for asking questions. They were all too eager to learn to make trouble.
“We don’t take everyone,” the tutor had said, a year ago. “The exams we set look for the underlying potential for intelligence, not developed intelligence. You are here because we believe we can help your minds to flourish and, in return, you will advance the Reich.”
She took a moment to admire the statue of Albert Speer, architect, minister and one of the three guiding minds of the Reich after Hitler’s death, then hurried into the building. As always, it was packed; students who had been given the week off for Victory Day had hurried back as soon as they could, preparing for the exams they knew to be coming in three months, exams that would determine their future. Far too many of them actually lived on campus, sharing rooms in university accommodation that were strictly segregated and chaperoned; Gudrun remembered, with a flicker of envy, how she’d begged her mother and father to allow her to apply for one of the university rooms. But her mother had flatly refused to allow Gudrun to live away from home.
Probably thought I’d spend all my time in bed with Konrad, she thought, bitterly. There were housemothers, she’d been told, but they couldn't hope to chaperone everyone. And abandon my studies completely if I fell pregnant.
She gritted her teeth at the thought as she hurried into the lecture hall. Some of her friends were already there, pens and paper at the ready; they knew better than to be late when a lecture was about to begin. The doors would be closed a minute after the deadline and anyone who failed to make it would be marked as absent, which would lead to a thoroughly unpleasant discussion with the dean. Gudrun had never faced the man himself, thankfully, but she’d heard rumours that anyone who missed more than two classes in a row was given a punishment so awful that no one ever spoke of it...
Which raises the question of just how people know that something happens, she thought, dryly. The dean probably started the rumours himself, just to keep us in line.
She took her seat and nudged Hilde Morgenstern, a dark-haired girl who’d been her friend ever since the first week at university. “Meeting in the private study room this afternoon after lunch,” she hissed. “Pass it on.”
Hilde gave her a sharp look - their private study group wasn't exactly a formal organisation - and then nodded, turning to whisper in Sven’s ear. Gudrun hadn't been entirely sure that a group composed of both males and females could work - the handful of dances she’d endured at school had been marred by male behaviour as they grew older - but she had to admit that Sven and the others were very focused on their work. Sven in particular was going to be a computer designer, or so he’d said. He already had an uncanny insight into how the computers they used at university actually worked.
“I think that’s everyone told,” Hilde muttered, once the whispered message had gone down the row. “Isn’t it a little early to be panicking over exams?”
“It’s not about the exams,” Gudrun muttered back. The tutor closed the doors with a loud thud and strode to the podium, his dark eyes searching for troublemakers. “I’ll tell you this afternoon.”
The lecture would have been interesting, she had to admit, if she hadn't been thinking about Konrad and everything she’d deduced. Thankfully, the tutor didn't call on her to answer questions - she’d barely heard half of what he’d said - and by the time the class finally came to an end, she’d reluctantly struck a deal with Hilde for a copy of her notes. She’d have to work extra hard, if she could muster the energy, to catch up. The tutors rarely showed any sympathy to anyone who attended the lectures and still needed to beg for advice and assistance.
“That’s not like you,” Hilde observed, as they headed for lunch. “Are you all right?”
“I’ll tell you in the study room,” Gudrun said. She caught Leopold’s arm as he passed. “Can you bring your stereo?”
Leopold blinked in surprise. “Of course I can,” he said. “I’ll see you after lunch.”
Hilde stuck with Gudrun all through lunch, but had the common sense to keep her questions under wraps while they joined the line for food and drink, then ate as quickly as they could at a small table. The refectory was crammed with students, some wearing uniforms from the nearby military college, others daringly wearing American jeans and t-shirts that had been either smuggled into the Reich or sold at an enormous mark-up in one of the few American stores in the city. Gudrun winced inwardly as she saw one girl swaying past, her jeans so tight around her buttocks that she thought they were going to split open at any moment, then followed Hilde up the stairs and into the study room. Leopold was already there, attaching his stereo to the socket.
“So,” he said, as he turned on the machine. “What’s all this about, then?”
“Wait and see,” Gudrun said.
She sat down and waited as the remainder of the study group - five girls, seven boys - entered the room, then waved to Hilde to close and lock the door. Konrad, the one time he’d visited, had shown her where the bug was hidden, within the spare power socket. She motioned for Leopold to put the stereo next to the bug, then tapped the table for attention. Konrad might never recover from his wounds, but at least he would have a little revenge. She hesitated, knowing that a single traitor within the group would spell her death, and then took the plunge.
“This isn't about our studies,” she said. “It’s... it's political. If any of you are uneasy, please leave now and we won’t mention it to you again.”
There was a long pause. No one left.
Gudrun shuddered, inwardly. No one said anything overtly, but everyone knew that the SS had eyes and ears everywhere. Anyone could be a spy, anyone. Children were induced to betray their parents, if they said something against the Reich; wives could be convinced that their duties to the Reich were more important than their duties to their husbands. The university might be a lair for free-thinkers, it might have been designed to allow young Germans to think, but that only meant the SS would have more invested in keeping an eye on it. Hell, the only reason she believed Konrad had been a genuine visitor to the university, the first time they’d met, was that he’d worn his uniform.
And I will not let him down, she thought, savagely. There were some risks that had to be taken, even if the consequences were severe. She was damned if she was letting them get away with crippling her boyfriend and then lying to his family. I will do whatever it takes to take revenge.
“As you know, my boyfriend was sent to South Africa,” she said. It was a nice easy way to start the conversation. “I received two letters from him after his deployment began, then nothing. His family heard nothing too. It was only through a friend in the medical office that I heard he’d actually been sent back to the Reich, that he is currently in hospital right here in Berlin.”
She swallowed hard, then outlined what she’d done, careful not to mention that Kurt had also been involved. His CO would be furious, at the very least; Kurt would probably find himself attached to a punishment battalion and sent to clear a minefield or chase insurgents in Russia, the insurgents who’d been defeated, according to the news, several times over. The more she looked at the news with a cynical eye, the more she saw the discrepancies. If Russia was safe, why were so many soldiers dying there?
“They lied to us,” she said.
“Konrad was nothing special,” Leopold said. He’d never liked Konrad. The SS was rarely popular outside Germany East. “Why would anyone bother to cover up his wounds?”
“They wouldn't,” Gudrun said, and outlined what she’d deduced. “They must be lying about more than just one wounded soldier. How many others have died, or been wounded, in South Africa?”
“The news says that only a few hundred soldiers have been killed or wounded on deployment,” Hilde said. She sounded shaken. “My... my boyfriend... could he have been killed or wounded too?”
Gudrun winced. Hilde’s boyfriend was a tanker who’d been deployed to South Africa a month after Konrad. Martin had never seemed a decent guy to her, but Hilde had clearly liked him, even loved him.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Has he been writing to you?”
“He sends letters, but they’re always delayed,” Hilde said. “I only get them two or three weeks after they’re posted.”
“They’re censored,” Sven said. Too late, Gudrun remembered that Sven’s older brother was a soldier too. It was rare to find a German family who didn’t have at least one member in the military. “The REMFs always insist on reading letters before they’re forwarded to their recipients.”
Hilde coloured. “But he wrote...”
Gudrun could guess. “I don’t think they really care about endearments,” she said. She had a feeling that Martin had written something a little more passionate than Konrad ever had, but the censors probably wouldn't care. It wasn't as if he was sending racy postcards of himself back to his girlfriend. “However, they probably do black out anything to do with the war itself.”
Leopold frowned. “Do you have any idea how dangerous this conversation is?”
“Yes,” Gudrun said, flatly. “Yes, I do.”
“She did offer to allow us to leave,” Hilde pointed out.
Gudrun shot her a grateful look. “We’re being lied to,” she said, bluntly. “And many of us have relatives who may already be dead or wounded - and we don’t know.”
“This could be just an absurd coincidence,” Leopold said, after a moment. “Konrad” - his face twisted for a moment - “might have been caught up in a covert operation of some kind.”
“This isn't a story from one of those damned Otto Skorzeny books,” Sven snapped. “Konrad wasn't a superhuman commando, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.”
Gudrun hid a smile. She'd been forced to read the Otto Skorzeny books herself, at school; Otto Skorzeny, who apparently had been a real person, had pulled off hundreds of death-defying stunts that had reshaped the face of the world. Skorzeny had been pitted against a multitude of villains - Evil Jewish Bankers, Evil American Capitalists, Evil Russian Communists, Evil British Monarchists - and emerged triumphant every time. The books had practically drooled over how Skorzeny proved that National Socialism was the way forward; none could stand against Skorzeny, they’d claimed, because he was a true follower of Adolf Hitler.
And how many of those stories, Gudrun asked herself, were made up of whole cloth?
Hilde held up a hand. “If there's one, as Gudrun said, there will be others,” she said. “And Martin could be among the dead.”
“Let’s assume that’s true,” Leopold said. “What do we do about it?”
“What can we do?” Isla Grasser asked. “It isn't as if we have any real power.”
“The first thing we do is try and find out how widespread this is,” Gudrun said. She'd need more than a single wounded SS trooper to convince people that something was very badly wrong. “We all know people who are serving in South Africa. I want you all to ask questions, to find out when those people last wrote to their families, to find out when they last had leave from the front. We will all ask those questions.”
“Martin’s family won’t talk to me,” Hilde said. “They don’t think I’d make a good housewife.”
Leopold snickered. “Tell them you’re pregnant.”
Hilde glared at him. “I’ve bled three times since he left,” she snarled. “I don’t have any way to convince them I’m pregnant.”
Leopold turned red and started to splutter. Gudrun winked at Hilde. Sex education in the Reich was very limited, but they’d all been taught how their bodies worked and how to recognise a pregnancy. She’d always found it amusing how men turned deaf whenever the subject of female issues cropped up, although she was privately sure that men talked about them in private. Why not? She and her girlfriends often poked fun at male foibles.
“You can just tell them that you’re worried about him,” she said. “I think they’d appreciate that, you know.”
“I doubt it,” Hilde said. She looked downcast for a long moment. “They were trying to set him up with some brainless bitch who came top of the class in basic housewifery.”
“My mother is hardly brainless,” Gudrun said. “And I don’t think anyone else has a brainless mother either.”
“That’s not very helpful,” Hilde said.
Gudrun shrugged. “Are we all agreed on our first step?”
“Yeah,” Sven said. “But tell me, Gudrun; what are we going to do if we discover there are more soldiers who’ve lost contact with their families?”
“Then we decide what to do,” Gudrun said. She had half a plan already, but she needed them to understand what was going on before she could push them to commit to anything more than private discussions. “You can all think about it while we’re gathering data and then we can decide what to do.”
“Escape to America,” Horst said, quietly. “My brother says he isn't planning to come back after his period in America comes to an end.”
Gudrun sucked in her breath. She'd applied for the chance to become an exchange student, but she wasn't particularly hopeful. Even if she won one of the coveted slots, her parents would probably refuse to allow her to leave the country. But if she was allowed to leave... would she return? There was no shortage of whispered stories about students who tasted life in America, home of blue jeans, country music and freedom, and refused to come back to Germany.
“I don’t know,” she said. Without one of the slots, it was unlikely she could get to Vichy France, let alone Britain. She wouldn't have a travel permit, for one thing, and an unaccompanied teenage girl would raise eyebrows. “We are supposed to be the smartest people in Germany. I’m sure we can figure something out.”
“There were stories of student protests in America,” Isla said.
“Those students weren't at risk of being gunned down like rampaging Gastarbeiters,” Horst snapped. “If we do anything with this information, we run a terrible risk.”
“Yes, we do,” Gudrun said. She took a breath. “Konrad was - is - an SS trooper - I know, some of you detested him for wearing the Sigrunen lightning bolts. But he is a brave and decent man and he has been betrayed by the men he serves. A dead war hero is meant to be given a hero’s funeral, a wounded war hero is meant to lack for nothing. And yet, what does he have? A hospital bed in a crowded ward and no hope of recovery, while his family thinks he’s still in South Africa! What will they tell his family when he is due to return from the war?”
She took a breath, looking from face to face. None of them had really known what they were getting into, not really. They certainly hadn't realised what she intended to tell them.
“I’m not going to sit on my backside and do nothing,” she concluded. “We are going to find out the truth and then we’re going to work out what to do with it. It is our duty to our country. That is what we are going to do.”

Chapter Seven
Schulze Residence/SS Safehouse, Berlin

20 July 1985
“Gudrun,” Liana Schulze called, as she opened the door. “Have you heard anything from my brother?”
Gudrun felt a stab of guilt as she looked at the younger girl. Liana was sixteen, on the verge of adulthood; hell, she could marry with her parents’ permission, if she didn't want to finish her final year of schooling. And she’d always looked up to Gudrun, chatting happily to her about nothing in particular; Gudrun had always thought she’d make a good sister-in-law. But she didn't dare tell the younger girl the truth. She’d speak to her father and he’d report Gudrun to the authorities.
“I haven’t heard anything from your brother,” she said. It was true enough. “I actually came to speak to your father.”
Liana’s face fell. Gudrun understood. She was the only child left in the house, now that Konrad had gone to war; she’d have no one to talk to, merely chores to perform for her mother. And she had to have known, at some deep level, that Gudrun hadn't come to talk to her. Gudrun was eighteen and a university student to boot. Socially, they had very little in common. They’d hardly spend time together when Konrad wasn't around.
“I understand,” she said. “Are you...”
Pregnant, Gudrun thought. She hadn't gone all the way with Konrad. And it would have obvious that I was pregnant four months ago, if I was pregnant.
“No, but I do need to speak to him,” she said. “Is he in his study?”
“I think so,” Liana said.
She held the door open long enough for Gudrun to step inside and then closed it before leading the way through the living room and up to the door of Volker Schulze’s study. It was firmly shut, perhaps locked; Liana tapped on the door and waited for her father to invite her in before opening the door. Gudrun stepped past her and into the study.
“Gudrun,” Volker Schulze said. He lifted an eyebrow as he turned to face her. “What brings you to my house?”
Gudrun hesitated, bracing herself. Volker Schulze had always made her a little nervous, even though she had the feeling that her father was meant to make Konrad nervous. He looked like an older version of his son, his face marred by scars from a long career in the SS before he’d retired and found work as a factory foreman. His study was covered with mementos of his career, from a spiked helmet he’d salvaged from somewhere to a pistol he claimed to have taken from a British commando team in North Africa. A large chart hung on the far wall, showing the spread of the Reich.
And just how much of that chart, Gudrun asked herself, is a lie?
She pushed the question to one side. “Since we last spoke, I haven’t heard anything from Konrad,” she said, simply. “I was wondering if you’d heard anything from him yourself.”
Volker Schulze looked pensive. “I haven’t heard anything, no,” he said. Gudrun trusted he wouldn't have kept anything from her, if he had heard something. “Do you have reason to worry?”
“I miss him,” Gudrun said.
“Young men have always gone to war,” Volker Schulze said, as reassuringly as he could. “I believe that young women like you have always waited for their heroes to come home.”
Gudrun winced before she could catch herself. One thing that had been hammered into her head at school was the importance of remaining faithful. A girl who dumped a boy while he was on deployment could expect to be a social pariah, even if the boy had been abusive and beaten her while they were together. Even if there had been someone else, she knew, it would have been cruel to dump Konrad while he was away. She would have waited for him to come home before telling him the bad news.
“But I’ve heard nothing,” she said, plaintively. Perhaps it would cover her lapse. “Where is he?”
“On deployment,” Volker Schulze said. He stood and patted her shoulder, awkwardly. “I was often out of touch for months at a time, Gudrun. Konrad may well be in the same position.”
He paused. “Are you...?”
“No,” Gudrun said, firmly. She groaned inwardly, resisting the urge to rub his nose in how she knew she wasn't expecting a baby. “I’m not pregnant.”
“That’s good,” Volker Schulze said. “Gudrun, I understand how you feel, but Konrad isn't choosing not to write to you. I believe he will contact you as soon as he can. He does love you and we, his parents, approve of you.”
Gudrun felt another stab of bitter guilt. Hilde wasn't atypical; parents, particularly those who had lived through the deprivation of the war, wanted their sons to marry good housewives, women who could cook, clean and bear their grandchildren. They didn't want academics, career women or even the handful of girls who’d made a career in the military; they assumed, perhaps correctly, that such women would never let their husbands boss them around in public. Konrad’s parents could easily have told him that they would never approve his relationship with Gudrun and the hell of it was that they might have had a point. Instead, they’d welcomed her into their house.
“I thank you,” she said, lowering her gaze. “Have you heard anything else from the front?”
Volker Schulze gave her a sharp look. “What do you mean?”
“The news is always bland,” Gudrun said, carefully. “I was wondering if you’d heard something a little more detailed.”
“There are endless skirmishes with the insurgents,” Volker Schulze said. It wasn't much more than she could have deduced from the news broadcasts, reading between the lines. “It may take longer than we had thought to defeat the niggers.”
Gudrun blinked. “The news said it would only be a short commitment.”
Volker Schulze gave her a long considering look. “There are people in my office,” he said, “who don’t really understand how the factory actually works. Therefore, they make promises they cannot keep to people who are equally in the dark about what’s actually happening and rely on the managers on the ground to cover for their failings.”
It took Gudrun a moment to realise what he was trying to tell her. If someone could be so out of touch in a small factory, and she had no trouble in believing it, how much more out of touch were the people in the Reichstag, the men who ran the country? Had they started the war in South Africa because they believed, honestly believed, that victory would be no harder than baking a cake?
“I believe my daughter misses you,” Volker Schulze said, after a moment. “You are, of course, quite welcome to visit any time you like.”
“Thank you, sir,” Gudrun said. It wasn't entirely proper, but there would be a chaperone in the house if necessary. “And I’m sorry...”
“For not being pregnant?” Volker Schulze asked, dryly. “I respect the Reichsführer’s feelings regarding the need to raise the next generation of German men, but I am enough of a traditionalist to believe that the happy couple should be married before they start producing children. A child should know his father.”
Gudrun blushed, furiously. No one would really care if she was a virgin or not on her wedding night, not when everyone would understand her giving herself to her boyfriend before he went off to the war. The only real question would be if she’d had a child - and, if she had, what benefits the child could claim. Konrad’s baby could draw an SS pension as well as state child support; hell, if she claimed he’d been planning to marry her - and his family would likely back her up - she could claim his SS pension as well. But it was immaterial. She’d never let him take off her panties, let alone go inside her...
“I agree,” she said, torn between an insane urge to giggle and a growing urge to just turn and run. Talking to her mother about men had been quite bad enough. “Please will you let me know the moment you hear anything?”
“I’ll call your house directly,” Volker Schulze promised.
He escorted her to the door - there was no sign of his wife or daughter - and waved her through. Gudrun gave him an impulsive hug, then hurried down the steps and back onto the road that led home. She had several other people she wanted to talk to before night fell, before she was expected home to assist her mother with the cooking. And then...
His family doesn't know, she thought, as she walked past a handful of soldiers making their way to the barracks on the outskirts of the city. She’d been sure of it, but it never hurt to make sure. They would have told me something if they’d heard anything.
She glanced at her watch, then turned the corner. A couple of boys she'd known from her first house lived there; she’d played with them as a little girl, before they’d gone to school and emerged too stuck-up to play with girls. They too had gone to the wars. No one would mind if she asked after them, surely? And one of them had been in the same unit as Hilde’s boyfriend. It would be interesting to hear what they had to say.
***

Horst Albrecht knew, without false modesty, that he was a very smart young man. Everyone had told him so, right from the day he’d entered upper schooling in Germanica and impressed his tutors with his intelligence. Indeed, his family had been so proud of him that they’d entered him into the SS Academy two years before the normal application date; the SS, somewhat to Horst’s surprise, had accepted him without question. It had taken him a while to see why his superiors might be interested in a spy who was barely old enough to shave. But, by the time he’d graduated from one of the covert programs, he’d come to see the value of an agent who was literally eighteen years old.


“The university is a breeding ground for ideas,” his trainers had told him, when he’d finally passed the course. Being a spy was far more than charging around like Otto Skorzeny, riding hot motorcycles and winning the hearts of beautiful women. “Some of those ideas will be very bad. Your task is to watch for those who spread bad ideas and report them.”
It hadn't been hard, at first. Horst had entered the university with the 1984 class; he’d made friends, chatted happily to everyone and was generally well-liked by his peers. The students didn't want to look beyond the surface, not when they were escaping a regimented existence for the first time in their lives. Horst had no trouble making friends and generally being popular; hell, he’d even had a couple of girlfriends.
He hadn’t expected Gudrun to be a troublemaker. Even now, hours after he’d made his slow way to the SS safehouse - it doubled as a boarding house for students from Germany East, supervised by a grim-faced matron who provided all the explanation other students needed for why they weren't invited to the safehouse - he still couldn't quite believe it. Gudrun was intelligent, true, and strikingly pretty; he might have dated her himself if she hadn't been involved with an SS trooper. Her father was a policeman, her brother a soldier in the Berlin Guard... she hardly fitted the profile of a potential troublemaker. There were few petty little resentments in her life, save for being born female...
And she could overcome most of those problems by being a good student, Horst thought, as he opened the door into his apartment. A computer expert or rocket scientist would be worth her weight in gold, if she truly hated the thought of becoming a housewife.
And yet, she’d said, quite clearly, that her boyfriend had been quietly shipped home, his wounds covered up. Her concern - and her anger - was quite justified.
The apartment wasn't big, although it was vastly superior to the military barracks or slave pens for the Untermenschen in Germanica. He dropped his bag on the bed, clicked the kettle on and prepared a mug of coffee. He’d long since grown used to the idea of never touching a drop of alcohol, even on Victory Day. Who knew what would come out of his mouth when he was drunk? Once his drink was ready, he placed it on the bedside table and lay down to have a bit of a think.
Technically, he should report Gudrun at once. She had doubts - and, instead of burying them, she was trying to do something, something that might easily turn out to be treacherous. Horst couldn't imagine what she had in mind - eight students or eighty, armed rebellion was unlikely to succeed and she had to know it - but it was his duty to report her to his superiors and let them decide how to handle the matter. It might come to nothing, he knew, or it might become something truly serious. His superiors might decide to quietly vanish Gudrun and her fellows, shipping them off to Germany East or merely dumping them into a slave camp; the girls, at least, would make good breeding stock.
And yet, he too had his doubts.
He’d liked Konrad Schulze, the first time they’d met. It wasn't something he could show, not when it would risk his cover, but he’d liked the older man. In some ways, Konrad had reminded Horst of his brother, who hadn’t actually vanished into America and never returned. He’d been blonde, blue-eyed and muscular, so muscular that Horst had wondered if he’d been used as the template for countless recruiting posters. Horst had even used his security codes to look up the young man’s file and discovered, to his amusement, that Konrad was on the short list for promotion. Someone thought very highly of him.
But they don’t now, Horst thought, savagely. They see him as an embarrassment.
It was a bitter thought. Konrad had been no covert agent, no undercover operative all too aware that even the merest hint of suspicion would mean instant death or permanent incarceration in a black prison. He’d certainly had no reason to believe he would simply be abandoned by his superiors, if he were caught by the enemy. No, he’d worn his black uniform proudly. Konrad should have been given full honours, if he'd been killed, or brought home on a pension if he'd been badly wounded. Instead...
He didn't think Gudrun had lied, but it would be easy enough to check her story. The computers in the apartment - another reason not to let anyone who wasn't an SS operative enter the building - were linked directly to the Berlin Network. He logged on, accessed the hospital records and searched for Konrad’s name. The computers were slow - they hadn't had university students fiddling with the coding to make them a little more efficient - but it didn't take him long to uncover records belonging to one Konrad Schulze. He’d been badly wounded - the file didn't go into details, suggesting that no one had told the hospital administrators very much - and wasn't expected to survive.
They should have triaged him, he thought, genuinely shocked. It was an accepted fact of military life that badly-wounded soldiers were often allowed to die so less-wounded soldiers could be saved, yet... it was clear, just from reading between the lines, that the medical staff had worked desperately to save him. And yet, the brain damage alone almost guaranteed that Konrad would never recover. The bastards could have given him a mercy killing and come up with a cover story: instead they seemed content to leave him on life support indefinitely. A hero... and they chose to leave him a vegetable!
Horst kept his feelings under tight control as he logged out of the hospital network, then checked the SS personnel database. Konrad’s file had been marked inactive - and it wasn't the only one. Cross-referencing the database showed Horst several hundred other troopers who seemed to be permanently in bureaucratic limbo, marked as neither dead nor alive. And if that was true of the SS, it was very likely true of the army too.
She didn't lie, he thought, numbly. And that means... what?
He turned the computer off, finished his coffee and lay back on his bed. He’d been raised to worship the SS, just like everyone else in Germany East. The SS was all that stood between the settlements and insurgents who would happily kill German men, rape German women and eat German children. He’d grown up reading horror stories, all of which had happy endings when the SS rescued the women or avenged their deaths. Joining the SS hadn't been a hard decision at all. They’d been his heroes!
And now they were being betrayed, betrayed by their own leaders.
Gudrun would run into trouble, sooner or later. Horst had no doubt of it. She was intelligent, and she knew to guard her tongue around strangers, but she had no way of knowing how things worked in the world. Hell, she’d managed to invite an SS spy to her very first meeting! She couldn't get very far without help...
... And Horst, who knew his duty called for him to report her, was seriously considering offering her that help.
It was a hard choice to make. If he were caught, his family would disown him - and it probably wouldn't be enough to save their lives. It would be easy to alert the SS, to have Gudrun and the rest of the students put under surveillance, and put an end to the whole affair... but he didn't want to put an end to the whole affair. He wanted her to do... what? What would she do if she proved her point?
Perhaps I’ll just wait and see if she has a plan, he told himself. And if she does, I can decide what to do about it.
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