War and Peace Earth - Vol 1 (1926 - 1962)

Reads: 216  | Likes: 0  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 0

More Details
Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Hitler, Trump, Hope

Chapter 4 (v.1) - PART FOUR: ARMS RACE

Submitted: December 17, 2017

Reads: 23

A A A | A A A

Submitted: December 17, 2017

A A A

A A A

CHAPTER FIFTY-THREE: Better Germans

Heinrich landed his jet at an airbase occupied by the Americans and was promptly taken prisoner. As a high-ranking officer and jet fighter pilot, Heinrich was classified as a prisoner of high importance. He was afforded every professional courtesy. The Americans offered him coffee, sweet-cakes, and chocolate while they debriefed him.

Peter’s fate was less sanguine.

After being beaten to a pulp by the Russian infantrymen that captured him two miles ahead of the truck column, he was unceremoniously shoved into a pen full of Germans of all ranks to await his own interrogation and likely execution.

Lise was rushed to the edge of Berlin to interrogate a high-ranking German general that the Russians had captured. Aunt Lilo didn’t recognize Peter during his interrogation. He lied about his name to protect his parents from Russian revenge.

***

Two days after his capture, Heinrich was transferred to Berlin via rail. Utmost in his mind was Lise, sensing that she was nearby.

The devastation of Berlin shocked him. The damage was so extensive that the Russian Air Force had quit striking targets a month before the end of the war. The few structures that stood were pockmarked with bullet holes and all the streets were cratered. Worst of all for Heinrich, was the splitting of the city into East and West Berlin according to the so-called London Protocol signed by the Allies on September 12, 1944. The tentative agreement divided Germany into three occupation zones after the war.

Heinrich was given a room with running water on the second floor of an old hotel that had suffered relatively minor damage from small arms fire. A line of five bullet holes ran through the ceiling of his room. They just missed the ceiling fan.

A young American soldier from Texas who couldn’t have been more than eighteen-years-old, dressed in a drab green Army uniform with black boots, was posted outside his door armed with a carbine. The pimple-faced private addressed Heinrich as sir.

***

Two miles from Heinrich’s dilapidated inn, Lise and Aunt Lilo continued being held by the Red Army on the Russian side of town. They did their translation work in the fenced-in yard of a caved-in schoolhouse. She was thankful that the Russians were no longer killing their prisoners. She was also thankful for her new clothes.

Lise reached out to the local Germans who were being used as day laborers at the schoolhouse, clearing rubble. “Do you know of the von Onsager family?” she would ask them in passing.

It was generally known among them that Minister von Onsager had committed suicide after his wife, the baroness, was killed in a bomb raid. She had been a charity worker, and had been well regarded for her generosity. They knew nothing about her son, except that he had attended funeral services for her, and afterwards for his stepfather just after the previous Christmas.

“What did you learn?” Aunt Lilo would ask when Lise would return to their quarters in the afternoons carrying two dinner pails and a pail of water from a nearby Russian field kitchen.

“Nothing new,” Lise would duly reply. She could almost see Heinrich’s face.

Lise eventually approached a wobbly old man who would always be the first one to show up to the schoolhouse. He would collect small pieces of rubble all day long into a wheelbarrow he could barely manage to control and make a hundred trips to the dumpster trucks.

“Could you place some flyers around the neighborhood shops for information about my family and my husband,” she asked him, passing him a loaf of bread.

“I would be happy to,” he told Lise, removing his cap to expose a bald head with a large birthmark. “We must rebuild everything, including our lives,” he added, smiling at Lise with decayed teeth. “I was the principal of this school, you know. One day the children will come again.”

***

Three days after the old man posted Lise’s flyers, a green-eyed woman who had been a patient of Dr. Reber walked up to Lise outside the fenced-in schoolyard. Despite her worn clothing, she was the depiction of dignity with her neatly bundled flaxen hair and serious countenance.

“Young woman,” she addressed Lise with a half-smile. “Am I to understand that you are you the Baroness Lise von Onsager?”

The title embarrassed Lise. “I am Lise von Onsager,” she replied, bowing her head.

“I read your flyer posted at the courthouse. I was shocked,” the woman told Lise. “Your father used to be my family’s physician.”

Lise’s heart skipped a beat, sensing news.

“I went to your Christmas ball,” the woman continued. “You were so beautiful that night, and the baroness’ son was so handsome,” she added, smiling.

Lise was now beside herself with anticipation. “What can you tell me of my family?” she asked. “Have you seen them?”

“Not I,” the woman replied, “but my sister worked at Auschwitz as a guard.”

The whole world knew about the death camps of Hitler’s Final Solution by this point in time.

“Your mother and your middle sister were there,” the woman told Lise, her dignified face precipitously turning vile with hatred. “They were gassed and taken to the ovens!” the woman ejaculated, before spitting a wad of saliva at Lise. “Whore Jew, you cost us the war!

Lise didn’t remember how she got back to her quarters. She collapsed on her cot, catatonic.

“The world is evil,” Aunt Lilo whispered to herself as she stroked Lise’s hair.

 

CHAPTER FIFTY-FOUR: Auschwitz

The minute that Max was released from Dachau ten miles north of Munich, Germany, he made his way to Auschwitz in O?wi?cim, a town in the Lesser Poland province of southern Poland. He began the journey of five-hundred-forty miles heading to the Czechoslovakian capital Prague in a gray suit taken from one of the Nazi administrators who had fled. The suit’s sleeves were too short for his long arms. He kept his worn leather shoes only because they were broken-in for the long trip, but stole a gray hat from a sleeping inmate who would likely die before the end of the week. He needed the hat to protect his shaved head.

The journey took the emaciated doctor two weeks to complete, mostly by foot over rough, war-torn terrains. He was not alone. Millions of other refugees were on Europe’s roads returning to their countries, their homes, and what little remained of their old lives. They would stop in so-called displaced person camps set up by the allies to sleep, eat, rest for a day or two, then press on.

The nearer he got to the camp, the worse the stories of the Jews returning to Germany became. Auschwitz was a death camp they told him. “My whole family,” one nearly toothless woman in a tattered shawl explained, “was wiped out. Ten in all were rounded up for a shower. They went in, and I never saw them again.”

When Max reached Auschwitz, the Russian troops posted around the campsite prevented him from crossing the fences. “It’s too dangerous,” the soldiers told him in broken German, referring to the stench and infestation of rotting corpses.

“I’m a doctor,” he explained to them until his persistence paid off. Max convinced a middle-aged Russian surgical corps colonel with deep set hazel eyes that he could be of service if he were allowed into the camp.

The colonel stepped on his cigarette butt, exhaling a puff of blue smoke. “Work with Doctor Ivan Pavlovovich,” the haggard looking, unshaved, long-faced surgeon told Max with trilled Russian r’s. “He’s reviewing the medical records. Have my aide get you some new clothing. Wash up. Get a meal. You’re a mess.”

“Thank you, sir,” Max replied as the surgeon put a new American cigarette to his lips holding it by his thumb and index finger so as not to stain it with blood from his glove. He had three of these cigarettes left from the pack that an American surgeon had given him the day before in exchange for a bottle of vodka.

Once the Russians realized that scientific experiments had been conducted at Auschwitz, they were interested in capturing the data for anything that might be of use. There was much to go through: experiments on twins, nerve transplantations, freezing experiments, malaria experiments, high altitude experiments, blood coagulation experiments, sterilization experiments, sulfonamide and mustard gas experiments, to name a few.

After Max cleaned himself up, taking a small meal with black coffee from the Russian field kitchen, he entered the gates with dread. The sky was clear but the air was dirty with stench.

The magnitude of the atrocities shocked him everywhere he turned his gaze. The stories of the massive gas chambers were true. They were grimy, encrusted with human soot. Bodies lay stacked like rotting cordwood by these chambers. Max vomited when he thought that Belinda and Olga might be among these piles of dead bodies.

Dr. Pavlovovich introduced himself to Max with a strong handshake and a good-natured, dimpled smile beneath a thick crop of broken brown hair at the entrance of the high altitude experimental chamber facility. The mid-statured man fit tightly into his drab green uniform draped by a long lab coat. He liked to eat, and he liked vodka.

Max worked with the gruff, gregarious physician tending to injured or sick Russian soldiers in the mornings, sorting boxes of research records after noon until sundown. The Nazis had piled volumes upon volumes of meticulous records into a large warehouse to burn it down, but they had fled in a panic when they heard the rumblings of Russian tanks.

The massive tomes were sorted in alphabetical order, the deaths categorized by natural cause or method of execution, these primarily being hangings, shootings, and gassing.

Max began with the hangings, feeling a morbid presentiment, almost feeling Olga’s delicate neck being snapped in two with a pop, her hands and feet bound, her heart pounding with terror at the release of the catch, her body falling downwards to her end in a flash of light. He started with: R, volume 1, May 1941. He leafed through it looking for Rebers. There were so many Rebers listed, he nearly closed the fat tome, but he forced himself to press on despite the sickness in his stomach.

Two Belinda Rebers were listed, jolting his heart, but they were of the wrong age. Max swallowed hard as he pressed on to the Olgas with dread.

There were five Olga Rebers, two of whom were under fifteen years of age when they were taken out to the gallows and hung for stealing bread. His Olga was not one of these Olgas.

After going over three-dozen tomes covering hangings, Max broke down sobbing under the strain, losing the strength to press on with going over the shootings records. Doctor Pavlovovich volunteered to go through these while Max sat in a corner staring at the boneyards.

“I didn’t find either your wife or your daughter, Dr. Reber. Do you wish me to continue to the gassings?” Dr. Pavlovovich asked, hoping that Max would say no, for he too was faltering under the enormity of Nazi barbarism.

Max composed himself. “We’ll do it together, Ivan.”

“I’ll start with this pile,” Dr. Pavlovovich offered scratching at his thick hair before starting.

When Max spotted Belinda’s name—she had the right age and address—he froze. He had suspected that she was dead, and now, just like that, written in three lines of neat typing, it was a fact—gassing. Max went numb.

Dr. Pavlovovich pointed out another book to Max. “Is this your daughter?” he asked.

Max looked at the record. The age was correct. The address was correct.

Max dropped to his knees pulling hard at his scalp, his eyes filled with shock, his face contorted with mortal pain. Belinda and Olga had met their end together in an ungodly gas chamber on the same day, on the same hour, in each other’s arms, he imagined.

Dr. Pavlovovich knelt beside Max, resting his thick hand on the man’s back. Max let his face fall into his hands to sob, heaving. When he stopped, he turned to Dr. Pavlovovich looking ashen pale. “The bastards killed my girls.”

Dr. Pavlovovich could only look back at Max with great sadness.

“I’ll be leaving tomorrow,” Max told Dr. Pavlovovich after he had regained his composure. “I still have one daughter somewhere out there.”

Dr. Pavlovovich assented with a nod. “You’ll find her,” he added, with his thick hand still resting on Max’s shoulder.

The following morning Max thanked Dr. Pavlovovich and the Russian colonel for their kindness. “I’m heading back to Berlin,” he told them.

Ivan gave Max a great hug. “May God help your daughter,” he said to him as Max turned away.

“Poor bastard,” the hazel-eyed colonel added with a lit cigarette bouncing in lips after Max was out of earshot, watching him disappear down the street.

“Dr. Reber is far from unique in his situation,” Dr. Pavlovovich commented pointing out other passersby with his eyes. The truth of Ivan’s words sickened the surgeon colonel when he thought of his own wife and daughters. They had narrowly escaped the Nazi hangmen in St. Petersburg.

CHAPTER FIFTY-FIVE: Kurchatov

Krukov, a pockmarked Russian general was in charge of the administrative division in Berlin. He had learned of Lise’s technical background: that she held a doctoral degree in nuclear physics and had won an important prize for her work from Hitler himself before she was discovered to be a Jew. The woman who had spat at Lise, had proudly retold the German laborers about the demise of the haughty Jewess physicist. Krukov’s spies passed the information to him at the end of the week. He passed it back to Moscow the day after by rail.

The information eventually trickled to Sarov, the secret lab complex where the Russians were running an atomic bomb project of their own. Igor Kurchatov was the chief scientist in charge of the lab when he learned about Lise. He immediately picked up the phone and demanded that she not be released.

“We need her,” Kurchatov personally told General Krukov by telephone. “Don’t let her disappear comrade general. It would upset me and Comrade Stalin,” he threatened.

Joseph Stalin had been Russia’s dictator since the mid-1920s. He began World War II as Hitler’s ally. He switched sides in July of 1941 after Hitler invaded Russia. Russia immediately joined forces with the allies.

An old copy of Lise’s dissertation was one of the main references being used at Kurchatov’s lab, along with the documents stolen from America’s secret city by Los Alamos physicist Klaus Fuchs. Kurchatov was pleased with his stroke of luck, quickly setting things in motion.

Within two hours of Kurchatov’s call to Krukov, Lise was shocked to be addressed as Dr. von Onsager by a Russian major waving a university graduation photograph of her. She was told that she was to be ushered off to Russia. The major supplied Lise no further reason other than the photograph, making Lise hysterical.

“I have to find my husband and my family, please!” she protested as a soldier pulled her out of the small, windowless office where she did her translation work.

“I am sorry about this,” the major muttered in heavily accented German.

Aunt Lilo ran into Lise in the corridor returning from the bathroom. She tried to tug her niece free from the two soldiers who were escorting her. “What is going on?” the gray-haired woman begged the major as the two women bawled. “You can’t send her away. She’s not a war criminal.”

One of the young soldiers escorting Lise pried Aunt Lilo’s wheelchair away. “Why are they taking you?” she asked her niece.

Lise—Dr. von Onsager—had a good idea. “To help the Russians build an atomic bomb and keep up with the Americans,” she blurted down the corridor, disappearing.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been destroyed by American atom bombs weeks before.

 

CHAPTER FIFTY-SIX: Partitions

Wearing a dark gray suit taken from Auschwitz, Max Reber was in a cloud of fog when his train rolled into Berlin on Saturday, September 8, 1945. Dr. Pavlovovich had given him the necessary funds to travel home by rail. He was hoping to get word of Lise or Heinrich, if they still lived. One thing he knew for certain was that if Heinrich had survived the war, he’d be hell-bent on finding Lise.

It was crowded and noisy when Max stepped off the train that afternoon in Berlin Hauptbahnhof train station. Soldiers in American, Russian, and British uniforms mingled among hundreds of civilians waiting for their connections.

As Max walked out of the station, his eyes suddenly caught sight of the backside of a woman wearing a dress in the style that Lise favored. The young woman was standing by several Russian soldiers. He let his hopes rise as he walked towards her. She had Lise’s stature.

Max’s heart was pounding when he reached out to tap her shoulder. The woman turned around holding a baby in her arms. It wasn’t Lise. “My apologies, madam,” Dr. Reber told the young mother before withdrawing back into the sea of people. The disbelief he felt was crushing.

Standing only a yard beyond where Max had stopped to catch his breath stood Lise, under escort by a female Russian officer. Lise herself had been asked to wear a Russian officer’s uniform to better facilitate her travel into Russia. Her brown hair had been shortened accordingly. Max saw her, but feeling foolish to think that he could so have easily run into his eldest daughter in a crowded railway station on a random day at a random hour, he turned away from her. Lise, he reassured himself, was not in the Russian Army.

***

Walking towards both Lise and Max was Heinrich, himself under military escort. He was being shipped off to the United States to help the Americans design better jet aircraft. For an instant, he thought he saw Lise with his keen fighter pilot’s eyes. Even if she was wearing a Russian uniform with cropped hair, it had to be her he thought.

“Stop, please,” Heinrich told his bulldog-looking Army escort, Sergeant Smith. “That woman over there may be my lost wife. Please allow me to check.”

Sergeant Smith, a squat, barrel-chested army man with thick eyebrows and rough facial features stopped chewing his cigar. “Alright,” he assented, “but we don’t have much time.” He had grown to like Heinrich’s sense of humor over the last couple of weeks.

It was Lise. Heinrich was sure of it twenty feet away from her. His heart began to race as he closed the distance, but then someone called out his name from the opposite side: “Heinrich!

Heinrich turned to see the source of the voice. He was amazed to see that it was his father-in-law, Max.

“Max, please wait!” Heinrich yelled out to him. “I think I see Lise over there with the Russians.”

Max, dashing to catch up to his son-in-law, took Heinrich’s arm and detained him. “No, my son. Alas not. I thought it was her too, but after tapping her shoulder, it wasn’t her.”

Heinrich’s heart nearly stopped. “Are you sure, Max?”

Max reaffirmed, “Yes. It’s not Lise.”

It took a few seconds for Heinrich to accept his disappointment. The woman in the Russian officer’s uniform truly did look like Lise, only with short hair—though it had been years since he’d last seen her.

“Well thank God you saw me, Max,” Heinrich finally said after he turned his eyes away from Lise. I’m being shipped off to America to work on their jet projects. You need to find Lise for me.”

“I will Max,” replied.

“How are Belinda and Olga?”

Max’s eyes filled with moisture. “They were gassed years ago at Auschwitz. Hans lied to us both for years.”

Heinrich felt his whole body go numb.

“The last boarding call was just announced, colonel,” Sergeant Smith interrupted using Heinrich’s equivalent American rank, “We’ve got to get going right now.”

Heinrich motioned to the sergeant to permit him another moment to look at the Russians, pulling a small notebook from his pocket.

“Max, you’ll be able to reach me at the following address in America,” Heinrich told his father-in-law, penning his American address. “You must find Lise. I’ll send you money and help in any way that I can.”

He threw his arms around his father-in-law as his train began to roll. “I’m so sorry about Belinda and the girls.” Before jumping on his train, Heinrich turned one last time to look for Lise, but the woman in the Russian uniform was gone.

 

CHAPTER FIFTY-SEVEN: Ana Karenina

Lost in her thoughts about never seeing her family or her husband again, Lise never saw Heinrich or Max. There was only Aunt Lilo who remained behind as her last connection to home and any chance to find her family.

When Lise took her seat beside her escort and looked into the crowds, she saw two men accompanied by an American soldier. They were embracing with Heinrich’s back to her. “If only I could feel what they’re feeling,” she thought to herself as the doors to her wagon car were shut. A moment later, the train pulled out of the station and into a blue sky with a gentle jerk. 

Lise’s train ride into Eastern Europe was long and arduous. Her escort, a stern, black-haired female major in the Russian Army spoke only rudimentary German through crooked teeth. No pleasantries were ever exchanged with the dour woman.

All Lise could think about as she was pulled deeper into foreign lands was how completely alone in the world she was. She spent the first two days of the train ride weeping, much to the frustration of the Russian major.

How far can they take me from my home? Lise wondered as the days rolled on.

She was evidently another one of Stalin’s political prisoners, her fellow passengers would think, averting their eyes from the stern Russian major.

At one stop, a kindly old woman slipped Lise an Antonovka apple. Lise wished it was poisoned. At another stop she thought of Anna Karenina, the woman in Tolstoy’s novel who jumped under a moving train. She didn’t have the courage to kill herself.

At another stop, Lise pulled out the three photographs that Aunt Lilo had given her back in Paris. One picture was of Heinrich at the stables at Potsdam, holding his shovel, smiling. The other was a wedding picture by the ruins of the temple of Tiberius. Heinrich was in his uniform and she was in her long, white dress. She looked younger she noted, wondering what Heinrich looked like now. The third photograph was of her family, the last portrait with all of them alive, together and happy. Flanking Max were the four ladies of his life. Lise couldn’t remember any more if the photograph was taken in 1937 or 1938. It was Heinrich who had snapped the photo.

“What I would do to go back in time and warn you,” she whispered to the faces smiling at her from the irretrievable past as fresh tears rolled down her cheeks.

Lise searched her feelings along the next segment to yet another unknown village a hundred miles further away from her native Berlin.

“I know fear,” she told herself. “I know cold and hunger. I know ugliness and hatred. And I know horror. But do I know happiness?” she wondered.

At a longer stop, Lise made the Russian major buy her two notebooks and a set of pencils with a gum eraser. On the first page of the notebook she wrote: Things I want to remember. On a middle page, she wrote: What I will live for. On the second notebook, she wrote: 25-kilotons: Yield of the American atomic bomb over Nagasaki, a pure plutonium implosion device.

A stream of equations filled in the first half of the second notebook by the end of the week, much to the major’s frustration. She knew little of mathematics beyond her training in high school.

Lise and her escort reached the train station nearest Sarov ten days after they departed from Berlin with her second notebook filled in. The station was small and dilapidated with a tiny café. Lise was impressed by the emptiness of the surroundings without a cloud in the sky for relief. She ordered a boiled potato soup with cheese and black coffee. The major ordered eggs with a glass of water and vodka.

A car showed up an hour later caked in fresh mud.

Lise watched a gangly, young man with curly black hair wearing light khaki trousers and a dark brown shirt step out and walk over to the café. He recognized Lise from the start. In perfect German, he told her, “Doctor Reber, you are more beautiful in person than your photograph would lead one to believe!”

Affronted, these were the last words Lise expected to hear. “Excuse me?” she asked, expressing her confusion with raised eyebrows and an open mouth.

“My apologies,” the man replied, raising his hand. “My name is Joseph Molotov. I’m one of the junior academicians at the lab. Since I was raised in Austria and speak a decent German, I was asked to be your liaison. Everyone is excited by your arrival. We use your work as a reference all the time.”

Lise was taken aback. “I didn’t come here of my own free will, you know,” she told Joseph, turning her face and raising her head towards the Russian major.

Joseph presented a signed document to the major. She inspected it carefully under her thick nose before putting it away inside a small folio. She bade him goodbye and walked away without speaking a word to Lise.

Joseph lowered his eyes. “I know you didn’t have a choice,” he replied looking at the mud he had tracked in. “I’m truly sorry, but with your help, we can bring stability to the world. The Americans are the only nation capable of fielding atomic weapons. They may decide to do what Hitler failed to do. We know that General Patton wants to invade us. We cannot let this situation remain unchecked. We’ve paid too high a price.”

“Of course,” Lise replied staring at Joseph’s curious eyes. “One nation must respond to the madness of another with mutually equal madness. We,” she said switching to English to test her privacy, “will have stability by threat of mutually assured destruction. It’s mad.”

Joseph snickered. He had learned some English in Austria.

What?” she asked him.

“You said, ‘Mutually assured destruction is mad,’ he replied in broken English, “and it certainly is M-A-D.”

What an odd young man this Joseph was, Lise thought.

He was actually her age. It was his attitude that made him seem younger. She had spent years hiding inside a pit in foreign lands, followed by months of being dragged around by the Russian Army, witnessing atrocity after atrocity.

“We should go,” Joseph prompted Lise. “The lab is a long way from here and the roads are nearly impassible this time of year. I got stuck more than once. Let me take your baggage, please.”

The Russians had given Lise a large leather valise stuffed with women’s sundries back in Berlin.

 

CHAPTER FIFTY-EIGHT: Atom Bombs for Peace

Sarov was awful. The place was as gray and bleak as any other place Lise had seen rolling across the forbidding Russian tundra, yet uglier.

After checking in past the guard shack, Joseph showed Lise to her quarters, a smallish, drab room in a long dormitory with poor heating, a small cot, a desk, and a small steel sink in a small bathroom with a bare lightbulb hanging from the ceiling. The small window at the back of her room looked out into a field of dead trees. Beyond the trees there was mud as far as the eye could see beyond a barbed perimeter fence. “Home sweet home,” Lise remarked.

Joseph shrugged his shoulders as he put down Lise’s valise. “At least you have a window that faces out. My room faces the sewer. I don’t want a window.”

Lise’s lips curled up instinctively into the smallest of fleeting smiles. She had last smiled two weeks before in Berlin when she thought that she was going to get good news about her family.

Though she didn’t consciously know it yet, she liked Joseph. He had talked her ear off about all his crazy ideas for making a new and better world during the long, bumpy drive to Sarov. He even dreamed of traveling to the stars with atomic engines. She had not talked to physicists since Peter had ferreted her out of Berlin. She wondered if Lise Meitner was safe.

Joseph stopped before leaving Lise’s room. “Tomorrow you’ll meet Kurchatov himself, as well as our group leader, Yakov Zeldovich. Yakov is wonderful and brilliant. Our group is a happy group. I’ll bring you dinner in an hour. Is there anything I can get you?”

“Vodka,” Lise replied without skipping a beat as Joseph stepped out.

Exhausted, Lise fell asleep on the hard cot tucked into her blanket thinking about atom bombs. Her three photographs laid atop her small desk by her first notebook, the diary. She had yet to make an entry into it, not knowing where to begin when it came to writing about her life.

She awoke to Russian voices walking past her room down the corridor forty minutes later. Joseph knocked on her door a few minutes afterwards. “Here’s your vodka,” he told her handing her a large bottle and a glass at her door’s threshold. “Don’t drink it all at once.”

He saw the fleeting smile flash over Lise’s lips as he put down her dinner tray with half a roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, and a roll of bread with an apple on the side.

Joseph had changed clothing into a light khaki shirt and brown slacks over fresh, yellow socks. He had left his mud caked shoes outside her room. “Is there anything else I can get you?” he asked her.

“Yes,” Lise replied, looking at her dinner. “Could you bring me ground coffee and a hot plate tomorrow.”

“Certainly,” Joseph replied, taking leave of Lise.

“I hope that I brought you enough dinner.”

Lise assented with nod. “Thank you.”

CHAPTER FIFTY-NINE: Forgeries

 

“Why didn’t you sleep?” Lise asked Joseph in broken Russian as he stepped inside looking haggard the following morning. He was rubbing his eyes and yawning.

“I was supposed to confirm certain American results to Tamm by yesterday, but with us arriving so late, I fell behind.” Joseph’s eyes then lit up. “Hey!” he uttered. “You’re speaking Russian.”

“I’ve been a translator for half a year,” Lise told Joseph. “I’m good with languages.”

“Impressive,” Joseph complimented Lise.

“What American results are you talking about?” Lise asked him, focusing on his honest looking brown eyes.

Ah, the American results,” Joseph echoed his words. “All’s fair in love and war,” he added with his palms raised up. “If you’re ready, I should show you around the laboratory complex. We have time. Kurchatov will be late. Stalin will be calling him.”

Joseph’s small car was muddier than she recalled.

Sarov was a busy, harried place. Tractors were clearing land everywhere and the sound of hammers could be heard from all quarters. Buildings big and small were being erected. Telephone posts and power lines were being installed. Barrels of chemicals sat everywhere, some of them leaking.

Lise understood the urgency and the paranoia of the Russians. She had seen the newspaper photographs of the devastation in Nagasaki and Hiroshima. No nation could survive against atomic weapons, and though she would never believe the United States capable of turning evil and trying to dominate the world with its new weapons, it wasn’t implausible. Not many years before she wouldn’t have thought her own Germany capable of trying to take over the world by means of military might. The Russians had paid dearly for not being prepared. More than twenty-millions of them died. The United States suffered fewer than four-hundred-thousand military killed with no real loss of civilians.

Joseph stopped the car at the cafeteria, a long wooden building with smoke coming out of one end of it. “I’m hungry,” he told Lise rubbing his hands after putting the car in neutral.

“Me too,” Lise replied.

An hour later, Joseph drove Lise over to Director Kurchatov’s two story administrative office building. It was sparse, filled with low ranking military men and women typing away at reports from small desks with black telephones.

“I’ll wait outside for you,” Joseph told Lise as a Russian corporal escorted her to Kurchatov.

She was taken aback by the looks of the man wearing a black suit with a black tie. He sported nearly the same beard and piercing eyes as Rasputin, the “Mad Monk” who had led to the demise of the Romanovs nearly three decades before.

His looks however, belied his mannerisms as he offered her a chair before his large metal desk. His gestures and his words were more like those of a lugubrious politician, which Lise didn’t take kindly to.

“Welcome Doctor Reber, take a seat,” he began, but Lise cut him off, crossing her arms and remaining on her feet. “It’s Doctor von Onsager after my husband.”

Kurchatov cleared his throat, making his beard vibrate. “It doesn’t matter,” he told her. “Here we like to call each other comrades, the mighty and the weak, the big and the small, because this is what we are, equals, yourself included, comrade.” Kurchatov smiled at Lise exposing his upper teeth.

“I wish to know how long I’ll be detained,” Lise pursued. “I didn’t come of my own volition. I wish to go home as soon as possible. I have a husband and a family to find.”

Kurchatov peered into Lise’s angry eyes. “I’m afraid I have bad news to report to you along these lines,” he began. “We reasoned that you’d feel as you do. Naturally, we began searching for your family to bring them here to you. Unfortunately, we found these records.”

Kurchatov pulled a set of papers from his desk and handed them to Lise. “As you can see, your mother and sister were gassed at the Auschwitz death camp.”

Lise’s mind screamed. The woman in Germany had told her the truth.

Kurchatov then handed her two more death certificates, both of them forged with great care.

“Your father, as you can see,” Kurchatov explained, “was shot by the Nazis for collaborating with Jews at Dachau. Your husband was shot down the day before the armistice by our air force.”

Peter Wohlthat had told his captors many things during his beatings, including the fact that his commanding officer was Baron Heinrich von Onsager, husband of Dr. Lise von Onsager. The Russians quickly realized that Heinrich had been nabbed by the Americans and shipped off to the United States.

“I’m sorry, but you’ll find this place to be your new home, and all of us comrades will be your new family.”

With Lise feeling faint, Kurchatov had Joseph take to her quarters.

The young man stayed with Lise until she fell asleep, drunk from vodka.

 

CHAPTER SIXTY: Degrees of Freedom

With Germany defeated, the Americans—like their Russian counterparts—got busy trying to capture as many of Germany’s rocket scientists and jet engineers before the other side could get them. As a colonel in the Luftwaffe, a leading jet engineer and test pilot, as well as an ace, Heinrich was ushered off to the Army’s Wright Field in July of 1945 under the escort of Sergeant Smith.

In their infinite wisdom, the Army “drafted” Heinrich. He went from being an oberst in the Luftwaffe to a colonel in the United States Army Air Forces with the stroke of a pen. Heinrich was going to teach American flyers how to fly captured German jets, and teach American engineers how to design newer, faster jets. In a matter of weeks, he would be given his American citizenship and his top secret clearance, his work in Germany having been classified at that level.

“Welcome to the states, colonel,” Sergeant Smith told Heinrich after they got off their ship in the port of New York City. The two khaki uniformed men blended in with the crowds. Many men and women were still wearing uniforms. The more numerous businessmen wore black or gray suits with hats, the women wore long, bright dresses. The children were at school.

Heinrich noted that the city’s skyline had become busier, filled-in with yet more skyscrapers than when he and Frieda had come for a summer tour nearly two decades before.

“We’ll stay here for a day or two,” Sergeant Smith informed Heinrich. “I have to check us in and arrange for train tickets. Then we’ll make our way to Wright Army Airfield. That’s in Ohio, but we’re in civilization for now. What say we go get ourselves no-shit steaks! I know just the place.”

The vulgar expression baffled Heinrich, but—no shit—the sergeant hadn’t lied to him. The steak Heinrich ate by Penn Station was the best steak that he’d eaten in years. The beer, however, was awful. The two men then went out for a walk in the busy streets with Sergeant Smith craving a good cigar to crush between his bulldog lips.

Heinrich followed Sergeant Smith into several tobacco shops. Along the way, Heinrich felt he was in the Land of Oz. Life in Germany was tattered, colored in gray, with bullet holes and crushed walls. New York was color and light and bustle. No bombers had come here. Stupid war, he thought watching a group of children buying ice cream later that day.

The following day, Sergeant Smith took Heinrich to the Army post outside of the city. There was a telegram message from Berlin waiting for him. It was from his father-in-law, Max.

FOUND LILO. STOP. LISE TAKEN TO RUSSIA ATOM BOMB LAB. STOP. TRAIN CRASH. STOP. LISE DEAD. STOP.

Heinrich went numb. “This has to be a mistake!” he told Sergeant Smith handing him the telegram. He exited the telegram shack and walked up to a nearby Elm tree where he put his hand over his face.

Sergeant Smith left the colonel alone for an hour.

***

Heinrich was sitting at the base of the same leafy Elm when the sergeant returned with train tickets. “We have a train to catch,” Sergeant Smith told him.

“My wife is dead,” Heinrich uttered, casting his eyes up to his barrel-chested companion.

“I know,” the sergeant replied, reaching out with his thick arm to help Heinrich get up.

“Last time I saw Lise was six years ago. I’ll never see her again. This has to be a mistake.”

Before leaving for the train station, Heinrich wired Max a telegram asking him if there was any possibility of a mistake. The reply to Wright Army Airfield would take two, possibly three days when Heinrich wanted it yesterday.

The two men boarded an overnight train bound for Chicago. Heinrich locked himself in his sleeper car. An hour later Sergeant Smith knocked on the small sliding door and handed Heinrich a bottle of Kentucky whiskey. “Thank you,” Heinrich told the sergeant, beckoning him to sit on a chair.

Heinrich handed Sergeant Smith his wedding picture while opening the whiskey bottle. “My wife didn’t want the war,” Heinrich told the gruff sergeant, taking a long swig of whiskey afterwards. “Here. Have some,” Heinrich told his sympathetic escort, wiping the corner of his mouth with the back of his hand.

 “She asked me to leave Germany. But I wanted glory. I’d give it all back to have her back. She can’t be dead.”

“She’s beautiful,” Sergeant Smith told Heinrich looking at Lise in her wedding dress.

“She’s thirty or thirty-one. I’m awful with time. Do you think she’ll look differently sergeant?”

“She’ll be more beautiful, sir.”

Strange words, Heinrich thought, coming out of this bulldog.

After Sergeant Smith left, Heinrich drank himself to sleep with Lise’s wedding picture in his hand.

***

America, Heinrich noted looking out the window the following morning, had changed little from his boyhood visit with Frieda. There were new buildings, new cars, new fashions, and other such ephemeral things, but the vastness remained pristine, untouched by war.

Everywhere Heinrich looked, people thrived. America, protected by two vast oceans, was brimming with all she needed. “Little wonder we lost the war,” Heinrich concluded. Germany lacked basic industrial necessities such as oil and metals to make engine parts and propellers, and was short in essentials like basic foods.

Wright Army Airfield was as orderly as it was expansive. Everything in it was new and in working order. Dayton, the town where the Army base was located, was quiet and peaceful, with nice neighborhoods good for raising children. It was going to be Heinrich’s home until the Army told him otherwise.

***

Two days later, Heinrich rented a furnished mid-sized, two-story home near the base. It was an American Craftsman house built in 1932 with a view to a park where children gathered to play in the afternoons. Lise would like it here, he thought, even if the house was a far cry from the luxury of their house in Berlin, if it hadn’t been destroyed.

The Craftsman home had three bedrooms, a bathroom downstairs, a bathroom in the master bedroom, a small kitchen near the dining room, a living room, and a little office with a desk set and built-in bookshelves along one wall. He could live anywhere as long as he had Lise. The lack of news was killing him.

Max’s telegram arrived at Wright Field that afternoon. A two-stripped corporal drove it over to the German Colonel’s house.

There was no mistake. Lise’s death was confirmed by the Russian consulate. Kurchatov had disappeared Lise. No one would be looking for her in the shadow of the mushroom cloud.

That night Heinrich ripped up his mother’s bible, but he was angrier at himself than at his god.

CHAPTER SIXY-ONE: The Creeper and His Wife

The Americans were in a rush to get things going. The Army Air Force had to understand jets, find their performance envelope, and push them faster and further. Heinrich was provided the resources and staffing to build a jet fighter combat school as quickly as possible. The problem was, as the flight surgeon noted, Heinrich was depressed and drinking heavily. The pot-bellied, hard-charging, cigar-chomping General Beratino had to figure out a way to get Heinrich to stop thinking about his deceased wife.

“We either break Colonel von Onsager out of his depression or we get ourselves a new German,” General Beratino told Rocko, his flat-nosed vice commander as they walked out of the control tower in class A olive-colored uniforms. Lit stogies hung from the corners of their mouths, leaving behind a thick trail of swirling cigar smoke.

“Yes sir,” Rocko replied, readjusting his tucked-in tie. The vice commander had picked up his call sign as a West Point boxing champion, and his colonel’s eagles flying eighty B-17 missions over Germany. “I have an idea.”

“What’s that, Rocko?” General Beratino asked looking straight on at an approaching flight of B-29 heavy bombers. Sunlight glinted off the single stars on each of his shoulders.

“I’m going to assign that insane son-of-a-bitch, Captain Pratt, to our German. That big mouthed hotdog will pester the shit out of him.”

“You’re talking about Creeper?” the general asked.

“Yes sir, I am.”

General Beratino rolled his big eyes. “The man is certifiable.”

When the first Me 262s showed up to the airbase, Captain Pratt had gone around creeping inside of them, opening compartments, making sketches, climbing into cockpits, and flipping switches. He lied to a crew chief, getting the skinny man to fuel up one of the captured jets. Captain Pratt was going to treat himself to an unauthorized joy ride, and he would have gotten away with it if the general’s staff car hadn’t showed up when it did. General Beratino was giving a four-star general and a pair of US Senators a firsthand look at the German jets.

“What’s going on?” General Beratino screamed at the crew chief over the whine of the Me 262 engines while the dignitaries stayed behind in the car looking at Captain Pratt inside the jet’s closed cockpit.

“Sir, Captain Pratt is testing out the jet,” the crew chief replied, feeling a pit in his stomach.

General Beratino knew that Heinrich hadn’t yet taught any Americans how to fly Me 262s. “Oh he is, is he?” General Beratino asked rhetorically. “Get me a goddamned grease board and pencil!” he ordered the crew chief. He scribbled: TAXI TO ACTIVE.  RETURN TO RAMP, afterwards waving the grease board to Captain Pratt as if he were throwing punches.

Captain Pratt saluted his acknowledgement of the grease board message from the cockpit as the dignitaries got out of General Beratino’s staff car to get a closer look at the taxiing jet.

“General Beratino,” the senator from Georgia broke in speaking as loudly as he could while the Me 262 rolled past the little group of visitors, “I didn’t know our boys had started flying the German jets.” The four-star turned his attention to General Beratino.

“No sir,” he replied, “but we’re getting close. We’re doing things step by step. Today we’re doing taxi runs and checking out the engines.” The four-star remained silent. “That’s excellent, general,” the senator replied as his herringbone weave gray suit flapped in the hot jet wash. “You’ll get your money.”

After the distinguished visitors were gone, General Beratino gave young Captain Pratt the ass chewing of his life. “So, you like to creep into things do you, huh? When you aren’t being watched, like a sewer rat,” General Beratino began. “Well I got something for you to creep into, you son-of-a-bitch. You’re going to be creeping into commode duty at my HQ until I say so. If I so much as walk into one goddamned commode and find one goddamned speck of shit, you’re eating it! Do you hear me you fucking creep?”

Captain Pratt walked out of the general’s office with rubbery knees. Everyone down the hall from the general’s office, he realized, had heard the awful yelling. By that evening at the officers’ club, pilots were toasting Captain Pratt’s new call sign, Creeper. Creeper wasn’t at the club that evening. He was scrubbing the general’s commode with a toothbrush.

Beneath all his bluster, General Beratino was actually impressed with the size of Captain Pratt’s brass balls. He was a good man, had a nice wife, and was starting a little family. Above all, Captain Pratt had golden hands. He had shot down four Bf 109s and two Fw 190s over Germany. An Me 262 had nearly shot him down, ironically.

***

When Sergeant Smith walked by Colonel von Onsager’s office, he saw that the colonel was inside with his tie undone, reclining in his chair looking out at the flight line with a bottle of whiskey in his hand. Heinrich was back in Germany, back with Lise in their little home before everything had gone to hell. What went wrong? What could I have done differently? These questions wouldn’t leave his mind.

The stout man knocked, catching Heinrich unawares.

“Sir, I have some papers for you to sign,” Sergeant Smith interrupted Heinrich, smelling the liquor in the air and seeing the bleariness in Heinrich’s blue eyes.

“Come in, John.” Heinrich had taken to calling Sergeant Smith by his first name.

“I got word that the general will be assigning you an executive officer—a Captain Pratt. I thought I’d bring in the captain’s records and evaluation reviews, or ERs. Just initial here.”

Heinrich fished for a pen in his desk, but his eyes wouldn’t focus.

“Here, sir,” Sergeant Smith offered Heinrich his own pen.

“Very well, John. Leave the ERs on my desk,” Heinrich instructed Sergeant Smith. “I’ll look at them in a moment.”

“Yes sir,” Sergeant Smith replied before leaving Heinrich’s ample office, feeling pity for the man. “I’ll be here through four o’clock working on the fuel supply reports.”

Heinrich started reviewing the captain’s ERs. These were written in a specialized Army language comprised of colorful code words and high phrases that he didn’t fully understand yet, but everything in them indicated that Captain Pratt was an exemplary officer. Then he looked over Captain Pratts official photographs: mid-statured, brown hair, crew cut, long forehead, green eyes, a small scar on his chin, just another pilot. Then his eyes fell on the general’s note dealing with the Me 262 incident.

“Why this man is a criminal!” Heinrich burst out. “John! This captain tried to steal an Me 262. My damned Me 262.”

Sergeant Smith smirked as he returned to Heinrich’s office from his own desk down the short hallway.

“If I had tried to do this back in Germany, I’d have been hung,” Heinrich told the big boned sergeant. Then Heinrich remembered that he had stolen an Me 262, only he’d actually managed to takeoff and fight in a battle before returning to base. That was the first time he had taken human lives from their loved ones. Stupid war.

“Have this criminal report to me first thing in the morning, oh-six-hundred sharp.”

“Yes sir, colonel,” Sergeant Smith replied.

“And close the door behind you, John.”

***

 At oh-six-hundred hours, Captain Pratt walked in straight up to Heinrich’s desk in his heavily starched class A uniform, stood at attention, eyes forward, and saluted smartly. “Sir, Captain Burt Pratt reporting as ordered.”

Normally the senior officer returns the salute of the junior officer, afterwards offering the junior officer a handshake and a seat. If the senior officer does not return the salute, the junior officer knows something is not good. Crap, Pratt thought holding his salute with his body as stiff as a board while the colonel remained seated looking him over, taking his time.

“Are you authorized to impersonate an officer of the United States Army?” Heinrich asked Captain Pratt as he stood up to look into the eyes of the slightly shorter captain.

The captain was confused. “Uh…” He held his salute, but let his eyes slip down to look at Heinrich’s burning blue eyes, narrowed into sharp focus.

Stand at attention!” Heinrich barked. “Now answer me, yes or no?”

“No sir!” Pratt replied—but I’m a captain, he thought. What’s this crazy German colonel up to?

“That’s right, man! You were not an officer when you were stealing my personal jet. You were a criminal in an officer’s uniform and only criminals and spies impersonate officers. Do you know they shoot spies?”

“Yes sir!” Captain Pratt snapped back. Is this for real? he thought. The guy sounds and looks like the bad guys in war movies, blond, blue-eyed, and ice cold.

Heinrich let his eyes inspect the captain from his toes upwards, locking his artic blue eyes on Captain Pratt’s green eyes yet again as a bead of sweat rolled down the captain’s temple. “Well I can’t fault you for having good taste. My jet is a thing of beauty, isn’t she?”

“Yes sir!” Captain Pratt replied.

“And you wanted to despoil her? —Don’t answer!

Heinrich finally returned the captain’s salute. “Dismissed!”

As Captain Pratt walked out of Colonel von Onsager’s office he heard the colonel mumble, criminal.

Sergeant Smith was in the hallway waiting for Captain Pratt. “Hello Creeper!” the sergeant greeted him. Sergeants don’t dare talk to captains that way. “That’s your call sign, sir, the general’s order.”

Captain Pratt nodded yes and walked off frazzled. He had nearly saluted the sergeant, stopping himself halfway, making Sergeant Smith and Heinrich laugh a good laugh in his office.

***

Creeper turned out to be the shot in the arm that Heinrich needed to start crawling back into the business of training fighter pilots, jet fighter pilots, ice-cold professional assassins. A small class of ten hotdogs, all of them aces, showed up two weeks after Colonel von Onsager had berated Captain Pratt. Captain Pratt sat himself at the front of the class all smiles.

For three weeks Creeper took notes, transcribed tapes, made slides, and learned everything he could from the former Nazi ace. Trained as a mechanical engineer, Creeper was also full of questions, and he pestered the living hell out of Heinrich, constantly playing devil’s advocate to Heinrich’s ideas, hitting the colonel with theories of his own. The two men, separated by six years, hit it off.

On the afternoon of the third Friday, Captain Pratt came into Heinrich’s office with a question. “Hey colonel, why don’t you come with me to the officer’s club for a beer? The guys hang out there.”

Heinrich wasn’t expecting this.

“Look, sir,” Captain Pratt told Heinrich as he took a seat, “the war is over. Some of the guys are still sore at you, like Tony. His big brother went down in a B-17. We have to go on, all of us.”

 Heinrich half smiled at Captain Pratt, mulling things over in his head. “It’s not a bad idea, Creeper,” Heinrich concluded, tugging at his tie. “They’re going to like what I have to say,” he added as he got up. “We get out of these class A’s and put on flight suits next Monday.”

 Creeper’s eyes lit up. “It’s about time,” he declared, patting Heinrich’s shoulder.

“Thank you, by the way,” Heinrich told Creeper as they put on their caps to leave the building. “You make a fine executive officer.”

***

Heinrich mused about Peter when he returned to his empty home that evening. They used to go to the officer’s club almost every afternoon. He grabbed the half-empty bottle of whiskey and poured himself a shot in the kitchen. “To you, Peter,” he toasted, slugging down the hard liquor. The rest he poured down the sink. Peter was dead, he was sure, given the Russian atrocities they were committing even on their own people.

***

The following Friday morning, after the students reviewed the Me 262 cockpit for the hundredth time in a week, Creeper and Heinrich blasted off in a pair of jets. They climbed to eighteen-thousand feet and played around so that Creeper could get a feel for the aircraft at high speed.

“The flying characteristics are amazing, colonel,” Captain Pratt called out.

“Okay Creeper, let’s try out the first lesson on the flight card,” Heinrich radioed back. “Dirty the plane up and fly at minimum controllable airspeed. Remember, the engines spool up slowly at low RPM. Keep your RPM at no less than fifty-two percent of maximum.”

“Wow! The controls are very mushy, colonel. You warned me about staying on the throttles. I see what you mean. We should put the fifty-two percent figure in boldface on the flight card.”

“Not a bad idea, Creeper. No student should fly unless they have the flight card figures down cold.”

“Nothing works like fear, colonel. We should run through random scenarios each morning and pick out random students to explain what they’d do, including citing the boldface figures. I hated my geometry teacher for doing this kind of thing, but I learned my geometry.”

Captain Pratt was beside himself when they got back down an hour later soaked in perspiration. “That was something!” he told Heinrich as the two of them walked off the flight line towards a pair of open hangers.

Heinrich was thinking about having a cold beer at the officer’s club when Captain Pratt surprised him as they walked past a Mustang being repaired by a crew of mechanics clad in greasy overalls. “Sir, my wife is cooking her masterpiece special today. Prime ribs in a Kansas City barbeque sauce you’d die for. I’d be honored if you come by and share dinner with my family this evening. Come meet the wife!”

Heinrich hesitated, instinctively avoiding contact with a happy family.

“You can’t say no, sir. It’s my birthday!”

Heinrich’s face turned red with embarrassment. He’d forgotten his exec’s birthday. “Forgive me, Burt,” he uttered, feeling disappointed with himself. “I forgot. I don’t have a thing.”

Shit, colonel! You’ve given me the best birthday present in the whole wide world. I flew me a jet aeroplane today. Yee-haw!

***

Two hours later, Captain Pratt introduced Heinrich to his young wife, Karen, a dark-auburn haired woman of petite stature who was pregnant at the time.

“I’m pleased to meet you, colonel,” she introduced herself, drying her hands on her apron before reaching out to shake Heinrich’s hand. Heinrich took Karen’s hand and kissed it like a German baron would.

Burt and Karen looked at each other before Karen burst out laughing, embarrassing Heinrich. “Ah shucks, colonel,” she told Heinrich. “Come on in and take a load off.”

When Heinrich sat down, baby Reginald crawled up to his leg, cooing. Burt scooped up his son and took him flying around the periphery of the small living room, the baby boy giggling.

Heinrich enjoyed his evening with the Pratts. They were young, happy, and in love. He knew what this felt like, trying to imagine himself with Lise. Lise was a little less quick with a smile than Burt’s wife, but when she laughed it was with as much gusto as the pregnant woman.

Heinrich returned to his empty house pitying himself. A handful of pictures wasn’t enough.

 

CHAPTER SIXTY-TWO: Muroc

Summer faded into fall, and into a new year, and into a new summer. A year passed by in the blink of an eye with Creeper and Heinrich flying as many as five times a day teaching endless batches of new students. Captain Pratt loved the work. Heinrich used the busyness to numb his loneliness.

When two-star General Douglas “Bomber-Bill” Dearborne came to Dayton looking for pilots to help him stand up a test flight program in the hot Californian desert, his old friend General “Slick” Beratino had two names at the top of his list: Pratt and Heinrich.

“Pratt has an amazing intuition for flying,” General Beratino told Bomber-Bill in his office over a bottle of whiskey. “And our German colonel is a genius,” he added as Bomber-Bill took a seat.

Bomber-Bill, a hulking, grizzly bear of a man who chewed through a dozen cigars a day shifted back his body weight, his chair creaking under the strain. “You know I don’t care for German pilots, Slick,” Bill reminded General Beratino. “I lost many friends to the bastards over Europe. I also killed my share. Is he as good as I hear he is?”

“Better,” General Beratino replied.

General Dearborne poured himself another shot of whiskey. Hmm, he snorted before downing the shot. “Where can I find these two?”

“They’ll be at the officer’s club in an hour. You’re going to take them from me, aren’t you?” General Beratino asked Bomber-Bill.

“Not exactly,” General Dearborne replied. “You’re going with them.”

General Beratino smiled, digging into his pocket for a cigar. “How’s Donna?”

Bomber-Bill chuckled. “She just turned twenty-three and I don’t know what the hell to do with her, Slick.”

General Beratino laughed while lighting his cigar. Donna was Bomber-Bill’s only child, a boy-crazy terror on wheels whom he’d known since before the war. “Are you leaving her in Virginia?”

“No,” Bomber-Bill replied lighting his own cigar. “She says she’ll finish college in Los Angeles. As long as I have hotdogs flying for me, she won’t leave my side. She gets them wrapped around her little finger once they find out that she’s the ‘general’s’ daughter. She’ll like Vandenberg just fine. And you’ll be only two-hundred-miles away for meetings.”

“She’ll settle down,” General Beratino assured his friend, patting his massive shoulder. He didn’t actually believe his words.

An hour later, General Dearborne took a seat in the back corner of the officer’s club where Colonel von Onsager and “the Creeper” would hold sermon for the latest batch of hotdog acolytes over cold beers and jukebox music.

After half an hour of watching the two, General Dearborne called them over.

“Have a seat, boys,” he told them.

Captain Pratt looked at Heinrich and then back at General Dearborne as they took their seats with cold beers in their hands.

“How’d you boys like to go to the desert and help me build and fly supersonic machines?” General Dearborne asked the pair.

“When, sir?” Heinrich asked.

“How’s ‘bout a week?” Bomber-Bill replied.

***

A whole week later, Heinrich, Burt, Karen, their toddler Reginald, and their baby daughter Ann, found themselves out in the middle of the Mojave Desert at Muroc Air Base. Conditions for the wife and kids were crude, but Karen stood by her husband. Heinrich admired the woman’s strength.

Muroc Airfield at the time was twenty-eight-thousand-acres of shrub, lakebeds, Joshua trees and a few hangars and buildings shimmering in the merciless sun. The nearest small town was twenty miles away. The wind never stopped howling and the desolation took Heinrich’s breath away the same way that Sarov’s desolate tundra took Lise’s breath away. They could never have dreamt of such isolated places and strange careers when they first met back at a medieval castle in Germany back in 1926.

 

CHAPTER SIXTY-THREE: Sound Barrier

On September 18, 1947, President Truman signed the United States Air Force into existence. On October 14, 1947, Air Force Captain Chuck Yeager climbed into the Bell X-1 rocket plane with the help of Captain Pratt and Colonel von Onsager from the bomb bay door of a B-29. Chuck had fallen off a horse the night before riding with his wife out to Pancho Barnes Fly Inn Ranch and busted his ribs.

A whole hell-of-a-lot of engineering work had gone into the Bell X-1, the latest equipment being a ten-inch portion of a broomstick stuck into the hatch handle so that Chuck could close it with his good hand. Once Chuck was secure inside the Bell X-1, the B-29 bomber dived to pick up speed and started a countdown from ten seconds.

Heinrich and Creeper confirmed the separation of the X-1 from the bomber. If everything went right, Chuck would go into the history books a hero. Otherwise he’d be little more than a footnote in history, and Heinrich would’ve blamed himself. He was the one who had signed off the X-1 as ready to fly past Mach 1. Creeper hoped for the best. He’d be next if Chuck died.

After dropping away from the B-29, Yeager quickly lit off all the engine chambers and climbed out to 35,000 feet. Once there, he turned off two of the chambers. He continued climbing out to 42,000 feet, then leveled off. Once in level flight, he re-lit the third chamber. At Mach 0.92 he encountered the usual buffeting the engineers hadn’t been able to get rid of. The Machmeter climbed to Mach 0.97 when suddenly it fluctuated off scale. The meter was only calibrated to Mach 1.0; that’s how little faith there was in the program.

Chuck Yeager radioed his friend in the cockpit, “Hey Ridley, that Machmeter is acting screwy. It just went off the scale on me.”

“Son, you is imagining things,” Ridley told Yeager.

“Must be,” Chuck replied.

In point of fact, as confirmed by radar, Chuck had busted through the sound barrier flying 1.07 Mach. A lot of people on the ground—listening to their first ever sonic boom—thought that Chuck had bought the farm. “My God,” one engineer uttered, “Chuck’s done blown himself up!”

When they realized what had happened, that Chuck was okay, and that he’d broken through the sound barrier, one joker quipped, “I’m glad the X-1 is safe. It’s a six-million-dollar bird. We only pay a pilot six grand a year.”

Heinrich, Creeper, Chuck Yeager, and many others did some raucous celebrating that night in honor of the man’s historic feat.

***

Lise saw a newspaper photograph of Captain Yeager standing by the Bell X-1. Standing next to him, but cut out so that only his arm showed, was Colonel Heinrich von Onsager, USAF. “Heinrich would have loved to have flown that rocket plane,” she thought to herself before pitching the paper into a waste basket.

CHAPTER SIXTY-FOUR: Bastards

The Soviets knew how to enter the history books as well as the Americans. Much to the consternation of the United States, they exploded their first atomic bomb on August 29, 1949.

Lise was standing side by side with Joseph and graduate student Andrei Sakharov when the bomb went off. She thought of Oppenheimer’s quote from the Bhagavad Gita, “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” She too, now, had become death, feeling sad for the world, as well as sick inside as the mushroom cloud rose higher and higher.

All this she penned into her diary hours later in her small army quarters, feeling certain that Max, Belinda, Olga, and Nannerl would have been disappointed in what she had wrought. Little pencil scribblings of Greek in notebooks: atomic fireballs burning hotter than the sun.

Joseph came to Lise’s temporary quarters at the test site later that evening with two chilled bottles of vodka. “One for you and one for me,” he told her after she opened the door. “I figured you’d like to celebrate our becoming bastards.” He was wearing his usual garb: khaki pants, a white tee shirt, and threadbare socks. He couldn’t stand his hard-tipped boots, leaving them outside Lise’s room.

Lise took one of the bottles from Joseph as she waved him into her quarters. “You read my mind!” she told him. He looked solid framed in his early thirties she noticed before walking over to her small window to peer out westward. A fuzzy, deformed remnant of the mushroom cloud lingered miles away, white at the top, turning orange at the base as the sun set.

Joseph could tell that Lise was in one of her lonely moods with no agenda beyond not being alone. She looked beautiful to him in her blue cotton dress with her light-brown hair let down.

 “You’ve been taking care of me since I came to Sarov,” Lise told Joseph as he joined her at the window. “Do you know what that fading mushroom cloud is making me realize?” she then asked rhetorically as Joseph listened on.

“The world was—past tense—involved in a conflagration of Hitler’s making. Now the world is an atomic world, armed with jet airplanes, computers, and rudimentary missiles capable of delivering atomic death from above.”

Joseph nodded his head yes before drinking vodka from his bottle.

“My husband was a part of Hitler’s conflagration,” Lise declared, opening her bottle to take a swig. “I’m part of the new madness,” she added, wiping her mouth dry. “I last saw Heinrich when I fled to Paris. It was 1939. I was almost twenty-five. Now I’m almost thirty-five. A lifetime ago, no?”

Joseph turned his gaze to Lise. “We go to the next step,” he told her. “Sakharov is convinced boosting will work. We’ll get a thousand-fold increase in yield.”

Earlier in 1948, Sakharov had come up with his “layer cake” idea for making super bombs work, temporarily surpassing the American efforts in the race to hydrogen bombs.

“A thousand-fold,” Lise mumbled. “I’ll drink to that,” she added, placing her hand on Joseph’s face. “I don’t want to be alone anymore,” she declared, more to herself more than to Joseph.

“I’ve waited years to hear these words,” he replied as Lise leaned in to kiss his lips.

It was a nice kiss, good and slow for Lise, as Joseph led her to her small army cot. Their eyes never parted as he removed his pants and raised her dress while she let slip her underpants.

***

Heinrich and the rest of America read about the Russian bomb with incredulity in the following morning’s newspapers.

 

CHAPTER SIXTY-FIVE: Donna

Heinrich met Bomber-Bill’s long-legged twenty-three-year-old Donna Dearborne in 1949. Rather, Donna Dearborne, wearing her newest red dancing dress, pranced right up to him and introduced herself at the officers’ club on a Friday night all smiles in red lipstick.

“Hey colonel, do you swing?” were the curvy blonde’s first words. The place was crowded and Heinrich didn’t understand the young lady’s words over the voices of several loud pilots who were waving their hands like aeroplanes as they told their tall tales.

“I beg your pardon,” he replied leaning towards the young woman.

“Do you dance?” she repeated into his ear.

Heinrich hadn’t danced since the last time he danced with Lise at the Augsburg officers’ club. They had danced to a Strauss waltz. “Nein, but thank you,” he declined smiling politely.

Donna wasn’t the kind of girl who took no for an answer.

Oh, so you’re a German boy? Show me how they dance back home—please!

Just then someone put a nickel in the jukebox and Louis Prima’s ‘Sing, Sing, Sing’ began to play.

Before Heinrich could get to his feet properly, he found himself being yanked out to the dance floor feeling disoriented. Holding Donna’s hands in his hands for her twirls, looking at her gracile figure hardly veiled beneath her dress, at her cheery green eyes, at her button nose, and at her giddy, bewitching smiles, was fun. No one else seemed to be on the dance floor other than the smiling blonde. The young woman twirled herself left stretching out his arm, and then swung back around to take his other hand, twirling to the right. Heinrich followed her lead as best he could, but on this dance floor, Donna, in her swirling, red dancing dress was the undisputed hotshot.

You better watch your six, colonel!” one of the drunken pilots in a baggy flight suit yelled out as Donna picked up the tempo. “She’s gonna flame your ass!

When the music ended, Heinrich was smiling, slightly out of breath.

“Thank you for the dance,” Heinrich told Donna still holding her warm hands.

“Don’t think you’re getting away that easy, colonel. We can dance another one. C’mon!” Donna uttered.

“No, but thank you.” Heinrich replied standing firm.

“Okay, you big lug. It’s your loss, but how about buying a girl a drink?”

Ever the gentleman, Heinrich couldn’t say no to the lady. “Certainly,” he agreed, leading Donna back to his table. He ordered her a scotch on the rocks, his favorite drink after a hard day’s flying.

Heinrich had no idea that he was being ambushed that night by the daughter of a well-trained fighter pilot. She had spotted him back at Vandenberg with her father, Bomber-Bill, when he presided over General Beratino’s promotion from one star to two stars. She liked what she had seen, a tall, blond, handsome man with well-polished European manners. She was done with the Vandenberg hotdogs and their groping hands.

At the end of the evening, Heinrich walked Donna to her 202 GT sports car. “Well colonel, I can tell you one thing, seeing as how small Muroc is, I promise you’ll be seeing a lot of me.” Just before Donna stepped into her car, she gave Heinrich a small peck on his cheek. Lise used to do the same thing he remembered as he watched Donna’s tiny sports car drive away into the darkness.

***

General Beratino would be taking his two stars back to the Pentagon. Muroc was about to undergo massive changes with big bucks coming its way for big, high-risk projects. General Dearborn, now a three-star, would take over at Muroc.

 

CHAPTER SIXTY-SIX: Collusion

It didn’t take Donna long after the dance to find out that Colonel von Onsager and Captain Pratt were best friends. Knowing this, it didn’t take her long to introduce herself to Karen at the little park where Reginald and baby Ann would play before it got too hot outside.

She stepped out of her sports car wearing dark sunglasses, a short sleeve blue blouse, checkered, houndstooth pants, and loafers, with her blonde hair pulled into a loose bun.

Karen, who was now pregnant with her third child, didn’t know what to make of Donna as she walked over to the park bench and introduced herself.

“Tell me about Colonel Onsager,” she began right after she sat down by Karen.

“You don’t waste time, do you?” Karen asked. She swatted dust off the side of her summer dress after Reginald had grabbed onto her leg. “Go on Reginald,” she urged him towards the slides.

“I shoot from the hip,” Donna replied. She removed her sunglasses, revealing penetrating, opal green eyes.

“Are you new here?” Karen followed up, keeping her eyes on Reginald who was working his way up a small slide.

“I just got here with my father,” Donna replied. “He’s the new general.”

Karen’s eyes lit up. “Oh,” she uttered, taken aback. “Colonel von Onsager is a war widower, if this is what you’re getting at. He’s still alone.”

 “I figured something like that,” Donna admitted, brushing away several loose strands of hair over her button nose. “He didn’t have a wedding ring.”

“He has one,” Karen corrected Donna. “Like I said, he’s a war widower,” she added after making sure that Reginald wasn’t too far away. “He stopped wearing it last Christmas, just before his birthday.” Karen did some mental arithmetic realizing how young Donna looked. “I’m guessing he’s a dozen years older than you.”

“That’s good,” Donna replied. “The hotdogs I’ve dated are little boys with groping hands.”

Karen laughed, wiping dirt off Ann’s face after she crawled up to her mother’s feet. “That was my Burt,” she admitted. “As you can see,” Karen added, pointing to her pregnant belly, “he hasn’t changed much.” Donna had to laugh.

“The colonel is lonely,” Karen volunteered. “You can’t go around hurting him. He lost his parents during the war. He lost his wife in a horrible way just after the war. He’s been alone ever since. You might be playing with fire.”

“That’s good to know,” Donna replied. “I’ll back off if I see him overreacting and I don’t see things going forward for myself.”

“Good, then,” Karen agreed. “Why don’t you tell me a little about yourself.”

“Sure,” Donna replied, laughing. “You’ll probably find out about me soon enough anyways. I’m known for being wild,” she began. “I’m looking for a change, though. I don’t know honestly know if it’s in me, I’ll warn you.”

Karen grabbed Donna’s hand. “I like you,” she told her, eager to hear stories.

***

Karen was beside herself with excitement in the kitchen when Burt returned home in his sweat-soaked flight suit, happy as usual. She had pulled her dark-auburn hair into a bun like Donna’s bun. “You’ll never know what happened today,” she told Burt kissing his lips, her eyes glowing with pent up excitement.

“A hot, little ticket came by the park in a little red sports car this morning looking to find out things about Colonel von Onsager. She’s totally interested in him.”

Son-of-a-bitch!” Burt burst out, slapping his leg. “I know who you’re talking about. That hot little ticket in the red sports car, she’s the new general’s daughter, his only daughter, and she got the colonel to swing last Friday at the club!”

Get out of here!” Karen replied, wide-eyed with happy surprise.

“I kid you not,” Burt affirmed, nodding. “I’ll tell you more, but let’s eat!”

Karen had prepared her famous ribs and barbeque sauce. The smell of the ribs was more than Burt could take.

“What can you tell me about her?” Karen asked Burt, hungry for details at the dinner table. It was a challenge feeding herself while feeding Reginald and Ann.

“She’s a college girl at some school in Los Angeles. One of our new test pilot students, Lieutenant Pitts, dated her when he was at Vandenberg. He said that she drove him nuts.”

“I’ll bet,” Karen replied. “What happened between them?” she asked, sticking a spoonful of peas into Ann’s mouth.

“I don’t know,” Pratt replied, grabbing more ribs without bothering to wipe his chin.

C’mon, Captain Pratt! What do you mean you don’t know? You jet jocks brag about everything,” Karen pleaded, cleaning off the sauce from her husband’s chin.

“It ended like a switch is all I know. Pitts showed her a wedding ring and she dumped him on the spot. Pitts still can’t figure out if he’s more brokenhearted or relieved.” Burt paused to drink his beer. “And you say she’s asking about Colonel Onsager?”

“I’d say more like gunning after him,” Karen replied.

“Seems like big trouble is heading his way, my-oh-my,” Burt concluded. “If she’s anything like her father, old Bomber-Bill, there’s a hell storm heading the colonel’s way.”

Karen started laughing at the thought when Burt precipitously kissed her cheek.

“What’s that for?” she asked with happy eyes, smiling at him.

“For being my hot, little ticket,” he replied.

“And for the ribs,” Karen quipped.

“There’s that,” Burt agreed.

 

CHAPTER SIXTY-SEVEN: Histories Over Paths

Donna met up with Karen and her children at the park on a Sunday morning after services. She had been to the officer’s club three Friday nights in a row, getting Heinrich to dance each time.

The two women exchanged warm greetings while Reginald snacked on apple slices and baby Ann looked on at her brother, fascinated.

“Your hair looks good in a hairband,” Donna complimented Karen by the merry-go-round.

Karen laughed, rolling her eyes up. “Burt likes it when I wear these silly headbands, and Reggie likes them when I have them up like bunny ears,” she explained. “You, on the other hand, look fit to cause a car wreck in those Bermudas,” she added, glancing at Donna’s long bare legs down to her loafers. “Burt tells me that you got the colonel to dance again three times Friday night. He also told me that the two of you talked until they closed up.”

“I talked, mostly, while Colonel Onsager listened on,” Donna admitted. “That’s why you need to tell me more about him. Most guys would have been pawing at me on a third date. Heinrich is different.”

“I’d say,” Karen replied. “I met him shortly after my husband tried to steal his jet,” Karen began while keeping her eyes on Reginald and Ann.

“What do you mean, steal?” Donna reacted, bemused as a soft breeze brushed through her and Karen’s hair. She and Karen were both excited that girl talk was about to happen by the swing set and the merry-go-round.

“It’s the story of how Burt ended up with his call sign: Creeper. The German jets and the colonel had just arrived at Wright Patterson. Burt didn’t have the patience to wait for training. He tried flying one of the German jets. The jet he picked happened to belong to the colonel.”

The details of the story, especially General Beratino’s latrine duty threats, kept both young women in stitches as baby Ann entertained herself playing with the hem of her mother’s flowery summer dress.

Donna got another good laugh when Karen told her how Heinrich had kissed her hand like a prince the first time he had met her to celebrate Burt’s birthday. Karen’s face suddenly turned serious, catching Donna off guard.

What?” Donna asked.

“I just realized the colonel looked happy when I saw him yesterday,” she replied. “I was dropping off Burt’s lunch when I bumped into him.” Karen’s tone turned serious. “If you’re just playing with the colonel, you have to stop.”

Donna focused her eyes on Karen’s eyes.

“The colonel was married to a woman scientist,” Karen began explaining. “Her name was Lise. They were childhood sweethearts, and they were totally devoted to each other. She’s very pretty in the pictures Heinrich has of her.”

“Everything was going fine,” Karen continued, but then the Nazis figured out that she was one quarter Jew, and that her mother was half Jew. They wanted to send her and her family out to a concentration camp, but she escaped to Paris. Heinrich would have joined her, but the Nazis ended up capturing her parents and her two sisters before they could escape. They used the family to control Heinrich. If he didn’t do what they told him to do, the Nazis would kill Lise’s family. They killed Lise’s younger sister first. She was three years old when they shot her.”

Donna’s mouth popped open while Karen talked.

“The Nazis ended up gassing his mother-in-law and the surviving daughter,” Karen continued. “But the colonel didn’t know about it until the end of the war when he ran into his father-in-law, a doctor who now hunts Nazi war criminals in South America. His own mother died in the war during a bombing raid in Berlin. His stepdad shot himself afterwards.”

Reginald interrupted the exchange between Karen and Donna. He wanted to be pushed on the swings. Donna followed the mother and child to the swings, eager for more details. She was flabbergasted at all the tragedies Heinrich had suffered. “How did his wife die?”

“She and an aunt and uncle hid from the Nazis in Yugoslavia for several years. When the war ended, they tried to return to Germany, but the Russians captured them. The soldiers tried to rape Lise. They killed her uncle for defending her. When they figured out that she knew atom bomb stuff, they took her to Russia, but the train crashed. She died in the crash.”

“What an awful story,” Donna uttered, gripping at a pole of the metal swing set. She set her eyes on a small, isolated mountain across Muroc’s vast salt-lake desert. There was a lonely jet glimmering in the sunlight over it. Maybe Heinrich was in the jet, alone in all that big space. “I guess there’s a lot for me to learn about Colonel Onsager,” Donna concluded.

Karen nodded her head yes in agreement. “It took years for Heinrich to tell his stories to Burt. You really seem to be making him happy, though. I hope you understand why I worry about the colonel.”

Donna smiled at the thought that she was bringing Heinrich happiness.

Karen turned to Donna after Reginald left the swing set. “Tell me more about yourself. I know that your mother left your father. I can’t believe that she approves of your wildness.”

Donna laughed. “She disappeared during the war when I was in high school. My father was fighting in Europe when she ran off with a salesman to California. I had to fend for myself.”

Karen’s jaw dropped.

“I became a wild child, going from one man to another.”  

Karen suddenly ran after Reginald. He’d fallen off the merry-go-round and was crying about his knee. Donna returned her gaze towards the distant mountain. The metallic glimmer was gone. Maybe it had been Heinrich all alone up there.

When Donna left Karen and her kids that morning, she did so pensively. She would look up more on the Holocaust at her small college library.

CHAPTER SIXTY-EIGHT: Wedding Bells and Motherhood

Heinrich took Donna on a picnic and a movie on base. A week later, Donna took him on a shopping trip off base during a three-day weekend. They dined at a nice restaurant in Los Angeles before driving back under the stars in her new convertible.

“So, I hear from Captain Pratt that you’re a great pilot, colonel,” Donna said to Heinrich that night, poking him in the ribs while her blonde hair danced in the slipstream. “I’ve never been in one of those jet planes,” she continued. “Do you think you can arrange to take me up? I promise I won’t tell my daddy if you won’t.”

Heinrich burst out laughing. “I won’t tell the general anything because there won’t be anything for me to tell him,” he replied looking at Donna straight in the eyes as seriously as he could.

“Keep your eyes on the road, mister!” she told him, slapping his shoulder.

The idea of taking Donna up had crossed Heinrich’s mind.

I’m serious!” Donna insisted. “I’d love to go up in one of those jets. I want to see the Earth from up above.”

Karen had coached Donna well. “Get him in the air,” she had told Donna, “and you’ll get him in the heart.”

“You really wish to fly?” Heinrich asked Donna taking in her happy aura.

Yes!” she replied, with little happy claps.

“Fine, but I’ll tell you when, if it’s okay with you, General Donna.”

Donna scooted over to Heinrich’s side and gave him a peck on his cheek. She stayed by his side for the rest of the starlit drive, soaking in his warmth against the coolness of the desert night.

***

A week later, Heinrich snuck Donna in a flight engineer’s uniform and helmet onto the flight line. He helped her climb into a tandem seat P-80 Shooting Star. The crew chief couldn’t help noticing that the “flight engineer” had a great coke bottle figure, but he didn’t say a word to Colonel von Onsager. A few minutes later Heinrich and Donna taxied onto the runway and thundered off into the wild blue yonder with their hair on fire.

Donna had a blast looking outside at the shrinking world while Heinrich took the Shooting Star as high as it could go. “It looks like an ant world down there,” she said to him as he rolled the P-80 inverted. “From up here, the way we behave down there must look silly,” she continued.

“Indeed, it does,” Heinrich replied. “Now look over there. See the moon.” The moon was just starting to rise above the horizon. The setting sun lit the moon up brightly.

“It’s beautiful, Heinrich. Do you think we might go there someday?”

Donna’s remark made Heinrich think of Hans. “I don’t see why not,” he replied.

An hour passed them by this way high up in the troposphere. Being in his element helped Heinrich relax. He enjoyed sharing a slice of his world with the sexy, young lady who clearly had a thing for him. It was a familiar feeling, painful to a degree, but also good.

After Heinrich and Donna landed, they headed off to the pilot’s locker room to drop off their helmets. No one else was there on a Friday night. Donna changed clothes in the men’s room, putting on a short summer dress. She freshened up and freed her blonde hair from a tight hairband.

 “Let’s drive out to Frenchman’s hill,” Donna suggested when she returned to the locker room. “I want to see the sunset, just you and me.”

“That’s why I packed us dinner,” Heinrich replied. His feelings for Donna had been growing increasingly mixed during the last three months.

The orb of the sun was sitting low over the horizon as they drove off to the secluded hill. They enjoyed their dinner sitting on the hood of his Chevrolet, watching the sun disappear below the horizon with the sky turning darker by degrees.

“Hey, I think I see the first star,” Donna said pointing to a pinprick of light sparkling at the edge of the horizon. Her blonde hair danced to a light evening breeze.

“That’s Venus, goddess of love,” Heinrich corrected her, looking at the planet.

 So, you’re an astronomer too, huh, professor?” Donna teased Heinrich, literally ribbing him as she scrunched herself closer to his body, her hair brushing Heinrich’s neck.

It was hard for Heinrich not to notice Donna’s long, bare legs issuing from her short dress, her bare arms, her bare neck, her high cheekbones, her button nose, her warm smile, her happy eyes reflecting the moon’s bright light.

“A penny for who spots the next star,” Donna challenged Heinrich.

The next star happened to be a shooting star that blew itself apart like a Roman candle. It gave her the courage to speak her mind. She took Heinrich’s hand and made him look into her eyes. “Listen to me,” she told him. “You have to let go of your past. I’m sure your wife would have wanted you to be happy.”

Heinrich cast his eyes skyward, gazing at the stars above him. “I know,” he replied.

Donna reached out and took hold of Heinrich’s face. “Look at me,” she told him as she forced him to turn his face towards her again. “I can make you happy if you let me.”

Heinrich tried to resist, but Donna’s eyes were twinkling with starlight.

Before Heinrich could utter another syllable, Donna threw her arms around him and found his lips in the darkness. She kissed Heinrich with everything she had, freeing him from his past. “You have to make room for me,” she told Heinrich, “because I love you.”

***

Before the end of the year there were wedding bells in Heinrich’s life for the second time. Instead of picturesque Capri, the wedding took place at Pancho Barnes’ place, still the only watering hole in twenty miles. The best man was Captain Pratt. The matron of honor was Karen. Donna was twenty-four, an old maid in those days.

The wedding would have taken place months earlier, but Karen lost her child in the third trimester of her pregnancy.

General Dearborne, who had hated Germans throughout the war, had grown to respect Heinrich as a consummate perfectionist and gentleman throughout the year that he had worked with him. He was glad that his daughter was marrying Heinrich and not one of the hotdogs.

Dr. Reber flew in for the ceremony from Argentina. He hit it off with General Dearborne in the old bar after Heinrich and Donna exchanged vows. They talked about old times and old American movies while the young folks danced the night away.

Aunt Lilo, who had grown much weaker, sent her best wishes from Berlin. Donna’s mother didn’t show up despite her father’s best efforts to track her down.

A year after the blissful wedding, Donna gave Heinrich his first son, Douglas, in 1951. The boy was named after Donna’s father. Donna gave Heinrich a second son in 1952. The boy was named Karl, after Heinrich’s father.

***

Established as a wealthy landowner in Argentina using the loot he had stolen from murdered Jews, Hans had fathered two girls and a boy with his wife, Eva. His daughters Johanna and Elizabeth were born in Buenos Aires. His German born son, Axel, was showing every sign of becoming a mathematical prodigy, much like his father and his unknown great-grandfather, Albert Einstein. The boy was as attached to his mother Eva as Hans had been to Constance.

Constance kept a palpable emotional distance from Hans after the war, never remarrying, living upstairs, silently horrified by the villainy of her son and his father. She lived for her grandchildren until breast cancer killed her the same year that her unknown father died.

“I wish I would never have been born,” where her final words.

Hans had absorbed them in silence as his mother closed her eyes for the last time. Only then did he dare touch her face.

 

CHAPTER SIXTY-NINE: Rise of the Military Industrial Complex

Andrei Sakharov, Lise von Onsager, Igor Tamm, Yakov Zeldovich and company, were proving themselves as capable as any physicists of the United States. It took them only a year after America’s hydrogen bomb test in August of 1953 to detonate their first hydrogen bomb. The test took place at the Semipalatinsk Test Site along the Irtysh river near Semey, Karagandy, and Astana. The American test took place on Enewetak atoll in the Pacific. The Russian device, Joe-4, yielded 0.4 megatons, or 400 kilotons. The overdesigned American device, Ivy Mike, yielded 10.4 megatons, or 10,400 kilotons, disappearing the island of Elugelab. The difference in yield between the Russian and the American devices measured the relative weakness of Russian computer technology. Stalin suppressed cybernetic science until his death in the spring of 1953.

Sputnik was launched on October 4, 1957 by the Russians from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, kicking off the space race. The people, politicians, and military commanders of the United States were suddenly and rudely pushed into a panicked state by drunken Tatar barbarians, an insulting reference to the Mongol Tartar hordes that had invaded Russia in the thirteenth century.

Who was to stop the Russians from building nuclear weapons complexes in space to rain down nuclear devastation on the United States? To play catch up was the only answer, and Congress supplied the bucks.

Reading the newspaper, Heinrich saw an unprecedented opportunity in the Sputnik craze. “Space, that’s where the future is,” he told Donna over breakfast as she fed him and the boys hotcakes and eggs with bacon. “I think it’s time for us to leave Edwards.”

Forty-four-years-old at the time, turning gray at the temples, Heinrich was still happy at Edwards Air Force Base, the new name for Muroc after Captain Glenn Edwards. Edwards had died at Muroc conducting a test flight in 1948.

“Sure, sweetie,” Donna replied without skipping a beat while refreshing Heinrich’s coffee. She was wearing one of Heinrich’s button-down shirts that fit her almost like a dress, her hair was disheveled, her legs ran down into a pair of pink bunny rabbit slippers. “I think it’s a wonderful idea,” she added before biting into her buttered toast while wiping milk from Karl’s chin. She had heard this kind of talk before.

“I think,” Heinrich continued as he caught hold of Donna’s hand to pull her in for a kiss, “that Los Angeles might be a nice place to start ourselves a little company. A lot of military spinoff companies are setting up shop on the south side. I could do a spinoff.”

Flying experimental jet aircraft at their limits was getting harder and harder on his body. The idea of getting into the space business appealed to the boy in him.

“We’re going to help the United States build intercontinental ballistic missiles, Donna,” Heinrich declared, smiling at Douglas.

Donna nearly spat out her coffee when little Douglas asked, “What’s a spy sabellite, daddy?”

“It’s a space capsule that zooms right to your tickle spots!” Heinrich replied, poking his five-year-old son in the ribs.

Heinrich used the money that he had recovered from Germany to start his first company, K2 Industries, with forty-eight employees. Three of them were old German buddies from the Me-262 program. The little company began by supplying reentry bodies for intercontinental ballistic missiles that Heinrich had designed at the hypersonic laboratory at Edwards.

K2 eventually got into the CIA’s spy satellite program to develop automated image processing technology. The work had come by way of an Air Force general who needed a man he could trust, Donna’s father, Bomber-Bill. This new line of work became a lucrative business as the Cold War heated up between Russia and its satellite states and the Western Bloc led by the United States. The greater the tension, the greater the pace of the space and nuclear arms races.

 The von Onsagers became multi-millionaires the year after the Russians launched Senior Lieutenant Yuri Gagarin into space in 1961, yet again catching the Americans with their pants down.

 

CHAPTER SEVENTY: Post Darwinian Evolution

On a rare day when the sun shone through the winter clouds, Lise expressed her concerns to Andrei and Joseph during one of their habitual walks through the snowy tundra. All three were clad in down parkas. Lise’s was a deep maroon that fit her long-limbed fifty-five-year-old frame. Her dark cloche hat highlighted her face’s radiant features in the sunlight. Andre’s parka was gray. Joseph’s was black, as worn out as his usfhanka-hat dating back to the war.

Joseph had remained Lise’s closest confidant though he eventually married a chemistry technician, a kindly woman with bold features and a beautiful singing voice who was talented with the piano. Joseph and Anna were raising two daughters and a son, a copper-haired boy who was Anna’s spitting image with his bold, bright eyes and a ready smile. Lise hadn’t wanted the burden of not being able to give Joseph the kids his heart desired, though he would have stayed with her if she hadn’t forced him away. She regretted that Joseph had taken to cigarettes when she pushed him away towards Anna, after noticing the furtive looks that Anna would give Joseph in the actinides laboratory.

“I think that mankind may be writing itself out of existence, and I don’t necessarily mean by nuclear weapons,” Lise began with puffs of lazy steam wafting out of her mouth with each syllable.

“What do you mean?” Andrei asked, bent over securing a loose snow shoe.

“The work in perceptrons and computer intelligence scares me. I know they’re crude renditions of our neural networks, but it took billions of years to develop human brains. Within decades we’ll make artificial brains better than our own. We and the Americans are already building massive military networks to tie all these machines together to control our missiles with satellite-based sensors. What will stop the machines from ultimately getting rid of us?”

Andrei had thought along these lines before. He picked up a walking stick and shook the snow from it before replying. “Evolution for humans is not just passive natural selection anymore, adapting to new conditions or dying off. It’s about active, aggressive, predatory probing for opportunities and niches in the jungle of man’s brain.”

Lise agreed, grabbing onto Sakharov’s shoulder to get over a soft spot in the deep snow.

“We’re cockroaches looking for our niche, trying to order ourselves somewhere, somehow, even at the cost of disordering the world, so long as the advantage is for us as individuals, even if it means making our own replacements or doomsday weapons. If the Americans build a better bomb, we have no choice but to do so in kind, even if it endangers all of us. And they have no choice but to build better bombs because they must assume that we’re doing the same, which of course we are.”

Joseph broke in with a furrowed brow. “The only thing evolving is our machinery. Mankind will change slowly over millions of years.”

“I’m not sure,” Lise interrupted putting her gloved fingertips to her lips in thought. “Recall Crick and Watson discovering the helical structure of DNA back in ‘53. We’ve been reduced to genetic software. The day will come when we’ll manipulate this software with viruses to reprogram our genes to build customized molecular factories. Thankfully, this will probably take us hundreds of years to master, giving us time to get things right.”

Andrei and Joseph digested what Lise had said as the trio walked on crunching a trail of snowshoe footprints into the pristine snow. The brisk air, the snow-covered trees, the endless horizon of white, the sparkles of light reflecting off the hoarfrost dancing about their eyes, gave them the impression of being in a fairytale land.

“Think of Genghis Khan and others of his ilk,” Andrei started up again. “When he died, his empire began to collapse from the ambitions of his three sons.”

Lise broke in, adding to Andre’s train of thought. “Genghis Khan increased his people’s military and social order, but ultimately this ordering collapsed for a net loss of order.”

“Precisely,” Andre replied as Joseph walked on listening. “A few men can spawn periods of extreme, localized self-organization at the cost of increased global entropy, building a great capital in a great city, even a great country, but at the cost smashing neighboring countries, burning villages, razing cities, and ultimately causing their own collapse. The sum of the temporary local order of their accomplishments is outweighed by the disorder they reap on the globe, only for themselves to collapse, leaving behind even greater disorder.”

“But suppose Germany had won the war,” Joseph interrupted. “What if, thanks to a science of genetics controlled by viruses such as Lise has suggested, Hitler could’ve been made indefinitely long-lived?”

Lise got a chill in her bones. “What an awful thought, Joseph.”

Joseph then added another thought. “What if Hitler could’ve been fused to computers to control missiles and robots directly with his new super-mind?”

When Andrei heard this, and saw the stupid face that Joseph was putting on, he broke down laughing. “This is all fantasy. I suppose one such super-being would live on each continent, having swallowed the minds of all its inhabitants.”

“Well why not one incredibly bored super-being for the whole planet, Andrei?” Joseph challenged. “It’d be the ultimate post Darwinian winner.”

Lise supplied a limiting correction to this idea in a word, “Dinosaurs!”

Joseph didn’t follow until Andrei clarified things.

“The biggest dinosaurs grew so large that when an enemy bit their tail they wouldn’t realize until it was too late. The signal would take too long to reach their brains in time for these beasts to take the appropriate action. In the same way, the speed of light would limit how big a computer-based Hitler super-being could get and still maintain a coherent self-identity safe from attack.”

Joseph scooped up a handful of snow and formed it into a ball in his black-gloved hands. “Well then, why not let these super-beings leave the Earth after they suck all its resources dry? Then they could fight things out in the solar system and beyond.”

When Joseph finished this silly thought, making Lise and Andrei laugh even harder, he pitched his snowball and hit Lise square on her face. “I have control of Jupiter!” he exclaimed trying to run away in the deep snow.

“I have Mars!” Andrei replied, whacking Joseph with a loosely packed snowball.

“And I the Milky Way,” Lise added, ducking under another snowy missile from Joseph while returning fire herself.

“By the way, Lise,” Andrei yelled at her, ducking her snowy missile, “I’ve heard that you’ve been promoted to division leader.”

“It’s about time,” Joseph added, still laughing.


© Copyright 2018 Meitner. All rights reserved.

Chapters