“Papa… what do you do at your job every day?” Evelyn asked, not bothering to avert her gaze from her coloring books. I looked up from my own artwork; a picture of several cartoonish family members gathered for a barbecue.
“I help build rockets for spaceships.” Evelyn looked up, curiosity swirling in her freckled cheeks.
“Like… with Aliens?” She asked, her sandy-blonde hair fluttering as her head lifted. I smiled, knowing the sci-fi books she had been reading had her curiosity in full bloom.
“Mmhmm, me and the aliens are good friends.” I replied with a wink. Evelyn’s eyes grew wide and mouth dangled in an open smile.
“Whoa…” She said, a look of shock on her face. I chuckled, and gave her a big kiss on the cheek.
“Can I meet them?”
“Only if you eat your vegetables.” Evelyn gave an icky face.
“Even the broccoli?” I nodded.
“Especially the broccoli.” Evelyn gave a huff, but seemed to contemplate the prospect for a moment. Her and I sat in a momentary silence as I continued coloring on my portrait with the crayon.
“Where do the aliens come from?” Evelyn asked, her curious green eyes inquisitively longing for an explanation. I gave a smile, and looked her straight in the eye.
“That’s what we’re going to find out.”
For some reason the memory flashed through my mind in that moment. Meager conversations with my inquisitive five-year-old daughter comprise some of my greatest memories. The old remnants of a family that I never deserved. Some things can never be forgiven. Some wounds never healed, and some bridges never mended.
Fünfter Forscher was our greatest acheivment back in Munich. A craft that was decades or even lightyears ahead of it’s time. The first chariot to guide humanity to another world, and a mission that never should’ve been.
The discovery made by Omega team in that cavern changed everything in an instant. For some time we had suspected intelligent forces were at play upon the planet, but never had we expected to find our own species. We had been there before, in some capacity, in some long-forgotten time.
All of that however, was almost immediately swept under the rug by the development that was unfolding before our very eyes. Fünfter Forscher had left the planet, and never once did any of us question where it was headed. It was coming home, with Reisender2 at the helm. She, and whatever diabolic force she utilized had repaired the archaic craft, and there was no mystery surrounding what her objective was.
A thing like her, whatever she had become would wreak absolute havoc upon the earth. We still did not fully understand her capabilities, let alone what had happened to cause them, but we knew stopping her was the only thing that mattered.
The lab erupted into a frenzy once everyone realized what was going on. The Hera satellite was quickly redirected to try and catch a glimpse of the probe, but it was too late. Reisender2 and her craft had already journeyed far from the atmosphere.
Her trajectory appeared hampered by the improvised machine, but our equations put her at arriving back at earth in a little over three months’ time. Mind you, that was our most optimistic interpretation. If her craft accelerated once outside the range of our radar, then we would have no way of knowing.
Several members of the team requested instructions from von Braun, but he did not respond. He just stood there, silent, with a cold and desolate stare plastered upon his face. The wrinkles beneath his eyes seemed to stretch tenfold in that moment, and his silvery hair seemed to turn an ashen grey.
“Viele seelen ein Körper.” I jumped as I heard it. That female voice, the very same I had heard before. A whisper in my ear, a fleeting echo in the mind. It’s tone was almost impossible to comprehend. As if I couldn’t be sure whether my mind had simply imagined it, or something had spoken it to me.
Von Braun unfurled his arms, and gave commands for the lab techs to continue monitoring the probe, while Omega was to attempt to find a way out of the cavern. Remus was directed to venture down the tunnel at Alpha’s location, while Romulus was to scout around Olympus and attempt to gain access to the internal chambers.
He then excused himself and several others, dragging Volker Klein, Albert Wolf and myself along with him. We all entered the board room and von Braun slammed and wedged the door behind him. His hand balled into a fist against the door, and his breathing elevated as he took a series of labored breaths. He then turned to us, composure only partially regained.
“That probe cannot be allowed to return.” His tone was one which held the utmost urgency, but of course, we already knew his message to be true.
“And it’s going to, if we don’t find a means of stopping it.” Von Braun pressed a hand to his temple and loomed over the table.
“Gentlemen we have all been through a great deal together, but trust me when I say. ‘Nothing we have done in our entire lives is more crucial than this moment.’” I finally bolstered the courage to ask what I had been desperate to know for so long.
“What the hell is she?” Von Braun turned and sauntered away from the table.
“What do you know about her?” I shouted as he turned his back. Von Braun stared silently for a moment, as if contemplating every thought all at once. Then finally he turned, and divulged the explanation I had waited forty years to hear.
“Her name… is Johanna Lustiger. She was a prisoner in Dachau. I’m sure you’ve heard the stories about that place. She was quite intelligent, but… well, not among the Arians. She was among those deemed as ‘undesirable’ by the administration, but there was no denying her potential. So, she was given an option: comply with the wishes of the administration, and her family would be spared. So, she went along with it, and agreed to participate in our venture…” Von Braun then trickled off.
“What happened to her family?” I asked, dreading the answer.
“The administration had no incentive to keep their word.” I shuttered, as my fear was confirmed.
“So, what is she? A demon? A phantom seeking vengeance upon those who betrayed her?” Von Braun did not react, but Wolf shook his head.
“We think she’s been infected.” He stated.
“Infected by what?” Klein asked. Wolf shrugged and looked to von Braun.
“We don’t know, something we’ve never seen before. Aphrodite’s original mission was twofold; discover the source of the radiation, and bring back a sample from Reisender2 for testing. McCauley knew.” Von Braun sighed and rubbed his eyes.
“Well, looks like the sample is coming to us now.” Klein said, scoffing.
“What makes you think it’s an infection?” I asked. Von Braun shrugged.
“Call it a hunch I suppose, what’s clear is that she is no longer just a normal human being. That is what makes stopping her such a dire urgency. We’ve all now seen the remains of those in that cavern. I don’t think their demise is coincidence. I think it is an indication of what is rapidly speeding towards us. If she returns to earth, there will be no stopping her.” Klein and I both remained silent. I can’t speak for him, but the true weight of our choices had begun to seep deep into my bones.
“We think that she uses some sort of audio technique as a means of self-defense. Over exposure to her voice has resulted in… well, you saw what happened to Harrison. Some sort of detrimental cognitive effect. You’ve probably experienced it for yourselves. You ever hear her voice? Or think that you see her?” I remained quiet, as did Klein. Neither of us wished to admit to anything, but I knew the truth.
I can’t speak for him, but I of course could not deny that I had heard her. Hell, I had even thought I’d seen her. I thought for the longest time that it was my own fracturing mental state. Maybe some form of guilt coming back to haunt me in her image, but apparently that wasn’t the whole story.
“That’s why you use the baldies to interact with her?” Klein asked. Von Braun nodded.
“Why? What makes them special? Who are they?” I’ll admit I have wondered the same for many years, but never possessed the courage to ask. Von Braun seemed hesitant to reply.
He sauntered over to the desk and activated something underneath his desk. A clicking sound was heard as the vents in the room sealed, and a feint white-noise generator began to hum. He took a step towards us, and spoke in just barely above a whisper.
“They are operatives of the United States government. Couldn’t even tell you who they work for, probably CIA, or some other private sector assets. It’s all… unclear. I can’t tell you much about them, but I do know one thing. They do not possess internal monologue. They act only according to instincts, no personal debate, no conflict of morality. Logical, and nothing else. More machine than man really.” He paused and gave a deep sigh.
“We believe that it is for this reason, that they are not susceptible – at least to the extent that we are, of Reisender2’s effects.” I didn’t even know where to begin with the statement, and before I could answer, Klein seemed to summarize my thoughts.
“What the hell…” Von Braun nodded.
“My thoughts exactly, but that is not important now. What is important is stopping the craft. Any ideas?” Von Braun had always been a man who knew more than he let on. I always trusted that things were under his control, even if I didn’t necessarily agree with his tactics. To see him suddenly out of options, and plainly asking for our help was more than a bit disheartening.
“Can’t shoot it down when it gets close?” Klein asked.
“I’d rather not take that risk. God knows what things she’s capable of.” Von Braun replied.
“Where are the controls for Fünfter Forscher?” I asked.
“Gone. Destroyed in Munich.” Wolf answered.
“And there’s no possibility of the Soviets or anyone else having control of the probe?” Von Braun spoke up to answer.
“It’s possible I suppose, but even if that is the case then I doubt they know what they’re dealing with. And it’s not like they’re going to listen or admit anything to us. Plus we have no proof that they have anything to do with any of this, aside from Hans Scheffler I suppose.” He paused and crossed his arms.
“Nuke it.” Klein stated. Von Braun seemed more willing to the proposition than I had initially thought.
“That was the original idea. Aphrodite was carrying a payload on board before she went down. An EMP device capable of nullifying all electrical components within it’s blast radius. A failsafe to disable the Zeta generator if the need arose, but it was lost in the crash.” Von Braun replied.
“Well if it’s the radiation that powers the probe, and all our machines. Then the generator has to be destroyed.” Klein answered.
“Do you know where it is?”
“Somewhere in the mountain.” I answered, echoing Klein’s words from some time ago. Von Braun nodded.
“Yes, but with about 7 million cubic kilometers to search and time becoming very much of the essence, only one option remains. We need a definite location on the generator to cause suitable damage.” Von Braun’s gaze fell upon each of us, as if waiting for us to realize the implications.
“Magnum Opus.” Wolf replied, eyes planted firmly to the ground. I looked to him, and then over to Von Braun hoping he was not consciously considering it.
“No… you can’t…”
“There is no choice Klaus.” Von Braun replied, eyes murky like a rolling fog.
“Bullshit. I have seen too many people die in this venture to send two more to their dooms.” My voice ascended to a raspy desperate yell of passion. I was not about to repeat the mistake which had haunted me for so many years.
“They knew the price, they knew what we may have to ask of them.” Von Braun bellowed back as he stepped towards me.
“McCauley, Gaskins and Novak are already gone. Don’t let their sacrifice be in vein. If we do nothing, then Omega will die all the same without anything to show for it, and then we’ll be next.” I shook my head, an ironic chuckle escaping my throat.
“For over forty years you have done nothing but feed me half-truths and convenient excuses. And now you want me to send two more friends to their deaths. Why should I believe you?” Von Braun’s face contorted into an angered snarl as his fist slammed down upon the table.
“Take a look at the fucking monitors Klaus. Do you think this is an easy choice for me? Would you rather let the entire planet be at risk because of our inaction?”
“You mean like it was the last time we went there? In Munich, while we siphoned funds from a dying war effort? While the world burned around us, we stole people from their families and condemned them to die alone a million miles from home… and elsewhere.” I stepped towards him, meeting his imposing gaze with my own.
“If we do this, we are no different than the monsters they made us back in Munich.” Von Braun and I maintained that cold stare for one of the longest moments of my life. I saw many things in his eyes that day. Anger, urgency, passion, contempt, but also something more. Something he had desperately tried to hide beneath the surface, but there was no crevice deep enough for it to sink. Regret.
“Maybe we’re not. Maybe we were never any better than the monsters we were made into. Maybe I, and you had just fooled ourselves into believing we could have a second chance, an ordinary life. Like monsters could ever be anything more than what they are. Sometimes the world needs a good man to make a monstrous decision.” His gaze once again fell upon me, but I did not waver. Instead I stepped forward, to meet him for one final time.
“Then you can be that monster, I’m just a man.” And with that I turned, and walked away from my past.
I returned home in shambles, finding the current scenario impossible to cope with. On the one hand send two fellow coworkers and friends to their doom, on the other, allow humanity to face whatever repercussions may ensue. Whatever mephistophelian fate befell the denizens of the red planet was rapidly heading towards the blue one.
I had no intention of ever going back. I couldn’t. All my life had been nothing short of impossible choices and catastrophic consequences. All that left me a shell of a man. I never asked to hold the fate of the world, all I wanted was to help humanity after all I’d done to hurt it.
I hit the bottle hard that night. Harder than I had in years. The bitter whisky did well in numbing my body, but did little to quell my mind. The sounds of Reisender2’s song serenaded me. Whether real or imagined I can no longer tell.
I took up the old family album, and in my drunken stupor began thumbing through the pages. I saw my beautiful wife, dressed in a blue sundress standing with her three beautiful children. A pronounced baby bump on her stomach. Couldn’t have been taken more than a week before she left.
I thought long and hard that night, about everything my life had thrown my way. All the trials and tribulations, success and failure. My family was always the most important thing in my life. Being unable to see them every day when I returned from a stressful shift was agony for my soul. I know that what I had done was tantamount to treachery, and had led to my decrepit state. Despite that, the thought of them all was never far from my mind.
I was walking. A red sand beneath my feet, and an orange sun setting in the sky. Two distinct lunar orbs loomed overhead, as a vast desert stood before me.
I reached a hill, and overlooked the valley below. There I saw the most magnificent of sights. A cyclopean city, with obelisks, pyramids and skyscrapers dotting the landscape. A city that stretched as far west as it did east. Shapes of various sizes zipped and zoomed over them, as the outlines of humans shambled about. The buildings gleamed a silvery incandescence, and behind them stood a mountain of impossible proportions.
Within a blink I was at the doorstep, strolling through the cobblestone streets. And I was not alone. Hundreds of others came and went around me. Their garbs, strange and dazzling as they were. Their faces bearing smiles and looks akin to that of a soul reveling in serenity. They were adorned with all manner of foreign jewelry, tattoos and hairstyles. The streets bustled with activity, as men, women and children went about their day.
The buildings flickered with lights and shapes which I failed to recognize. Some form of writing, in a lexicon I had never beheld. I watched them, smiling faces, families on an evening stroll. Hundreds of inhabitants without a care in the world. But then I saw him.
He was only a boy, no more than five. Dressed in a sky-blue garment, while a crown of feathers sat upon his scalp. His hand outstretched ahead of him, and face frozen with a look of uncertainty.
I turned to where he was pointing, and there I saw the mountain. From it’s root emanated an obsidian fog. A dense cloud that rolled and spiraled through the valley. It was headed straight for the city.
There was no time to react, and in a moment the shadowy fog descended upon us. I heard screaming, crying, pleas and maniacal laughter as my vision dropped to nil. Then things fell silent, and the cloud slowly dispersed.
I saw the boy, but he was different. His gaze fixated upon me, and arm now outstretched towards me. His skin was stained to a pigment darker than oil. From his body sprouted eyes and writhing sprouts, like eels bursting from his flesh.
Others congregated around, hundreds of them, all with eyes anchored upon me. Their jaws slacked open and eyes unblinking. Their abhorrent gaze did not drift from me for even a moment. I took a step back, and as I did I caught a glimpse of my own form. Upon the palm of my hand, something moved. I turned my hand over, and there sat a single ocular lens. It opened, and the pupil fell upon me.
I fell back, thrusting my corrupted hand into the dirt below. Then I saw her. From the crowd she emerged, a single auburn-haired girl unlike the others. The fleshy growths did not line her, and her skin remained free of the oily stains.
She strolled straight towards me, dressed in a pearl-white gown. Her confident almond eyes did not blink, nor did her expression budge an inch. She reached me, and knelt in the dirt to meet me.
She was beautiful. Young and with life bursting from her veins. Something was so familiar, and yet I could not pinpoint it. Then she spoke.
“Deine welt wird eins sein.”
I awoke, a damp sweat coating my torso, and a heart threatening to burst from adrenaline. A headache struck like bolts from the heavens and I scrambled to alleviate the pain. The dreams, they had gotten worse. More severe, but also more enlightening.
What was that place I saw? Had it been real? Was I granted sight to some long-gone civilization? Was our fate to be the same?
I brewed myself some coffee, and sat alone as I watched the sun creep over the horizon from my porch. A reckoning was coming. A craft of our own design drew nearer with every passing moment, along with it’s inhuman occupant. A Ragnarök, in the body of a young Jewish girl, and a puppet master behind the veil.
I wish I had more time to process the events. To see my family again, and atone for the pain I have caused. Whatever faults I had made in my past, one agonizing truth daunted them all. My children being hurt. The world being torn asunder and history repeating itself.
If love is the greatest of human gifts, then treachery the most scornful of sins. Whatever was to come, I could not allow my children to suffer because of it. I had to do everything I could to ensure their survival, and so I went back. One last time.
Volker Klein was there to greet me as the bald men accompanied me inside.
“Thought you’d never come back.” He said, face stoic and eyes unwavering.
“I hoped I wouldn’t have to, but somebody’s gotta watch over the rest of you.” I smiled, and the gesture was mirrored by my old friend.
“I’m glad you decided to share in the misery.” My lips split and I broke into a laugh, a genuine one which had not echoed for quite some time. Klein laughed to, and together we made our down those gloomy, porcelain halls.
“Peverley and Rusakov managed to reconfigure the IPSA on the rover. Should hopefully do some damage to the generator.” Klein explained as we walked.
“If we can find it. If it even exists” I added. Klein nodded and his eyes grew to emphasize.
“Yeah, and that’s two big ‘Ifs’, but we’ve got nothing else to go off.”
“Did von Braun tell them?” Klein shrugged.
“He told them what he deemed necessary.”
“Basically. They know the mission, but they don’t know it’ll be their last.” I was shuffling for a response when Klein spoke again.
“Oh, and I got something really creepy to show you.”
Klein and I entered the main lab and after exchanging a curious glance with Mr. Green, we made our way to Klein’s personal terminal. He clicked through the screen for a moment before bringing up a video file.
“This is from late last night. From the camera on Remus.” The video started and all that was seen was a fuzzy image of a partially illuminated dusty corridor. Remus was pushing onward, when something moved further down the hallway. Remus stopped momentarily, before continuing after a moment’s deliberation.
It rounded a corner soon after, and paused as at least four separate branching paths presented themselves. It’s camera slowly panned from right to left. In the second-to-right tunnel, a shape emerged. It was long, indistinct, like a python of impossible size. The thing slithered onward, and it’s wretched form came fully into view for a moment.
It’s hide was like shadow, with hundreds of glistening orbs upon it. Then, what would have been it’s head split open like an inverted umbrella, and a cluster of flailing arms reached from within. It reached for Remus, meeting it with a crunch, before the feed turned to static.
I said nothing, just stared wide-eyed with words failing to manifest. I had been conditioned to strange sights, and felt wholly overwhelmed, yet entirely numb. Klein seemed to sense this.
“Look at this.” Klein adjusted a few things and the video rewound on the screen. He played it forward frame by frame, until the grotesque thing came into view. I can’t even possibly describe what it was. Some sort of amorphous blob type thing, like a tar pit extended into some serpentine creature. Several wiggling digits protruded from it’s hide, but it’s tail was not seen. Perhaps there was no tail at all. Perhaps it was not a singular creature, but an extremity connected to another of impossible size.
“Pretty cute ain’t it?” Klein asked. I slowly shook my head, scarcely believing the video was genuinely authentic.
“What kind of horrible thing…” I trailed off, and Klein only nodded.
“Must be the result of our theorized infection, although that word doesn’t seem entirely appropriate to me. A disease doesn’t cause something like this, an intelligence does.” Klein sat back in his seat and folded his hands.
“I think it’s our suspect though.” I sat back and rubbed a hand along my face. Why can’t it ever just be a normal day at the office?
“That’s what took Gaskins?” I asked.
“Probably…” We stared silently for a moment before Klein added another troubling detail.
“There’s probably more of them too, whatever they are.” I moved to speak but Klein then perked back up.
“Oh, and speaking of Gaskins… his transponder came back online.” Klein pointed to the positioning monitor. Upon the diagram of Olympus Mons, a little blinking light sat just below the summit.
“How the hell did he get up there?” Klein shook his head.
“Not a clue, but I think that’s the location of our generator.” I looked at the image once more, and was reminded how massive of an undertaking getting to it would be. Almost 25 kilometers vertically, not exactly a simple hike.
“Where’s Omega?” I asked standing from the terminal and approaching the main monitor.
“They’ve been sent to rendezvous with Romulus. Gonna try and attach the improvised IPSA to it, then ram it straight into the heart of the mountain.” I scoffed, admiring Klein’s tenacity but knowing the odds of reaching the generator in time were slim. With every moment Reisender2 grew nearer, and our time was running out.
On the monitor the video feeds from Peverley and Rusakov showed the duo trudging their way down an empty tunnel. They quipped back and forth with one another as they travelled. They were making decent time but with an extraordinary distance yet to travel.
Meanwhile, Romulus had found another open tunnel and was scurrying along it some couple dozen kilometers away. The tunnel was mostly clear of debris, and did not appear to be a natural formation. It was almost entirely straight, with a slight incline of approximately 2.3 degrees.
Both parties appeared as though they were headed towards one another. Despite their apparent good fortune, we had no way of knowing whether or not the tunnels would link up with one another. They were ants, lost within a labyrinthian termite mound.
For days we watched as the teams progressed closer and closer. I split time between monitoring the progress with the team and working diligently to finalize the preparations on the final probe. We still had hope that we would be able to reach them in time, but that hope seemed to diminish with every passing day. If the worse were to happen, then at the very least the final probe would be suitable for delivering our care package.
For nearly a month I didn’t leave the lab at all as I worked. Peverley and Rusakov carried what provisions they could carry on the mobile ROV unit, but despite it’s many pockets, they would eventually run low on supplies, with Oxygen being the first to dwindle.
The team carried an enhanced Geiger meter which was programmed to sense the Zeta radiation. After some time, we noticed that the higher in elevation they travelled, the stronger the readings became. This seemed to confirm our theory that the generator must indeed be located up high in the mountain.
Reaching it was of course the main problem, and one which we had no immediate answer for. It became clear though, that our probe designed to rescue the team, would likely have to be repurposed. We knew there was no way they’d reach the heart in time.
Fünfter Forscher had been lost soon after it departed the atmopshere. Her relay went dark, and radio signal was unable to be located. We had no way of knowing exactly how long we had before she arrived. This put even more of an urgency upon our plan.
I was alone in the lab one night, watching the monitor’s as the other members of the team filed out after another strenuous day. Klein bid me farewell with a silent nod. He gestured for me to join him, but I declined. I was determined to do what I could for the team.
Von Braun was the last to leave. He met my gaze as he walked by the lab, but he said nothing. Finally, I was left alone as the automatic lights in the lab dwindled one by one.
Rusakov was peacefully snoozing, while Peverley busied herself writing in her notes. I decided then, was as good a time as any, so I approached the mic.
“Lieutenant, do you read me?” I spoke through the crackling mic. The audio delay transpired as the message beamed to Mars. Finally, Peverley stirred and spoke into the comms.
“Go ahead command.” She spoke. I paused a moment. I had rehearsed that moment in my mind so many times before, but realized I didn’t have a proper way to begin. I wondered if what I was about to do was even a good idea, or whether it would be better to say nothing. Von Braun would’ve never approved, and maybe even court marshalled me, but I didn’t’ care. They deserved to know.
“How are you doing?” I asked after failing to devise a better opening question. Peverley seemed slightly taken aback.
“Uhh, I’m good. Missing my bed a little bit, but holding up so far.” She chuckled as she spoke, tucking her notes back into her bag.
“Good, that’s good to hear.” I paused, then figured I might as well just come out and say it.
“Look Peverley I uh… there’s something you deserve to know…” I paused again and swallowed hard, hoping beyond hope that they would forgive me.
“I don’t know how much von Braun told you about this mission, but…” I gave a deep sigh, and felt the words vomit themselves up.
“There’s a good chance that we won’t be able to reach you in time…” The words were like razors in my mouth, even more painful as I heard them spoken. For minutes I waited as the message rocketed through space and towards Peverley’s ears. Peverley then heard the message, and didn’t react. She remained silent for several moments.
“I know…” I winced as her response finally arrived.
“I suspected it for some time, even before we left, I had a feeling we were never coming back.” I felt my head swivel on my shoulders as I attempted to grapple with her words.
“Why did you go?” Peverley laughed and gave another deep sigh.
“Like I said earlier. All my life I’ve dreamt of doing this. Always seemed like a ridiculous dream though. Still, I wanted to do what I could to ensure it would one day be possible. Never thought I’d see it myself, and when the chance came, I just couldn’t say no.” Her sniffles echoed through the other end of the line as tears began to drift from her eyes.
“Never really had much back home anyways…” She added. There was a sense of sheer serenity in the way she said it, like a calming breeze gently rolling across a beach. Her voice conveyed a sense of nervousness, but no regret. She had lived her life, and was prepared to do her duty. It was beautiful, and tragic, although I suppose the best things always are.
“You’re not afraid?” I asked. A question which in hindsight may have been a bit on the nose, but I felt compelled to ask.
“I’ve always been afraid. Always hid away and secluded myself from the world. The geeky girl who spent her days with her nose wedged in books. I’m still afraid, but that’s not going to stop me. Fear has cost me so much, but no more. I am here now, and I will do my duty so that those who come after me can inherit something better.”
I felt my eyes begin to grow damp as I listened to her words. To know that she was so willing to give herself up for the betterment of mankind. For the sake of all those people who would never even know her name, or what she and her team members had done.
I realized then, what I should’ve learned many years ago. My entire life had been spent running from my fear. From a past which I could not change, and secrets I desperately wished to bury and forget. And because of it, I lost the most important thing in the world to me. I had to make things right.
“How do you think Rusakov will react?” I asked. Peverley scoffed and looked towards her slumbering partner.
“Somehow I think he knows too. I always pictured him as the type to want to go out in style.” She replied. I chuckled. Rusakov did seem to fit the bill for that after all.
“Can you do me a favor Mr. Hughes?” Peverley asked, voice now slightly shaky. She took a deep breath and continued.
“I have a brother, my only family really. George Peverley, he’s in Houston. Can you please just tell him…” Peverley suddenly paused, as tears began to infuse her voice.
“Just tell him I love him. And tell him ‘thanks for being the best big brother I could’ve ever asked for’. Tell him, ‘I’m sorry I never got the chance to meet his daughter, and I hope she grows up to be as great as her father’.” I could tell her tears were strong, but she did not relent. Her words jabbed deep into my gut, like a frozen dagger twisting and driving deeper.
“You got it Charlotte.” I felt cold tears stain my face as well. Peverley and I talked for quite some time that night. Our secrets, our pain, our life experience. I even confided in her, about the truth of my past. My time in Munich, and Peenemünde, and the time I spent aligned to the Nazi regime. To my surprise, she already knew that as well.
“The German accent was kind of a giveaway.” She said with a laugh. I laughed as well, feeling at least a modicum of comfort. My demons can never be truly banished, but telling others about them brought more relief than I ever could’ve imagined.
One part of our conversation truly broke my heart though. Peverley raised the question of how the world would react to the things we had found. My stunned silence must’ve said more than my words ever could. Peverley’s mood seemed to dip in that moment, and in a sullen tone she replied.
“They’ll never know, will they?” No, the world would never know about us. They would never know of the Forscher probes, of Munich, of AVION, of Aphrodite or the story of Reisender2 and the truth about Mars. They couldn’t know, for those who held the reins of power had deemed them unworthy.
“No, they won’t.” I saw Peverley shrivel as her troubling concern was confirmed. She gave a deep sigh and nodded her head.
“I spose’ it’s for the best.” Honorable Charlotte Peverley, always thinking of others and the greater good before herself. But was it really for the best? Did the world truly deserve to be deprived so profound a discovery? No one will even believe it to be true, and yet still, I find myself writing these words.
The sun had finally begun to peak over the horizon by the time Peverley and I said our goodbyes. A long yawn escaped my lips, and I checked the monitor. Still no sign of Fünfter Forscher, nor anything else out of the ordinary.
I put down the headset, and rubbed my hands over my face. Drowsiness fell like a wave upon me, but I knew sleep was not a luxury I was easily awarded. I left the lab, and began to reverse the cold alabaster halls alone.
As I walked, I thought again about all the madness that surrounded me. I must’ve let my mind drift a bit too long, for when I finally snapped back, I found my thoughts were not the only things ringing in my ears.
A beautiful song, and a dreadful sound. A morose serenade that marked the return of an abandoned soul. Schön ist die Nacht: the harbinger of all that tormented me.
I turned back, away from my office door and peered down the hall. Reisender2, no… Johanna Lustiger, stood alone. Her body still dressed in that archaic spacesuit, matt grey, with a red swastika embroidered upon her chest. Her helmet was cracked and almost appeared partially melted.
Beneath the partially tattered clothing, I saw splotches of dark black that writhed and wiggled about as worms in the dirt. Obsidian serpentine appendages emerged from her helmet cavity, and at various points along her arms, flowing like seaweed in the ocean.
Behind her, there was something else. Something far worse. Something I cannot possibly convey in it’s entire wretched appearance. A form, a shadow of a thing so far removed from anything relating to life as we can comprehend. I saw eyes, mouths, arms, tentacles, hooks, horns, teeth and things not easily described. A blasphemous gibbering maw of infinitely heretical proportions. A bastard abomination of life, a great corruption inversely opposed to the universe and all things betwixt the natural order.
I felt terror seep into my bones, and it’s grip has yet to relinquish. The mere knowledge of a thing so horrendous being able to exist is enough to drive the most uniform of minds to utter hysteria. The longer I stared, the less sense it made. The more I ponder it now, the more it aches. As if my mind does not have the capabilities to understand so abhorrent an existence. There is no word strong enough to convey it’s unrivaled malfeasance.
Never before had she appeared so clearly to me. Was it purely hallucination? The effect of Reisender2’s bizarre audio onslaught? Or was some part of her, and that thing truly there? Was some part of her in me?
Before I could even surmise a plan of defense, I found myself laying hunched on my back. Above me she stood, eclipsed by the monstrous master that dwelled behind her.
“I’m sorry Johanna… I’m so sorry…” I metallic luster of blood began to coalesce in my mouth. She loomed over me, face hidden but leering with a soulless, maniacal stare.
Around her the vicinity began to distort. I saw other figures, people of all shapes and creed in various states. They were no more than shadows, but so much more than I could ever describe. Sounds accosted my ears, a symphony of voices from souls lost to the abyss. Then came the eyes.
I felt my mind beginning to waver, my vision blur, as the barrage proved far too much for my waking mind to comprehend. I felt the ends of my mind fray, and sanity desperately try to claw it’s way out. My eyes fluttered with a torrent of sights, my mind teetered, but before consciousness left me, I heard her speak.
“Ich sehe Dich… Klaus.”