by Christian A. Larsen
“Jesus, Barranco, do you see this?” asked Markevitch, peering through the solar visor of his pressure suit and waving his thick gloves as if to hail the pilot.
“I’m looking at the charts right now,” answered Barranco from inside the lunar module’s descent stage cylinder. “What is it?”
“Whatever it is I’m looking at is not on any chart. Are we recording? Christ, how I wish we could transmit back to Houston from the far side of this rock.”
“Watch your mouth!” scolded Barranco. “She’ll hear you.”
Markevitch rolled his eyes. Barranco could be so superstitious—and she was, referring to the moon as ‘Luna’ like she was a real person. Like she could hear them. Damnit, Barranco, he thought, now you have me calling the moon a ‘she.’
“Son … of … a … bitch,” whispered Barranco, as if in answer. “You’re rolling, Marky. Can you talk me through what you’re seeing, though, just for the record?”
“Sure, sure,” said Markevitch, loping lightly over the lunar surface toward the structure—a structure that had no business being there. The Russians had done the first flyover of the far side of the moon back in 1959, but Altair IV was the first mission ever to make a ground exploration of that hemisphere. At least, that’s what everyone believed until now.
“Looks like a metal cylinder, about ten by twenty.”
“What does it say there, next to that ‘X’? It says something.”
“It says,” said Markevitch, wiping the lunar dust off the metal sheeting. He sounded it out as the dust fell away like crematory ash. “It says Projekt Gesichtskreis. And it’s not an ‘X’, Barranco. It’s every Jew’s worst nightmare—burned into our collective consciousness deeper than the Roman occupation. Deeper than slavery in Egypt. That, friend,” he said, pointing so the camera in his helmet captured his finger in the frame. “It’s the symbol of the Third Reich. A Nazi swastika.”
“No shit.” Barranco hadn’t asked a question. “Are you going in?” That was a question.
“You’re the commander. Until we’re back in radio contact—and that won’t be until we go back up—you’re judge, jury and executioner. You make the call and I’ll back you up every step of the way. So to speak.”
“Easy for you to say from Altair IV,” said Markevitch. “I think I’d better try. We’re scheduled for ascent tomorrow, and with all the cutbacks, it might be another fifty years before we’re back on the moon. And we can’t exactly phone home for orders. Let me try the handle.”
And that answered it. The door was locked, or fused, or just plain gunked up with electrically-charged regolith that stuck to everything it touched, and he didn’t dare force it without the proper equipment. There would be time. Another day and one more moon walk, in fact, before the ascent stage of the Altair IV mission.
He came back to the descent module, took off his pressure suit, and rewatched everything that the camera in his helmet had recorded two and a half times before Barranco put a hand on his shoulder.
“Not exactly the return of humankind to the moon that you expected, eh, Cap?”
“Got a joke for you—a Jew and a lady Dago go to the moon and what do they find?”
“An abandoned Nazi moon base.”
“Well, I suppose I can’t know for sure, Marky, but except for the wackaloon white party fringe, the Nazi party kinda fizzled out after the Second World War. Anybody in there that long would be about 150 years old, and that’s a helluva lot of freeze-dried wienerschnitzel and sauerkraut, even for one person. Besides, I’m not getting anything as far as power output coming from anyone but us on the lunar surface. Looks pretty abandoned to me.”
Markevitch rubbed his chin.
“What are we going to do, Marky?” asked Barranco.
“Next moon walk, I’m going in.”
Markevitch carried nothing but a dual-tanked oxyacetylene welder. He was glad he didn’t have the ability to talk to mission control. If anyone other than Barranco knew, cutting into a Nazi moon base would have felt a lot more like Geraldo Rivera opening Capone’s vault—and he didn’t even expect to find so much as an empty bottle of moonshine. The Nazis had built the base, sure, but assuming they had manned it was something else entirely.
“Are you reading me, Barranco?”
“Like a shot, Marky.”
Markevitch lifted the oxy-welder and started cutting the lock mechanism. The persistent white glow from the welder swallowed up the light from his helmet, but he was glad he didn’t have to switch on his camera again, because the welder took both hands—especially considering that a dropped welder could kill him in a matter of seconds if it gashed his oxygen tank, or cut open his pressure suit. The tension in his arms multiplied. Sweat crawled and rolled.
“You okay out there, Marky? The camera’s shaking a little.”
“Almost got it.”
“Hang in there.”
“You don’t have to do it all at once, Markevitch.”
But he found that he did. The horror of the Nazi party wasn’t Hitler—one man couldn’t be responsible for all that depraved carnage without a lot of help—it was everyone involved that made the monster. Markevitch’s grandmother had survived Auschwitz, but was scarred, bar-coded, and orphaned by it, and now the last, untouched vestige of the Third Reich was in a Jew’s hands, the same hands that held a oxyacetylene torch. If he didn’t open the Projekt Gesichtskreis base all at once, he might not have the courage to walk in there later, even if he had the time.
Something inside the door mechanism clanged.
“That’s it, Barranco. I think it’s open.”
He set the oxy-welder down and grabbed the skipper’s wheel in the center of the door and it swung slowly open without even needing a turn. Moon-dust swam like motes in the cone of light shooting out of Markevitch’s helmet, and he felt a little like he was in that Titanic documentary, and one thing was sure—whatever footage and audio he laid down in the next hour or two would be part of an even bigger documentary, one that would change how people viewed World War II and the last hundred years.
“What do you see, Marky?”
“Just what it looks like from the outside—a metal tank about ten by fifteen. There’s a metal desk and chair and some clipboards and things hanging on the wall. They’re all in German, but I might be able to remember enough from high school and my grandmother’s pidgin to make it out. Looks like they’re charts and timetables, mostly. Shouldn’t be too hard, really.”
And he was right, more or less. The hard part was picking them off the wall with his fat-fingered gloves. According to the paperwork, researchers at Peenemünde Army Research Center delivered the outline for Projekt Gesichtskreis to the Wehrmacht just before the outbreak of the war. It was projected to cost more than 25 million Reichsmarks, and—if Markevitch knew anything about government spending—it probably cost twice as much. The V-2 moon launches began in earnest in 1944, about the time the Allies were invading Normandy and undoubtedly became far more important as Nazi Germany shriveled in the wake of the Allied advance.
“Barranco, you still copying this?”
“Yeah … Keep talking.”
“Want to take a stab at when the first manned mission was?”
“I’m afraid to guess.”
“The Battle of Berlin,” said Barranco. “The end of the war in Europe. Know what the initials are on the bottom of the log?”
“What else does it say?”
“That’s it,” said Markevitch, but there was something tempting in his voice.
“There’s another door.”
Markevitch had no trouble opening the interior door. There was no oxidization, no regolith, and no impact damage to keep it from opening like an empty jar of pickles, but what Markevitch found inside looked more like beef jerky. One was covered in tan, brown and black fur, and while the muscle tissue had deteriorated to almost nothing, the unmistakable bone structure screamed “German Shepherd,” even to Barranco, who saw it through a mostly colorless and constantly tiling display.
“What is that tied around it’s neck, Marky?”
“Looks like a woman’s scarf.” He tugged at the knot to pull it free, and the dog’s head crumbled from its shoulders, its sunken eyes staring at the far corner of the room with an almost accusatory expression.
Markevitch looked at that corner bringing his light and the camera in line and found a woman with red lipstick still visible, though applied sloppily. Her close-cropped blond hair was in disarray, but smoothed down, seemingly by hurried fingers and palms rather than a brush or comb. Her eyes were closed, and, if it weren’t for her shrunken flesh, she would have looked like she was just sleeping with her hands folded neatly under the mounds of her breasts. Captain Markevitch crouched and crawled toward her.
He knew he shouldn’t, but he wanted to touch her. Examine her. The dog had been strangled with one of her scarves, and Markevitch found it hard to believe that she died from natural causes. Space travel was only now becoming something that most people could handle without any kind of formal training. He wondered how rough the ride to the moon was in a Nazi V-2 with a cockpit. Probably life-threatening. But then, who killed the dog? And that’s when he saw the dent in her head that her rearranged hair had at first hidden.
“Who is that?” asked Barranco.
“I think that’s Eva Braun—Hitler’s wife. And the dog is Blondi. The Soviets thought they found their remains with Hitler’s after the Battle of Berlin, but there are a bunch of people who think they were only body doubles. I’m starting to think they’re right.”
“Then where’s Hitler?”
“Right there,” answered Markevitch. “Do you see him?”
“Yes,” whispered Barranco. “Oh God, this gives me the willies.”
“My grandmother told me stories about how they killed the Jews at Auschwitz. The showers were legendary. The women, the children—the Nazis would tell them they were going to be put to work according to their education and skills, but first they needed to take a shower. So they herded them into this giant, communal shower room, only the shower heads were fake and there was no water. Then they’d lock the doors and gas them. They say you could hear the screams for 15 or 20 minutes, even through the concrete walls with motorcycles revving.”
“That’s awful,” said Barranco.
“But I think the worst way, at least how my grandmother told it, was that they would take individuals into these dark cells in the basement. They’d seal off the doors and windows and let them suffocate. Sometimes, the Nazis would put a candle in there, make it go a little faster, but if they were feeling really cruel, they would just let you die in there in the dark, all alone. How long would that take, do you think?”
“How long do you think it took for him?”
Adolf Hitler, architect of the Third Reich and one of the greatest genocides in the history of humankind, sat with his back to the wall, his chin slumped on his brown military jacket. His arms weren’t laced over his belly like Braun’s, but had fallen to the floor, palms upward like he had been asking God ‘why?’ in the decades since his entombment. A crinkled piece of paper had long ago rolled out of one of his hands and blossomed into a final missive in Hitler’s fist-like handwriting. Markevitch couldn’t resist. He scooped it up with both hands.
“What is that?” asked Barranco through his helmet.
Markevitch held up one finger as if to say ‘hold on’ and then realized she couldn’t see it if he couldn’t. “One sec. Let me finish reading it.” His gloves were so big he had to shuffle the page in both hands to read the whole thing, and as a result, Barranco could monitor his deliberate progress from the Altair IV.
“Christ, are you almost done?” she asked.
“Well, it’s not exactly a suicide note,” said Markevitch. “He talks about how if Otto von Bismarck had gotten rid of the Jews when he created the German Empire in 1871, the idea of the Third Reich would have worked. He says his own problem was that the Jewish ‘infestation,’ as he called it, was too complete by the time he took power. There were too many people in his own government, he said, that were tainted with Jewish blood.”
“Hey, that’s kind of poetically true,” said Barranco. “But not the way he meant it.”
“Jews, Jews everywhere,” answered Markevitch, perverting a verse of Coleridge’s to fit the situation. “But I think he was a couple of thousand years off. After the Romans destroyed the Temple and Jews scattered across Europe and the Middle East, that kind of sealed the deal that people living in the 20th century were probably all Jews, at least by degree, if genetics counts for anything.”
“Or eugenics—and Hitler sure thought it did,” said Barranco.
Markevitch shook the paper, refreshing his memory. “Projekt Gesichtskreis was conceived as a military base, but he admits here that he picked this place as his final redoubt instead of holing up in Fortress Bavaria when the Red Army breached the German front in January 1945. He said, and I quote: ‘there are too many Jews in Bavaria to hold out hope.’ He said the moon, by contrast, would be free of Jewish pollution, and at least he and his wife and dog—”
“Dog and wife?”
“Maybe. Maybe they could rest in peace.”
“An Aryan tomb. Wonderful. And there you stand, a Jewish man and a grandson of a holocaust survivor. What are you going to do?”
Markevitch let the scrap of paper in his hand flutter to the ground, and in the moon’s low gravity, it took a very long time.
CHRISTIAN A. LARSEN grew up in Park Ridge, Illinois and graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He has worked as a high school English teacher, a radio personality, a newspaper reporter, a musician and songwriter, and a printer’s devil. His short story “Bast” appears in the anthology What Fears Become: An Anthology from The Horror Zine, available this fall from Imajin Books. He lives with his wife and two sons in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Visit him online at exlibrislarsen.com.