Judge's Choice for Mediaminer's Spring Sacrifice Contest 2006
Warning: This story contains massive spoilers for the series since it reconstructs the complicated, nebulous timeline of Johan's and Nina's (a.k.a. Anna) past.
BIRTH OF A MONSTER
In this world, in this life, one must make many sacrifices. The most noble, the most important of all, is that for our beloved homeland. Together we shall bring forth a new world order...
We propose to create an army of the elite, one which will shape this world to our vision. Perfect soldiers who will act according to our plan, who will have no free will or thought other than what we choose. But in order to succeed, we must start with the children. Superior children, perfectly molded to our cause, sacrifices for the homeland...
These nameless children will be fashioned into leaders, politicians, spies, soldiers, assassins, molded to whatever we need them to be...
The men who listened and agreed with these words did not realize what they were proposing laid the groundwork for the birth of a monster.
The first stage began in Prague, Czechoslovakia, in the 1960s. Children from the area were invited to the Red Rose Mansion's reading seminars under the pretext of listening to children's stories. They were not the traditional fairy tales of princes saving princesses with a happily ever after ending, but dark carefully crafted stories written and illustrated by the head of the experiment. These children already had memories of their own, families of their own. They were not malleable enough for the ultimate goal. Later, orphans and children of political prisoners, unwanted, unnecessary children, were used. But these rabble were from questionable backgrounds, they were still not good enough.
The second stage sought to go further, requiring purer specimens, a natural genetic experiment. It was the time before DNA testing, before gene sequencing, gene identification, gene separation, and gene manipulation. Candidates were selected based simply on their outward physical beauty - blonde hair, blue eyes, straight noses, firms mouths, clear complexions - all beautifully Aryan. Other considerations included their natural acumen, physical strength and reflexes, their occupation, their parental background, and health history. It was all done systematically, as scientifically as possible given the limited technology available in the 1970s.
Many tens of couples were paired up. The man and the woman were just one of many perfect couples chosen to produce perfect superior children. Children who would someday rule the country and perhaps even the world.
Notes from Case File# RRR-1974-066
Test Subject 66-1: Age: 19
Physical Attributes: blonde hair, blue eyes, 5' 10", 135 lbs
Education: currently attending Brno University with major in genetic engineering
Father: former schoolteacher in Moravia; currently in prison
Notes: Parents arrested for democratic activism in 1967. Subject attempted illegal emigration to West Germany in 1970. Captured at border.
Tests Subject 66-2: Age: 22
Physical Attributes: light brown hair, blue eyes, 6' 2", 190 lbs
Intelligence: above average
Education: graduate of military officer school
Occupation: soldier, rank: captain
Father: deceased; German born Czech who remained in Bohemia after WWII; storekeeper
Siblings: subject is the eldest of three brothers
Notes: Brothers in charge of small grocery store after father's death.
File notes initialed by F.B.:
…Subject 66-2 was approached by P.C. to participate in Project RRR. I had suggested emphasis on duty to his country as the best psychological approach to a military mindset. Subject agreed with minimal persuasion and a promise of a promotion…
…66-1's parents were government activists. Subject is not likely to participate willingly. Covert measures are required…
…P.C. helped set up an "accidental" meeting between 66-2 and 66-1 at a cafe in Prague. Events are proceeding as planned…
…from our observations, subjects 66-2 and 66-1 appear to be in love, also as planned…
…66-1 was observed visiting a doctor. P.C. obtained her file, which confirmed subject is with child. Slight revision in plan required, but possible event was among our calculations…
…66-2 has abandoned the project. They are now planning their escape. Measures have been taken…
…66-2 is no longer part of the experiment. 66-1 has been confined until the expected date of birth.
…66-1 at 32 weeks pregnancy tried to escape through the ventilation ducts. Subject collapsed outside the facility. Posted extra security…
…66-1 successfully bore twins. The boy and girl were allowed to stay with the test subject on the condition that she cannot call them by any name. The twins have been designated 66-3 and 66-4.
The Monster's Father
Klaus Poppe, a.k.a. Franz Bonaparte (F.B.), was a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a medical doctor, who designed the experiments. Yet he was not the typical cold analytical man devoted to science. He was an artist and a writer of poetic talent. An artisan not just of charcoal or paints or words, but of humanity - he was able to draw out the many brilliant colors of the human mind. His medical specialty was not just the organic brain, but also the inner workings of the brain. What did man fear? How can you use that fear to shape a man? What makes us human? What is human dignity? What if you strip away that dignity? What gives man his sense of self? His name? What happens if you take away his name? Without a name, without a sense of self, without dignity, can you reprogram a mind?
With a goddess' grace and guile, she was the perfect vessel for his research. While she was pregnant he observed her, sketched her, idolized her; nothing so sexual but saw her as a saint, a martyr for his cause. When the twins were born, he was compelled to sketch them as well. His artistic side often ruled him, and instead of the cold objectivity of the camera, he preferred his white paper and black sticks. What was he trying to capture that photos could not? The innocence of the infants? The mother's futile desperation? The gradual disintegration of the soul?
The twins, two beautiful fragile creatures, soon to be subjected to his grand experiment. Two more sacrifices to the cause. He was their true father.
The following notes and sketches were recovered from Versteck Hotel manager Klaus Poppe's personal belongings after the massacre at Ruhenheim:
When did it start? That I, who am so clinically cold, so indifferent even to my own wife and child, abandoned and long forgotten, who had sacrificed any feeling for the sake of science, for this experiment, that I should fall so deeply, that I should find one worthy of worship. That love letter that I wrote you, that I hid away in the portrait that honored you, in that room where I freed you, in that room of death, I still remember the words that I could never say to you, you who hated me, condemned me.
"I've always been watching. I've been watching you to take in everything about you. But instead everything about you has devoured me. How did I seem to you on the verge of my downfall. What you gave to me as I crashed. You left me with beautiful jewels, those two eternal twins. The greatest crime one can commit is to take away another's name. You may have your name back. I return your name to you. Your name is Anna. Now I am only sad… sad… sad…"
My obsession, my Anna, for that is your name, not 66-1, not a case number or file number or project number. You are Anna of the icy azure eyes and long golden hair. I have freed you. All those who knew of you, who were part of the experiment, all but one other, are gone. I did it for you. The massacre was but a small sacrifice for you, to prove my love to you, to alleviate the guilt for what I have done to you and your children. But it is too late, for you have escaped from me again.
I remember those long languid days of watching you, trying to break you, but never once did you falter, did you succumb to my plan. You remained defiant and I was the one who broke.
I wish I could have drawn you just once with a smiling face, but I never saw you smile, not even as you held your children in your arms. I am sorry for that for I know it was because of me.
Now I understand the true horror of the crimes I committed against you and others like you. Without a name, man is no longer human, but just another animal, or even a monster. Taking away the names of so many - I want you to call me by my true name...
Where are you now? If only I could return to you the precious jewels you were forced to leave behind. But know that they are safe and cared for. They crossed the border into East Germany and stayed in orphanages until the Lieberts adopted them. The foreign trade advisor and his wife appear to be good loving people. I think you would approve. Your son and daughter will flourish under their care and perhaps their past nightmares will be long forgotten. They are now living in West Germany - I saw them on the news. Now they are truly free...
I have just come from visiting them. I saw them sleeping, so beautiful, like you, even in the dark their hair glint like gold. Beautiful sleeping angels. They have names now, Johan and Anna. How ironic that those should be the names chosen for them.
Anna, same as your name. She has the same clear blue eyes and golden hair, the same cheekbones and brow. Her nose is different, smaller, softer. She did not get that from her father either. The role of genetics has always fascinated me, but the role of the environment, of conditioning the mind was even more seductive to a man of science as I used to be. But now I have forsaken science and even my art. Without you I am no longer inspired. You have truly broken me.
Johan, such a common but strong name, the name of my nameless monster. The creature in my story sought a name, but when he found one, there was no one left to call him by that name. He had devoured them all. What is the point of that story? No point at all, there is no point to any of my stories, not anymore. I wrote them to show the futility of our efforts. To obtain what is most desired, yet to have it mean nothing. To make a decision and to regret it, yet to decide otherwise would also lead to regret. To see that there is no difference between good and evil. Such was life, such was my work. But I was wrong, for man can decide to become whatever he wishes. He must not abide by the path set before him by others. Now your children have that choice...
I remember the last time I saw you. You said those words to me again. I remember your face, a frozen mask, your cold eyes boring into me, your deathly calm voice shaking with a controlled undertone of fury. "I will never ever forgive you for this, even if I die these children will have revenge against you." Did you hate me that much? Just me or all of us for what we did to you, your lover, your children. Your words chill me even now, because I feel they will certainly come to pass. You said them with such conviction and finality.
And now a monster has awoken from those sleeping angels. The Lieberts are dead, your children are gone. Since then I have thought of your prediction over and over. I know deep down that it will come for me, even here, in this peaceful town where I have hidden myself. There is nothing for me to do but wait for my impending doom. I can only await your judgment.
The Monster's Mother
My Dearest Helenka,
A man came looking for you the other day, but I couldn't help him as it's been years since we lost touch. Yet I still consider you my best friend. Alas, you will likely never see this letter since I don't know where to send it. But I'm writing this anyway because I'm afraid my memories will be taken away from me like they have done to so many others before me.
I pray that you are doing well, though I fear from what that man Schuwald has told me that you have had a hard life as well. I did not tell you my troubles in my last letter because I did not want to worry you. But I want you to know that I am fine and that I still think of you. If only I had been able to cross the border with you that day so long ago, then none of this would have happened.
How did it start? I enrolled at Brno University a couple of years after I was caught at the border. Like many others my age I fell in love. But unlike others, I fell in love with a man chosen for me, a man whose duty was to seduce me. I forgave him when he confessed amidst sincere tears. But then they took him away from me and I never saw him again. I know he is dead. They killed him because he dared to defy them. He dared to truly love me and our unborn children. He would not sacrifice us.
Who are they? Who are the people who confined me until I bore my children? Even now I don't know. I think they must work for the government. They wanted my children, but I escaped and have been able to hide from them these many years. There was one man, the head of the experiment, that I detested above all others. He had this simpering look of false gentility. He was always watching me, always drawing in his sketchpad as if he were trying to capture the essence of my suffering. He refused to answer my questions, only saying how important my children were to his experiment, what a noble sacrifice I was making and how honored I should be to be chosen. That bastard, even now when I think of him I tremble in fury and fear.
My twins are now nearly five years old. They're at that curious age, asking questions I cannot answer. I've told them as much as I could, that there are people chasing us, that we must hide from them. But I tell them it is a game like hide and seek and they believe me, for now. But how do I explain to the boy why he must dress as his sister and pretend to be the same? I tell him that too is part of the game and he believes me, for now. It breaks my heart to watch them, knowing how uncertain their future is. It is so unfair, unlike other children they cannot go to school, or even play outside. When I think of it I want to cry, but I cannot cry in front of them. I must be strong for them.
I've been working in the pub downstairs, a very convenient arrangement. I clean and stock the shelves. Me, who should have been a world renown geneticist by now. I don't earn much, but I have room and board. I would earn more as a waitress or bartender, but I dare not show my face. I know they are still looking for us. Men like that do not give up. How long can I hide from them? How long can I keep up this ruse of being a mother with just one daughter?
I want to be with my children for as long as possible. I know that they will eventually find us. Surely if that man who was looking for you found us, they will too. Just a little while longer, for I need to save some more money, we'll be here at the Three Frogs by Cedok Bridge, then we'll move on.
With love always,
The Monster's Sister
After Nina's (a.k.a. Anna) hypnosis session with Dr. Gillen, her memories are restored.
I remember, I remember it all now. We were being chased. We were hiding at the Three Frogs. I remember the stench of alcohol from below. It rose up the stairs and through the many cracks in the walls, the doors, the windows. I remember every square foot of those small rooms. That was our world for years. We were not allowed to go outside, or even to look out the window. My brother was my only playmate, my only companion when mother went to work. I remember how our mother liked to sing to us. That was the only time she smiled. The rest of the time she seemed so sad and pensive.
I remember now that it was I who was taken away that day, and dragged down the stairs, not my brother. I remember a man with glasses in the car with me. He said to me "You mustn't hide anything from him." He was referring to another man in the car who wore no glasses. They took me to a mansion surrounded by red rose bushes that climbed high up on the iron wrought black gates.
I was shut up in a dark room for a very long time. The room was pitch black and it seemed to have no walls at all. The blackness reached out endlessly. I could see nothing, hear nothing, except for an occasional desperate scream. I was kept there so long I could no longer count the days by the number of meals. I kept asking myself, "Why? Why are they doing this? Why did mommy send me here? What did I do? What do they want?" Then one day a voice asked me "What is your name?" But when I answered it said, "No, you have no name." This continued for many more days. When the voice asked me again, "What is your name?" this time I replied, "I have no name." The voice said, "Good, you are now ready."
The next day the man with no glasses, opened the door. He brought me to a large room where a party was being held. There were many people there, all looking at me and smiling at me. They said something about me being the chosen one. Wine was served and someone proposed a toast. Then they started dying, dropping one by one right in front of me.
A room of death. I remember the bodies, so many bodies with their faces twisted in agony, with eyes and mouths open, and the carpet stained red with wine and yellow with vomit. I was so frightened I couldn't move at first. The only man who remained was the man who freed me from that room. He told me to forget everything I just saw and to run far away, as far away as I can. I ran and ran, without stopping, through the rose bushes, ignoring the sharp cruel thorns that tore at my clothing and flesh. I ran past the streetcar train, the river, the station. I ran into the Three Frogs and up the stairs. I ran until I returned home.
My brother was there waiting for me. He had been reading the "Nameless Monster" and still clutched it in his arms. He said to me, "Welcome back." For a second I was disoriented. It seemed I was looking in a mirror. He was still dressed as me, even wearing the wig with the ponytail like mine. I started to tell him all that had happened, all that I had experienced. I couldn't stop even to breathe. It all came out, all the horror. Then I took a breath and repeated it again, and again, and again, for days.
The one thing I can't remember is our true names.
As Johan stands in Poppe's art studio, his memories finally, fully connect.
I have a plan. I've had this plan ever since I could remember. But is it my plan? Or is it something deeply ingrained in me even before my birth.
To stand on top of the world, to be the only one standing, to have others at my feet, as conqueror, or as sole survivor, it makes no difference. Something so grandiose actually requires but a small effort. People are easily influenced, easily led. They simply require acknowledgement of their pitiful existence.
My existence is fictitious. I am no one. I have no name. I have no past. Even those memories that I recovered, I learned were not mine. The time at the Red Rose Mansion was my sister's memory. But I remember now, I remember that black hole in time when there was nothing to fill that emptiness except for the few books left behind. So hungry for memories that I took hers as my own. No matter how terrible, they were better than nothing. And from her memories, of the dark room, of the questions, of the men gathered to toast their success, of their expectations for a great leader and new world, of their deaths, came my plan.
How many people have I killed? Directly? Not too many. Indirectly? Hundreds probably. I never bothered to keep track - the thrill is in the moment. Why do I kill? Why do I hold human life in such disdain? Those I killed who were kind to us, it was done to protect us, so that they could not find us. Then I killed to advance my plan. But mostly because it amuses me. Men, women, children, wealthy, derelict, good, evil, it makes no difference. Death is the great equalizer and in my fairness, I do not discriminate. People are most interesting right before death. That is when you see their true selves.
What is my true self? We are what we are because of our experiences, our memories. Having none, I am but a fictitious person, made up of false memories. The only true memory I have is that of myself and I holding hands as we walked through the infinite wasteland. We were the only two people in the world and we had no names. It was a dream of the most beautiful peace. A dream of the end.
My other self, my twin, we lived as one, we were one for a long time. From those earliest days I remember my mother. I remember her lessons: Never open the door. Never leave these rooms. Never look out the window. You two are the same. Act as one. There are men looking for us. They must not find us.
Those men who removed that half of me, leaving me incomplete for time immeasurable. Those men whom my mother swore vengeance against. Those men who took our memories, I have now found them all. For you mother.
The Monster's Birth
The woman was still young, barely a quarter of a century had passed since her birth. But the weariness in her eyes, her shoulders, her back, made her appear already a hundred. Yet she was still beautiful. Tall and aloof, she seemed much like a goddess from ancient times. But not a warm nurturing one of love or earth, but one of tragedy or retribution. Her neighbors knew little of her and saw her as a gloomy woman who lived deep within her own private thoughts. No one had ever seen her smile. She lived simply with one child, an adorable little girl who mirrored her mother, quiet and reserved.
'What kind of life is this? Living in fear. Always hiding.' The children were not allowed to step foot out of the apartment. They had no friends, no one other than each other. They acted as one child, to deceive those men who were looking for a woman with twins.
There were times when she shamefully thought of giving in, of allowing them to take her children. After all, they wanted them not her. She could be free to live her own life. But she could not sacrifice her loved ones for her own selfishness. A mother was bound to protect her children. Any other decision would be unforgivable.
There were rumors that she was an anti-government activist in hiding, not unusual in those days of paranoia. But these rumors were confirmed when one day, a long black car, favored by government officials, pulled up in front of the Three Frogs pub. Four men entered the old building.
There was something about their slow steady heavy walk that warned her. She heard those footsteps in her nightmares. The same thudding that came to take her parents away, the same confident tread that came to take her lover away, the same footsteps that came for her newborns. Then a knock on the door.
"Don't open it!" she shouted as one of her children instinctively moved to answer. She grabbed both of them and held them close.
She started to cry. All these years of being strong, of protecting her children, it was all about to come to an end. She knew it. There was nothing she could do. Not even her death would stop them.
"I'm sorry," she managed to say amidst her tears. One of them asked her, "Why are you apologizing?" She replied, "Because the two of you will have to survive together all by yourselves." The child asked again, "Why are you crying? Don't cry." But she couldn't stop.
They broke the door down. The man with glasses came in first. He saw the woman holding hands with what looked like twin little girls. "Now come with me," he said as he made a grab for the child on her right. She pulled the child away and he knocked over the lamp on the table as he swerved to block their way. The ceramic base and the glass bulb shattered on the wooden floor, irreparable, just like their lives.
"Clever, clever woman, who with this simple ruse has evaded us all these years," commented the man with no glasses - the important one in the back, the one guarded by the other three men. "This is an experiment. Which one will go and which one will stay behind? This is an experiment. Now which will we take?"
"Get away from us! Damn you all to hell! Don't touch them! Don't touch them!" she was screaming and crying hysterically now in her futile despair.
"Well, then…you decide. You choose. Which child will you sacrifice to save the other?" the man asked almost indifferently.
They both held her hands tight, so tight she could feel her fingers losing circulation.
'Which one? How can they ask that of me? I'd rather sacrifice myself. How can a mother decide something like that? How can I choose which child to subject to their torture?'
"Which one? Or they both go. Choose now," the man calmly asked again.
"Don't let go! Don't!" cried one of her children. Was that the same one asking her not to cry earlier? In her desperate haze, she couldn't tell.
The man looked at his watch and ordered, as if bored by this game, "You have thirty seconds to decide or we take them both."
'The boy or the girl…which one?' She never imagined it would come to this. That she would be given such an impossible choice. Save one or lose them both. She had to choose.
'These men think sacrificing yourself for your country is the most noble cause. But the most basic instinct of a mother is to sacrifice herself for her children, not to sacrifice one for the other. How can I make such a decision? How I can I live with such a decision?'
But her analytical mind took over and she tried to divorce herself from the emotional decision. After all, no matter what the decision, it would destroy one child, and herself.
'Girls are weaker and must be protected,' was her first thought.
"This one," she said as she moved her left arm forward to release the boy. Then she had another thought.
"No, this one," she said as she moved her other arm and released the girl's hand.
'They want a child to mold into a dictator. What disaster would befall us all if they were to succeed? With a boy they would be more likely to succeed,' she realized at the last second. 'But with a girl, it would be more difficult. People do not see women as strong leaders. And,' she added to herself, 'men are physically stronger, but women have a higher pain threshold. Women are emotionally and psychological stronger. My daughter, she's the stronger one. She will survive. And my son will live on to take revenge. These men are monsters - forcing me to make such a horrible choice. But ultimately I made the choice. Who is the real monster?'
The man in glasses grabbed her daughter, kicking and screaming for her, for the mother who betrayed her, the mother who chose her as the sacrifice.
P.C. is Peter Capek, the man with glasses.
I hope this helps make the timeline and Johan's intentions a bit clearer.
Written for Mediaminer's Sacrificial Spring Contest.