Fantasy Horror Historical World War II Fafnir Ring Saga

Twilight of Idols

By Stephen Dedman · May 16, 2019
5,298 words · 20-minute reading time

Photo by Håkon Sataøen via Unsplash.

From the author: She hoped for a hero. Unfortunately, she found Adolf Hitler.


TWILIGHT OF IDOLS

 

by Stephen Dedman

 

- I -

The thin, pale-faced man had been sitting quietly on the edge of his seat as though prepared to flee, obviously in awe of the august company, but the conversation at the table had somehow drifted from opera to politics, and the little man had started to orate, almost to preach, condemning communism and all communists in venomous phrases.  Though hung with tapestries, the villa’s marble halls unfortunately had excellent acoustics, and the man’s voice became louder and increasingly strident until it was impossible for anyone anywhere in the building not to be painfully aware of him.  Rudolf looked over his shoulder at the stranger, then returned his attention to the wine; the villa’s cellar was even better than its acoustics.  “Methinks he doth protest too much,” he muttered.  “Even for the stage.  Still, he might make a Cassius; he has the lean and hungry look.”

         His wife, Thea, spared the orator a brief glance, and shrugged.  “The eyes are interesting, but the moustache has to go.  Who is he, anyway?”

         The director peered at the man through his monocle, shrugged, and with a barely visible gesture, summoned the butler.  “Yes, Herr Lang?”

         “The loudmouth in the riding leggings,” said Fritz Lang, with a slight nod.  “Who is he?”

         Anton shrugged.  “One Herr Hitler, sir.  A set designer, or so he led me to understand.  He waited outside for an hour to see the Baron, and refused to leave; the Baron finally asked me to admit him.”

         The director nodded:  the Baron, Clemens zu Franckenstein, was the manager of the Royal Theatre.  “He has some interesting ideas on staging Wagner,” the butler continued, and then a hint of distaste crossed his normally carefully impassive face, “but unfortunately, no manners.  I was going to see if the Baron wished him to leave.”

The other woman at their table said nothing, but watched as Anton walked over towards the table where the orator was still holding forth.  More of the Baron’s staff gathered around him, and the man quietened down rather than yell into their faces.  A few minutes later, he was persuaded to leave.  Anton opened the huge windows, to admit the warm fresh breeze from the spring föhn, and the conversation drifted back to talk of film and theatre and music, as though all thoughts of the man had been blown away.

*          *          *

            “Herr Hitler!”

            The orator was walking along the Thierchstrasse, dressed much as she’d seen him at Clemens’s villa; his face was overshadowed by a slouch hat, and he carried a riding crop, but the woman could have recognised him by his walk alone.  He turned around slowly, looked her up and down, and nodded stiffly.  “Yes?”

            “My name is Irene,” she said, walking briskly towards him.  “I’m a friend of Clemens zu Franckenstein’s; I saw you at his villa, two weeks ago.”

            Hitler shrugged slightly, and looked her up and down.  She was taller than he, and looked to be in her forties, at least ten years his senior, but with a handsomeness that suggested that she’d once been a great beauty.  Her contralto voice spoke of opera training.  “Yes?”

            “I have a proposition – a business proposition – to put to you.  Do you have somewhere where we can talk?”

            “What sort of business?”

            “Call it a job offer.”

            “I have a job.”

            She smiled thinly.  “I know.  You’re a V-Mann, a political education officer…  but I think this job may be more to your liking.”

            “You were with those movie people,” said Hitler, suddenly recognising her.  “Rudolf Klein-Rogge, and that, that director…“

            “Fritz Lang.  Yes, that’s right.  Fritz wants to make a series of films of the Ring cycle, and I’m helping with the script.”  She looked along the street, and nodded at a cafe.  “In there?”

            “You want me to design sets for the film?”  he asked.

            “No,” she said, with a soft laugh.  “Fritz was a painter, like you, and he’s also been trained as an architect; his designs are quite brilliant.  I –“

            “How did you know I was a painter?”

            “I have my sources,” she replied with a small shrug, as she led the way into a café.  She didn’t speak again until they were seated in a booth and the waiter had taken their orders.  “Do you enjoy being an informer?”

            Hitler stared at her, and he paled.  “I’m –“

            “Lance-Corporal Adolf Hitler, Reserve Infantry Regiment No 16,” said Irene softly.  “Two Iron Crosses, one First Class.  Regimental Diploma for Conspicuous Bravery.  Military Service Cross with Swords, and Medal for the Wounded:  you were shot once, and gassed a few weeks before the war ended.  You were a messenger, carrying orders to the front lines.  There were some things I couldn’t find out, such as why you were never promoted past gefreiter…”

            “I wasn’t interested in becoming an officer,” replied Hitler, stiffly.  “What do you want?”

            “A hero.”  Her voice was soft; he listened for mockery, heard none.  “Are you interested, Corporal Hitler?  Or are you happy where you are, giving lectures and spying?”

            “Somebody has to do it,” said Hitler, after a long pause.  It seemed unlikely to him that his superiors would have chosen a woman like this to spy on him or try to test his loyalty, but Captain Mayr, his commander, was a Jew, with a Jew’s cunning.  “I’m a soldier.  I obey orders.  And because the Versailles diktat won’t let us have weapons that are fitting for soldiers -”

            “I’m not questioning your patriotism,” Irene replied, with a flick of her fingers.  “Have you ever killed anyone?” she asked.

            He shrugged.  “I don’t know:  you don’t often see the enemy, when you’re in the trenches.  I’m a good shot – my favourite game when I was a boy was shooting rats – but I’m not a murderer, if that’s what you want.”

            “No.  I’m offering you a chance to face an opponent worthy of your courage again.  You remember Siegfried’s battle with the dragon Fafnir?”

            “Of course.”

            “My father was a history professor, as well as a lover of Wagner’s music, and his life’s obsession was to see how much truth there was in the sagas, as Schliemann did with the Iliad and other archaeologists have done with the Bible or tales of King Arthur.  Father was determined to find the historic Siegfried, or at least the historic Gunther.  He believed, when he died, that he’d found much more than that; he’d found Gnitahead.  Fafnir’s lair.”

            Hitler snorted.  “And the dragon’s hoard, as well?”

            “My father believed so,” said Irene, sadly but levelly.  “He and my brother went in search of it more than twenty years ago, but neither returned.

            “In those days, I was married, and my son – my only son – was less than a year old.  A few months ago, I received a letter from my father’s lawyers, with a map of the way to Gnitahead.  It was intended for my son, not me – but like you, my son served in the infantry at Ypres.  Unlike you, he did not survive.”

            Hitler looked down at the table, then nodded.  Irene reached into her purse and extracted two American banknotes, a twenty and a hundred bill, which she carefully tore in half.

            “If you will come with me to Gnitahead, this is yours,” she said, sliding half of the twenty across the polished table towards him;  they both knew how valuable foreign currency was compared to the deutschmark.  “If we find any treasure, half is yours, and whether we do or not…”  She handed him half of the hundred.

            “And if we find a dragon?”  asked Hitler, not quite mockingly, as he pocketed both notes.

            “If that part of the legend is true,” said Irene, softly, “then perhaps the rest is true also – that bathing in Fafnir’s blood will make you invincible, like Siegfried.  If you want to find out, meet me at the railway station tomorrow – and bring a weapon.”

 *          *          *

            “What is this place?”  asked Hitler, as Irene led the way through a cold squarish tunnel.  “Some sort of mine?”

            Irene nodded, and the lamp attached to her helmet sent shadows scrambling.  “It was a salt mine.  I don’t know how recently it’s been worked.  But the lowest shaft leads into a cave with an underground river, and the river runs through the dragon’s lair.”

            “And what is this dragon supposed to eat?”  asked Hitler, dryly.  “Its own tail?”

            “Blind fish.  Bats.  I don’t know.  There are always people disappearing from this region, mostly young men and women, and rumours that somebody has been killing them and dumping their bodies down some empty shaft.  Maybe that’s how the dragon feeds.”

            Hitler’s snort showed what he thought of that theory.  “How many other men have you led down here?”  he asked, his hand on the butt of his revolver.

            “None.  None came this far.  The brave young men all went to war and haven’t returned, and those locals who are left are too scared of whatever lies down here.”

            “There are plenty of ex-soldiers who would have taken your money.”

            “Thousands, yes,” she replied.  “Some of them with war records as good as yours, or better.  But most were fools who’d never heard of Fafnir, or cowards that I couldn’t rely on, or criminals who would have robbed me and run.”

            Hitler nodded.  He knew from experience that many demobbed soldiers, desperate for money or action, had turned to crime:  many had joined the new political parties, and he saw dozens every night in the beer halls.  A moment later, his curiosity won over his discretion, and he asked, “And you’re sure I won’t?”

            “Fairly sure:  I think if you were going to, you would have done it a few miles ago.  And even if you do, I don’t think you’ll rape me as well.  I don’t know what drives you, Lance-Corporal, but it isn’t sex, and I don’t believe that money would be enough either.  Patriotism?  Glory?  Maybe, like Siegfried, you want to rule.  Whatever it is, you have enough imagination, enough vision, to have come this far.”  She led the way into a cave, and followed the sound of running water until they found the river.  Then she removed the pistol from her belt and placed it in a watertight metal box, which she then wrapped in oilcloth.  After a moment’s hesitation, Hitler did the same.

            The river had carved a tunnel passage through the rock, but it was very narrow and the ceiling was never high enough for Hitler to stand upright even in those places where they could wade rather than crawl or swim.  Usually there was a pocket of air at the top large enough at least for their faces and flashlights, but a few times Hitler found himself wondering whether they were more likely to drown or just to be trapped in some crack too narrow for them to turn around in:  either fate seemed far more likely than falling prey to a dragon, and every time something shifted beneath his feet or hands, he looked to see whether it was the remains of Irene’s father or brother or some other fool.  He sniffed cautiously at the air every time he emerged, careful not to breathe in any poisons:  having nearly been killed by gas once, he had decided it was no fit fate for a human being, and resolved to kill himself cleanly with one of the weapons he was carrying rather than let that happen.  Then Irene stopped so suddenly that he blundered into her, almost dropping his flashlight.  “What –“

            “Quiet!”  she hissed.  He blinked, shone his light upwards, and realised that they’d emerged into a larger chamber than any they’d seen since first wading into the underground river.  He took another cautious sniff:  apart from the stench of what must have been centuries of bat guano, the air was fresh.  He scrambled to his feet – the water was barely up to his knees – and both looked around.

            The lights disturbed a few bats, which fluttered around, and the dragon opened its eyes and growled low in its throat.  Hitler swung the light around until he could see the animal, and nearly burst out laughing.  Though its snake-like neck and the heavy tail that balanced it were long and thick, the dragon’s body was scarcely larger than that of his beloved Alsatian dog and closer to the ground.  They stared at each other for a moment, then the dragon drew back its head like a snake about to strike.  Hitler ducked, and a glob of corrosive slime spattered across his protective helmet.

            Irene unwrapped the oilskin parcel with a flick of her wrist, and was trying to open the metal box when Hitler grabbed her and pulled her back down into the river.  “What are you –“

            Rather than waste time speaking, he reached into his sodden coat and removed a ‘potato-masher’ grenade.  Irene’s eyes widened, and she nodded.  Hitler unscrewed the cap, then raised his head above the water to stare the dragon in the face again.  As it opened its mouth, he pulled the string, hurled the grenade, and began counting.  One…  two…

            To his disappointment, the grenade fell short of the dragon’s raised head, but rolled between its great clawed feet.  Three…  Hitler plunged back into the water and continued to count.  The grenade exploded on five, but he didn’t raise his head until he’d counted past twelve.

            The air was alive with startled bats, but a few seconds later, he and Irene could see the shattered body of the dragon, its precious blood leaking from its mangled belly.  Irene removed the entrenching tool from her belt and thrust it into Hitler’s hands.  “Quick!”  she said.  “The blood!  Dig a pit!”

            Hitler scrambled out of the riverbed and scurried across the guano-covered floor.  The rock was too hard to dig – even his pick made barely a scratch – so he removed his helmet and placed it beneath the largest of the wounds, to catch the blood.  He did the same with his boots, then hastily peeled off his wet clothes with one hand while holding the other over another jet of blood.  Within a minute, he was naked and had emptied the blood-filled helmet over his head.  Remembering the tales of the deaths of Siegfried and Achilles, he smeared blood over himself liberally, careful not to leave any part of his skin vulnerable.  “So this will make me immortal?”  he asked, as Irene also began removing her clothing.

            “No," she said.  "Not immortal.  We’ll still age, and we’re not immune to disease.  But your skin will be better than any armour they can make for a panzer: no bullet, no blade, no fire, will be able to penetrate it.

“Pain, however...  you will still feel primary pain as you would now.  If you were to accidentally put your hand on a hot stove, it would jerk away instantly...  but if you chose to, you could stand in flames or even swim in molten iron and not be burned, and the pain would stop as soon as you've moved away from the heat.  And once we’ve eaten the flesh, we’ll be safe from poison – but not from gas.  If you try to breathe mustard gas again, it will still corrode your lungs, though it won't blister your skin.”

Hitler shuddered.

“At least,” said Irene, “that’s what my father believed.  He never had a chance to test it.”  She dipped her hands in the helmet, and wiped the blood over her face.  Hitler laughed at the sight, then turned away from her for a moment and reached for his belt.  He waited until Irene’s face and neck were wet with blood, then drew his dagger and stabbed her under the chin.  She stared at him in horror, then realised that the point had failed to penetrate.

            Both were silent for a moment, and Hitler withdrew the knife and ran the edge across the back of his left forearm.  It made no impression.

Irene smiled.  “It works!” she crowed.  “My father was right!”

Hitler grinned back, then thrust the dagger up under her ribcage and into her heart.  He stood there until he was sure she was dead, then began searching for the dragon’s hoard.

- III -

            The streetwalker looked at Hitler with her usual carefully neutral expression; after all, she’d heard much stranger requests.  They agreed on a price, twenty marks, and then Hitler handed her his riding crop and stripped down to his leather breeches.

As he requested, she whipped him for several minutes, wondering why he was laughing.  Then he lay on the ground, face-up, and begged her to kick him as hard as she could.  “It’s your money,” she said with a shrug.  “Anywhere in particular?”

          “Everywhere except the face,” he said.

          She shrugged again, and complied.  Hitler laughed – giggled, almost – as she did so, and her impassive mask almost faltered.  She thought she’d grown inured to her job, and that nothing would ever disgust her again, but there was something about this strange little man that made her feel as though she were treading in something indescribably foul.

- IV -

          Fritz Lang peered at the letter, and shook his head.

“What is it?”  asked Thea.  The paper was thick and looked expensive, and she could see a swastika on the letterhead and a jagged, angry-looking signature.

          “Adolf Hitler,” said Fritz, sourly, dropping the letter onto his dinner plate, his appetite gone.  “He’s offered me a job as director of the Reich’s film industry.”

His wife smiled.  “Well, why not?  He’s always said he admired your Ring Saga, and Metropolis…”

“And banned my last film,” the director pointed out.

Thea shrugged.  “A lot of people thought you were lampooning him, that Dr Mabuse was meant to be him…”  She smiled.  “Of course, they were right.  Rudolf saw Hitler for the first time just before we made Dr Mabuse, and I’m sure the resemblance wasn’t entirely coincidental…”

Fritz blinked.  Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Thea’s ex-husband, had first played the hypnotist and master criminal Dr Mabuse in 1922; highlights of that film had included a car which filled with poisonous gas, and Mabuse ordering his mistress to commit suicide to avoid being taken prisoner.  “What?  Where?”

“At Clemens zu Franckenstein’s.  We’d just finished Weary Death.  I know it was twelve, thirteen years ago, but surely you remember him?  He was a stage designer; you called him a loudmouth.  Are you going to accept?”

            “No,” said the director.  “Hitler is a monster; I want nothing to do with him.”

            “I’m sure some of your actors would say the same about you,” said Thea, dryly.  “Darling, if it mattered to him that your mother was Jewish, he’d never have offered you the job.  People don’t like Hitler because he’s not scared of anyone or anything, and they’re not used to politicians who aren’t scared.  You talk about him as though he were some sort of robot; I’m sure, underneath it all, he’s quite human.”  She smiled.  “If you pricked him, would he not bleed?  If you poisoned him, would he not die?”

            “And if you wronged him, would he not revenge?”  growled Lang.  He left Germany that night.

- V -

1944 had begun badly for the Reich, with the Russians advancing into Poland again as well as reclaiming Leningrad, and America establishing the War Refugee Board to help Jews escape.  Five months later, the Americans had landed at Normandy, and a report by escapees from Auschwitz had been delivered to the Pope.  Increasing numbers of Germans were beginning to doubt his infallibility – even some of his generals, Hitler knew, privately and traitorously thought he should never have broken his pact with Stalin and tried to fight the war on two fronts. 

Because none of the rooms in the bunker at Wolfsschanze were large enough for the map table and the all the officers assembled, staff meetings had to be held in a converted barracks above ground.  Hitler looked down at the map through a magnifying glass, scowling as General Jodl described the Allies’ capture of Caen and St Lo.  “And on the Russian front?”

            “They’ll be in Madjanek within a week,” said General Heusinger, gloomily.  “If we used some of the trains that are shipping prisoners to Auschwitz, we might be able to hold it…”

            “We could use gas,” suggested General Jodl.  “We have stockpiles of Substance 83…”

            “And so do the Allies,” snapped Hitler.  “If they learn that we’ve used it, even on the Russians, they’ll use it on us, gas us as though we were Jews.  And the Russians may also have it.  We won’t be the first to use it.”

            Heusinger and Jodl looked at each other, but neither spoke; neither did any of the other twenty-two men in the room.  Most, even the clerks, knew that Hitler still had a revulsion for chemical warfare more than thirty-five years after being exposed to mustard gas himself, and no-one was prepared to argue with him on a last-ditch measure.  Colonel von Stauffenberg, standing near the door, excused himself and left.  No-one noticed that he’d left his briefcase under the heavy oak table.

            “Maybe we should destroy the gas chambers at Madjanek,” said Heusinger, after a long silence.  “Before the Russians get there.  If they find them, they’ll tell the world…”

            Hitler shook his head.  “Maybe,” he replied.  “But there have been stories told before.  People either don’t believe them, or don’t care.  Stalin has no love of Jews, either, and his own hands aren’t clean; how many graves did we find in the Ukraine?  And how many of their own people are they torturing in Siberia?”  There was a faint hint of approval in his voice:  the Russians, who he’d predicted were too primitive to build a working motor vehicle, were far less efficient in their attempts at extermination than the Reich, but they didn’t lack for zeal, and the some of their methods of both physical and psychological torture were remarkably ingenious for such a backwards people.  Not as sophisticated or useful as the Gestapo’s, of course, much less Mengele’s, but worthy of respect nonetheless.  He shrugged.  “We’ll invite the Red Cross to see one of our camps, and show them that the rumours are only that.  Tell Himmler to arrange it.”

            SS Hauptsturmführer Günsche, Hitler’s adjutant, nodded, and suddenly the briefcase under the table exploded.  Hitler, standing next to the bomb, flew through the air and landed on Field Marshall Keitel.  Ceiling beams cracked, and the lamp crashed down on Jodl’s head, stunning him.  von Stauffenberg, standing a few hundred yards away, watched as bodies and debris came hurtling out of the windows, and turned and ran.

            As the smoke cleared, Hitler painfully hauled himself back to his feet.  His hair was burnt and smouldering, his ears were ringing, and his pale blue eyes were glazed.  Günsche and the other SS officers, who’d been standing in the corner furthest from the bomb, stared in amazement at Hitler’s torn uniform, and the unmarked flesh beneath it – and then at the mangled remains of Colonel Brandt, who’d also been standing next to von Stauffenberg’s briefcase, and the other wounded men.

Hitler looked around the room, and, though shocked and concussed, pulled himself together.  “You will tell nobody what you’ve seen,” he barked, then glanced at Brandt’s corpse.  “Say…  say I had left the room, or was away from my chair…  no, say the bomb was moved to the far side of the table leg.”  Günsche nodded, and walked unsteadily towards the radio set, only to find that it had been wrecked by the blast.  “And say that Providence…  no, Destiny has protected Germany from a…  a great tragedy.  Say that the failure of this attempt is…  a sign that that I am under, under the… the protection of a divine power.”  He smiled.

- V -

            The vial was sheathed in a yellow metal tube which looked for all the world like a lipstick, and Eva smiled as she sucked the glass ampoule into her mouth.  Hitler, sitting next to her on the couch, did the same.  Eva dropped the metal tube onto the floor, and bit down hard.  The thin glass shattered, and a stench of bitter almonds filled the poorly ventilated room, noticeable even over the reek of the blocked toilets.  Hitler closed his eyes; he felt the ampoule crunch between his porcelain-and-metal teeth, and swallowed cyanide and glass splinters.  Eva’s jaws clamped down in a horrible risus, and Hitler felt her convulse as she gasped for air, but he didn’t open his eyes until she had collapsed onto the floor.  A few minutes later, when Eva had stopped moving, he reached for his revolver, placed the muzzle in his mouth, and squeezed the trigger.

The bullet slammed into his hard palate, ricocheted, and rolled down his throat; Hitler coughed as he felt it sear its way down his oesophagus and into his stomach.  Incredulously, he removed the gun from his mouth, stared at it, then pointed it at his chest and fired again.

The bullet punched a burning hole through his soup-stained tunic, but failed to leave a mark on his skin.  Screaming an oath, he threw the pistol away and stood, almost tripping over his wife’s corpse.

            He listened, wondering if anyone else remained in the bunker.  Goebbels had  announced his intention of poisoning his children before he and his wife committed suicide; Bormann, he was sure, would flee as soon as he felt it was safe to do so, and might already have gone.  He staggered towards the door.  If only Heisenberg had been able to build one of the bombs he’d once talked about, a single bomb able to destroy an entire city; he could have turned all Berlin into his pyre, killing the treacherous Russians and his own cowardly people and leaving a vast ruin as his monument…  he realised, to his horror, that he was weeping, and turned away from the heavy steel door as it opened.  “My Führer?”

            It was Major Günsche, still in his black SS uniform proudly bearing the special wound badge issued to the survivors of the Wolfsschanze bombing.  Hitler stared at him wearily, then nodded at Eva’s body.  “Do you have the petrol?”

            “I’ve sent Kempka to fetch it.”

            “Burn her,” he said, wearily.  “And the Goebbels family – I take it they are dead?”  he added.

            “Yes, my Führer.”

            “Good.”  Hitler looked around the small bedroom, then totttered into the conference room with Günsche following him.  “Where’s the doctor?”

            “He left with Reichsleiter Bormann.”

            Hitler grimaced.  “See if you can find a body that could pass for mine, and burn that, too.  Maybe it will fool the Russians when they get here – for long enough for me to escape.”

            “Sir?”

            “Don’t look so shocked,” Hitler snapped.  “I can’t let them take me alive.  The cyanide didn’t work, the bullets didn’t work, even a bomb didn’t work…  what else should I do?  Hang myself?”  He grimaced.  “Get me some civilian clothes.  Women’s clothes, if that’s all you can find; it worked for Lenin.”

            Günsche allowed himself a ghost of a smile.  “It might fool Russians: have you ever seen Russian women?”  Hitler didn’t reply.  “Where will you go?”

            “I don’t know, and it’s best that you don’t either.”  The bunker rocked as a shell hit the upper level.  “Goodbye, my friend.”

- VI –

        The Russian attaché opened his briefcase and removed a fat manila file.  “These are the photographs, and Dr Shkaravski’s report,” he said, smoothly.  “Unfortunately, by the time our soldiers reached the bunker, the bodies were already too badly burned for the remains to be readily identifiable, but we’re confident that this is Eva Braun, and the other body would seem to be that of Hitler.”

            Fritz Lang looked suspiciously at the translation of the pathologist’s report, snorting with amusement at the description of the undescended testicle.  He’d called in a lot of favours for the privilege of seeing these Soviet Intelligence files, but he’d long had an uncomfortable feeling that he was in some way responsible for Hitler’s career.  “It’s a kinder death than he deserved,” he muttered, “and I hope he burns in Hell forever.”

            The attaché allowed himself an undiplomatic smile.  “I’m sorry that I don’t believe in Hell,” he said, softly, “but, just this once, I hope that Marx was wrong, and that you are right.”

            Fritz chuckled.  “I’ll drink to that,” he said.  He poured himself a drink, and offered one to the Russian, who accepted it with a gracious nod.  “The important thing is, we’re sure he’s dead.”

*          *          *

            The prisoner was never named, and his number was known only to a select few.  In his first year in the cell, various attempts had been made to remove his tongue for fear that he might say his name loudly enough to be heard through the thick walls and door, but all the methods they’d tried – scalpels, saws, drills, flame, acid, intense cold, even flesh-eating insects and plants – had failed.  By the time Beria suggested filling the mouth permanently with molten lead or something similar, Stalin had decided that he liked the sound of the man’s guttural screams too much, and had settled for binding the prisoner’s toothless jaws between his visits.

            Beria walked into the cell and looked at the twisted form.  While nothing they’d tried was able to pierce his skin, not the smallest needle nor the most powerful anti-tank weapon, starvation and thirst had withered his flesh, and driving a tank over his legs and arms had gradually broken his still-human bones.  The head of the secret police chuckled as he remembered the crunching sounds, and mad pale blue-grey eyes stared back at him.

            Beria considered telling the prisoner that Stalin had died a month before, but that might have been a kindness; better to let him wonder.  “We’re going to move you,” he said, in German.  “It’s time you did some useful work; from each according to his abilities, as Marx said.”

            The pale blue eyes stared, uncomprehendingly.  Beria wasn’t sure whether the prisoner understood anything any more, after nearly eight years in the cell, but it hardly mattered.  “I know,” he said, as he freed the prisoner’s jaw, “you may not think you can be of much use to anybody, but you’re wrong.  You can perform a great service to Soviet science.”  He grinned.  “We’re giving you to the Army Chemical Corps, to help test some new gases.”

            The prisoner opened his mouth and emitted a thin, whistling scream that reminded Beria of some Wagnerian opera.  He chuckled, wondering whether the scientists could find some way to kill the man, or whether he might somehow scream forever.

This story originally appeared in Conqueror Fantastic.