viernes, 13 de abril de 2018

Alemania Infamia 1-4

The Nazis always arrived on schedule.
Today would be no exception.
At four o’clock sharp, Zara St. James gripped the sides of her canteen, her dark eyes fixed on the Sentinel flying toward her. He soared across the cloud-ridden sky, zipping through the breeze with his arms locked in front of him, like a superhero from an old comic.
But there was nothing heroic about him.
As the Sentinel neared the fields, he dipped down so low that Zara could see the rifle looped over his shoulder and the fist-size swastika on his olive-green uniform. His golden hair flapped in the chilly April wind, cementing the look of the prized Aryan soldier: sturdy frame, snowy skin. Adolf Hitler’s shining legacy.
“Not you again,” Zara whispered. The corners of her mouth tightened with worry. Twice this week she had noticed him patrolling the farm, always around four o’clock. One visit was routine. Two, a bit alarming. A third could mean trouble. Possibly an interrogation.
Or worse.
Zara’s worry sank deeper as the Sentinel headed straight for the farm. He skimmed over the Shenandoah hills, which were bursting with fresh spring leaves. Then his gaze swept over the St. James land, scanning the worn-looking house and the decades-old barn and finally settling on Zara, who stood at the edge of the rain-soaked fields.
He slowed to a stop. “Heil Hitler!” he shouted in crisp German, hovering thirty feet above her head.
Zara’s heartbeat clattered, but she stretched out her arm in the proper salute, just as her mother had taught her years ago. “Heil Hitler,” she replied. Her own German was passable due to the mandatory classes in primary school, but her accent had always been atrocious, which didn’t bother her in the least. On most days she rather enjoyed offending the Germans’ delicate ears — one of the few crimes they couldn’t beat her for — but now she made sure to enunciate each syllable. She didn’t want any trouble.
The Sentinel saluted in return. “Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer,” he barked out. The Nazi motto. One people, one Empire, one leader.
Her breaths grew tight. At this distance, Zara could see the three lightning bolts printed on the side of his helmet, the symbol of the German Anomaly Division — the most elite, and most frightening, branch of the Nazi military. The division had been the brainchild of Führer Adolf Hitler’s, an entire regiment composed of genetically altered soldiers who could crush their enemies with their super-powered fists. And those fists had changed the world.
Zara’s gaze slunk toward the farmhouse, still unsure why the Sentinel had stopped by. Please don’t be here for a search, she thought desperately. She wished she could warn her uncle somehow — Hide the radio, she’d tell him — but then the Sentinel landed on the field, his boots flattening an onion sprout, blocking the house from her view.
“Your name, girl?” he demanded.
She forced herself to look up at him. “Zara St. James, mein Herr.”
“And where are you from?”
Zara grimaced. She had heard that question enough times to know that he wasn’t asking where she had been born, which was right here in the Shenandoah Valley. He wanted to know her lineage, where she had gotten her black hair and sable eyes in this rural mountain town.
“I’m English on my mother’s side,” Zara said slowly. Her chest squeezed at the mention of her mom, and she wondered where his questioning was leading. “And Japanese on my father’s.”
“The Empire of Japan, hmm?” His eyes skimmed over her sun-darkened skin, loitering over her sweaty, secondhand shirt and drifting toward her hips. His mouth curved into a smile.
A sour taste bloomed on Zara’s tongue. She knew that smile and what it meant. Most Germans sniffed at her “half-breed” stock. She was an Untermensch — a subhuman — like the Polish and blacks and any mixed-race persons, only fit for factory and farm work. But not everyone scorned the color of her skin. There were a few townspeople — always men, it seemed — whose gazes lingered on the shape of her eyes and at the slight curve of her hungry waist. Like the Sentinel was doing now.
Zara’s thoughts hit a tailspin. She could use her fists as a weapon, but that wouldn’t be much against the Sentinel. Or she could scream, but there were acres between her and her uncle. Only the cows would hear her from here.
That left her with one last option, but Uncle Red’s warning drilled through her head: No one can know about what you can do, he had told her countless times. If the Nazis found out, they’d haul you off to one of their labs or a labor camp. Or a grave.
The Sentinel stepped forward, that smile of his arching. Zara’s fingers tightened around her canteen, ready to swing at his head, but then he pulled out a stack of papers from his pocket instead. He tossed one in the dirt.
“An announcement from Fort Goering,” he said, referring to the Nazi citadel a few miles up the road, where thousands of soldiers were stationed. “Pick it up.”
Eyes wary, Zara retrieved the paper and ignored his grin at her obedience. The fort’s soldiers must have been ordered to distribute these flyers across the township; and unfortunately for Zara, the Sentinel had decided to hand-deliver hers. She scanned the paper’s contents:
At 1700 hours EST, all residents of the Greenfield Township are required at the Courthouse Square. An announcement will be made shortly thereafter, broadcasted live from Berlin. Attendance is mandatory.
A dozen questions ripped through Zara’s mind. Most announcements from Berlin — treaties signed, battles won — were aired on the evening news reports or printed in the state-run newspaper. Only a handful merited a live broadcast, let alone mandatory attendance.
Zara still remembered the first announcement she had attended, back when her mother was alive. All of Greenfield had met in the square to celebrate the birth of Johann Hitler, the son of the current Führer, Dieter Hitler. The entire Nazi Empire, from Berlin to Brussels, from the American coast to the North African shores, was forced to salute the newest addition to the Hitler dynasty, the great-great-grandson of Adolf himself. Zara’s mother had saluted dutifully, too, but a soldier struck her anyway for wearing muddy boots to such a sacred event. She had apologized immediately, but she never flinched from the hit. Years later, that memory still stuck with Zara: her mother standing tall, the bravest woman in all of Greenfield. The ache of missing her never went away.
Zara wondered what this new announcement would bring. Perhaps Dieter’s wife had squeezed out another child? Or maybe the Führer had taken over the Italian Dakotas? The Italian economy had teetered on the brink of collapse since Prime Minister Benito Mussolini III came into power a decade ago. He may have sold the Dakotas, along with the Canadian lands, for a desperate price.
“Why are you still standing here, little Mischling?” the Sentinel said, cutting into her thoughts.
Zara tacked on a polite smile. “My apologies, mein Herr.”
His jewel-blue eyes looked her up and down. “See to it that you aren’t late. I’ll be watching.”
Her cheeks burned, but she daren’t say a word. Instead, she quickly turned on her heel while the Sentinel launched into the clouds. Only then did Zara shudder.
Mischling?” she muttered. It was a German term for mixed-blood, usually used like a slur, but the Sentinel hadn’t made it sound that way. Her fingers had itched to slap him, but an Untermensch like her would get jailed for that. Or sent to the Front Royal labor camp thirty miles east.
With another shudder, Zara hurried to the house, abandoning the onions for tomorrow. She leapt over the infant rows of corn and ran past the faded barn that her great-great-grandparents had built before the war. In the early ’40s, the old United States had been a beacon of hope — of freedom so vast it could swallow you whole — but that America had long been destroyed, its cities flattened by the German Anomaly Division. After President Roosevelt was executed in early 1944, the Axis powers had cut the country like a giant birthday cake. The Nazis had claimed the fertile lands east of the Mississippi River while the Japanese took over the West, leaving the Italians with the Dakota plains, a consolation prize for their anemic role in the fighting. Decades had passed since then and the Germans still held a tight rein over the Territories, but Zara yearned for more than a life of hard labor and Heil Hitlers.
One day, she thought, clutching the paper in her hand. One day, her uncle would let her join the Revolutionary Alliance, an underground resistance group that had fought the Empire for decades. It was originally formed by the last remnants of the US military, who had escaped Washington, DC, after Roosevelt’s execution. Back then, its members had numbered in the millions, many of them former soldiers, but with the US military long disbanded the Alliance now relied on civilian recruits, like Uncle Red. And hopefully Zara.
If only she could join the rebels, then she could help push the Nazis back to Germany or, even better, crush the regime altogether. Maybe then, finally, her mother’s death would have justice.
As her lungs puffed, Zara burst through the kitchen door of the run-down farmhouse to find her uncle underneath the kitchen sink, a foot-long wrench in his hand. A water pipe had burst that morning (the second one that month), and he had stayed behind to fix it. Otherwise he would’ve been out in the fields as usual, planting eggplant and digging holes for the cabbage.
“What happened?” said Uncle Red. He set the wrench on the floor and pulled himself up. “Did the cow get sick again?”
Zara peered up into his bearded face. Her uncle wasn’t very tall, but she stood a whole head shorter than him. “The cow’s fine. Here, look at this.” She handed him the notice.
His green eyes, the same color as Zara’s mother’s, flared wide. “An announcement? Now?”
“Do you know what this is about?” Her voice dropped low out of habit. They never knew who could be watching them. “Maybe the Alliance sent you a message?”
“No, we haven’t gotten a thing since last week.”
“This has to be serious if attendance is mandatory.”
Uncle Red ran a tense hand through his thinning auburn hair. As he neared forty, he seemed to be losing more of it each year. “I know. Remember to stick close to me. The square will be swarming with soldiers. You can’t lose control, do you understand?”
Zara bristled. “I haven’t had an episode in years.”
“It doesn’t hurt to be cautious.”
“I’m always cautious.”
He looked doubtful, but said nothing more about it. “Grab the keys. We don’t want to keep the Führer waiting.”
They climbed into Uncle Red’s ancient truck, a red Volkswagen with an engine like a foghorn. Key in ignition, the truck let out a roar and they rumbled down the mud-caked road, lumbering past acres of corn and leafy beans that the Nazis would later seize to feed the troops at Fort Goering. Every farmer was required to pay a land tax to the Empire, which made Zara’s blood simmer at every harvest. After months of her and her uncle’s hard work, the Germans would take the very best crops and leave them with cornhusks and bug-eaten cabbage. She hated cabbage.
Uncle Red cracked open his window, and the faint scent of cow manure wafted into the cab. “Who gave you the announcement? One of the town magistrates?”
“A sentinel.” The fresh memory of his visit made Zara’s skin crawl. That leering smile of his … “The one who can fly.”
“He’s new, isn’t he? Sentinel Achen, I think. We better move the radio to be safe.”
Zara nodded. For years, they had hidden a small transistor radio inside their henhouse, tucked under the floorboards along with her great-great-grandfather’s rifle and pistol. Every week or two, Uncle Red would use the radio to speak with the Alliance through coded messages. It was the only reliable method of communication they had found to skirt the Nazis’ watchful eyes.
“We should’ve checked the radio before we left,” said Zara as the truck hit a bump. “The Alliance could’ve figured out what this announcement is about.”
“We’ll find out soon enough.”
A thought struck her. “Do you think the Soviets have something to do with this? Maybe they broke the pact.” Back in 1939, Hitler and Stalin had signed the Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact, which had kept the two countries in a tenuous peace for decades. But in recent years Comrade Premier Volkov had seemed keen on expanding into the borderlands that separated Germany from the Reds. The Alliance believed that a few of those border nations, like Latvia and Estonia, could be sympathetic to the communist cause.
“Volkov wouldn’t act so rashly,” said Uncle Red as he turned onto the gravel lane leading into town. “His own Anomaly soldiers are strong, but they can’t compete against the German Anomaly Division just yet.”
Zara sighed, slightly deflated, and stared out her window at the rolling hills passing by. Her uncle had a penchant for poking holes in her theories, and as much as she hated to admit it, he was right about this one. During the war the Nazis had led the race to create the first super-powered soldier, at the behest of Führer Adolf. Known as the Dresden Study, the German geneticists had plucked test subjects from concentration camps, mostly Jews and gypsies. By 1941 they had unleashed a battalion of bulletproof Anomalies onto the streets of London. In mere weeks, that single battalion had killed off a third of Parliament and flattened half of the British capital before their genes destabilized from the wartime experiments. Nearly all of those first Anomalies fell into comas and died — the Nazi scientists still had their work cut out for them — but the soldiers had completed their mission. Churchill surrendered a month later.
After England fell, the rest of the world had scrambled to their own laboratories. Japan had had an early start — its military had been experimenting on Chinese and Russian prisoners since the 1930s — and its first Anomaly troops, dubbed the Ronin Elite, debuted in 1942. The Soviets followed suit a year later. But the Americans opted to focus on their top-secret Manhattan Project, hoping to fight the Anomalies with an atomic bomb. Their gamble, however, went sour. Before the United States could test their secret weapon, the Nazis attacked the American East Coast while Japan struck from the west. Thousands upon thousands of Anomaly troops flooded the country, crushing the United States under the Axis’s polished boot.
Uncle Red rolled up his window, his jaw visibly tense. “Remember what I told you at the house. Be careful at the square.”
Zara sighed. This again? “I know, Uncle Red.”
A mile later, the truck entered the Greenfield town limits, and the small, sagging houses gave way to redbrick town homes, proudly standing over cobblestone streets. Iron gas lamps lit the clean sidewalks and flower boxes dangled from the windows, popping with pink tulips and cheery daffodils. Zara frowned at the picture-perfect sight.
Only the wealthy could live here. Only the Nazis.
The truck puttered down a side road and halted outside the offices of the old Virginian Post-Observer, long abandoned after the Nazis destroyed its presses. Next door to it, Zara saw the remnants of the synagogue that had been burned long before. It was strange to think about the Jews who had once worshipped there, who had made Greenfield their home. Almost all of them had been shot during the postwar cleansings, although a few had managed to survive by going into hiding or assuming new identities.
Zara’s hand gripped the door handle as she thought about her best friend, Molly Burns, whom she met back in primary school. Molly had been the only one who didn’t care about Zara’s Japanese side. In the hot Shenandoah summers they would spend hours at the Burns pond, and during the fall they would fill their stomachs with fat red plums. But Molly disappeared just after the girls turned thirteen. Her whole family had vanished along with her.
Uncle Red was the one who broke the news to Zara — that years before Molly was born, the Burnses had once been the Birnbaums. Molly’s great-great-grandparents had converted to Protestantism before the war, but the Nazis had discovered their Jewish heritage and shot them all dead, burning their bodies until the smoke cluttered the pale morning sky. Thinking about that day still brought a lump to Zara’s throat. The Empire had killed so many people she had loved. Her best friend, her own mother. Far, far too many.
Turning her head from the synagogue, Zara hopped out of the truck and started for the square, but her uncle caught her by the elbow.
“Keep your chin down,” he said.
His head was cocked toward a half-dozen soldiers patrolling the street for the announcement. They each wore a green helmet and cradled a standard-issue Heckler & Koch rifle. As they drew closer, Uncle Red tilted his chin downward and motioned for Zara to do the same, but she stole a glance at the soldiers anyway. She couldn’t help noticing that some of them were Japanese, proven by the little red sun flags on their armbands. Only full-blooded Japanese were given honorary Aryan status in the German Empire, a nod to the long-standing alliance between Germany and Japan. These soldiers must be stationed at Fort Goering on a military exchange program, a goodwill gesture between the two allies.
Years ago, Zara’s father had been one of these soldiers, too. She didn’t know much about him, aside from the fact that he had filed for an immediate transfer once the girl he had been secretly seeing — Zara’s mother — told him she was pregnant.
One of the soldiers caught Zara’s eye, but she swiftly looked across the street. When she was little and didn’t know any better, she had wandered up to a Japanese captain and asked if he knew her father, Corporal Tanaka. The soldier had taken one look at Zara and said, Why would I know anything about your father or his trash? When he started laughing, she had run away, tears swimming down her cheeks. She realized then how her father must have viewed her. Trash. Litter. Garbage to be thrown away, just as he had thrown away her mom.
“You all right? You’re pale.” Uncle Red looped an arm around her shoulder.
Zara shrugged and sank against him, his hug reminding her that not everyone had abandoned her. As much as Uncle Red frustrated her, as much as she wanted to box his ears sometimes, he was the only father she had known and the only one she needed.
As they neared the town center, they zigzagged through the crowd of farmers in their sweat-soaked shirts and the iron miners in their dusty coveralls, who had been let out early for the announcement. Zara followed her uncle into a wide, bricked courtyard, commonly known as the square. The Greenfield Courthouse lay ahead of them, a centuries-old building that had once been the pride of the town, with its white pillars and handsome bell tower. But now it was used for official Nazi business, complete with a portrait of Führer Dieter hanging above its doors. Everyone was expected to salute the painting whenever they walked under it, and Zara had always done so obediently, but that didn’t stop her belly from twisting every time. She hated looking into Dieter’s plump face and his ridiculous rectangle of a mustache, the same mustache that his great-grandfather had favored.
“Where’s the painting of Reichsmarschall Faust?” Uncle Red said. He nodded to the blank space next to the Führer’s portrait where a likeness of Reichsmarschall Faust, the cousin of the Führer and the head commander of the Territories, usually hung.
“Maybe they’re putting up a new one.”
“Maybe,” Uncle Red said, although his eyes narrowed and he didn’t look convinced.
Zara pushed deeper into the crowd, murmuring a quick “Pardon me” to the German housewives she bumped into. As usual, the Hausfrauen were dressed in the latest fashions from Berlin: leather riding boots, wide-legged trousers, and delicate blouses patterned with tiny silver swastikas. The women had brought their broods along for the show: stair-step children with cornhusk hair. Since the war, the Nazis had encouraged women to bear large families to spread the Aryan line, and now it was a common sight to see a German mother with five, six, or seven children in tow. They reminded Zara of her neighbor’s brood mares: popping out child after child until their bodies could take no more.
“Redmond! Over here!”
Zara’s head swiveled to find Mrs. Talley, a dear family friend and another member of the Alliance, waving a wrinkled hand in their direction. The old woman stood at the far corner of the square with her gray hair tucked into a bun and a red shawl draped around her shoulders. She leaned against a lamppost to relieve her aching right hip. Uncle Red threaded toward her.
“Hello, my sweet girl.” Mrs. Talley greeted Zara with a warm hug and a peck on the cheek, a ritual left over from when Zara was little. “You wouldn’t happen to know what this is all about, would you?”
“I thought it could be the Soviets, but he shot that idea down,” said Zara, gesturing at her uncle.
Uncle Red tensed. “Let’s keep our voices down.”
Mrs. Talley only smiled. “It’s all right. I’m sure no one heard us with all of this chatter around us.”
“It doesn’t hurt to be careful,” said Uncle Red, staring straight at Zara.
Zara folded her arms, but she nodded. Her uncle’s paranoia often chewed on her last nerve, but she couldn’t exactly begrudge him for it. After all, he had weathered his share of Nazi interrogations because his father — Zara’s grandfather — had been imprisoned for possessing an Alliance pamphlet. The Nazis had sent Louis St. James straight to a labor camp, where he succumbed to pneumonia six months later. Not long after his death, the Nazis started sniffing around the St. James farm more and more, although that hadn’t stopped Zara’s mother and Uncle Red from joining the Alliance.
The crowd hushed as three armored SUVs rolled down the street from Fort Goering. Rising on her tiptoes, Zara watched the vehicles stop. A dozen soldiers spilled out from their doors, including Sentinel Achen. Seeing him again made Zara grimace, wishing she could scrub her skin clean.
The soldiers fanned around a long stage that had been erected on the eastern edge of the square, rising six feet above the ground. Behind the stage, a large white screen the size of a movie theater display had been assembled for the broadcast.
A Nazi officer stepped out of the last SUV and the soldiers snapped to attention; Zara’s mouth screwed tight at the sight of him. It was Colonel Eckhart, the commanding officer of Fort Goering, marching onto the stage with his silver hair slicked back and his boots gleaming like a mirror. A bleached-white smile occupied his face, the same smile he wore whenever he ordered a public beating or an execution. At the sight of that grin, Zara fought off a scowl. Colonel Eckhart may have possessed the good looks of a Munich cinema star, but his heart was black as tar underneath. He had no problem ordering his soldiers to kill communists, Jews, or homosexuals. Not that there were many of them left nowadays. The Nazis had exterminated an untold number of “undesirables” during the postwar cleansings, and any survivors had learned to live in hiding long ago. But as much as the Colonel enjoyed killing a Soviet sympathizer or a closeted homosexual, nothing made him happier than catching an Alliance rebel — his personal favorite.
“Citizens of Greenfield!” Colonel Eckhart held up a megaphone, and his tenor voice blared like a ringmaster welcoming a fresh group of onlookers. His right arm snapped up. “Heil Hitler! Sieg heil!
The crowd returned the salute. “Sieg heil!” they chanted, a popular rallying cry. Hail victory.
“I am pleased today to bring you a message from our beloved leader, Führer Dieter Hitler. Without further ado.” The Colonel motioned toward the white screen and nodded at one of his soldiers, whose hands fluttered over a box of controls.
A few seconds ticked by before the broadcast began. A Nazi flag waved against a bright blue sky, accompanied by a cheery recording of the Nazi national anthem. When the music ended on a high F note, the flag was replaced with a live feed of the Führer, who sat behind a heavy oak desk in his Berlin palace. Behind him, the floor-to-ceiling windows offered a panoramic view of the Berlin skyline, filled with hundred-floor condominiums and shiny skyscrapers that boasted of the city’s wealth.
The Führer was dressed in full military regalia, even though he had never stepped foot on a battlefield. He wore a trim olive-green uniform with broad epaulets on each shoulder and a blinding array of medals hung over his breast pocket. To the right of him, Dieter’s beautiful wife, Anke, and their nine-year-old son, Johann, smiled at the camera, their pale hair combed to perfection. They were the picture of the idyllic Aryan family, but that picture was incomplete. At their Parisian summer home four years earlier, Dieter and Anke’s twin girls had been killed in a bombing attack orchestrated by French rebels. Dieter and Johann had escaped unharmed, but Anke had been in a coma for a month and was now rumored to be barren.
Zara’s gaze drifted to the back of the screen, her eyes drawn to the four soldiers lined up behind the Führer. The Corps of Four. A shiver wormed its way down her spine. All four of them were Dual Anomalies, the rarest of Anomalies who possessed not one but two powers, caused by a genetic glitch that the Nazi scientists couldn’t re-create in their laboratories. Only a few dozen were known worldwide, and they were all extensively trained in the art of killing. Zara had no doubt that they could destroy her in a hundred different ways, each one more gruesome than the next.
The camera panned briefly over the Corps’ faces. Zara could never remember their names, but she certainly remembered their abilities. At the very left stood the Medic, who could absorb his patients’ pain and mend flesh wounds with a brush of his hand. To his right, there was the Mind Controller, who could plant ideas in people’s thoughts and knock people unconscious with a flick of the wrist. Then there was the Protector — the youngest of the four, who wore her platinum hair in two plaits — who could conjure fireballs from her fingertips and hurl icicles from her palms. Last, there was the Monster, standing over seven feet tall, who could withstand bullets with his impenetrable skin and strangle an eighteen-hand stallion with his super-strength. Apparently, he wrestled grizzly bears for training.
Zara shivered again. With the Corps of Four at his side, it was no wonder the Führer had survived multiple assassination attempts over the past fifteen years. Only a year ago, an unnamed group — rumored to be financed by the Soviets — had tried to bomb Dieter’s limousine, but the Monster had pushed the vehicle to safety while the Protector burnt the terrorists to a char. As long as the Corps was nearby, Dieter was practically invincible.
The crowd fell into an empty silence as the Führer sat forward in his leather chair. No one dared make a sound.
“Greetings, my citizens,” Dieter said in German. His voice boomed as strong as his father, Anselm’s, who had ruled the Nazi Empire for a decade before succumbing to a cancer that his doctors couldn’t treat. “It is not often that I address my subjects in the Territories, but today is a fortunate one, for I bring good tidings to you.”
The camera panned out as Dieter’s wife and the Corps of Four broke into polite applause. Even Johann clapped his chubby hands together, eliciting a proud smile from his mother.
So young and so brainwashed, Zara thought. If Molly were here, they would glance at each other and resist the urge to roll their eyes.
“After three years of service, Reichsmarschall Faust, the commander of the Eastern American Territories, is entering retirement. We wish him well.” Dieter’s words were flat and rough as sandpaper, as if he didn’t wish Faust well at all.
Zara’s eyes flickered toward her uncle. This move made little sense. Reichsmarschall Faust was only in his early fifties, far too early to retire. Besides, Faust had been eager to command the Territories ever since he and Dieter had graduated from military school together. Why would he give up this plum assignment after only a few years? And why was this good news?
Dieter continued, “Now, as for who will oversee the Territories in Reichsmarschall Faust’s absence, I have appointed General Emmerich Baldur to the job.” He appeared much sunnier as he motioned off-camera. A second later, a barrel-chested man walked onto the screen, his beard neatly trimmed and his chin tipped high in that arrogant Nazi way. “General Baldur, soon to be Reichsmarschall Baldur, has spent twelve years in the North African Colonies, overseeing our troops there. Prior to that, he also served in the French Territorial State and the British Isles.”
General Baldur stepped forward, a nicotine-stained smile glowing from beneath his mustache. He saluted the Führer with a heady “Heil Hitler!
Dieter nodded and looked back at the camera. “Reichsmarschall Baldur will arrive in the Territories tomorrow. To my subjects there, I ask that you give him a warm welcome. Guten Tag.”
The feed returned to the waving Nazi flag, and Zara blinked at the movie screen. That was it? The entire announcement had lasted mere minutes. The Führer could easily have presented this news in the papers, but he had called a worldwide broadcast instead. Zara wondered if there was something happening behind the scenes. Why hadn’t Faust attended the announcement? Had he and the Führer had a falling-out? Maybe the Alliance knew more about this. She’d have to nudge her uncle to ask them for details.
As the screen fell dark, Colonel Eckhart swept back onto the stage and clapped his hands furiously, forcing everyone else to follow suit. The miners merely tapped their hands together, but the Hausfrauen gave a rousing bout of applause, as if Adolf Hitler himself had risen from his crypt.
“Long live the Führer! Long live General Baldur!” Colonel Eckhart said into his megaphone.
The masses echoed back the chant, but Zara heard one voice shouting something else entirely.
“Long live the murderer! Long live the slaughterer of children!”
Zara went still. Did that person want a death sentence? Her gaze snaked through the square until she found the man saying such treasonous things, and she cringed when she found him — it was old Mr. Kerry, one of her neighbors. He was sympathetic to the Alliance, although he had never joined. However, his two sons had, but they perished in Mission Metzger nine years ago, an Alliance attack that had sought to take over Fort Metzger in central Maryland and steal its long-range missiles. But the mission had ended in misery. Tens of thousands of rebels were killed, including Mrs. Talley’s husband and Zara’s mother. Their lives were lost thanks to a cunning Nazi major who had tortured an Alliance rebel until she revealed the secret mission plans. After the battle was over, the major had been promoted and given command of his own fort. He now stood on the stage in front of Zara — Major Eckhart. Colonel Eckhart to be exact.
“Long live Dieter Hitler, the great oppressor!” Mr. Kerry slurred. He had perched himself by the courthouse entrance, waving his arms over his head. The people standing near him hurried down the steps, hoping to distance themselves.
“That poor man,” Mrs. Talley whispered. “I delivered both of his sons.”
“He’s been drinking again,” Zara murmured. “He has no idea what he’s saying.”
“There’s nothing we can do for him now,” Uncle Red said grimly.
Zara ached to do something anyway. Mr. Kerry was one of the few townspeople who never frowned at the color of her skin. He brought her soup when she was sick and had read her stories after her mother died, even though he was grieving for his own children, too. If she was standing near the courthouse, she could try to get him to quiet down before the Nazis saw him.
But Colonel Eckhart had already spotted him. “Bring that man to me,” he shouted to Sentinel Achen.
“Yes, sir,” the Sentinel said with that grin of his. It didn’t take long for him to fly to the steps and hoist Mr. Kerry back to the stage, where he shoved the old man onto his knees.
Colonel Eckhart paced the stage, circling Mr. Kerry. “It appears you have a strong opinion of our Führer.” There was a lightness in his tone that made Zara cringe, like he was playing with his prey before he devoured it. “Our Führer is an ‘oppressor,’ I take it? Perhaps you forget about his charitable work in the Territories. Every month he provides food for the poor and orphaned, in case you’ve forgotten.” The Colonel’s nose scrunched as he glanced at Mr. Kerry’s vomit-stained shirt. “Or perhaps you’re angry that Dieter doesn’t offer free liquor?”
The Nazi guards smirked, but Mr. Kerry’s shoulders shook with a sob. “He murdered my children. My sons!”
“Oh? The Führer himself did such a thing? All the way from Berlin?”
Laughter erupted from the German onlookers. Near the stage, a group of young Nazi cadets, their hair spiked with gel, sniggered like jackals and shouted names at Mr. Kerry. Only one of them didn’t participate in the heckling: a tall boy with a flop of messy blond curls, a couple of years older than Zara. He stood at the periphery of the group, his face blank.
Zara squinted at him. Then frowned. It was Bastian Eckhart, the Colonel’s son. Rumor had it that he was a first-class snob, that his father’s high status had gone to his head. But apparently Bastian hadn’t inherited his father’s glee at shaming peasants, or Kleinbauern, as they were disdainfully called.
“Scoff all you want, but America will rise again!” Mr. Kerry said. “You Nazis think you’ve trodden us down, but we’ll come for you one day. The Alliance will come for you!” He staggered to his feet and tried to lunge at the Colonel, but the soldiers fell upon him.
The first strike hit Mr. Kerry’s arm, smacking the bone with a skin-splitting crack. The second hit his head. Blood shot out of his nose, or maybe his mouth. Zara wasn’t sure. She had buried her face against her uncle’s shoulder, too sickened to watch. Mr. Kerry was a seventy-year-old man, but the Nazis were beating him like a piece of leather.
Mrs. Talley curled a thin arm around Zara. “It’ll be over soon.”
Not soon enough.
Mr. Kerry lay in a bloody heap on the stage, whimpering. Colonel Eckhart finally looked satisfied. “Take him to the camp,” he said to his guards. They grabbed the old man by the arms and tossed him into the back of a truck.
Zara’s fists knotted at her sides. She didn’t want to stand here doing nothing. Her mother would have done something, wouldn’t she? But there were Nazis all around her, in the square, on the streets.
“Let this be a lesson to you Kleinbauern,” Colonel Eckhart said to the throng. “I will not tolerate — and Reichsmarschall Baldur will not tolerate — any defamation of our Führer. After everything he has done for us, is this the way we thank him?” He paused, but no one said a word. With a curt nod, he said, “Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer!
Zara gave a limp salute before the crowd broke apart, and they headed back to the truck. Mrs. Talley squeezed her hand, something that had always made Zara’s heart lighten, but she only felt heavy today. Around them, the Hausfrauen babbled about how handsome Johann was becoming while the cadets threw bottles at the SUV that was hauling Mr. Kerry away. Disgust rolled through Zara; she wanted to tear those bottles from them, but she forced her hands to remain at her sides.
Stay calm, her uncle would tell her. You can’t cause a scene. But Zara was so sick of these beatings and those heckling cadets. She wanted to fight back. She was ready for it, like her mom had once been.
But she couldn’t do a thing. Not when the Nazis had bullets and guns, not when they outnumbered her a hundred to one. If she tried to help Mr. Kerry, they would throw her into a camp — and maybe they’d beat her uncle and then make her watch him scream. She would expect nothing less from them.
Zara broke into a run. Uncle Red and Mrs. Talley called out for her, but she didn’t stop until she reached the vehicle, her breaths heavy. She had been forced to watch over a dozen public beatings, but this one had been different. Mr. Kerry wasn’t a nameless face. He was a good man, a good neighbor — but now the Nazis had taken him, just as they had taken Molly, just as they had taken her mother.
Uncle Red reached the truck just behind her and pushed her in before he got into the driver’s seat. “Are you having an episode? Zara, look at me.”
“I’m fine,” she said, irritated that he was treating her like a child again. “I just had to get out of there.”
He leaned back in his seat, relieved. “You scared me.”
“Do you think Mr. Kerry is … ?”
“He’s tough. The chances are good that he’ll live.”
“But he won’t survive long in the camp.”
Uncle Red said nothing. He didn’t have to. The Front Royal labor camp was a nightmare. Her grandfather had been a much younger man than Mr. Kerry when he was sent there, and he hadn’t survived past six months.
“I wish …” Zara started and stopped. She knew that there was nothing they could have done. And yet … “I only wish …”
“I wish we could’ve helped him, too, but there’s nothing we could have done.” He started up the engine.
“If Mom were alive, she might have done something,” Zara said quietly.
Frustration flashed over Uncle Red’s features. “Even Annie wouldn’t have been that reckless.”
Zara hugged her knees to her chest. Maybe her uncle was right; maybe her mother would have done nothing at the square. But then again, Zara could easily see her mom staying up late in the kitchen, diagramming ways to break Mr. Kerry out of the labor camp. Back then, her uncle would have joined in, too — he had once been the best shot in the Shenandoah Valley — but that was before Mission Metzger. Now his actions were always measured, always careful. Zara’s mom wouldn’t have recognized this man.
A marble-thick silence settled inside the car as Uncle Red put the truck in gear. Outside, dozens of farmers and miners filled the sidewalks to get back to work, but Zara didn’t notice them. She only saw Mr. Kerry, getting beaten and thrown into the truck.
“Stop thinking about it,” Uncle Red said. “It’ll only upset you more.”
“Couldn’t we contact the Alliance?”
“There’s nothing they could do, either.” His hands tightened over the steering wheel. “I’m sorry you had to watch that beating, but this is the world we live in. The Nazis make the rules, and we have to follow them. It’s as simple as that.”
Zara hugged herself tighter. When did he become this callous? Uncle Red never would have said these things before Mission Metzger. Being cautious was one thing, but accepting Nazi rules was something else entirely.
“Do you understand what I’m saying?” he said.
She said nothing.
“Answer me, Zara.” His eyes bored into her, and she knew she had to reply.
“I understand,” she said.
But she didn’t understand at all.
A few mornings later, Zara awoke shivering. A layer of sweat soaked the collar of her nightshirt, pooling into the hollow of her neck. She rubbed her eyes, but the dream still clung to her mind. The beating. The blood. Mr. Kerry crying for his lost sons.
Guilt gnawed at Zara’s chest. She knew deep down that her uncle was right, that there was nothing they could’ve done unless they wanted to get beaten themselves. But what happened at the square had only reminded her that — yet again — she was powerless. She was merely another Kleinbauer, unable to stand up against the Nazi regime.
If only Uncle Red would let her join the Alliance, then she could at least do something to help. Even if she had to sift through the Colonel’s trash, that would be more than what she was doing now. But her uncle wouldn’t even give her that chance.
A muffled cry came from the hallway. Zara’s head snapped toward the door.
Not again.
Scrambling from her covers, she bolted down the narrow hall until she burst into her uncle’s bedroom. Her feet tripped over the rough floorboards and she nearly knocked into his mammoth of a dresser, but she righted herself and knelt beside his bed.
“Uncle Red?” She clutched on to his shoulder while he thrashed in the sheets.
“No,” he groaned, asleep. “No, please. Annie, run!”
“Uncle Red!”
His eyes broke open. His chest heaved. “What happened?”
“You were having that dream again. About Mom.”
Uncle Red sat up straight and threw his robe over his shoulders. His gaze slid away from hers. “I’m sorry if I woke you.”
“Don’t apologize,” Zara said softly. Her mother had been gone for years now, but her uncle still dreamed about that terrible night when she was killed. He and Zara’s mom had been very close — the protective older brother and the little sister who followed him everywhere, even into the Alliance. “Are you okay?”
He waved off the question. “What time is it?”
Uncle Red swore. He typically woke at five each morning to get started on the crops. The Nazis assigned quotas that every farmer had to meet, and Zara and her uncle were always struggling to reach theirs. Shuffling to his dresser, he turned on his decade-old television for the morning news update. “You should get going. I don’t want you to be late.”
Zara didn’t budge. “This is the second nightmare you’ve had this month.”
“I’m fine now. Go on and get dressed. You have to leave for school.”
“For work, you mean,” Zara muttered. Kleinbauern like them only attended school until age eight. After that, they were assigned to a farm or a factory or another form of menial labor. Zara had been given the job of a Hausmeisterin, a cleaning girl at the German military academy. A custodian, to put it plainly.
And it was a plain job indeed: the dust, the mops, the constant stench of bleach. Most girls would be grateful for a career indoors, but Zara could barely stand it. She’d much rather stay at the farm with her uncle, but the Nazis had assigned her this job because she was deemed too small — too weak — for laboring as a farmhand. She was given a mop and broom instead, although the strict crop quota required her to help out with the farmwork anyway.
Uncle Red threw open the moth-eaten curtains, sewn by his grandmother so many years before. “I ironed your uniform last night. It’s hanging in your closet.”
Zara thanked him but didn’t leave the room. Instead, she fidgeted with the fraying seams of her cotton shorts. “Are you going on your mission tonight?”
He tensed. “Why do you ask?” Every couple of months, he and Mrs. Talley would sneak into Fort Goering to steal medical supplies for her midwifery practice. It was the only type of mission he would agree to now, ever since Mission Metzger had killed off most of the Greenfield Alliance. No more ambushes. No more recruiting. Only supply runs.
It hadn’t always been this way, of course. Years ago, Uncle Red and Zara’s mother had planned missions every week, from tainting the Nazis’ water supply to recruiting new members across the Shenandoah. Zara had begged them to let her come, too, but her mother would only smile and her uncle would ruffle her hair, telling her to wait until she was older.
But now she was older, wasn’t she?
Zara cleared her throat. “I thought you and Mrs. Talley could use an extra lookout, especially after the announcement yesterday.”
“Will you just —”
“I’ve canceled the supply run. It’s too risky right now.”
Zara’s jaw fell ajar. “What about Mrs. Talley? She told us last week that she was almost out of antibiotics.”
“She can make do until our next run.”
“That won’t be for another month!” Sneaking into Fort Goering was no easy task, but Mrs. Talley had learned from a patient of hers that one of the security rotations spent their shift playing poker and drinking beer instead of patrolling the fort. The one catch was that they only worked nights once or twice a month, which severely limited the supply runs.
Uncle Red let out a battered sigh. “Do you want me to jeopardize Mrs. Talley’s life over this? Or my own?”
“Of course not, but there are families depending on that medicine! The Spotswoods’ daughter has been sick for weeks. Let me go with you. I can be another pair of eyes.”
“Absolutely not.” Uncle Red’s face had turned to steel, wiped clean of his nightmares. He nodded at the door. “Get ready for work.”
Zara marched back into her bedroom, her breaths turning sharp. She threw on her work uniform, buttoning the yellowing blouse and tucking the patched fabric into her knee-length pleated skirt. Why couldn’t Uncle Red give her this one shot? She could help him, help the Alliance.
But he wouldn’t budge.
After buckling her loafers, the nicest shoes she owned, Zara burst out the front door and onto the gravel driveway. She wished she could contact the Alliance, but Celia Farragut, the head of the resistance, deferred to local Alliance leaders when it came to recruitment. And unfortunately for her, Uncle Red was the leader of the Greenfield chapter.
That didn’t seem very fair to Zara. The Alliance needed all of the recruits they could get if they wanted to drive out the Nazis. Since the German takeover after the war, the rebel numbers had dwindled steadily as the Anomaly Division spread from state to state, using their powers to root out the Alliance. These days, Farragut and her team stayed hidden in a West Virginian war bunker that was built decades ago by the American government. From their hideout, they monitored local Alliance chapters and encouraged rebel activities, launching guerilla attacks and stealing weapons, but that was hardly enough to overthrow an empire.
The setbacks the Alliance had faced hadn’t deterred Zara’s mother from joining them — and they wouldn’t deter Zara, either. The Nazis had taken far too much from their family already. What else would the Germans take if she let them? Her home? Her uncle? Herself? If she didn’t fight back, they could snatch away everything she loved. Zara glanced back at the house, iron in her narrowed eyes. Somehow, some way, she would convince her uncle to let her join the Alliance.
Four miles down the road, Zara entered the Greenfield town limits, where a slew of shops cropped up on the clean street. She passed the grocer, the post office, and the tiny movie theater that boasted the newest films from the Third Reich’s production department, but her pace slowed once she reached the bakery. The smell of hot buttery bread made her stomach groan, and she realized she hadn’t eaten a thing since last night’s potato-peel soup. Zara peeked through the storefront, her mouth watering at the sight of the golden loaves, still steaming. But then the baker caught her staring.
“Out, out!” he yelled, waving her off with his floured hands. “Your kind isn’t served here!”
Zara’s appetite dried like a prune. She bolted down the sidewalk, wishing she had avoided this street altogether, with its Nazi-owned shops and snooty German patrons. Most cities in the Territories were built this way nowadays: a rich, bourgeois center filled with the descendants of Germany’s postwar baby boom. Nearly a quarter of the population consisted of Germans who formed an upper crust of society that staffed the military, owned the stores, and oversaw the factories that fueled the great Nazi economy.
And below that crust, the rest of us grasp for crumbs, Zara thought, but what choice did they have? The Germans possessed an arsenal of missiles along with their troops of Anomalies. So far, no other nation had dared to fight against the German Anomaly Division, even though the division itself had diminished in number since the 1960s.
In the years following the Axis victory, thousands of the Anomalies continued to perish as their bodies rejected the genetic altering that they’d received during the war. The Nazi scientists had tried to cure their former test subjects, but they soon hit a wall. Some soldiers had simply adapted to the genetic altering, and others didn’t. But the scientists did find a silver lining: these “adapted” soldiers often passed their Anomaly gene onto their daughters and sons, who would then manifest new and different powers within the first ten years of life. It wasn’t long before these German children were scrutinized and studied, and the Anomalies among them became the second generation of the division. But under the Nuremberg Laws, which were now instituted in the Territories as well, only Aryans and honorary Aryans were admitted to the division. If any of the Anomaly soldiers conceived a super-powered child with an Untermensch, the offspring would be killed or sent to a laboratory for live dissection. Which was why non-German Anomalies were so rare.
Hurrying over the cobblestones, Zara took three side streets until she reached the gates of the Heinrich Himmler Military Academy, an elite training school for future Nazi officers. The campus consisted of a cluster of redbrick buildings surrounded by sprawling training fields where the cadets ran laps and honed their shooting skills. Zara dashed up to the main building to find two other cleaning girls sweeping the sidewalk and a group of cadets loitering by the entrance. One of the boys showed off a handheld radio-vision screen that could play music and local TV channels. Most likely he had bought it in Neuberlin, the marble-paved capital of the Territories, formerly known as Washington, DC.
Zara reached for the front door, only to have someone jog up behind her and swing it open.
“After you,” said a voice in a clipped German accent.
A shiver slid down her back. The cadets rarely spoke to the cleaning girls unless they needed to report a clogged toilet or complain about the cafeteria food. Her eyes climbed upward inch by inch to find Bastian Eckhart standing next to her in his tall and lithe frame, one hand propping the door open. Aside from his amber eyes, he could have stepped out of an Aryan race handbook, with his pale skin, sun-colored hair, and square jaw. The academy’s female cadets often giggled and grinned during Bastian’s track meets, but Zara had never thought much about his looks. He was a Nazi, after all, and that straight nose of his just made her think of his father.
“Thank you, Herr Eckhart.” Zara’s gaze skittered away from his, landing on the pair of dog tags that lay gleaming on his pressed shirt. She had worked at the school long enough to know that the cadets didn’t appreciate direct eye contact, not from an Untermensch like her. But strangely enough, for the last few months Zara had caught Bastian glancing her way whenever she mopped the halls or wiped the mustard spills off the lunch tables. He always looked away when she caught him staring, and that had puzzled her even more. But Bastian had never said a word to her. Until now.
Fräulein.” Bastian nodded at the door.
Zara had no idea why he was being so polite, or why he was back at school, for that matter. A couple of days before, Bastian had taken a leave of absence due to a death in the family. Apparently, his great-uncle had passed away. Or maybe it was his great-aunt.
Zara was about to head inside when Bastian leaned in closer, his dog tags clanking together. “May I speak to you for a moment?”
She bit back a sigh. She was already running late and didn’t want to get docked pay for fraternizing with the cadet, but she couldn’t refuse a Nazi, least of all an Eckhart. “Can I assist you with something? I don’t have my cart with me, but —”
“There’s no need to get your cart. I was wondering if we could speak in private?”
“Eh, what do you have there, Bastian?” one of the cadets called out. “Flirting with the help? How much does she cost?”
Zara’s face turned a shade of bright radish. She wasn’t one of those girls, the sort who would trade her body for a handful of reichsmarks. Is that what Bastian was hoping to “discuss”?
“I didn’t mean —” Bastian said, then stopped suddenly. He looked like he wanted to say more, but he only added an abrupt, “Good day, Fräulein.”
The cadets crowed louder, goading him to tell them how much Zara was charging him. Her face burning, Zara knew she should bow her head and wish Bastian a good day, but her lips wouldn’t move. She bolted through the door instead, away from the cadets, away from their laughter, and away from Bastian Eckhart.
With Bastian behind her, Zara ducked into the cramped utility room where she and the other cleaning girls stowed their belongings. She heaved a sigh once she shut the door behind her. The cadets wouldn’t follow her here, even if their cackling still roared in her ears.
Two of the other cleaning girls chattered inside the dark space, readying their carts with rags and bottles of bleach. Zara glanced at them, but they ignored her like always. A slow ache wove through her heart, and she wished that Molly were here. It would have been nice to have someone to talk to, especially after her run-in with Bastian. What exactly did he want to talk to her about?
“You’re late,” one of the girls sniffed at Zara. “I had to pick up the dormitory sheets for you.”
Zara reached for a pile of rags from a metal table. “Thanks. It won’t happen again.”
“Make sure that it doesn’t.”
The girls pushed their carts out the door, leaving Zara alone in the mildewed room. She twisted the rags in her hands until her knuckles hurt. Decades may have passed since the war, but most Eastern Americans still shook their heads at Zara’s lineage. They had never forgotten — and had never forgiven — the cruelty the Japanese had dealt during and after the war: the attack on Pearl Harbor, the internment camps for captured rebels, the death marches along the American West Coast. Even today, the Empire of Japan ruled the Western American Territories as the Nazis ruled the East — with a harsh and oppressive fist. This was why the Kleinbauern shunned Zara just as they had her mother, once they learned she had given birth to a half-Japanese child.
It made Zara’s blood boil when she overheard the farmers warning their daughters not to become like Annie St. James. Her mother had been a lonely eighteen-year-old when she met a young Japanese soldier while cleaning the cafeteria at Fort Goering. Annie’s own mother was sick with tuberculosis and her father had recently been jailed, leaving her and her brother, Redmond, to care for the farm. With so many burdens pressing in on her, Annie had lost herself in the fling, but she broke it off after her brother discovered it. But by then, she was already pregnant.
Shaking off the memories of her mother, Zara spent the next six hours in a blur of dull chores. While the cadets scaled ropes outside and debated Mein Kampf in the classroom, she washed the bedsheets and scrubbed the cooking pots. Most of the students lived at the academy full time, arriving at age twelve and graduating at twenty. Their application process had been rigorous, and their coursework was even more so: mathematics, war strategy, and racial sciences along with shooting, first aid, and heavy combat training. About a dozen cadets dropped out every term, but Zara was never sorry to see them go. Fewer sheets for her to wash. At least until the next semester.
By early afternoon Zara’s uniform smelled of dish soap and old soup, but there was nothing she could do about it. She had to fold the tablecloths and organize a storage closet for Frau Schumann, one of the history teachers. Tugging off her apron, she dashed into Frau Schumann’s classroom, darted around the desks, and squeezed into the dimly lit closet as the cadets ambled to their seats. She was about to reach for the filing cabinet when another cleaning girl hurried inside.
“Good God, what a mess!” the dark-haired girl whispered. She wedged her nearly six-foot height into the space. “When’s the last time Frau Schumann cleaned out this thing? You’d think she —” Her voice stopped when Zara turned around. “Oh. I thought Lizzie would be here.”
Zara swallowed her groan. “Hello to you, too.”
The girl didn’t return the greeting. Instead, she tackled a pile of papers on the floor, pretending she was the only one there.
Zara yanked open the file drawer, her fingers dredged in dust. She had hoped for a quiet afternoon, but now she would have to share this musty closet with Kristy Coulter, of all people. Most of the cleaning girls simply ignored Zara, which wasn’t so bad after she had gotten used to it, but Kristy could be cruel.
The bell clanged and a stale silence filled the storage room, only broken by the sound of shuffling papers and the sharpness of Frau Schumann’s voice. Zara tried to tune out the lecture, but the words drilled into her eardrums anyway.
“Quiet, please!” Frau Schumann said in German. She was a petite woman, only five two, but she possessed the voice of a general. “Fräulein Huber, sit down. Herr Dresner, open a few windows. It’s too warm in here. Now then, let’s get started on your history reports. Herr Zimmermann, I believe you volunteered to go first.”
The reports ticked by in a parade of Nazi pride. Herr Zimmermann spent ten minutes lauding the Anomaly war hero Lukas Ansel, or the “Jewel of the Third Reich” as he was known, who destroyed eight American cities with his ability to create mile-wide explosions. His “contributions” slaughtered millions and eventually led to President Roosevelt’s surrender, but Ansel only lived three years beyond the Nazis’ victory. Unstable genes, the autopsy found.
Fräulein Huber went next, detailing the life of Führer Gustav, the son and heir of Adolf Hitler, who reorganized North Africa into colonial states and nearly warred with the Soviets over the Lithuanian border. After that, Herr Dresner described the history of the Corps of Four, from the very first Dual Anomalies to the current Corps, who had, to date, saved Führer Dieter from five assassination attempts.
When Herr Dresner finished, Frau Schumann studied her roll and nodded at Bastian. “Herr Eckhart? We have time for one more presentation.”
From her vantage point in the storage closet, Zara peeked into the classroom and saw Bastian heading toward the teacher’s desk, his head bowed. A couple of female cadets sent each other sly smiles, obviously pleased at the prospect of gazing at Bastian for his entire report. There was only a small number of female cadets at the academy. Many girls their age joined the League of German Maidens, where they prepared for their roles in Nazi society — wife, mother, homemaker — but it was getting more common to see German women in the military or finding work within offices and factory management.
“Dr. Eva Himmel was born in 1910 in Dresden, Germany,” said Bastian in a quiet voice that wasn’t very fitting for a colonel’s son. “With an IQ of 174, she was destined for great things. She received her doctorate in genetics at the age of twenty and became the first female scientist to work in the Führer’s national laboratory.”
Zara scowled. Laboratory? It was more like a torture chamber. The Nazis may have prided themselves in creating Anomalies, but their discovery was paid for in blood. Thousands of test subjects, mainly Jews, had been subjected to experimentation. Some were even children. What was worse, the German history books had reveled in these deaths, lionizing Adolf Hitler for ridding the world of the “great Jewish filth.”
Bastian’s gaze remained glued to the pages of his report, never looking up once. “Dr. Himmel proved instrumental in the Dresden Study, specifically in the engineering of Subject K3, the very first Anomaly soldier who survived the testing process. Then, after the war ended, Dr. Himmel worked for years trying to solve the Anomaly genetic instability that had led to the early deaths of over fifty percent of the division.”
Continuing on, Bastian described the good doctor’s battle with cancer, but Zara had tuned out his report and had returned to organizing the file in her hand. She had barely made a dent in the pile today, which meant she would have to stay late to finish the job. On top of that, Uncle Red needed her help with the planting once she got home. She’d be lucky to go to bed before midnight. Heaving a tired sigh, she reached behind her for the trash basket, but her hand knocked into Kristy’s stack of alphabetized files, sending the papers toppling.
“I’ve spent forty minutes on that!” Kristy hissed.
“I didn’t mean to —”
Kristy wasn’t finished. “Stupid kami.”
Zara flinched before a flare of anger ignited inside her. She had heard that slur often enough — a shortened version of kamikaze — that she should have gotten used to it by now, but it always punched a hole in her heart.
Stupid kami.
She tried to shrug it off, but it rang inside her head.
Zara hated that word. And she hated that Kristy had used it. For years Kristy had simply snubbed Zara like the rest of the cleaning girls, but then her father had gone to the Western American Territories to find work at a lumber mill. He only made it a few months before his Japanese employer hanged him for attending a few Freedom Resistance meetings, the rebel movement out West. Not long after that, Zara arrived at school to find her apron in the toilet and her cleaning cart knocked onto its side. That was when the name-calling started, too.
Zara crushed a piece of paper in her hands. She had never even met Mr. Coulter, but Kristy somehow blamed her for his death. Months of resentment rushed through her in a wave, and her face grew oven-hot. She forced herself to breathe. In and out, in and out. She wouldn’t have an episode, not here.
Suddenly, a gust flew through the classroom windows, snatching papers from the desks and swirling them along the ceiling. The cadets laughed, but Frau Schumann clucked at them. “Settle down! Class isn’t over. Remember to read chapters ten through twelve as your homework assignment.”
Once the final bell chimed for the day, Zara leapt to her feet, ready to escape from the dusty room. She hurried to Frau Schumann’s desk and asked for a restroom break.
“Make it a quick one,” Frau Schumann said, but Zara didn’t hear her.
Running into the hall, she wedged herself through the mass of uniforms and hurried to the nearest place where she could be alone. The broom closet. She shut the door and gulped down a breath, but the tears came anyway. She swiped at her eyes. She didn’t know why she was crying — Kristy had called her a kami dozens of times before — but maybe the last few days had been too much for her. First Sentinel Achen’s visit, then the beating, and now this. Sometimes she wanted to stand in the middle of the square and scream at everyone who had hurt her or her family. But if she did that, she would end up like poor Mr. Kerry.
A minute ticked by, and Zara tried to pull herself together. If she didn’t get back to work, her pay would get docked, and she needed that money for the farm. Besides, she couldn’t let Kristy get under her skin. The anger flared again, but Zara used it to make the tears stop. She took a deep breath.
Three knocks tapped against the door.
Zara jumped back. “I’m on a break!”
A pause. “Fräulein St. James?”
She froze. She knew that voice, although it was strange to hear him address her so formally again. Most cadets referred to her as Hausmeisterin. Some simply called her “girl.”
“I need to speak with you for a moment.”
Zara’s nails dug into her palms. She only wanted a minute to herself, but the Nazis wouldn’t allow even that. She sighed and twisted the doorknob to find Bastian standing in the emptying hallway, his warm ochre eyes peering into her dark ones. Out of habit, her gaze dropped to the tiled floor and fixed upon his leather shoes. The toes of his loafers were a little scuffed. Perhaps he wanted her to shine them for him. After the day she had had, she wouldn’t have been surprised.
His head tilted to one side. “Are you ill, Fräulein?”
“I’m fine, Herr Eckhart,” she forced out. “Do you need my assistance?”
“Frau Schumann wanted a quick word with you once your break is finished. You ran out before she could tell you herself, so I told her I’d relay the message.” As he spoke, a set of dimples emerged at the corners of his mouth. Undoubtedly those dimples sent the Nazi girls sighing, but Zara never understood the appeal of them.
“Thank you for letting me know.” Frankly, she was surprised that Bastian was delivering the message instead of another cleaning girl; but she urged her lips into a smile, knowing that she had to act extra politely around the Colonel’s son. “My deepest condolences about your great-uncle.”
Those dimples slid away. “My great-uncle?”
“He, um. I heard that he had passed away.”
“Ah. You must mean my” — he clutched the dog tags around his neck — “my Opa.”
“My apologies. I didn’t realize.” Zara grimaced at the mistake. Bastian had lost his grandfather, not a great-uncle. She waited for him to huff and storm off, but he didn’t move.
“I mentioned earlier that I needed to speak with you.”
Zara stiffened. There were only a few things that a Nazi would want from a cleaning girl like her, and she didn’t like any of those reasons. Her mind frantically searched for an excuse to put him off, but she came up empty.
Bastian’s long fingers dropped the dog tags and fidgeted instead with his red-and-yellow striped tie, the academy colors. “My mother is searching for a new housekeeper. Our previous one left quite suddenly.”
Zara sighed, relieved. He wasn’t offering reichsmarks for certain “services” from her. She knew what he was asking before he even said it.
“My mother needs someone to fill in while we search for a permanent replacement. I told her that I could speak to a Hausmeisterin at school, and so I thought I would ask you. You seem —” He played with his tie again, clearly uncomfortable with this conversation. “You seem very skilled.”
Very skilled? Zara wondered if she was supposed to take that as a compliment, but it only reminded her of how these Germans viewed her: a work mule to service their needs. It was humiliating enough to scrub the Nazis’ bathrooms every day, but now she had been asked to personally clean Colonel Eckhart’s toilet, too.
“It’s only an hour or two a day,” Bastian said. “We’d compensate you, of course. Twenty reichsmarks per hour.”
The amount made Zara suck in her breath. She only made half of that at the academy, and she had to grudgingly admit that she could put that money to good use at home. The stove was broken and the water heater needed to be replaced. She missed her hot showers dreadfully. But twenty reichsmarks per hour was, frankly, too much. Even the most experienced Hausmeisterin didn’t make that. Zara gripped the edge of the doorframe, uneasiness sliding through her. And why was Bastian looking for a new housekeeper when his father’s staff could’ve made the request? This task seemed rather beneath a cadet like him.
“Maybe you could stop by my house? We could walk together if you don’t know the way,” he offered.
Now that was even more baffling. A colonel’s son would never be seen walking home with a cleaning girl.
“It won’t take long,” Bastian went on. His eyes grasped on to hers, and she saw the gold and green flecks inside them, like a mosaic. If he wasn’t German, she might have thought them pretty.
Looking away from those eyes, Zara wondered what she should do. She couldn’t refuse him, of course, but she couldn’t shake the niggling feeling that something about this conversation was off, that he wasn’t telling her the entire truth. She thought about all of those times she had caught him glancing at her — why? But the thought of twenty reichsmarks an hour was enough to put her questions aside. “I have to work tonight, but maybe tomorrow?”
“I see.” He chewed his bottom lip, disappointment threading through his voice. “I have track practice until four. How about then?”
She nodded.
“Tomorrow at four.” A smile flooded his lips, but it vanished so quickly that Zara wondered if she had imagined it. “Good day.”
Zara headed back to the history classroom, but halfway there she glanced backward to find Bastian standing outside the broom closet, watching her leave. That prickling feeling tickled at the nape of her neck.
She sped past the lockers. She had no idea what to make of her day.

And she had no idea what to make of Bastian Eckhart.

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