Things are looking up!
Germany under Hitler is finally taking the dominant place it deserves, and the other countries in Europe know it. The German people in various lands are united. The economy is booming. Germany’s armed forces are unmatched. The people are united, jubilant and ready for anything. The new year will bring victory and prosperity.
It is January, 1940.
Heinrich Wolfgang Lothar Schmidt was studying at University when the letter came; an invitation from the Fuhrer himself to join the Nazi Superweapon program, to help create the new and exciting instruments of war that will make Germany’s greatness unassailable for all time. The other students, and even the professors, were envious of this honor, to be chosen to work at the most exclusive, secluded laboratory complex in all the Fatherland. Yet no one could say Heinrich didn’t deserve it; his ability to grasp obscure scientific principles and turn them to practical use was unequaled.
The day finally arrived. The special train carrying fresh minds entered the walled, wintry compound somewhere in the Bavarian alps. Buildings were scattered within; barracks, labs, power plants, workshops—but looming over them all was a mysterious tower, a thick truncated cone festooned with pipes and pumps and antennas and transformers. No one on the train knew what was going on in there, and none of the officers at orientation could—or would—say.
Heinrich just had to get into that building and see for himself.
But the tower was highly restricted and constantly guarded. The mystery burned as Heinrich learned the procedures and rules and began tinkering on some tedious optics research. But he explored at night, peeking into the other buildings, looking for marvels and finding only obvious improvements of long-known technology—radio detection, encryption, rocketry, radioactive materials, armor and ordnance. Boring.
One night Heinrich found an old, abandoned building from before the Superweapon program was created. His flashlight happened to fall on a curious spot on the floor. Moving some old filing cabinets, Heinrich discovered a trap door. The door led to a tunnel beneath the complex. Heinrich began to tremble with excitement. The tunnel ran in the direction of the mysterious tower.
Heinrich followed it, suppressing the urge to run ahead.
He came to a ladder leading up to a trap door, at a spot that was probably beneath the tower itself. Heinrich climbed the ladder. He pushed up the trap door.
The door lifted up like a manhole. Heinrich slid it to the side and hoisted himself into room above.
He found himself in an old, stone-paneled room with flagstones on the floor. The trap door was shaped to fit tightly with the adjacent stones, so that when it is closed it would be difficult to notice. The wide room had neat rows of lab tables, with many chemical and electrical experiments in progress.
In one corner of the room was a strange, white, capsule-shaped object about half a meter tall and 20 centimeters wide. Thin grey spidery symbols zigzagged around the surface of the capsule. It was hovering in the midst of instruments even Heinrich couldn’t identify.
Heinrich spent nearly an hour studying the capsule and the instruments without making much progress, which was frustrating for him. Then he noticed a pulsing red light leaking under the lab door. The rhythm was very strange, almost otherworldly.
Intrigued, Heinrich quietly opened the door.
Beyond the was a yet larger room, wide, round, and very tall, as it if occupied the whole hollow core of the cylindrical tower. A dozen or so doors led off in all directions, probably to labs or offices or something. The floor was etched in a network of bizarre symbols, lines, and geometric patterns, some of which made Heinrich’s eyes hurt to try to look at.
In the center of the room, the core of the core, a tall metal shell rose. It rose like an elongated bell, maybe 15 meters high and 5 across. There was a one meter gap at the bottom, as if the structure simply hovered in the air. The irregular red light was coming from that gap, as if the interior contained flames. But there was no heat; if anything, it was colder here in the core than in the other lab.
The need to see what was in that bell is irresistible…
Heinrich can’t resist. He peeks under the edge of the bell. The view is dim, and foggy. He steps inside.
The horizon in every direction seems to burn. A wasted black landscape of hills and ancient ruins extends in every direction. The sky overhead is filled with stars of red and green that slip and ooze through the firmament.
It is as if Heinrich had stepped under the bell into a damned world. But a ring, like a round fence, about 15 feet across and 3 feet tall, circumscribes the area he is in. The ring fence is translucent, like blue light filtering in from far-off windows, like the shadow of earthlight in the realm of nightmare.
Sharing the ring with Heinrich, and dominating it, is a massive throne, made of brobdignagian ebon bones. The creature on the throne is man-shaped, skinless, rippling raw muscle over semi-exposed pale bone. Black vapors steam from its body, and its horned, flame-eyed skull head regards Heinrich with malevolent interest.
“I have never seen you, Eye of the Dark Wind.” His voice echoes from the land itself, and from within Heinrich’s marrow. His mind screams to run, but his body is locked in place.
“What shall I do with you?” His hands and feet have not moved. On closer observation, his arms and legs seem to be shackled to the throne with thick black iron bands. Some kind of pipes or hoses seem to emerge from the throne and snake along the ground.
“I have enough pawns. There are many who crave power, and it is a simple matter to bend their wills. Give them someone to blame for their miseries. Give them power to make men afraid—it takes so little. Make them terrify, and kill. And the suffering of mankind fuels my link to your world. My link is now strong, growing stronger each day.
“Do you know that your Fuhrer thinks he controls me? That he thinks he exploits my power to his own evil ends? But I get much more from his evil depredations than he gains from channeling my power. His capacity for causing suffering, for encouraging his followers to spread despair and fear, rivals my own. He opened the gate to me. And he feeds me on human terror. The battlefields of France and Poland are feasts to me, yet leave me hungrier. The banquet will spread through Russia and Great Britain, Africa and the Mediterranean. The torment of his own people, fellow citizens with only the least significant difference in heredity, whets my appetite. Astonishing that one of your own should own such terror. Fortunate that I have been drawn in to exploit it.”
“Yet, you. Only the sane terror of one facing extinction, not the petty, fearful hunger for power. How can I exploit you?
“I shall open your two inner eyes, the Eye of Flow and the Eye of Connection. You shall see, and be unable to show. You shall know, and be unable to persuade. What you see as obvious will defy all language.
“I give you hidden knowledge you cannot share. It will all make no difference. That will be your torment.
“I look with interest to your future, Eye of the Dark Wind. How will you cope with your helplessness? How will you reconcile to your utterly corrupt masters, to whom you are now useless? You are my experiment.
“Your captors approach. Access to me is restricted. I wonder what you will do? How long you will last? This will be quite interesting.”
The hellish world wavers and collapses. Heinrich finds himself on the floor of the core lab outside the bell, dizzy and disoriented. He blinks, and looks around. The lights, the wiring, the light switches—the pipes, the valves, the condensers—the metal, the plastic, the wood—he is aware of everything in the room, the shape it is in, the shapes it could be—the flow, the connections, the possibilities—he is stunned, overwhelmed by the potential links and interrelationships.
It is morning. A door opens. A lead scientist enters, followed by two armed guards. They stop in surprise.
“What are you doing here?”
Heinrich rolls on his side facing the guards and scientist. He says in a groggy voice and looks around blinking, “How did…how did I get here…sir, I was working and…”. He looks around…“what is this place…so strange and…sir, what….I don’t understand…” He “faints”.
The scientist sighs and approaches, flanked by the guards. “Vat a shame. He vas so promising. Take him to the cooler.” The guards pick him up by the upper arms.
Heinrich realizes that things did not go as he planned…he needs some of those supplies and gizmos he saw around the room.
Heinrich tries to wiggle out of the guards’ grasp. The guards lose their grip and knock heads in the struggle. One guard’s legs get tangled in Heinrich’s. He falls down, bumping into the other guard.
“Seize him, you fools!” shouts the scientist. “He’s a Jewish spy!” (He’s always wanted to say that.)
Heinrich scrambles over behind a turbine/generator structure on the cold metallic floor. Cables snake from it over to the Bell. He can see the electrical current patterns running in and through it, and if he yanked a cable here and cross-wired that there…
Wunderbar! Heinrich now holds two highly charged electrodes.
Heinrich jams the electrodes into the floor. Lightning arcs through the floor over to the guards and the scientist. The guard Heinrich tripped drops unconscious to the floor. The other guard and the scientist stumble around in their smouldering clothing, regathering their wits. The guard is furious, the scientist alarmed.
Heinrich gives them another dose of electrical punishment. The scientist and guard join the other guard, collapsed and twitching on the floor. Their slight groans tell Heinrich they’re still alive, but out of commission for awhile.
Still, someone probably noticed all the commotion. What with the lights dimming and shouting and loud zapping noises and all.
Wait. There’s a strange piece of paper here of the floor by the generator. Heinrich is almost certain it wasn’t there a second ago.
Heinrich smiles to himself and scoops up the paper.
Though no alarm bell is ringing, someone might have noticed the flickering lights, or the noise of the fight. Maybe. Certainly if they were in the building. But it could still be pretty early, maybe these three were the only ones here? The clock on the wall says 6:01. Though the only entrance is guarded twenty-four hours. Maybe the guards outside heard something.
Heinrich throws together an X-ray scanner from the generator parts and components from a couple nearby tables.
Nope. Nobody in the building. Two guards outside the front door.
Heinrich finds a map of the tower on the wall; a round floor plan with a circular center room surrounded by various other rooms. The only entrance seems to be from the doors the scientist came from, which lead to a small lobby, which leads directly outside to the compound.
Heinrich visualizes the compound: a group of unconnected buildings surrounded by a fence with barbed wire and a watch tower. Rather like a prison camp, now that Heinrich thinks of it, though with good food, heat, and hot and cold water. None of the doors operate by remote control or anything (though he spontaneously comes up with a couple different ways to wire all the doors to be controlled from a central location. He’d have to install modules at all the doors though).
The downed men don’t seem to have anything interesting on them. The scientist has pens and a slide rule. Heinrich could do something about the soldiers’ weapons, but the unlocked doors are making him a little nervous. He settles for just taking their rifles for now.
Heinrich swiftly jams a couple bullets from one of the guards’ rifles between the outer doors and wires the handles together, then jams the door from the foyer to the central core room similarly. That ought to hold them for awhile.
His thoughts are on escaping, but he first he begins pulling critical components out of the various devices that regulate and monitor the Bell. Some he stashes for future use in a satchel found lying under a table. Others he fuses using his electrodes—now released from the bulky floor-mounted generator but working perfectly fine—tdoing subtle acts of sabotage that will require the maximum repair effort. He also sets up a few short circuits that just might take down the entire base’s power grid if the sabotaged devices are turned on.
Oh, wait. There’s that paper he found again. Huh. That oval design kind of reminds Heinrich of that white capsule in the other lab with the trap door. Wonder what it means.
Heinrich finds a helmet he can mount his X-ray projector to, and as an afterthought fits it with lenses and a spectrometer so he can see at a distance, and tiny objects, and in ultraviolet, infrared, and at night. Can’t be too prepared. Heinrich sees a couple ways he condense it down to goggles rather than a helmet, and maybe add sonar and/or radar, but that will take time he doesn’t have right now.
Someone’s banging on the front door. Heinrich smirks as he looks using the X-ray device in the direction of the banging to see about half a dozen scientists and as many soldiers puzzling about the door, trying various keys. More than a few tempers seem to be flaring.
After taking a few more modules from the core lab and setting a couple more power overload traps, Heinrich makes his way back to the lab at which he entered. If people aren’t careful in the core when they finally get in, there won’t be much but scrap metal after the fireworks. Except maybe the Bell. Heinrich has no idea what kind of metal it’s made of, which is disturbing all by itself.
Back in the side lab, Heinrich approaches the white capsule. It is about the size of a tall thermos, and hovers in what is probably an electromagnetic field. Various needle-like probes point at it, attached to fluoroscopes and needle chart machines. However, there are no records of any data nearby. Though there is a pretty heavy (and locked) combination safe under the counter.
Heinrich studies the machinery for a couple seconds, then switches off the main power to the electromagnetic field. The capsule thumps to the tabletop and rolls a few centimeters. Nothing else in the lab or the building (or outside the building) seems to be affected.
It bumps against what looks like a normal telephone handset. The handset isn’t connected to a telephone, though, and has a short, collapsible antenna sticking out from the listening end.
JACKPOT!!! Heinrich thinks to himself.
The capsule seems oddly light. Heinrich can’t tell what it’s made of, or what it’s supposed to do or be. He stows it in his bag. It does kind of remind him of the picture on the note.
The telephone handset looks like the part of a telephone you hold to listen and speak into, like one attached to a normal dial telephone. Except there’s no cord and no dial anywhere. Plus it has an extendible antenna. Heinrich stows that too.
There are lots and lots of interesting things in the lab—that on closer inspection, look kind of boring now that Heinrich thinks about it. He could probably duplicate any of them in a few seconds with the right common household components.
About the only way out Heinrich is aware of is the trap door he entered through. A quick X-ray scan doesn’t show any other ways out. At the front door, some soldiers are starting to pound the door with a fencepost while others are opening up a toolbox. There seem to be two squads standing ready to enter when they get the doors open.
Heinrich takes a couple seconds to open the safe with an improvised electric cutting torch. Inside are several files. A quick flip shows some data plots and reports. They seem to be utter nonsense, but maybe with further study…
Out of time. Heinrich drops down the trap door and shuts it behind him. The passage goes back to the point Heinrich entered from within the compound, and proceeds ahead to who knows where.
Heinrich takes his new found treasures and returns down the tunnel to the abandoned building he found the entrance of the tunnel in, intent on finding a road vehicle or airplane to escape with.
He casually exits the building. He finds himself in a corner of the research compound as the sun rises over the mountains. The tower is away toward the center, and most of the camp’s garrison is posted around the front doors. The doors have been broken in.
The motor pool is a couple buildings over, though the front gates are closed and guarded and there aren’t any other gates. The building where scientists were working on jetpacks is next door, and right over there is an experimental autogyro hanger. There was a place somewhere around here where they were working on rockets.
Heinrich casually walks over to the rocket development center. There are a few rockets ready for fueling, each about a man-and-a-half tall. They’re pretty light, when empty, so Heinrich carries one over to the autogyro hanger. He goes back for a second one. The compound is starting to get kind of agitated, with scientists and lab assistants milling around the central tower, wondering what is going on in there. Heinrich carries over some rocket fuel tanks, along with four smaller solid-fuel rockets about two feet long.
With all the components in place, Heinrich goes to work. He bolts the two large rockets to the fuselage for extra thrust, then fixes one small rocket to each of the autogyro blades. He has just finished installing the remote electric igniters when someone raises the wide hanger door leading to the camp airstrip.
“Doktor Schmidt!” shouts the surprised autogyro technician as he enters. “Was in Himmel are you doing in there?”
He looks straight at him and squints then nods in recognition (as if he recognizes him).
“I am working on a new proto-type. It should be operational soon.” Heinrich pauses as he adjusts some things. I wonder what the commotion is over at the main doors? Go find out and let me know, maybe I can help over there."
“That is Doktor Vogel’s prototype! What are you doing to it? You don’t have clearance to be in here without an escort!” The mechanic steps into the hangar near a box full of large hand tools. His eyes get wider as he examined the modified autogyro. “What are you doing to it?”
“Herr Doktor Vogel has asked me to make some modifications and am sure he will be pleased, don’t you think?” Heinrich says with a big grin. He gets back to work and is trying to finish as fast as he can.
The mechanic scratches his head. “It’s…rocket powered rotors? You could never…the stresses…the lift to weight ratio…stress concentrators…I can’t believe Dr Vogel would authorize this. There’s no way it’ll get off the ground before self-destructing. Look, Dr Schmidt, we’ve spent months on this prototype. It’ll take weeks to repair what you’ve done. Just…just back away from the prototype, I’ll get Dr Vogel, and we’ll talk it over.” The mechanic picks up a large wrench from a nearby workbench. “Just step back, and we’ll figure this all out.”
The ruckus in the Bell tower increases. Heinrich thinks they probably found the scientist and two guards by now and will be reviving them soon. He ignites the rotor rockets (setting much of the hanger on fire and sending the mechanic running), mounts the autogyro and blasts out the hanger door, over the motor pool and off to the mountains. Behind him, alarms, explosions, and the angry buzz of overloaded transformers erupt from the Bell tower.
The rocket autogyro quickly leaves the camp behind. Heinrich steers it toward Switzerland.