20 July 1985 It was blasphemy to even consider it, but there were times when Reichsführer-SS Karl Holliston thought that Heinrich Himmler had been a very strange man. Karl understood the value of strength - and the will to use it - as much as any other SS officer, yet Himmler’s obsession with the occult had undermined the last five years of his career, allowing him to be gently nudged aside by his former subordinates. Wewelsburg Castle itself was a grand monument to that obsession; parts of the castle had been redesigned to look like something from the Grand Order of Teutonic Knights, while other parts were designed to serve as the SS’s western centre of operations. There was even a monument to the Holy Grail in the lower levels, perched in the centre of a round table.
And some of Himmler’s other ideas might have caught on, if he’d had longer, Karl thought. Shrines to the old gods, grand ceremonies of might and magic... He shook his head in rueful amusement. Rumours of virgin sacrifices and blood oaths had hovered around the castle for as long as the SS had occupied it - and, indeed, there were some very strange cults and secret societies rumoured to exist within the SS itself. Karl had never seen anything to indicate that they even existed, but that proved nothing. The SS was a multitude of competing factions and some of them were very secretive indeed. And yet, what need did they have of the old gods? All that was needed was the will to power.
A strong will can overcome anything, Karl thought, remembering his training as a young officer. They’d been pushed to the limit, the weak falling by the wayside or dying in training; the survivors strong enough to keep going, whatever the world threw at them. It had been twenty years since Karl had seen active service, since he’d been promoted into a desk job, but he’d done his best to stay in shape. And the will to power is everything.
His buzzer rang. “Herr Reichsführer, Obergruppenfuehrer Felix Kortig is here,” his secretary said. “Shall I send him in?”
“Yes, please,” Karl said. Maria had been with him ever since he’d been promoted into high office, her status rising with his. If she had any interests outside the office, he’d never seen them. He could be rude to anyone else, but not her. “And hold all calls until I’ve finished with him.”
He looked up as the door opened, revealing a blonde-haired man wearing a black uniform and carrying a pistol at his belt. Karl couldn't avoid a flicker of envy as Obergruppenfuehrer Felix Kortig strode forward and snapped out a precise salute. Kortig might be an Obergruppenfuehrer, but he was still jumping out of planes with the young bucks, while Karl himself was stuck in an office, playing political games with the civilians and the military.
“Herr Reichsführer,” Kortig said. “Heil Bormann!”
“Heil Bormann,” Karl echoed. “You may speak freely - and relax.”
Kortig relaxed, minimally. “Jawohl, Herr Reichsführer,” he said. “You wished to speak with me?”
“Yes,” Karl said. He tapped the papers on his desk. “I trust you have had an opportunity to study the proposals for Operation Headshot?”
“I have,” Kortig said. “They’re unworkable.”
Karl blinked in surprise, despite himself. Very few people would tell the Reichsführer-SS that one of his pet concepts was unworkable, which might explain why Himmler had been able to waste so many resources on his occult research. Sending teams of dedicated researchers to Tibet, even in the aftermath of the war, hadn't been too costly, but transporting ancient artefacts all the way back to Germany had proved a major strain. The rest of the Reich hadn't been too pleased at the prospect of a diplomatic incident with China, even if the Chinese had been fighting a civil war at the time.
He pushed the thought aside, angrily. “Unworkable?”
“Yes, Herr Reichsführer,” Kortig said.
Karl bit down on his anger with an effort. “Otto Skorzeny plotted to jump into London in 1950 and slaughter the British Government,” he said. “Wouldn't that have been a more challenging operation?”
“The operation was planned in the context of an outright invasion,” Kortig pointed out, smoothly. “I have seen those plans, Herr Reichsführer; Skorzeny intended to jump into Westminster, kill as many government ministers as he could find and then escape into the streets of London. Given the lack of extraction plans, I suspect Skorzeny believed the whole operation to be a suicide mission. The best the commandos could reasonably hope for was to go to ground in London and wait for the invasion force to seize the city.”
He tapped the map, sharply. “It was never envisaged, at the time the plan was drawn up, that the British would be our allies, nor that we would be trying to put a friendly government into Westminster. The understanding was that they were our enemies and their country would be ruled with an iron hand.”
Karl nodded, once. Britain had been - and still was - the Reich’s most determined enemy, one protected by a body of water that might as well have been a castle moat. Hitler had shied away from trying to launch an offensive across the English Channel, when the British had been at their weakest; in 1950, with American forces based in Britain, an invasion would have been a very chancy affair indeed. And then the British had developed their own nuclear weapons and plans for a later invasion had been abandoned. Taking London would have been pointless if Berlin had been thrown into the fire.
“Pretoria is a different case, Herr Reichsführer,” Kortig said, his finger tracing positions on the map. “Their government is scattered, to reduce the risk of being decapitated by a suicide bomber, and we have been unable to obtain solid information on who is where at any one time. In addition, the South African troops protecting Pretoria are experienced battle-hardened veterans, men who are well used to coping with surprise attacks and driving back the attackers before they can do major damage...”
“Our stormtroopers are far better trained than black-assed terrorists,” Karl said, icily.
“It won’t matter,” Kortig said. “At best, we may eliminate one or two senior government ministers, but I couldn't guarantee we would get them all. The South Africans would know we’d effectively declared war on them. These are not Italians, Herr Reichsführer; the South Africans will strike back at our own forces within their country. Our alliance with them will be at an end. The only people who will gain from the whole affair will be the blacks, who will no doubt sit back and watch as the whites destroy each other.”
He shook his head. “South Africa is not a country that can be easily bullied, Herr Reichsführer,” he said. “Operation Headshot is a disaster waiting to happen.”
Karl gritted his teeth. He’d asked for the truth, hadn't he? And Kortig was an experienced officer with a string of successes to his name. If he believed the operation was impossible, he was probably right. And yet... the Reich needed to win in South Africa. They didn't dare lose.
“It’s unlikely the Reichstag will agree to commit additional troops to South Africa,” he said, grimly. “Do we have any other way to achieve victory?”
“Probably not,” Kortig said, after a moment. “Cutting off the supply lines from America would help, Herr Reichsführer, but the Yankees aren't the sole problem. The blacks know they’re doomed if they surrender. Fighting is the only logical choice.”
“They’re black,” Karl protested.
“So were the Ethiopians,” Kortig reminded him. “Just how badly did they manhandle the Italians?”
Karl grimaced. Ethiopia had nearly defeated the Italian invasion in 1935, a humiliation that had badly weakened Mussolini’s government. The British had liberated Ethiopia in 1941, then - when Ethiopia had been returned to Italy by the terms of the peace treaty - left the Ethiopians with a considerable stockpile of weapons. It had taken the Italians twenty years to hammer Ethiopia into some semblance of order and large parts of the country were still restless.
“They still lost,” he said, finally.
“And we may yet win in South Africa,” Kortig said. “However, betraying our allies in the middle of a war will only lead to chaos.”
Karl glowered. “Is there anything else we can do?”
“Find a way to stiffen their spine,” Kortig said. “It isn't as if the apartheid government has anywhere to go.”
“I’ll see what I can find,” Karl said. “Are you readying yourself to return to the war?”
“Yes, Herr Reichsführer,” Kortig said. “However, I do have some concerns about the treatment of wounded - and the dead.”
Karl cursed under his breath. South Africa had been meant to be a quick victory. The German troops would reinforce South Africa’s, the blacks would be ruthlessly crushed and there would be a victory parade through Berlin to show that the Reich still had teeth. Instead, thousands of soldiers were dead or wounded and there was very little to show for it. For once, he was in total agreement with Hans Krueger. They didn't dare tell the Reich that so many fine young men had been killed or brutally maimed for nothing.
“That isn’t your concern,” he said. “Concentrate on finding ways to destroy the enemy.”
“Rumours are spreading, Herr Reichsführer,” Kortig said. “I’ve heard soldiers openly wondering just what’s happening to the dead or wounded.”
“Such talk is to be reported at once,” Karl snapped.
“And then working with the Heer will become impossible,” Kortig said. “We’re not the Gestapo, Herr Reichsführer.”
Karl scowled. The Gestapo had managed to wind up with egg on its face after Von Braun had defected to the United States, shortly after the Arab Uprising had begun. His predecessor had been quick to take advantage of his rival’s weakness by asserting control over counter-intelligence and policing, which had led to another major turf war when the Gestapo had started to recover from its failure. And both services had often wound up working at cross-purposes. God alone knew what the Americans had managed to do while the Gestapo and the SS had been at daggers drawn.
When I am Fuhrer, there will be a reassessment, Karl thought, coldly. The Gestapo will be folded into the SS, once the senior leadership has been purged.
“I suppose not,” he said, neutrally. “I’ll see you before you depart, Herr Obergruppenfuehrer.”
“Likewise, Herr Reichsführer,” Kortig said.
Karl watched him go, thinking hard. Hans Krueger - damn the man - had made it clear that the civilians would never support deploying additional troops to South Africa, but the military might have other ideas. Field Marshal Justus Stoffregen was unlikely to take a stand, yet one of his immediate subordinates might be tempted into supporting the deployment, in exchange for a number of concessions. It galled Karl to have to concede anything to the military - they should know to obey orders without question - but he had no choice. The military spent more time fighting turf wars with the Waffen-SS than it did preparing for the final war with America.
He keyed his intercom. “Maria, please invite Field Marshal Voss to the castle,” he said, slowly. He made a habit of keeping track of Voss’s schedule - along with those of the other high-ranking officials - and Voss shouldn't be too far away. “Let me know when he arrives.”
“Yes, Herr Reichsführer,” Maria said. There was a long pause as she put the request through the secure computer network. “Voss’s aide says he can make it to the castle within four hours, once he’s finished his inspection tour.”
“That will be suitable,” Karl assured her. “Please let me know when he arrives.”
He wondered, as he ordered dinner, if Voss was genuinely occupied or probing to see how important the matter was, but decided it wasn't worth trying to find out. Ordering Voss to the castle would make the Field Marshal dig in his heels - Field Marshals didn't like being ordered around as though they were new recruits - and probably alert the civilians that Karl was trying to make a private arrangement with the military. Kruger, to give the bastard his due, had his own network of spies and agents within both the military and the SS. But he didn't understand, he couldn't understand, the triumph of the will.
Our economy was poor when the Yankees blew up the global economy, Karl thought. He hadn't lived through those times, but his parents had. No wonder they’d wanted a farm, even if it exposed them to constant insurgent attacks. They’d wanted something solid under their feet. And we still managed to create an empire greater than Alexander’s.
It was nearly five hours before Field Marshal Gunter Voss was shown into the office. Karl rose to his feet, carefully pasting a civil expression on his face. The military, for all its skill and dedication, wasn’t as devoted to the will as the SS, but it had to be respected for the moment. Afterwards, when Karl held supreme power, it would be different. The military would be folded into the SS and its senior leadership removed from power. It might have been forty years since Rommel had allowed the Jews to escape Palestine, but the SS had never forgotten, let alone forgiven.
Pity Rommel died before the Fuhrer, he thought, as he shook hands with Voss. Himmler would have given him a thoroughly unpleasant death. “Herr Reichsführer,” Voss said, once they had exchanged pleasantries. “I confess I was quite curious to see the castle. I’ve heard so much about it.”
“I’m afraid we don’t sacrifice virgins here,” Karl said. He smiled, as if to say that all such rumours were thoroughly absurd. “Nor do we bleed our men white so they are bound to us in death as well as life.”
“How disappointing,” Voss said. He sat on a chair and leaned forward. “I’m due to inspect the fortifications at Dunkirk tomorrow, Herr Reichsführer, so I really don’t have much time. Can we get to the point?”
“Of course,” Karl said. He disliked small talk too. Thankfully, it wasn't one of the qualifications for his post. “I want your support for deploying additional forces to South Africa.”
“Chancy,” Voss observed. “The logistics are going to be a pain in the ass. Any day now, the Yankees are going to start sending more advanced MANPAD weapons to South Africa, weapons capable of hitting our transport aircraft in flight. And once we start losing those aircraft in significant numbers... well, we might as well admit that the war is on the verge of being lost along with them.”
“The Luftwaffe will certainly be horrified at the thought of having the paint on their aircraft scratched,” Karl agreed, tightly.
“Scratched isn't the problem,” Voss said, simply. “The problem is losing aircraft we cannot easily replace. And the road network from French North Africa to South Africa is pathetic.”
Karl nodded, slowly. Millions of coolies had been pressed into working on a road and rail network to link the disparate sections of Africa together, but it was slow going. The blacks were rebellious and the French, he suspected, were deliberately delaying, fearing - perhaps - that they would lose the last vestiges of their independence once the road network was up and running. Besides, the South Africans had already lost hundreds of vehicles to IED attacks on their roads. The problem would merely spread through the rest of Africa.
Voss smiled, rather coldly. “What are you prepared to offer in exchange?”
“You’re engaged in a long duel with the Luftwaffe over who controls the close-air support aircraft,” Karl said. It wasn't a problem the SS faced, not when the Waffen-SS had its own fleet of CAS aircraft. “I would be prepared to throw my support behind you.”
He watched Voss carefully, wondering just what the Field Marshal was thinking. The Heer wanted its own CAS fleet desperately, knowing that the Luftwaffe preferred to spend money on heavy bombers and fancy jet fighters rather than aircraft that might actually be useful in South Africa. And yet, Goring’s will still cast a long shadow over the service he’d built up from scratch. It had taken years of political infighting for the Kriegsmarine to get control over the aircraft it flew from its aircraft carriers...
Not, in the end, that the carriers ended up going very far from the Reich, he thought. There was nowhere for them to go, unless they wanted to run the gauntlet of British and American missiles. After what had happened to Norway, few countries would cheerfully accept a German ship paying a port call. Sending the fleet to South Africa would be asking for trouble.
He frowned at the thought. Might the navy actually do something useful and ship troops south? The rebels couldn't harm the fleet and the Americans were unlikely to start a war by attacking German ships... unless they thought they could win. Karl knew he would have started the war in an instant if he thought he could win outright and he assumed the Americans had the same attitude. What else could explain the steady pressure they kept on the Reich?
“That’s a very tempting offer, Herr Reichsführer,” Voss said, finally. “Of course, this may put the Luftwaffe in the opposite camp.”
“Which would put the Kriegsmarine in ours,” Karl observed. The navy would hardly be likely to concede anything to the Luftwaffe. Give the flyboys an inch and they would take a mile. “We can hold them at bay.”
“Let us hope so, Herr Reichsführer,” Voss said. “But the logistics are still a major headache.”
“We can ship troops south,” Karl said, and explained his reasoning. “The rebels will find it harder to interrupt those supply lines.”
Chapter Nine Albert Speer University, Berlin
23 July 1985 “I checked with a number of people I know,” Gudrun said, once the room was locked and the bug was listening to bad American music. “Konrad’s father is still unaware that his son is anywhere other than South Africa, while four other families have not heard anything from their children, even censored letters, for the last couple of months. Three of their children had a habit of writing at least once a week before suddenly going silent.”
She took a breath. The fourth... she’d had to screw up all her courage to visit, for she’d known the father by reputation and nothing she’d heard had been good. His wife had left him shortly after the children had reached adulthood, which proved he’d treated her badly; the Reich wouldn't look too kindly on a wife who abandoned her husband, denying her both a divorce and the right to remarry. Two minutes of standing on his doorstep, feeling his eyes leaving trails of slime across her breasts, had convinced her that the bastard’s son had every reason not to write to his father. There was no way to know if he was dead or alive.
I should have taken Kurt, she thought, although that would have been far too revealing. He would have asked too many questions.
“That’s what I found anyway,” she said. “What about the rest of you?”
“I checked with my maternal auntie,” Sven said. “She told me that her eldest son has gone silent too, although his letters are always irregular. My paternal grandfather, however, said he’d received a heavily-censored letter from his middle son only last week. It wasn't very detailed, but it was something.”
Gudrun listened, quietly, as the remaining students offered their own observations. If they’d had doubts, she realised, they’d lost them. Too many of their military relatives had gone silent at once. Even the ones who rarely wrote home had gone completely silent. It chilled her to the bone when she considered the implications. Statistically, for a group of eight students to know over thirty soldiers who’d stopped writing to their families, the casualty rates had to be terrifyingly high.
“I came across something else,” Horst said, once everyone else had finished. “My second cousin is married to a soldier on deployment. She got a letter from him asking after a friend who’d been wounded and sent home. So she checked with the guy’s wife - she knew the lady personally - and the wife didn't know anything about it. The poor woman went to ask questions and then... nothing.”
Gudrun blinked. “Nothing at all?”
“Nothing,” Horst confirmed. “Someone told her to keep her mouth shut or else.”
Hilde leaned forward, her face pale. “How can you be sure?”
“I can't think of any other explanation,” Horst said. “They could have easily told her that her husband was fine, if he was fine. But they were clearly unwilling to admit he was wounded.”
He looked at Gudrun. “You might want to ask the person who helped you sneak into the hospital just how many other soldiers are held there,” he added. “I’d bet good money that there are more wounded distributed around the Reich.”
“I wouldn't take that bet,” Sven said.
“Me neither,” Gudrun said. She looked from face to face, bracing herself. They had already crossed the line, but it wasn't too late. “We know the government is lying to us - that it has lied to us many times before. What do we do about it?”
“What can we do?” Hilde asked. “If we start asking questions, we will get kicked out of the university.”
Gudrun nodded. The one topic that was off-limits at the university was the Reich itself. A few students had questioned that, back in the early days, and been unceremoniously expelled. Hell, they weren't encouraged to study more than the STEM subjects. Any student who showed more than minimal interest in the social sciences was likely to run into trouble.
“Then we can't ask questions here,” she said. She'd been thinking about it ever since she’d discovered what had happened to Konrad. “We need to spread the word.”
“We could send messages through the computer network,” Sven offered. “People like me have been sending covert messages without the SS reading them ever since the network was established.”
“Or they just don’t care,” Horst pointed out, darkly. “What are you actually doing online anyway?”
Sven coloured. “Could you send a message without it being trapped in the filters and read?”
Horst looked back at him. “Could you send a message without it being traced back to you?”
“Easily,” Sven said. “You just wipe the record of it being sent from the network. It looks as though the message spontaneously appeared in the recipient’s inbox.”
Gudrun held up a hand. “Yes, but we need to reach as many people as possible,” she said, carefully. “How many people do you know who have access to a computer?”
There was an awkward pause. “Very few, outside the university network,” Sven conceded, finally.
“That’s true,” Gudrun said. “I don’t have a computer at home. Is there anyone in this room who does have a private computer?”
“No,” Michael Sachs said. “My father would explode if I suggested spending ten thousand Reichmarks on an American computer.”
Gudrun nodded. Her father would have pretty much the same reaction. It would cost much of his yearly salary, assuming he could purchase one in the first place... and, once he had it, it wouldn't be much use. Gudrun had a typewriter she shared with her younger brothers and that had been quite expensive enough. Buying a printer would cost another five thousand Reichmarks and linking it up to the national computer network would be impossible. The Reich wouldn't want to put such a powerful communications tool in everyone’s hands.
“So... what do we do?” Hilde asked. One hand toyed with her hair as she spoke. “We cannot risk adding more people to our group, can we?”
Gudrun shook her head. There would be spies within the university - SS,