15th of the Aster’s Gloom, 2030 D.C.E.
Nocht Federation Republic of Tauta – Thurin City
3 Days Before Generalplan Suden Zero Hour
Bercik had gone out to eat, and when he returned to the tenement it was already dark. Dim, intermittent light from terribly old bulbs scarcely lit the hallways.
After reaching his floor, he found the door to his room just slightly ajar.
He felt a chill over his body.
Rather than go into his room, Bercik walked a few paces to the next door and knocked on it. He heard some off-key singing and a few strings of violin play, and knocked louder. Then he heard the door chain clinking, and Kirsten opened up for him, positively beaming when he saw who it was. Kirsten was a young guy, barely twenty, with a soft face and with blonde hair long and a little curly, wrapped up with a piece of old tablecloth into a messy ponytail; Bercik called him “kid” in his head, but he wasn’t that much older that such a thing was warranted. Kirsten seemed quite stricken with him that night, staring at his face. He fidgeted a little with the straps of his overalls and whistled while staring.
“Mr. Scheldt, wow! It’s pretty amazing what a little grooming can do.” He said.
Puzzled, Bercik reached up to his face and stroked his chin with one hand. He had shaved his beard off, but he didn’t think it made that much of a difference.
“Just call me Bercik. Kirsten, did anyone come into my room?”
Kirsten looked over Bercik’s shoulder in confusion. “I’m not sure Mr. Bercik–”
“Just Bercik, please.”
“I was practicing my violin so I didn’t hear anything.” Kirsten replied.
“I see. Could I borrow that loose pipe from your sink?”
Kirsten nodded his head, and pulled the pipe loose from below his sink himself.
It was as long as a baseball bat when out, and once you knocked it loose from the sink you could pull it right from the floor and have yourself a nice beatstick.
He handed the object nonchalantly to Bercik with a big beaming look on his face.
Apparently discerning what Bercik planned to do, he asked, “Do you need backup?”
Bercik raised an eyebrow and looked Kirsten over.
He didn’t look like much of a fighter.
“You can go running for help if anything happens.” He said.
Kirsten crossed his arms and looked satisfied with this arrangement.
A few paces over, they stacked up in front of Bercik’s door.
Bercik held up the pipe, and Kirsten pushed open the door with a delicate tip.
Since he was already badly in debt, Bercik never left his lights on, so with only the dim hallway lights filtering into the room, and their bodies mostly in the way, they could see nothing inside. It was almost pitch black. Kirsten peered in around Bercik’s side as he walked into the room, ready to swing at anybody. A few steps in, they turned on the light bulb, and found nobody inside. Everything looked exactly as it had been left.
But Bercik would not allow himself relief yet.
He handed the pipe to Kirsten and pulled out his locked chest.
He opened it, and found his few clothes folded inside, as well as his typewriter and paper. Nothing had been touched there. He lifted his mattress from the bed-frame. Nothing.
“Perhaps you just let the door a little open.”
“Nah.” Bercik said. “I don’t, not anymore. I got too much to lose.”
They looked over the room for a few minutes but found no signs of tampering.
Bercik felt compelled to look at his secret hiding place under his sink.
He pulled back the boards.
There was something wedged in there.
And he was sure he’d gotten rid of all his documents.
He pulled out an envelope, a fairly fresh one, thick with documents, just like the ones he used to hide there. This one, was stamped with a date, 18th AG-30, three days in the future. Bercik closed the door, lacking the presence of mind at the moment to cast Kirsten out of the room first, he ripped open the enveloped and pulled loose the documents.
Across the front of a cardboard folder, the words Generalplan Suden had been written hastily in a pen. All of the pages Bercik thumbed through were reproductions.
They were photostats of all the documents.
This was big stuff; Bercik felt his stomach turn as he saw the details of troop formations, the dispositions of all the countries involved, the weaponry that would be used. They had a timetable, Messiah’s sake! One hundred and eighty days to the letter!
It all started in three days.
A war to ‘end the threat of communism,’ between all of the world’s major powers.
“This is worse than I imagined.” Bercik whispered to himself. Kirsten grew alert.
Along with the folder, Bercik found a crisp, folded letter.
From inside the letter, once unfolded, slid over a couple of 1000 Mark bills, spilling onto the floor. Kirsten stifled a gasp, physically covering his mouth when he saw the money. It was several times their rent. He picked them up and looked at them with disbelief, while Bercik tried to read the letter, but found himself foiled by the handwriting.
“I can barely make this out.” Bercik said.
Kirsten’s hand shot up into the air like he was in a classroom. “I could try.”
Worth a shot; Bercik handed over the letter.
Kirsten unfolded it again and looked it over. Bercik took the money from his hands and began counting it. Though this was a simple task, he was so dumbstruck by the amount that he counted and recounted the few bills, unable to comprehend the vast amount that they added up to. He held them up to the light bulb, and they looked real enough.
“My dear friend,” Kirsten began, “It appears that I was right, and we were too close. We have no choice now but to complete our work, you and I. My labors now are at their end, as ended as they can be: you now truly have all the information that I can get. I will pay dearly for my role in this mess, but I do so with the conscience that history will absolve me, and that you will be a champion of history, when you help end this war.”
Kirsten gulped loudly, and continued. “You should prepare to leave immediately.”
“I guess that is why I needed 10,000 marks.” Bercik bitterly said.
“So you’re not with the mob? I thought you were a gangster, not whatever this is.”
Bercik burst out laughing suddenly. Kirsten’s face turned red and he crossed his arms.
“Of course I’m not with the mob. Don’t you read the newspaper?”
“I don’t read them! I deliver them! I would be fired if I cracked open the bundles.”
“Messiah’s sake.” Bercik shook his head. It was so absurd!
Sitting in his room like this, Bercik felt strangely amused.
After Hans had rejected his story he had felt the wind knocked from his guts. For months he had given every part of himself to cover this story, and in an instant he had nothing anymore. His world had collapsed and he walked in a void.
But then he had decided to turn it around.
He shaved his beard, he changed out of his suit, and he got a good night’s sleep.
He had almost been ready to give everything up and get a factory job or go back to covering scandals in the cabaret world or something; but now he held in his hands the whole truth again. Was this fate inescapable? How could he fulfill the wishes of his mystery benefactor? The Voice was right, of course. If he released this Generalplan Suden to the public all at once then its meaning would simply be distorted, or its context embellished.
It could be false: after all it was just a folder of hasty photostats.
Bercik himself would surely go to jail, or worse. He could not stop the war in Nocht.
In Nocht; but perhaps there was a place where this information could be used.
Bercik stared at the marks in his hand and got a very crazy idea percolating in his head.
“Kirsten, do you want to go travelling?” He asked suddenly. “I’ll pay for us both.”
Kirsten’s eyes wandered and he rubbed his arm. “I might get fired for that.”
“Leave them a note saying you’ve eloped or something. They’ll understand.”
“Well, alright then. Truth be told, I wanted to ask you if I could join the mob.”
“Be serious here already Kirsten; I’m not with the mob!”
“Well, I know now! But I didn’t before. I just wanted to do something snazzy.”
“Here’s your consolation prize.” Bercik grabbed him by the shoulders. “We’re taking the shady barges down to Ayvarta. We’re showing them these papers. Along the way I will buy you a didgeridoo or something. How’s that sound, my friend?”
“Better than newspapers.” Kirsten replied, gently pulling Bercik’s hands off him.
In that bizarre instant, their covenant was sealed. At all costs, they had to make it south.
? ? ? – ??? ??? ???
Wooded hills separated Mamlakha and Ayvarta, and nobody believed that a large force could push through that rough terrain. Nocht, however, was already at the edge of the two nations, its troops waiting for a critical message that would change the world.
Leading the assault was the 8th Panzer Division under Brigadier-General Dreschner.
He had accomplished the task of penetrating the Janna woods by employing light tanks and half-tracks exclusively, and leaving behind the heaviest of his Panzers and much of his artillery, save for a selection of mountain guns that could be disassembled and ferried in his supply trucks. Well after the attack by the light forces was underway, his heavy guns and medium tanks would join to deliver the decisive blow on the border defenses.
However, he expected that with the element of surprise, the initial attack would be enough to scatter the communist border defense. He wouldn’t need heavy weapons.
Even his own Befehlspanzer was left behind. Instead, a radio truck was assigned to him. A new driver and radio operator awaited him there, and they would be joining him for the rest of the conflict, all 180 days scheduled for it. Though, 180 was optimistic.
Dreschner rode a lightly armored scout car through the wood to meet with his own forces at the front before the critical hour, and to take his place in the radio truck.
He dismounted the light car, under the cover of thick trees and uneven terrain.
He found his half-tracked truck on a wooded hill overlooking a three-meter drop down onto the next tank in line. Dotted with rolling hills and thick with trees; but his forces had crossed it all. Even now he was making military history with his 8th PzD.
He walked jovially along the edge of his truck, amused at his temporary station, and came around the back to find a woman sitting on the bed with her feet dangling from it.
She was a skinny and messy-haired girl with a small, sleek pair of glasses on her gentle face, dressed in the gray Landser uniform. She was issued no weapons. Instead, she held in her hands a strange cheaply-printed book, which she nearly had her nose into. Dreschner stood across from her, wondering when she would deign to notice him. He cleared his throat, and eventually put his hand on the book and pulled it down.
“Good morning. Signals officer Schicksal, I presume?” He asked sternly.
Karla Schicksal blinked, and then nearly jumped. “Yes sir! Sorry sir!”
She saluted him, her hand shaking.
Dreschner raised his hand over his hooked nose in consternation.
“What is that? What were you reading?” He asked.
“It is a pulp book, sir! It is The Terror of the Saucer Men, sir!” Schicksal replied.
“The Terror of the Saucer Men?”
“It is science fiction sir. First published in 2028 in Baffling Stories magazine–”
“Just, tell me what it is about. Why are you so interested in it?”
“Yes sir! It is a fictional story about a species of evil green men from the bowels of Space, who fly in metal saucers, and who have come to terrorize and colonize Nocht, sir! They have space rays that can heat any metal to melting in the blink of an eye! And they have armor harder than any known metal! They are all linked by a powerful hive conscious, and work in terrifying cohesion, sir. Their orthodoxy and single-mindedness helps them to conquer the fragmented races of Aer, sir. It is very horrifying to consider!”
Dreschner looked at her critically.
She shrank away a little, putting on a nervous face.
“You can read your funny books during your breaks.” He said.
“Sir, yes sir!”
“Put it away now.”
“Sir, yes sir!”
Schicksal gently folded the book closed and slipped it into her coat.
Dreschner climbed into the back of the truck, and Schicksal stood up from the edge and followed him deferringly about as he inspected it. There was a very large radio unit, the size of an ice box, under a table installed on one side of the bed.
Armored walls protected the equipment, and a tarp overhead kept out the elements. They had a Norgler machine gun in case of emergency, and a bench along the wall opposite the machine gun gave them a place to sit, and, god forbid, sleep in.
Dreschner was not well acquainted with the radio equipment.
“What model is this, and do you think you can operate it well?”
“It’s a Funk FA-30!” Schicksal exclaimed suddenly, as though she had been ready to answer the question since Dreschner first laid eyes on the machine. “These were put into frontline service just this year. Some teething problems, I hear, but very powerful. They are state of the art radios, we could talk to people across Mamlakha with these! Well, perhaps not that far, but close, in good conditions. I can certainly make use of it.”
“Well, I’m glad someone understands these.” Dreschner said with a grin.
Clipping sounds of a small engine became audible behind them.
This puzzled the Brigadier-General, since he was not expecting anyone else to arrive via private car, especially not into this wood. He grew immediately suspicious.
Dreschner and Schicksal both turned around and saw the new car arrive, and a young woman dismount and approach. Dark-haired, with rich brown skin and green eyes, and wearing a dress. It was Kaiserin Mary Trueday of Ayvarta. Dreschner was taken aback by her arrival. He did not quite know what to make of, or how to treat, a royal lady without a country of her own. Ostensibly she had a lot to gain from their operations, but it was never instilled in him that she required the deference he reserved for Nocht’s leaders.
“Greetings,” Dreschner said, taking no particular tone. “What can I do for you?”
Schicksal was useless in this. She froze stiff and stood awkwardly behind Dreschner.
“I wished to offer you a benediction, as you liberate my land,” the Empress replied.
“I am here because Nocht’s soldiers need expert direction in the coming days.” Dreschner said. “I am here to make history, and earn us glory and respect. Forgive me, milady, but I am not particularly invested in liberating anything or anyone.”
Mary Trueday smiled. It was a puzzling smile. Dreschner felt like he could not tell what the expression truly meant, like there was a subtext both making itself known but also unreadable on her lips. There was something about Trueday that was subtly off.
“Even so, your actions will do me an invaluable service. I will finally take my rightful place in the world again. You needn’t believe. I will be eternally grateful once I have returned to my throne, and taken my place among my people again.” She said.
“Indeed.” Dreschner replied. He was tiring of her. “So, what is your benediction?”
“I pray to the Messiah to grant you foresight.” Trueday said. “It is the greatest gift a commander could have. I must warn you, that Ayvarta is a land with many mysteries. Among us, there are people with what you may call gifts. There is one, especially–”
Another new noise interrupted them.
Schicksal hurried to her seat, and donned a headset.
“Orders from Oberkommando. It is Zero Hour. We have been activated for attack, along with the 10th and 15th Panzer Divisions, sir. They wish us luck.” She said.
Dreschner nodded. He had scarcely paid any attention to Trueday and her words were annihilated from his mind now. Finally the time for action had come. He was becoming restless. “Well, Empress, I thank you for your visit. We must make haste.”
Mary Trueday smiled that eerie smile again, with that doll-like face and those eyes.
She did not try to communicate her message again, whatever it was.
Perhaps she merely left them to their fate now.
She stood and watched, as across the forest the engines of various war machines rumbled to a start, and readied themselves to charge into the land that she had been ejected from as a child, and upon which she gazed dispassionately now as an adult.
Dreschner climbed into his truck, and he, Schicksal and the tanks advance.
Scrawled in their orders, in divisional calendars, the date.
18th of the Aster’s Gloom – Generalplan Suden Zero Hour
Beginning of the Solstice War.