Teresa appeared to absorb the revelation without so much as flinching. I could tell she was mad, and of course I didn’t blame her. It’s not every day you find out your husband was once part of a nefarious regime responsible for mass genocide and hellbent on conquering the world. Not to mention the fact that he never bothered to tell you the truth about it.
She remained stoic throughout my entire explanation, only adding brief one-word responses and simple questions. I – on the other hand, completely broke down, releasing decades of harbored secrets and regrets. She held me close as I spoke, and seemed genuinely understanding. Finally, when I was done she pushed back and looked me in the eye.
“I had a feeling you were hiding something. I’m glad you told me the truth.” I thought she would get up and walk out right then and there. For three days she kept her distance, as if I had become a complete stranger to her. In a way, I guess that’s exactly what I had become. Everything she knew about me, my past, my family, all of it was a lie concocted to hide the painful truth.
Finally, she approached me on the morning of the 4th. We sat on the bed in our room and she took my hand in hers.
“Do you remember when we first met?” Her glimmering green eyes flicked to me.
“Yeah, that party at Dave’s house on the 4th of July.” Teresa giggled and shook her head.
“That bumbling drunken oaf who fell in the pool in his suit, got everybody wet. Do you remember?” Her eyes glinted and lips split into a genuine smile.
“How could I ever forget?” Teresa gave a disbelieving look and pinched my arm.
“I thought you had forgotten. You were a wee bit scuttered that night.” She said with a smile.
“I was not that drunk…” I countered. Teresa rolled her eyes and rose from the bed. She picked up our family photo from the dresser, and admired it in her hands.
“That was the night I met the man I love.” Her face turned back to me, smile now absent.
“I remember seeing you there, tall, blonde, handsome in your blue suit. I knew there was something mysterious about you from the very beginning. I knew you kept secrets.” She set the picture back down and approached me. Her smooth hands curled around my head, rustling my hair and running her fingers along my scalp.
“I tried to fight it, I really did. But before I knew it I was in love with an old man.” I smiled and rose to my feet, placing my hands on her hips and staring into her marvelous eyes.
“I love Robert Hughes…” I clutched her hands in mine and moved in for a kiss. She turned as I did, and I ended up kissing her cheek.
“But I can’t love the man who he was…” Confused, I pulled back as my heart reeled itself back in. Tears slowly drifted from her eyes.
“I can’t do it…” She shook her head, wiping the tears from her eyes.
“My brother… and three of my cousins died fighting the men you served. It would be a travesty…”
“Teresa… that’s not…I’m…” What was I to say? I watched, statuesque as Teresa silently left the room. She began to pack soon thereafter. I wanted to talk, to promise her that things would be better, that I would be better. But there was no escaping the past.
When the children returned from school, she instructed them to gather their immediate belongings and enter the car.
“Papa… what’s going on?” Evelyn asked with a nervous grimace. I gave her a big hug, and told her not to worry. I told her to go along with her mother, but she resisted.
“No! I want to stay here.” I smiled and caressed her cheek, giving hollow promises that things would be okay. Evelyn latched her arms around me, and I carried her out to the old Cadillac in the driveway. Jacqueline and Andrew packed their things, and I gave each of them a big hug, promising to see them again soon. I could see the confusion in their faces, and I wished so badly to be able to reassure them. But I couldn’t.
I returned back inside as the children waited in the car with devastated expressions. Teresa had finished her packing and was on her way out the door. She walked right by me, as if I were no more important than the furniture in the room. She turned the handle and moved to step out but paused halfway. Her head turned, and her scarlet hair twirled in the light.
“What’s your real name?” I paused for a moment, collecting myself.
“Klaus…” Teresa turned back in the doorway with tears streaming down her cheeks. I got one last look at her, the woman I loved more than anything.
“Goodbye Klaus.” We shared a moment together, one final moment that has become embedded into the deepest crevices of my mind.
I saw a lot of things in her eyes that day. Anger, regret, despair, but most painful of all was the heartbreak. I had thrust the dagger into her chest with my confession, and I saw that spark we once shared extinguish before my very eyes. She turned and closed the door behind her. And just like that, she was gone.
I never thought I could ever possibly sink any lower than I had in that jail cell back in Munich. In that moment though, I understood the words that soldier had told me on the ride to Calais so many years ago. Now I know true hell.
For weeks I moped around the desolate house. That very same place that had seen three wonderful children arrive, was now only filled with ghosts. My solitude was torment, but I was not truly alone. I saw glimpses of Reisender2. She plagued my dreams every night, but it wasn’t just the nightmares that brought her.
She was lurking in the shadows, prowling the bedroom, the backyard, the stairs, but always she would vanish when I turned on the lights or looked too closely. I heard her whispers in my ear, and sometimes I could swear I heard that damned song.
One night I was awoken from a deep, troubled sleep, only to find my body incapable of movement. I tried to raise a hand, but my arm did not respond. My entire body was paralyzed, with only my eyes able to move freely. Panic struck, and the room around me seemed to twist and contort.
From the shadows came long, dangling arms coated in an oily black. Faces, writhing in pain and sorrow emerged from the walls in some hideous collage of tortured souls. I heard them cry out in anguish, a fit of tears, anger and bargaining proceeding them.
Then there were the eyes that should never have been that big. Dozens of them manifested and disappeared at varying intervals. They intermixed with the others, gleaming a sinister red and glancing around the squalid room independently.
Then from the darkness she came, dressed in that grey, primitive astronaut suit. On her chest was a crude, hand-drawn swastika painted in a crimson liquid. Her helmet obstructed her face, and within it I saw no hint of humanity. Just an empty endless black where her eyes should have been. She reached the foot of my bed, and everything vanished.
I sprang up from my sleep, disorientated and soaked in a cold sweat. My heart rocketed in my chest, and breaths flooded from within me like a torrential rain. It took me several minutes to calm myself down, and realize that it had all been just a terrible nightmare. A nightmare, or something more.
My very own mind began to conspire against me. The boundaries between imagination and reality blurred, as my psyche continued to deteriorate. I thought long and hard about whether or not I even wanted to live anymore. I had lost everything I ever cared about, and what point would my life now serve?
Some way or another, I ended up back at work. I can’t give a solid explanation why, but before I knew it I found myself once again with a blindfold over my eyes being driven by the bald men back to the laboratory. Work was my only solace – and with my family gone, my only reason to live.
I walked back into the lab, doing my best to swallow the events and refocus myself back on the task at hand. Volker Klein was there to greet me as I walked back in. His eyes were heavy, as if sleep had not graced him for many nights.
“You look like hell…” He said as we met.
“I was going to say the same thing about you…” We both shared a cynical chuckle.
“Teresa left…” I managed to sputter out. Klein almost seemed to wince as the words struck. He struggled for a response, but none came.
“I don’t blame her…” I wiped a sleeve over my face. “No one can be expected to stay after that.” Klein gave a solemn glance and put a hand on my shoulder.
“I’m so sorry Klaus.” The two of us shared a moment of silence, and I was glad at least I had a friend like him. Someone who had traveled the same path, and ended up every bit as broken.
My absence lasted for a little over a month, and with my home life completely destroyed, I was almost eager to distract myself with work. Volker Klein was never the same from then on out. Around others, I’m sure he appeared as normal. He was still confident, comical and intelligent as always. But I saw the sorrow in his eyes, and it never strayed far.
“We found something interesting while you were gone. Look at this.” Klein said gesturing to his screen. On his monitor he pulled up two separate wavelength feeds. He pointed to the one on the left.
“This is the power level for Romulus.” He then pointed to the other diagram. “And this is for Remus.” Klein leaned back and wiped his glasses.
“Notice anything?” I did. Romulus’ Zeta meter was significantly more elevated than Remus. I told him as much.
“Exactly.” He shifted in his seat, turning back to directly face me now.
“So, you know what this project is really about? This Zeta radiation. You know that’s what’s funding all of this right? I mean, yeah there’s the exploration, but really it’s about finding the power source.” Klein paused, once again glancing at the screens.
I thought about the differences between the two rovers, and realized there were none. That is, except for their locations. Remus was off in the lowland deserts, while Romulus was at the foot of Olympus Mons. Suddenly something clicked in my mind.
“The mountain.” Klein’s eyebrows rose, and he pointed his pen excitedly at me.
“Brilliant isn’t it? 25 kilometers in the air. It’s a damn antenna.” I thought about it for a moment, mind contemplating the possibilities.
“So, what’s creating it?” Klein shrugged and his head swayed on his shoulders.
“Don’t know. If I were to guess… I’d say it’s something in the mountain.” Somehow that phrase alone was enough to conjure a plethora of unnerving thoughts. I was reminded then, of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Where the fellowship journeys through the mines below the mountain, only to discover the Balrog. What could possibly be awaiting us there?
“Volker…” I started but then paused as I attempted to formulate the words in my mind. Klein meanwhile stared awaiting eagerly.
“You know that craft we had back in Munich? And the one here we’ve been using to…” I trailed off yet again.
“Yeah, what about them?” He asked.
“I mean… you ever really wondered who built them?” Klein shifted in his seat and folded his hands in front of him.
“Yeah, all the time. I assume that whoever built them is here.” Klein again gestured to the diagram on screen of Olympus Mons.
“What do you think they want?” Klein shrugged and rubbed his neck.
“At first I thought the same as us. Exploration. But considering Reisender2…” Klein went silent, staring away for a moment before shuddering.
“I’m not sure I want to know anymore.”
“What about the incident with Fünfter Forscher? You ever wonder about that?“ Klein laughed and nodded vehemently.
“All the damn time. If I had a nickel for every time that thought has kept me up at night, I could retire.” He laughed as he said it.
“I got no answer for that. I suppose the only way we’re going to find anything is by continuing to look. Only a couple weeks now, and we’ll see it from a brand-new perspective.” I cocked my head as he finished his words.
“What do you mean?” Klein’s eyes darted side to side before his brow furrowed on me.
“Aphrodite, did you forget?” My eyes bulged from their sockets as the words swirled into my ears.
“You haven’t been gone that long have ya?” Klein asked.
“They’re still going through with it? After what happened?” Now it was Klein’s turn to look surprised.
“Yeah… why would we not?”
“Because of Harrison’s death. Reisender2, did you already forget what she did?” I felt my heart pulsate in my chest. Klein sighed and removed his glasses, wiping beads of sweat from his forehead.
“I will never forget that Klaus. But we signed on for this. We have a duty to fulfill here.”
“Fuck duty!” I stood and was unable to contain my voice from becoming a shout. Others in the lab turned to us after the sudden outburst. Klein glanced around, visibly nervous. I waited, a bit embarrassed as the others stared for a moment before turning back to their respective tasks. I leaned down to Klein in his chair.
“Duty is what we did back in Munich. Duty got three innocent people killed in space, and the fourth…” I trailed off, not even sure how to describe Reisender2 anymore. Was it even accurate to call her human anymore? What the hell happened to her? Klein didn’t have an answer for any of my questions, he just sat quietly contemplating the words as I walked away.
“I need to see the commander.” I said to Mr. Green standing at the door. His glazed eyes fell upon me, without a single muscle in his face flexing. Silently, he turned and beckoned me to follow. We strolled down the hall for some time until finally arriving outside a large metallic door. Mr. Green pushed the buzzer and gestured for me to approach.
“Who is it?” Came a familiar voice over the intercom. I held the button and responded.
“It’s Klaus.” The door slid open a second later, and Wernher von Braun sat there at his desk. His grey hair sat firm on his head, and puffs of smoke drifted from the cigar in his ashtray. He sat back and put down his pen as I approached.
“Hello Klaus. Please, have a seat.” He gestured to the chair in front of his desk. I moved inside and sat as the door rolled shut behind me.
“How are you?” He asked, a feigned concern in his voice.
“I’m fine…” I paused and took a deep breath to reevaluate my approach.
“Good to hear, to what do I…”
“Aphrodite.” I spoke, cutting him off mid-sentence. Von Braun tilted his head.
“What about it?”
“You’re still going through with it?” Von Braun seemed honestly surprised I would ask.
“Yes, there is a great deal of vested interest. Is there a particular reason you would think we might refrain?” I scoffed and shook my head.
“It’s not safe. You know that.”
“It’s never been safe. Science demands risk.” Von Braun replied, face appearing sturdy as a dam.
“So you’re willing to risk the lives of all the members of the team?” Von Braun paused a moment, dousing the cigar in his ashtray and folding his hands in front of him.
“Klaus, I know you were never comfortable with some of the methods used back in Munich. But this is a different time. The Aphrodite crew have spent years preparing for this. They are well aware of the risk, and they are willing to accept it. No one is holding a gun to their heads.” I scoffed and shook my head.
“Do they even know what they’re heading into?”
“They know what is crucial to the mission.” Von Braun replied without hesitance. Meaning of course, the crew was entirely unaware of the recent sighting of Reisender2 and subsequent chaos that ensued. No surprise there.
“Sir, after what we saw…” I started, but von Braun returned the earlier favor and cut me off.
“And what did we see Klaus?” His eyes turned to lasers, and brows scrunched into a glare. It was a test, I knew it was. Testing my loyalty and whether or not I could be trusted to keep my mouth shut. Working for AVION, there was never any direct threat of legal retribution, but it was always implied. Whistleblowers are not tolerated.
“Nothing…” Von Braun remained silent for a moment before rising from his desk.
“Good.” He rose and began to saunter around his desk, putting a firm hand on my shoulder as he reached my side.
“I like you Klaus, I always have. You are a brilliant scientist, a wonderful man and a dear friend. I can understand your concern, truly. But you have to know something very important.” Von Braun then turned from me and pressed a button on his desk. I heard the flicker of vents closing and other strange mechanical whirring. Von Braun then leaned down beside me, and spoke in almost a whisper.
“There are things going on here, that neither you or I will ever fully understand, let alone explain. Things that are much greater than us. We are at the forefront of a war that cannot be allowed to happen. What we do in the next few months, could very well determine the fate of all humanity.”
I wanted to write off his words as nothing more than cryptic warnings to quell my suspicious mind, but something wouldn’t let me. There was no sense of irony or hubris in his voice. He was deadly serious, and for the first time in the almost four decades that I had known him. I saw a true fear permeate his expression.
“I wish I could explain it better to you. You of all people deserve that, but I can’t, not now. There are those who would not hesitate for a moment to tear us limb from limb for what we know. Secrecy, is our greatest weapon, but if we unveil that secrecy, then those who have our backs will abandon us.” I left the room silently after that, mind wracked with dozens of unanswerable questions.
I always knew there was a lot that I was not told, but the way von Braun spoke made it seem like something on a whole other level. His talk of war and secrecy, whose side was he truly on? Whose side was I truly on?
One thing was clear though, I could do nothing to stop the mission from proceeding, barring something incredibly stupid that is. I could’ve resigned my position. I could’ve left and tried to return to my family. I could’ve gone to the press and exposed everything. I could’ve done anything else, but I didn’t. I was so deep into the rabbit hole that I could no longer see the light.
The team had long been awaiting the day they would depart, and had spent years preparing for the mission. Three men and two women were set to embark on the journey. The very best we had to offer, and among the proudest to ever venture into aerospace pioneering. They had been training for well over a decade, and if anyone were qualified for the task, it was them.
They were led by their esteemed captain, Peter McCauley. A reserved and stoic man with a scraggly beard and deep-set eyes. A one time Navy Seal, and multiple time veteran of war, he had switched his profession when he saw the lucrative offers of space exploration.
Second in command was his Lieutenant, Walter J. Gaskins. A 20-year veteran of aerospace technology, and one of the very best the world had to offer. A comical man, but one who always placed duty over anything else.
The crew’s research coordinator was Charlotte Peverley. A by-the-book type, wise and reserved who spoke little, but with words that possessed imposing gravity. She was an observant woman, with laser-like attention to detail and a rational mind regardless of circumstance.
Then there was the first of the two researchers, Barbara Novak. Known as ’Barbie’ to most of the crew for her bubbly personality and easy-going demeanor. She held an opinion on just about everything, and wasn’t afraid to tell everyone about it. Courageous and lighthearted, she embodied the very spirit of the mission and the profundity of the undertaking.
Last but not least was the other researcher and defector of the Soviet Union, Ivan Rusakov. Ivan’s past is muddied to be sure, but it was his knowledge of the Soviets and their innerworkings which made him an invaluable asset to our group. He was an ecstatic fellow, always joking in broken English and laughing with the others.
Since his initiation, Ivan was insistent upon personally being a part of the Aphrodite mission. Command denied him the opportunity at first, seeing him as someone with questionable loyalty due to his prior services. That was when Ivan decided to play his trump card.
Ivan claimed that the Soviet mission to Venus known as Venera 7 was not the first probe to touch down on the planet. There had been several others as well that the Soviets had kept secret. None lasted very long, but one of them sent back an image which Ivan had a copy of.
It was foggy, terrible quality, but something about it stood out. It appeared to be a sort of canyon, but it was the thing at the bottom which held the most interest. It was scrawny and elongated, vaguely reminiscent of some sort of arachnid species. I remember thinking that the thing looked like a mutated hybrid between a lobster, sea urchin and a daddy-long-legs.
No one believed the picture was authentic at first. After all, the surface of Venus was a scorching 450 degrees Celsius. No carbon-based lifeforms could possibly exist in so extreme an environment. Ivan’s claim however, seemed to be substantiated when an attempt was made on his life in 1967.
Ivan returned home one night, when an intruder broke in. Ivan was shot multiple times in the arm and shoulder, but ended up gunning down his would-be assassin. Both men survived the attack. Police arrived soon after, taking Ivan to the hospital and the intruder into interrogation.
The failed assassin refused to say a word to police, and died soon after under mysterious circumstances. The official autopsy labeled it as cyanide poisoning. No one ever found out who sent him or where he came from, but Ivan insisted he recognized something about him.
Ivan was a man with no shortage of tall tales, and separating truth from his fiction was difficult to say the least. He claimed that he once worked for a Soviet facility known as Kapustin Yar. He said the place was essentially the Soviet‘s version of AVION. He also claimed that the man sent after him was a sleeper agent, designed to blend in to foreign nations and serve the interests of the USSR abroad.
At the very least, the attempt on Ivan’s life seemed to add a bit more credence to his claims. After that, Ivan made a full recovery and was given an award for his bravery. He was also granted his request to be a part of the mission after cooperating with extensive questioning on Kapustin Yar.
“Lucky for me, he shoot like German voman.“ Ivan would jeer to me and Klein afterwards while referencing the attack.
“He was probably too drunk to shoot straight. Too much wodka aye Ivan?“ Klein responded with a laugh.
“More like not enough.“ Ivan replied chuckling. Eventually Ivan was given an informal ceremony, in which he was made to chug an American beer, burn the Soviet flag and then urinate on the ashes. That last part he did himself though. After that, he was officially welcomed to the team.
Aphrodite was launched in the spring of 1971. The event went off about as well as could be expected, with Peter McCauley, Walter Gaskins, Charlotte Peverley, Barbara Novak and Ivan Rusakov on board. For two weeks they travelled, relaying quips of information while we monitored their progress.
Meanwhile awaiting them on the surface of Mars, Remus was well on her way to a new mission. Reisender2 had vanished from all video feeds sometime after the night of the sighting incident. The singing had vanished along with her, while only von Braun, Wolf and the bald men were there to witness. What they saw from her is anyone’s guess, but I was never told.
Remus was then sent to investigate an image sent back by the Hera satellite, in which a geometric pattern was seen in the red sands. The location was about 60 kilometers southwest of her position at the Fünfter Forscher landing site, at the foot of the trio of mountains known as Tharsis Montes. It was to be a difficult journey, but Remus was a robust little rover and appeared up for the challenge.
As Aphrodite was entering day 11 of the mission, Remus arrived at her new objective. All of us gathered around the control monitor as Remus glimpsed the structure before her. It was almost indiscernible from her vantage point, appearing only as a patch of somewhat flattened dirt.
Sometime later Hera passed overhead, and did indeed confirm that Remus was in the correct location. The little rover remained anchored there for several hours, just observing the landscape. In the background, massive cliff faces and mounds of red dirt jutted from the surrounding desert like ancient crumbling obelisks. For eons they had been grazed by the sands of time, and still they stood tall.
Eventually the operators pushed Remus forward, onto the flattened surface of the object. She began creeping slowly, as dust flicked up around her. A cracking sound then emanated through the radio.
Remus halted, and the cracking sound continued. Without time to react, the land beneath her suddenly collapsed and Remus plunged into the darkness below. The visual feed was jarred and struck by static as Remus plummeted downward. The video feed then cut out, and Remus became unresponsive.
The control team troubleshooted in every way they knew how, but Remus remained offline. She was entirely unresponsive, and there was little anyone could do about it.
Romulus meanwhile, was still stuck on it’s back around the base of Olympus Mons. With both rovers now out of commission, all that could be done was await the arrival of the Aphrodite craft.
On day 15, Aphrodite approached the general vicinity of Fünfter Forscher’s run-in with the unknown object. An area we had since coined as the ‘rocky road‘ zone. Aphrodite entered rocky road, and all of us Germans on the team held our breaths once more.
Aphrodite continued on without so much as a peep from the crew onboard the shuttle. We all breathed a collective sigh of relief as Aphrodite steamed right through the rocky road.
On day 21, the Martian homeworld appeared on the feed from the shuttle. A chorus of cheers and clapping emanated from the lab, but it was stifled by the overseers. After all, getting there was only half the battle, the real war was about to begin.
“Damn, that is one beautiful red dot.“ Gaskins stated over the radio.
“Going to be alot more beautiful once we get down there.“ Novak added.
“Ooh baby yeah! Hey captain, you think of your speech yet? Gonna be a big day for you.“ Rusakov added with a raspy laugh.
“How about, ‘better red than dead‘ huh Ivan?“ Novak added with a giggle, which was quickly reciprocated by Rusakov.
“All my life I’ve dreamt of this moment.“ The timid voice of Peverley suddenly spoke up.
“Ever since I was a little girl I have imagined going where no one has before. To prance upon a world beyond our own. We as human beings have always searched for what we call ‘god‘, but maybe finding him was never the goal. Perhaps it is the journey itself that is meant to be loved, cherished and celebrated for each second it occurs. If creation is the mark of the creator, then discovery of that creation must be the mark of his children.“
The comms went silent for a moment afterwards. One man in the lab then let out a hoot of a cheer, and soon after the room erupted into a chorus of applause. I looked around at my fellow scientists, with tears in their eyes and faces beaming with admiration. They had invested their blood, sweat and tears into accomplishing the most amazing of human endeavors, and it was only right they received their due accolades.
“I vote Peverley goes first now.“ Rusakov’s voice echoed over the radio.
“Gonna be hard to top that one Captain.“ Novak quipped. Captain McCauley chuckled on the other end.
“That was beautiful Peverley.“ He said.
“Thank you Captain.“ She replied.
“I want that on a shirt when we get home, hell… maybe even tattoo. Hey command, has anyone ever got drunk in space?“ Rusakov asked. Albert Wolf, who was at the comms station grinned and shook his head.
“Not to our knowledge, Rusakov. Please refrain from using inebriants.“ As if that was going to do anything to stop him.
“But command, we all know I work best with some liquid motivation.“ Rusakov replied with a chuckle.
“He’s got a point command, hard to get him to do anything without it.“ Novak replied as Rusakov took a swig from his flask. He handed it off to Gaskins, who also took a quick sip.
“Uck… could’ve at least brought something American.“ Gaskins said.
“I would’ve, but Americans don’t know how to make good drink.“ A slight gasp was then heard from someone in the lab. I turned, and my eyes grew wide as I realized what I was seeing. A second blip had appeared on the screen
“Command, are you reading this?“ Radar scans indicated that something was following behind Aphrodite and rapidly gaining on it. It’s shape was vaguely oblong, but beyond that we lacked any ability to discern it’s appearance.
“Affirmative captain. Do you have a visual?”
“Negative command, but we should soon. It’s getting closer.” My mind began to race as suddenly the events of Reisender1 and 2 came flooding back. I looked over to Volker Klein, but he did not acknowledge my gaze. His face was a pale white, as the same frightful thoughts filled his head.
We watched as the blinking lights on the array moved closer and closer to one another. Aphrodite was hauling at over 100,000 km/hr, but whatever was following her was moving even faster.
“I can see it. Starboard side, 5 o’clock. Approximately 175 long, 65 lat.” Gaskins voice came through frantically.
“Can you describe it Lieutenant?” Wolf asked. I heard the door open behind us and Wernher von Braun strolled inside.
“It’s still a ways off, hard to tell what it is from here. It’s bright though, like whitish in color.” That last detail through me off a bit. If this was the same object that had pursued Reisender1 and 2 all those years ago, they had made no mention of it being white.
“Command what’s our RM?” Captain McCauley asked.
Von Braun then moved in and assumed command of the comms from Wolf.
“Maintain course captain, everything is under control.” The blip on the radar grew ever nearer as the crew onboard Aphrodite grew increasingly frantic. Von Braun and I met eyes for a moment, and I could see that twinkle of fear once again coalesce within him.
“Captain commence evasive maneuvers to the port side.” Von Braun instructed. He then turned to Albert Wolf.
“Ready the IPSA.” Wolf nodded and scurried to another terminal.
“What the hell is Ipsa?” Klein asked. Von Braun did not answer, but I needed no explanation. Aphrodite then began to veer to the left, only for the blip to mimic their movement.
“It’s still gaining on us.” Gaskins replied. We watched as the blip increased speed exponentially, and within seconds it appeared as though it was right on top of them. It appeared poised for impact, but then slowed slightly to coast alongside Aphrodite.
“Captain rotate your craft to coincide with the approaching object at 270 degrees from center stern.” Von Braun turned to Wolf who sat ready at the terminal with a key placed in the board. He gave a nod to Von Braun who then turned back to the monitor.
“Captain are you ready?” Von Braun pulled some sort of key from his pocket and jammed it into a pad on the terminal, clutching it tight with his hand. Across the room Albert Wolf did the same at his own terminal.
“Affirmative, we are in position, it’s right on top of us.” Von Braun nodded to Wolf and both of them turned their keys. A warning siren then echoed through the lab, causing those in attendance to grow in concern and a flood of update messages to appear on the screens.
“Captain initiate defensive maneuvers.” Von Braun asked.
“Roger command. Nearing full charge.” McCauley replied.
“Fire when ready.”
“I can see it now. It’s right beside us… wait… What the hell?” Gaskins asked with a trembling voice. Von Braun briefly paused.
“Say again Lieutenant, what do you see?”
“You’re never going to believe this.”
“Is this some kind of joke?” Novak interjected.
“What do you see?” Von Braun bellowed through the mic.
“It’s a fucking swastika…” The tense air in the room dissipated in a split second as Gaskins voice echoed through the radio. Klein looked to me, and I stared back, mouth agape as I was struck with the most astute sense of bewilderment. Even von Braun seemed taken aback by the revelation, and he hesitated for a moment.
“There’s something written below it too…” Gaskins replied.
“Dritter Forscher.” My heart nearly leapt from my chest as the words accosted my ears. It’s just not possible. A warning siren then erupted indicating a foreign object in extremely close proximity to Aphrodite.
“It’s opening…” Peverley spoke.
“Captain!” Von Braun shouted as a frenzy grew in the lab. McCauley then took the mic and spoke.