Saturday, July 23, 2016

Moskau by G. Zotov - read online

by G. Zotov

UPDATED October 18 (+1 chapter)
Release - October, 20, 2016
Preorder now

Part One

The King of Dwarves

Valhalla, the Gods await me,
Open wide Thy gates, embrace me,
Great hall of the battle slain
With swords in hand!

Manowar, Gates of Valhalla


“You don’t think all those things really exist, surely?”
She smiles — not a grin but a small smile, just baring her little white teeth as if she's about to sink them into you. Her eyes glisten; her fingers clench the stem of her wine glass. Women love to argue. Not because they want to get to the truth but out of cheer stubbornness: they hate to admit defeat. I bet she feels aroused at moments like these.
I take a theatrical pause, pretending her question has caught me unprepared. The black curtain embossed with a runic pattern quivers in the little current of air from the aircon. The silence is absolute. The closed windows don’t let through the groaning of cars stuck in the traffic jams. The candles flicker like wolves’ eyes in the dimmed light.
You might mistake my room for a hunter’s abode. Wherever you look, its walls are lined with the twisted horns of wild ox and deer skulls bleached with time. The dinner table rests on a bear hide of a deliberately crude tanning. A boulder I brought from the Norwegian marshes sits at the center of the room. It’s a gorgeous item: a monolith chunk of granite.
“Absolutely,” I reply calmly. “I don't doubt it for one single moment.”
She sips red wine from her glass. Her cheeks begin to glow. She’s about to launch an offensive.
“Very well... I agree, to a point,” she says. “Let’s presume that our planet was formed in place of the primordial chasm of Ginnungagap that used to divide the two realms of ice and fire. For millennia the two kingdoms drifted toward each other until they finally united, producing the athletic giant Ymir and Audumbla the cow. Personally, I tend not to agree with what was supposed to happen next but... I might just suspend my disbelief that much. The first man and woman emerged from Ymir's sweat while his two legs copulated with each other, giving birth to a son, which was how the ice giants were born into the Earth’s stormy night. I’m not laughing at you, oh no. If our historians still argue over the intricacies of the Great Battle, who would take it upon themselves to claim the knowledge of what happened a million years ago? How did humanity come about? Did it emerge from the ocean, drop from the sky or crawl out of underground tunnels? All this is guesswork.”
She sets her glass down. Flirtatiously she rearranges a feathery strand of hair. “But as for the rest... you’ll excuse me if I interrogate you extensively,” she continues. “Let’s examine it all in every detail. So, high in the sky we have the hovering Asgard, the heavenly dwelling of the gods, which is perfectly normal. All cultures place their gods up high. The Christians billet their God among the clouds; the Greek gods used to dwell on top of Mount Olympus, and the Hinduist God Shani actually impersonates the planet of Saturn, or all places. Deities are obliged to live in cloudland: if they dwelled amongst us, they'd lose their wits within a week. Now let’s make an effort and imagine one of Asgard’s buildings — namely, Valhalla. Odin’s banquet hall, a place of unending orgies of bingeing and lovemaking. There, dead soldiers gorge nightly on the meat of Sæhrímnir the boar and drink themselves senseless on the mead produced by the udder of Heiðrún the goat. And once they’ve eaten, the dead enjoy the services of beautiful maidens. Five hundred and forty doors — and a roof thatched with gold shields supported by a colonnade of spears. You have to agree that an unwashed medieval Viking warrior must have taken this idea of heaven quite for granted in the wilds of their fiords. But what about us? Us, living in our cynical age of e-funks and the world wide Shogunet network? Us who can’t watch television without our 3D goggles? We can’t even shift our backsides without being assisted by a machine! The office rat responsible for the invention of remote controls must have made a fortune! Do you still think that the Vikings’ heaven is any good for the men of today? Well, I don’t. You, just you personally — do you believe in Valhalla?”
I reach for a slice of pork and chew on it, slowly and neatly. The wheat beer in a misted glass cheers my eye; I watch it weep. I don’t drink wine. I don’t consider it patriotic. She? Well, she... she can do whatever she wants. It’s all peanuts compared to what she’s already done.
“I’d rather believe in Valhalla than in the Biblical heaven,” I answer in a syrupy voice just when she’s about to lose her patience. “It’s much better organized. Every person in the Reichskommissariat, from babies to old women, has a military rank. This is perfectly logical, considering that only an Einherjar can enter Valhalla: a warrior who has died in combat, sword still in hand. Admittedly these rules can sometime have the most funny consequences. Even bus conductors are considered a military unit and have their own system of ranks. A bakery manager receives the rank of a Subaltern Baked of Products and wears special black collar insignia shaped as ears of wheat. Even gynecologists have been made into a Sonderkommando unit complete with a coat of arms depicting a naked Valkyrie revealing her heart in her hands.”
“This is something I could never understand,” she interrupts me. “Why heart?”
“What else should she reveal?” I reply meekly.
She turns red, pretending to play with her wine.
“Everyone wants to go to heaven. This is a prerequisite for our existence,” I press the napkin to my lips. “Behave, and you’ll be rewarded. Valhalla makes it so much simpler. No need to fast and pray. All you need to do is kill and die in battle. This isn’t just what the Vikings think. Muslims believe this too. Or are you uncomfortable about Heiðrún the goat? She doesn’t need to be there after all. I’m quite prepared to allow the existence of a modified version of Valhalla. In this day and age it can be refurbished and turned into anything. Even a sushi bar.”
She empties her glass in one gulp. The twinkle in her eyes expires. “In any case, the Führer isn’t in Valhalla!” she enunciates. “If he's anywhere, then he’s in hell!”
Unhurriedly I dunk the meat into sweet mustard and drag it around my plate. “Our whole life is hell,” I explain with a polite smile. “And the only way to escape it is by dying. If our priests are to be believed, the Führer is busy enjoying Sæhrímnir steaks even as we speak. I know, I know. He didn’t die sword in hand. But what difference does it make? At the moment, the Führer is a trademark, not the nation’s leader. His pictures on mobile phones, lighters and condoms — all this is a marketing ploy. No one’s going to sacrifice their lives for him these days. They might do so if the price is right, provided it’s in yen. Or even Reichsmarks. Alas! All these office rats are unlikely to ever see Valhalla.”
I give the wurstsalat its due: the good old combination of sausages, potatoes and a dash of mayonnaise. I increasingly get the impression that there’s something perverse about our dinner — indecent even. Still I like it. And so, I believe, does she. The Führer? It’s not so simple, either. Even the wisest of our priests admit it, those who were interned in Norwegian caves. The Führer died on October 20 1942 during a parade at the Nibelung Square celebrating the first anniversary of his armies’ victorious entry into the capital of Russland. A lone terrorist driving a truckful of explosives smashed it into the stands by the walls of the Kremlin. Instead of a sword, the Führer was holding a small stack of paper as he delivered one of his fiery speeches. Within a split second, the entire upper echelon of the Third Reich disintegrated in the blast. There wasn’t as much as a single molecule left of them. The Führer took a fast train to Valhalla in the company of Himmler, Bormann, Muller, Goebbels and Goering. I remember a little blond guy in the Higher Theological College ask simple-heartedly, “Do office workers like Reichsleiter Bormann go to Valhalla too?” They kicked the kid out of school on the spot. From what I heard, he became a street sausage vendor.
“Had I not believed in Valhalla, I’d have never become Odin's priest,” I continue, looking her in the eye. “Spirituality is unpopular there days. It’s easier to put the Führer’s portraits on lighters — Japanese tourists buy them like they’re going out of style. Or get a job at the Institute for the Research of Aryan Origins, that’s something quite popular with girls your age. You spend five years as a hermit at the Mount Kailash archeological digs in Tibet searching for the first Aryan sites. Barley cakes, yak butter tea and tons of enlightment. But personally, I wholeheartedly believe in Viking rituals — and not just because they make part of the Reich’s official religion. Go see Trondheim, it’s no less impressive than Jerusalem. The goat is nothing, after all. Not when you think of all Christianity’s goofs.”
She doesn’t say anything. She doesn’t even look my way. She must have taken offence. How are you supposed to talk about anything with the Schwarzkopfs? They're not open to discussion. The moment you say something that contradicts their point of view, they sulk and pout their lips.
The girl reaches for the remote she’s so passionately condemned just a moment ago and thoughtlessly clicks the TV on.
A commercial break. Whenever you switch it on, it’s always advertisements.
Konnichiwa! Want to be sure you’re part of the master race?” a juicy kimono-clad blonde inquires from the screen. “Our Sony computers know if you’re an Aryan. They require a DNA sample to boot up. Our Sakura Operating System is now available in Russisch.”
Unfortunately, the only two things the Reich is good at making are sausages and missiles. All the rest is made in Japan. White goods, brown goods, fountain pens even. The Nippon koku is so popular that every Fräulein[i] worth her salt has had an eyelid job to give her gaze an Asian slant. Japanese food is everywhere. You get served wasabi even with your beer and sausages. Outdoor advertising has more fancy Japanese characters than normal Gothic letters. Slowly and smoothly, the Reich is being devoured by the Teikoku — the Empire. I wouldn’t be surprised if one day we began addressing the Führer as the Mikado!
I sense it’s time to break the silence. “You need some rest. Allow me to accompany you.”
She lays the napkin on the table.
We head for the bedroom. A black color scheme. The wallpaper pattern is that of crossed battleaxes. The interior designer sought inspiration in Viking caves. Well, admittedly he succeeded. I can even sense a whiff of dampness in the air — but most likely, I have the aircon to thank for that. The girl doesn’t like it here, I know. The Schwarzkopfs don’t appreciate living in style. Well, I’m sorry. She has no choice.
I tactfully turn away from the king-size bed while she removes her dress and dons pajamas. I’m sure she wants me to turn round; but I can control myself.
“Good night,” she whispers listlessly and slides under the quilt.
“Sleep tight,” I say as I cuff her wrist to the headrest.
She doesn’t react. Her eyelashes are lowered.
“You need to understand,” I heave a sad sigh. “This is for your own good.”
Quietly I close the door, lock it and place the key in my pocket. A camera eye glows in the room. I may not be there but I can see everything my prisoner is up to. I’m not talking about masturbation. Whenever this happens, I switch off the monitor — you can’t even imagine what a woman can do with only one free hand — and listen to her groans in the speakers. Sometimes I get the impression that she does it not so much for her own pleasure but in order to seduce me. Which woman would refuse to spend a night with a priest — even a pagan priest? At first, when her two shoulder wounds were still raw, the girl tried to free herself but only managed to scrape her handcuffed wrist. Now she’s okay but still I shouldn’t be too lax. She’s wrapped herself in the quilt — asleep, hopefully.
Excellent. I have terrible vertigo.
It takes me a quarter of an hour to heat up the Norse boulder with red-hot embers. It’s so hot I feel like a kitchen cook. I reach for the knife. Its steel is cool against my skin. I ran it across the flat of my hand. Blood drips onto the granite, sizzling and bubbling, streaking the runes brown. My nostrils quiver, taking in the pungent smell of a slaughterhouse.
Pain enters my head. My skin prickles with electric discharges. My eyes fill with white flashes. I can see something but I can’t quite make out what it is. Just some spine-chilling outlines.
It’s all right. I have these fits sometimes. It’ll be over in a couple of minutes.






Chapter One

The airspace of Russland, near the city of Sochi

Pavel didn’t know what to do with himself. The old Junkers airliner on a LuftStern flight from Hong Kong to Moskau was packed solid and shuddered in the air like a streetcar. The threadbare economy class seats; the stomach-wrenching stench of microwaved meals; the air hostesses with martyr’s smiles on their faces, their unyielding legs swollen from long hours of flight... he’d seen it all on his business trips.
He leafed through a magazine, then listened to the music in his earphones. Doing nothing for ten hours on end could be really exhausting. He couldn’t sleep: the seat was too hard and uncomfortable.
Come to think of it, this time he was really unlucky with his seat.
He’d got to sit in the middle. The window seat (to his left) and the one by the aisle (to his right) were taken by two elderly Japanese. An old man and an old lady. Both wearing those panama hats so beloved by Japanese tourists worldwide, floral-pattern shirts and matching pants. For some reason, they reminded him of two lapdogs, useless and goofy. Plus the cameras, of course. They had even taken a picture of themselves in the plane's bathroom.
The old boy absent-mindedly opened a colorful leaflet and peered at its title through his glasses,

Visit Lake Baikal, gem of the Reich!

Tourism operations to Moskau had shrunk 50% over the last couple of years, and so had the reichsmark in comparison to the yen. Japanese tourists were the only hope the Kommissariat had left. Where else was it supposed to get the money from? Industry was on its last legs. St. Petersburg (or should we call it Peterstadt now?) was flooded every summer with groups from the Nippon koku, complete with their panama hats. Tourist guides were run off their feet taking them from Salvador Dali’s statue of the Führer all the way to Peterhof and street markets offering swastika-decorated Easter eggs. No one really cared that Operation Barbarossa of July 22 1940 had initially intended to raze St. Petersburg to the ground. There had even been some sort of blueprint detailing the whole procedure. Never mind St. Petersburg! The same Operation Barbarossa had planned to flood Moscow and turn it into a water reserve. They’d had some sick imagination, really. No one would admit this but in fact it felt like half the Führer’s entourage had been high on LSD.
The Japanese guy turned the page to the next picture. Palm trees and seaside. A girl in a swimsuit stood on a sandy beach, cocktail in hand.
He turned to Pavel."Sumimasen," he grinned, baring a mouthful of teeth. “Excuse me. Do you speak Russisch?"
At any other time Pavel might have pretended not to understand the question. Still, the flight to Moskau was going to be a long one. What difference would it make anyway, if you were stuck in a confined space at thirty thousand feet with two old farts for company? Even they were a Godsend to while away the time.
He smiled. “Konnichiwa, Sensei. How can I help you?”
The old boy pointed at the girl on the picture, burying his fingernail in her ample chest. “Excuse me,” he said, butchering the language. “My wife and I will be staying two days in Moscow. And after that we’d like to go to the seaside. I can’t decide on a destination. Is the city of Sochi (he pronounced it as Soci) good?”
The plane hit a turbulent patch. The passengers clenched their armrests. Soci! Pavel chuckled to himself. This guy knows what he wants. Very well, then...
He pressed an armrest button. His seat slid backwards.
“If the truth were known, Sochi isn’t a place I’d recommend,” he said with a deadpan face, glancing at the old man. “It’s part of the Caucasus Reichskommissariat. That area suffered a lot during the Twenty-Year War. Service is rubbish. Hotels are refurbished barracks. The sea is still full of drifting mines. Kidnappings of tourists are not uncommon. The local tribesmen often leave their mountains to ambush tourist buses and blow up funiculars. And food is too expensive for what it is. Even corn ears sold by beach vendors — former members of SS Turkic legions — might cost you a good hundred reichsmarks apiece.”
The old man nodded. Apparently, he hadn’t understood half of it. Still, Pavel wasn’t going to switch to German. From his experience, few of the Nippon koku’s denizens knew any Hochdeutsch.
He cast a sideways glance at the booklet. The blue sea, the palm trees, the cocktail glasses and the girl, laughing out loud, in her Peenemünde swimsuit. This was a paste-up if ever he’d seen one.

...Once again, the stench of burning filled his nostrils. Pavel saw the dead cities; the black skeletons of the buildings. The smoke drifted low over rivers overflowing with dead bodies. Oh, yes. He still remembered it all.
By the summer 1984, when the Reich’s flags were finally flying over the Urals’ defenses as well as both African and South American jungles, the ruling elite of Greater Germany had split. Nobody wanted to acquiesce. The SS wanted to have control over the oil wells, the Wehrmacht wanted to lay its hands on the diamond fields while the Gestapo claimed the U-mines. That would have made any history scholar laugh. Money and luxury: this was every empire’s undoing. The hordes of Genghis Khan had crossed the continent from the Chinese steppes to the spires of Polish churches, but the Mongols’ imperium had crumbled to nothing. When a warrior is loaded with gold like a donkey, why would he go into battle? All he can dream of is wine and female affections. Similarly, the Reich’s military elite had mutated, becoming a financial oligarchy. All of them had joined in the carving up of world resources, even the Navy’s Chief Karl Dönitz in his wheelchair, shaking with old age. It was a miracle that the Twenty-Year War hadn’t ended in nuclear attacks: the Reich had tested its first A-bomb already in 1944 on the island of Peenemünde. Unfortunately, the air raids had seriously damaged the nuclear power stations. The air there was still buzzing with radiation and Geiger counters were just as commonplace as aircons.
The old guy just wouldn’t give it a rest. “I wonder if fishing is good in Soci?”
Pavel didn’t hear him. The roaring of the plane’s turbines had nothing to do with it. He was far away, reminiscing.
The Twenty-Year War had flattened each and every one of the Reichskommissariats: East, Ukraine, Caucasus and Turkestan. Some cities had been luckier than others, emerging relatively unscathed. But Moskau, Kiev and Minsk had turned into battlegrounds. The Reich was devouring itself from the inside while the Nippon koku was getting richer, offering loans to both sides. And what was the result? The empire’s economy was on its last legs. Moskau alone was still braving it out while in the Caucasus, from what he’d heard, local highlanders were swapping lynx pelts for butter. Japan, however, had ballooned like bread dough, its skyscrapers bayoneting the sky, their walls covered in neon signs. Not just in Tokyo but also in Shanghai, Manila and Sydney. The post-war accord had granted Japan half the world. They’d received China and Australia, clipped off Alaska, Seattle and Nevada, and invaded Russland’s Far East and Siberia. Oil, gold and gas — the Japs had jumped at their chance then and they had it all now. In 1970s, the Emperor Hirohito had issued a decree gifting Lake Baikal to the Reich. Moskau girls had wrapped themselves in kimonos; all you could see on TV was manga and anime. This was the real enslavement of the planet, creepy and inconspicuous — no need for tanks or airplanes, only fashion statements. Now the Nippon koku was brimming with money while the only thing the Reich still produced was weapons.
But who were they supposed to sell them to if the world was already conquered?
“Fishing?” Pavel resurfaced from his musings. “Plenty of fish there, Sensei. The lake’s seething with them. Take my advice: forget the fishing rod. A machine gun is the thing. Did you watch TV last week? About that mutant shark that attacked a speedboat near Adler, just next to Sochi? Lots of victims that day. And the killer crabs... too much radiation, you see.”
The two tourists’ panama hats rustled as they exchanged anxious whispers. The fact that they had to lean over him to do so didn’t seem to bother them. They hadn’t even thought of asking him to swap places. He watched their wrinkled faces: they looked like two Shar-Pei dogs sniffing each other. Oh, well. They were the master race. As simple as that.
Arigato gozaimasu,” the old man finally managed. “Thank you very much for your help, Sir.”
His wife nodded enthusiastically. It didn’t look as if she’d understood what the conversation had been about. She sneezed and reached into her handbag — apparently, to get a handkerchief. She rummaged through it, rattling its contents, but never produced anything. Her husband exploded in a bout of dry coughing and pressed a hand to his mouth.
Old age ailments! Now they would start taking pills by the handful. Time to bid his Auf Wiedersehen.
“You’re very welcome,” he sighed. “Excuse me, may I squeeze past?”
He walked down the aisle. It felt like being stuck inside a giant bee: a buzzing in your head, a stuffed feeling in your ears. The economy class bathroom was as comfortable as a coffin. He'd have liked to know how porn actors managed to make out in places like these. It was too small for two guinea pigs to fornicate.
The tap produced a weak trickle of hot water. Pavel splashed some onto his face puffy from lack of sleep. He glanced into the mirror and cringed. Not the best version of him. On the other hand, how are you supposed to look like when you live, eat and sleep your job while the top office is too stingy to afford a business class seat for their expert? Sunken cheeks, receding temples, a hooked hawk nose and eyes transparent like jelly. Pavel still remembered what he used to look like while a little kid. He'd never been beauty pageant material, and as for his height... never mind. The Führer had made short men popular. All things considered, not too bad.
Pavel reached into his pocket for a disposable razor and gave himself a good shave.
When he returned to his place, the plane was descending. A viscous lump of nausea blocked his throat. The Japanese’s seats were empty. They were off on some business of their own.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please fasten your seatbelts,” the metallic voice of the air hostess resounded throughout the cabin. “Our flight will land in half an hour. The weather is fine. The air temperature is 95 degrees. According to the local weather report, radiation levels are within safe limits. No need to wear face masks on leaving the airport.”
Pavel didn’t look in the window. He was fed up with cookie-cutter views.
Two men awaited him on the ground. Despite the heat, they were wearing gray raincoats.
“Welcome to Moskau, Sturmbannführer,” the first of them clicked his heels.
The other one reached out to take Pavel’s suitcase. Pavel didn’t mind.
“Once again, our apologies for having to summon you all the way from Hong Kong,” the first one continued. “It must have been a long flight. You need to get some sleep. We’ll take you to the hotel.”
Pavel shook his head. “Oh, no. Plenty of time at night to do that. Let’s go directly to the Gestapo.”

A middle-aged air hostess — a peroxide blonde with the LuftStern logo on her beret — sprang to attention, watching the three men climb into an executive-class Opel Admiral. She struggled to suppress the desire to shoot her arm out in the party salute. The Sieg Heil! had been abolished as the result of the Twenty-Year War. Together with the party, that is.






Chapter Two

Moskau, Sakura Hotel
A sixth floor office, three hours later.

From a classified audio transcript,

“I’m highly disappointed in you, Itiro san,” a male voice said bitterly.
“And so am I, Onoda san. Allow me to write a poem on the subject, followed by my performing seppuku. I will be very careful in ripping my belly; I won’t soil the floors. I’ve brought a waterproof cloak and twenty feet of plastic film specifically for the purpose.”
“And what am I supposed to do with your body? Cut it into pieces and burn them in the fireplace? Thank you very much! As far as I know, you and your wife received two million yen for the job. The imperial Kommandatur in Hong Kong made sure you boarded the plane without being checked. No, don’t start. I’ve heard all your excuses. But somehow I doubt they’ll convince the others.”
A heavy sigh. “I understand. What am I looking at?”
“Nothing good, really. The Mikado Bank account where you placed the money has been frozen. Your family isn’t getting it until the job is complete. Excuse my being so blatant, Itiro san, but how much time have you got left until your meeting with Amaterasu, the solar goddess?”
The other voice paused. “About a week, according to the doctors. I appreciate your concern.”
An expiring cigarette hissed against the ashtray. “In this case, I have the displeasure to state that you have seven days to complete your mission. In any case, the government will pay for your funeral. Out of pure respect of your past services, Itiro san.”
“I do not deserve a single crumb of respect, Onoda san.”
“Excellent. In this case, try to retrieve it, as well as your money. This is the only way to secure adequate living standards for your children. I’ll make sure that you have everything you need this week, including reichsmarks. The reichsmark isn’t as stable as the yen, but at least you can use this Monopoly money all over Europe — both in Moskau and in the Reichskommissariats of Norway, Ukraine and Netherlands. Italy is the only country now not accepting the reichsmark. They prefer their hand-soiled liras. What a joke of a nation! They still exploit the bygone glory of Cesar's legions while in fact they struggled to conquer those barefoot Abyssinian savages. War just isn’t their thing. They should stay at home and eat spaghetti. All those weekly Hello Duce! TV shows! Romano Mussolini is just as eccentric as his father was. He’s eighty, for crissakes, and he’s prancing around like a college student. All that drunken sax playing of his at the Axis countries summit; his courting the ancient Sophie Loren... the man is a joke. You should rent an apartment by the day. Hotels are crawling with Gestapo agents. You know, don’t you, that this so-called empire of theirs is a rather loose structure? It’s not a single state but some sort of hostile competing Reichskommissariats. Even their capital is alternating. Last year it was Amsterdam. This year it’s Moskau.”
“I thank you, Onoda san. The diamonds of your thoughts enrich the poverty of my mind.”
A lighter clicked. “I swear by the Mikado, you won’t find it easy. Yes, you do speak a bit of Russisch, that was part of your profession... still, theory and practice aren’t the same thing. The Russlanders are a very peculiar nation. They’re terribly xenophobic — but they love all things foreign, especially with some well-targeted promotion. You know, don’t you, that Japanese food is extremely popular in Moskau? In less than ten years it has become a sensation."
The other man coughed. “Please accept my admiration for your work, Onoda san. I always found it strange that the Third Reich eats nothing but sushi, considering them a national Japanese dish and the ultimate in health foods. If this is the work of the promotional department at the Mikado’s court, they deserve being immortalized. Turning Japanese cat food into the local jetset hors-d’oeuvres!”
“Oh, yes! Thanks to this idea, the Nippon koku has no problem getting rid of raw fish leftovers. As for the rest, it’s all the same. Did you notice the abundance of blond people in Moskau?”
The voice paused again. “I did. Everybody’s either blond or a redhead. Not a single dark-haired person.”
“Exactly. Itiro san, this is something you need to understand. In Moskau, being Aryan is considered cool. The Führer’s initial doctrine considered the inhabitants of Russland as an inferior nation of untermenschen, as they called them. Substandard people. But closer to September 1945 the Reich's generals realized they weren’t going to defeat the guerrilla movement. Which was when the opposite idea prevailed. Reluctantly they recognized the Russlanders as an Aryan nation which allowed them to recruit them into the SS. Moreover, the Berlin racial department officially recognized all Slavs as Aryans, including the Bulgarians. Everyone but the Poles, that is. From that moment, Russland women started receiving alimony for the children born from German soldiers[ii]. It’s been half a century since. The European nations have all cross-bred: it’s a true melting pot here. These days you’d be hard pressed to guess the origins of anyone. But here, Aryans are obliged to dye their hair blond. It’s not a trend even. More of a necessity.”
“You don’t want to say there’re no dark-haired Russlanders left, do you, Onoda san?”
“Oh, yes. Plenty of those around. But they either wear wigs of shave their heads. Those who have the guts to be seen with their natural hair are called the Schwarzkopfs — Black Heads. It’s the slang word for dissidents. I told you already that Russland is a very peculiar area. It eagerly soaks up any foreign filth — but by the same token, it resists any foreign invaders. The guerrilla movement is still going strong all over the Reichskommissariat of Moskau. They control entire areas in the Urals, in St. Petersburg suburbs and around Yekaterinodar. You won’t want to go picnicking in the woods, oh no! Even in Moskau, Resistance is quite active. Two months ago they killed the city’s Oberkommandant Gruppenführer von Travinsky.
“This is crazy," the other voice burst out coughing. "Overzealous fanatics.”
“You would think so, wouldn't you? But this is simply a local tradition. The Russlanders have lots of habits they inherited from the Mongols. Corruption, for one. An Oriental love of creature comforts. Sucking up to the authorities. Cronyism. And with all this, they resisted the Yoke for two hundred years until the Golden Horde gave up and left them well alone. The Russlanders’ ties with the Germans are much stronger than you might think. They were ruled by Kaiserins, Empresses of German blood, like Katharina I and Katharina II who is also known as Catherine the Great, the best queen in Russland’s history. Every Kaiser of Russland starting with Peter the Great married a German princess. The very first Royal Russian dynasty was the Rurik, descendants of Danish princes. They were followed by the Mongols followed by the Germans. After the Bolsheviks had seized power, Jews came — followed by the Georgians followed by the Germans again. Basically, Russland has always been controlled by a foreign power. So there’ll always be some who hate it. Unfortunately, neither the government of Russland nor the Schwarzkopfs have noticed that the Wehrmacht is long gone. They’re at war with themselves.”
“How can I express my gratitude to you, Onoda san? All this is highly informative.”
“Don’t mention it. What a shame that Amaterasu is in such a hurry to summon you. You won’t have time to get a feeling for Russland. I’ve been working here for ten years already. You can’t imagine some things I’ve seen — even in the Siberian cities of Uradziosutoku and Habarosito which are thriving in the Mikado’s care. You can make the locals take Japanese names but they’ll still drink moonshine instead of sake!”
The other voice trembled. “How truly awful...”
“I haven’t told you half of it. No one wants to study Japanese. Women are the only ones who agree to wear geta sandals and kimonos. No one makes rock gardens over here. They prefer to dig the ground up and grow those wretched cucumbers, of all things! The only things that took were yakitori and right-hand drive cars. Oh, they love them in Uradziosutoku! This is something they won’t let you take away from them! I completely agree with the Mikado’s position: in order to ensure our empire’s world leadership we do need natural resources. And still sometimes I wish that our acquisitions didn’t go beyond taking the second half of Karafuto Island.”
“I completely agree with you, Onoda san.”
“Sorry for keeping you so long, my dear Itiro san. Here, take these reichsmarks," the voice said, accompanied by the rustle of paper notes. "I’ll give you the address in a minute. Go to the first street kiosk and buy yourself an oxygen mask and a Geiger counter. Do you have the Hong Kong equipment with you? Excellent. But be careful. Don’t use it unless it’s absolutely necessary.”
“If you don’t mind me asking..." the other voice shook with anxiety, "could you issue me a handgun, please?”
“You don’t need it. Whatever you do, you can’t shoot him.”






Chapter Three

The Odin Temple
(Aryan St., 46 opposite the Kommandatur)

I had to leave the car at a remote parking lot. Even though I have the clearance, no one’s allowed to park their cars by the walls of the Kommandatur. The place is wallowing in paranoia, they see terrorists everywhere.
I receive a token made of hard cardboard and head for the turnpike. A fat bespectacled middle-aged guy in a brown uniform with an Obergefreiter lapel badges is manning the booth by the barrier. His tongue hanging out from the effort, he’s studying a fresh issue of Völkischer Beobachter plastered with glossy pictures of scantily clad girls. That’s crisis for you. The party press was obliged to adopt the tabloid format in order to survive in the free market.
I knock at the glass of the booth. We've known each other for ages.
“Heiley heil,” he mumbles unceremoniously, turning a page.
I wave a greeting. “Heil to you too.”
I know every inch of the Aryan Street which stretches from Berlin Station all the way up to the Reichstag. I can walk the whole length of it blindfolded. Its sidewalks are lined with the blackened skeletons of tanks fenced off with strap barriers: a reminder of the street fighting of the Twenty-Year War. Half a dozen charred Tigers are grouped together opposite the Luftwaffe Heroes Boulevard like a small herd of droopy-trunked elephants. The walls of the state-of-the-art office buildings touch the rotting ruins of bombed-out houses. Apparently, in Bolshevik times there used to be a monument to the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin here. He’s long been removed both from the square and from the school curriculum. He was of African descent, wasn’t he?
Actually, the Ministry of Education did a great job. They banned Tchaikovsky’s music — apparently, the composer was a closet homosexual. They destroyed some of the most popular old movies which had featured Jewish actors, no matter how minor the part.
The center of the boulevard gapes with black holes edged with fire-licked scabs. These are bonfire sites. On weekends, the Aryan Street becomes a scene of multiple book burnings. They confiscate books from the Schwarzkopfs, like they used to do at the Opernplatz in Berlin. The books by Herbert Wells, Vladimir Mayakovski and Jaroslav Hašek squirm as they reduce to ashes.
When I was still a young Führerjugend activist, I brought here a copy of The Three Musketeers that the school janitor had been hiding in his cubicle. I threw it in the fire. Its author Alexander Dumas wasn’t Aryan. There was African blood in his veins too. Have you heard this ripping noise made by burning paper? It sounds like a heart being ripped apart.
In place of the old Pushkin monument, they’ve got Nietzsche standing now. At first, lots of people confused him with Gorky (another banned author) because of his fat moustache. The Führer used to love Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Unfortunately, he didn’t know something that Nietzsche had said, “Germany is a great nation only because its people have so much Polish blood in their veins.” Having said that, it’s probably all slander spread by the Shogunet forum trolls. Trust them to write all sorts of sick nonsense.
The government buildings on the Aryan Street are a sorry sight. Most of them are just copies of Berlin’s gloomy edifices. Take a look: the Moskau Ministry of Propaganda and Public Education, perfectly in keeping with Dr. Goebbels’ old office. Gray columns, colorful mosaics depicting young Aryan people flashing white smiles as they applaud National Socialism. A piercing wind invigorates the fluttering Reichskommissariat flags: the scarlet-red banners with a black eagle clenching a wreath of oak leaves. The swastika is long gone. Only souvenir vendors at the Richard Wagner pedestrian zone still sell merchandise featuring Die Hakenkreuz, the “angled cross”. The swastika on the flag was banned soon after the Twenty Year War. Regardless of how much everyone worships the Führer, not all of the Reichskommissariats were happy with his legacy, especially those where constant uprisings of the “Forest Brothers” were the norm.
Next, the dilapidated office of the Labor Front. A long time ago, this trade union organization used to be headed by Robert Ley. Reichsleiter Ley was killed in 1968 by some partisans during his visit to Kiev. They sent him a messenger pigeon carrying a miniature grenade.
A blood-curdling screech of car brakes shakes the air.
“Where do you think you’re going, you motherf- Or, sorry, Priest. My mistake.”
I was so busy staring at the Labor Front windows that I didn’t even notice myself stepping out into the traffic and very nearly being hit by a green Nissan. Nissan, what a funny name. One of those words you can’t help but tweak to make them sound more lewd, if you know what I mean. Nissan, pisspan, that sort of thing. Most of Moskau cars are Japanese. The Mercedes, Opels and Volkswagens are reserved for official missions. Their production just isn’t viable anymore. Even street buses are all Mitsubishis. I won’t even mention the Tokyo-imported pushbikes.
I flash him a benign smile. “It’s all right! Alles in ordnung!”
I didn’t even notice saying it. We use Germanic words and phrases mechanically. Nobody refers to an “ID card” anymore: it’s an ausweis. Russlanders soak up foreign words naturally, me being no exception. Still, I can only think in the local tongue.
I wipe my forehead. The sun is blazing.
Odin’s priests don’t have it easy. Sacrificial rites call for a special uniform: chainmail, a pair of fur-lined high boots, a wolf pelt thrown over your shoulders and a fifteen-pound ritual sword hanging from your belt. It does take some stamina, I tell you.
I can’t walk any faster but I’ve almost arrived at my destination. I walk past a Hashi sushi bar – hashi means chopsticks in Japanese — and there I am, entering Odin’s Temple.
If the truth were known, I’m not a hundred percent happy with my workplace. The building is far too large and ponderous, shaped as a medieval cave with a central grotto and several branching tunnels. Admittedly, it's quite comfortable. There's a hot water source inside: very convenient when one needs to clean blood from swords. By the entrance, there's a sculpture: Tyr the God laying his hand into the mouth of Fenrir the wolf. The year 1947 saw Norse mythology being adopted as the official religion of the Third Reich, in compliance with Reichsführer Himmler’s last will and testament[iii]. No one was going to destroy the existing churches or cathedrals: their congregations were free to worship whoever they pleased. But what is the popularity-driving engine these days? Exactly. Publicity. Billions of reichsmarks were channeled into the promotion of new ideas. TV, radio, even the leading movie stars including the-then star Marika Rökk and the publicly repentant Marlene Dietrich. It worked. It took less than ten years for half the Reich’s population to reject their religions and start worshipping at the altars of Greater Germany. A sensation? Not at all. The entire history of humanity is proof of the fact that people find it very easy to denounce their religion, provided the publicity is right. The two thousand years of Christianity had left a bad taste in their mouths. The new version of the same old (or a remake, as they call it in the California Republic) was extremely timely. Everyone was already bored to death with the four riders of the Apocalypse. Now the story of Fenrir the wolf devouring the sun — that was fresh and original. After all, why shouldn’t religion be fun?
I use my magnet key to open the door and barge into the lobby, panting and sweating like a pig. Nobody inside. The black sacrificial goat bleats plaintively. Of course. Trust my assistants to go on vacation. This is Russland, after all. Even a nuclear war won’t stop them from retiring to their summer cottages.
A written prompt shaped as an axe hangs over the altar. I know it by heart:

Monday: Moon’s day
Tuesday: Tiu’s day
Wednesday: Woden’s day
Thursday: Thor’s day
Friday: Freya’s day
Saturday: Saturn’s day
Sunday: Sun’s day

Moskauers aren’t particularly attentive. They still use the old week names, out of habit. But an experienced priest like myself who was interned in Norway and Tibet can’t let his tongue slip.
I walk over to the goat. He stinks and tries to gore me with his horns. He has the right not to like me: he’ll be slaughtered soon.
My to-do list, the one in the altar box, renders me speechless. How am I supposed to find time for all this? The very first item on the list is a funeral. This isn’t what it used to be: do a bit of singing and incense-burning, bury the poor beggar, end of story. Oh, no. It’s not just having to load the stiffs onto disposable plywood Mitsubishi boats to be burned on the Moskva River. It’s the priests’ duty to cut the dead men’s nails! Oh yes. When Ragnarök — the world’s end — comes, the earth will disgorge Naglfar, the ship fashioned entirely from dead people’s nails. The ocean will freeze over and the ship will slide over the ice, taking an army of jötunns — mythical giants — to their last battle. To prevent Ragnarök from happening, dead people’s nails should be cut short: this way Naglfar can’t form, you see. My scissors are always here. What’s a quick manicure? Surely not a big deal.
You really think no one believes it?
Not the Schwarzkopfs, no. They’re either Bolshies or Orthodox Christians or just plain good pagans. But the rest... there’s no zealot like a convert, you know. You won’t believe the extent of it. Old ladies gossip on boulevard benches about the Goddess Angrboda: were her children begotten by Loki or by Thor? The mind boggles.
I walk over to the statue of Rübezahl, the forest sprite and the king of dwarves. A tiny, hunched old man with a large beard. I mustn’t forget to lay a bunch of mushrooms at his feet.
A new bout of pain pierces my head like a red-hot needle.
I clench my teeth. My fingers squeeze the head of a goat lying on the altar. Great gods...
The haze before my eyes refuses to dissolve. I gasp. My mouth fills with blood.
Darkness devours everything around me. Rübezahl explodes in a cascade of tiny little stars.

Vision One. The Black Skies

The wind screams. Icy cold, it reaches under my clothes, its skeletal fingers clenching my throat, constricting my movements. My eyelashes have frozen together. I sniffle, wary of opening my mouth. The wind’s not screaming anymore: it’s howling like a fatally wounded animal, making me colder still.
I scramble through the darkness. There’s not a single light here. The flashes of submachine gun fire slice through the pitch black night.
Human hands poke out of the ice. People stagger through the city, sinking knee deep into the snow. Not people: rambling shadows, lice-ridden, in filthy trench coats. There’s nothing human left about them. Their frost-burned cheeks are wrapped in women’s shawls, their boot legs are stuffed with rags against the cold. Some of them seek warmth by bonfires, wrapping bundles of blankets around themselves.
This is crazy. I turn a corner of a collapsed building. A group of soldiers is swarming around a dead horse. They’re delirious with starvation. One of them has crawled toward the horse’s head and is busy nibbling at its stiff frozen ear. Not a star in the sky. Its blackness merges with that of the earth. They’re one now. There’s not a single house around still intact. Nothing but ruins, their jagged walls like the tooth marks of a mysterious monster.
The earth begins to shake. The starving lunatics duck into the snow, choking on horse meat. An air raid. The howling of bombers adds to the screaming of the wind, growing into a symphony of the Apocalypse. Orange flashes rip through the darkness.
It’s everywhere here.
Each of us knows what they are going to feed on once all the horses are dead and all the cats have been trapped. We’ll feed on each other. Warmth and food: this is what these ragged people hunt for. A tin of canned meat goes for a gold signet ring. Only who might need it here?
Barbed wire-wound stakes are hung with frozen bodies. Nobody buries them. They’re just too many. Those still alive have gotten used to the dead men’s company. I see shell cases scattered amongst the collapsed brickwork. Tank crews are still alive inside their white machines but they have no gas left. The tanks turn their turrets this way and that, unable to move. They're dying like broken-legged mammoths.
I can see a deluded soldier rip his trench coat open baring his chest, yelling at an Oberleutnant. The soldier is young and drunk as a skunk. The Oberleutnant is older, his face covered with stubble, a bloodied bandage on his forehead. The shrapnel scar on his cheek is semicircular.
”Why did they send us here?” the soldier screams. “We’re all gonna die!”
Alcohol is never in short supply. Without it, all wars would have ended before they even started. Facing death is scary. Alcohol dissolves the panicky fear. Not for very long, but still.
He hurls his submachine gun at the Oberleutnant’s feet. His face is distorted.
“This isn’t my country! Let me go! I want to leave!”
The Oberleutnant shakes his head. His pale blue eyes reflect the falling snow. The soldier collapses into a deep drift and struggles to scramble back to his feet, then tries to crawl away.
The officer pulls his right hand out of his trench coat’s pocket. His hand looks so funny in a women’s fingerless mitten. His index and little fingers are black — apparently septic with frostbite.
He clenches the handle of his eight-round Walther and takes aim in the snowstorm, mumbling something through clenched teeth. The soldier has already made it to the trenches.
He fires.
The soldier drops on his back. The helmet flies off his head. His blond hair is covered in blood.
Immediately another shot resonates through the air: the heavy sound of a far-off rifle. An enemy sniper, shooting blindly. The officer’s muzzle flash had betrayed his position.
The Oberleutnant sinks to his knees, drops his Walther and lies down on his side as if to have a nap. It takes the snowstorm but a few seconds to bury the two new corpses.
How strange. Only a moment ago, two men were alive. And now they’re not. Every man who goes to war thinks he’s going to survive. Human history might have been completely war-free had we known that we were going to be killed. Yes, killed.

A new swarm of bombers dives. Explosions. More explosions. And yet more.
I rub my cheeks with snow. I don’t sense the cold. It's frostbite.
I know very well why I’m seeing it all. The dead cities. The dead bodies. The ice desert.
She makes me see it.


[i] Fräulein: young lady (German)

[ii] In March 1943 Adolf Hamann, the commandant of Orel — the Russian city occupied by the Germans — issued this little-known order about “alimony payments to children born of Wehrmacht fathers”. The reason for the Slavs’ recognition as Aryan was simple: Germany needed to replenish its troops after its Stalingrad losses.

[iii] In the real world, in 1943 the Reichsführer of the SS Heinrich Himmler prepared a plan to adopt Scandinavian mythology as the country’s official religion. The plan provided for the building of Viking temples as well as the execution of the Pope. However, he never proposed the plan to Hitler.

Chapter Four. The Trigger Agent

Keiser movie theater, 1923 Revolution St.

Pavel's RV took the seat to the left of him, as previously arranged. He fidgeted in his place, laying a trayful of popcorn and two paper cups of Coca Cola in his lap. Even the United States’ defeat in the war with Japan had failed to diminish the drink’s popularity.
“H-h-hi,” he whispered, stuttering, without turning his head.
“Hi,” Pavel replied. “Thanks for coming. Long time no see. This calls for a drink.”
The other man studied the dark theater and grinned. They sat in the back row: the “kissing seats”. The house was nearly empty. The feature hadn’t yet started. Pre-trailers and commercials ran non-stop: predictably Japanese, like the one for Godzilla yogurt. The air conditioning wasn’t working. The air smelled of dust and sweaty human bodies.
“W-h-hat would you l-l-like, a sch-sch-schnapps?”
“Oh, do me a favor. Bad enough that all these idiots drink coffee these days instead of tea. As if that would turn them into Germans. Pour me some pepper vodka, would you? I know you always have some on you.”
The other man bared his teeth in a grin. He set his tray onto the empty seat next to his and reached behind his jacket collar, feeling for a flask.
Pavel couldn’t help thinking that this was the first time he was seeing him in plain clothes. Obersturmführer Jean-Pierre Carpe from the special Gestapo science division seemed never to shed his blue lab coat. Admittedly, a scientist’s attire didn’t suit him. Burly with a shaven head and huge fists, he rather resembled a comic-book monster out of the Universum Film flicks. What else could have been born out of a liaison between a Ukrainian peasant girl and an officer of the French SS division Charlemagne? The result was truly explosive.
Looking at him, Pavel couldn't help thinking of a banned book he'd read as a child: about some guy called Gulliver, a clumsy but good-natured giant. Back at school, they used to read hand-written copies of it under their desks, choking with laughter, while the teacher was looking the other way. Not so long ago, the Ministry of Propaganda and Public Education had released a new version of the book and made it into a movie. The main character had received a new name: Arnold, after some guy called Arnold Schwarzenegger, an Austrian butcher who'd risen to fame having starred in three films by cult director Leni Riefenstahl, including her Triumph of the Will: The Sequel. Polls showed that 70% of the population wanted to see Arnold as the new Führer. The new motion picture Arnold's Travels became a mega box office hit the moment it had been released.
Pavel took a swig from the helpfully offered paper cup. The pepper vodka scorched his palate.
“W-w-what do you want t-to know?” Jean-Pierre hunched over the flask. “Thi-thi-this is weird. They p-pulled you out of Hong Kong w-w-without telling you anything. V-v-very st-range.”
Pavel paused, waiting. The lights began to dim. The feature began.
“You think I don’t know it’s weird?” he said calmly. “I had an excellent deal going. I was about to meet the local yakuza boss. And just as I was going to give my contact a ring, I receive a message to my e-funk. A minute later, I was emailed an economy class ticket for a Moscow flight. What was I supposed to do? I took a taxi and went directly to the airport. All I know is that the Gestapo want to show me a picture of some sort. Not a photo: a drawing. A portrait. They didn’t even bother to say whether it was of a man or a woman. They want me to locate that person.”
He took a large gulp of his drink. “To tell you the truth, I’ve never had such a ludicrous job in my life. But the money they offered... you can buy the moon with it. Or the sun. Or the earth, even. Money’s no object. And the main thing is, once I've completed the job, they've promised never to bother me again. You know what’s funny about it? I still haven’t seen the picture. Still waiting for my clearance. I haven’t been back in the Reich for quite a while. Their bureaucracy has only gotten worse. The Gestapo is inundated by its paperwork. Very soon they’ll make you fill in a form every time you want to take a dump.”
Jean-Pierre took a large swig of his drink and began crunching on popcorn. “You kn-n-now, don’t you, that we’ve n-n-never had th-th-this conversation.”
“Absolutely. I’ve never seen you. I’ve no idea who you are. These seats are sure to be bugged. The office might have tabs on this place, anyway. But I don’t think it’s got anything to do with us. I’m pretty sure that the Gestapo are just as clueless about the person in the picture as I am. Otherwise they wouldn’t have needed to get the Triumvirate to issue the order."
“The Tri-tri-triumvirate was only re-re-recently p-p-put in the picture,” Jean-Pierre pointed out. “Our d-d-department received the research material two years ago f-f-from the Main Security Office. That was wh-wh-when the v-v-very first cases began to occur. But a month ago they conducted an ex... experiment near Novgorod. Wanna know what h-h-happened? Three lab workers ended up in a m-m-mental fa... facility. One more d-d-disappeared into th-th-thin air. I th-thought it just couldn’t get any w-w-worse. But t-t-trust me, the w-w-worst is ye-ye-yet to come.”
He stopped, then launched the remaining vodka down his throat. “That's better,” he said in a clear voice without a trace of stuttering. “You can’t imagine how many times I went to the speech therapist. But this is the only thing that helps. And you have to agree I can't drink vodka four times a day at work."
“Why not? Oh yeah, I see. Your French blood won’t take it.”
The Obersturmführer ignored the quip. They’d been friends long enough — ever since their Berlin days where both had been part of the MG Project — to indulge in occasional familiarity. It was during that experiment that Carpe had begun to stutter.
The theater’s sound system assaulted their ears with rousing music.
“I’d venture a guess that the contamination might have started earlier. Probably, right after the end of the Twenty-Year War,” Jean-Pierre crunched on the last of his popcorn. “The Moskau office had no idea. The local Kommandaturs... they must have ignored the phenomenon at first. And once they couldn’t do so any longer, they did their level best to keep it under wraps. You know what they’re like in Russland: hoping that if you pretend there is no problem, it’ll just sort of go away by itself. Well, it didn’t. The phenomenon became more and more widespread. Concealing it became dangerous. The Main Security Office began receiving the first classified reports. They got the Gestapo involved who put together a secret research group to look into it. They enrolled me — as much as my clearance allowed. This was something, I tell you...”
“Wait,” Pavel whispered. “What contamination are you talking about?”
“That’s exactly what I’m going to tell you now. Point by point."
Groping couples in the darkness paid no attention to the two alcoholics boozing in the back row. Moskau’s government encouraged a healthy lifestyle. The city was hung with Aryans Don’t Drink in the Morning posters (featuring the omnipresent Schwarzenegger). That only applied to hard alcohol, though. Beer had been proclaimed part of the national heritage and a symbol of the 1923 Revolution[i] and received the status of “Aryan nectar”. Smoking too had been banned.[ii] SS patrols from the Health Service checked all nacht clubs and fined them a thousand reichsmarks for every cigarette they found. They'd tried to ban alcohol too in the 1980s during the Twenty-Year War. Initially, the Triumvirate demanded a mandatory death sentence for both the sale and consumption of schnapps. Twenty-four hours later, the order had been revoked. Someone must have explained to them that they couldn’t just sentence virtually all of the country’s population to death.
The theater screen rattled with advancing tanks.
The Reich Union loved making war films: trench dramas, comedies like The Good Soldier Ivan and epic battle scenes. Nobody cared about their box office performance: patriotic propaganda was key. If one wanted to lay his or her greedy mitts on a wagonful of dough, all one had to do was submit a query to the Ministry of Propaganda and Public Education and pitch to them their idea for yet another movie about the Great Battle.
Hundreds of such half-baked flicks had come out even though no one really bothered to watch them. As an example, The Sea Lion — a film about the Wehrmacht’s successful invasion of Britain on May 11 1942 — had been shot in two parts and cost fifty million yen. Its entire audience consisted of five hundred: the director, the acting crew and all their numerous relatives. Filmmakers could get away with all sorts of goofs which were fobbed off as the “author’s vision”. And if one of the Völkischer Beobachter venom-spitting critics dared to question the merits of the dubious masterpiece, Shogunet trolls would start a rumor that the critic was in fact a Mischling: a half-breed unable to appreciate the Aryan film creator’s artistic bent.
Pavel, however, wasn’t interested in the movie in the slightest. He was too busy listening.
Very busy.
A couple of times the left corner of his mouth twitched. Those who’d known him for a long time might have realized he was quite agitated. He reached for a handkerchief and began to mechanically wipe the paper cup clean.
“Are you sure?” he touched Jean-Pierre’s arm, stopping his soliloquy. An admittedly inane question, but he had no one else to ask.
Carpe gave a calm nod. “Absolutely. Otherwise they wouldn’t have summoned you. We’ve wasted a lot of time looking for the source of all the problems but now we think we've located it. We've set up a radioelectronic trap at the testing grounds near Novgorod. It registered an unclear reddish outline on their radars. Survivors offer confused accounts but they’ve managed to approach it within arm’s reach. This unidentified object seemed to exude inordinate amounts of energy. It was almost leaking radiation. Which leads our experts to conclude that this object must have triggered the contamination."
He turned to Pavel. "That’s why the Triumvirate has summoned you to solve the problem. They don’t know what it is. Whether it’s a god, a ghost or a human being — we need to get to the root of this evil. I dread to think what might happen if this lasts for another six months or so. Are they going to show you the drawing? This is excellent. I’ve never seen it myself. I’m waiting already a month for the proper clearance, pushing pencils in the meantime. You’re right: the Gestapo has gone paper mad."
Pavel produced his e-funk and marked something down in its Notebook. “This is crazy,” he admitted. “For a moment I thought it might be the entire Gestapo staff gone loony, and not those three researcher idiots in the mental facility.”
Jean-Pierre grinned. “That’s what I thought at first. Before I saw it with my own eyes. You’ve no idea. N-n-never mi-mi-mind.”
His stutter was back just as abruptly as it had left him.
“If you say so,” Pavel agreed. “In any case, I’m going to talk to one of the eyewitnesses. Thankfully, my rank still allows me to do that. The drawing is all good and well but I’d like to hear the description of this so-called ghost straight from the horse’s mouth. And I want to do it before the Triumvirate and the Security chief approve my clearance. When I’m back at the hotel, I’ll email the Gestapo. Then I’ll sleep through the night. The gods know I need it.”
“Th-th-thanks for t-t-taking the precautions,” Jean-Pierre whispered. “There’s no one h-h-here who can re... recognize you.”
Without saying goodbye or waiting till the feature was over, he rose and walked out first, using his phone’s screen to light the way. The theater door slammed. Pavel cast a sad glance at his watch.

A corpulent Unteroffizier usheress — an old-age Russian babushka complete with floral headscarf — watched Jean-Pierre disinterestedly as he walked out. Normal, she thought. Not many moviegoers can sit through a war epic.
When Pavel followed, she turned pale and brought a hand to her mouth, but couldn’t produce a sound. She felt a sudden urge to do something she hadn’t done for many years — something she couldn’t even remember how to do.
She wanted to make the sign of the cross.

Chapter Five. Daifuku

Hindenburg Lane, next to the Berlin store

“You’re pale. Look at your face, it’s drawn. You’ve got dark circles around your eyes. Would you like a glass of wine?”
Oh no, lady, thank you very much. I don’t drink wine, anyway. Definitely not after what happened earlier today. My whole body is aching like hell. It’s as if they took me apart, limb by mechanical limb, then handed my body parts over to a drunken plumber to reassemble and wrangled some horses over me before throwing me into the path of an Eicher tractor. You wouldn’t want to feel what I’m feeling, girl, that’s for sure.
I blink. “Thanks. Odin’s priests are obliged to celebrate a monthly Vegetarian Day to remember the Führer. So today it’s cabbage patties and Karlsbad mineral water for me.”
She sniffs, then makes a show of helping herself to a slice of turkey. The Schwarzkopfs zealously stick to their diet which is supposed to reflect their convictions. They avoid pork (without even considering the fact that we have Muslims serving in the Idel Ural Legion and the Croatian SS Kama Division), they don’t drink beer (even though the production of Rhine vineyards isn’t limited to grape juice) and ignore sausages, even veal ones. And in view of the Führer’s vegetarian practices, some of the die-hard Schwarzkopfs even refuse vegetable foods. If they eat salad, they make sure it has meat in it: and not the sophisticated Alpine wurstsalat, but an obnoxious local dish which Russlanders call Olivier although the appellation Titanic might have been more apt: a pile of chopped veg and chicken hugging each other in terror as they drown in a sea of mayo.
The bubbles in the water tickle my tongue as I gulp it down. My tablemate has chosen a rather revealing dinner attire: a hugging purple dress with a deep décolleté exposing almost all of her braless cleavage. Her nipples are so stiff they almost pierce the fabric. She must be cold in this airconned room.
Poor girl. Hasn’t she had enough of her own games?
The Schwarzkopfs measure everything with their own yardstick. They think that every priest is dying to have sex, dreaming about it in his wet dreams, closing his hands around his... well, his blanket. Especially if the priest is a Catholic of an Orthodox monk. But I am one of the Waidelottes: the ruling caste of Viking priests (also known as the Legend Keepers). I can have a harem of twenty if I want to. Only Aryan women, unfortunately: the Moskau Priest Council has allowed the servants of Odin, Loki and Thor to take wives, provided they’re natural blondes. Which is a problem to a degree, of course.
But marriage aside, a Waidelotte can sleep with who the hell he wants to.
“Some of humanity's most abominable murderers were known for their sentimentality,” she says, sinking her teeth into the turkey as if it were the Führer himself. “Your darling leader was a vegetarian, he loved dogs and even doted on other people’s children... while hating their parents. This is ridiculous! The whole of Europe is being governed by a ghost! While the authorities pretend this is exactly how it should be.”
Aha, that’s what she’s driving at. Actually, I have to agree. At the end of the Twenty-Year War the Reichskommissariats unanimously decreed that the Führer was to remain the Reich’s supreme leader despite his tragic death. Which meant that officially he was feasting with the fallen Einherjar in Valhalla instead of drinking blood in the underground caves of Hel's, the goddess of the dead. Which in turn also meant, according to the Priests Council memo, that its members could enter a state of trance in order to contact the Führer in Asgard and transmit his orders back to us. The Führer’s decrees were printed in Gothic font with a nice-looking facsimile signature. This state of affairs suited every Reichskommissariat's Triumvirate perfectly: while presenting no threat to their own position in power, it provided them with a convenient front person whenever things went awry. And what better scapegoat than a nominal deadman ruler?
“What’s wrong with that?” I reply in a deliberately bored voice, transporting a piece of a cabbage patty to my mouth. “The Führer’s only been in Valhalla what, a few decades? Your Jesus has been absent for two thousand years and no one has seen him since, apart from a couple of nutters. This doesn’t seem to baffle you, does it? You’re quite happy to accept that he runs the Universe from atop his cloud, even though there’s no documented evidence proving that Yeshua the Nazarene did exist, apart from Flavius’ Antiquities of the Jews. And although he does mention him being sentenced to death, neither contemporary chronicles nor Pontius Pilate’s personal diaries mention his execution, let alone his supposed resurrection. Besides, how sure are you we can trust Flavius in this sensitive matter? He was a Jew, wasn’t he? Sorry for mentioning Jews at the table...”
I bite my tongue. Shit. I overdid it, didn’t I?
The girl hurls her fork at the daifuku plate. The clinking of steel against bone china sounds like a funeral bell to my ears. Great gods, Odin and Thor, save me! Now all hell will break loose.
“Have you ever asked yourself what happened to the Jews and Roma? Where are they all gone?”
Aha, so that’s what she’s driving at. Predictably so. “Gone to Africa on a Crystal Train,” I reply impassively. “As if you don’t know. Open any primary school textbook, and that’s what it says. A perfectly legal deportation, voted unanimously by the Reichstag and supported by leading cultural figures. When Africa received the status of a self-governing colony, the whole of the “black continent”, with the exception of Ethiopia, Morocco, Egypt and the South African Union, was fenced off by a concrete wall surrounded by mine fields and wound with barbed wire. All the government workers were evacuated and all troops withdrawn. From then on, the Africans had to fend for themselves. I don’t think that the Crystal Train passengers had it easy. Africa has neither the Shogunet nor television. The streets of its ravaged cities are the theater of clan wars. Starvation, epidemics, all sorts of new viruses. Still, deportation is more humane than extermination, isn’t it?”
Her face breaks out in crimson spots. “They were killed,” she enunciates. “The Jews. The Roma. The Yaoi. The drug addicts. Even the mentally ill. Why are there no mental hospitals anywhere? Why is psychiatry an illegal business, like tobacco dealing? When someone becomes schizophrenic, their families hide them from the authorities as they've been doing since the 1940s. Society has no place for the useless — or yes, this is one lesson we did learn from the Germans! The Yaoi, the Yuri[iii], the schizophrenics — you’re right, they’re not executed openly anymore. You deport them to Africa through your control posts in the concrete wall. How’s that different from execution? There’re still some surviving eyewitnesses confirming the existence of wartime camps where millions of people were gassed and incinerated like rats. Ever heard about Auschwitz, Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald, Dachau? The monstrous factories that ground their way through tons of human bones every day? Here in Russland the Nazis used to burn people alive by the villageload; they had special gas wagons to dispose of hostages. Half of us were doomed to extermination, the other half were meant to become agricultural slaves for the Krauts’ colonists.”
“There’s no evidence of this,” I hurry to point out. “It’s nothing but rumors.”
The dinner is ruined. She has a tendency to do that.
“Yeah, sure,” she says with a bitter chuckle. “It’s bad form mentioning it these days. We may be a dictatorship but all dictators would like to seem hard on the outside and soft on the inside. A bit like a banana. The Triumvirate will never admit that the Führer was going to turn half the planet’s population into garden fertilizer. Did you know that they performed a total archive purge already in the 1970s? Concentration camps paperwork as well as the SS and Gestapo archives were shredded in papierwolfs, camp ovens were converted into bakeries and gas chambers into shower rooms. When you stick to the same lie year after year, people start to believe you. That’s what Dr. Goebbels used to say. Latvian researchers from the Reichskommissariat Ostland keep publishing those articles in the Völkischer Beobachter saying that all labor camp prisoners were paid for their work; that they had brothels and movie theaters, even football clubs, and that apparently Italian labor camp officials even organized free pizza deliveries for their prisoners! And how are you going to disprove it? All the ex-prisoners have been ordered to have their camp number tattoos removed. This is their formula of success, courtesy of the Triumvirate: you need to plunge people into the frenzy of consumption. Then you don’t have to conquer them. Their mental abilities will atrophy naturally. Had the Führer been a bit smarter, instead of invading Russland he could have built a chain of Drakken Kaufhof malls complete with 3D theaters. When the human brain is only used for entertaining, it just goes to mush.”
I appear to enthusiastically munch on tasteless cabbage. Oh Hel, the Lady of the Underworld! These Schwarzkopfs are such goody-two-shoes. So empathic and sensitive they make you sick. Yeah right, shopping malls and movie theaters, how awful, how brain-numbing. But had we still been living under martial-law National Socialism with its ration cards, margarine for butter and saccharine for sugar, they’d have been the first to scream their indignation about the terrible Triumvirate starving people to death.
“Listen, what’s the point in dragging a bunch of seventy-year-old skeletons out of the closet?” I wash the cabbage down with some mineral water. “The Tatars in their time steam-rolled over medieval Russia too, pillaging cities, turning churches into stables and raping village women. You see any Russlanders losing any sleep itching to avenge that genocide? How about the French? Napoleon’s army burned down the cities of Vilno, Smolensk and Moskau — and? The Russlanders absolutely love the French culture. Never mind that Paris has been under the SS Fashion Department since 1940 in the tender care of Oberführer Lagerfeld and his assistant Hugo Boss — still any lady worth her smelling salts will gladly spend a month in a Gestapo cooler for a bottle of French perfume. Even if you presumed, for the sake of argument, that by some fantastical miracle Russland defeated Germany in the war, we’d still have already been buddying up. We love our enemy and can’t stand our neighbor. Take the Reichskommissariat Turkestan, for instance. Every time I see their legionnaires in the street, I can’t help thinking, Are these muttonheads Aryan too?
The girl is silent. She’s too busy arm-wrestling her stomach into submission. On one hand, she’s dying for a daifuku. On the other, this is a political discussion — as is our every dinner.
“Russland is under foreign occupation,” she says, casting a sideways glance at the dessert. “You’re not going to argue that, are you? We have a foreign state emblem, foreign laws... and foreign rulers.”
There, she’s already switched to the defensive. If I only could, I’d have smoked a cigarette the way some men do after good sex. Unfortunately, Odin’s priests are obliged to lead a healthy lifestyle.
“That’s an easy one,” I finish off my cabbage patty. “As far as the emblem is concerned, Russland used the Greek double-headed eagle for the last five hundred years. It also had German laws for the last two hundred. The Royal court positions were also German: Kammerherr, Frauleina, Hofmeister... The names of Russian chancellors: Ostermann, Bühren, Nesselrode, Stürmer... Might that mean that this so-called occupation has never stopped? All right, so concentration camps did exist. But who might have guarded them? In the Sobibor death camp they were Ukrainians. The burgermeisters, the auxiliary police, the journalists producing newspapers, SS volunteers, Gestapo interrogators — all of them were Russlanders wearing German uniforms. And you know what Russlanders are like: the moment a foreigner hires them, they’re quite prepared to hang themselves with zeal. The ten biggest Russlandish cities now house Wehrmacht garrisons. Five hundred each! These aren’t occupiers, these are toy soldiers. Ceremonial guards. True, we have plenty of German bureaucrats and brass hats everywhere: in the army as well as the police and civil ministries. But it was the same in the Keiser’s times! On the other hand, Russlandish businessmen have bought up wholesale some of Berlin’s most prestigious real estate. In 1984, Russisch became one of the Reich’s official languages. Who occupied whom, may I ask?”
Without saying a word, she springs to her feet. The daifuku remains untouched even though I can see it's still calling her name. I already know what’s going to happen next. First she’ll head for the bathroom to brush her teeth. Then she’ll go back to bed. Her life is boring but rather safe, if I may say so.
The bathroom door slams. Finally I can relax.
When I had come round, lying sprawled on the floor back in the Temple of Odin, I’d immediately thought: what would have happened to her had I not come back? Every morning I replace her handcuffs for a couple of sturdy thin chains allowing her to get to the bathroom. Her bedroom has a small fridge containing everything she might need. But the bedroom door is locked. She can’t escape. If I disappeared, she’d starve to death within a month. I hadn’t thought about that. My mistake. I'll have to consider installing a Zeitschaltuhr — a timer — on the lock and set it for like twenty-four hours. There are also other things I have to consider. I’ve been zoned out for two hours flat. I need to look into a couple of things.
Firstly, I need to find out where the goat is gone. And secondly, whatever has happened to the statue of Rübezahl.

Textbook No 1.
A World Geography

The Reich Union, or the Third Reich of Greater Germany.
Founded in 2004 after the end of the Twenty-Year War. Technically represents a confederation of several Reichskommissariats: Ostland (comprising Belorussia and the Baltics), Moskau (the European part of Russland), Deutschland (Austria, Germany and the Governorate of Poland), the Caucasus (Azerbaijan, Georgia, the Kuban and the zonderkommissariats of Chechnya and Dagestan), Turkestan (Tajikistan, Turkmenia, Uzbekistan and Kirghizia), the Ukraine (including the Russlandish cities of Kursk, Voronezh and Tsaritsyn (the former Stalingrad)); Norway and the Netherlands, and Britain (excluding the Republic of Scotland). Other “special territories” belonging to the Reich Union include: Lake Baikal, the Crimea (inhabited by German colonists) and the enclave of St. Petersburg.
The countries allied with the Third Reich:
Slovakia, the Italian Empire, the Independent State of Croatia, Finland (including Karelia and Murmansk), Transylhungary, the Kingdom of Romania (including Odessa and Bessarabia), the Southern French Protectorate (with the capital in Vichy), The Federation of Spain and Portugal, and the Kingdom of Bulgaria (including Greece). In 1951, Ataturk's Turkish Republic was ceremoniously returned its old French colonies of Lebanon and Syria. It was also gifted Armenia. Restored in 1964, the Baghdad Caliphate was comprised of Iraq and the Maghreb sultanates, including Egypt and Morocco. The Free State of India (also known as Azad Hind) is under the joint protection from the Reich Union and the Nippon koku. Korea, the island of Formosa, Hawaii, Karafuto island, the Kamchatka peninsula, the Siberian cities of Khabarovsk and Vladivostok — now known under their Japanese names of Habarosito and Uradziosutoku — as well as Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore all make an integral part of Nippon koku. Technically, the Russlandish territories from Kamchatka to the Urals are also within the Japanese area of interest but in reality it is controlled by guerilla units of “forest brothers”. The Republic of Far East (with its capital in the city of Chita) isn’t independent, being a Japanese protectorate.
Japan’s satellite states are: Manchukuo, China, Thailand, the Indonesian Emirate, the Vietnam Empire, Burma and the Philippines. The Nippon koku also boasts a special territory of Australia which bears the special status of “holiday colony” where rich Japanese come to unwind on its seaside beaches. Australians have all been deported to Alaska.
The government of the United States of America signed their capitulation on April 18 1956 in Los Angeles after the 2nd SS Division Russland battled their way into the city. In 1958, the USA was divided into the California Republic (a joint protectorate of the Reich and the Nippon koku), the colonies of Neuer York, Boston, Washington and Florida (with a Japanese governor), the Reichskommissariat of Texas and the “unclaimed territories of the Wild West”: the anarchic uncontrolled ex-states of Alabama, Utah and Kansas. Alaska makes up part of the Republic of the Far East as an autonomy ruled by a Japanese daimyo. Canada has been dissolved: Quebec has been given to Southern France, the north of the country is the property of Japan while the rest of it is used to deport the Chinese.
Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia and Chile form the German Community of South America. Even before Wehrmacht troops entered these countries in 1983, their capitals had been taken by armed Landwehr colonists.
Africa received the status of an autonomy. All the racially inferior nations were deported there within the Chrystal Train campaign. African borders were turned into three-mile “security zones”, its waters separated by a twelve-mile “anti-pirate zone”. Having been conquered by Italy in 1936, Abyssinia now has the status of an “overseas territory”, as does Libya. The 1984 coup in the South African Union led to the Afrikaners deposing corrupt pro-British politicians and recognizing the protection of Greater Germany. Six months later, joint Japanese and German troops landed in the Siberian city of Tyumen which is the official ending date for a world war that had lasted forty-five years.

A World Geography. Approved by the Moskau Ministry of Propaganda and Public Education

[i] By “the 1923 Revolution” the narrator means the Beer Hall Putsch — a Nazi coup attempt in Bavaria in 1923.

[ii] The Third Reich is considered the first country in the world that began a government-supported anti-smoking campaign.

[iii] The Yaoi and the Yuri — respectively gay males and females in the context of Manga and Anime. The popularity of all things Japanese in the Third Reich has apparently lead to the widespread use of these two terms.

Chapter Six

The Angel

The Richard Wagner pedestrian zone, #22/7

THE GEHEIME STAATSPOLIZEI (Gestapo) Special Isolation Facility was situated at the very end of Wagner lane - or Arbat, as die-hard Moskauers still called the little pedestrian street. On the outside it was a two-story book shop. Its sign read Spirit's Delight - a name admittedly more befitting an alcohol store.
Inside its spacious premises flooded with light, sleepy and bored salesgirls helped the few shoppers to choose the Reich's newest literary masterpieces. In the shop windows, the latest bestsellers were gathering dust: the coloring book The Childhood of the Führer and a how-to book from Leni Riefenstahl, How to Make it as a Movie Star. Few people bought books these days - most downloaded them for free from the Shogunet. Mein Kampf had been in the public domain since 1944 anyway. All other books had to pass a meticulous integrity check by the Ministry of Propaganda and Public Education.
The Gestapo's electronic department had their hands full with the Shogunet, blocking those of its sections which allowed users to upload illegal translations of banned authors like Jack London or Hemingway, and especially the dreaded Leo Tolstoy: an anti-war extremist whose books could earn you two months in the cooler. Not that it helped. The numbers of illegal download links to the works by the likes of Tolstoy and Margaret Mitchell mushroomed by the hour.
In order to make readers buy the book, you need to ban it first, Pavel thought, forcing open the glass door embossed with an emblematic eagle. Prohibition is the best promotion.

A salesgirl in an SS Bewerber uniform flashed him a professional smile. "Welcome to our shop, mein Herr. How can I help you?"
Pavel cast a wary look around. Actually, there was no need for it. The shop wasn't too popular: its prices of almost a thousand reichsmark per title would scare anyone off. Only a frail old man standing with his back to him shuffled from one foot to the other in the back next to a thriller stand, studying a volume of Stephanie Meyer. Pavel remembered the authoress' name: she'd recently been commended by the Neuer York gauleiter himself for her series of spy thrillers Abwehr Vs NKVD.
Pavel leaned toward the Bewerber girl until he almost touched her lips. "My number is seven eight nine five double-two one six," he mouthed.
Still smiling (Pavel had the impression that the smile was painted on her face giving her the semblance of a shop window mannequin), the girl punched the number into her cash register. Its screen lit up, offering Pavel's number, Gestapo rank and clearance level. The girl clicked her heels softly as she pressed an electronic card into his hand.
"You can collect your books over there," she pointed at a door at the end of the corridor. "Please don't forget to give our worker your discount code. Thank you for shopping with us! Danke schön!"
He used the card to open the door, then locked it again behind him. Inside the narrow room was an elevator booth. Pavel pressed the single button on its control panel. The elevator moved downwards, heading toward the cellar.
They were already expecting him. A hungover overweight Volksdeutsche checked his ID, rearranged his own SS hat with an emblem of the medical corps, then made a phone call. A soldier in a black uniform took Pavel out of the room and along a concrete corridor dimly lit by a row of red light bulbs.
All the mental hospitals in Moskau had long been closed (as had they been in all other reichskommissariats); all the medical personnel had been dismissed. If someone happened to lose their marbles, they were sent directly to the isolation block. Once its doctors were finished with the patient, he was deported to Africa.
The isolation block's commandant looked bored in his office. He was sitting under an emblem of the Reich with its swastika thoroughly blotted out, concealed under several coats of plaster at the center of an oak wreath.
The commandant nodded to Pavel. He didn't bother to rise, only flung a file across the desk toward him.
"All the paperwork and the pictures are inside. You wanna speak to him? No idea how you're gonna do it. Two of the researchers are basically vegetables. They don't react to anything. We use an IV drip to feed them. The third one is a bit better but... he won't speak to anyone. Sometimes at night he screams his head off. We have to inject him with downers by the bucketful."
"It's all right," Pavel said with a small smile. "He'll talk to me, don't you worry. I'm taking the file. Give me his cell number and don't bother with an escort. It's a personal conversation," he fell silent, peering at one of the pictures.
"I just hope you squeeze him for whatever you want to know," the commandant deftly swatted a fly on the table. "Go ahead, bitte schön. You have all the time you need."
The isolation cell lived up to his expectations. Twelve by twelve feet, it was padded with soft white felt to make sure the patient didn't break his head when having a fit. A light bulb and a surveillance camera under the ceiling completed the setting. The camera's red eye went out the moment Pavel entered the room. They weren't filming the visit.
The patient in the room paid no heed to him. He was small and disheveled, with tousled ginger hair. Good for him. Carrot tops didn't have to dye their hair to pass for Aryans. The man was sitting on his cot mouthing something and rocking from side to side. Impressive. Well, let's do it.
"Hi there," Pavel said gently while cracking a folding chair open. He stood so that the light from the bulb fell onto his face.
The patient's gaze shifted toward him. He burst out coughing. "You... you... you... how is it possible... you're... you're-"
"Dead," Pavel finished the man's thought for him. "True, it happens sometimes. But, by Thor's hammer, it can't prevent us from talking, can it?"
Beads of sweat erupted over the man's brow. He was shivering, feeling around himself blindly as if the padded wall could part and swallow him.
"I'll only be a minute," Pavel assured him. "And I'll leave straight away, I promise. You understand you have no choice, don't you? Tell me the truth... and it'll be over quickly."
The man gave a robotic nod. Pavel sat down.
"It was horrendous," the man whispered frantically.
"You managed to get a glimpse of it," Pavel reminded him. "Just tell me: what did you see?"
"I saw what can't be," the lunatic burst out coughing. "I thought I was hallucinating. But it was real! I touched it... it... was so real. The portal it came from is closed now, isn't it? You've locked us up to make sure we don't speak... but it won't be long before everybody knows... Don't you understand what's coming? We're all going to dissolve like melting snow. It's coming for us."
The prisoner spoke hotly and feverishly. Pavel was calm: an observer might have thought that he was bored by the man's story. He even sighed a couple of times, glancing at his trendy Swiss watch: a limited-edition Apel with the picture of Horst Wessel on the lid.
"I got it," he finally said. "Did you manage to work out what had caused it?"
The lunatic fell silent for a while, mouthing something. "A fiery figure. A flash. I went blind in one eye. Blinding light. It's an angel."
Pavel wasn't surprised. What else did he expect a madman to discuss, quantum physics? The main thing was to keep him talking.
Pavel nodded, his whole body projecting his interest. "Keep going."
"The moment we entered the impact zone, it walked right past us. We saw it. Unbearably bright. The heat! Hermann's brains got cooked and leaked out through his nose. And then... it disappeared. I saw it clearly. It's about to swallow us. We'll all be fragmented."
"Do you remember its face? The angel's? Think you can draw it for me?"
The prisoner snatched the notebook from him and began drawing in broad, sharp pencil strokes: a face framed by long hair, an aquiline nose, thin lips.
He can draw, that's for sure, Pavel thought. That's life for you. Why do we have to push pencils in the office for a pittance instead of developing our God-given skills? Having said that, where did I see art in Moskau? The Reich needs minimalism and clear-cut lines, Schwarzenegger-type beefcake heroes - no unwanted subtleties. If you want fine art of ikebana and calligraphy, you need to go to Tokyo.
The lunatic raised his head from the paper. His eyes were tearful. "It was so real that I could sense it breathe. It breathed fire."
Pavel adjusted his e-funk and took several pictures of the drawing from different angles. He sent the images off, then asked a few more questions but didn't find out anything new. The madman's mind was going in circles: he kept seeing the flashes of fire going through the air, his dying colleagues, and the fiery angel.
Having wasted another ten minutes, Pavel rose from his chair. He knew exactly where it had happened. But now that he'd heard the story, he wasn't looking forward to seeing its horror for himself. He'd better concentrate on finding some protection from the trigger agent. It didn't seem to enjoy unwanted company.
He reached into his shirt pocket for the pill. "Here, take this. It might make you feel better."
The lunatic exploded in laughter. He knew. "Excellent! All this time I've been waiting for it... Finally! Valkyries, come to me!"
The folded chair in hand, Pavel walked back up the corridor while the walls of the isolation block shuddered with the lunatic's laughter.
Pavel's e-funk vibrated. He opened the message and chuckled.
Come now. I know who it is.
Behind his back, the laughter broke off.

... The Japanese by the bookstand watched Pavel leave, his gaze indifferent. He turned back to the shelves and resumed his perusing of Stephanie Meyer's new release.

Chapter Seven

Benito Pizza

The top floor of Viking TV

THE BUILDING WAS RATHER OLD, from 1957, with plaster peeling from its corners. Its entrance was barricaded by massive concrete blocks. Behind them, surrounded by piled-up sand bags, the German Phoenix zonderkommando unit hunched up over their machine guns. The motors of armored vehicles were growling in the back yard. Sniper teams kept watch on the roof: guerrilla units had repeatedly attacked the Ministry of Propaganda and Public Education. The twenty floors of this concrete behemoth housed state television, radio stations, a dozen newspaper offices, a souvenir shop and the pretentious Thule restaurant. The corridors inside seemed to snake every which way. That and the eight elevators each leading to a particular department made losing one's way extremely easy.
The TV channel took up the five upper floors, the best and most sought-after ones. In order to get inside, any visitor had to show his or her ausweis to the security guards behind their bulletproof glass, then walk through a turnstile. From there, Viking TV workers were in charge of the visitors. To get in, you had to first press your hand to the scanner next to the sliding doors.
Opposite the elevators, a banner under the ceiling quoted Dr. Joseph Goebbels:
We always tell the truth. Well, almost.
In accordance with the Moskau Reichstag directive, the television received 20% of the budget: same as the army. And they were worth it. The Triumvirate leaders had had plenty of opportunity to convince themselves that television could be much more effective than tanks and missiles. Throughout human history, even the strongest of armies had had trouble suppressing mass uprisings. But the TV screen allowed a much harsher mind control than any amount of street patrols. TV officers' ranks began at Scharführer; even their junior correspondents enjoyed the equivalent of Generals' salaries and free luxury food parcels. Their equipment made their colleagues worm with envy: all those excellent cameras, expensive cars and high-speed Shogunet.
The marble lobby featured the bronze bust of Hans Ulrich Rudel with his illustrious bald patch: the first man in space who'd raised the Reich's flag on the Moon in 1952. His international fame, endless autograph-signing sessions and half-naked female fans who besieged the astronaut even on restroom trips had made quick work of Rudel's career. He'd drunk himself into an early retirement within a year and a half, a record time. He'd been grounded and transferred to a boring but cushy job as the head of Berlin TV.
Hans Ulrich had zealously attacked his new job which became a pleasant surprise for his superiors. He joined the Adolf Temperance Society and didn't sleep nights coming up with new ideas for talk shows, planning quiz games, and working on new stories for popular soap operas like The Woman of My Dreams. It was he who'd turned the entertainment TV into the proverbial kraken entangling the minds of billions of Aryans. A 1965 law demanded that every citizen of the Reich swore an oath to watch at least three hours of TV daily. Factory workers began installing special timers on all new televisions they produced. A number of laws had been canceled since then... but this one was still in force.
"Achtung! Newstime in ten minutes! Everybody get ready!"
Sergei glanced at his watch. He still had time before rapping out the latest news, grinning inanely into the camera. That was peanuts. Now the briefing at the TV Direktor's office in half an hour, that was a dirrefent story. All news broadcasts were pre-recorded in conveyor-belt fashion. The anchors had a list of prompts to choose from, lying in a special recess on their desk: "a temporary drawback", "decrease in radiation levels", "economic growth" and "the relative growth of the reichsmark against the yen". The list had a special set of phrases adapted to incidents of Schwarzkopf attacks: "needless cruelty", "civilian casualties" and "terrorism has no future".
The camera with a silhouette of Rudel on its side pointed at Sergei.
They may say what they want but Hans Ulrich is a genius, Sergei thought, mechanically touching his Versace tie. Much smarter than Goebbels. The Nazis didn't sleep nights trying to come up with the very best ways to promote their propaganda but achieved only the opposite: everyone was sick and tired of politics. And this alcoholic astronaut has come up with the simplest thing: if you want to control the human brain, you need to soften it up first. When all you watch is a sequence of inane entertainment played out to mindless laugh tracks, you don't think. You don't have to choose, only to react, like Pavlov's dog. Give him a beer and switch the TV to Tonight with Marlene Dietrich - and you're free to press his buttons.
Sergei wasn't afraid to admit (mentally at least) his dislike of the Triumvirate. He considered himself an intellectual; he used the Shogunet to read banned books online; he even left cautious anonymous comments supporting the Schwarzkopfs' activities. In all honesty, so did most of Viking TV workers. Passing a bottle of schnapps around after work, the journalists would curse the "invaders" political and economic dominance with the strongest of expressions. Once back in the office, however, they condemned "guerrilla terrorists" with a double zeal.
"I don't know what to do anymore," Sergei's fellow anchor Vasily Kolpakov, the Political Department's Sturmführer, had admitted to him ruefully once. "I think I've developed a reflex. I take my seat, I see the camera and my mouth just opens and starts to speak. I can't help it. The moment I see the Führer's portrait on the wall, I can't stop myself."
Every TV worker had a similar set of excuses comprised of clichés similar to those they had to use on air, "I need to feed my family", "Somebody else will take my place" and "At least we have some stability under the Krauts".
The sound of female laughter made him startle.
A manicured finger gave him a flick on the nose. "Serge darling, what's this for a beak? Did your parents lose a bet with God?"
Sergei forced a smile. Having swayed her hips one last time, Masha the makeup lady disappeared round the corner of the corridor. Wretched bitch! Saying something like that in front of everybody! Someone was bound to put two and two together. Then it would start all over again: visits from the SS Race and Settlement Office: 'How did you manage to get past us with that kind of schnozzle?' Again he'd have to submit his family tree, pass blood tests and undergo phrenological control. He'd have to grease their palms once again, too, because they were bound to discover that his maternal great-grandfather was half-Armenian. Being a non-Aryan wasn't just bad form: it was plain uncomfortable. To get any job these days, you needed a certificate from the Race Office.
Sergei knew quite a few people who had sunk all the way to the gutter, living in one of the Arbeitslagers - barracks for forced migrant labor employed for the Reichskommissariat's needs. The statute of Moskau forbade all Aryans to do menial work like sewage cleaning, railtrack laying or even the selling of fruit at village markets. A special agreement with the Nippon koku allowed the importation of millions of Chinese slaves who didn't cost anything and worked 24/7 for a bowl of rice. This was the kind of life awaiting all non-Aryans.
Sergei shuddered.
Oh, no. He'd rather become a brothel supervisor. Anything but the arbeitslager.
He switched on the mike. The countdown had already begun on the plasma screen. Three, two, one...
"Dear Damen und Herren, welcome back to Viking TV! Let me begin with our headlines. The Reich's cities are being consumed by a wave of renaming. The citizens of Veliky Novgorod demand their metropolis be returned its 9th century Swedish name of Holmgard. This event is supposed to coincide with the building of the temple of Loki - the Scandinavian god of fire - in the city's main square. Yesterday the population of Krasnoyarsk sent a petition to the ruler of the Nippon koku, asking his official permission to be called City of Fragrant Chrysanthemums. A sushi festival held for the Reich tourists by the new Shichō - that's Mayor to the rest of us - of Uradziosutoku has been a resounding success. The guests received balls of rice topped with slices of grayling, dogfish and omul[i]. Abdullo von Zimmerblut, the Führer of the Reichskommissariat Turkestan, finished Friday prayers in the Ashgabat mosque by issuing a statement threatening the pig farms of the Reichskommissariat Ukraine with airstrikes. Meanwhile in the Crimea, Prussian colonists have celebrated the beginning of the holiday season with fireworks, simultaneously tripling their rent for the holiday makers. Apparently, this is how they start every summer season which is why last year tourists chose to ignore this traditional holiday destination. The new Oberkommandant of Moskau has pronounced traffic jams part of our national heritage, officially refusing to do anything about them. In Hollywood, Japanese producers have begun shooting Episode 57 of their blockbuster Godzilla. This time the giant sea monster is about to head off to Greenland to destroy an Eskimo village, the last place it hasn't yet been to. Stay with us! After the commercial break, my colleague Fräulein Irina Nosov will continue with tonight's news."
A commercial began, showing a very happy, very fat housewife in a frilly dress who looked like a native of Bavaria, Russland and Ukraine all rolled into one.
"When I make my wurstsalat," she chirped, "I always use Eva Braun, the only mayonnaise which offers my food the taste of the Reich's victories. Low radiation levels, only the best artificial coloring, and lots of safe anti-cholesterol additives. Eva Braun: the eggs that taste like those your Wehrmacht granddad stole from the poor old village lady!"
It was followed back-to-back by an ad for the Benito pizza chain. Its cooks had topped international rankings with their "Duce pizza": tomatoes, mozzarella and a cooked carrot fashioned as Pinocchio's nose. In Moskau, pizza and sushi were in close competition. The ad was nothing new: shots of steaming pastry and deliciously runny cheese followed by the promise of a twenty-minute delivery time.
The closing shot showed an actor impersonating Benito Mussolini, with bulging eyes and a tightly pursed mouth.
"Benito pizza!" he shook his fist at the camera. "Immortal like the Reich!"
Irina began reading the news, her voice ringing with enthusiasm. She'd only been working for a couple of months. Normally, new workers gave it their all.
Funny people, these Italians, Sergei thought. They make even a dictatorship look like a circus show. While all we have is the labored drama and haughty airs. Why is our regime even trying to fight the Resistance when it's perfectly clear that the Forest Brotherhood can't be defeated? Why can't they admit that every empire needs an enemy, otherwise it reduces itself to a street sausage vendor? The kind of affairs happening in the 1940s! Those were the days! Bolshies, Semitic plutocrats, Wall Street tycoons... We consciously decided to stop blaming the Semites while they had always been humanity's perfect scape goat. As were the Bolshies - another dream trademark. So convenient to blame our problems on.
The news edition was over. Sergei scooped his papers up from the desk. The weather forecast began.
"Have you got your radiation meters on?" the slim, tall blonde weather girl asked cheerfully. "Well, you shouldn't have! Today we expect radiation levels to drop considerably. It might have something to do with the activation of two new sarcophagi around the nuclear power stations in Voronezh and Kostroma. The temperature is ninety degrees which is quite normal for December. Enjoy the sun!"
Between the global warming and radiation leaks, Sergei thought, the inhabitants of Moskau wouldn't know what to do with snow if it jumped on them. What kinds of times are these? We wear shorts in December; air conditioners sell like hot cakes. The Reich's plant breeders promise everyone to start banana plantations. That would officially make us what we've been for quite some time: a run-of-the-mill banana republic.
He heard footsteps and rose. Two officers in gray business suits were walking toward him, followed by the news Oberst, pale and buttoning up his suit jacket as he walked.
"Sergei Kolychev?" one of the strangers asked, a seven-foot giant.
He nodded, feeling his insides turn to ice. The Gestapo. Did that mean they already could read human thoughts?
"We need to ask you a question concerning one of your ex-colleagues."
Sergei was confronted with a small picture. A pencil sketch.

Chapter Eight

Tummo Meditation

Yebisu massage center, Tibet Lane 7

"D-D-DID YOU SEE that g-g-g-guy by the front door? He l-l-looked the spitting i-im-im... image of you. Don't you th-th-think it's funny? D-d-did you borrow his ap-appearance?"
"Oh, Jean-Pierre, for Thor's sake," Pavel said, setting aside his tea bowl. "Don't you have something better to do? He looked like me, so what? Every human being has a lookalike. I've no idea who my parents were; neither can I remember where I got his appearance from. Can a man forget? But seeing as it's entered into the SS database... All right, all right. Do shut up, will you? I need a break."
Obersturmführer Carpe promptly did as he'd been told.
The masseuse's fingertips pressed down on the veins of Pavel's temples. A hot towel hugged his shoulders. A jasmine scent enveloped his nostrils. He could hear his own breathing, calm and level. The Yebisu massage parlor chain was the best in Moskau even though its employees weren't at all Japanese but Chinese and Kalmuck trying hard to impersonate young geishas.
The girl's touch became light and almost weightless. Pavel began mouthing his favorite mantra that he'd memorized in the special-training camp during his long internship in the Tibetan Tashilhunpo Monastery.
His eyelids closed of their own accord. He could hear the distant bubbling of a brook and the delicious singing of birds. The sounds grew clearer. Stronger. More defined.
Pavel looked around him. He floated along a jungle path amid palm trees of deep burgundy color entangled by masses of green creepers. Parrots fluttered in the scarlet-red sky. Jets of hot steam escaped geysers, enveloping the ground underfoot.
Funny how acidic my subconscious is, Pavel thought. It's probably the same with everyone prone to negativity.
Whenever he needed to have a think, he liked to go on a meditation trip. His thoughts would roam in a strange world, dissolving in a riot of color amidst orange birds and red grass. Sometimes he wondered if this was what heaven looked like.
Tummo - which meant "the inner fire system" in Tibetan - was a very special school of meditation. It indeed burned the brain from the inside, heating it like coals. Experts didn't recommend doing it often but only on special and very important occasions.
Now was exactly such a case.
Pavel walked up the orchid-entwined steps to the top of a hill. A carved ivory throne awaited him there, surrounded by four red drums. Pavel hit the drums one by one and began rocking in place, imbibing their hum. As soon as the last echo died away, he took his place on the throne. Immediately the vines entwined his bare feet; the sky overhead opened up, awash with lightning.
Pavel stared hard in front of himself. Now. It was coming.
He saw a penciled face. A delicate nose. Long hair. The black dots of pupils. Olga Selina, a Viking TV presenter. She'd died two months ago. Who would have thought: a celebrity, a University graduate, a TV star with her own fan club - a guerrilla fighter? A leader of a Schwarzkopf terrorist cell? Her group had attacked the cortege of Moskau's Oberkommandant von Travinsky by ambushing it on Aryan Street. The terrorist attack of the year. Armed with grenade launchers, the terrorists had set the front and rear cars on fire while their snipers opened up on them from the roofs of the München Shopping Center. The Oberkommandant had been the first to be killed, followed by fifteen security staff and all eight of the attackers, eliminated by the arriving Vogel helicopters. Four of the terrorists' bodies had never been found: they'd been simply torn to shreds. They'd had to be identified using the DNA tests provided by Gestapo researchers.
According to Jean-Pierre, all the top brass, the Triumvirate included, had been in shock when they'd discovered that one of the terrorists was a Viking TV star. Street cameras had registered the beginning of the attack: Olga, in black leather, a Schmeisser slung over her shoulder, snapping commands to the terrorists.
None of which was mentioned in the media, of course. Celebrities suspected of having been in contact with guerrillas were sentenced to a very special punishment: oblivion. The names of the actors, TV presenters or singers who'd had the imprudence to commend the Forest Brotherhood on the Shogunet network were forever expelled from the media.
This was death. No interviews, no talk show appearances, nothing. Already a week later, the ostracized celebrity was willing to star in the cheapest of porn simply to draw attention back to him or herself. It didn't help. The punishment erased their names, dooming them to oblivion - and no one was brave enough to challenge it.
Normally, such an ostracized actor or singer committed suicide within three months. Some proved to be of sturdier stock, but none lasted more than six months. Which was why Olga's disappearance hadn't really surprised anyone - neither the audience nor her ex co-workers. She must have done something, as simple as that.
The questioning of Kolychev - Olga's co-anchor - hadn't turned anything up. He seemed to have been Olga's only friend and clubmate. Apart from him, nothing: she had no family nor friends. They checked Kolychev's phone but found no calls from her made after the attack.
The creepers had entwined Pavel's entire body and closed in over his head. In places the vines had split, spewing out acid-red petals.
The body of the TV presenter had never been found. She, as well as three other terrorists, had been at the very epicenter of the explosion. A bunch of bone fragments, tissue and some blood had been the only material evidence available for DNA analysis.
But the unfortunate experiment that had resulted in the mental incapacitation of the three Gestapo researchers had only been conducted very recently. And at least one of the lunatics had recognized Olga as a fiery angel - the fact that had cost him his sanity.
That could mean at least two things. Either the afterworld indeed existed, revealing a winged fire-enveloped Olga to the Gestapo researchers. Alternatively, she was the "trigger agent" that the Triumvirate had ordered Pavel to locate. Olga Selina was the spitting image of the fiery angel on the picture. He was almost sure of that.
But how was he supposed to find her if she was dead?
The sky crumbled, turning into knots of squirming snakes. Geysers spat out jets of blood. The air thickened. Unseeing, Pavel could sense panthers circling him, growling and swishing their tails.
She hadn't died. He could feel her heart beat.
The body hadn't been found. Olga would rather everybody considered her dead. Fingernails, bits of skin and the scraps of bloodied clothing that had served as DNA material weren't really proof of death.
But how had she managed to escape the city center cordoned off by SS special forces? Camera footage had been thoroughly studied but you couldn't really see that much: Aryan Street had been engulfed by smoke and stone dust. The special forces had searched everything within a two-mile diameter with a fine-tooth comb but found no one, neither dead nor wounded.
He squeezed his eyes shut. Blood seeped from under his eyelids. The jungle came to life, each leaf wailing, a tornado swirling the water into an enormous splattering twister. Words began typing in his head, letter by Gothic letter imprinted on the typewriter ribbon,

The Ministry of Public Education
München Shopping Center
Oberkommandant's Office
The Burgermeister's Residence

That seemed to be it. On top of that, the Shopping Center had been closed for renovation already a month. What else?
Oh yes, of course: the Temple of Odin. Neo Scandinavian style: a fake cave, a copy of the Islandic Viking temple. Well, well, well. According to Jean-Pierre's report, immediately after the terrorist attack, the SS Zondercommando Kalinka had searched all the adjacent buildings. They were all listed on a separate sheet of paper, including their street numbers - those Gestapo bureaucrats wouldn't have had it any other way.
There was only one building missing from the list. The Temple of Odin. That's right. Who would come to a holy place with a search warrant? That would defy reason. The priests of the cult of Asgard were the cornerstones of the existing regime, just like television was. They had enormous wages, houses, medals, SS ranks, the lot.
Which meant that no one had checked the Temple.
And it was only fifty feet or so from the scene of the attack. The smoke cover could possibly have allowed someone to rescue the wounded girl and hide her on the Temple premises. The congregation's noticing the bloody trail wasn't even a problem: sacrifices were frequent in Viking temples, priests slaughtering rather large animals like sheep and goats. And even if the search group had paid the Temple a visit, what then? "Guten tag, Herr Priest, is everything all right?" - "Oh yes, sons of Odin, all is well."
He had to go there, now. He needed to know whether she'd been there.
The wailing in his ears stopped. The orange birds exploded like toy balloons. The palm trees shrank, crumbling into flakes of wheat cream. The throne melted into thin air.
Pavel opened his eyes.
He sprang to his feet, easing the masseuse girl aside. The towel slid to the floor.
"Wake up," he shook Jean-Pierre. "We need to get to the city center. Aryan Street."
They were walking through the door when Pavel saw the Japanese man. He recognized him straight away: this was the same wrinkly old boy who'd sat next to him on the flight in. He stood not far away, next to the guard who, according to Jean-Pierre, was Pavel's lookalike.
The realization pierced Pavel's brain. He knew.
He's here for a reason. He's come to get me.
Pavel stopped. He whipped out a Browning from his pocket but failed to get a round off in time.
The thunder of an explosion ripped through the air. Yellow flames seared Pavel's face.

Reichskommissariat Archives #1
File ZL8. Politicians

"... ON OCTOBER 20 1941 Wehrmacht troops entered Moskau. After two more months of fierce street fighting they took control of the capital, including the Kremlin. The search for Joseph Stalin garnered no results. According to the Main Security Office report, he was behind the terrorist attack Vengeance '42 at the Nibelung square that had wiped out the entire Reich elite. According to Abwehr's intel, later Stalin used to hide in an underground bunker in Kuybyshev (now Führerburg) from where he coordinated the Resistance's actions. After the taking of Führerburg, he disappeared off the radar. The Ural and Siberian guerrilla groups still consider Stalin their spiritual leader. Daniil, the patriarch of the Forest Church (the sect that had united those of the Orthodox clergy who hadn't recognized Russland's yielding to the battleaxes of the gods of Asgard) worked hard to support the legend. According to it, Stalin had become a hermit living in the thick of the Siberian taiga praying for victory. Between themselves, guerrilla fighters call Stalin "the holy man" - he's a bit of a religious icon for them.
His military commander Klim Voroshilov escaped to Iran and went into hiding in Kurd-controlled areas as "invited by Masoud Barzani". In 1948, he was apprehended during a razzia by SS paratroopers but blew himself up with a grenade during his arrest.
Russia's ex-Head of State Mikhail Kalinin publicly denounced his old masters. He produced paperwork proving his Aryan descent and got himself a job in the Reichskommissariat Moskau. Later he worked for the Ministry of Finances under Walter Funk.
Having retreated from Moskau, the Generals Georgy Zhukov and Konstantin Rokossovsky formed the "forest brigades" near Murmansk whose secret undergeound factories produced everything they needed, including tanks and howitzers.
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Winston Churchill was captured during the taking of London and imprisoned in the Tower in the same cell as Rudolf Hess had been. Churchill committed suicide in 1949 by cutting his veins.
King George VI had managed to escape to Canada on a submarine; from there, his trail was lost. General Charles de Gaulle became the leader of the French resistance in Africa and died in 1955 in the Madagascan jungle during a Luftwaffe air raid.
The Emperor Hirohito, as tradition required, didn't leave his country during the entirety of his rule; he even refused to visit the first Japanese nuclear test in 1948 on one of the Indonesian islands. Hirohito refused to grant Japanese citizenship to the residents of the occupied territories. Which is why, unlike the Japanese themselves with their white-bound passports, the Australians and Alaskans have to make do with a temporary yellow ID card. Mixed marriages between Japanese and Europeans are forbidden. A similar "racial purity" law had been introduced in the Reich in 1935.
Now the Nippon koku is ruled by Akihito who is indifferent to politics and spends his spare time writing hokku. Both President Harry S. Truman and the US Commander in Chief Dwight Eisenhower were tried by a Neuer York Tribunal and publicly hanged at the Zeit Platz on December 11 1958. Both the Democratic and the Republican parties had been banned as "loathsome samples of plutocracy in politics". The remains of President Roosevelt had been exhumed and thrown into the Hudson River to drum rolls.
Tens of thousands of Americans died during pogroms (the so-called 'D.C. massacre') started by Japanese released from relocation centers[ii]. The Mikado's army didn't interfere, announcing the slaughter to be their 'rightful revenge'. The pogromists burned down the Capitol and the White House, causing many congressmen to choke to death in the fire.
Chinese communists have never stopped fighting the Nippon koku, their guerrilla units still going strong in most of the country's provinces. Their leader Mao Tse-Tung made it his goal to leave as many successors as he could, calling his project The Hydra of a Billion Heads. By the time of his death from cancer in 1982 in the rainforests of Yunnan Province, he'd had three hundred children from a hundred young female guerrilla fighters. Other field commanders had adopted the same system, supplying Chinese communists with plenty of new cadre.
Stalin's deputy Nikita Khrushchev was arrested in Moskau in 1980. All that time, he'd been hiding in his own apartment but no one had thought of looking for him there.

Permitted for public release
Signed: Deputy Reichskommissar Paul von Breuwitz

[i] Grayling, dogfish and omul - types of fresh-water fish indigenous to Lake Baikal.

[ii] Issued by President Roosevelt, the deportation order of February 19 1942 sent 110,000 Americans of Japanese descent to special “relocation centers”.

Chapter Nine


Mikado's Joy Street. Nagasaki Café.

BLOOD IS THROBBING in my temples. I feel even worse now than after I had fainted back in the Temple. I can't think straight. It's as if my head has been cut off - and still I can feel the rest of my body. A bit like sensing your own feet after they've been amputated. Phantom pain, it's called. My skin, my nails, my bones - everything seems to have peeled off. Actually, that's quite possible. To have survived this without losing any of your body just wouldn't be possible.
I can see myself as if from above. My priest's robes are gone. I'm wearing black boots, a black business suit and a bowler hat to match. Standard workday attire here in Uradziosutoku. A paper parasol protects my face from the scorching sun. A waitress in traditional geisha costume clutters her geta sandals across the floor, then bends in a deep bow.
"Would you like something else, Sir?"
"Danke schön," I say with a frail wave of my hand. "Only... this..."
She nods subserviently. "The yakitori is coming. It's just as it should be, soy sauce and all. We're heating your sake slowly: we're doing our best. Gomen kudasai... I have something else to offer you."
The geisha leans toward my ear, enveloping me in a fresh aroma of morning chrysanthemums. "We have our own moonshine," she whispers stealthily. "Clear as a crystal."
"Good," I agree, mimicking her. "Got some pickled cabbages to go with it?"
"We'll find some, darling... we could dress it up as funchoza, I suppose... these Japanese heathens will never know."
Her cheeks burning, the waitress walks back to a door marked in Japanese and disappears in the kitchen.
The mind boggles. The Japanese took Uradziosutoku on September 10 1941 - as soon as the Nippon koku had officially entered the war. Seventy years later, there's very little left of this old Siberian megalopolis which used to be equal doses of Bolshevik and the Tsar. The first thing the Japs did, they restored the Amur Republic[i] and even summoned the Merkulov brothers, its one-time White Guard émigré ex-rulers. Still, it didn't last: in less than a year Japan must have realized it simply had to have a prime morsel like this all for itself. Now Uradziosutoku was a typically Japanese city sliced into neat squares just like Karafuto Island and built with identical gray and white cottages, their curved roofs inviting swallows to nest inside, its streets drowning in cherry blossom - made of plastic, of course, because real wild cherries aren't that mad to blossom at this time of year in Siberia. Street shops flash their fancy Japanese neons, their owners laying squid tentacles out to dry. You can hear the screams of fishmongers at the pier market.
Disgusted, I stare at the wasabi on my plate. Where's my moonshine?

These cherry blossoms
Mess with my head;
I think I need some booze.

The hokku comes naturally. The Nagasaki café occupies several cozy Buddhist-style verandahs atop a hill. They offer an excellent view of the bay busy with adorable little boats strung with red paper sails. They're called junks in China. I vaguely remember us going up Calm Dragon Street the other day. Kimonoed shop assistants looked out of their shops and smiled to us, bowing and saying "Irasshai-mase!" - "Welcome!"
The Japanese culture has taken over the city - although not entirely. The locals have preserved a few more exotic bits, like the Lutheran church, the Polish Cathedral of The Most Holy Mother of God and the Arch of Tsesarevich Nicholas. Hokkaido tourists love taking pictures with them. Uradziosutoku means Salt Bay in Japanese but Russlanders still use the city's old name, Vladivostok. Closer to the Harbor of the Morning Calm (called so in honor of the neighboring Korean Province) towers the Amaterasu Arch dedicated to the goddess of the sun. Newlyweds hurry there after their shintoist wedding ceremonies to pay their respects and drink tea in the shade of the goddess' true wisdom.
The white and blue mansion of the Manchukuo consulate is only a ten-minute drive away: formerly the seat of the city council, it's surrounded by a colorful array of Chinese restaurants. From what I've gleaned from Viking News, recently the city was in a state of mourning. Geishas stopped receiving visitors as a sign of their grief. Apparently, the city's ex-Shichō - a Mayor - had performed a seppuku, leaving behind the following inscription on silk,
My Emperor!
I am forced to disembowel myself, unable to govern this territory where they smash their sake glasses on the ground every time they finish their drinks. I am sorry to have saddened your heart. I just cannot take it any longer.
True, Japanese nationals don't have it easy here. They're run off their feet trying to Japonize the Russian Far East - but to no avail. Things don't change. Shigemitsu Ivanovich still beats the holy crap out of Dzimmei Petrovich over the former's wife - the well-respected tea mistress Kumiko Sergeevna - who has been wearing a rather revealing kimono lately so that the latter just couldn't help himself and dipped a stealthy hand under the provocative silk. No bowing, no apologies, no poems describing the remorse eating through the black heart of the bastard Dzimmei.

The rising sun has set.
The three drunk samurai
Bow to their sake barrel.

This was the hokku that the Shichō wrote with his own blood after he'd sliced his belly with a katana.
The Germanization of European Russia has been much more successful. Everyone there seemed to be pleased with becoming a "blond beast" whose Aryan ancestors had arrived from Mount Kailash, the one with the swastika on its slope. It's true that in Moskau proper the Japanese culture is popular purely due to the distance separating it from exotic Tokyo. But here, the locals can't stand the sight of it. No matter how many times the police have raided underground samovar[ii] tea parties, they mushroom by the day.
"This is your sake, Master. I beg of you, in the name of Amaterasu, do pay attention."
Bowing deeply, the waitress offers me a china flask on a tray.
I nod. My hand shakes as I pour the liquid into a tiny cup. I down it in one gulp.
Holy fucking shit. My chest burns like the fire in Loki's eyes. It feels too good.

The pickled cabbage is crunchy to bite.
Life is flooding back into me.
Time for a second drink.

Here, one begins to think in hokkus. Who needs Aspirin when there's moonshine?
I don't expect Olga - but she's just appeared in front of me. At first, I take her for a waitress: she's wearing a kimono too. A black one embroidered with yellow dragons.
She flashes a sarcastic smile. "It didn't take you long to lose that Aryan veneer. So it's vodka now, is it? Where's your schnapps?"
I'm not embarrassed. After what happened, I can drink windscreen liquid.
"Schnapps is German for moonshine," I help myself to more cabbage. "Slightly more sophisticated, maybe. Do sit down. Have you got what I asked you to get?"
She nods and reaches under the table for an attache case. Inside is a portable Buch computer. A Sony, of course, the only kind genuine Aryans would use. It's white and very pretty.
I lick a finger, then touch a button. The system IDs my DNA automatically. The computer begins to reboot. Its screen lights up. The Sakura OS is slow and glitchy. Little bells begin to chime their sweet melody.
"I rented it," Olga answers my silent question. "Five hundred yen. I paid by card."
I type away, then open my personal Shogunet account where I have surveillance camera controls set up, allowing me to monitor them from any place on the globe. Three of the cameras are installed in the Temple of Odin and two more in my apartment. Password: asgard. Not very original, I know. I switch to real time and swivel one of the cameras.
The temple is absolutely packed with people. Some are wearing the camos and black uniforms of the SS special forces. Others are in plain clothes. They look around themselves as they walk, studying the interior. The camera is low-res but I can make out the puzzled expressions on their faces. I bet. I too was surprised when I'd come round after my fall.
The sacrificial altar is floating in the air, ghostlike, like a horror movie projection. It's translucent; you can see right through it. The grotto's walls quiver like sea waves, rippling.
One of the officers approaches the statue of Rübezahl, the king of dwarves. Yes, there he is, my stooping white-bearded old man, the work of a fine sculptor chiseled out of a whole chunk of cave granite.
Now the fun bit. The SS officer touches the statue. He is probably screaming with fear as his hand sinks inside. Rübezahl's body may look like stone but it now consists of a viscous jelly-like substance.
What he doesn't know is that there were four more stone deities lined up next to this one. They disappeared the moment I fainted. And not only them. The sacrificial goat is nowhere to be seen, either.
A man in a gray shirt and matching pants seems to be in command of the squad. He barks orders; they jump to attention. A big wig. I've never seen him before. I move the camera closer, just in case. He turns round. I take a snapshot of him. And another.
The picture disappears in a flash. What's happened?
"He shot at the camera," Olga explains. "They'll be over at your apartment at any moment. That's why we are here. I had a strong premonition that they might locate me soon. That they'd come for me... in the very near future. I was right."
I click the Buch's lid close and top up the bone china with more moonshine.
"Sehr gut," I take in the original aroma of good old home brew. "Let's try and reconstruct what happened. There isn't much to reconstruct, really. I came back home. You were still handcuffed to your bed. I walked over to you in order to remove them..."
I look over the bay. Seagulls squawk and squabble over the ocean. The waitress bows deeply to a new customer. I exhale sharply[iii] and down my drink, then hurry to pinch some cabbage with my chopsticks. "... and the next moment we were here. Seven thousand miles away from Moskau. What happened?"
She laughs softly and rearranges her black hair. She's unbearably beautiful. "I've no idea how it happens. It must be the danger that does it. I can't control these things. That's how I teleported into the temple where you later found me. You thought guerrillas had brought me there, remember? Even though the front doors were locked. You lay me under Rübezahl's statue to dress my wounds. It's the energy within my head... it works like teleportation. But I never know when it's going to happen."
"Why didn't you disappear earlier, then? Somehow I don't think my handcuffs would have stopped you."
She clicks her lighter. That's the Nippon koku: no one would arrest you here for smoking in a café. "Probably because I knew you weren't a threat."
Crashing noise. Howls of agony. Screaming.
As if in slow motion, I watch as Mikado's Joy Street caves in. A round crater appears in the middle of the pedestrian zone. The doll houses adorned with red lanterns begin to slide into the chasm; the St. Paul's Church crumbles, listing to one side, bell tower and all. Hundreds of human figures pour into the crater as it gapes like a huge, smiling lipless mouth. I hear the inhuman screams of dying people. Houses sink through the tarmac which is now fluid like sunflower oil.
The city dies before my very eyes but I can't do anything about it. People wail with horror, their bodies turning transparent as if made of fine glass. I can see their hearts, their livers, their brains, I watch their blood run through their veins. Crowds of glass people.
Uradziosutoku rapidly breaks out into a gossamer net of crevices. Trees snap like matchsticks. The ocean hisses, convulsing, spewing out dead fish. Instinctively I grab a knife from the table.
I sink it into my right palm already covered in scars.
Blood splatters onto the plate, mixing with the soy sauce. I look at the girl's face. Not a face: a skull. A grinning, scowling skull greedily drawing on a cigarette.
"What are you?" I croak. "What the hell are you?"
Her gaze alights on me. Her eyes have no pupils. They're filled with unfathomable darkness.
"What a strange question," she lets the smoke out. "Don't you know yet?"

[i] The Amur Republic: an independent state that existed in the Russian Far East from May 26 1921 to October 25 1922. Recognized by both the US and Japan, the Amur Republic ceased to exist with the taking of Vladivostok by Bolshevik troops.

[ii] Samovar: a traditional 19-century water urn that became synonymous with Russian tea culture

[iii] Exhale: Russian drinking traditions prescribe to always exhale before downing a stiff drink in one draught; doing so prevents the drinker’s breath from being seized.

Part Two

The Black Sun

All are waiting for the light;
Fear it or fear it not.
The sun shines out of my eyes,
It will not go down tonight —
And the world counts down to 10.

Rammstein, Sonne

Chapter One


Sakura Hotel, Suite 298

"...I AM WRITING THIS LETTER in compos mentis. My name is Yamamura Onoda. I am a Major with the Nippon koku General Staff. I am also a Casio representative in the Reichskommissariat Moskau. I plead forgiveness from all those who have suffered as the result of my terrible mistakes that brought about the failure of Operation Yukio Seki[i].
Yes, it was none other than myself who had put forward Kiyoshi Itiro, the assistant military translator and my old Karafuto co-worker, as a potential tokko tai — a suicide bomber. I was badly misled, considering the retired geriatric Itiro the best candidate for the job. Suffering from brain cancer, he readily accepted the assignment on condition that his children receive a one-off payment of two million yen from the Mikado Bank.
His wife Sadako expressed her desire to die together with her husband. Highly appreciating her intention, I agreed: a family of Japanese tourists would arouse minimal suspicion from their target. Our best Tokyo experts built an explosive device to make it look like a clumsy amateurish job made to the anarchists' instructions supposedly downloaded from the Shogunet. Itiro-san made a recording of a video address, which he had previously rehearsed several times, in which he calmly admitted his support for the Schwarzkopf movement and the Bolshevik Party of Nippon.
On December 12 of the Heisei era 23[ii] (may it last forever!) the Hong Kong Imperial Kommandatur arranged for the Itiro couple to board a Junkers 564 Moskau flight without a security check. As usual, we had no description of the subject even though our secret services guaranteed his presence on board the plane. Following my instructions, Itiro's wife was going to activate the bomb as the airplane started its approach to Moskau airport. According to Sadako-san, she did switch on the detonator hidden in her purse which, for some reason, failed to activate.
The woman told the truth. Already after meeting her husband, I studied the detonator and came to the conclusion it had been intentionally disabled. I have no doubt that this had been Itiro-san saving his wife's life, unwilling to see her die together with him. This was regrettably stupid. By doing so, he missed his chance to complete his mission while his family lost the money.
Later, he expressed his regret at what he'd done.
Embittered by the aforementioned failure, I would like to point out that later Itiro-san did everything he could in order to restore his honor and rectify the disgusting consequences of his disabling the detonator. It is only thanks to him that we now have a detailed description of the target, as Itiro-san had watched the Sturmbannführer being escorted with honors down the steps and into a limousine.
Itiro-san rented an apartment and approached the mission with all seriousness as befits a samurai. He used the operative information I sent him to follow the subject through Moskau, attempting to approach him at a closer distance. On a tip from a Gestapo mole, Itiro-san arrived at the Spirit's Delight book store and spent the entire day in the shop waiting for the target to arrive.
Later that evening, he swore by the God Susanoo that the subject had never arrived. Another failure added to my account! Wary of a potential leak, I had never informed Itiro-san of Pavel Loktev's peculiar behavioral patterns.
This, in turn, influenced everything that followed.
Today an uncomplaining Itiro-san pressed the button on a new detonator and, praising the great Mikado, consequently transported himself to the feet of the Goddess Amaterasu. He activated the explosive device by the entrance to the Yebisu massage parlor standing next to the person who bore an uncanny resemblance to the target. Seven people died in the blast, including the bomber himself. I tend to believe that the growing tumor had stripped Itiro-san of his ability to think straight otherwise he'd have been bound to ask himself why Pavel Loktev was wearing an Obergefreiter's uniform posing as a parking lot security guard. Whatever the case, the target escaped either unharmed or with the slightest of injuries.
I accept the blame for the failure of my strategy. Years of life in Russland must have corrupted my heart with the rot of irresponsible carelessness. I failed to consider the possibility of Itiro-san not blowing up the plane. By my meticulous planning of the operation, I got drunk on the sophistication of the petals of my ideas. The explosion on board the plane: a terrorist act performed by a terminally ill fanatic, an old-age loner who'd lapsed into the senility of the Bolshevik ideal. The video of his confession would have convinced the Gestapo that the death of their special agent in the blast was a tragic coincidence. We were quite prepared to plant other evidence aiming to divert attention from the Japanese secret services. The plan was perfect — which was its biggest weakness. I failed to plan for any eventualities.
A faithful agent prepared to die without hesitation. The enclosed space of the plane. A brilliant cover story and the video confession. What could be better? For the first time in years, my gaze alights on my samurai sword. I find it almost impossible to forgive myself.
...For the last ten years, I've been heading the Moskau intelligence station. I've been paid double for the emotional damage. Moskau is indeed a terrible place where one can never relax. Let me assure you that I work hard to earn every yen of that money while some of my colleagues lounge around somewhere on the Solomon Islands or laze away on Ngapali Beach sipping their plum whisky cocktails. I'd have loved to swap places with them: not only with those serving in Asia but also with my European colleagues.
Some of them might point out anxiously that Europe is a dangerous place. The Resistance is still active in countries like the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway. Yes, I'd say, but their so-called Resistance is a far cry from the 1940s. It's all a big theater show. A group of masked youngsters who, breathless with their own audaciousness, rip down the Reich's flag from the statue of the Little Mermaid or deface a monument to the Führer with spray paint. Every such escapade makes the headlines as TV dooms Europe to an era of terrorism.
Their Resistance is just a trend. Being a revolutionary and an activist is trendy in Europe. They love nothing better than to write songs of protest and upload banned books to the Net. And then what? The Gestapo apprehends them, they crack and sell all their friends down the river, then indulge in bouts of public repentance on TV, blaming their actions on the side effects of drugs.
All European Resistance is encapsulated within the Shogunet. Not many Aryans are willing to risk their creature comforts after the Twenty-Year War. Chinese slaves rebuilt European cities from the ruins; an economic boom followed, turning Europe into a land of milk, honey and Mercedes Benz.
Churchill once promised that if the Germans invaded Britain, his country would fight to the last man. And what do we see? All those weird little campaigns, the so-called flash mobs: young people, terribly proud of themselves, gathering at Das Gros Ben to form a huge phrase FUCK THE NAZIS with votive candles. Can a regime be overthrown with candles? Please. I want my European colleagues' job.
Still, it was here that the Nippon koku sent me, into the very heart of quagmires and gloomy towers: Moskau. Here, it's different. Some Russlanders hate the Germans as invaders while others welcome them as the guarantors of European civilization. But nobody likes Japan. You don't need to believe me but here, everybody praises Japanese art, loves the Japanese cuisine, appreciates Japanese culture... and despises the Japanese. I habitually check my car three times a day to make sure no good-wisher has attached a magnetic bomb to the chassis. I only eat salmon in a few trusted restaurants to avoid food poisoning. I only indulge in late-evening poetry readings with young Kyoto geisha school graduates who've mastered the art of the tea ceremony.
Every day I walk a sword's edge between Scylla and Charybdis. Guerrillas hunt me for being an ally of Greater Germany. The Reich's supporters don't like Asians, either; they'd be more than happy to plant a slug between my eyes if I was imprudent enough to ride the nighttime subway. By Amaterasu, everything's so complicated here.
... There was a time when I used to write poetry, painstakingly drawing the symbols on rice paper. I've given it up now. I don't have the inspiration. Moskau eats right through you like a tapeworm, destroying you from the inside. You imbibe the local lifestyle and mentality without even realizing it. I've become a Russian. I can chase down a dish of fugu with pure laboratory alcohol with the best of them. It actually tastes better that way.
I know very well how you expect me to finish this letter.
I'm very sorry. But my experience of many years in Russland prevents me from performing seppuku — even though my samurai honor bemoans it and my katana is begging to be unsheathed. I understand perfectly well that locating Pavel Loktev isn't going to be easy, mainly because now he knows that he's being hunted.
I'm not looking for excuses but I assure you that I've taken all the necessary precautions. Sadako won't speak. She was taken care of half an hour after the bomb had exploded. Her body has been cremated and won't be found. We made a new video of Itiro-san before the blast, with all mention of the plane edited out. It's now being uploaded to the Shogunet. Our priority now is to do our best not to damage our relations with the Third Reich. Greater Germany and the Nippon Koku are the best of friends. Not having enemies is awful. You're sadly forced to spy on your friends!
There's too much at stake: my Tokyo friends expect the mission to be a success. It's not the first time we tried to take Loktev out. There were other attempts, performed with surgical precision but equally unsuccessful. The air crash would have been a perfect scenario. Unfortunately, it failed due to Itiro-san's inopportune sentimentality. I'm going to do it myself now. Casio's Moskau office is closing. I'm going to find Loktev myself.
Yamamura Onoda
Major with the Nippon koku General Staff

Chapter Two

The Paradise

Master Race Avenue, Geli Raubal Hotel

THE FIRST THING EMERGING from the gloom of Pavel's memory was the cellar. Back in Paradise, this had been where they sent delinquents. It was a sterile room: no rats or cockroaches there. Still, it was very scary. You spent hours in the pitch black. Gradually, you couldn't help sensing there was somebody there. You wanted to reach out and touch them but you were too scared they might bite your fingers off.
Pavel too had been sent there on a couple of occasions: once for three hours, on another occasion five. During nap time, big kids told them scary stories, like the one about the boy left there forgotten for two days. He had gone blind and lost his mind. How could you forget it: the way your eyes hurt adapting to daylight when the Paradise's attendants unlocked the cellar door which bore the sign of two lightning bolts set in a black triangle.
That was Paradise's logo, the same as nurses wore on the lapels of their starched lab coats. Sterile girls they were, like incubated clones. They reminded him of dairy maids on a farm. Which was probably the most accurate description, for children were bred there like one would breed cattle. Neat ranks of obedient boys and girls: fair-haired, ginger, strawberry blond, dressed in brown shorts, shirts and pinafores with the ever-present triangle on the sleeve. Not a single smile nor laughter, nothing but the teachers' snapped orders.
They'd been told they weren't in captivity. This wasn't a prison. This was a place for the chosen, the best of the best. They hadn't been kidnapped: they'd been granted the great honor of joining the Paradise. Long after Pavel had left its heavenly pastures, he came across the black triangles on office doors in every European city. The biggest one, with its own apple orchard and swimming pool, was located in the center of Moskau within walking distance of the Greater Germany metro station. He had to hurry past it quite a few times while on business; he used to look into its windows, curious, but had never actually plucked up enough courage to go in. Pointless. Doubtful anything had changed within. Same nurses patrolling the corridors, same lookalike children, same watchful guards in black uniforms: the Paradise was curated by the SS.
They had indeed changed the rules, though. These days they needed the family's consent to remove a child; the parents had to provide blood test results and a certificate from the Race department confirming the purity of his Aryan provenance.
Who might his parents have been? Pavel hardly ever thought about it. The DNA test he'd taken in the Gestapo lab ten years ago had confirmed that he had Slavic blood running in his veins. Either Russlanders or Slovaks; possibly Czechs or Bulgarians even. He didn't know his real name: the children's names were changed upon arrival.
Afterwards, he'd changed names many times. He had about a hundred of them.
The Paradise was stifling in its orderliness; it stuffed your mouth like cotton wool, blinding you with the sterile white of its painted walls. Calorie-appropriate nutrition, classical music, Let's Draw the Führer art contests and lessons in Aryan comportment: a purebred person was obliged to know how exactly he differed from the untermensch.
They studied eight hours a day. The Paradise's main task was to plant the required ideas into their heads. Nurse Berta Lüdinghausen was a gaunt Hessian woman (pronouncing her name used to be a torture) who took them out for walks along Moskau streets noisy with construction works: the now-deceased Oberkommandant pulled old buildings down by the hundred, erecting new ones which were "in keeping with the Teutonic spirit".
The Physical Education lessons were held in the giant Triumph sports center built in place of the Kolomenskoe Estate torn down in 1945. Berta, who had an answer to everything, explained to them in her barking tones that the estate had been considered a "garish abomination typical of Slavic architecture". Walking along the Moskau river embankment with children trailing after her, she never forgot to point her finger, informing them that back in 1931, the Bolsheviks had destroyed the snow-white Cathedral of Christ the Savior only to build another "garish abomination" in its place, namely the Palace of the Soviets.
What Berta forgot to mention was that in the very beginning of the war the Reich's leaders had had both the Assumption Cathedral in Kiev and the St. Sophia Cathedral in Novgorod razed to the ground. Today, Greater Germany and Russland may call each other brothers, but in those days the Slavs hadn't been supposed to have much of their history left.
Someone knocked on the door. Softly first, then louder.
"Pavel! P-Pavel, fu-fuck you! O-open the d-door! You asleep or wh-what?"
Pavel jumped to his feet, knocking the chair over. The unfinished tea cup softly dropped sideways onto the carpet. He must have fallen asleep. He'd been dreaming of the Paradise again. It had been years but he couldn't get it out of his head. He'd returned there almost every night, walking the white-walled corridors amid identical pallid faces.
Pavel draped the hotel dressing gown around himself and turned the key.
Obersturmführer Carpe froze in the doorway, black as thunder. His both cheeks and forehead were covered in bandages. The first-aid surgeons had counted twelve cuts on his face from the glass that had flown everywhere during the explosion. Pavel didn't look much better. Talk about idiot's luck. Had the Japanese suicide bomber activated his device a second later, the rescue team would have had to scrape their guts off the sidewalk.
"L-lucky b-ba-bastard," Jean-Pierre said, looking at him. "It didn't take you l-long to re-recover."
Pavel flashed him a cynical smile. His skin was perfectly intact. "What would you like, whisky or gin? Your pick. It's Japanese. I brought some from Hong Kong."
"Whi-whisky s-sounds good. Haven't had any p-p-plum spirit in quite a whi...while. I could dr-drink it all day l-long," he downed the glass, his teeth chattering.
"Go sit down," Pavel offered, wrapping the dressing gown tighter around himself. "Wanna order some chow?"
"Kein problem!" Jean-Pierre agreed. "My stomach thinks my throat's been cut."
Pavel dialed the restaurant and, ignoring the menu, ordered some eisbein. The law demanded pork to be permanently available in every Aryan Nutrition joint, so you could eat Bavarian anywhere, even in some God-forsaken Germanville somewhere in a Russian backwater.
Pavel replaced the receiver. "Have you found the old lady?" he asked without much hope.
"You're joking?" Jean-Pierre mumbled. "Our detectives even ripped out the floors and tapped the walls all over in the old Jap's rented apartment. Not a trace. Now, it could have been two things. Either she legged it — or, may the Iron-Forest witches take me, some smartass had been there before us. Someone uploaded a video to the Shogunet half an hour ago in which the old boy accepts responsibility for the terrorist attack and praises the Forest Brothers in broken Russian."
Pavel walked over to the window, clasped his hands behind his back and cracked the joints of his fingers. "No way he's a Bolshevik. It has to be a stitch-up. It's the Japs, I just know it. They'd love to serve my guts up in a hole in the ground with some concrete sauce on top. And they would, had it not been for my little secret ability. I've been to the Nippon koku God knows how many times doing Gestapo jobs. Last year, remember? Manila, the Solar Tower? I had to stab the Japanese General Staff's courier and retrieve his briefcase. I just don't know how they worked me out. They can't have my description. Tracked some e-funk message? Whatever. They just knew I would be on board that plane and they were going to take care of me. You can't take someone like me prisoner. You kill 'em on the spot."
"I just hope next time I'll be somewhere else when it happens," Jean-Pierre took a long swig of whisky. "Your wounds heal in a couple of hours while I had to have God knows how many stitches. And once I came round, I had to go to the old Jap's apartment to take some DNA samples. I had no choice but to go by the wretched metro — I'm so fed up with our traffic jams. Shaking on the train like some fucking jelly. Can't stand our subway, you know that? Never have done. It's only five lines, but all those throngs of people! You can't breathe on the trains: they have no air conditioning. I think the Reich's public transportation is an extension of their concentration camp system."
Pavel listened to him absent-mindedly while studying the yellow roof of a Mitsubishi bus by the hotel entrance below. They circulated all around Moskau, advertising the magical services of the Thule Society. Black magic was undoubtedly popular in the Third Reich: just as popular as the cults of Odin and Thor. Triumvirate-licensed wizards had the right to practice their lore. At the peak of its popularity in the 1940s, the Thule Society had made a name for itself by claiming that Aryans had arrived on Earth from the Aldebaran solar system. The society had attempted to set up a mass resurrection of dead soldiers; they imported Tibetan lamas and tried to master the art of thought reading. Over time, this facility which once had boasted the Reich's best mystics and visionaries had become a mundane fortune-telling show. These days, Thule's customers were mainly young unmarried girls wishing to know their future who'd sometimes buy protective charms which guarded their bearers against guerrilla attacks.
"Well, what do you want?" Pavel yawned. "They built five lines: four to form a swastika and one as a ring road encircling it. Ideologically very clever. But in reality, people are crammed down there like sardines in a can, cursing the wretched subway to hell and back."
Pavel walked to the table and took a file stamped Confidential.
"Olga Sélina stayed with the priest for two months," he said pensively, rustling the pages. "Not as a slave but rather as a privileged prisoner. She had dinners with him and received care and medical treatment even though she couldn't leave the premises. The DNA test has shown," more rustling of paper, "that the traces of blood on the sacrificial stone belong to the priest. She contaminated him like she contaminates everything around her, the temple included. You've seen what's going on in there: we had to lock the gate, cordon if off and post guards all around," he paused, leafing through the file. "There's one thing I don't understand... your people all lost their marbles when exposed to her. But the priest didn't. Wonder if his little blood-letting ritual prevents this from happening? Their meeting was an accident but now Olga Sélina won't let go of him. She needs him really badly. No idea why. That's what scares me. There's some sort of connection between the two of them."
The sound of clattering plates came from outside the door as security checked their order.
"We might have less time than you think," Jean-Pierre sighed. "We can't keep it under wraps for much longer. Our operatives back in the temple saw what contamination can do. Very soon Moskau will be plagued with the kind of rumors that would make the Völkischer Beobachter weep with envy."
A gray-haired waiter in the uniform of a kitchen service Hauptmann (with silver-ladle collar badges and a white peaked cap) rolled in a serving table crowded with plates. Smiling politely, he served out the side dishes and moved the mustard pots closer to them.
Jean-Pierre's e-funk rang. He apologized and walked out, only to return promptly. "I've got two bits of news for you. One is excellent. They've apprehended both. They used their card to rent a Buch computer. How stupid can you be? Later they withdrew one hell of a sum from a Geldautomat, then blocked their bank account. The second one is not so good. They're in Uradziosutoku now, and the Gestapo needs to get clearance from the Japanese police to work there. Thor almighty, how on earth did they get there? They were in Moskau today. Uradziosutoku is seven hours by plane."
Pavel lifted the cover off a dish. The room filled with eisbein's delicious aroma. "They didn't fly there," he licked his lips. "They teleported."

[i] Yukio Seki: the twenty-three-year-old Japanese kamikaze pilot who on October 25 1944 rammed into a USS carrier in the Leyte Gulf. This became the first kamikaze attack in human history.

[ii] Heisei: the Heisei Era. In the Japanese calendar, the ascension of a new emperor generally starts a new era. The current Heisei Era started with the ascension of Emperor Akihito in 1989.

Chapter Three

The Invisible

Uradziosutoku, Ryokan 'Swallow'

POLISHED WOODEN FLOORS. Sliding paper partitions depict long-legged cranes dancing amid groves of bamboo. These doors don't open normally: you have to slide them apart like those of a wardrobe. Thin tatami mats cover some of the floor. Steaming tea is waiting on a tray, next to the inevitable little bowl of soy sauce and some rice in bone china cups.
We've found refuge in one of the ryokans: small Japanese hotels styled as a traditional country cottage. These days there are hundreds of them all over Uradziosutoku, patronized mainly by secret lovers. Ryokans are perfect for their purpose. The receptionist can't even see you: part of her cubicle window is frosted so you can only see her hands as she accepts payment. No names asked, no IDs required. Just pay and go to bed.
Which suits us just fine.
It's getting dark. When I look through the window, I can make out the streetlights on the Mikado Peninsula, covered in Japanese characters.
She's sitting cross-legged on the tatami eating rice, deftly using her chopsticks.
"That was really stupid, renting a Buch with a card!" I say bleakly.
"Absolutely," she touches her hair, rearranging it. "Now the Gestapo know which city to search. They still need to get here, though. It might take them some time. We can at least spend the night and get some rest. We need to decide where to go and what to do next."
Good point. Back in Moscow I had a job, an SS rank, a status, a service car (unchauffeured) and holiday bonuses every Thorrablot and Disting[i] day. I used to be quite an important person any way you looked at it. Now I am a criminal on the run, sitting on the floor in this bug-ridden hole while my record must have already been added to the Weltgestapo database. Assisting Schwarzkopfs is very serious business. The best-case scenario: banishment to Africa. The worst, the Spitzbergen concentration camps where inmates die within the first two weeks.
"What to do next?" I say with a sarcastic smile. "Next, we go into hiding for the rest of our lives. Forest or cellar, take your pick. There're no neutral countries anymore. Even Switzerland has allied itself with the Reich. Its capital city has been moved from Bern to the German Canton of Zurich. You can always find shelter somewhere in the Ural Mountains controlled by the Schwarzkopfs. But me... it might probably be easier to just buy a Japanese passport, adopt a Japanese name and stay here. The Schwarzkopfs kill all Odin's priests, as the Forest Church demands. The Triumvirate will be looking for me, of course, but..."
She clicks her chopsticks in a most contemptuous way. "The Triumvirate?!" whenever she has to say the word, she always does it at the top of her voice. "We live in a country of ghosts. Our head of state is a schizophrenic who died seventy years ago. His will is executed by three men no one has ever seen. Don't you think it's funny? This secrecy, this holy mystery of power? Our people don't even know the names of those who rule them. We hear their speeches on the radio, we read their articles in newspapers but we have no idea what the Triumvirate members look like. They're ghost rulers devoured by the dark."
There she goes again. Her nightly dose of bleating. Yes, so the Moskau administration is anonymous. Nobody argues that. After the Führer's death in the Mausoleum blast of 1942, all of the Reich's top officials were ordered to abstain from public speaking. They stopped attending NSDAP congresses, couldn't go to the Reichstag or have beerhouse meetings.
Not that it helped though. The Schwarzkopfs went on a hunt for all remotely important National Socialist leaders. At different times, guerrilla fighters slew the Reichskommissar of Ukraine Erich Koch, the Finance Minister Funk and the chief honcho of all work camps Adolf Eichmann. Over the years, the city streets grew safer as the Schwarzkopfs moved into woods but still, the powers that be already knew they'd never cease to be a target.
So upon the ending of the Twenty-Year War, all the Reichskommissariats apart from Turkestan switched to the three-leader system: the Triumvirate. Now that guerrilla fighters didn't know which of the three was the Reichskommissariat's actual leader, they couldn't plan an assassination attempt. The leaders didn't ride cars, they didn't fly, they made no TV appearances: only radio addresses read by presenters with identical steely voices. Triumvirate leaders couldn't be killed, but most importantly, this system allowed them to be replaced at any given moment, swiftly and soundlessly.
Moskau rumors had it that ghost politicians were constantly being shuffled like a deck of cards: some lasted in the role of Reich leader for a month, another maybe a year. It didn't matter. The empire was being ruled by the dead Führer and any number of ghosts with blurred, mist-corroded outlines.
At least none of them had to worry for their lives.
But would I actually let her have the final say? I don't think so.
"Sorry, I'm afraid I'm not in the mood for a highbrow political discussion," I inform her with sarcastic courtesy. "Especially seeing as you never answered the big question."
She sighs and leans down to place the cup on the floor. I can see her chest. She's not wearing anything at all under her kimono: I'm sure she'll go to bed naked. What a shame I didn't think of renting a pair of handcuffs at the same time as the Buch.
"You still don't believe me?" she asks. "You simply fainted, I assure you, you just zoned out for a while. I have no doubt that you might have seen the collapsing Uradziosutoku and me as a perambulating zombie. Hallucinations are known to be a common byproduct of teleportation."
Oh, I've made her defensive! The gods would have been proud of me. But I have to strike while the iron is hot. I have a splitting headache and can lose control of the situation at any moment. "Do you suggest I should calmly embrace the fact that once I discovered you lying in a pool of blood on the temple floor, my life has never been the same? Of course! It's perfectly normal, isn't it? I's nothing. You're staying at my place, and every night I have apocalyptic visions of Ragnarök: cannibalized horse carcasses, dying people, frozen cities lying in ruins. What's so strange about the fact that objects around me begin to disappear and stone walls turn into sand dunes? Nothing weird about that, is there? It takes us two seconds to transport ourselves seven thousand miles away from my apartment: I find myself sitting in a café watching the earth open up, devouring Uradziosutoku. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against it. It just takes some getting used to. And now I'm sitting here talking nicely to you instead of trying to strangle you with my bare hands because I realize perfectly well: such things do happen. I've gone mad."
She leans toward me. Her lips smell of rice. How unromantic. Or am I a hardened cynic?
"I'll tell you everything about myself, I promise, whatever you want to know. The moment we get somewhere safe, I'll do it. But I really don't know why certain things happen to me. I can only guess. I'll try to explain... I'll show you why it's the way it is. But not here."
"Where, then?" I ask a logical question and promptly shut up, unwilling to hear something I might regret: the Schwarzkopfs aren't known for their lack of expletives. But admittedly, my intellectual approach sometimes does work to restrain her primeval lack of manners.
"There's this place to the north of Moskau... I'll take you there. It'll happen soon enough, I promise. Strange how tables turn, don't you think? Twenty-four hours ago, I was your prisoner. And now I'm free but... I don't want to leave you. We can't really tell now which one of us holds the other captive, can we?"
It's time I snatch the initiative before it's too late. "Back in the Temple, there was this guy in a gray suit, he was in control of the search," I say nonchalantly. "I took a picture of him with the surveillance camera and did a quick image search on the Shogunet. It didn't take long. You may laugh but apparently, he is the spitting image of somebody called Walter Shumeiko who was killed during the Kiev standoff between the SS and the Wehrmacht in 1986. Luckily, this is Russland not Berlin: those idiots forgot to cancel my access to the SS database. And there I found something very interesting. Shumeiko's personal ID number is still valid even though it belongs to somebody totally different."
Even in the dark I can see how pale she's become. "What do you suggest? That he's one of the walking dead like those Tibetan Ahnenerbe subjects?"
Had the situation not been so serious, I'd have laughed out loud. "Ahnenerbe! It's the ultimate in kitsch, one of those Universum fantasy movies for the masses. Even back in the 1940s, they were never a serious research institute. And now they're even worse! They're trying to keep up this phony image of dark mysticism while self-publishing all those book series about their work, like those murder mysteries featuring Marta the Professor's daughter."
I pause. "There's another office, though perfectly real. They did give their graduates the names of long-dead people complete with their personal SS numbers. I suppose you heard about that old project by Reichsführer Himmler? The Lebensborn?"
She flaps her eyelashes in confusion. I enjoy my moment of triumph.
"You mean the adoption society? Of course. There were so many orphaned children after the war."
"Not exactly. From the start, the Lebensborn saw its goal in creating an incubator for the Aryan race. Since 1935, they've graduated hundreds of thousands of children. A child's parents had to be of the Nordic type, healthy and have no criminal record. Initially, their orphanages harbored kids from Norwegian girls who slept with Wehrmacht soldiers. But that apparently wasn't enough. They needed to do things on a bigger scale. Standartenführer Max Sollmann, head of Lebensborn, became interested in the practice used by the Medieval Turkish janissary corps. The Turks had found a way to create lethal bands of cutthroat assassins in Serbia and Bulgaria by taking babies from Christian parents and raising them as bloodthirsty Islamist fanatics. Sollmann just loved it! He thought it was a brilliant idea. Lebensborn workers in Russland, Ukraine and Poland sought children aged two to five years old of picture-perfect Aryan appearance, kidnapped them and took them to their orphanages.[ii] There a child would usually receive a new name and be explained at some later date that they're lucky enough to live in the Paradise. The Lebensborn was supposed to create the 'new man': an Aryan fully devoted to the ideas of his Führer, one who was an expert both in modern sciences and martial arts. Some sort of an intellectual military bomb. Many of the Paradise's ex-charges have lived on to make brilliant careers which was actually their tutors' purpose. So I'm not at all surprised that they put a Lebensborn graduate on our tail."
She says nothing. I can sense her breathing. The Schwarzkopfs really think they know everything about the inner workings of the Reichskommissariat's private life. Well, they don't know a fraction of what I do.
"How do you know all this?"
It's not a question even, rather a groan coming from deep within her heart.
I chuckle. "It's simple, really. I'm Lebensborn too."
The street has grown dark. Our room is pitch black. I can hear crickets — specially imported from Okinawa — chirping by the front porch. The siren of an ambulance wails at a distance. Someone must have eaten the wrong part of a fugu fish again... and now the meat wagon was hurrying his way, sporting the rising sun on its door.
The girl is astonished. She hasn't even heard all the truth yet. Not that she needs it. Only then will I open up to her when she does the same. This is what I'm waiting for.

Vision #2
The Day of the Monsters

THIS TIME I'M NOT at all cold. On the contrary. The heat is suffocating. I feel like a chicken in the oven. The air is almost red-hot with the sun.
I wipe the sweat away. This looks like a village. Small cottages — but everything seems to be enveloped in a dark haze.
I look up in surprise. Large flakes of snow float onto my head. What, in this heat? I walk slowly, holding onto the stakes of a wooden fence. I can hear dogs barking. Someone bellows orders in a muffled deep-chested voice.
I catch a large snowflake in my hand and crush it between my fingers. It leaves a dirty off-gray smear across my palm.
Now I understand the reason for this summer snowstorm.
This is ash, not snow. The village is on fire. Flames crackle as they escape cottage windows, opening above their roofs like red blossoms.
My face turns black. Sweat streaks my skin, washing away the soot. The log cottages aren't the only ones on fire: the trees, the benches by the porches, children's swings — everything's enveloped by the flames.
An insane firestorm.
The air is mixed with smoke. You can barely see. It's daytime but it feels like twilight.
A woman is running toward me, reaching out blindly in front of herself. She's young and disheveled. A submachine gun rattles. She drops face down, her flaxen hair sinking into the dirt. Three crimson spots on her back grow fast, merging.
I recoil and stumble over another corpse. This one is old, his bulging eyes filled with blood. Another one is crouched next to a birch tree: a young woman, her head listing to one side.
A monster looms out of the smoke.
It has a weird porcine snout with a flat spongy nose and huge round eyes. It has a large hump on its back and long fat fingers on its black front paws. The monster holds its proboscis in its paws and points it at the window of the nearest house, showering its walls with a jet of liquid fire. Bloodcurdling screams assault my ears.
"Doing okay? It's damn hard work," another monster appears next to the first one. Its face is equally scary.
"Yes, Sir! Too hot in this wretched gas suit."
"What do you want, it's not some toy carnival mask. I'd have given anything for a beer, and you? Unfortunately, we need to finish up here first. We have orders. The village and everyone in it should be exterminated."
They walk on: one holding a flamethrower, the other with a Schmeisser submachine gun at the ready. They're not alone. A whole platoon of soldiers fuss about in their field-gray uniforms, their black lapels glistening with runes, their faces concealed by gas masks. Flames dance in their round goggles. The loudspeakers mounted on their trucks spit out a triumphant march,

Es geht um Deutschlands Gloria,
Gloria, Gloria,
Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil! Viktoria!
Sieg Heil! Viktoria!

Rifles rattle non-stop, killing everything that breathes. Not just human beings: the soldiers fire at cats and dogs in the back yards. Their high boots are splattered with blood to the knees. An army of faceless killers are doing their job with the nonchalance of market butchers.
There's no escape from death. The flamethrowers scorch both cellars and attics, their fiery jets licking roofs.
Corpses are piled up on both sides of me. Lots of them: dozens, hundreds even. An old woman in a floral headscarf covers her face with her hand as if shielding it from bullets.
A machine gun rattles away at the edge of the village. People, burning alive, jump out of windows and drop to the ground, convulsing and screaming in agony.
The gunner (young, in rolled-up sleeves, a silver eagle topping his forage cap) has no gas mask on. He turns to his partner,
"Look how they dance!"
Both guffaw. Another couple of gun bursts, then everything's over. The human groaning dies away.
The chief monster is standing atop the hill, admiring the burning village engulfed in smoke. A handmade embroidered towel lies forgotten on the ground. It's smeared in blood: he's used it to wipe his boot clean. Another monster walks over to him and clicks his heels, jumping to attention.
"Sir, the mission's completed. My men have double-checked everything. No survivors. We've put all the children into the remaining house. Should I get a lorry to take them to town?"
The monster stares at him, then removes his gas mask. The lenses of its goggles are murky. "No need to. Pointless. Sort them out yourselves."
"But... Sir... these are children..."
"Lieutenant, you heard the order. Get on with it!"
The other monster walks down the hill. He stumbles through the row of blazing houses to the other end of the village where children are crying.
He makes a sign to his soldiers. They surround the cottage and reach for their grenades, then stand by the windows, awaiting orders.
Gas masks are great. No one can see what you're feeling. Provided they can feel.
They're robots. Nothing more. Just killing machines.
"Get ready," the muffled voice says. The monster raises his hand.
He must be mad! What's he doing? Why can't the soldiers stop him?
His hand drops sharply. Grenades smash the windows in their flight.
There's no more crying. Silence fills the air.

[i] Thorrablot and Disting: Norse mid-winter and end-of-winter festivals still celebrated in Iceland

[ii] Lebensborn: meaning a “source of Life” in German. Controlled by the SS Reichsführer Himmler personally, the 38 Lebensborn centers in Europe dedicated themselves to the raising of “purebred Aryans”. Their Norwegian orphanages alone contained 12,000 children. In Poland, Lebensborn workers forcefully removed young children from their parents in order to “Germanize” them. The Nuremberg trials, however, acquitted Sollmann as head of Lebensborn.

Moskau by G. Zotov, release - October 20, 2016

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