Thank you for coming back to read yet another episode of FLIGHT AT PEENEMÜNDE. That's a real vote of confidence.
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We leave Berlin with this chapter for East Prussia and the Peenemünde of German rocketry. You also meet the last substantial character in this story -- 5-year-old Willi von Kys. If he doesn't win you over in his first two scenes in this chapter, you aren't human.
The story has been told in rotation from London to Germany and back, usually with several chapters spent in one setting before moving back to the other. Now, however, the emphasis has swung back to the thriller theme and that's in Germany.
The copyright to FLIGHT belongs to me. It cannot be reprinted in any medium without my express permission. If you're under 16-18 yos, you shouldn't be reading stories from the Nifty archives -- however, this story will not lead you into orgasmic prurience (mum and dad can read it over your shoulder, in other words). If you enjoy reading stories stored at Nifty and are delirious that they are free, donate a couple of bucks to Nifty so that those stories will continue being free to you.
Von Kys reached to the pull-down drinks cabinet of the car the moment Corporal Jorsten had us moving down the drive. I noticed my friend's hands shook as he poured two drinks from the decanter. That and the memory of how tightly drawn his face had been when I entered the car made me suspect his interview with Reichsführer Himmler had been more difficult than the Gräfin had implied it would be. I wondered where the middle-aged Horst was but decided not to ask. I suspected our drive would be much more pleasant without him.
"I do not have to intrude, my friend," I offered as he handed me a glass.
"Dagi, drive us to Schloß Kys as fast as you can," he told our driver and my eyes widened in surprise. He had used a diminutive for the corporal that only a family member or a lover would use. He had also used the familiar form of the verb to give him his orders. I kept my surprise from him as he turned back to face me.
"You do not intrude, Robbie," he answered me in English. "You want milk cows and I need an old friend of my own class -- so, we help each other in our mutual moment of need, yes?"
"I say! Whatever happened to make you so upset, old lad?"
"You have not had the pleasure of knowing the Reichsführer Himmler and General Jodl or of working for them, Petersholme."
"I think I would forego it, were I to be presented such a pleasure."
Von Kys snorted. "Of course, you would. But, then, you do not live in the new Germany either, my friend." He gulped down his drink and quickly poured another.
I watched his free hand slide over the back of the seat and quickly squeeze the young corporal's shoulder. I said nothing as Janus sat back and lifted his glass to his lips. I was now reasonably certain of my earlier suspicions. The boy had seemed to be interested earlier when I had my bath, and von Kys had been far too lusty at Oxford to be satisfied with his Gisele -- happily or otherwise.
"I was ordered back to Schloß Kys, Petersholme. That overstuffed Bavarian chicken farmer had the audacity to demand that I be at my desk at Peenemünde at 0800 in the morning, can you imagine?"
I couldn't imagine it. No chicken farmer would even rise to head up MI-6 or any other British security force. A section chief perhaps -- in the most backward colony in the Empire. Even then, he would have had years of training before finally being promoted to his position.
Von Kys sniggered, almost giggling, as we left the northern suburbs of Berlin behind us and began to drive east. "I hated this past week in Berlin -- except for seeing you again. I was here because Gisele demanded I escort her to several important party galas. She even had Hess' under-secretary insist I head up the German delegation to that conference. Die Schweinhexe wanted me in tow to show me off to her party friends, Petersholme! Damn any work I might be doing for the country! Then, she complaints that I shirk my duty to the Fatherland by hosting the conference."
"Why the reprimand then, von Kys? That doesn't sound terribly consistent..."
"What is consistent?" He glanced at the back of Corporal Jorsten's head and shivered. "This is the new Germany, my friend," he said, drawing close and whispering the words. "This is the Germany whose fifty-year-old Führer goes on a week-long binge of harsh laxatives every month or two in order to lose weight so that the people of Germany see him as virile."
Von Kys straightened up, looked at his empty glass, and leant towards the bar again. "I am truthfully grateful to be returning to my work, Petersholme. My life's work -- and what it will accomplish for the Fatherland." He grinned impishly as he downed his drink in one gulp. "And, at the farm, I shan't have the Gräfin pestering me for time I don't have to give her." He smiled back at me as he held up the bottle of brandy questioningly. "I shall be free of her and the boors who seem to have populated the NSDAP recently -- to enjoy my simple pleasures and especially the time I have with the boy."
I nodded and handed him my empty glass. Von Kys poured me another drink, splashing a dab of the spirits onto the pull-down cabinet.
"If your relationship has deteriorated to such a point, perhaps you and the Gräfin should divorce?"
Von Kys became immediately pensive as he carefully sat back in his seat and studied me in the dim light of the interior of the car. "I cannot, Petersholme. You have already seen some of the web she has woven."
He snorted. "Don't tell me that you were not informed by my loving wife that I had been ordered to Schloß Kys. Her connections in the Party run quite deep, beginning with Deputy Führer Rudolf Hess, Hitler's designated heir. No wife should have been invited to watch her husband be dressed down as I was back there -- but mine was. It was as if she had planned it. Even after she went to the effort of forcing me to come to Berlin to be with her in the first place."
I wondered at how poorly my friend was holding his drinks. I was having definite problems following his logic. "Janus..." I began, prepared to suggest that he lay back and rest while we drove through the Prussian night.
"Petersholme..." He turned to face me, a smile tugging at his lips. "You must understand -- Gisele does not love me any more than I do her. Ours is a marriage of convenience. It is now and always has been. She has her life, centred about her friends in the Party; and I have mine, centred on Peenemünde and the von Kys holdings.
"The depression hit us hard, Robbie, and father had squandered much of the family's wealth before he died. I needed Gisele's money to secure the estate and her connections within the Party to improve my position. She needed my name to give to the baby she carried."
"My word!" I shuddered at the admission he had just made. It was inconceivable that one of our class would be forced to stoop as low as he had. It was the worst sort of embarrassment to hear him admit it.
Von Kys shrugged. "I've come to love the boy and think of him as my own, Robbie. His father is of good bourgeois stock but penniless -- far beneath Gisele's position." He grinned. "I came out the winner in our arrangement -- I have a son, I still have all the holdings that have been in my family for the past four centuries, and I have a scientific career that would have been impossible to attain under other circumstances."
"But, still, old man..."
"Petersholme, I have what few men will ever achieve. I am at the heights of rocket research in Germany. I work with Werner von Braun, a true genius in physics and a scientist of the first order in the field of rocketry." He chuckled. "Actually, I command him and his team in their research and development of what once was but a child's toy."
"Von Braun?" I wracked my memory of what Alan Dudding had told me. "He's quite a reputable chap, isn't he?"
Von Kys laughed. "Most reputable, my friend," he managed to get out between gasps. "Most definitely a reputable chap, as you English say."
"How ever did you manage to snare such a plum?" I asked, falling into doing what Molloy had asked me to do in Whitehall, now that the opportunity had finally presented itself.
"Which came first, I wonder?" von Kys mused softly. "Gisele introducing me to the Reichsführer and, later, Reichsmarshall Göring and General Jodl -- or my taking a class in advanced physics at university -- taught by Doktor von Braun?
"I talked excitedly about Doktor von Braun when I attended party soirees with Gisele and the good Doktor spoke highly of me when the Wehrmacht and the Waffen-SS jointly decided to explore rocketry as a war materiel. Things converged conveniently and I joined the Waffen-SS at Himmler's specific request. Almost before I had my doctorate in hand, I had sold swampland near the village of Peenemünde to the army and was in charge of the joint project which is now taking shape there."
"You owned this land?"
Von Kys chuckled. "Of course. A useless, swampy delta ten kilometres from the Schloß, my friend -- a piece of land that was never more than a buffer between von Kys and our eastern neighbour. Not even the villagers had any use for it. Now, it belongs to the state and is being reclaimed from nature with macadam and concrete from one end to the other." He chuckled again. "Very thick concrete on the north side, my friend -- the projected blast to lift a ten-tonne rocket is considerable."
My eyes rounded in the dimly lighted cabin of the car. Ten tonnes? That was more than twenty thousand pounds flying through the air towards an unsuspecting target! And even if most of it was fuel? A distant unsuspecting target. Molloy could well be right that we should be afraid for Britain.
* * *
I knew that we had chatted through the night when I noticed the sky beyond the windscreen turning lighter. Soon, gold and red and mauve fingers were arching through the eastern sky. It was then that Corporal Jorsten slowed the car and turned it onto a meandering gravelled drive.
"We are almost home, Petersholme. I'll put you to bed and inform the servants they are not to wake you before noon. With luck, I will be able to join you then."
"I am tired," I admitted. "But you must be exhausted."
Janus von Kys smiled. "Ah, but I am returned to work and you are on holiday, my friend. It is my duty to be tired -- and yours to relax." He chuckled again as the car motored through a series of tight turns. "Until I am relieving you of your money for the milk cows you want."
Jorsten pulled the car to the front of the Schloß so that von Kys and I could disembark. I was mildly surprised that the corporal did not leave the car to open the door for us but I said nothing as I opened the door and stepped out. I shivered in the early morning chill as I stood at the foot of the steps up to the entrance of the manor as von Kys held the open door of the car and said to the corporal still inside: "wake me in one hour, Dagi." The man nodded and Janus shut the door to bound up the steps to open the doors for us.
I entered the great hall. While its dimensions were larger than those of Bellingham Hall, there was a quiet simplicity here that bespoke our nearness to the border. Von Kys had been a German bastion at the division between Slavic and Germanic Europe since the time that the Kingdom of Poland saved the Habsburgs and Europe from the Turks. That front-line mentality still showed in Schloß Kys, though the Fürst von Bismarck had secured the eastern borders of Germany nearly a century earlier.
"Come, Petersholme, I shall show you to your room," Janus said and started for the stairs.
"Jorsten shall bring them from the car. Your luggage will have been placed out for you by the time you awaken." We reached the first room off the first floor landing. "You'll like this, Robbie. It was my room when I was a youth."
Von Kys left me then, pulling the door closed behind him and leaving me to myself and the exhaustion spreading rapidly over me. Without pyjamas or dressing robe, I surrendered to my body and pulled back the covers. I quickly stripped down to my undergarments and climbed into the bed. As I began to slip into sleep, I realised that it had felt odd to enter Schloß Kys and not to have seen even one servant. At the house in Mayfair or at Bellingham Hall, someone would have greeted me, regardless of the hour.
* * *
I awoke slowly, almost as if drugged. I was almost uncomfortably warm, though I remembered being chilled when I had pulled the blankets over me. I opened my eyes to the sun-lighted room.
"He's awoken, Vati!" a child's high voice observed in German as if he had just seen a bug he had been watching do something interesting.
I forced my eyes to focus and looked around.
Von Kys laughed from the fireplace and I looked in that direction. My gaze fell upon a child Siegfried, directly from one of Wagner's operas. Blond -- almost white -- hair fell down into the little face whose stark blue eyes watched me. "The Engländer looks like us," he said over his shoulder.
"That is because he is like us, Willi," Janus von Kys told his five-year-old son. "The English are a Germanic race like us."
The child turned back to study his father. "He's as good as us then?"
Von Kys nodded and the boy turned back to face me and smiled.
"Will you play with me and Vati, English Baron?"
My word! What was this child being taught? I looked to von Kys for instruction but he simply shrugged. I cringed at the thought that Janus would allow his son to be so prejudiced.
"Perhaps a bit later," I told Willi. "Right now I need to wash and change into clean clothes."
"Wash? The washerwomen only wash once a week."
I smiled at the tyke's confusion derived from my use of the German word for wash. I had translated literally. "I have to bathe myself," I told him and he nodded solemnly. He climbed up on the bed and sat beside my knee so that he could study me better.
"Willi," his father said and began to cross the room to us, "perhaps we should go and see if Cook is almost ready with our meal. That way, our friend, the Baron, can take a quick bath and dress to join us."
I looked to see what von Kys was wearing that I might dress accordingly in his home. The boy stood on the edge of the bed and waited for my friend to reach him. When Janus had almost reached us, Willi sprang from the bed towards him, his arms splayed.
Von Kys laughed and caught the child, swinging him around the room one time before stopping and looking at me. "I built you a fire so that you won't be chilled. Willi will come to get you in an hour, old man -- if that's acceptable?"
"Of course." I smiled at the boy. "I'm famished. You won't lead me away from the food, will you, lad?"
He understood I was playing with him instantly and put a disgruntled look on his face, even as the twinkle in his eyes betrayed him. "Of course, I wouldn't, Herr Baron. I'm a German gentleman." He laughed then and hugged von Kys. "Where is Cook, Vati?" he demanded. "Hurry! We must find her to make her get our food ready in time for this Engländer."
I was tying my shoes when the door slammed open behind me and young Wilhelm von Kys stormed into the room. I had barely had time to sit back up before he launched himself at me and, an instant later, landed on my back, his arms going around my neck. "Don't you know to knock?" I asked.
"Why should I, Herr Baron? I am the son of the new Germany and this is my house, yes?"
"True. But a German gentleman respects the privacy of his guest."
He pulled himself further up onto my shoulders and looked into my face. "Vati says I should be the Reichsführer when I grow up."
"What?" I cried and pulled him off my back to sit him on my lap. "Why would your father say such a thing?"
"He says I have the manners and instincts of a Himmler, so I should grow up to be just like the Reichsführer, and even replace him in his job when he grows too old."
I forced myself not to laugh. I had just heard vintage Janus von Kys from this child's mouth. I could only hope it would not be reported back to some Gestapo operative, like those I'd encountered at the Bahnhof in Berlin on my arrival.
Willi climbed out of my lap and took my hand. "Come, Herr Baron. Cook has made us soup and wurst, and Vati is waiting for us on the balcony."
"On the balcony?" I glanced over at the fire.
"Vati says a little bit of a chill makes you a real man."
I nodded and found a good Shetland that I had packed in my bag. After I had pulled the sweater over my head, I allowed young Willi to lead me to his father and our afternoon meal.
There was a chill breeze blowing across the balcony as we stepped into the open air. A table had been set on the leeward side, away from the wind. Von Kys wore a sweater and a tweed jacket for which I immediately envied him. The soup of pork dumplings with cabbage and potatoes was surprisingly good; or perhaps its warmth was what made it so pleasant in the cool autumn mid-day. The bratwurst and sauerkraut that followed was both pleasant and filling. Von Kys and I drank beer with our meal while young Willi drank hot cocoa with his.
"Where are we exactly?" I asked as the cook cleared the soup bowls from the table.
Von Kys leant back in his chair and pointed northward. "Almost two kilometres that way is the Baltic Sea. Eastward sixty kilometres is what is now called the Polish Corridor since the Versailler Diktat." He frowned. "You realise, of course, that the Führer has promised to reclaim the land of eastern Poland for the German people forced to flee their homes when the French forced Versailles upon us?"
"How in the world?" I knew better even as I spoke the words.
"However we must." He shrugged as the bratwurst and sauerkraut was set out before us. "Of course, what is now Poland -- much of it -- is German land and has been for centuries. And, after all, the party says the Poles are Slavs -- an inferior race."
"You're saying then that there will be more German territorial demands?"
He cut into a plump sausage and stuffed a third of it into his mouth. He chewed it thoughtfully. Swallowing he said: "You are my friend, Petersholme -- and you need to understand the current thinking in Berlin. It has always been the duty -- the honour as well -- of the German people to defend Europe from the Slavs. Now that they are mostly Bolsheviks and united as the Soviet Union, our duty is even more imperative."
"I'm not particularly political, old man. What are you saying?"
"I'm saying that, with the Russians under the Jewish thumb and controlling most of the Slavic lands, Europe is in serious danger. This is Berlin's thinking. Germany will be the vanguard in destroying that threat, of course. It always has been. But we shall need your help and that of France and the others."
"How does that concern Poland?"
"We shall need a substantial border with the Bolshie. That and uninterrupted supply routes to that border so that the Wehrmacht can move unimpeded to destroy them. Poland shall return to the historical rubbish heap from which the Versailler Diktat resurrected it."
"Chamberlain has said no more to Hitler."
Von Kys laughed heartily. "Chamberlain and Edward, now the Duke of Windsor, are the Führer's friends, Petersholme! Have you not seen the newsreels of the Duke and Duchess holidaying at Berschtegarden with the Führer? They seem so comfortable with each other, laughing and jesting with each other."
I shook my head slowly at the realisation that Molloy was completely right about our government.
"Germany will establish the borders necessary for the destruction of the Bolshie menace -- Poland will soon be inside those borders. At that point, it will be Chamberlain's duty to strut and pretend to his masses agitated by Jewish press lords but then to agree quietly to the necessity that will ensure Europe's future." He began to eat again, feeling that the subject had been discussed thoroughly.
Willi was fidgeting in his chair as I finished my bratwurst and sauerkraut. "Would you like me to show you where Vati works, Herr Baron?" he asked as I began to chew on the last of the sausage.
I looked to von Kys for instruction. He shrugged. "Show me," I told the boy.
Willi hopped out of his chair and came around the table. I stood and, taking my hand, the boy led me to the far eastern corner of the balcony. "You really have to squint to see it, Herr Baron. The island is very, very little -- right on the corner of the world over there."
I did squint and stared at the horizon where the child's finger was pointing. For long moments, I saw nothing. Slowly, as my eyes adjusted to the distance, I saw what I thought were wisps of smoke there.
"Mutti says Vati has Jews helping him build his rockets -- but how can that be?"
I glanced back to von Kys on the other side of the balcony but he was leaning back in his chair with his eyes closed, enjoying the sun. Harping about Jewishness made me uncomfortable. There were those in Britain who were anti-Semitic, of course; but I wasn't one of them, nor could I imagine any intelligent, educated man being.
Yet, here I was attending my friend's young son and the child was attempting to understand how the ignorant bigotry of his mother was affecting his own and his father's world. "They are scientists like your father, Willi," I offered a neutral explanation.
"Mutti says they must be taken from Vati's programme if it is to succeed. That his rockets will fly only if built by real Germans. She says keeping the Jews there make him look bad."
"I know very little about that, Willi."
"Is England already Judenrein then?"
I shuddered. I did not like the sound of that word because it spoke volumes. "Our Jews are completely British. We accept them as equal citizens to ourselves."
The child stared out towards the east and was silent for long moments. Finally, he turned back to me and said: "Well, after we have got rid of the vermin we have here, we will help you get rid of yours -- then, the whole world."
I stared at the little blond, blue-eyed boy beside me in shock. "Come. We probably need to get back to your father."
"Because he loves you very much and wants to spend as much time with you as he can," I told him.